Origins of House Music

The documentary, Pump Up The Volume: The History of House Music is an historical account of the inception and evolution of house music.

House music is a type of electric dance music created in Chicago in the early 1980s. It gained prominence nationally and internationally circa 1984.  House music was influenced by various musical genres: pop, gospel, punk, funk, soul, rhythm & blues, and disco. The ingredients used in a basic house composition include but are certainly not limited to:  heart pounding kick drums, an infectious baseline, snare drums that build on the first two elements, hi-hat, and drum rim shots.


turntableHouse music DJs birthed a rhythmically amalgamated sound and a rich and steadily maturing musical culture. Steve “Silk” Hurley, Joe Smooth and Chip E are a few of the original creators of this innovative music. Although there were only a handful of DJs crafting this new sound at the time, this rhythmically repetitive music swept the club scene. House music, techno music and acid house music (generated from the sounds of tuning karaoke machines) were all fashioned by these incredibly talented and creative DJs. These young artists flourished in this new age of soul-thumping music. Each creator/DJ hustled to be the best. Competition between these DJs aided in the innovation of the sound. Soon after its inception, house music became known as voodoo dance music because of the hordes of people who were so easily caught up in the rapture of the beats.

House music had, and has, a hypnotic effect on listeners/club patrons. However, the hypnotic effect wasn’t just caused by the music. The drug culture in the clubs was amplified by music. The milieu in the clubs fostered a sense of unadulterated freedom and acceptance. The hallucinogenic drug ecstasy, then known as MDA/MDMA, was the main drug being passed around. Drug-taking listeners engaged in sexual relations on the dance floor—everything from groping to intercourse.

House music stimulated a hedonistic culture. It enthralled the masses at the time of its inception and continues to captivate audiences with the same fervor today.

The Documentary:



The Humanity of This American Life

ira-glassThis American Life is a public radio show broadcast on more than 500 stations across the country to millions of eager and excited listeners each week. It is hosted and executively produced by Ira Glass, who also created the program in 1995. Chicago Public Media produces the program and Public Radio International handles distribution. This American Life has won all major broadcasting awards but more importantly, it has won over the minds of millions, including mine.

The basic structure of the program is simple. For each episode, the program takes on a theme. From that theme a variety of stories are presented. These stories are called ‘acts’ on the program. Usually the acts are about normal, everyday people. For example, on November 8, 2013 the theme (and title) 511 was, The Seven Things You’re Not Supposed to Talk About.

“Producer Sarah Koenig’s mother lives by a set of rules about conversation. She has an actual list of off-limits topics, including how you slept, your period, your health, your diet and more. You don’t talk about these things, she says, because nobody cares. This week we try to find stories on these exact topics that will prove her wrong.” - This American Life (511)

A number of stories were shared with Sarah’s mother and the listening audience. One story was about health and was narrated by Deborah Lott. In this act, Deborah shares that she was born into a family that obsesses over health; more specifically, her family consciously describes in great detail real and imaged illnesses and the symptoms that they have or will potentially acquire. This report doesn’t seem so unusual at first; after all, how many of us share with our families the aches and pains of a long workday or the color of our mucus and phlegm when we have a cold? The rub comes when the audience finds out that these graphically grotesque accounts are told at the dinner table.

This episode also featured an act about sleep. Dr. Cady Coleman, a NASA astronaut, shared her testimony regarding sleeping while orbiting the Earth in zero gravity. Dr. Coleman described the freedom that she experiences when she wakes up physically disoriented and floating in space.

There is yet another act about the conversations that occur when people are traveling from one place to another. During this act, Carlos Garcia shares a memory about driving his father home from a doctor’s appointment. Carlos’s father is suffering from Alzheimer’s and in this heart wrenching yet redeeming story, Carlos describes the 25-minute drive in which his father forgets his way home, then forgets that he taught Carlos how to play baseball and ultimately forgets that Carlos is his son and mistakes him for a taxi driver. This particular story made me shed a tear because the listener can hear Carlos recounting the story for This American Life while hearing the actual audio-recording of the conversation on the drive home. During the act, the listener can hear Carlos’s father’s disorientation firsthand. Powerful.


As stated above, each episode tackles a theme but the stories categorized under that theme are so diverse that a single episode can be appealing to a variety of different people. I believe that the diversity of thought displayed in This American Life has led to its wide appeal and praise.  In my humble opinion, this radio show is better than anything on television right now and at times, it is even better than the book that I may be reading that week, (I know blasphemous to book lovers). I believe it is one of the best radio shows currently airing and I highly recommend it.


Muted Media: Tooth-Sucking Silence on Venezuela

What could be more insidious than a government, freely elected by its people, perpetrating violence against its citizens?

The mainstream media has spent an enormous amount of time focused on Ukraine, Putin and the missing Malaysian aircraft, while overlooking the troubles in the Bolivian Republic of Venezuela.

  • Aren’t there enough injured and dead civilians to pique interest?
  • Does our media not realize that the crisis in Venezuela has domestic implications?
  • Why isn’t the protest in Venezuela “news worthy”?

venezuela-protester-cape-reutersThe protest began with massive demonstrations in which students expressed their mounting frustration with the social and economic problems in the country. This aggravation and frustration rapidly swept through the country, moving from just students to the larger diverse population. Over the last month, more than 23 people have died during the protests because of President Nicolas Maduro’s aggressive response. This in turn fueled even more outrage among the citizens.

venezuela-student-protest-feb.-16-2014The real spark for the protests began in November 2013 when the Venezuela’s National Assembly voted to give Maduro decree powers for a single year. In layman’s terms, that means Maduro can singlehandedly create laws without going through the traditional legislative process. In an attempt to fight poverty and promote economic development, Maduro used his power to increase gas prices, which had been frozen for about 15 years. Horrible timing! Venezuela was already dealing with increased crime rates, shortages of electric power, and growing inflation. Increasing the gas prices was the last straw for the people.

So why hasn’t this made the regular news cycle in America? The muted media response is disturbing to me and I hope it is disturbing you.

Related Views:
The Washington Post: Amid the coverage of Ukraine, is a crisis in Venezuela being ignored?
Wall Street Journal: Venezuela Media Largely Ignored Protests: Free-Speech Advocates Say Black Out Points to State Intimidation
Fox News: Is US ignoring crisis in Venezuela?

Grit: Understanding Hard Work and Dedication

You think intelligence and grit can succeed by themselves, but I’m telling you that’s a pretty illusion. ― Nancy Kress, Steal Across the Sky

I must admit, growing up I didn’t understand the importance of working hard or being dedicated. Everything academically and socially came easily to me. I was comfortable in my own skin at a very early age. I spoke my mind and simply didn’t care what anyone thought of me. I suppose these are some of the personality traits that allow a person to succeed in life. They are also the personality traits that make a person a bit vain and a little too carefree; I’m both and that can be good and bad, depending on the circumstance.

Unfortunately, when a person thinks too highly of herself at a young age that person misses out on important developmental milestones. One of these milestones, I believe, isunderstanding and developing grit. I never had to work very hard for anything and I didn’t know what I was missing because no one around me explained my gaps, or holes. For example, in college, I realized that I wasn’t the best writer. This never came up as an issue in grade school because no one around me was any better than I was. I was compared to my peers and we all sucked, just a little, in this area. Writing is a skill that needs to be practiced and refined. I didn’t realize until after college that I didn’t need to depend on anyone to teach me to be a better writer—this was a skill that I could teach myself through hard work and dedication. To this day, I continue to work on my writing because I have decided that it is an important skill that can and will set me apart from my peers.

I don’t wake up each morning wanting to write; I wake up determined to be better than I was the day before and that means that I must write. My attitude changes throughout the day; sometimes I’m excited about the challenge and other times I dread it. But I never give up. I always accept the challenge. I tell myself that I want to be better and I make a conscious effort to accomplish that goal.

gritThis grit attitude is not an innate mindset for me, unfortunately. Growing up, I didn’t have role models who showed me what true grit was and that left me at a deficit. A deficit, as I explained above, that became apparent in college.

I found the courage to create this blog last year. I am determined to push myself to analyze various topics and write for the public. There is no better way to attain your goal than to have the world monitoring you while you attempt to achieve it. Yes, it’s stressful AND yes, it’s worth it!

When you invest in yourself the return on investment is priceless. I hope this post is a testament to working hard. I hope I’ve inspired you to push toward your personal goals.

Good Luck!

Related Articles:
NPR: Does Teaching Kids To Get “Gritty” Help Them Get Ahead?
TED: Angela Lee Duckworth, “The Key to Success: Grit”
The New York Times: “What if the secret to success if failure?”

Harvest of Empire: US Involvement in Latin America Explored

We are all Americans of the New World, and our most dangerous enemies 
are not each other, but the great wall of ignorance between us. - Juan González, Harvest of Empire

In 2011, Juan González, journalist and co-host of Democracy Now!, published the book Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America, a five-century study of U.S. involvement in Latin America. In 2012, this award-winning book was transformed into a 90-minute feature-length documentary directed by Eduardo López and Peter Getzels. The book and the film examine the direct correlation between U.S. political, economic and military interventions throughout Latin America and the unprecedented wave of migration. In 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 53 million Latinos live in the U.S., making up 17% of the population.

imagesGonzález narrates the film and explains that the massive migration of Latinos to the U.S. were (and are) in direct response to the needs of an empire; the empire in this case is the U.S. and the needs are more natural resources and regional political influence. The film uses archival footage and interviews with prominent Latino immigrants in the U.S. to further the “empire” case; personal migration testimonies from Guatemalan political activist and 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú, ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero, Dominican Pulitzer Prize-Winning author Junot Díaz, Grammy award-winning Nicaraguan singer and composer Luis Enrique, and more are shared. The documentary highlights the wars for territorial expansion that gave the U.S. control of Puerto Rico, Cuba and more than half of Mexico. It also outlines some of the covert political and military operations that installed tyrannical regimes in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador.  On a lighter note, the film also does a wonderful job emphasizing the achievements of Latinos in their homelands in spite of, and in direct relation to, suppression and oppression.

They never teach us in school that the huge Latino presence here is a direct result of our own government’s actions in Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America over many decades — actions that forced millions from that region to leave their homeland and journey north. – Juan González, Harvest of Empire

2harvestPrior to watching this documentary, I had a laypersons understanding of the immigration debate. Now, I believe I am able to fully appreciate the impact of U.S. involvement in Latino countries and the desperation that the people of those countries feel as a result of those interventions. This is an important documentary in this day and age when people resembling the stereotypical Latino image can be arrested and detained for their looks.  I highly encourage everyone interested in the migration, immigration and/or U.S. involvement in Latin American to watch this documentary.

 Related Resources:
Harvest of Empire
Zinn Education Project: Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America (Book)
The Washington Post: Harvest of Empire, Editorial Review by, Stephanie Merry
The New York Times: Why They Come Here: “Harvest of Empire”, About Immigration
Gozamos: Film Review by, Ilene Palacios                                                                           
SFGate: Harvest of Empire Review by, Peter Hartlaub

Burning Down The Blonde Standard Of Beauty

My sister had her first daughter, Sigourney, in 2010 and her second daughter, Aria, in 2011. I’ve never been more scared for their emotional well-being than I am right now.

When they were born, I was so excited to see them.  I loved looking at their beautiful big brown eyes and brushing their angel soft brown hair with my pinky finger. I know I’m biased, but these girls are two of the most beautiful little ladies I’ve ever seen. Their giggles fill me with joy and when they start singing, “Girl On Fire,”* by Alicia Keys my heart skips a beat. I know these girls have no idea what they are singing, but I hope that most of the words will somehow bury themselves in their hearts, souls and minds.

We got our feet on the ground
And we’re burning it down
Ohhhh oh oh oh oh
Got our head in the clouds
And we’re not coming down

Yes, I want my nieces to grow up and be strong, intelligent, thoughtful women. I want them to feel confident during each moment in their lives. I want them to wake up in the morning and not want to change anything about themselves. I want them to look into the mirror and see strength, passion and beauty staring back at them. I suppose I want for them all the blessings that my sister wants for them.


I never want my nieces to feel like they have to conform to anyone’s standard of beauty. I never want my nieces to feel like they need to be blonde to be successful. I never want them to feel like they need to have straight their hair to be popular. I don’t want them to feel as though they have to chemically burn or bleach their hair or their skin to make it to the top. I want them to listen to “Girl On Fire” and believe most of what they hear. I want them to believe in their natural strength and beauty.

There is a line in the song that fuels my fear:

Nobody knows that she’s a lonely girl
And it’s a lonely world

black_women_with_blonde_weaveI am so worried about the girls’ self esteem in this blonder is better world.  I never want them to feel lonely, un-pretty, or less than. When they open magazines, turn on the television, or go online, I don’t want them to only see successful black women with blonde hair. I want them to see successful black women in all shapes, sizes and colors. Unfortunately, right now the market is saturated with the blonde-black image.

tyra-banks31 eve-cshock-mac-03_000 blonde-asianameriie 3915e674f6b7ccb8ab7ef816b7101773 416x594px-LL-5470d932_tumblr_lkqf5ayII31qb07czo1_500

480022_10200771394188709_1666631220_nI suppose that all I can do is continue to shore-up their self-esteem and hope that when they are old enough to understand the words in this song they also understand their worth.

Looks like a girl, but she’s a flame
So bright, she can burn your eyes
Better look the other way
You can try but you’ll never forget her name
She’s on top of the world

 *“Girl On Fire,” lead single and title track from Alicia Keys’ fifth studio album Girl on Fire (2012), RCA Records

A Wishful Glimpse Into The Future

theletterqSarah Moon and James Lecesne enlisted award-winning lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender authors and illustrators for the creation of The Letter Q: Queer Writers’ Notes to their Younger Selves . The artists were asked to compose letters to their younger selves about the realities of being LGBT.

Read an excerpt here.

Located within the pages of this brilliant collection, the reader will find 64 provocative, illuminating, despondent, and inspiring tales of bravery and triumph. Each story touches upon many social issues that teens are faced with daily, (i.e. unrequited love, pride, bullying, self-esteem, sexuality). This is not a collection of just Queer experiences. The growing pains explored are typical human experiences.

While reading the collection, I was habitually brought to tears. There is an honest wisdom in each letter. Young adult and adult readers of all sexual orientations will learn a lot from this work. I strongly recommend this collection.

The Letter Q: Queer Writers’ Notes To Their Younger Selves
Sarah Moon, editor
James Lecesne, contributing editor
Arthur A. Levine Books, May 2012
ISBN 978-0-545-39932-6

Chaos in Kiev Continues

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych rejected the European Union’s trade and economic agreement in November because this deal would have moved the country away from Russian control (namely President Vladimir Putin’s vice grip) and more into the folds of the European Union. As a result of Yanukovych allowing his personal relationship with Putin dictate/interfere with the foreign policy of Ukraine, anti-government protests erupted throughout Ukraine with the nucleus located in Kiev.

NPRInitially, the anti-government protests were peaceful; protesters congregated and shouted freedom slogans and held signs. Shortly into November, the nonviolent protest ended when police deployed batons and pepper spray to disperse the growing crowds. Regrettably, this week Yanukovych intensified the situation yet again by commanding the police force to use live ammunition on the protesters, his own people.  The death toll is climbing each day, more than 100 people are dead and nearly 500 wounded.

There are pro-government supporters in Lviv, and other areas in western BBCUkraine, that condone the government sanctioned violence. And there are anti-government protesters in eastern Ukraine who are choosing to fight back against the government crack down by inflicting equally brutal force (i.e. Molotov cocktails and make-shift weapons) on the police. With the escalation of violence, it is clear that without appropriate interventions from outside entities the crisis in Ukraine could continue to inch closer and closer to a civil war.

On Wednesday, President Obama address the chaos in Ukraine stating, “We have been watching very carefully, and we expect the Ukrainian government to show restraint, to not resort to violence in dealing with peaceful protesters… There will be consequences if people step over the line.” Hopefully the consequences that Obama refers to are coordinated with the consequences the European Union has imposed (e.g., trade sanctions and other restrictive measures).

 Related News
The New York Times: Kiev’s Brief Truce Shatters in Bursts of Gunfire
The New York Times: Violence in Ukraine Creates Deepening Clash Between East and West
BBC: Ukraine crisis: Renewed Kiev assault on protesters
Al Jazeera: Deadly violence shatters Ukraine truce
NPR: World’s Outrage Grows As Death Toll Rises In Kiev
The Washington Post: Despite truce, new fighting erupts in Kiev; at least 50 reported killed

Thoughts on The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson

ob-rh666_bkrvor_g_20120109165000Pak Jun Do, the main character in Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, takes an Owellian adventure through a country cloaked in mystery and fear, North Korea. The dystopic backdrop sets the tone for a coming of age journey fraught with multiple and brutal kidnappings, murders, suicides, torture, and government corruption.

Pak Jun Do, the protagonist of this novel, grew up in a gray and harsh world with no one to advocate for him, an orphan by all accounts. As he grows older, The North Korean military forces him to participate in unconscionable acts that in turn change his soul. Although he never becomes soulless, he does become an empty vessel. Later in the story, Pak Jun Do even assumes another identity and the life he once knew is no longer able to exist.

The characters in this story have no true connection to the outside world; they 120206_r21799_p233know the facts of the world, but the essence of the world eludes them. This book is only believable because it is fiction. A typical person living a comfortable life in America, endowed with the freedoms of this country, cannot comprehend the poverty that is North Korea. Johnson spent some time in North Korea and explained that many of the details in the book are fact based. Yet, he darkness in this book is palpable, however; Johnson explains on NPR in a conversation with journalist Rachel Martin, “The true darkness of North Korea is so unimaginable that a nonfiction book would be gripping but unrealistic… This novel speaks to the human condition. What does it mean to live when you have nothing to live for?”

Although Johnson’s fictional story is set in the recent past and pulls from actual and imaginative events, as a reader, I found myself lost in the story and feeling totally sympathetic to the trials and tribulations Pak Jun Do encountered. This was a rousing read and I highly recommend it if you are not squeamish or afraid of the dark.

Related Online Articles:

World Literature Today: “The Orphan Master’s Son, Adam Johnson”

New York Times: “A North Korean Soldier Finds His ‘Casablanca’”

Miami Herald: “Troubled country inspired Adam Johnson’s ‘The Orphan Masters Son’”

Wall Street Journal: “A Parallel World Above the 38th: A novel depicts the bizarre nightmare of North Korean life with an eerie authenticity”

The Orphan Master’s Son
By Adam Johnson
Published August 7, 2012 by Random House Trade Paperbacks
Paperback, 456 pages
ISBN: 0812982622 (ISBN13: 9780812982626)

Literature From and Of Africa: Beah Speaks to the Radiance of Tomorrow

On Friday, January 10, Ishmael Beah spoke for the better part of an hour at Politics & Prose, a well-regarded DC bookstore, on two topics: 1) his new book, Radiance of Tomorrow, and 2) being an African writer who writes about Africa.

Ishmael BeahDuring his talk, Beah shared that he spent time while traveling on his first book tour for (A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier) thinking about the fate of a story when the cameras stop rolling. What happens to the people and the communities devastated by war or corruption when the outside world is no longer titillated by the press coverage? Beah spent time frequently traveling back home to Sierra Leone during this time of reflection wondering about the impact war can have on a community left behind. He then wove his questions and theories into a novel which speaks to ownership of one’s self and of one’s community.

I have yet to read Radiance of Tomorrow, but from my understanding it is an intimate story detailing the physical and emotional aftermath of war on one small, remote community in Sierra Leone. Former inhabitants of a village return home and attempt to rebuild a lost community.  Beah explained that the novel is composed of small narratives, voices of people living in or returning to the village. Radiance of Tomorrow seems to be a powerful novel about reckoning with the past in order to preserve and create a future. Sara Corbett, a journalist for The New York Times Book Review says, “Written with the moral urgency of a parable and the searing precision of a firsthand account . . . There is an allegorical richness to Beah’s storytelling and a remarkable humanity to his characters. We see tragedy arriving not through the big wallops of war, but rather in corrosive increments.”

I’m very excited to read Beah’s new work not only because the story itself sounds fascinating but because Beah seems fascinating. Beah was born in Sierra Leone in 1980; I was born in New Haven, CT in 1981 and believe I have a special connection to all 80’s babies. He graduated from Oberlin College in 2004 and I graduated from Bates College the same year. Oberlin and Bates share a similar culture. I am a second generation Cape Verdean American and he is a Sierra Leonean American. I believe that’s where our similarities end. As tenuous as those connections appear to be they are enough to get me hooked.

For more information about Beah check out his website. And if you are interested in following Beah on Twitter you can do so at @IshmaelBeah. I follow him and after his Politics and Prose talk chose to tell him how much I appreciated him coming to DC and sharing his message:

The Politics & Prose Talk:

Radiance of Tomorrow
By Ishmael Beah
Cost $18.60 (Hardcover on Amazon)
ISBN-13: 9780374246020
Published: Sarah Crichton Books, 1/2014