Category Archives: NYC

RIP: Keith Elam aka Guru, Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal

Standard

Keith Elam aka Guru passed away on Monday. Guru was the MC for the prolific hip-hop duo, Gangstarr. It would be too much to say Gangtarr changed my life, but they were definitely one of the major influences that led me to listen to much more East Coast hip-hop (along with Boogie Down Productions) than I had when I was in my teens in the 1980s. When I was 17 and 18 I was primarily listening to West Coast “gangsta” rap but the conscious sounds coming out of NYC spoke to me on a much deeper level. Gangstarr were part of that scene. While the scene has long since died, the rhymes, beats and memories remain. Rest in Peace, Guru. You will be missed.

Here is a touching remembrance written by Keith’s brother, Harry.

Also check this out, Jazz and Hip-Hop, Can They Really Mix?: Part 1 and II.

Below is a montage of Gangstarr videos. This is not meant to be some sort of definitive list, just some of my faves.

Manifest (from No More Mister Nice Guy, 1989)

Just to Get a Rep (from Step in the Arena, 1991)

Step in the Arena (from the album of the same name)

Take it Personal (Daily Operation, 1992)

Mass Appeal (Hard to Earn, 1994)

Next Time (Moment of Truth, 1998)

Skillz (The Ownerz, 2003)

It’s Gettin’ Hectic, from the Brand New Heavies, Heavy Rhyme Experience, Vol. I, 1992]

Loungin’ (featuring Donald Byrd). This is from Guru’s first Jazzmatazz LP, 1993.

Sights in the City (featuring Courtney Pine on alto and soprano sax and flute, Carleen Anderson on vocals and Simon Law on keyboards) from the same album.

25 Years Ago Today: A Hero Stood His Ground and Fought Back

Standard

[Bernhard Goetz escorted from court by Guardian Angel Keith Johnson, AP Photo]

On this day twenty-five years ago, Bernhard Goetz pulled the trigger on four thugs who were about to rob him. For some, this made him an outlaw, a criminal, even a “racist”. For others, a hero.

The hero of myth overcomes outrageous odds stacked against him. He takes a negative situation and turns it into something positive.  Perhaps most of all, he transforms a personal tribulation into a universal aspiration.

Unlike the heroes of antiquity, heroes in the American context do not come from the elite classes. They are not demi-gods, blessed at birth. Rather, they are common everyday folks. What makes them heroic is not the facts of their ancestry but how they respond to adversity.

NYC in the 1984 was not only a different time, it was almost a different place. Sure I realize many of my friends recall the 80s for the punk shows at CBGB’s, the squats, and the LES before it became a magnet for yuppies. They miss the rough edges of the city. But for most citizens, the 80s were a time of grime, decay, and criminality, a city that was on the brink of throwing up its hands and saying “I give up”. Yet there were some who willing to fight back. As Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) stated in Taxi Driver, “Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.”

Enter Bernhard Goetz. He stood up and proclaimed “Enough!” He fought back. And for that courageous act he earned the praise of many working-class New Yorkers whether white, black, Latino or Asian.

It is crazy that people fail to realize what kept Bernie from getting robbed or killed that night. It was not the cops. It was not 911. It was not the next man. It was his desire to not be a victim. That makes him a hero. Don’t ever forget that.

More here.

Curry Hill Battle: Chennai Garden vs. Tiffin Wallah

Standard

[Lexington Ave, NYC: Curry Hill]

When I first arrived in NYC I lived on 29th Street in Curry Hill. As you probably guessed, there are a lot of Indian restaurants in the neighborhood. They come and go fairly frequently. I think almost half of the ones that were there when I first moved to NYC have gone out of business.

One of my regulars (a major understatement) was a spot called Shaheen on 29th between Lexington and 3rd Ave. It was a total hole in the wall where  cabbies gathered to read the papers and eat their dinner. I used to join them for dinner practically every night before my girlfriend (now wife) moved out here. It was nothing fancy but the price was right and it was properly spiced i.e. not toned down for weak NYC pallets. Isha, the woman who operated the cash register and served up the plates, was really nice and always hooked me up. I was very sad when they closed down.

But this post is not about the lost wonders of Shaheen, it’s about two South Indian vegetarian restaurants, Chennai Garden on 27th St. between Park Avenue South and Lex and Tiffin Wallah on 28th b/t Park Ave So. and Lex. If you follow the links you can see the menus are very similar. So which one is better? Here’s the breakdown:

1) Ambiance: Tiffin Wallah wins. It has a sort of hip, loungy feel going on. Last time I was there they were playing Ananda Shankar’s cover of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” as well as some old soul and more recent down-tempo tunes.

2) Price: A draw. Prices are almost the same for buffet and a la carte.

3) Most importantly, the food: Each offers a South Indian veggie buffet but I prefer my food made to order. I ordered bhel puri and somosa chaat at both places and I have to say the bhel puri at Chennai Garden was much better. It had a lot more onion, tomato, cilantro and other ingredients that gave it a fresher taste. The somosa chaat is a closer decision. It’s hard to say which was better. My wife had a paper masala dosa at Chennai Garden and the buffet at Tiffin Wallah. She prefered Chennai Garden but paper masala dosa is her favorite food in the world so that may have swayed things a bit. Bro-in-law had the buffet at both places and thought they were both equally good. Like many South Indian veggie spots in NYC, both restaurants are kosher. So if you are observant, that’s a good thing to know.

The verdict? Wifey says Chennai Garden, bro-in-law says Tiffin Wallah for the vibe and my vote goes to Chennai Garden for the food. But go ahead and try both if you are in the area and judge for yourself.

I did not take pictures this time but here are some pics of bhel puri (above) and somosa chaat (below) so you know what I am talking about. Bhel puri image is from Chaat Street and somosa chaat image is from Yummy4Tummy.

9-11 Thoughts, Reflections and Rants

Standard

Not a lot to write about this September 11. I watched television this morning and listened to the thousands of names of the dead spoken by their relatives. Even eight years later, it’s always so sad to hear and sad to see the people with photos of their fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters.

I always find it strange when I visit my friends on the west coast how distant the events of that day are from their lives. It’s almost like we were never attacked. This is especially the case in the SF Bay Area. People seem to live in a perpetual mental fog in that part of the U.S.

In some case they are hyper-aware of what is happening (or what they think is happening) on the other side of the planet, but they have no clue what is happening in a neighboring community, let alone on the other side of their country.

Here is what some other folks are writing today:

Max Boot

Gallup

Sultan Knish

Ralph Peters

Rebecca Solnit

Storm King Art Center

Standard

This place is amazing:

Storm King Art Center is a museum that celebrates the relationship between sculpture and nature. Five hundred acres of landscaped lawns, fields and woodlands provide the site for postwar sculptures by internationally renowned artists. At Storm King, the exhibition space is defined by sky and land. Unencumbered by walls, the subtly created flow of space is punctuated by modern sculpture. The grounds are surrounded by the undulating profiles of the Hudson Highlands, a dramatic panorama integral to the viewing experience. The sculptures are affected by changes in light and weather, so no two visits are the same.

I have wanted to go for a while now but it is a bit of a drive from the city. It was so hot! Spring and Fall may be a better time to visit.

Here are some pics:

IMG_2012

[Pyramidian by Mark di Suvero]

IMG_2018

[Gui and Knobs by Alexander Calder]

IMG_2019

[Black Flag by Calder]

IMG_2043

[The Arch by Calder]

IMG_2033

[City on the High Mountain by Louise Nevelson]

Cults: Dr. Malachi York and the Nuwaubians

Standard

malachi york

I was watching Brooklyn Community Access Television (BCAT) the other night and came across a program promoting the cult of Dr. Malachi York. I previously knew nothing about York but he and his group are definitely bat shit crazy. He borrows heavily from ideas promoted in Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods, David Icke’s notion of reptilians and the concept of a New World order controlled by the Illuminati or the Bilderberg Group. Sounds like they would get along well with the Paulistas!

Prior to his tenure as a cult leader, York was a musician and member of the Black Panther Party. In 1970 he embraced his own distorted version of Islam organized a cult called Ansaru Allah Community. The group transformed its ideology and changed names numerous times from Ansaar Pure Sufi, to the Nubian Islamic Hebrews to Nuwaubians. Tensions developed between York and the larger Black Muslim sects and he eventually took his group out of New York City and moved south.

York and his minions established a community on a 440-acre farm in Putnam County, Georgia called Tama-Re. They now called themselves the Yamassee Native American Moors of the Creek Nation. Patterning their new community after a Hollywood caricature of ancient Egypt, the complex contained grand gates, pyramids and obelisks. I was able to dig a few pics:

nuwabian cult1

nuwaubian cult 2

TamaRe from air

Here is a small sample of York’s beliefs:

Africans or “Nubians” are not originally brown in complexion but green. The Earth’s atmosphere has “rusted” their complexion because the magnesium in their melanin has been replaced by iron.

York claimed to be an extraterrestrial master teacher from the planet Rizq in the galaxy Illyuwn and promised his followers in the year 2003 a spaceship would return from his home planet and collect 144,000 believers and take them back to his extraterrestrial homeland.

York told his followers that in 1952, grotesque extraterrestrial Andromedeans that resembled the Predator met with and frightened U.S. President Harry S. Truman. Other extraterrestrials have been trading with Earth since the Eisenhower administration, and are responsible for giving us technologies ranging from the polio vaccine to the hula hoop.

Each of us has seven clones.

Everyone is originally conceived as twins, but usually only one of the twins survives to be born.

Ok, you might be thinking dude and his followers are nuts but what’s the big deal? As long as they don’t hurt anyone who cares what they believe? Well, as is often the case with cults, the leaders abuse the followers. In York’s case, he is a convicted child abuser and molester. The first charge he was convicted of is raping a 13-year-old when he was 19. In 2002, he was charged with over 100 counts of child molestation and sentenced in 2004 to 135 years in prison. Tama-Re was razed by the authorities. York’s scheduled release date is December 15, 2119. I bet his followers have come up with some mystical significance for that date. Despite all evidence against their leader, they continue to profess his innocence.

Much more information available here.

[Comments are now closed. This post is five years old.]

ADDED:

To all the nuts, zombies and followers of Malachi York,

I have no problem with you leaving comments here at my blog but you must adhere to the conventions of written English. Also, if you do not have anything to add to the dialogue, consider posting somewhere else. For example, if you “know” that York is innocent of the charges he has been found guilty of, please provide some evidence.

–TNC

Two Interfaith Events: Europe and U.S.A.

Standard

The first excerpt is from Arutz Sheva:

(IsraelNN.com) A European rabbinical umbrella organization boycotted an interfaith conference on Monday after it was determined that Muslim delegates included members of the Muslim Brotherhood movement.

The meeting, co-hosted by the European Commission and the European Parliament, took place in Brussels, Belgium. It was intended to bring together four religious leaders from each participating faith community. Three of the Islamic delegates were members of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE).

In a statement explaining the decision not to attend the meeting, the Executive Director of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER), Rabbi Aba Dunner, said: “We do not consider it appropriate for organizations such as the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe, or individuals who made or endorsed anti-Semitic statements and who are clearly linked to radical Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood to be present.”

The Muslim invitees, according to the CER, are “extremists who are not representative of the vast majority of Europe’s Muslim citizens, who support dialogue and the democratic values of the European Union.” The statement noted that the interfaith initiative was a positive one, but that it was “undermined by the inclusion of people who are not interested in interfaith dialogue but in promoting divisive ideologies.”

The second item is from the 92Y Blog (sorry I missed this event):

Jews, Muslims and Shared History: How Understanding the Past Can Build a More Peaceful Future

Join former U.S. archivist Allen Weinstein and noted cultural scholar and writer Al Khemir for a wide-ranging, provocative discussion on how we can comprehend Middle East culture and history in a larger framework than the current eruptions of violence—exploring how we might develop greater appreciation of the commonalities between the people of the region.

Brief Biography

Most recently the Founding Director of the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar, Dr. Al Khemir is an artist, television and film producer and author of a wide range of works including her recent novel The Blue Manuscript. She is also the author of ‘Waiting in the Future for the Past to Come‘ (1993) and the ground breaking essay ‘The Absent Mirror‘ (2005).

The Honorable Allen Weinstein is a Visiting Professor at The University of Maryland, College Park. As the Ninth Archivist of the United States he is widely credited with having made the story of American Democracy more accessible. He is a former Professor of History at Boston University, Georgetown University and Smith College and the recipient of many awards including The United Nations Peace Medal.

Artist Injured at 5 Pointz

Standard

five-pointz

[Photo by Jim Kiernan]

When you take the 7 train from Manhattan into Queens you can’t help but see the graf on the roof of a warehouse known as 5 Pointz. Passing by on the train, I never realized the interior of the buildings house a variety of art studios until reading of a jewelry designer, Nicole Gagne, who was injured while descending an exterior stair case.

NY Daily News reports initial investigations have shown the stair was in need of renovation and the warehouse has numerous building violations. Some have speculated that the studios and mural space may soon be history. I hope not. I wish Ms. Gagne a speedy recovery and hope she is able to return to her work soon.

Here are two pics of graf that my homees did at 5 Pointz when they were in town [photos by SYRA-1].

rakus

[Rakus]

syra-one

[Syra]

Report Back: Hope Not Fear

Standard

cong-beth-elohim

[H/t to Flesh is Grass for encouraging me to post a write up of this event]

I recently attended a talk by Edgar Bronfman and Beth Zasloff at Congregation Beth Elohim. The event was held in the sanctuary. Since it has been under construction for a while I had never seen the inside. Take a look:

congregation_beth_elohim-sanctuary

The focus of the discussion was Bronfman and Zasloff’s recent book, Hope Not Fear. I have not had an opportunity to read the book but the description sounded interesting:

After a lifetime of fighting the persecution of Jews, Edgar M. Bronfman has concluded that what North American Jews need now is hope, not fear. Bronfman urges North American Jewry “to build, not fight. We need to celebrate the joy in Judaism, even as we recognize our responsibility to alleviate suffering and to help heal a broken world. We need to understand Judaism as a multi-faceted culture as well as a religion, and explore Jewish literature, music, and art. We need to understand our tradition of debate and questioning, and invite all to enter a conversation about our central texts, rituals, and laws. We need to open our book anew, and recreate a vital Judaism for our time.”

Through a reexamination of important texts and via interviews with some of the leading figures in Judaism today, Bronfman outlines a new agenda for the Jewish community in North America, one that will ensure that Judaism grows and thrives in an open society. He calls for welcome without conditions for intermarried families and disengaged Jews, for a celebration of Jewish diversity, and for openness to innovation and young leadership. Hope, Not Fear is an impassioned plea for all who care about the future of Judaism to cultivate a Jewish practice that is receptive to the new as it delves into the old, that welcomes many voices, and that reaches out to make the world a better place.

The sound was very low but I was in the third row so I was able to make out what they were saying. Rather than a formal presentation, this was a conversation between the authors and Rabbi Andy Bachman.

Rabbi Bachman’s questions moved between biography, philosophy and action. Why was Bronfman drawn to this topic? How can one be Jewish and not believe in God? How are his ideas received in the Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox communities? Why does he think we are experiencing a Jewish renaissance?

I am especially moved by Mr. Bronfman’s perspective on intermarriage:

At one time in my life, I thought that the high intermarriage rate was just awful. Then of course you start to think further, and, slowly, if you meet enough people who are thinking differently, like those I write about in my book, you begin to learn that this could be an opportunity; not the end of the world but maybe the beginning of a new path. We need to change the attitude and education of Jews. Instead of trying to force them to fall out of love with someone, let us try to help them fall in love with Judaism.

As most regular readers know my wife and I are an intermarried couple. She is Hindu. Intermarriage is a big concern in both communities. Not at all Jewish congregations (Rabbi Bachman married my wife and I) nor at all Hindu temples (we had our ceremony in Chennai officiated by a pandit from the Arya Samaj). Nevertheless, it is still a highly contentious issue.

Unfortunately I some of Mr. Bronfman’s answers a bit vague. For example, Bronfman wants to create a more inclusive Jewish community (who would disagree with that?). Yet he provided no concrete examples on how to achieve this beyond a vague call to challenge the divisions of the denominational system. I suspect there is more on this issue in the book but I still wish he had let the audience know of successful endeavors in this regard.

Another thing, in place of the synagogues that exist in America today, he would like to see much more small-scale local synagogues rather than large congregations. While he did not mention it, I think this is how things are in Israel. It seems like every neighborhood has a synagogue and some have more than one. But a big difference between Israel and the U.S. is the majority of the population is Jewish in Israel. Therefore it makes sense to have lots of small shuls. Here in the U.S., the Jewish population is generally spread out. The shul is a place to bring the people together and foster a sense of community. Yes, there are large concentrations of Jews in neighborhoods like Borough Park but that is far and away a minority situation in the U.S.

I still plan on reading the book and may post a review at some point.