I wrote about Bendito arriving in my life around the time that it seemed a number of people discovered a 2014 Bark article I wrote about Cleo and the fraught relationship some Black folks have with dogs. The folks at the podcast An Animal Saved My Life over at The Dodo were kind enough to interview me about my sweet Bendito, who very soon will be 1 year old. I hope you enjoy it, especially if podcasts are your jam.
Before I was a journalist, my favorite non-fiction writing and non-journaling activity was to attend readings or lectures featuring Black authors and take copious notes. So it is a kind of coming full circle that I’ve started a Substack newsletter focused on book reviews related to books for and by Black people, Black Book Stacks. (About a year ago, I started a YouTube channel of the same name, which you can view here and if I have a Bookshop store you can find here.)
I always had the innate sense that being a writer was not just about putting words to paper and hoping that others would read those words. I was always searching to put the words I wrote into a tradition. Writing was another way of trying to belong and to solidify a place for myself in a world that seemed bent on my erasure or destruction.
I have vivid memories of a small royal blue Mead notebook that was thick as a brick. I carried it with me to the old Barnes & Noble on Astor Place, through Washington Square Park, up to Emma Willard and Vassar. I had the privilege of listening and trying to absorb the wisdom of Jamaica Kincaid, Gloria Naylor, Janet McDonald, Elaine Brown and so many others. I was a careful collector of Black women writers’ quotes, usually because I couldn’t afford to purchase books of my own and I didn’t not want to vandalize library books. Quotes were the happy compromise; they were short enough for me to carry wherever I went. These were the breadcrumbs and manna they left for me in a trail to who-knew-where but I gobbled them up. Every nugget was a jewel in my crown.
As I made my way in journalism, it became harder and harder for me to give myself permission to keep up this witnessing practice in the same way. Mostly because of time, but also because I realized that such forums and opportunities to hear Black writers and share space with them were fewer in other states and cities. It just so happened that reading the work of Black women in particular was my self-paced MFA program. Sometimes, I had the opportunity to profile, interview and write about them, as was the case with Octavia Butler in 2004 and Alice Walker around the same time. But mostly, I was just glad to have their work to sit with and revel in.
Over the years, I’ve continued to focus my attention on the work of Black writers because, as more of the world knows now, we live in a world where white supremacist capitalism means that what is considered valuable is everything but Blackness or real intimate discussions of all its flourishing contours in spite of and beyond the gaze of the consumption of white people. What I mean to say, I think, is that Black literature has always been a miracle to behold. In part because it comes from a people who have a shorter lineage in the Americas of thriving in literature because of the legal restrictions that forbade them to read and write. Our resilience and perseverance and faith, all bound up in the Word, continued both in an oral tradition and on paper.
The overcorrection here, I’ve found, is that when it comes to fair critique or evaluation of the work of Black writers, is that our books are either ignored, as if they never happened, especially beyond the date or week of their publication, or they are elevated as neutral objects for sale without a real analysis of them and their context. That’s what my new newsletter is aiming to help create in the world. I hope that if that sounds of interest to you, that you’ll subscribe. Looking forward to seeing you on the list.
Happy summer, as happy as it can be, I suppose. I wanted to drop by to rave a little about Isabel Wilkerson’s masterpiece, Caste, publishing soon and definitely one for you to pick up. Here’s my full review from the Sunday Boston Globe and an excerpt:
“With an old house, the work is never done, and you don’t expect it to be,” writes Isabel Wilkerson in her new book, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.” “America is an old house.” It is a simple analogy that is classic Wilkerson, whose previous book, “The Warmth of Other Suns,” chronicled the Great Migration through the masterful weaving of thousands of narratives within the United States. In her new book, which should be required reading for generations to come and is as propulsive a reading experience as her debut, she turns her attention to India, Germany, and what their histories have in common with America’s.
A significant work of social science, journalism, and history, “Caste” removes the tenuous language of racial animus and replaces it with a sturdier lexicon based on power relationships. “Caste is the infrastructure of our divisions,” Wilkerson explains, “an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry.” Using examples from around the world, she goes on to demonstrate how the codification of caste throughout the world has hardened economic and political inequality into seemingly permanent markers of difference.
My friend and radical visionary Mia Birdsong has written the new necessary and inspiring new book, How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and Community (Hachette Go, June 2, 2020) I contacted Mia about her book a few weeks ago, hoping to share her words in a broader forum. My humble blog is as broad a forum as I have, so I hope you find her words about alternative forms of care, especially community care, as therapeutic as I did. I was struck by examples of how Mia, who is partnered and has children, shows up for her single friends like Mariah, which is what frames the first question.
I love the attentiveness and care you mention in the book related to Mariah and her managing diabetes as a single person. The model of attending to her needs outside of coupledom feels like one we need to adopt, especially now. What did you learn about attending to your friend in this way that might be helpful for others as we try to connect virtually now?
Being in Mariah’s life in this way meant that both of us had to push back against some deep American socialization. For me, it was claiming the truth that my loved ones are my business. That means I can butt in if I see a need, gap, place that needs tending to. I was definitely worried about being intrusive, sticking my nose in where it didn’t belong, overstepping, but I also knew that if I pissed her off with unwelcome meddling, we could talk about it. I also thought about how hard it is for people to ask for help, especially when, in this case, the support I was thinking of wasn’t about addressing an immediate need or a crisis, but establishing a long-term, committed kind of support. Ultimately I decided that all the worse-case scenarios of me not butting in were worse than the possibility of pissing her off.
On her end, she had to wrestle with the way we, especially as Black women, are taught to handle shit ourselves, to be super women, and, frankly, to not be dependent on anyone because they might fail you. When you’ve lived your whole life being extraordinarily competent, independent, and excelling at everything you do the way Mariah has—all while managing a condition that could totally kill you and the racism and sexism of America—it’s super hard to allow yourself to lean on someone in such an intimate way.
It’s not like she couldn’t survive without me or the other folks who have become part of her care circle—she has been for her whole life– but she shouldn’t have to. I think that is a critical realization that a lot of us need to come to terms with—just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.
Our practice opened a new way for us to think about care and she’s built more around that that I’m learning from. Having a handful of people instead of one is really powerful. One night when her blood sugar not adjusting, two of us were in touch with her and then in touch with each other. We get to build relationships with each other too.
Now that Covid Times are here, she has actively reached out to the circle of folks that she’s gathered up around her to talk about how to get food, to vent about people not physically distancing properly, to share the latest info, to freak out, to laugh. It’s been a gift to all of us.
Having this practice with Mariah meant that when Covid Times hit us, I was more comfortable with the idea of inserting myself into the lives of my people who live alone, especially if they are high risk. I have a handful of folks that I check in on a few times a week, I bring them food or whatever. And I check in with our friends in common about them to see if I’m missing anything and to encourage others to insert themselves as well. I have a friend with whom I talk about what he wants to happen if he dies, what of his stuff he wants various people to have, where his documents are, etc. That’s a totally new conversation for us.
I guess all of that is to say, I think we need to be brave right now about thoughtfully pushing ourselves into the lives of our loved ones and asking for our loved ones to tend to our wellbeing in ways that might be uncomfortable. We ought not assume that our folks who have lots of friends, or our folks who present as strong and having all their shit together, or our folks who seem ok on their own don’t need our presence and support.
It feels more evident to more people that our racialized capitalistic society and healthcare system has failed us and COVID-19 response (or in some cases, lack thereof) underscores this. What practices, processes or alternative frameworks inspired by and/or explored in How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship and Community do you think can help us to respond to this disappointment and collective trauma — individually and collectively?
I’ve been so heartened by the way folks have shown up for each other as soon as it became clear that we are all we have when our systems (which function as they were designed) are failing to care for us in the ways they should. And I worry about our ability to sustain our mutual aid networks and also hold our government accountable for not doing the work we are now doing. Right now we are trying to fill in for failed systems and we can’t just be cool with that.
One of the things government can’t and shouldn’t do that I see folks doing for each other is creating space to process, to grieve, to connect, and to celebrate. My women’s circles—Tough & Jolly and Black Women’s Freedom Circle—are meeting twice as often now to hold space for ourselves. Having those opportunities to be in our feelings and hear from each other has been life giving. My friend Mac started what is essentially Sunday church. We check in, and every week a different person leads us in song or reflection or meditation.
The other thing I’m loving is the dance parties. I interviewed my therapist a couple of weeks ago because I wanted to understand trauma more. It was clear to me that everyone of us is experiencing trauma. It may hit differently, but it’s universal. She explained fear cycles and what happens when they get interrupted and where people are getting stuck. She also talked about how we can hack our system to make sure we reset it regularly. One of the things she’s recommending to her clients is that they dance every evening. Celebration lets our system know that we are OK—if we’re dancing, we aren’t in immediate danger. So all those DJs on Instagram are helping us reset our system so we release some of the trauma.
How do you imagine reclamation of our communities, family and friendship in the after times – what some call the new normal – will shift in light of the global pandemic, if at all?
This is such a hard question. I’ve been sitting with the fact that while the arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, the arc of the material universe doesn’t care about whose fault it is that we have a global pandemic or that our systems were designed to disadvantage Black and Indigenous people, people with disabilities, queer folks, unhoused people, etc. The virus is not out here trying to eliminate the polluters and oppressors. It is going to kill the people with the least power, the weaker immune systems, the least money and access to health care.
So I’m horrified by the thought of what that means for who is getting care now, who will get access to a vaccine when we finally have one and who will be left in a few years when this comes to some kind of conclusion. It feels inadequate to say “we’ve got us,” or “build community” when the forces in power conspire to exploit this moment for profit and continue to leverage their power for their own gain.
This is all on top of the fact that even after they “open up the country,” we are still not going to be able to hug each other, to hold hands, to share meals in each other’s homes, to gather to worship, celebrate, plan, protest, and just be together for a painfully long time. It’s demoralizing and heartbreaking. And at the same time, it’s still absolutely true that we’ve got us. We are already figuring out how to be with each other, support each other, celebrate with each other, feed and nurture each other. And I imagine we will figure out ways to be together that are safe and support our emotional wellbeing—like maybe we’ll have to plan dates, dinner parties, and small gatherings far enough in advance that everyone can quarantine for a few weeks before getting together. (That is not a recommendation.) Maybe we will have to really do the work of dealing with our own wounds and damage and building grown-ass relationships with excellent boundaries and explicit communication and expressed desires and needs so we can cultivate the kind of trust that would be necessary to gather like that.
So you may have already seen my other list of recommendations, but if not, here’s Part I. Part 2 is not meant to be exhaustive or comprehensive, because there are many lists of books about Black history and culture that you can check out for even more recommendations, including the Zora Canon of 100 best books here, this Penguin Random House list of 25 contemporary fiction and nonfiction or this Electric Literature list of 10 books about Black Appalachia and then there’s Goodreads and Twitter and a dozen other places.
I realized when I was thinking about some of my favorite works of history or of historical significance about Blackness that they were across genres.
For instance, for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange was actually the second or third book of hers I read. Before that, I was in love with Liliane, Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo, her poetry collection, The Love Space Demands. But what I loved most about for colored girls — which was recently a sold out production in all of its glory at The Public Theater — was that it showed Black women in our multicultural context. As being in relationship to Latinx, Caribbean and African spiritualities, dreams and aspirations. It showed our love and joy and pain as being Diasporic like a lot of Ms. Shange’s work.
In this way she was definitely a part of the literary tradition of recovering the wholeness of Black womanhood in the way that Zora Neale Hurston did in Their Eyes Were Watching God, one of my favorite novels of all time.
Much has been said about the beauty and timelessness of Their Eyes Were Watching God; to understand more about the life of Zora, however, an essential text is Valerie Boyd’s Wrapped in Rainbows. It is a classic example of the ways Black women’s lives are cherished in unique ways when we have Black women biographers to attend to the beautiful and brutal details of our lives.
Speaking of the unique beauty of having a Black woman author reflecting the details of Black women writers, bell hooks’ work has been foundational in helping me decode and externalize internalized biases that get in the way of my work. This includes everything from Sisters of the Yam, Writing About Race (a book in which I was surprised to find myself cited!!) to one of her most important books to me, Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work. I often talk about this book because it was the first time I read a respected black woman author say that no Black woman could write too much; that we are always writing against time because of the illnesses that take us out, because our ancestors were silenced and we don’t have to be and much more.
I have not mentioned one of the most important writers in my development and understanding of the myriad possibilities for Black writers and intellectuals on a global scale yet, James Baldwin, in part because the book by which I was introduced to him is no longer in print. I had the great fortune to pick up a thick book, The Price of the Ticket, a collection of Baldwin’s essays in the early 1990s. Published in 1985, it represents some of his most powerful writing from 1948 to 1985. I read it in seventh grade and kept the book with me, somehow, across a lot of moves to a lot of different places. It reads to me like sacred text, and its beautiful cadences and nuances, the confidence and fear, the anger and disappointment, all elegant and alive, helped me really see America for the country that it is instead of the country I believe most of us want it to be.
Some of you have been kind enough to follow my musings about individual books on my new YouTube channel, Black Book Stacks. This is a natural endeavor for me, to find, devour and support books by and about Black people, who I define as people from throughout the African Diaspora. This is an evolving definition, I guess; I was reading David Yoon’s Frankly In Love, which is an addictive YA book that delves into interracial dating and intraracial friendship, including with his Black friend Q. Frankly In Love is a good, recent example of the kind of book that blends a lot of different kinds of diversity and that was part of what thrilled me about it.
I forget who I was talking to who said this, but it stuck with me: Black people in this country do not have the luxury of having as long a literary tradition as any other group in America because of the legacy of slavery. Because of being forbidden to read or write. To me, that makes it that much more important to lift up books that recover and restore us to ourselves; that expand what we know of ourselves and our lineage, real and imagined. Anyway, here is the beginning of a list of some essentials of Black history, to me, anyway, that can be a good resource and are some of my favorite books that filled in important gaps for me along my reading journey:
- (New) Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Writing by Women of African Descent, edited by Margaret Busby | I have the great fortune of having both a copy of the original Daughters of Africa, and the newest addition, which just expands the important, vast collection of significant work to include 200 writers. A classic.
- Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde | “Poetry is Not A Luxury,” “Uses of the Erotic,” and many other seminal works by Audre Lorde were first written or delivered as lectures in the 1970s. Like the Combahee River Collective as a whole, she was integral to giving us language to describe and express the interlocking oppressions we know now as an intersectionality framework.
- How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective by Keanga Yamahtta-Taylor | I was not familiar with Dr. Yamahtta-Taylor’s work until I taught it at the New School, and hearing first hand from the likes of Barbara Smith, Barbara Ransby and Alicia Garza helped contextualize not only a lot of what we’re seeing now in terms of how Black women are dismissed or lifted up, depending on the community, but also how much has happened behind the scenes along the way.
- At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance — a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle L. McGuire | No disrespect to Rosa Parks, but I did not know the name of Claudette Colvin until I read McGuire’s book, of my own volition, long after undergrad, where I had Africana Studies as a minor and learned a good deal, just not enough.
- The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson | It’s hard to believe that 2020 is the 10th anniversary of this book’s publication (!) but what an incredible work of scholarship, recovery and re-membering from Wilkerson, who, if memory serves, interviewed thousands for this book, including a young pre-presidential hopeful named Barack Obama. No list of important Black historical texts is complete without this one.
Words of Fire is another underrated anthology of Black Feminist thought; Black Skin, White Masks has always haunted me, and Sisters of the Yam, by bell hooks, was the beginning of my understanding of wellness and self-care.
I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on these books if you’ve read them, or what books you consider essential to learning about Black history are.
I’m delighted to share a Q&A with School Library Connection as its December Author of the Month. I got to share my love of The Bronx, the story behind Ava Murray’s name in the I Can Write the World series and more about faith, solitude and writing across genres. I hope you’ll check it out. You can read the whole thing here, but I’ve included an excerpt below:
I love the way Ava’s mother uses the window frame to explain how journalists “frame” stories. It seems like so much of our news these days is framed to fit a particular narrative, rather than to express the truth. Why do you think this started to happen, and what can be done to fix it?
Thank you; it wasn’t until I had the great honor of sitting on a panel at the 2019 Bologna Children’s Book Fair with Rudine Sims Bishop, whose beautiful description of books as windows preceded Kim’s description in the book, that I thought more about the significance of how we talk to children (or don’t talk to them) about how stories are framed, or shaped.
I think that it’s fairly recent in society—adjacent and aligned with the rise of social media—that everyone sort of considers themselves a journalist. When you think about it, journalists are witnesses, people who report what they see. So in a way, everybody’s right. What everyone doesn’t necessarily have, though, are the ethics that go along with what professional news gatherers have—this inclination to shine a light on injustice and unfairness. Most news reporters get into the business (and it is increasingly considered mainly a business) with the aims of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. But I think the reason why news more often resembles propaganda now has to do with a kind of commodification of truth and certainly of news. Integrity or nobility are less emphasized than they used to be because most media moguls are looking for revenue to survive in an environment where no one thinks they need an intermediary for news.
One thing I think all of us could do more of is to consider how powerful our platforms are, whether you think you have one or not. All of us who write, for example, have presences online. How can we use that to help others share their opinions or their stories more mindfully? Sometimes it’s as simple as asking these questions, which I love and did not originate with me: “Does it need to be said? Does it need to be said now? Does it need to be said by me?” The other thing is if we are all journalists, now, it shouldn’t just be when it’s comfortable or cute, but all the time. Ask more difficult questions. Who is the source of this information? Are they lying to me about their objectivity? Why do I believe them? Why should I believe them? When in doubt, find your own credible sources and go with that.
I had a whirlwind weekend launching I Can Write the World at the American Library Association Conference in D.C. Librarians, teachers and others were so receptive to the book that I was the first author in my cohorts to run out of books both on Saturday night at a lovely Ingram reception at Spire and on Sunday afternoon after a great panel discussing the importance of representation in Children’s books. I even got to see a former library professor who popped up in the signing line (thanks for coming by, Stan!).
The most common question librarians had is one that most people ask me, which is “What is this book about?” This comes up right after they say, “Wow, the book is so beautiful!” Which makes my heart sing.
The answer is that I Can Write the World is about 8-year old Ava Murray, who lives in the South Bronx. She is named after the brilliant filmmaker Ava DuVernay and the incredible legal scholar, Episcopalian priest & poet Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray, who created the legal precedent known as Jane Crow and, were the world ready for her in her time, might have had a much easier time accepting what we would call her trans identity in this time.
In I Can Write the World, Ava notices the beauty of the Bronx that she knows and loves is at odds with how journalists often depict her world. On the news, a little girl about her age is fined for tagging, which confuses Ava because she sees the colorful murals around her as making the city more beautiful. Her mother, Kim, explains that journalists are like the window frame around their living room window and they shape what we see when we look out of it. Ava decides that she wants to become a journalist so that she can be just like them and shape the world they see.
The first book in the series has Ava exploring more of hip hop culture and how it came to be through a prose poem. I’m honored to say that one of my writing heroines Jacqueline Woodson has called I Can Write the World, “Lovely and timely.” I hope you will find it to be the same. Thank you so much to everyone who has pre-ordered and shared your thoughts with me about the book. I’d be so grateful if you could also write reviews and spread the word. You can find the book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and several other outlets.
Last night, I was watching Brene Brown’s The Call to Courage and so much of it resonated with me because what writers do, all the time, is meet risk and vulnerability with courage. We have this in common, of course, with other artists: Actors, visual artists, musicians. I spend a lot of time wondering about the paradoxical nature of how our culture both obsesses over creation and art and devalues it, simultaneously. It has become part of my personal and spiritual practice to do what Maya Angelou is quoted saying in Beyonce’s film, “Homecoming” which I’ve seen three times now (and is definitely another Netflix film for you to watch, which is “Tell the truth. To yourself first.”
To that end, I wrote about a trend I’ve watched emerge in recent years online for Topic about Black spirituality particularly among young black women. The TL; DR version of this is that traditional church institutions (not unlike government, I might add) have tried to suppress and belittle women’s sexuality, personhood and desires for centuries. I think that seeing the perverse ways in which the negation of people’s true selves manifests — in pedophilia in the Catholic Church, in homophobia and transphobia that warps relationships in similar ways in the Black Church — has led thousands of Black women and many others to choose a different way. In some ways, creating individualized spiritual practices for oneself is nothing new. But I believe it’s become more popular because we are seeking more control over our worlds and our lives. And it’s just too painful to hand over our personal power to patriarchal systems that fundamentally ask us to remain faithful to systems that make us feel shame for wanting to be free.
Here’s an excerpt for that Topic piece:
TO UNDERSTAND WHAT nontraditional Christianity looks like for many black millennials, we have to, perhaps unsurprisingly, turn to the internet. There, one can find a robust community of black and Afro Latina women leveraging social media to gain followers and clients—the majority of them also black women—while offering free guidance about how to use the energy of the cosmos to their benefit.
Over the past seven years, I have noted, with some delight, a growing and powerful group of young people, primarily women, preaching messages of self-empowerment, intuitive guidance, and ancestral reverence. They are everywhere, from Twitter and Instagram to YouTube and the crowdfunding platform Patreon.
It makes sense: in a world where young people’s attachment to smartphones has become one of their most intimate relationships, it would follow that divinely inspired messages of empowerment would reach us via our devices, like everything else we think has meaning. (No judgment—I used to sleep with my phone, too.) And because most social media is used predominantly by women and people of color, there’s a natural synchronicity to digital interactions that allows for seemingly disparate groups to connect to alternative forms of faith.
So that piece was the most vulnerable I’ve been about my faith journey pretty much ever and it gave me a gigantic vulnerability hangover of the sort that is probably tiny compared to what Brene Brown describes in her special. Nevertheless, it was with so much joy that I watched “Homecoming” again and again and got back all of the energy that was expended over ten revisions of the Topic piece, which I kind of loved every minute of. I was tweeting about the fact that Beyonce is the best entertainer of all time and thankfully one of my former colleagues (thank you, Omar!!) suggested me as a writer who could attempt to slay writing about “Homecoming” for Book Plus Film.
This was so much fun to write! Here’s an excerpt, but please do read the whole thing:
Beyoncé is the greatest entertainer of our era and one of the quietest, most silent workers in the game. But she’s a lot of other things, including a scholar. She doesn’t talk about it; she is about it. Her references make evident her awareness and respect for history. She wields silence strategically, working behind the scenes until she’s ready for you to see what she’s been doing. This, along with other methods evident in Homecoming, connects her to a tradition of Black women guarding our sacred inner lives–what historian Darlene Clark Hine calls a “culture of dissemblance.”
In the Reconstruction Era, the Historically Black Colleges and Universities to which Beyoncé pays homage directly in Homecoming offered alternatives to Black people in the South who had no other outlet for edifying themselves spiritually and intellectually. Black women perfected the art of protecting their inner lives through performing personae of intimacy and vulnerability. The damage slavery wrought to our spirits, bodies and position in American popular culture meant the broader world considered us worthless.
But we reclaimed our value and worth through the important, necessary alchemy of consorting with and among ourselves to transform ugly stereotypes. We would never be protected like white women, or valued in the same way, but we had ourselves. We had one another.
“Without community, there is no liberation,” Audre Lorde said.
“The most disrespected woman in America is the Black woman,” Malcolm X said.
A Modern-Day Nefertiti
The truths that unfurl in “Homecoming” flip what most people thought they knew about Black Girl Magic into a two-hour spectacle of reunion pageantry, Black Boy Joy intersecting with a Texas Bamma steeped in the glory of her abundant, glorious Black womanness.
Throughout the athletic and awe-inspiring performances that make up Homecoming, Beyoncé as always, does multiple things at once. She channels a spiritual clinic on how to birth one’s singular vision while also allowing us, as viewers, to project our dreams onto her everywoman canvas. She signifies with subversive and overt joy, refracting and projecting light that’s illuminated by a pulsing, alive darkness.
Beyoncé summons us in Homecoming to witness an intimate-looking, vulnerable and considered return to herself. This, she tells us, is her homecoming, too. We feel that without her having to say a word as the show begins. A Black woman drummer commands the camera’s attention with a ferocity that every living being on the stage will soon match. A modern-day Nefertiti saunters her way to her pyramid of vibrantly clad dancers, singers and a Black orchestra, a swelling, uproarious band that aptly represents the pinnacle of swag.