MUST LISTEN Audio Books for BLACK HISTORY Month and every other month! :) Part 2 of 2

The 2nd must listen audio book for Black History Month or any month is the mind breaking MUMBO JUMBO by the great Ishmael Reed.

Ishmael Reed, who was honored with the MacArthur “genius” award, is a Pulitzer Prize finalist and two-time nominee for the National Book Award. Mumbo Jumbo, a literary masterpiece, is an ironic and unconventional detectivestory infused with African-American cultural heritage. A strange psychic epidemic called “Jes Grew” is spreading through the country, affecting millions. PaPa LaBas, a HooDoo detective, is trying to find the origins of the JesGrew – not because he wants to cure it, but because he’s ready for a new kind of society.


Composed of the memorable personalities and the little remembered tragedies and triumphs of the roaring 20s, MUMBO JUMBO weaves these truths into an overarching fictional narrative that goes from the beginning of civilization to the fall of man.

But the fiction is so peppered with essential truths, like the best of all fiction, that it will change fundamentally how you look at everything, from museums to curse words to bull fights. If MIDDLE PASSAGE is my favorite audio book, MUMBO JUMBO  I think , in opposition to its name, is the most enlightening and powerful audio book I’ve ever listened to, for the  way it opened up my mind to… broader definitions of history and broader definitions of ourselves. Magnificent.


Author: Ishmael Reed
Narrator: J. D. Jackson
Genres: Fiction & Literature
Publisher: Recorded Books
Published In: July 2005
# of Units: 8 CDs
Length: 8 hours, 30 minutes

Get your copy here:


Mumbo Jumbo

MUST LISTEN Audio Books for BLACK HISTORY Month and every other month! :) Part 1 of 2

I first became familiar with these two novels, both by master writers, as novels proper. And both blew my mind in ways both stunning and lasting. Later I listened to the Audio Books. Audio Books, if you get the right reader, for the right work, can be rewarding experiences, even to lovers of the novel.

I love me some Walter Moseley EASY RAWLINS mysteries, I’ve read just about everyone of them, and I have to tell you the pairing of Moseley’s iconic words with a formidable actor such as Michael Boatman, is to have those works enriched, and nuances discovered that may have been skimmed over by even the most loving reader.

A great Adaptation, a great marriage of words and performance can do that, can alchemize into something more than the sum of its parts. Something magical. And an audio book avoids the constraints of time and budget and indeed visuals, that a film or TV show runs into. An audio book has the biggest theater of the world, and the biggest budget, in which to breathe life into the writers words,… the theater of the mind.

So Audio Books when they get that mixture right, become part of a sacred line of story and storytelling, going back to the cradle of not just Black History, but all history.


This 2 part post, honors two of the best, that should be loved and listened to and cherished by everyone.

They are:

Charles Johnson’s seminal and National Book Award winning novel, MIDDLE PASSAGE. It is an American epic, a rousing seafaring saga, blisteringly funny at times, deeply harrowing at others, both poetic, prosaic, and magical all at the same time. As someone who has read Melville, and Dickens, and Hemingway, and Crane and Poe and Bradbury and King and Baldwin, all the quintessential American masters, this is the novel I would save when everything else is burning.




I give the hardcover out as presents. I consider it, in an imperfect world, an arrow toward a more perfect union. So having it on a pedestal that high the audio book has to bring it. It was made into an audio book twice, the first was an abridged and hence flawed cassette version, but read by the author himself, I quite liked it. He brought something… wonderful to it.

The 2nd time was on CD, unabridged thankfully. The performer Dion Graham, gives a different performance than Charles Johnson, that I slowly warmed to. And as the story drew you deeper so did his voice. It’s a wonderful way to be introduced to this great novel.

I would say both audio book versions are indispensable. Start with the unabridged CD version, and then follow up by listening to the Abridged version. And have a copy of the paperback or hardcover, to read over especially loved passages.

In an America where folly holds sway, the words of men who both remember history and learn from it, is of the highest value.

Check them out at the links below:

Middle Passage Cassette Audio Book read by the Author!

Middle Passage Audio CD Unabridged!

By Charles Richard Johnson Middle Passage (Reprint) [Mass Market Paperback]


If you like this blog please support it by using the links above and by leaving comments! And come back for the 2nd part where we discuss the 2nd, must own, Black History Month (and other months) Audio book!


“New Orleans, you should know, was a city tailored to my taste for the excessive, exotic fringes of life, a world port of such extravagance in 1829 when I arrived from southern Illinois — a newly freed bondman, my papers in an old portmanteau, a gift from my master in Makanda — that I dropped my bags and a shock of recognition shot up my spine to my throat, rolling off my tongue in a whispered, “Here, Rutherford is home.” So it seemed those first few months to the country boy with cotton in his hair, a great whore of a city in her glory, a kind of glandular Golden Age.

She was if not a town devoted to an almost religious pursuit of Sin, then at least to a steamy sexuality. To the newcomer she was an assault of smells: molasses commingled with mangoes in the sensually damp air, the stench of slop in a muddy street, and, from the labyrinthine warehouses on the docks, the odor of Brazilian coffee and Mexican oils. And also this: the most exquisitely beautiful women in the world, thoroughbreds of pleasure created two centuries before by the French for their enjoyment. Mulattos colored like magnolia petals, quadroons with breasts big as melons — women who smelled like roses all year round. Home? Brother, for a randy Illinois boy of two and twenty accustomed to cornfields, cow plops, and handjobs in his master’s hayloft, New Orleans wasn’t home. It was Heaven.

But even paradise must have its back side too, and it is here (alas) that the newcomer comes to rest. Upstream there were waterfront saloons and dives, a black underworld of thieves, gamblers, and ne’er-do-wells who, unlike the Creoles downstream (they sniffed down their long, Continental noses at poor, purebred Negroes like myself), didn’t give a tinker’s damn about my family tree and welcomed me as the world downstream would not.”
— From MIDDLE PASSAGE by Charles Johnson

Middle Passage PB

Middle Passage Unabridged CD

Well hope everyone is having a great weekend. On the docket today, I’m going to make time to finally post the WHISPERER IN DARKNESS dvd review. That should be up around 5pm so come back for that.

We also have a wacky news segment that takes a look at entertainment on the horizon.

And finally we’ll be doing our Comic and Book Bonanza, and all of it kicks off at 5pm today, so come-on back now! Y’all here? 🙂

Catching Up #2: All I ask of Music, is that it Astonish me…


When it comes to music, I’m willing to try diverse genres. All I ask of music is that it… astonish me at its best, entertain me at its worst.

2008 I really had no musical discoveries. Unlike 2007 when quite a few artists came on my radar, among them Otis Redding, Immortal Technique, Solomon Burke, Mark Gross, and Terry Callier, as well as several local artists. (do a search to your right there, you’ll find the musical review posts I did on these guys).

2008 Found me in Cali, for the bulk of the year, and really pretty adrift as far as the musical scene was concerned. Being back on the east coast in 2009, one thing I hope to do is put more effort in going out and finding local and national acts to hear. As well as just doing the web surfing and CD buying to broaden my horizon about what is on the musical front for 2009.

Brief aside, there was one musical discovery of 2008, I brought back from the West. My supervisor at the time, Dylan, turned me on to this musician, Charlie Terrell. He let me listen to his cd: ON THE WINGS OF DIRTY ANGELS. Really good stuff. Particularly ‘Right Outside’ grabbed me from the first listen. Just a fantastic song, lyrically strong, and it stays with you. Reminiscent in a good way of Everlast at his most haunting.

I can listen to ‘Right Outside’ all day long. And for me, that is the definition of a masterpiece.

Go to his site here, sample the music, and when you see I wasn’t steering you wrong, buy a CD from him. Support the art. Support the artists.

Getting back to 2009, again I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time at An old site, to bring into a discussion of new music, but that site is really turning me on to musicians I would otherwise not have heard of. And i’m determined in 2009 to pick up what remains of their CDs.

Currently I’m on a hunt for a lot of colored music from the 1910s, 20s and 30s, the music that grew out of the latter days of Vaudeville (Vauldeville tracing its roots from the late 1800s) that would become widely known, as Folk, Blues, Jazz, County.

Vaudeville, contrary to the bigoted piece of crap that is the first sound film… THE JAZZ SINGER (if you want my rant on hollywood and racism, go back a few posts), was more than untalented white performers in black face, it was actually quite a haven for diverse groups, including colored musicians and artists. Names like Eubie Blake and Lucille Hegamin cut their teeth in the Vaudeville of a young, untamed America.

Often the colored acts were the most popular acts of the day.

However being successful and Black in the early days of the 20th century, is not much different than being successful and Black in the early days of the 21st century. There are wolves waiting to take it away from you.

The very success of people of color in Vaudeville, was responded to with the Minstrel show. Basically it boiled down to not-that-talented white performers, who decided to parody the colored singers they could not out perform. And black face/the minstrel show was born.

So Vaudeville went from what was a real talent revue show, to largely a lowest common denominator circus. With the added benefit of driving out of Vaudeville, the very musical acts that had marked its finest moments.

Luckily some of these acts, such as Lucille Hegamin, landed on their feet and found their way on to the club circuit. And some, a very few, found themselves at the dawn of this newly minted century, immortalized in wax. The age of the mass-produced record, had arrived.

I’m going to keep all the artists I’m discovering from the dawn of the 20th century, under wraps, as I’m still waiting on some of their CDs to arrive. They are getting scarce.

But there’s this fantastic line by the great Ishmael Reed that sums up this period of time, and the musicians who bestrode it like Gods and Demons. It’s from his novel MUMBO JUMBO.

‘1920. Charlie Parker, the houngan (a word derived from n’gana gana) for whom there was no master adept enough to award him the Asson, is born. 1920-1930. That one decade which doesn’t seem so much a part of American history as the hidden After-Hours of America struggling to jam. To get through.’

If you don’t read Ishmael Reed or Charles Johnson don’t speak to me of American literature. Because your frame of reference… is lacking.

Charles Johnson’s THE MIDDLE PASSAGE, comes to mind. I’ll stack it up against all contenders. THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE, etc. And the fact that that particular book isn’t required reading in schools, says a lot about why more colored kids are in prison than in school. The lies of the latter (‘the miseducation of the negro’ as it’s been termed) just prepares them for the former.

Yes, I do like tangents.

Okay back to music for 2009. Actually… not. We’re out of time for this installment, so catch me next time, with CATCHING UP #3. Till then, be safe.

p.s. This week’s picture is from the fantastic and scarce French art book CARLOS SCHWABE. An artist of the late 19th/early 20th century who worked in a baroque fantastic style. One of the lesser known, but most fascinating artists of the Fantastic.