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

Ishmael Reed’s MUMBO JUMBO

“Look, LaBas, Herman. I believe that you two have something. Something that is basic, something that has been tested and something that all of our people have, it lies submerged in their talk and their music and you are trying to bring it back, but you will fail.

It’s the 1920s, not 8000 B.C. These are modern times. These are the last days of your roots and your conjure and your gris-gris and your healing potions and love powder.

I am building something that people will understand. This county is eclectic. The architecture, the people, the music, the writing. The thing that works here will have a little bit of jive talk and a little bit of North Africa, a fez-wearing mulatto in a pinstriped suit.

A man who can say ‘give me some skin’ as well as ‘Asalamilakum’.

Haven’t you heard? This is the country wheresomething is successful in direct proportion to how it’s put over; how it’s gamed.”

—Excerpt from Ishmael Reed’s satiric, staggering, and significant MUMBO JUMBO. If you haven’t read it or listened to the brilliant audio adaptation, you’re missing really one of the most important, informed, and strangely prophetic works written about both the dream and the nightmare of America.

It comes with highest recommendation. Go seek it out.

MUMBO JUMBO by Ishmael Reed Book Review: A novel about Haiti and America and Ragtime 90 Years Ago

“It’s a way we had over here for living with ourselves. We cut ’em in half with a machine gun and give ’em a Band-Aid. It was a lie. And the more I saw them, the more I hated lies.”– Apocalypse Now

I just finished Ishmael Reed’s 1971 Novel MUMBO JUMBO, a biting, absurdist, fantastic satire, that also happens to be, like the best of satires, a cutting and revealing and true depiction of our ids and our angsts. It is for a work of fiction, far more true than are so-called “history”. It is such a rich and deep and sprawling and compelling and… brilliant novel.

I consider myself a pretty informed reader, and this 4 decade old novel had insights into not just our history but our humanity, that i had never even considered.


How it defined Museums as store-houses for Pirated/Stolen goods.

I’ve been in and out of museums all my life, and it never even occurred to me to consider them in the context of Robber-Baron’s basically raping and destroying civilizations and bringing home to the west their trophies. Their stolen goods.

And this was like a throw away line in the novel, and it blew my mind. That I who consider myself relatively afro-centric that it did not even occur to me to question the origin and rightness of Museums. And the whole novel is like this, one smashing revelation after another.

And yes it’s a work of sensational fiction, but what makes it even more sensational are the parts of it… that ring true, are true. And speak even today… of true things.

From the hidden Haitian War and Holocaust of the early 20th century, which oddly mirrors the conflicts in Haiti today, even to the search for a talking Android to lead the people astray, which without too much of a jump can be compared to today’s President Obama…. it is almost a prophetic work. Or perhaps it just illustrates how history not learned from, is repeated.

This is the type of book that school curriculums that teach children of color… should cover. Must cover. It’s the kind of book… written with brilliance, and that inspires, ignites a real fire… for more brilliance, and more questions and answers.

It’s the kind of book that inspires… real learning.

It is a challenging read, but stick with it as it does all come together. And I highly recommend hunting down the griot audio book version which is FANTASTIC! It is an essential read, and in light of recent issues in Haiti, I think a surprisingly timely and insightful one. A satire that hints at much that is true, about Haiti’s tumultuous and troubled relationship with Western Powers.

It is an essential purchase. B+/A-


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.