Among arts enthusiasts, there is the year-end tradition of list-making, that compulsive, hierarchical compiling of bests and worsts that at its most sinister and cynical is rooted in the marriage of media and market forces and at its most benign is a form of entertainment for us media freaks and geeks. I happen to enjoy the tradition of critically reviewing the year in culture; it helps me remember its themes and threads and some of the good times as I determine what I shall carry forward versus what I’d rather forget. Listmaking or at least the act of reading and sharing of lists, is a form of community; and a little like resolutions, a list can hold you accountable for your taste, revealing however impeccable, poor, quirky, or mediocre it might be. Top Tens are also great conversation starters, and they can contribute toward creating a grassroots buzz for the otherwise unheralded. Word of mouth is still my favorite way of receiving a recommendation, especially when so many other channels of information have been cut-off or rendered unreliable. “I didn’t hear it, but a friend told me she liked it,” is often a good enough reason for me to try something new. Which brings me to my own list of a few of my favorite things from 2011.
Tassili by Tinawiren produced by Ian Brennan: Mali music spiked with the art rock of TV on the Radio, a taste of New Orleans from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and all the soul of Tinawiren’s distinct desert blues.
Detroit Ville Sauvage aka Detroit Wild City, directed by Florent Tillon, concerns the regenerating landscape and pioneering people of one of America’s greatest cities.
The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, directed by Goran Hugo Olsson, conjoins lost and found footage of the struggle in the ‘60s and early ‘70s with the voices of contemporary artists and activists (its narrative echoes the story told in Keep on Pushing, but that’s not the only reason I liked it).
La Havre by Aki Kurismaki. A middle-aged French bohemian with problems of his own offers asylum to a young immigrant from Africa, separated from his family in the port city of La Havre.
Activist and educator, Dr. Cornel West and journalist Tavis Smiley for The Poverty Tour.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee for her activism.
Journalist Amy Goodman for her coverage of the Occupy movement
All the citizens who occupied our streets and parks, from coast to coast.
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. The story of trio of students forced to reevaluate everything they’ve learned up until graduation day will ring through for not only ’80s grads but the graduating classes of 2012 and 2013, too.
The Last Holiday by Gil Scott-Heron: A memoir as well as the story of how a hip hop original, alongside Stevie Wonder, contributed toward establishing the federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I can’t wait to read it.
Who and what contributed to some of your most treasured moments, events and artistic endeavors from the year that was? And what are you looking forward to in the year that is?
Twenty-eleven was chock-a-block with personal milestones on my calendar—not least of which was the publication of Keep on Pushing--though I’d like to begin 2012 with a few words of thanks for the memories, inspiration and encouragement from this past super-year. First to my readers—whether we are strangers, relatives, colleagues, kindred spirits or friends for real, your support of the book has meant a great deal to me. In the cases where we’ve dialogued, whether about the book’s themes, its soundtrack, the artists, and my reasons for writing about them, your inquiries and feedback have been most gratifying. I am indebted to the thoughtful interviewers—broadcast and print journalists—who took the book to their hearts and invited me in for conversation. In a new section of the blog headed Audio, I’ve recapped some of those recorded highlights (or I should say, the miracle that is internet radio and its archives has preserved them, in perpetuity). Also, I owe yet another round of thanks to the publications that reviewed the book, as well as to the book sellers and librarians who invited me to participate in events at their stores and institutions, my editors and publisher Lawrence Hill Books and its distributor IPG, as well as the the musicians and poets who supported me at those appearances by performing for free. Chuck D’s tweet about the book on New Year’s Eve ended the year on a sweet, high note.
We plan to Keep on Pushing throughout the election year with our revue. If you are a musician, a poet, an educator, activist, or a citizen who wants to get into it and get involved, please be in touch. Wishing us all peace, prosperity and good health in the new year (and whatever else it takes to move up a little higher, someway, somehow).
Filed under: Keep On Pushing, Occupy Wall Street, Reviews, A List, Best of 2011, Democracy Now!, Smiley and West, Tinawiren