ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


Home   ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more) 


Slavery ends and the rock rolls up; it goes down after the decline of Reconstruction

 and rise of the Klan; it goes up with civil rights and the Panthers, and down with t

he Bush administration.  ". . . the rock is back down again," said the poet.



Books by Amiri Baraka

Tales of the Out & the Gone  / The Essence of Reparations / Somebody Blew Up America & Other Poems  / Blues People

 Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka / Selected Poetry of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones / Black Music

*   *   *   *   *

Books by Marvin X

Love and War: Poems  / In the Crazy House Called America / Woman: Man's Best Friend Beyond Religion Toward Spirituality

*   *   *   *   *

The Sisyphus Syndrome: A Jazz Opera by Amiri Baraka

Music by David Murray / Choreography Traci Bartlow

Eastside Cultural Center / Oakland, CA


Review by Marvin X


Sisyphus is the Greek king condemned to roll the rock up the hill for eternity. Each time he ascended, he was blocked by the forces of evil and the rock fell to the ground. Du Bois and others have used the Sisyphus myth-ritual to describe the history of North American Africans. Each generation that makes progress on the path to freedom is blocked by the forces of reaction and the next generation must reinvent the wheel of justice, freedom and self-determination. Amiri Baraka’s Opera takes us up the mountain and down in the manner of Sisyphus. He shows us the trials and tribulations of a people striving for dignity, only to be obstructed by evil, call it racism, imperialism, capitalism, slavery, whatever.

 Baraka has always been our myth-maker, from the Dead Lecturer (poems), Dutchman (play), A Black Mass (play) and Slaveship (play), not to mention  numerous other works attacking, revising and transcending Western mythology to tell the story of our existence in this wilderness. The Sisyphus Syndrome is his most recent attempt to lecture us in the didactic manner of BAM (Black Arts Movement).  Sonia Sanchez asked, “Will your book free us?” Baraka answers emphatically, “Yes.”

He proceeds to describe the problem through the dramatic form called Opera, a utilization of voice, song, music, dance, set design, video, and sound. Of course BAM drama is ritual theatre, the merging of actors and audience, thus it is communal—there is no audience but rather a community of people gathered to learn, to heal and transform. Baraka is the shaman who gathers his tribe around the village fire, yes, Round Midnight, to envision a new day. What happened, what should happen and what will happen if we finally get it right, if we understand events, symbols and signs, the blocks along the mountain path to freedom, the joys, the celebrations of victories, then defeat, depression, more oppression, but finally, in the transformation and ascension to the mountain top Dr. King preached about the night before his assassination, April 4, 1968.

Baraka catalogues the history endured and victories celebrated. Sisyphus is thus a lesson from the wise elder, the healer, for finally, Baraka’s myth is about healing and love, unity and love. He gives a shout out to Muslims, Christians, Socialists, Communists, and vegetarians to unite in a Black United Front. The chorus tells us this, the poetry as well, sometimes recited by the poet himself.

His book of poetry is classic Baraka, abstract at times, plain and simple other times, but it is poetry that is didactic and lyrical. He thus returns theatre to the Shakespearean tradition of the poetic drama. But he transcends Shakespeare, with the elements of ritual, the energy of the Holy Ghost church. While the words instruct and inform, the dance and music take us to the deep down funk of our lives. Baraka would call it Funklore. In one tune we hear that funky Al Green beat. And there is a rendition of my favorite tune Round Midnight signaling a low moment in our history, maybe the betrayal of Reconstruction, the lynching, torture and terror of American genocide.

In the BAM tradition, David Murray weaves his music as a weapon of freedom, literally using his horn as a device to check the devil, the forces of evil. David does a dance with Skelekin. We see the role of musician as shaman, protector of the tribe. We see the people’s army marching and dancing to music. The music once again propels us up the mountain, sometimes it is a gentle nudge, sometimes a shout, a scream, a moan, but in tandem with the choreography of Traci Bartlow, the music is for war, just as her movements are forward motion, the principle activity in the Sisyphusian myth-ritual, as interpreted by Baraka. Traci employs modern, African, jazz and hip hop movements to tell the myth. She is outstanding as choreographer, dancer and assistant director. Rashidi Byrd was excellent with his hip hop movements.

And there is love, for there shall be no revolution without love. Baraka reminds us of love and unity throughout, and the dancers exemplify by embracing each other and the audience or tribe, weaving in and out of the audience to make it feel, touch, taste and hear the Motion of History, a Baraka title.

 The video symbols are apt since we are in the video Age, but because the images are a powerful montage of history and current reality, we are forced to learn from them, for they enter our consciousness along with the other dramatic elements to break the rock of ignorance. No one can sit in the audience and participate in this drama without a raising of consciousness, without desiring a further course in black studies, the history of imperialism and its counterpoint, revolution.

We applaud the acting of President L. Davis as Sisyphus. He is on the way to an acting career. His voice alone should take him there. Do we not hear a James Earl Jones in the making? His nemesis, Skelekin, Amil Islam, is another powerful young actor we expect to be transformed by his role as Block Man. We suspect all the actors will be transformed by this production, artistically and spiritually, even the young actors from the Youth Guerilla Theatre, who completed the intergenerational aspect of the myth-ritual drama.

We thank the producers, Eastside Arts, for making this production possible. It is a much needed continuation of the Black Arts Movement.

 And as we exit the theatre, exhausted but joyful at the conclusion, we must suggest a reading of How To Recover from the Addiction to White Supremacy, for we cannot leave the theatre to do nothing, rather the Opera’s intent is to get us involved in the dance of unity and radical consciousness. How to Recover from the Addiction to White Supremacy is the antidote to problems presented in Sisyphus Syndrome: detoxify, recover and discover your role in the cultural revolution.

We encourage you to attend our Pan African Mental Health Peer Group to recover from the addiction to white supremacy. Call 510-355-6339, email Visit my blog:

9 May 2008

*   *   *   *   *

The Sisyphus Syndrome is a newly commissioned jazz opera by poet and playwright Amiri Baraka and saxophonist and composer David Murray.  This groundbreaking and timely project details the African-American struggle in the United States using poetry, live music, dance and mixed media. 

David Murray will lead The Freedom Now! Band, and Amiri Baraka is directing the piece in addition to being a featured performer. Dancers, actors, and digital design round out the production to make it a compelling, insightful piece that offers both a historical perspective and a road map for the future. This collaborative effort to create a modern urban opera merging two of the most active, sometimes controversial, and always cutting-edge artists in contemporary literature and music promises to introduce challenging social commentary and innovative concepts.

When describing this unique partnership Baraka says, “We want the music and words to extend to each other, be parts of the same expression, different pieces of the whole.?  Murray says, ?The subject has got to be America and what America is trying to be, so lets make an opera about what it can be.” Fusicology

*   *   *   *   *

The poet's latest collaboration with tenor saxophonist David Murray, The Sisyphus Syndrome, spawned from the Greek myth about a king who was condemned to roll a boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down — a process he had to repeat ad infinitum. Baraka said it's a fitting allegory for the African-American experience.

"It was W.E.B. Du Bois who said that's what the African-American freedom movement is like," he explained in a recent phone interview. Baraka staged his production as a historical epic with an overarching metaphor: Slavery ends and the rock rolls up; it goes down after the decline of Reconstruction and rise of the Klan; it goes up with civil rights and the Panthers, and down with the Bush administration. "It ends with the kind of note of realism that the rock is back down again," said the poet. "It's come down beneath our expectation."

Baraka originally staged The Sisyphus Syndrome for a New York black opera company in 2004, but was dissatisfied with the result — partly because they scored it in the style of European opera, he said, and because it was more or less a star turn for one basso singer. This new, more contemporary version — featuring a six-person chorus, a dancer, and the four-piece Freedom Now! Band with Murray leading on saxophone — harks back to the post-bop idioms of 1960 to the present.

"It's really an attempt to put it in a completely contemporary mode even though it's talking about old stuff," said Baraka, indicating that he's pleased with this production. Murray proved an ideal collaborator for someone who always writes with Monk or Trane playing in the background, and the score he developed for Sisyphus brings a sense of unity to the theme. Most importantly, though, it emphasizes the music in Baraka's writing.

The Sisyphus Syndrome plays Thursday-Saturday, May 8-10, at EastSide Cultural Center (2277 International Blvd., Oakland). 8 p.m., $10, $20.  EastBayExpress

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *


Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

*   *   *   *   *

Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *

*   *   *   *   *

ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)






posted 10 May 2008




Home   Marvin X Table  Amiri Baraka Table