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Cleveland, Ohio 44110
It was not my "first dance" with the Low Country. Eight months before, I checked off a thirty-year wait-
listed wish a few hundred miles north at Charleston's infamous Spoleto USA. It was the announcement of
their season’s production of Porgy and Bess that sealed the deal for me. I’d never seen a live performance
before, yet knew every single song. Songs that poured from the spinning wax turntable of the elongated,
floor model stereo of my childhood home. Songs that entreated my siblings and me to dance and sing
along. I’d seen the movie version with Sidney Poitier as the forbearing Porgy, Dorothy Dandrige as the
sexy and sassy Bess, and Sammy Davis, Jr. as the dashing, smooth stepping Sportin’ Life. I did not expect
any cast to live up to their characterizations, but I wanted to see it for myself - the sounds and movement
of Porgy’s Catfish Row right in front of me, in living color on its original land. I had to go.
This time with only my sister in tow, I found a quaint George Street inn in the heart of historic Charleston's
bustling activity, a short walk to Spoleto performances, lectures and exhibits from around the globe. An
easy meander off the beaten track to homes once occupied by proud black men and women who made their
own way - both simple and grand - through the antebellum and segregated Jim Crow South.
|West African Wonan
drummers and dancers
|Birthday dinning and jazz
at Ruby Lee's
|South Carolina collage
artist Carl Crawford
|Home of Charleston African -
Thomas Mayhem Pinckney
|Festival poster artist Sonia Griffin Evans
|Basket weaver Corey Alston
|Voices of El Shadai
at Queen Chapel and on the cover for
"Last Mile of the Way"
|Historic Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church
Left: Entry to home and museum of renowned Charleston
blacksmith Philip Simmons Right: Folk art on George Street
Two decades before it was the Georgia Sea Island Festival on St. Simon
in search of a master basket weaver, Allen Green. I’d read about him in
National Geographic and knew that he was at the end of his years. Yet, I
was hopeful of commissioning him for an artist residency at the South
Dallas Cultural Center I directed at the time. So I packed up my F150,
aka “Sojourner Truck,” and my son, our German shepherd Spike and I
headed southeast to find him, only to miss the last ferry to his Sapelo
Island home. The next day, we continued on to St. Simon for the festival
as planned, and “lo and behold,” there he was, 89 years old with nimble
fingers weaving to the quick.
I told him how I had journeyed to the islands especially to meet him. We
talked about the residency for which he admitted he was way too worn to
do. His granddaughter was with him as his apprentice to the craft.
Maybe she would come. I chose a basket to purchase. He made it
affordable for me. I hugged and thanked him.
Two years later, he was gone.
|Carrie Mae Weems Performance
Allen Green basket, Corey Alston photo
of a basket in front of a Phillip Simmons
gate, an African Market fan.
Migrant "netters" worked from sunrise to
sunset dragging the marsh to supply the
restaurants with crabs. Egrets and herons
followed closely to glean left overs.
Strangely forged through each of these sojourns was an unexpected, peaceful kinship with land
that holds the history of the oppression of my ancestral past. I found a peculiar freedom in the
African laced dialect of the Gullah southern drawl; comfort in a simple sun porch breakfast of
banana, eggs and grits to start my day, with iced tea, sherry and simple sandwiches greeting me
as I retreated from the mid afternoon sun. I shared pride with long gone black artisans who built
grand houses and crafted intricate wrought iron gates as welcoming entries. I felt at home with
the blend of old and new, young and seasoned, black and white, the "well to do" and the "not so"
strolling side by side on narrow, brick lined, storefront streets. Oils of shacks and baptisms took
me back to my birthplace in a West Virginia mountain hollow, and there was a sacred sense of
familiarity with folk art that just appeared in crevices on the streets and along dirt roads. The
earnest hospitality of the hands and smiles that prepared and served me meals, the warm
embrace of church bells and chapels filled with the unadulterated gospel rhythm in the voices,
hand claps, piano and drums of black folk – despite the weariness of our wounds - in total praise...
The longing to return to New Mexico to dance
again with Navajo women whose faces are as
familiar as my family’s own; the pulsating beat
of drums, feathers and mud houses with sleeping
dogs near steps of clay and stone climbing to
precipices peering out on God’s amazing canvas
of endless mountain and sky.
While others long for grand hotels and bright city
lights rushing with fast music and fast cars, I long
for the simple life of rooted people tucked away
on water fronts and in mountain hollows because
it keeps me close to the humble strength of my
birthright, to who I am and what I hold dear.
These - the spirit and energy of rooted places and people are my inspirations for Kumbaya on the
Shore: the colors and textures, the scents and sounds of the diaspora right here in the “home of the
brave, and the land of the (would be) free.”
Mostly, like Deuteronomy 8:3 Café before it, I long for Kumbaya to be like the indelible image of
the door that seemingly appeared from nowhere in the side of the mountain as I climbed the Gran
Canarias road to Terro. There it was: a door in a desert island mountain off the coast of North
I was told that it was a “cooling room,” a space to retreat from the Mediterranean heat. I did.
Amazing. It was as if I had entered an air-conditioned space in the midst of the desert wilderness.
That’s the impression I wish for Kumbaya on the Shore. A “cooling room,” an oasis, a breath of
refreshing air in the midst of the street corner convenient/beer-wine/cell phone /lottery store
A place of inspiration, contemplation and encouragement.
A place of peaceful pastime and fellowship.
A place of joy and celebration.
A “cooling room’ in the midst of modern day madness.
Mittie Imani Jordan
|Kumbaya on the Shore
a place of peaceful pastime
Inspiration for Kumbaya on the Shore
It was my birthday. A significant milestone, at that.
Of course the closer we get to the promise of three score and ten,
they all become milestones of significance. I am thankful.
The annual Gullah Festival at Hilton Head had been on my “bucket list” for over a
decade, but the timing was never right. This to do. That to do. Never enough money.
Never enough time. Back burner, “maybe one day” to do list. Then finally you decide
to just “go for broke” and check it off the list. So in 2017, sixteen members of my
family and friends journeyed with me to South Carolina to celebrate my "significant
milestone" birthday and the rich culture of the south Atlantic islands' Gullah traditions.
In the blend that I am - a descendant of enslaved, yet self-determined Africans on North Carolina and
Virginia tobacco plantations, colonized tribes of the Indigenous southern nations, West Virginia coal
miners, Ohio industrial laborers and Massachusetts intellectually curious elite - we rented a stately ocean
front house boasting grand rooms with bay windowed balconies and side views of the human drudgery and
natural wild life on the marsh. There, we spent our sunrises and sunsets sipping coffee and cognac while
basking in the light fan of palm leaves and a calm ocean breeze. We spent our afternoons and evenings
entrenched in West African rhythms, taste and hues.
Not a strange dichotomy. It is who we Africans in America, are.
|Scenes: 2017 Gullah Festival, Hilton Head, South Carolina
2016 Spoleto USA, Charleston, South Carolina
1989 Taos Pueblo and Las Trampas, New Mexico
Gauley Mountain West Virginia homeland
1984 "Cooling Rooms" Las Palmas, Gran Canarias, Canary Islands
Porgy & Bess set and costumes (left), and Spoleto poster(above),
all designed by South Carolina artist, Jonathan Green
|my birthplace above the Kanawha
|what's left of my birth shack
|The Dreamweaver's Inspiration
|Site Map ~ www.kumbayashore.com
Lyrics & Litanies
|Click on photo
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