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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Avotcja "With Every Step I Take"

Avotcja with Rainstick at Galeria de la Raza October 26, 2013

I LOVE THIS BOOK! I thought I knew something about jazz and poetry and art, but, well, now, I’ve been clued! Now thanks to Avotcja’s “In Linda’s House: World of Our Queen Mother/First Lady of the House of UGMA,” I know a little bit about Horace Tapscott and his “right arm & his friend,” Linda Hill, and UGMA (the Underground Musicians Association). I know about entire genres of Latino music I didn’t even know existed (and I love Afro-Cuban and salsa)! I now know about an entire litany of saints, of creative and talented people from all walks of life who created music and poetry, especially “musical poetry,” people like Piri Thomas:

“Piri came home
He came home & turned on all the lights in Harlem
Something was different, the ‘wise guy’ had died
And a brand new someone came home alive, on fire”

 (-fm “Compai Piri, Tejedor De Ensuenos: Pa’Piri Thomas,” page 36).

People like Connie Williams, whom Avotcja praises as “The True Queen of Carnival.”
Or Glenn Atsuchi Horiuchi:

“& Glenn came out running like a man possessed
Jumped out of the blandness of the shadows of mediocrity
& slapped down a lifetime of hypocrisy
He came out screaming...a Sansei Jazzman preaching
Like a man playing Taiko rhythms on piano keys
Stomping all over stereotypes”

(-fm “Memories in the Many Keys of Horiuchi: Inspired by Glenn Atsuchi Horiuchi 3/7/1955 - 6/3/2000,” pages 95-96).

These are people Avotcja knew or knows personally that she writes about; she is the true first-hand, sympathetic and understanding witness who can articulate and reflect the inspiration and the genius of her friends, those still with us and those who have gone before.  

I never claimed to know much about African religions or African history, but now having been introduced, thanks to Avotcja, to such interesting and fascinating deities as the trickster Spider Man Anansi (in Avotcja’s poem “Anansi the Miraculous”) and theYoruba Sea Goddess Yemaya (in “Yemayalandia”) as well as historical personages such as Mbundu Queen Anna Nzinga (in Avotcja’s “Elixer of Nzinga”), I want to find out more about African religion and history:

You have covered the whole world swimming in our tears
Singing & dancing & praying & our tears
But I wonder,
Mama Africa
Do you ever... have you ever... will you ever
Cry for us???????”

(fm “Elixer of Nzinga,” page 79).

I’m sure you’ve heard the old saw that any person’s life is interesting and can make the basis for a novel or a movie. While that may be or may not be true, let’s face it, some people’s lives might at least at first glance appear to be more interesting than others, and, then once in awhile, a long, long while, there’s someone like Avotcja, who throws the whole kit and caboodle out the window and you have to start all over again. I almost hate to say “original” because like so many other words, it’s been so overused, it hardly means anything anymore. But, believe me, anyone who knows Avotcja knows I mean what I say when I say that Avotcja is an original and they broke the mold and said “Never again!” when they made her! Avotcja is a poet/musician/storyteller/artiste who puts it all together in a way that it’s never been before, and won’t likely be done again, unless Avotcja herself is to write another book or someone were to deliberately try to write a book in Avotcja’s style, in which case, while perhaps someone could imitate (or try to imitate) Avotcja stylistically with more or less success, no one, and I mean no one, could fake the contents of Avotcja’s life, or the resplendent perception with which she has rendered her life for us. Herein I think lies Avotcja’s especial power—her life and art cohere in an individual and individualistic way that simply cannot be replicated!

When I sat down to work on this appreciation of “With Every Step I Take,” one of the first things I did was to make some lists. I’ve already referenced some of the jazz poems and those Avotcja wrote about her friends and African religion and history. There are poems and stories about Avotcja’s own personal—at times heartbreaking, at times triumphant—experience, such as “A Very Subjective View of ‘Operation Wetback,’ and “This Sister Aint Quitting!!! or Life Dodgin’ the Margin of Acceptable Risk.” Poems presented in both Spanish and English (as well as a couple in Spanglish), such as “Ombligao en Argentina” aka “Navel to Navel in Argentina”:

“Yo recuerdo
La suciedad de nuestras pistas de baile
Y el precio pagado pal derecho de danzar

Recuerdo la magia de noches estrelladas
Noches borrachadas de la danza
Memorias sagradas de un legado inolvidable”

“I remember
The dusty muddy dirt of our dance floors
And the price we paid for the right to dance

I remember the magic of those nights full of stars
Nights completely drunk on dance
Sacred memories of an unforgettable legacy”

(fm pages 111 and 113).

Then there’s Avotcja’s prose poem “Cortes ( Christian Soldier & Bringer of ‘Civilization’).” It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen or read about Cortes. What it’d take a historian hundreds of pages to describe, Avotcja nails in several pages. There’s her what can only be described as a love poem, an agape  (spiritual) love poem, to the “Street Children of the Night.” The pride in a bygone Oakland as “the Blues Mecca of the West Coast”:

“And every night was party night
Where you could romance & grind
Or whine & cry about what you didn’t have
Or brag & be loud & proud
And show off everything you did have
And talk about everything you wanted to be
At Slim Jenkins Club,
Esther’s Orbit Room, Ruthie’s Inn, or Eli’s Mile High”

(fm “Oaktown Blue” page 54).

And then it occurred to me, that while it’s true that one poem or another may emphasize a genre of Afro-Bolivian music such as “La Saya Negra” or another story relates the misadventures of the unfortunate fellow “Tweakin’ & Freakin’ in Hell & Even the Bridge Laughed,” any attempt to compartmentalize  Avotcja’s work that I or anyone else can make is arbitrary and of our own creation! African, African-American, Latino,  political, musical, poetical, social commentary, spiritual, religious, personal, biographical, autobiographical, confessional, contemporary, historic, any other designation you’d care to throw in there—it does and does not signify! That is to say, there is no separation! No categorization! Because for Avotcja, it’s all happening at once! As she writes about all true artists (which includes herself, since Avotcja is a true artist!), Avotcja has gone to “The sea of the unconscious” and returned with the “Stories (that) are the Ancestral Key” (“Kudul Khelate/The Unconscious,” page 58). “With Every Step I Take” is truly a honoring of the Ancestors, their “Ancestral Reflections” and the mysterious Creative Artistic Process as only Avotcja can invoke it, and the medium is the kaleidoscopic life as only Avotcja can live it!
Nor could any account of “With Every Step I Take” be complete with a notice of appreciation for Eliza Land Shefler’s lovely and haunting illustrations. Eliza Shefler’s work is as every bit distinctive and unique as the poems and stories which they accompany, and that’s saying something!

“With Every Step I Take” by its very lonesome is multimedia experience and it is interactive! Like I say you’re going to be looking up all these people that Avotcja’s been name-checking because you’ll be hungry to find out more about them and their art and to hear their music and poetry for yourself. You’ll be brushing up on your Spanish so you can hear of the beauty of Avotcja’s bilingual poetry. You’ll want to hear the jazz music collaborations of these works that Avotcja does in person and on cd. You’ll want to see  the Diamano Coura West African Dance Company perform “The Rhythm in Us” and “Kudul Khelate/The Unconscious.” You might find yourself tapping your feet or slapping your fingers against the desk as you read. Who knows? You might even find yourself up and dancing or playing a tom-tom! I’m not kidding!

Let’s face it, most books you put on the shelf or pass along and forget you ever read them. Not this book! “With Every Step I Take” is the beginning of a friendship. Hopefully, with its author, Avotcja, as well. But that’s not what I mean. I mean to read this book is to form a relationship with the book itself! You are going to find yourself wrestling with it as you read it, because you will find yourself being challenged. And when I say wrestling, I mean wrestling with an angel because I don’t care who you are, reading this book, you are going to find yourself in the presence of something new and wonderful and maybe even a tad bit more than a little dangerous; and yet you are going to start living with it once you’ve read it (if you survive!), because you won’t want to let this new feeling go or maybe it won’t let you go! Because “With Every Step I Take” not only chronicles Avotcja’s uniquely personal and transcendent journey, if you’re not careful it may start you on a journey (or two or three) of your own! And, yet no matter how far afield your new life and your new searches may take you, you’ll find yourself returning again and again to that first step you took, which was the reading of this book.

I’d like to close by saying something Avotcja said about some of her heroes, since she is my new hero: “Nothing can stop a diamond from shining once it realizes its own worth.” To honor the Ancestors, as Avotcja does, both those whose origins are lost in antiquity up to the most recent jazz prodigy who dies too young, is to honor one’s self and to honor all blessed to hear and bear witness. If I may say, Avotcja herself is the very “Elixer of Nzinga" in America.

To find out more about Avotcja, please go to

For more information about "With Every Step I Take," please go to


My feet stand in dreams
Run circles
Around the lakes in my mind
Climb tropical hillsides
Inside forests
Hidden behind the Tenements
And dance all sweaty
A passionate urban exorcism
Wrapped in Cortijo magic
My feet swim through concrete
And drink the wind
They sing lowdown Blues tunes
And pray with Jazz bands
My feet are Poems
Every inch on my road, a Chant
A sacred inspiration, a Song
With every step I take
I create

                                                                                  Copyright © Avotcja
By Avotcja
From “Every Step I Take” 

I am.......
I am a bonafide sound junkie
Call me a child of music
I was created/born
To the tune that called...
Two very beautiful, but incompatible Dancers together
To make love  .....  to make me
To the rhythmic humming of rusty bed springs
And on that night
The slippery moans & warm sweat sounds of their love dance
Became the song that is me  ...  The sensuous sounds of
Their love dance sang me into existence
That night didn't walk in softly
And neither did I
I came with all the fire & wild passion of a hurricane
Like a shy tornado I came
I heard Music in the rustling of newspapers in the streets
And a symphony in the sound of dripping water
Every squeaky door & leaky faucet had its song to sing
I even heard music in the dice games on the corner
I ran wild & free
Like the Doo Wops & Mambos, Kaiso, Calypso
Boleros, & Gospel, Bombas, Sambas, Blues & Jazz
Sweet uncontrollable melodies that were everywhere
Melodies that drowned the filth of city streets
But always left a place for me
In the silence between their notes,
& every time I thought I'd lose it, 'cause
The racket was more than I could stand
Spirit said  .....  Listen!
Listen for the rhythm
It's there
All around you
There's music everywhere
Find the rhythm
Listen to the rhythm
And when you become that rhythm
You'll find that noise is only a lonely sound
                        Waiting for someone
Someone who does more than just hear with their ears
Spirit said.......
Noise ain't nothing but a lonely sound
                                    impatiently waiting
                                                looking for a friend
& I knew that I could be that friend
That wild & crazy friend
Who's not afraid to grab the stage & let the people know
Noise ain't nothing but a lonely sound
            waiting for a song to sing
                                    Impatiently waiting
Searching for that somebody
Somebody who'd listen long enough to make her want to sing
Someone like me
Someone like you
Someone that knew
That noise ain't nothing but a sad & lonely sound
Just another naked note
            looking for some clothes

                                                Copyright © Avotcja