Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sankofa, or, The Sweet sounds of Eastern Market with Manatho Masani

In 2000, I went to a conference on metalsmithing and art metal in Birmingham, England. This conference was called "A Sense of Wonder". It was a meeting of the old, new and contemporary realms of metalsmithing in the English speaking worlds. I loved it. We art metal folks celebrated and communed. We also had music played for us in the Goldsmith's Church in Birmingham. Historically Birmingham, England, was the center of goldsmithing in the British Isles, going back to medieval times. The music was Baroque, and we conference-goers were privileged to hear and see beautiful classical instruments, including the harpsichord, a precursor to the piano.
When John Harrod conceived of Market 5 Gallery in the early 1970's, and later the outdoor arts and crafts festival at Eastern Market, music and performance were part of his mandate. On any given Saturday or Sunday during the middle of the afternoon, there were live jazz or blues jam sessions inside Market 5 Gallery. I mean, who can forget a performance by "Dr. Hot Pepper"? He played lowdown dirty blues. He stood out for his clothes alone, never mind his great blues voice. Then on the outside of the market was a older gentlemen who played guitar near "Ma Brown's"( Linda Brown) stand right next to the Farmer's Shed on Sundays. He sang and played like Ritchie Havens. I can still hear him belt out "Freedom" in my mind. Tom Rall (founder of the Flea Market at Eastern Market) recalls that ..."he use to sing 'Let the Sun Shine on Eastern Market' and (this song) could be so uplifting." I believe this man's name was Archie Stewart. This music was in the air around the market in those days.
And now ,thanks to Manatho Masani (nee Anthony Reddick) of ZimGems,
(Manatho Masani)
we at Eastern Market are again privileged to hear and see live music played outside at the Market. Mr. Masani, like longtime exhibitor Noor ul Islam, is a native Washingtonian. He was born in the mid 1960's and grew up in Northwest Washington D.C.. He went to McKinley Technical High School and later attended The New York Institute of Technology where he studied computer graphics.
Manatho Masani is a renaissance man. He is first and foremost an artist, but he is also an importer of craft objects from Zimbabwe, a writer, a performance artist and a businessman. How did this happen? If asked, Manatho will tell you that he started playing drums at eight years old. Drumming, he says, just came easily to him. At around the same time, he started drawing and created his own cartoon characters--creative expression has always been a part of his life. When asked how he was introduced to writing, he explains with a large smile that he was trying to impress a pretty young woman when he was in tenth grade; he joined the creative writing club to hang around her, and in the process ended up winning second place in the NAACP's National ACTSO competition. The poem was called "The Devil and a Drummer Named Tony." He also "got the girl"; Mr. Masani has charm.

( Manatho working in his studio on a large giraffe)

(Manatho's books on...)
Between too much math in the computer graphics program at college and starting his life as an importer/vendor/artist, he spent ten years working for the United States Postal Service on a machine loading mail. This machine taught him the importance of timing and working quickly with rhyme.
Manatho started vending "oils" in 1992/93. He had noticed from seeing other vendors how free they felt and he wanted that freedom. He set up his first stand in front of Tower Records in Washington, D.C.
In 1993 he discovered the Mbira. He told me the story of how this came about--ask him. It involves another attractive young woman. One starts to see a pattern.
The Mbira is an ancient musical instrument from the Shona people of Zimbabwe. It is believed to be over a thousand years old and is one of the first pianoed instruments. In traditional Shona culture the most import aspect of the playing of this instrument is to "... impart to- (the people)-wisdom, advice, forgotten family customs and protocol to ensure a healthy and successful family and community."
(Manatho Masani playing The Mbira)
Listen to the beauty of the playing and spoken words of Mr. Masani http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUB1I2t25L0 and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6fDyt9klXno
It is an interesting aside that this instrument is used in its traditional culture to call on the ancestral spirits. For seven years growing up, Mr. Masani lived between a church and a funeral home on eleventh and R street northwest. This foreshadowed his life to come as player of the Mbira. There is great spirituality in his playing. He is a believer in the metaphyical. He is an astrologer and numeroligist. He say's that through these studies he learned that "...working with anything that deals with metal relaxes me..."
(Manatho Masani's home for the first seven years of his life)
In 1997 Manatho started playing "gigs" and played back up with another talented poet another attractive young women. (Did I mention that Mr. Masani is 6' 4", charming, dark, lean, has a smile for days and "ain't hard to look at") Manatho means -"thoughtful one"- and Masani means"-he who has gap in teeth" in Swahili.
By 2000, people had started hearing about his playing and he was headhunted by a national teaching program, Motivation Through Excellence.
This program moved him to Ohio where he taught drumming and Mbira in Charter Schools in both Columbus and Cleveland. He was part of the Mosaic Program.
Because of his virtousity with the Mbira, the principal of one of the Charter Schools' gave him the opportuntiy that changed his life. In 2003 he went to Zimbabwe to study Mbira with master teachers for a month. Manatho now travels almost yearly between his suburban Maryland home and "Zim" as he calls his other home.
In Cleveland, Ohio, he was also one of the artists chosen to do the "Street Beats" program. He was paid by the Cleveland art's council to bring music to the street of Cleveland. He says ..."this was a great gig."
In coming back to Washington, D.C., in 2006-2007 he was a participant in a D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities program that brought live music to local subway stations.
Also in 2006, Manatho Masani came to Eastern Market. Being from D.C. he had come to Eastern Market growing up and had always heard good things about it. Later when deciding to come and sell at the Market, he was looking for a place where he could find
(ZimGems Manatho's stand at Eastern Market with imported objects from "Zim" on the bottom in the shadow boxez his hand made giraffes)
( ZimGems imported "Pop Top Players" from Zimbabwe)
(ZimGems imported bronze scultpure)
customers interested in recyled art objects. He now makes woven animals sculptures ( mostly giraffes) out of recycled soda cans. He was taught how to do this after watching it being done in Zimbabwe. He also sells object d'art he brings back from "Zim", and, of course, he plays the Mbira.
( Manatho at Eastern Market searching in the recyling container for "good cans" with which to make his woven giraffe's)  http://www.getcanimals.com/
* Personal note- In my newsletter (Eastern Market: The Turtle's Webb Newsletter), there is often a section called "The Vibe on the Outside." Mr. Masani's music, the audience it attracts, and other exhibitors who sometimes have "jammed" with him inspired both the idea for the section and its name. Thank you, Manatho.
(Tyler Caudle-banjo- and Manatho Masani-Mbira- (THE VIBE ON THE OUTSIDE)
(Manatho's stand at Eastern Market with Mbira's for sale)
Sonda T. Allen

(update:Washington Post Magazine
"He Makes Animals Out of Cans"


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

International Suite I : Eastern Market

Back in the days of Market 5 Gallery (a community-based arts center founded by John Harrod, who's also the founder of the Arts and Crafts festival and Flea Market at Eastern Market, together with Tom Rall)...Market 5 Gallery, which is now just the empty, soulless north hall of Eastern Market...there was a large world map on the wall with pins in it showing "who in the world" was exhibiting at Eastern Market and where in the world they were from. The pins crisscrossed North American, from New York to Nevada, California, Oregon, Mississippi, Texas and Florida. But what stood out was the fact that the folks who exhibit outside "The Monument" Eastern Market are from all over the globe. They brought, and still bring, a diversity of peoples, languages, and products to the Market which is unmatched in any market to which I have ever been. We are all privileged by their presence here in Washington, D.C.
I love history, culture, art and...
For years I set up next to Marta Vindiola on Saturdays on the plaza. Marta is from Mexico. She came to the U.S. (California) back in the 196o's to study English and attend high school and later college. For about twelve years she sold pewter tableware, objets d'art, jewelery and textiles, all from Mexico and all inspired by traditional Mexican cultural iconography. It was great being next to her on Saturdays.
The exhibitor community at Eastern Market is a hive of our world. The tradition of the market as a gathering place is as old as civilization: in every country, across religions, languages, cultures, and races, is the concept of "market day." Historically, "market day" happened once a year or a month in the harvest seasons in many cultures. Eastern Market comes alive on the weekends, when more than two hundred exhibitors during the "high season" (April through December) in good weather come out to share and show their wares.
Marta Vindiola's (SeriVendi) most requested items for sale at the Market were her beautiful pewter tableware; she sold everything from serving platters to serving spoons. Many of her clients bought these items to give away as wedding gifts.
Now at the Market we have exhibitors who import items from their homelands that are "for the table", including the tables themselves. Bogdan Stelmach sells Polish pottery, Idil Harun of Somalia who sells metal serving utensils from South Africa, Habiba Bahri and her husband of Tunis sell traditional Tunisian earthen ware, and Eka Himawan of Indonesia sells innovative traditional Indonesian furniture. These exhibitors stand out among many others who bring an exciting variety of international wares to Eastern Market.
Idil Harun ( Harun's African Arts & Crafts) originally from Mogadishu, Somalia. Harun's tablewares are made of brass, bronze, copper and stainless steel and are from South Africa. She and her family fled Somalia years ago because of the war in her native land to Nelspurit, South Africa. Later Harun married an American and came to the states. Ms. Harun has been at Eastern Market since 2003. She found Eastern Market by "looking for a unique upscale market to sell her pieces."
(Harun's African Arts & Craft)
(Harun's African Arts & Craft)
(Idil Harun)
(Harun's African Arts & Craft)
Bogdan Stelmack, from Wroclaw Poland. He sells traditional polish pottery, but Mr. Stelmack is also a craftsperson in his own right. He makes those colorful mirrors one sees walking down the street in the arms of happy Eastern Market shoppers almost every weekend. He has been at Eastern Market for eleven years.
(Pottery from Poland)

(Bogdan Stelmach)

(Pottery from Poland)
(Bogdan Stelmach's custom mirrors)

Habiba Bahri ( Tunis Arts.) She has known about Eastern Market since the late 1970's. She says that back in the day it was listed as a place of interest to visit on "metro maps." She started selling her family's traditional pottery at Eastern Market in 1998, and that family has made pottery in Tunis for five generations, with a factory located in Nabeul, Tunis. Ms. Bahri was also trained as a potter. The traditional name for this pottery is "Foukhar." Ms. Bahri is proud to say that one can cook, bake and serve in "Foukhar" pottery. One of the things that will attract you to her stand in the school yard on Sundays is the extraordinary colors of her earthenware. These colors, she says, are typical colors inspired by the Mediterranean.

(Habiba Bahri-Tunis Arts)
(Tunis Arts-ceramics)
(Pottery from Tunis)
Last in this introduction to the international world at Eastern Market is Eka Himawan. She is from Sura-Karta, Central Java, Indonesia. Her parents make furniture in the Indonesian style out of mahogany and teak. These pieces are solid, eye-catching and elegant. Ms. Himawan has been at Eastern Market on Sundays in the school yard since 2000 selling her family's furniture.
(Eka Himawan)
Eastern Market is where the world meets, eats, buys, sells and shops. Every weekend is a celebration of the cross-cultural diversity that makes our country the envy of the world.


Sonda T. Allen

Turtle's Webb

(Furniture from Karta, Central Java)
(Furniture from Karta, Central Java)