A Conversation with Ahmed Abdullah, Basir Mchawi, and Marilyn Nance
Center for Art, Research, and Alliances
New York, NY 10011
Join the Center for Art, Research, and Alliances (CARA) and Blank Forms on Thursday, October 26 for a launch event celebrating the release of A Strange Celestial Road: My Time in the Sun Ra Arkestra published by Blank Forms Editions. The evening will include a conversation between Ahmed Abdullah, activist and educator Basir Mchawi, and artist Marilyn Nance, both of whom will show and discuss rare photos they took of The East, FESTAC, and other rarely seen Pan-Africanist cultural spaces that were central to the history of the Arkestra, from Brooklyn to Lagos.
AHMED ABDULLAH joined the Sun Ra Arkestra as a trumpeter in 1974 and remained a member for more than twenty years. Born in Harlem in 1947, he became an important figure in the New York loft jazz movement, forming the group Abdullah in 1972, and going on to found the Melodic Art-Tet with Charles Brackeen, Ronnie Boykins, and Roger Blank in the early 1970s and The Group with Marion Brown, Billy Bang, Sirone, Fred Hopkins and Andrew Cyrille in 1986. Abdullah is a co-founder of the Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium, has been the music director of Dianne McIntyre’s Sounds in Motion Dance Company, and recently retired as music director at the historic venue Sistas’ Place in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. He has been a music instructor at Carnegie Hall and Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, and teaches at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan and an elementary school in central Brooklyn.
MARILYN NANCE (born 1953), author of Last Day in Lagos (CARA / Forthwall Books, 2022), has produced images of unique moments in the cultural history of the US and the African Diaspora for more than five decades. She is a two-time finalist for the W. Eugene Smith Award in Humanistic Photography and work is in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; the Brooklyn Museum of Art; the Museum of Modern Art, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York; the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.. Nance has been published in The World History of Photography, History of Women in Photography and The Black Photographers Annual. She lives in New York.
BASIR MCHAWI has woven a distinguished career as an activist, educator and communicator. He has been actively engaged in the African Liberation struggle for over fifty years. As an educator, Mchawi has been a teacher, professor, headmaster, principal and central office administrator while an advocate for the establishment of independent Black schools. while working in New York city's Public Schools, Mchawi had the opportunity to make the concerns of communities of color audible in the central bureaucracy as a special assistant to New York's first African American Public Schools Chancellor, Dr Richard Green. As a member of Brooklyn's EAST organization, Mchawi was a founder of what then was called the African Street Carnival. What began as a block party to raise funds for Uhuru Sasa, New York's largest independent Black school has evolved into a world-class event now known as the International African Arts Festival. Understanding the importance and primacy of African cultural practices, Mchawi served as the chair of the IAAf for more than a decade.
Using both print and electronic media, Mchawi attempts to bring information to the community. From the mid to late 1970's, he was editor of Black News, contributor to numerous publications and producer and host of the WLIB radio show, A View From the EAST. Mchawi currently produces and hosts the award winning WBAI radio program, Education at the Crossroads and writes on a freelance basis for a number of local newspapers. He is also an elected member of the WBAI Local Station Board. Although retired, Mchawi currently teaches one day a week in the CUNY system and has more time to be engaged in "the peoples work."