Thursday, July 24, 2008

Activists Take Steam Out of Gas Plant Plan in Greenpoint (Block Magazine)

When you think of what Greenpoint and Williamsburg need, what comes to mind first: a 28-acre waterfront park or a power plant? If you went with park, the elected officials, community boards, residents and activists of the area agree with you.

North Brooklyn got one step closer to adding Bushwick Inlet Park to its résumé when the State officially killed TransGas Energy's plan to build a $2 billion power plant on eight acres of land along the East River between North 12th and 14th Streets on Kent Avenue. The State siting board put the nail in the coffin on March 20th, due to the fact their proposal failed to meet health and environmental requirements. TransGas has tried to push through their power-plant agenda several times in the past, most recently 2002.

While this was a decisive victory for the park, TransGas Energy (TGE) is expected not to give up yet. Legal counsel to GWAPP (Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks and Planning) and Open Space Alliance board member Adam Perlmutter broke down the legal wrangling still left to unfold, saying, "TransGas has filed a petition for a rehearing. The City and Columbia Environmental Law Clinic compile their briefs in opposition in 10 days, on which the board will rule in 90 days."

If and when TGE's appeal fails, they then have thirty days to file an appeal with the appellate division second department on the grounds that the Environmental Siting Board used its discretion in an arbitrary or capricious fashion. Perlmutter said that TGE's chances of success at this point are extremely slim. "Those are extremely high standards to meet,” he asserted. “To say we don't expect TransGas to prevail doesn't convey how strongly I believe they're really not going to get anywhere."

Steve Hindy, OSA Board-member and Founder of Brooklyn Brewery, threw a party to celebrate the community's victory over TransGas. Community activists in attendance included Joe Vance, a prominent Williamsburg Architect and GWAPP and OSA Board-member. He commented on the long fight the community has undertaken with TransGas at which he's been at the front. "It started back in 2000 when Con Edison tried to build a power plant in Greenpoint,” he recalled, “and that's when GWAPP was formed, Greenpoint Williamsburg Against Power Plants."

Gerry Esposito, District Manager of Community Board One was also there to celebrate. His comments reflected the battle that lies ahead: "We're very fortunate that we won the battle, we're lucky to have a community to have fought so hard. Now the battle to be fought is to convince the city to volunteer the necessary money to build the park."

One can't help but admire that resolve and generosity with which people in the community lend their time and money towards fighting special interests such as TransGas.

The victory was largely possible because there is more solidarity today than ever before. "Before 2000, there were certainly six or seven groups in the community doing good things, but the problem was none of them were united,” recalls GWAPP board member Joe Vance. “There were too many little voices. The officials at the time really used that. They would say, 'Oh well, we don't see a consensus.' And that was really when we got together and decided we had to work together."

Vance was not the only person to notice this trend.

"I don't think that another community that hadn't been as organized through formal organizations and long-term planning process taking control of its land use would fare as well as we have,” Adam Perlmutter commented. “It's not just GWAPP and others; it’s the community boards 197 planning process [and] the fact that the community has taken it upon itself to become extremely sophisticated in the area environmental protection and land use. The proof is in the pudding."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Baye Kouyate et les Tougarakes at Joe's Pub-July 15, 2008 (

Baye Kouyate's performance at Joe's Pub Tuesday night was a celebration of West African music: musicians from several countries in West Africa, the United States and Europe put on a world-class show that got the entire crowd dancing by the night's end. Baye Kouyate is a talking-drum master from Mali. He descends from Griots, a family line of musicians, historians, and dispute mediators, and is one of the most up-and-coming African musicians on the NY scene.

Baye's Band, Les Tougarakes, is a collection of international all-star musicians with griot master Yacouba Sissoko of Mali on kora, German international recording artist Leni Stern on guitar, Senegalese master drummer Samba Guisse on djembe and sabar, Gbatokai Dakinah of Denmark on bass, griot balafon master Famoro Dioubate of Guinea, and Adam Clark, band leader of the Superpowers, an up-and-coming Afrobeat band out of Boston, on trap drums. Les Tougarakes represent both a wide range of musical styles within West Africa and the wide spread influence of West African music's diaspora.

Kouyate paid homage to the several-hundred year griot tradition from which he descends Tuesday night. Musical energy emanates from him with his beautiful smile, matching voice and talking drum which he makes sing. The virtuosic, rising and tumbling kora and balafon glided gracefully over the serene rhythms of the djembe, trap drums and bass. Leni Stern, who has collaborated with Salif Keita and Baaba Maal in addition to traveling extensively throughout Africa, added a special colorful touch to the ensemble, infusing a bluesy African jazz guitar feel.

Tuesday night was most definitely one to remember. Baye Kouyate is not only an amazing musician but an amazing person. Before the show was over, he paused to thank everyone who has ever helped him get to where he is today, especially the owners of Zebulon. It was in the Williamsburg venue that he made his first connections in the New York music scene and played his first shows.

Even though he descends from a long line of Malian griots, Baye does not see himself as simply an ambassador of African muisc, "I see myself not as a Malian Ambassador but as a Human Ambassador because my music is not just about Mali - it's about the world. My music is about the fusion of traditional and the modern, it's about love and peace in this world. It's about sharing life and no discrimination - it's about who we are as human beings, not just black and white, and together we all can save this world."

Monday, July 21, 2008

Book Review: The Arguement by Matt Bai (

Over the last five to eight years, a progressive left political movement has been growing in the United States. These days you can feel it when you walk down the street and Obama '08 signs and buttons abound. One might think the country has simply had enough of the right-wing politics of the Bush-Cheney administration, but The Argument, a book by Matt Bai, a political writer for the NY Times magazine, gives you a behind-the-scenes look at exactly how the left has re-claimed its share of the American political debate.

Bai travels across the country tracing the steps of Howard Dean with his 50-state approach, and their nation-wide house-parties, and the liberal blogosphere that fostered an environment for progressives to flush out their grassroots movement. He provides insight into exactly how the left took back the fight, where it started, and for what they're fighting.

After reading this book, you'll know exactly why Barack Obama disposed of Hillary Clinton and her out-dated centrism in the Democratic primary and is leading Jon McCain in the polls. It's not just a pendulum swinging back and forth from left to right that controls American politics; it's a concerted effort by interests on both sides to frame the debate and influence the outcome of elections.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Nomo at Zebulon-July 12, 2008 (

So many people came to Zebulon to see Nomo Saturday night, they literally had to turn people away. For those who managed to squeeze themselves into the cramped Williamsburg venue, they were not disappointed.

Nomo brought an uncontrollably infectious energy to the Zebulon stage, their favorite club in the city. Throughout their first set, the crowd seemed not to know what to make of them. People simply sat in awe trying to comprehend the complex sounds emanating from the seven-piece ensemble. That all changed during the second set when the crowd thinned out a bit, and the remaining concert-goers got up and danced like they knew they should.

Hailing from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Nomo is a seven-piece band whose sound is too unique to put in a genre. They fuse dubbed out 80's hip-hop synths with Tony Allen afro-funk drums and hard bop jazz horn lines. Even their arrangement is unique featuring two drum sets, electric bass, guitar, tenor and baritone saxophones, two trumpets, congas, timbales, bells, mbira (Zimbabwean thumb piano), and a combination of electric distortion effects.

Ghost Rock, Nomo's third full-length album came out last month on Ubiquity Records, and they're touring across the country promoting it playing thirty-four shows in fifty-five days in thirty-two cities. They are without a doubt, one of the most inventive, talented bands I've ever had the privilege of seeing live. Their ingenuity of arrangement and wide span of influences put them in a class by themselves. After listening to their records for the first time in the last six months, I had extremely high expectations for their show Saturday night, and they totally blew them away.

Nomo Myspace

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Chin Chin at Joe's Pub-July 13, 2008 (

Chin Chin proved why they're one of the funkiest bands in the city Thursday night at Joe's Pub. They came out firing an all cylinders with their 9-piece band and brought a unique attitude and sound that said, "We're here to party and you better be too." Lead singer Wilder Zoby brought so much energy to the performance he was literally bouncing off the walls.

Chin Chin is a rotating group of highly talented musicians from the Brooklyn scene. Thursday night's show featured among others, Torbitt Schwartz on drums, Jesse Boykins III on backup vocals, Jeremy Williams on guitar, and Eric Biondo and Aaron Johnson of Antibalas on trumpet and trombone respectively.

Their infectious energy and groove make Chin Chin the perfect party music. You simply can't help but move with them on stage. They have a show coming up on the 24th of August at McCarren Pool. If you like to dance, check them out.

Chin Chin MySpace

Seun Kuti, Afrika Bambaataa and U-Roy with Love Trio at Central Park Summer Stage-July 6, 2008 (

Central Park Summer Stage took its Afrocentric programming credibility to a new level last Sunday when Seun Kuti and Egypt 80, Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation, and U-Roy with Love Trio put on an energy-packed show that kept the crowd dancing from start to finish. All three acts are icons of their respective genres, and all three lived up to their prestigious reputations.

U-Roy and Love Trio opened things up. U-Roy is a legend of Jamaican music and founder of the reggae sub-genre dub. In the early 60's he pioneered toasting, or rapping over popular songs in dancehalls to liven up the party. He used his same signature style on Sunday, acting as lead vocalist with Love Trio, bridging the generational gap between a founder of dub and those continuing the tradition.

Next on stage was Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation, one of hip-hop's founding fathers. They kept the crowd jumping and gyrating while interjecting Afrocentric and political charged messages into their rhymes. Some were more overt than others; Afrika Bambaataa spoke only once at the end of the set, "Peace, Love and Unity, One Nation Under a Groove, and Fuck George Bush."

Closing out the show was Egypt 80 and Seun Anikulapo Kuti, son of Afrobeat pioneer and international protest figure Fela Kuti. Seun took the climbing energy from Afrika Bambaataa and U-Roy and vaulted it even higher. Egypt 80 took the stage first warming up the crowd and setting the Afrobeat groove. Seun made a dynamic entrance and automatically demanded the attention of the crowd. Everything from his appearance to his sound was highly reminiscent of Fela. His dance moves reminded me of his father the most, but when he introduced himself as "the best singer in the world," I knew the apple couldn't have fallen far from the tree.

Seun Kuti Myspace