Piri Thomas | Every Child Is Born A Poet | American Clavé

The original soundtrack recording of poetry written & performed by Piri Thomas with music by Kip Hanrahan.

american clavé

Piri Thomas – voice | Robby Ameen – trap drums, percussion | Tedulo “Chocolate” Armenteros – trumpet | Billy Bang – violin | Milton Cardona – percussion, coro | Edsel Gomez – piano | Andy Gonzalez – bass | Jerry Gonzalez – percussion | Kip Hanrahan – percussion | Stefon Harris – vibes | JT Lewis – trap drums | Pedro Martinez – percussion, coro | Mario Rivera – flute | Fernando Saunders – electric bass | Alfredo Triff – violin, mandolin | James Zollar – trumpet | Jose M. Oliveras – voice on “I’m Tough”

Music recorded 1992 through 2002 at Sound Wave Studio, New York, engineer: Alberto Bengolea; RPM Studio, New York, engineer: Jon Fausty; Sorcerer Sound, New York, engineer: Dick Kondas; voice and ambient effects recorded 1 990 through 2002 on film locations, engineers: Sara Chin, John Haptas, Rob Taz; and at Dance Home Studio, Emeryville, engineer: Lisa Richmond; Tabby Sound, New York, engineer Elliot Peper; Cheverote Studio, Berkeley, engineer: Jonathan Robinson

“Freedom of Expression” is from the CD Milton Cardona / Cambucha – amcl 1028 p & c 1999, american clave Records. “Mindtraces” and “Distant Shore Dreams” are from the CD Alfredo Triff / 23 Broken Melodies at Once, amcl 1024 p & c 2000 american clave Records. “Deep Summer” is from the CD Kip Hanrahan / Tenderness, amcl 1016/7 p & c 1990 american clave Records “Unobtainable Days, Unobtainable Nights” is from the CD Kip Hanrahan / Days and Nights of Blue Luck Inverted, amcl 1012 p & c 1986 american clave Records

Additional musicians: on “Freedom of Expression”: Michael Brecker – tenor sax. On excerpt from “Deep Summer”: Giovanni Hidalgo – congas. On excerpt from “Unobtainable Days, Unobtainable Nights”: Peter Scherer – piano, Steve Swallow – electric bass, Jack Bruce – electric bass, Puntilla Orlando Rios – congas, Ignacio Berroa – trap drums

Mixed at Dick Kondas’ Place, engineer: Dick Kondas Produced by Kip Hanrahan & Jonathan Robinson
Gatlage works by Juan Sanchez. CD design by Juan Sanchez & Zachary Fabri. “Additional Layout by Matt Blanks.

Tracklist: 1. Like Tight (at Juvie) (Thomas) 2. Bullets or Butterflies/Every Child Is Born a Poet (Thomas, Hanrahan) 3. Born Anew at Each A.M. (Thomas, Hanrahan) 4. iOye Familial (Thomas, Hanrahan) 5. What Better Place? (Hanrahan) 6. Softly, Puerto Rican, You’re Not Alone (Thomas, Hanrahan, Robinson) 7. Mom and Pop Had Filled My Eyes With the Wondrous City (Hanrahan) 8. I Speak For Myself (Sermon From the Ghetto excerpt) (Thomas, Hanrahan) 9. Vaya! (Sounds from a Street Kid excerpt) (Thomas, Hanrahan) 10. Mindtrances (Triff) 11. Freedom of Expressions (Cardona) 12. Getting From Nothing (Sounds from a Street Kid excerpt) (Thomas, Hanrahan) 13. Pride on Bended Knees (Hanrahan) 14. Momma Never Lost Her Sense Of Beauty (Thomas, Hanrahan) 15. Those Who Is and Those Who Ain’t (Sounds from a Street Kid excerpt) (Thomas, Hanrahan) (incorporating excerpt from Deep Summer) (Hanrahan) 16. Armed Robbery on West 8th Street (Hanrahan) 17. Puerto Rican Identity/I’m Tough/El Miedo (Thomas, Gonzalez, Hanrahan) 18. Distant Shore Dreams/The Cruelest Prison of AM (Triff, Thomas) 19. Hollywood in Harlem (Hanrahan) 20. Every Child Is Born a Poet (Hanrahan) 21. The Hard Stuff (Sounds from a Street Kid excerpt) (Thomas, Hanrahan) 22. El Vejigante (Hanrahan) 23. Doubt Kills (Thomas, Hanrahan) 24. Dignity (Ameen) 25. No Vuelvo (Cardona, Martinez, Hanrahan, Thomas) 26. A Dialogue with Society a/k/a Sermon from the Ghetto (Thomas, Hanrahan) (incorporating excerpt from Unobtainable Days, Unobtainable Nights) (Hanrahan) 27. Pretty as Thee (Eyes of My Heart excerpt) (Triff, Thomas)

Piri Thomas | Every Child Is Born A Poet | american clavé


In 1983, I was living in San Francisco and read about an album called Desire Develops an Edge. I don’t remember why, but I went out and bought it, a two LP vinyl set. I had never listened much to Latin music, but when I heard Kip’s music for the first time I was immediately hypnotized by the Latin rhythms, which weren’t just propelling the music, but were front and center in the compositions. This was music full of thought, passion, anger, and caresses that were tender, but not ingratiating. American Clavé, for sure. I didn’t hear another of Kip’s albums until 1990, when, living in LA., I stumbled upon a cassette tape of Vertical’s Currency. It was my late-night driving companion for months. With this one, I remember being most intrigued and mesmerized by the lush production and the dour, melancholy, brooding romanticism of the melodies. Sexy and heartbreaking by turns with, of course, the signature layers of Afro-Cuban percussion laying the foundation.

In 1991, I was back living in San Francisco, and met Piri Thomas, by chance, at a reading in the Tenderloin. Piri, accompanied by a conga player and a flautist, let his poetry flow like lava. Man, they burned up the stage in that little space with Piri’s words driving the sweaty rhythms. I moved to the front after the set and introduced myself, a humble fan. I had read Down These Mean Streets as a twelve year-old in seventh grade. It was 1972, upper-eastside Manhattan. The teacher, idealistic, fresh out of the Ivy League, wanted to blow away our sheltered little prep school minds. When I re-read the book shortly after meeting Piri, I was struck by how vividly I had remembered certain scenes – copping girls drawers on tenement rooftops, smoking pot and getting a blow job from a transvestite, dry fucking a blonde broad in a crowded New York subway car, and sex in the can. Sex. Yeah, that was it for a horny twelve year-old. Well, mostly. Sure, I was the favor and rub up against Puerto Rican girls in the subways, but there was something else, another way the book worked on me. I was the sole Jewish kid in a nearly all WASP class, taunted with the nickname Hook (as in nose). Piri’s description of being alone, lost, unwanted, afraid also stuck with me. He was in prison long before he got to Sing-Sing and prison was a state of mind I felt I knew, as well. The prison of early adolescence, of being different, ostracized, but most of all, the self-imprisonment of shame. Piri made me realize that I was connected to people I didn’t even know, let alone didn’t even know existed, and that, though there are differences, we all deserve the same rights and the same respect. This was the beginning of a new consciousness for me.

When I met Piri, he was a wise elder, a shaman, a spoken word poet at the peak of his all-natural powers. Once I decided to make a film with Piri, I immediately dreamed of having Kip score it. Piri’s stories, his poetry, and his style of delivery are at once intense and lyrical, full of twists and turns, but built upon classical dramatic structures. I knew that Kip could create a score that would support the music already inherent in Piri’s writings and oral delivery. But what excited me most, was the dramatic quality to Kip’s compositions, his cinematic arrangements, and the way he used the studio to create an epic sense of space and time. With mood and ambience to spare, I knew Kip’s music would play off the film’s images and words without crushing or clashing. And sure enough, Kip has perfectly captured the sound of a tautly wound soul bursting out of its straitjacket and soaring to find release.

In the film, Piri’s voice and the images are married together through the music and the rhythm. But this soundtrack is something else. It moves beyond the constraints of working with images and the limitations of story-telling conventions. So, it stands on its own (apart from the film) as a unique exploration of Piri’s poetry and energies, the themes his work embodies, and the rhythms of his life and times. Working with period musical themes and ambiances brought out another side of Kip, as well. As Chocolate said in the studio, “It’s about time you gave me some real music to play, Kip.” Real or not, this music moves from the Great Depression to the New Millennium with Kip’s uncanny sense of cohesion and beauty.

In addition to Kip and Piri, there has been one other creative pillar, anchoring this project: Juan Sanchez, multi-dimensional artist, painter, photographer, and writer. A happy accident, while searching for archival photographs, led me to a portfolio of Juan’s artworks. At first sight, I knew his layered, gritty, vibrant, soul-stirring paintings needed to be in the film, as they visually answered the call of Piri’s urban dream-nightmare word-imagery. For this CD booklet, Juan has created all new original works, as he always does, by hand. Nothing digital. Analog all the way, baby. Just like Kip. Just like Piri. For the film, I insisted on shooting mostly 16mm. This slowed things down, but some things are non-negotiable, which all goes to say that there is a density to both the film and the soundtrack that reflects all this, the ripped and dripped, the magnetic echo, the shadow in the emulsion, and the naked voice. It all breathes. Thank you Kip, thank you Juan. Thank you to all the amazing musicians and to everyone else who contributed to the film and to this soundtrack. And, finally, thank you, Piri, for allowing us to take your work and fashion a new poem to inspire us all over again. — Jonathan Robinson, filmmaker New Haven, CT May 2005

Piri Thomas | Every Child Is Born A Poet | american clavé

Piri Thomas

Boricua en la Luna

Desde las ondas del mar
Que son besos a su orilla
Una mujer de Aguadilla
vino a New York a cantar.
Pero no, solo a llorar
Un largo llanto y morir.
De ese llanto yo naci
Como lluvia una fiera.
Y vivo en larga espera
De cobrar lo que perdi.

Por un cielo que se hacia
mas feo mas mas volaba
A Nueva York se acercaba
Un peon de Las Marias
Con la esperanza, decia
De un largo dia volver.
Pero antes me hizo nacer
Y de tanto trabajar
Se quedo sin regresar:
revento en un taller.

De una lagrima soy hijo
y soy hijo del sudor
y fue mi abuelo el amor
unico en mi regocijo
del recuerdo siempre fijo
En aquel cristal del llanto
como quimera en el canto
De un Puerto Rico de ensueno
y yo soy Puertorriqueno,
Sin na, pero sin quebranto.

Y el “echon” que me desmienta
que se ande muy derecho
no sea en lo mas estrecho
de un zaguan pague la afrenta.
Pues segun alguien me cuenta:
dicen que la luna es una
sea del mar o sea montuna.
Y asi le grito al villano:
yo seria borincano
aunque naciera en la luna.

Juan Antonio Corretjer

The above poem, Boricua on the Moon

written by our greatest Puerto Rican national poet, reads like the autobiography of so many of us not born on Puerto Rican soil. The poem, though proud and affirming, conveys many pains. Through the eyes and hearts of our parents and relatives we also experience and witness, the pain, the struggle, the yearning and the pride as Puerto Ricans. We speak the tongues of our oppressors but our Spanish, English, Spanglish or Ebonics never betrays us. We stay close to our tribes as Tainos, Spanish, Moors, Christians and Jews; like Europe, Africa and Asia. We are the highways of cultures that have traversed all of the Americas and the Caribbean. We come from many peoples and many lands. This is who we are.

“Nuyorican”, “New York Rican”, “Neo-Rican”, “New Rican”, “Puertorriqueno”, “Boricua” or, as coined by Tato Laviera, “AmeRican”, are terms that are ever evolving. They are vague and loaded attempts at self-identification. They are jargon that is often misplaced and as such continuously debated. They are assertions of identity or states of mind one chooses to identify with. Yet, the term “Puerto Rican American” hardly enters into the equation.

For many, to be Puerto Rican is a racial identification rather than an ethnic or national identification. This notion has lead to self-imposed racial devaluation. Many Puerto Ricans among Caribbean Latinos choose to be vague or blind particularly about their negritude. They hold onto Indio/Taino and/or Spanish European infatuations that further detaches them from the fullness of their heritage. Rejecting their Blackness is severely regressive and runs deep in popular consciousness. Most Puerto Ricans fall prey to racial discrimination but the black skin Puerto Rican experience is more intense. Many light skin Puerto Ricans are able to pass through many doors while darker shade Boricuas cannot. In contrast to the Afro-Rican, many “white” Ricans identify with white America and therefore, attempt to pass as white, as such rejecting the knowledge of the African contribution to their own lineage and cultural development. The Afro-Boricua’s experience with racism is not limited to only coming from white Anglo society, the so-called “Negro”, “Negrito”, “Moreno”, “Trigueno”, “Cocolo” or “Mojeto” is under the recurrent and complex strain of a racism projected from our own people. For many African Americans, a Spanish speaking Black named Juan, Pedro, Miguel, Maria or Julia cannot pass as one of them. Puerto Ricans are never Black enough. Race is a conflict-ridden internal part of the Puerto Rican identity crisis. Self-denial, self-hatred, misidentification, disassociation and isolation runs deep given the compounded overt and obscured effects of slavery, colonialism and genocide.

Since the 1 898 military invasion by the United States, the occupation and control of Puerto i Rico continues to repress, marginalize and disenfranchise the island’s economy and its peoples. As a result, Puerto Ricans have fallen prey to the paradigm of U.S. subjugation and control. Puerto Ricans in 1917 received United States citizenship. Nevertheless, it is a second-class status that reflects the convoluted language and notions that define us and in the manner, we see ourselves. This imposed status reflects us as exiles with challenges facing our communities. Although, Puerto Ricans have fought and died in the two World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Latin American and Middle Eastern conflicts, as well as every other confrontation waged under the imperial flag of the United States, we are looked down. Puerto Ricans are never equal under the circumstance of a “free associated state”.

Hundreds of Thousands of Puerto Ricans arrived on the mainland, first by boat and later by plane, to work as cheap labor. They came as “colored” cargo seeking the promises of the “American Dream”. Newly arriving Puerto Ricans greeted by cold winds and snow as clung to their aged beaten and tied up suitcases in one hand, while they in the other hand carried heavy stuffed brown paper shopping bags filled with their meager belongings and penniless. Many who intended to only stay work then return home to Boriquen with a small fortune died, decades later, on U.S. soil in yearning. Puerto Ricans are still poverty stricken, in ill health, socially marginalized, politically disenfranchised and racially stigmatized. The I Puerto Rican equation is a conflict-ridden- inequity crisis that continues to fester since the invasion, the waves of migration and the aerial bus phenomena.

Our political, social, national, ethnic and cultural identity struggles have lead to an understanding of how the effects of colonialism have enslaved the body, mind and soul. We determined that real progress depended on striving as a nationalized people. Influenced by the Black, Chicano, Asian and Native American human and civil rights movements, many New York Ricans have affirmed their solidarity with other Third World liberation struggles and denounced U.S. imperialism. Puerto Rican social, political, cultural and educational activisms, along with art, poetry and music, have become a powerful force for change. We became Independentistas, Young Lords, artists and poets, cultural workers and community activists. We have even become armed clandestine warriors, persecuted, captured, convicted of seditious conspiracy against the U.S. government and placed in federal penitentiaries while declaring ourselves Puerto Rican Freedom Fighters and Prisoners of War who refuse to exist under the dark oppressive cloud of colonialism. Because of our long history of struggle and effort, Puerto Ricans have achieved and progressed much, but much more needs to be toiled and accomplish.

Without a doubt, in order to stand on our own two feet Puerto Ricans of all generations must begin by affirming our own history. It is as if we are saying we have roots, therefore we are. — Bernardo Vega

Nuyorican poets, such as the late Jorge Brandon, Lucky Cienfuegos, Miguel Piniero, Bimbo Rivas and Pedro Petri to the current Miguel Algarin, Louis Reyes Rivera, Sandra Maria Esteves, Felipe Luciano, Jesus Papoleto Melendez, Jose Angel Figueroa, America Casiano, Martin Espada and Susana Cabanas broke ground and established the urban Puerto Rican/Latino experience. The younger generation of written and spoken words poets of the likes of Tony Medina, Willie Perdomo, Nancy Mercado, Mariposa, Bruja and Jain Shaggy continue to provoke, testify, define, cherish, praise and protest while at the son time staying rooted to our Afro-Jibaro-Taino magnificence. Nuyorican poetry diverse voices, temperaments, spirit and character continue to explore and address a plethora i issues that have plagued us as a people.

Words can be bullets or butterflies. The truth uplifts, while lies destroy. So, say what yo mean and mean what you say. —Piri Thomas

Piri Thomas is one of our most compelling and influential Latino writers.. He has helpe generations of people escape poverty, violence and drug addiction. Rooted in Beat poetr Jazz, Latin, R & B and Gospel music, old school rap, performance, art, protest and activist! Piri Thomas contributed greatly in the understanding of the good, the bad, the ugly and I sweet things to live for. Piri Thomas, an elder beyond his mid-seventies, continues to forge thi way for generations of writers, artists, educators as well as social and political activists.

Piri Thomas is a poet of the people and for the people. A poet of selfhood and sensuousnes, he is a revolutionary of critical sanity, humanity and warmth. With consciousnes rebellion, angst, sadness and profound affection, Piri Thomas has evolved to become oil Afro-Boricua-Cuban warrior; he is our urban “Cariban” of a New World culture. Hi words are strong, testimonial, sensitive, confrontational and conciliatory. He comes frorl the school of hard knocks of life; from the University of the Streets. Piri Thomas bears much pain because he cannot forget but his insistence, despite the negative, deteriorating and dehumanizing consequence of life, is deeply rooted in love and in the beauty of life. He is the eyes of the oppressed and therefore speaks from the soul. An idealist with his bible under his wit, Piri understands that the struggle for his people is to transcend. Hi hard-earned reconciliation with God, the cadence in his poetry, his unrelenting praise, fait] and devotion to his people inspires to no end.

Down These Mean Streets became my very first book of communion. For this once young, aspiring but angry and frustrated Black Puerto Rican art student, this autobiographi came at a very crucial time for me. Franz Fanon’s Wrenched of the Earth became my. Both books brought perspective to the paradigm of ghetto life, identity and colonialism to me. Piri Thomas’ autobiographical epic with its candid street-smarts, hard nasty grit, kicks and human dignity brought lucidity to who I am as an Afro-Boricua, a man and, most important as a Human Being of Conscience.

Every Child is Born a Poet: the Life and Work of Piri Thomas has emerged as a truly unique, powerful and experiential multi-genre film. It took artist filmmaker Jonathan Robinson ten years of blood, sweat and tears (not to mention fund-raising) to merge poetry, narrative, art and music into a personal, biographical, political and socially expressive and engaging conceptual film. To honor Mr. Piri Thomas with my art and photography in this film project challenged me in more ways than I could ever have imagined. I am very grateful to be a part of this wonderful project. The countless brainstorming meetings with Jonathan, was indeed far-reaching, engaging and creatively stimulating. Then there is this awe-some music created, collaged and produced by the legendary American Clave conceptualist Kip Hanrahan. Kip’s myriad sense of composition and improvisation through Afro-Caribbean rhythms, ageless Latino Americano melodies, and jazz, with lots of tough NuyoRican clave, funk, do-wop, urban kicks and mood swings is progressively hip. Merged with Piri Thomas’ poetic angst, confident voice and spoken word street dynamics, the sound track turned out to be increasingly poignant, reflective, evocative and engaging.

Every Child is Born a Poet: the Life and Work of Piri Thomas is a film that is at the very heart of Piri’s life, soul and vision. He yearns for all unheard broods in every dark part of this disconcerted world to experience refuge, love, joy, creativity, self-esteem and self-fulfillment… to be forever boundless and free. Spiritual emancipation is Piri Thomas’s rite of passage… to repent and rebel through the healing powers of poetry spoken in tongues. Punto! — Juan Sanchez, Visual artist, teacher and activist, June 2005, Brooklyn, New York

Piri Thomas | Every Child Is Born A Poet | american clavé


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