So, I’ve been taking guitar lessons for a little over a month.

I’m a terrible student, easily moving from one Saturday to the next without so much as looking in the direction of my instrument, propped up in the living room, so accessible. 

In these past few weeks, it’s become abundantly clear to me that I want to be able to play without doing the work to get to actually playing. I want to be able to innovate without knowing the rules. 

When it comes to my painting I’ve been doing it for so long that I wholeheartedly embrace the sentiment expressed by the great jazz musician, John Coltrane, when he declared, “Damn the rules, It’s the feeling that counts.” Indeed. 

Perhaps there will come a day when I’ll be able to say the same thing about my guitar playing. 

For now though, I need to learn the rules. 

Which brings me to a beautiful documentary film that I got to watch during the New York African Diasporic International Film Festival, BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez (2015)!

Yes, there are five d’s in “Bad,” because the Sister-Elder is just that fierce and more. As Maya Angelou crowned her, she is “a lion in literature’s forest” and winner of several major literary honors, including the American Book Award in 1985 and the Harper Lee Award in 2004.

I grew up sort of knowing that Sonia Sanchez was a special kind of gift to the Black arts. She and Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, to name a few. 

But I can’t say that I willingly read much from her—partly because I’m much more into prose than poetry.

Now, HEARING and SEEING her read is another experience altogether. 

What does it mean to be human?

I highly encourage it. 

Sister Sonia is a foremother of modern-day hip hop.

Someone who has not trained their ear might not get the syncopation, the innovation, the artistry in it. 

But one of the things that comes through in the documentary is the mastery of the English language that made the 60s generation’s work so powerful, yet seem so effortless. 

Before they got to that point they needed to know the rules. As Sanchez says in one of her poetry classes, “Form will not deform you.”

Directed by Sabrina Schmidt Gordon, Barbara Attie, and Janet Goldwater and distributed by California Newsreel, well-known for their long commitment to revolutionary film, BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez is really well done, capturing the enduring vibrancy of Sister Sonia who was 80 years old at the time of filming.  

Six years later, Sister Sonia is still going strong. 

The film features interviews with conscious hip hop artists like Talib Kweli and Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def), Questlove, as well as former colleagues and various scholars, all of whom speak about the contributions that she has made to humanity’s collective imagination, as well as the sacrifices that she has made as part of her commitment to revolutionary social justice. The filmmakers also thankfully, spend a lot of time with the poet herself, giving her the space to testify in her own words to her art and struggle. 

The result is a thorough, thoughtful documentary that honors and celebrates the life of a revolutionary artist whose commitment to her people has gone hand-in-hand with her immense talent.

Since watching the film I’ve adopted one of her sayings: “Walk beautifully”

Walk beautifully, ya’ll!!

BaddDDD SONIA SANCHEZ, film and interviews:

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