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  • Welcome to We Learn Dances, an occasional series on the people, parties and (most of all) music that make clubland the wonderful place it is. The focus will be on the slightly more refined, artistically oriented end of the nightlife spectrum—yes, such a thing exists, believe it or not—rather than on the superficial pleasures afforded by either the bottle-service scene or the EDM world. At least, that’s the plan.

    We’re kicking the series off with a man who’s intimately familiar with the concept of sophisticated dance music, Dennis “Citizen” Kane. He’s been an integral part of NYC’s nightlife since the mid-’90s, when the Philly transplant hit NYC and established himself in the underground scene as one of its most knowledgeable DJs; since then, he’s since played scores of venues across the city and around the world. He’s established a pair of respected record labels: Disques Sinthomme, which has released a wide range of work featuring the likes of Max Essa, the Beat Broker, Liquid Liquid’s Sal Principato and Richard “Padded Cell” Sen, and an edit imprint, Ghost Town, which has seen contributions from Brennan Green and Bicep, among many other notables. He’s a talented producer himself, with material out on such respected labels as Tummy Touch, Ubiquity and Adult Contemporary (track down his mix of Yagya’s “Rigning Sjö” on that last label—it’s killer.) His website, dsgtnyc.com, hosts a rather amazing podcast that’s featured sets from such international stars as DJ Harvey, Prins Thomas and Greg Wilson. And he’s been toiling in the studio with his frequent deejaying partner Darshan Jesrani (of Metro Area fame) on a new project called Siren, with the first fruits of that collaboration coming out soon on Compost.

    In short, the dude is busy—but Kane recently managed to find the time for a quick chat over a couple of beers. And scroll to the bottom of the interview for a great mix from the man himself.

    Bruce Tantum: What possessed you to originally get into this world?

    Dennis Kane: I think it started when I was just eight or nine. My parents had one of those old-school console hi-fis, with the kind of record player where you could stack the records. I really liked to sit on the carpet in front of the speakers and play records. I listened to everything: my older brother’s Led Zeppelin records, my dad’s Count Basie records, my sisters Bob Dylan and Beach Boys records. And I really liked it all. I would just sit there all day long, drawing and daydreaming and listening to music.

    BT: When did you start buying music on your own?
    DK: As soon as I got my first job as a teenager, I started going to record stores. This was in Philadelphia, which is such a great music city. Then my older brother got me a mini-turntable—I think it was a Realistic turntable from Radio Shack. It had a built-in speaker; I would listen to records in my room a lot. A bit later, I got my own system, with a Garrard turntable, a little Technics amplifier—and headphones. The headphones were a revelation. I would sit in the dark and listen to Gato Barbieri, I could listen to Joe Jackson…whatever the fuck I wanted to. I was in my own world.

    Photograph: Ruth Bartlett

    Photograph: Ruth Bartlett

    BT: It sounds like, even as a high-school kid, you had rather mature taste.
    DK: Where I’m from, I don’t think that was particularly unique. The neighborhood I grew up in had great Latin music, for instance—and I remember the great debate being “are you a Temptations fan, or are you a Beatles fan?”

    BT: Was there a racial split on that question?
    DK: Not really: Eddie Fields, the kid who lived next to me—and who later went to prison for beating up a cop—was a Temptations fan. He was a white guy. And then there was Ronnie Brown, who was like, “The Beatles are the shit. The Temptations wear those stupid costumes.” There was actually a real discourse about this. I can also remember going to my friend Orlando Mendez’s house, and we’d listen to things like the Supremes and the Spinners. There was just a lot of great music around.

    BT: And you were digging all of it.
    DK. Yeah! Over the course of the day, I would hear the Spinners and I would hear Crosby, Stills and Nash, who I thought made beautiful music. It was a great way to grow up.

    BT: What were your first DJ gigs?
    DK: Originally I started playing parties in art school. At that point, I was collecting a lot of soul ballads, so I was essentially playing a lot of ballads.

    BT: Nice! Stuff like the Delphonics?
    DK: Yeah, and Eddie Holman, Imagination, the Miracles, things like that. A lot of Philadelphia stuff, of course, like the Stylistics. From there, I discovered Jamaican ballads. Finding that relationship between northeastern American soul ballads and the Jamaican versions of that was huge for me. At the same time, a lot of my friends were into things like New Romantic groups; I remember having a lot of hair products. And hair.

    BT: Those were the days, when you could play soul ballads to New Romantic fans.
    DK: For sure. From there, I was in New York and I started buy records on Canal Street from—what’s his name, Lenny Kaye?

    BT: Patti Smith’s guitarist?
    DK: Yeah. He used to have these record things at his loft, where you could go in a pick up African stuff and all kinds of things. It was great! I was still playing a lot of soul—more soul than anything—with a little funk and hip-hop. Then I started discovering people like Big Daddy Kane and Eric B and Rakim, which I thought was amazing. I began playing more of that kind of sound, and I started to get more work as a hip-hop DJ. I teamed up with Jeff Mao, and we focusing a lot of funk and hip-hop.

    BT: You had narrowed your focus a bit during that period.
    DK: Well, to be honest, we were also playing disco, Latin music and whatever. But mainly funk and hip-hop.

    BT: But at some point you started phasing hip-hop out a bit of your sets, right?
    DK: Yeah. At one point, hip-hop was extremely exciting, and so much fun to play. I remember that around when Fat Beats first opened, there were tons of great records coming out every week. I was meeting all these producers too, because I was digging a lot—people like Lord Finesse and Pete Rock.

    BT: That must have been kind of exciting.
    DK: Yeah, and I really liked them. It was a tremendous time. So much good music—De La Soul, Kool Keith, Ultramagnetic MCs and so many more. But I can remember playing this midtown club—I think it was Speeed—and I realized that the crowd was changing. The scene just got…dumb. Guys would come up and say, “Oh, I know you got this record. You’re gonna play it.” I’d be thinking, well, fuck that—I’m gonna play Loose Ends instead. Finally, I realized that the whole thing had gotten corny and the music stopped being interesting. And the crowds were even worse. But Jeff really wanted to keep going in that direction, while I was getting more into what you could loosely call dance music. I wanted to play Brazilian music; I wanted to play sleazy Italian cinema music; I wanted to play everything, really.

    Photograph: Chris Renzulli

    Photograph: Chris Renzulli

    BT: Everything that’s good, at least. You’ve described it in previous interviews as “adult dance music.”
    DK: That was the approach I took, even when I was playing hip-hop. I wanted to play in a sophisticated way, to play the music that really mattered to me, and to win the audience over by playing it with fury and intensity. And I think it worked. I managed to get quite a few people who ordinarily wouldn’t have gone anywhere near this music to like it. You have to make an argument for what you believe in, and as a DJ, that’s the fun part.

    BT: You’ve also been making that argument as a producer and label boss over the past several years.
    DK: Seven years! And I’ve seen the same kind of thing in those roles as I have as a DJ. Whenever anything interesting becomes just a little bit popular, a million people will then jump into it—and then it becomes diluted and uninteresting. Like, not so long ago, acid house got big again, and then everybody was making all these fake old acid house records. And for the most part, it was just shit.

    BT: And I take it you try and stay away from that kind of thing.
    DK: Both with the label and as a producer, I told myself that I wouldn’t do that. I was gonna make stuff and put out stuff that didn’t fit easily into any trend; I would put out music that I cared about, and do it as well as I could.

    BT: You were never actively trying to find an audience?
    DK: Nope. Some of our records have found an audience and some of them haven’t. For instance, the Beat Broker and Lars Behrenroth did a twelve for us [2008’s “Cactus Cooler”/”The Beach” split single], and it was a great record. Smith & Mudd did a beautiful remix of “The Beach” and I felt great about the remix that I did for “Cactus Cooler.” But still, nobody noticed it!

    BT: That was a great release.
    DK: And now, people seem to be finally noticing it. Like, “Oh, shit, that was a good record.” But that was the deal: I was just going to put out the music that I liked by the people that I liked, and whatever happens, happens. It’s the same with the podcasts that we run on the website—just DJs that I really like. I don’t really care about how popular someone is—I just want a good set.

    BT: You been busy working on a new project with Darshan Jesrani from Metro Area, right?
    DK: Yeah, and we’re really excited about it. It’s called Siren, and we’re deep in production right now. It’s going to be coming out on Compost Records.

    BT: I know you and Darshan are friends, but what was the impetus behind producing together?
    DK: There was this party at Winter Music Conference several years ago down at the Winter Music Conference; it was just Dar and I deejaying all night. Michael [Reinboth, Compost’s founder] and the rest of the Compost crew were hanging out, and we had such a good time with them. We had quite a few cocktails, I remember. Michael said, “Hey, if you two ever do something, send it to us.”

    BT: It was that easy?
    DK: That part was. But we’ve been working hard for the past year and three quarters, working on writing some strong original material. The music didn’t seem to fit into any specific genre, but we went ahead and sent it to Compost, and they said, “This is incredible. We want it. Can we have it?”

    BT: Which means you now have to finish the tracks up, I assume.
    DK: We actually have two tracks done. The first is coming out in September. That one features a vocal from Daniel Chavis of Apollo Heights fame, with a remix by Ray Mang.

    BT: The goal is to have an album together at some point, right?
    DK: Yeah, hopefully by summer of next year…though things always take longer than you expect, so that might be revised. We’re really going for it; we’re really working on it all the time. And the nice thing is that you can really see the effort and care paying off. The music doesn’t sound disposable; it doesn’t sound like so much music that’s sitting in my inbox.

    BT: Can you describe what it does sound like?
    DK: It’s strong dance music, basically. But it doesn’t tick off the same boxes as most dance music. It has some spoken word, it has some dark guitar stuff—and the second release is different, more romantic with a Burt Bacharach kind of structure to it. It’s really hard to encapsulate.

    BT: Give it a try.
    DK: It’s original, adult dance music. It doesn’t sound like what Darshan has done, it doesn’t sound like what I have done. It sounds like us, and it’s something new.

  • In the fall of 2012, Nasrene Haj and Mila Pinigin formed the Creators Collective. At the time Haj and Pinigin, who had recently graduated from Sarah Lawrence College, were interested in creating a collaborative space in which other artistic individuals could come together to network, generate discussion and develop projects and events which challenged the status quo. In the two years since the Creators Collective was founded, Jeremie Gluckman joined the organization as Research Director while Haj has remained at the helm guiding the Creators Collective forward, always seeking out new and innovative ways to engage the arts on a micro and macro scale.

    I spoke with Haj who is the Director and Co-Founder of the Creators Collective, about what it is like being a working artist in Brooklyn today, what challenges she faced starting an organization, and what changes she has seen in the Brooklyn arts community having grown up here

    Anni Irish:
    How was the Creators Collective formed? And what was your intent for this organization?

    Nasrene Haj: I founded The Creators Collective with one of my best friends from college, Mila Pinigin. One evening, while studying abroad in Italy our junior year, we were having dinner and started throwing around ideas for projects we’d like to work on together. We thought about how amazing it would be to create a small collective in Brooklyn that would engage these various projects with other friends and community members. A few months after graduating from college, we came up with a name for our collective and began organizing our first event, 3 to 1. Our tag line sums up our original intent for this organization. “providing space and resources for interdisciplinary collaborations in unique spaces.” However, over the past couple years this has become more complex.

    A.I.: What is your relationship to art?

    N.H.: I studied dance growing up, and really loved to choreograph. I took advantage of any opportunity to create dance works and perform them in front of an audience. I thought that was what I wanted to do professionally – dance and choreograph However, when I got to college, my relationship to dance and art shifted and I began exploring other disciplines such as drawing, painting and poetry. My senior year of college, I returned to dance and incorporated all of these artistic interests in the works I created that year. I also always enjoyed working in arts administration, so once I graduated, I knew my interest in the arts was broader. This is something that I paid close attention when was deciding what I wanted to pursue professionally both with the Creators Collective and otherwise.

    photo 2 Photo credit: Nicole Malagodi

    A.I.: How has your interdisciplinary approach as a dancer and working artist been incorporated into the collective?

    N.H.: For my senior dance piece, I supplemented my choreography with live vocals layered over a monologue from an Italian film and designed the costumes based on the same color scheme I was exploring in my paintings. Seeing the complexity of this final work, paired with the collaborative nature of creating something that crossed disciplines, I experienced a fulfillment I’d never felt before when making art. In that moment, I felt a deeper appreciation for working with other artists. Professionally that realization has since contributed to the projects I’ve developed for The Creators Collective and the way I work with other members who join me in executing projects.

    A.I.: What have been some of your approaches in getting local businesses and artists involved in your organization?

    N.H.: My goal for the Creators Collective is to build a community of people. Whether they are individual artists, other collectives or local businesses, who are looking for an outlet or are open to working with others to support the arts in their community. I try to engage others through bartering offers. For example if a local business were to donate their space to us for an evening, the Creators Collective would then offer to expand their online and local presence through advertising their business on our online platforms and bringing a physical audience to their space. With artists, we are offering them a permanent spot in our online artist registry and following their participation in a Creators Collective event, we provide them with a video and photo from the project that they can use for their own publicity and archiving. On our end, we are able to utilize these relationships to execute programs and events that foster the presence and value of the Creators Collective in the Brooklyn arts community.

    A.I.: How has your work with organizations such as Alvin Ailey and BRIC helped you to develop CC and the kinds of projects you want to be involved in?

    N.H.: Working at Alvin Ailey and BRIC has given me the opportunity to learn how larger non-profit organizations operate and has provided me with countless networking opportunities. There have been many people who I have worked with in one context who have later participated in a Creators Collective project or supported one of our programs or events. Through this outside work, I have also found clarity in the type of organization that I want the Creators Collective to grow into.

    A.I.: As a Brooklyn native, and someone who came through the school system here what are some of the changes you have seen regarding the arts on a local level i.e. in public schools and on a larger scale?

    N.H.: When I was in high school in the mid 2000’s, the arts always felt like an afterthought. There was not enough support from the administration to back up what these teachers and students were capable of and interested in exploring together. Luckily, there was amazing organization where I studied dance, so I wasn’t relying on the public school system for arts education. Unfortunately, most students didn’t have this same opportunity I had.

    I can’t speak fully to the current state of the arts in public schools, as my only interaction with a public high school has been through the Creators Collective’s film making residency, Not So Silent Films that I organized for the 2013-2014 academic school year at the high school I attended in Brooklyn. I have had many conversations with the classroom teacher, an amazing educator and inspiring woman, Clare Bauman, students we worked with in the classroom, and the teens and professional artists who are participating in the Collective Storytelling. Everyone seems to feel the same as I did growing up–which is that arts education still seems to be an after thought and that there needs to be more accessibility for students to engage with the arts both in school and in their local community.

    On a larger scale, I think the arts are continuously becoming a huge part of the culture of Brooklyn and have contributed to the growth of certain neighborhoods and the borough overall. Unfortunately, opportunities in the arts for youth do not seem to be increasing at the same rate as the overall growth of the arts in Brooklyn. Being part of such a vibrant artistic community is something that that public schools in this borough could deeply benefit from; for example, bringing in skilled teaching artists and community members to bridge the gap between in school and public arts education.

    photo 1 Photo Credit: Nicole Malagodi

    AI: How would you characterize the state of the arts in Brooklyn today?

    N.H.: I believe that the arts in Brooklyn have grown in a very public and accessible way. I notice a lot more site-specific work being developed and performed and I think there is an increasingly communal appreciation for art as it becomes more accessible in neighborhoods across the borough. But, I have also noticed that as community-based and interactive as the arts in Brooklyn may be, I feel a sense of separation at times, quite simply due to the nature of working with the same people on many projects and interacting within the same few neighborhoods. Finding myself falling into similar patterns, I decided that I wanted to build a platform for Brooklyn collectives to connect–initially online through the Creators Collective website and a list serve email platform for space and resource exchange, and eventually through collective meet-ups. We’re calling it the Alliance of Brooklyn Collectives (ABC).

    A.I.: What is next for the Creators Collective?

    N.H.: In addition to the Alliance of Brooklyn Collectives, we are expanding the Collective Storytelling program to include a writing and photography residency to take place in a public high school in Brooklyn this fall and we will also continue to develop the writing and performance component, offering a second teen writing workshop followed by more opportunities for professional and young artists to connect and create collaboratively. We are also brainstorming a few more ideas that will extend Creators Collective programs into different cities and towns, hopefully launching in the next year or two.

    In the very near future, we will showcase the current stage of Collective Storytelling on August 10th and 13th, with an open rehearsal for those interested in exploring our method of developing this collaborative performance work and a work-in-progress viewing in Prospect Park of what we’ve created this summer.

    For more information about this project and many others the Creators Collective are involved in check out their website.

    –Anni Irish

  • Definition of the word HOME- -n- the place in which one’s domestic affections are centered; adv-deep; to the heart ♥ ; v. to navigate toward a point by means of coordinates other than those given by altitudes.

    H.O.M.E. – as an acronym it can be interpreted as wherever you call home. Some might say it’s “wherever you lay your head at night” and that definition may or may not be odds with the dictionary, but it may still be correct. The word HOME has many meanings to many people.
    Hence the title of our film, H.O.M.E., as an acronym

    home-print

    This is where the genesis began. To feature the themes of individuals in New York City who are experiencing urban alienation through an immigrant perspective.  Throughout this writing process we decided that eliminating one of the previously planned 3  stories would create a stronger body for the script that would allow the 2 stories to complement each other to still retain the idea that these are not stand alone accounts but a multitude that would convey the essence behind the themes of the film.  Hence the synopsis

    H.O.M.E. is a feature film about the human condition, comprised of 2 different but related stories involving characters who have intimate and meaningful encounters through the lens of a disconnected and alienating city. Set in New York City, the characters in these stories find themselves in an internal struggle with their environment and proceed to navigate through their path of understanding.

    The basis for the film was now ready for execution. In that , I narrowed in on the 1st story which is based on an article I read in the New York Times by Kirk Semple who documented a young man with Aspergers Syndrome whom went missing in the NYC subways for several weeks . I decided on this for our 1st story and started to pull together a crew of talented artists to begin this process.  1st priority was approaching a talented actor to play the role of the young man with Aspergers Syndrome. This we were lucky to find in the the emerging actor , Jeremy Ray Valdez whom I’d seen from his award winning performance in La Mission and for whom I had an “in” to meet him in LA to discuss the role  with the help of Giselle Rodriguez.

    Here’s an early image from the film’s sketchbook.

    Degi Hari

     

     

  • Having finished up a great school year, including the amazing Humanities Prep Student Music Showcase, our summer programs have hit the ground running.  A new music enrichment program was launched with the Upper West Side JCC for K-4th graders four days a week, and AFP is hosting a summer music program at Humanities Preparatory Academy.

    Since the bulk of my work with AFP involves school programs, in addition to AFP’s summer Jazz program for older kids, Frank, Allyson and I are always looking for opportunities to contribute to the rest of the community through workshops during the summer. This summer, I have been going to 97th Street four mornings a week to introduce music to students enrolled in the JCC’s Summer Enrichment Program. The program is for under-served kindergarteners through 5th graders, and boy, do we have a good time! I bring my guitar, and a bunch of drums and percussion instruments for everyone, including the teen tutors in the class, to play. Before we get to jamming, I show everyone how to clap in time and count out measures. We play rhythm games and try to follow each other, and the kids get to make up their own rhythms, first on the whiteboard, then on the instruments. It is amazing how quickly kids will pick up the basic concepts that are the foundation of reading and playing music in the context of a game. On my second day, the class I had worked with on the first day marched into the other class ten minutes before the end of class with their own homemade shakers that they had made as a project in crafts class that day! One student, Tyberius, even brought his own electric guitar and amplifier to school and asked to be allowed to participate in the music class for another grade. This little boy was honestly one of the most entertaining people I’ve ever met in my life. He told me he wants to be famous, so I told him “Famous wants to be you, Tyberias, you are entertainment itself!”

    AFP is hosting a summer music instruction program, held in the music classroom at Humanities Preparatory Academy, which is offered to AFP current and former music students who have excelled, and are seeking more advanced instruction in music theory, guitar, piano, voice, bass, and drums. The last session focused on the song “At Last”, made famous by Etta James. We first worked out the chords on the piano, choosing chord inversions that take advantage of the piano’s layout, but also discussing the character and function of each chord in the progression, then we translated that progression to the bass, arpeggiating each of the chords in eight notes, then dropping out every other note to make a walking bassline from the chord tones. Next, we found the chords on the guitar, again finding inversions that make use of the unique voice of the guitar. Once everyone was comfortable with their parts, I played the drum-set, while we played through the progression slowly, then faster. Again, I’m blown away by how quickly we went from counting keys on the piano and building chords, to manifesting a simple jazz ensemble. I’m looking forward to the next session, where we’ll start to explore melodies and soloing.

    That’s all for now! Enjoy these pics from some of AFP’s classes and workshops

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  • Recently I saw the Kara Walker installation “A Subtlety: The Marvelous Sugar Baby” which was on display at the former Domino Sugar Factory through July 6th. The event was organized by Creative Time, an arts based nonprofit that has commissioned various large scale public art projects with many artists within New York and internationally since 1974. The full title of the piece, “A Subtlety Or The Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant” has poetic undertones and underscores many of the complex issues that Walker is driving at within the installation.

    On a recent weekend, I made the trek to Williamsburg to see Walker’s installation. When I arrived at the Kent Street waterfront where the Domino Sugar factory is located, I was astounded by the amount of people in line. It extend down the street for almost an entire block. I took my place in the back of line with only my sunglasses to shield me from the hot summer sun and waited. As the line continued to grow, several volunteers for Creative Time emerged to help answer questions and to hand out releases to sign to enter the factory. The line progressed and soon I was in the factory.

    When I entered the space, I was overcome by a smell—a pungent, sticky and sweet aroma that seemed to fill the factory. The overwhelming odor was present partly because of the materials Walker used and the build up of molasses on the walls from years of production. As I walked further into the space, I encountered the first part of the installation: fifteen cast sculptures of young boys that were placed throughout the factory floor. Standing at five feet tall, these resin and sugar cast boys are depicted carrying large baskets or bunches of bananas and are reminiscent of the figurines one might buy as a souvenir in a roadside shop. The cast sugar boys show physical signs of being left out in the open for weeks– some had formed a sugar puddle around them while others had parts of their baskets and banana bunches shifting from their original location
    1APhoto Credit: Creative Time

    Against the backdrop of these sculptures, the sugar woman towers over the sculpture measuring 35.5 feet high by 26 feet wide and 75.5 feet long. The figure is naked, crouched on all fours with her exposed, elongated limbs commanding the factory space. Around the sculpture is trail of sugar which traces the outline of her body. She is beautiful, fantastical, and jarring. It is evocative of the larger meta-commentary Walker is making on the history of the sugar trade but also trudges up issues surrounding race and sexuality. The imagery and subject matter are no stranger to Walker’s work who is best known for her wall installations which use black paper silhouettes that explore race, gender, sexuality, identity and the history of slavery. “A Subtlety” is Walker’s most ambitious work to date and does not back down in the sociocultural issues it is raising.
    walker4Photo Credit: Creative Time

    It is a powerful statement that has been able to engage various communities from the greater New York City area and beyond. From the Domino Sugar factory who donated the sugar for the work, to many volunteers who have come out each weekend to lend a hand in help others enjoy Walker’s work; there are many levels to kind of labor involved in the creation of this work, the labor of the sugar trade and those who have come to view the installation.

    Photo Credit: Creative Time Photo Credit: Creative Time

    One of the volunteers I encountered that day was Shelton Roberts, a retired Domino factory worker who had come back to his former place of employment to help out with Walker’s exhibition. Roberts who worked at the factory from 1984 to 2004, held various position within the corporation. His jobs included being a wash station operator and forklift operator to overseeing the maintenance of the plant in various capacities. When Roberts came across the call for volunteers for the Walker installation he jumped at the chance to help out. Roberts said, “As a volunteer for the Walker installation, it has made me laugh and cry at times. The exhibit is so powerful and it really gives the public to treat to see the work. It also gives them a chance to learn about the sugar refinery process”.

    While Roberts is right that Walker’s installation does involve the sugar refinery process, it also serves as a commentary on the history of sugar, the consumption it and what the implications of this are on a larger social scale. While sugar is no longer a luxury, it is through the overwhelming consumption of it that has sparked debates around health, poverty and how it is disproportionally effecting the poor. When you are faced with 80 tons of sugar in a former sugary refinery plant the reality of this conversation becomes illustrated in a new way. In many ways this is exactly what Walker intended for the work to do: to spark imagination, conversation, and debate around an everyday commodity that often is taken for granted. However, as Walker reminds us, the history of sugar and those involved in it, is nothing but complicated.

    –Anni Irish