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Painting, EDDY KAMUANGA ILUNGA |”Attitude Face a La Mondialisation” | Democratic Republic of Congo | 2015

Salutations! I am Andrea Rose Clarke, your sister from another planet.

My first visit to Earth was though my parents, Olive and Darby, who emigrated to New York from Guyana, South America. Dad was a math prodigy back home; he inexplicably turned down a full math scholarship at Oxford. He was hired at GHI as a pioneering programmer during the infancy of the computer age–definitely a father from another planet. My mother on the other hand suppressed her prolific art and music talent I think because of the colonial Guyanese restrictions on what defined a woman’s success.

These are my maternal grandparents, Jaybez Josiah Cromwell and Nellie Helena Young at their wedding, early 1920’s in Guyana (then British Guiana before Independence). My great Aunt Pat is holding the large bouquet of flowers to the left of my grandmother, great great Aunt Rose at the very back. Aunt Nesta is the tiniest flower girl in the front. My mother wasn’t born yet (of course); both she and my father emigrated to the States in the 1950’s.  If you look closely, on the extreme left you see a young neighbor gazing at the splendor. 

My obsession with music began at an early age. I taught myself to draw before I could write, but my art teacher at school felt she couldn’t teach me anything (!) so I was put into music and studied violin for 5 years. By 5th grade, I was extorting allowances from my friends to supplement my growing record collection, much to my mother’s chagrin. (Arlene Schulman’s mother had to call my mother about one of those “transactions”.) I also loved audio equipment like my father, always the one to figure out how to set up the latest hifi toys he invested in–like “The Fisher” 500X amplifier, state-of-the-art in its time.

I changed course and went back to art, being accepted into the HS of Art & Design and then the School of Visual Arts. Naturally as art students we hung downtown in the East Village, Mudd Club, Hurrah, Danceteria and Area–drawn to the underground music and art counterculture of the late 70’s and 80’s.

I saw then-unknowns like Depeche Mode and U2 in tiny venues. My friend Valerie Ghent played keyboard in the band Dizzy & the Romilars, and they scored the opening act for Depeche Mode’s first NY gig at The Ritz! As if that wasn’t enough, we were invited to a fancy sit-down dinner afterparty with the band — we died. Another friend Aileen invited me help her interview Robert Smith of the Cure for her groundbreaking fanzine Ephemeral Youth. (He was very, very shy). As esteemed club “regulars”, we rolled our eyes at Madonna as she pranced around like she was already a star; who the f&%k did she think she was? Once at the Roxy, we literally booed her off stage after she cursed at someone in the crowd. (Welp, success is the best revenge, right? Lol)

These are some of my drawings from around 12 years old. I made up these elaborate stories; the bottom was some integrated Jackson 5/Osmonds/Partridge Family mashup.

Joy Bouldin (Danceteria elevator girl among other things) and myself in the top left photo.  A photographer for Madamoiselle magazine approached us on St. Mark’s Place, asking if he could take our picture for a spread about “cool East Village fashion” in 1983.  Funny enough when I moved to London in 1984,  I was approached again in the Wag Club by another Madamoiselle photographer doing a spread on London  fashion. 🙂

A closeup of me that day, taken by my friend Giselle May. My mother hated my hair this way…when I told her how many compliments I’d get, she accused them of lying! An original Afropunk.

My Danceteria and Berlin membership cards.

A flier for a Mudd Club party my friend Ron Palmeri hosted.  I wonder where he is now.

Invite for FACE magazine’s party in 1984, celebrating 51 issues.  I flew back with Neville to attend.

The invitation to Area’s 1985 New Year’s party (members only, but regulars didn’t pay, of course!)

I befriended Jean-Michel Basquiat at my friend Alexis’ famous 12th St apartment where he lived, and went to SVA along with Keith Haring. I wish I hadn’t thrown out the jacket he drew one of his iconic babies on. He’d promised to do a mural on my bedroom wall so I didn’t think anything of the jacket… 🙁

Jean’s painting remained on Alexis’ bedroom wall for decades until she hired a specialist to literally cut the plaster out of her prewar building. They didn’t even know if it would survive, potentially crumbling to dust. 

I grew dissatisfied with art school. I loved art but hated the constraint, so in 1984 I left SVA and caught a courier flight to London (remember those $50 flights?) I stayed as an expat for almost 2 years.  I loved how London’s music, art, theater and fashion scene reflected the unrest and politics of the times. Only now do I realize that I never left art — I just found it in different platforms. Art and music were intertwined in everything I did. I dated Neville Brody, the art director of FACE magazine and watched him manipulate type and graphics by hand (no computers yet). Newcomers like Sade, George Michael and Boy George were dancing next to me at clubs like Heaven and The Wag.

Neneh Cherry had a big influence on my future; on embracing my being “uncategorical”. I had already had seen her as a backup singer and dancer for the reggae/post-punk girl band the Slits in NY when they opened for the Gang of 4, and later for the Clash at Bonds. Neneh had also become an influential soul/jazz DJ in the West End club scene. There were very few female DJs at that time–in fact DJing itself was an anomaly. A sister who rocked African clothes, sang in punk/jazz bands and DJ’d…she embodied a cultural mash-up that reflected mine. DJing justified my obsessive record collecting and gave me a platform to share my music.  (Speaking of the Clash, my friend Louise was one of the first vegetarian caterers in NY, and the Clash hired her when they played Bonds. Not only did I get see most of those legendary shows for free, I chatted and served humous to Joe Strummer in the green room.)

So back to NY…in 1987, I got my first DJ gig at a new popular club called “Hotel Amazon” (part of the Milky Way crew), held in an old converted school house on the LES. It was one of the first clubs to embrace hip hop, soul and reggae under one roof (complete with a barbeque grill in the school yard). I shared the stage with luminaries like Afrika Bambattaa, Red Alert, Queen Latifah, Del La Soul, Gang Starr, Tribe Called Quest…truly the Golden Age of Hip Hop. I got more and more gigs, spinning regularly at the World, MK’s, Pyramid, Wetlands, Madam Rosa’s and Mars. I also joined the Black Rock Coalition where I met Living Colour, and collaborated with them to create a music history program called 360º of Music, bringing live musicians to public schools lacking music education.

Details Magazine,  I think September 1988. That’s me spinning at Hotel Amazon in the top right photo. (Name misspelled! 🙁 )

An invite to one of Hotel Amazon’t iconic parties

Mix Mag, 1988

I was often asked for my current favorite tracks for Details Magazine

Around 1990, Vickie Starr (founder of Girlie Action Media) heard me spin and invited me co-host “Ghosts in the Machine”, her radio show dedicated to women in music on WBAI 99.5 FM. It was a great introduction to the world of radio, engineering and on-air hosting. A few years later, friends urged me to create my own show and in 1998 I pitched “Sister from Another Planet” to WBAI, which to my amazement they accepted. However, as a newbie I was put in the graveyard shift and was told I had to engineer by myself. I not only passed the test, I performed so well I was soon hired as one of the few women master control engineers. Mixing rare soul, 70’s + 80’s reggae, African + Latin jazz, folk, new wave and rock mostly done by people of color, SFAP attracted listeners from a wide demographic, crossing age, color and gender. My interviews included scifi icon Octavia Butler, actors Joe Morton, David Oyelowo and Avery Brooks, comedian DL Hughley, media mogul Ariana Huffington, musicians Gil Scott Heron, Kanye West, Fab 5 Freddy, Nona Hendrix, Sananda Maitreya (Terrence Trent D’Arby), Ledisi, Lalah Hathaway, Bluey from Incognito, Jhelisa Anderson, 2-Tone legend Pauline Black from The Selecter and British singer Lewis Taylor. Sister From Another Planet aired for 14 years, and I thank them for the platform they gave me to share my love of music.

Around 2009, I approached music and cultural icon Chuck D of the legendary Golden Era group Public Enemy to create a new show for WBAI when he lost his show after Air America folded. To my delight, he created “...ANDYOUDONTSTOP!“, a magazine-type radio show highlighting independent and golden-age hip hop and its influences, mixed with social commentary. Chuck remembered me from the New Music Seminar and Hotel Amazon days and he insisted I act as Executive Producer. (...ANDYOUDONTSTOP! airs Friday nights on WBAI 99.5 FM in NYC 10-12pm EST. You can also listen the via live stream or to archives on Chuck’s site, RapStation.com.)

I’m working on producing live shows featuring progressive musicians and artists of color from around the world, and Sister From Another Planet will soon be podcasting. In 2013 I debuted the award-winning acapella group the Soil, bringing them from South Africa to the Apollo.

My ongoing mission is using music as a platform for social change. Thanks for listening, and stay tuned!

— Andrea Rose Clarke