Cannabis Play Traces History and Culture

Cannabis Play Traces History and Culture
cannabis now

Five years in the making and twice postponed by COVID lockdowns, a cannabis theatrical concert dedicated to celebrating marijuana, and raising consciousness around the plant, has opened in New York City. Cannabis! A Viper Vaudeville uses music and projected images as well as dialogue to trace the journey of cannabis from the herblore of ancient India and China through European bohemia, American prohibition, youth counterculture and finally legalization (in many states). Running through July 31 at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, a venerable venue in Manhattan’s East Village, the show is written by Baba Israel, who serves as MC, with music composed by Grace Galu, who performs on vocals and guitar as the “Sativa Diva.” Israel’s longtime outfit Soul Inscribed serves as the back-up band, and there’s also an ensemble of dancers. Cannabis History in Music, Word and Image After a brief passage covering thousands of years, in which cannabis went from the earliest botanical references of the ancient world to being the muse of French poets including Balzac and Baudelaire, the herb crosses the Atlantic to the Americas—woven into the “hair of the enslaved.” This refers to the tradition of African crop seeds—including cannabis—being smuggled onto the slave ships by this means during the Middle Passage.  The link between marijuana prohibition and racism is emphasized in this cannabis theatrical concert. African American culture nurtured cannabis, as manifested in musical samples such as Fats Waller’s “The Reefer Song” (with its refrain “When you’re a viper,” jazz slang for herb aficionados) and Ella Fitzgerald’s “When I Get Low I Get High.”  Louis Armstrong’s rendering of “La Cucaracha” speaks to the use of cannabis by Pancho Villa’s troops during the Mexican Revolution. But this meant backlash north of the border, with “marihuana” mixed up in the white mind with subversive Mexican immigrants. Lurid newspaper clips from the…

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