E.G. Bailey: American Afrikan Review

I am not going to qualify my review of E.G. Bailey’s American Afrikan with a score.  As a white person, I feel like it would be a little disingenuous of me to try and attach a grade to the African American cultural experience.  And that is certainly what American Afrikan is – more so than a musical work, spoken word piece, or political polemic.  It is an examination of what it means to be black in America today, as well as what it used to mean, what it feels like, and what it could be.  That it is made more accessible through rhythms and music makes it no less authentic – music is ingrained in African American history moreso than perhaps any other culture.  And if that all sounds a bit serious for you – know that it is also an enjoyable listen on a purely aesthetic level.

Amerikan begins with “Professor Goodwin’s Preface,” a poignant (and also often hilarious) spoken word piece that pokes playfully at the oftentimes confusing semantics of race.  From there Bailey dives down through history, unearthing slave chants, blues, jazz, hip hop, the sounds of shackles, and more.  Whether he’s singing, reciting poetry, or completely silent, Bailey’s masterful feeling for the power of words (and their absence) is felt throughout.  “America” is a weighty poem set to a jazz score by Middle Eastern ensemble Abstrakt Collision.  Not one to shy away from controversy, “America” is packed full of lines that cut like knives:

America, which of my sins are original / Do I repent before the cross or the dollar / before the ballot or the bullet / America, I can’t take you home to my mother / she’s afraid you might try to molest her / rape her land / leave her suffering, her children desolate.

 

It isn’t all quite so severe though – where the record is shadowed by the turbulence of history, it also celebrates life and happiness.  The title track is an incredibly long, African rhythm infused, totally danceable banger that features Ibe Kaba and Sankara Djeki (also remixed by local rapper M.anifest as a bonus track).  “Motherless Child” is a heartbreakingly beautiful tune sung by Aimee Bryant.   To finish things off “Afrikan is the New Amerikan” shuts it down with some feverous instrumental funk.

Photo By Julian Murphy

There is so much history, culture, and experience packed into American Afrikan that to summarize would be to attempt to summarize all of African American experience (no easy task).  Just as history means different things to different people, doubtlessly the record will affect listeners in many different ways – and what I tell you about my experience may be worlds away from your own.  You will never know until you find out though, so I highly recommend giving American Afrikan a listen.  If you dig what you hear, Bailey will be playing a CD release party at the Bedlam Theater on Feb. 20th.

— Jon Behm

      1. EG Bailey - America

Myspace Site Tru Ruts/Speakeasy Records

DRESS SHIRT MAKERS WON’T WAVE THE WHITE FLAG; AS THE BLUE AND WHITE DRESS SHIRT BUSINESS STALLS, MANUFACTURERS ARE FIGHTING BACK WITH FASHION.(Statistical Data Included)

Daily News Record May 19, 2000 | Cunningham, Thomas NEW YORK — The recently announced deal by Phillips-Van Heusen to license television star Regis Philbin’s name for a “Regis by Van Heusen” line of dress shirts and neckties has been called the best thing to happen to the dress shirt business since french blue.

Van Heusen plans an in-store launch with Regis June 12 at Macy’s Herald Square. The company expects to roll out the tonal dress shirts and neckties to nearly 2,000 doors by holiday. The Regis line — a full-priced business — has even allowed P-VH to attract a retail customer it hasn’t had in years: Dillard’s.

“There’s not enough marketing money in America to do what this [license] is going to do for us,” said Mark Weber, P-VH’s president and chief operating officer.

Yet the excitement masks fundamental difficulties in an industry viewed by many as lackluster at best and moribund at worst. The megatrends of an increasingly casual workplace and an eroding market share for department stores, where better dress shirts have traditionally been sold, present considerable challenges for wholesale companies specializing in the sector.

As recently as two years ago, dress shirt executives could boast “that nobody ever went broke selling blue and white shirts,” but that’s no longer the case.

The top merchant at a major department store group said his white shirt business was off between 10 and 15 percent from a year ago. “It’s still a business,” he said. “But I don’t know where the bottom is.” “The staple dress shirt business is way off,” said Brian Marsal, chief executive of Cluett American Group, which markets Arrow and Kenneth Cole dress shirts. “Anyone who is in that business, I would venture their business is off 10 to 20 percent.” Said Weber: “If light blue were an annuity, it would be an easy business.” Countering the anemic basics business is an explosion of updated fashion, which has altered the industry’s timeworn mind-set. The department store merchant applauded Regis’s contribution, saying the talk show host had “created demand. The power of being able to do that is so important to department stores.” And although the shift toward fashion presents new challenges, getting it right can mean hefty profits. see here easrer dresses

“Even though the market has shrunk somewhat, the advent of fashion has helped the business tremendously,” said P-VH’s Weber. “We have no intention of turning off the lights and going home.” “The dress shirt business is more mature,” said Marsal. “You can still make a good profit, but you’re not going to get the growth Wall Street wants. To build your business you have to steal share from competitors.” Indeed, dress shirts, which account for about $3.5 billion, or 6.2 percent, of the money spent on men’s apparel at retail, have been one of the slower-growing areas in men’s, according to Perry James, a senior account manager at The NPD Group, a market research agency. At the same time, the critical channel of department stores has seen its share of the dress shirt market slip from 20.2 percent in 1997 to 18.5 percent last year, according to NPD.

Another worrying trend is price deflation. The average dress shirt price, out the door, fell to $18.65 in 1999, from $19.27 in 1997, according to NPD. However, the higher ticket price of hot-selling contemporary lines like DKNY and Kenneth Cole is starting to push the average price up in 2000, James said.

Besides putting more fashion into their products, manufacturers are revitalizing their business by adding brands through licensing deals and developing wider distribution. Companies that either have already entered or are planning to enter the contemporary area include Cluett American with Kenneth Cole New York and Reaction; Phillips-Van Heusen with DKNY and Fubu; and Kellwood Co. with two lines: 2.0, licensed from Claiborne, and Slates, licensed from Levi’s.

Meanwhile, companies such as Phillips-Van Heusen, Cluett American, Salant, Hathaway and even Dallas-based private-label specialist The Apparel Group have introduced more fashion content into formerly staid brands like Van Heusen, Arrow and Hathaway.

Dress shirts accounted for 23 percent, or $292.4 million, of market-leader P-VH’s $1.27 billion in sales last year, according to the company’s annual report. Excluding the contribution from new licenses, including Manhattan and John Henry, P-VH’s branded shirt business was up about 10 percent, Weber said.

The company claims to have the number-one department store brand (Van Heusen), the leading designer brand (Geoffrey Beene) and the fastest-growing brand (DKNY). But it is not the only one that has managed niche businesses in this difficult environment.

“Dress-down has actually helped us,” said Shelley Fogel, president of Tommy Hilfiger dress shirts and Oxford Shirtings at Oxford Industries. “If you have the right balance and texture of fabric, you can capture the casual customers.” Some of the newer treatments offered by manufacturers include fly fronts with hidden plackets, shirts with pen pockets, or even two pockets, and novelty buttons or snaps, all intended to break the dress shirt out of its worn mold and catch the attention of casual-dressing sport shirt customers as well as old-line dress shirt buyers ready for an updated look. website easrer dresses

“What I see is that the distinction between the woven dress shirt and the woven sport shirt is becoming blurred,” said Marsal. “That traditional structure that separated the dress shirt buyer and the sport shirt buyer is not as strong.” This fall, Cluett will introduce Kenneth Cole Reaction at select retail doors. The Reaction line is very sporty and includes knits, shirts with square bottoms and others with snaps instead of buttons.

Kenneth Cole New York dress shirts should do $20 million at wholesale this year, and could eventually reach $60 million, Marsal estimated. The shirts were designed to capture dress shirt and sport shirt buyers, he said.

“Kenneth told us he wanted versatility.” Marsal said. “He wanted something that could be worn as a sport shirt or a dress shirt.” At Oxford Industries, the sales mix for Oxford’s private-label business is about 65 percent basics and 35 percent fashion, while the mix for its Tommy Hilfiger line is closer to 50 percent basics and 50 percent fashion, Fogel said.

“I think all the companies are trying to find the balance,” he added. “Dress shirt companies are trying to see how far they can push casual, and sportswear firms are trying to see how far they can push the dress shirt look. The hardest thing for both dress shirts and sports shirts is to get that balance.” Oxford is actively seeking new licenses. Fogel said he would like to see branded accounting for about 60 percent of Oxford’s shirt business by 2003. This year branded will be about 35 percent of sales, up from 25 percent in 1999, Fogel said.

Tommy Hilfiger is on-plan for a 7 to 8 percent increase this year and Oxford’s private-label business is on track to grow 5 to 6 percent this year, Fogel said. In private label, a move to broaden the offerings has paid off in increased business, he added.

Another big player in the branded dress shirt business is Salant Corp., which makes Perry Ellis dress shirts under license from Perry Ellis International. The line is in about 1,000 doors, including Federated, May, Dillard’s, Belk and Dayton Hudson doors.

“The business has changed so much in the last year for us,” said Michael J. Setola, chairman and chief executive of Salant. “We used to run a very high level of penetration in a basic 50s single broadcloth, but that business has really gone away.

“It’s being replaced by more fashionable, more directional and quicker-turning inventory that is really becoming, for the consumer, not only a dress shirt but a casual shirt that can be worn without a necktie.” Although he would not give sales figures for Perry Ellis dress shirts, he said the business is about the same size as Polo’s and twice as big as the Tommy Hilfiger dress shirt business.

The Perry Ellis business is on track to grow 15 percent this year, after a rough 1999, Setola said. “In 1999 our inventory was heavily weighted towards basics. We had to liquidate those inventories to support more fashion offerings.” But as makers introduce more fashion into their shirts, they have to shorten their production cycles and monitor inventory on the sales floor carefully so they clear out fashion misses and make the most of successes.

Indeed, Setola said a hit can cause more problems than a miss. “If you have a miss, you take a markdown,” he said. “The bigger challenge is: When you have a fashion win, how do you get the inventory replenished as fast as you need it? When the demand is outstripping supply, you need to change your cycle time.” Meanwhile, some makers are pessimistic about the private-label business, saying it is too tough to compete simply on price.

“There’s no future in the private-label business,” Marsal said. “It’s a low-cost commodity business and there is always going to be some guy who can do it cheaper. A brand stands for something and that’s your best defense.” Weber said, however, that the move toward fashion has created opportunities, as his firm does approximately 15 percent of its dress shirt business in private label.

“In dress shirts, stores are doing less private label,” Weber said. “They are finding it’s more difficult to execute the fashion equation and they are looking for branded partners to carry the load.” Not necessarily. Norman Goldberg, president of TAG, said the year ended March 31 was his company’s best ever, finishing with revenues of more than $200 million. TAG has grown by infusing private-label programs with fashion, such as its exclusive 70/30 pima cotton/microfiber dress shirt.

“We’ve traded up the private-label dress shirt business,” said Goldberg, a major supplier to J.C. Penney and Kohl’s. “We’re not going after the low-end market where there is no margin.” Faced with diminished margins in department stores, Cluett’s Marsal also made the bold move of introducing the Arrow brand at Kohl’s, which upset some of his department store customers but opened up an entirely new customer base.

“The customer that buys the Arrow shirt seems to be shopping at Kohl’s,” Marsal said. “Kohl’s has a lower cost structure. I can make money there. It’s hard to make money in the department stores [at the opening price point].” Sales of Arrow brand are about $170 million a year, Marsal said. Customers for Arrow include Dayton’s, Belk’s, Mervyn’s and Sears.

P-VH increased the fashion content of Van Heusen to better distinguish it from private labels. The move allowed P-VH to move the average out-the-door price of Van Heusen to $22, from $18 two years ago.

Furthermore, P-VH vice-chairman Allen E. Sirkin said it is important to maintain a portfolio of brands to target customers at a range of price points.

“We look at all channels and all forms of access to the consumer,” Sirkin said. “We want as much market share as it is financially prudent for us to acquire.” But Weber and Sirkin were adamant that P-VH is not buying market share and that the company does not guarantee margins. “Every retailer has a right to ask [for guaranteed margins] and we are ready to deal with that,” Sirkin said. “There are expectations for the space. We understand what they are and we are capable of delivering to those expectations.” Cunningham, Thomas

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  1. February 18, 2010

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    This post was mentioned on Twitter by truruts: “It is an examination of what it means to be black in America today…” Jon Behm on E.G. Bailey’s ‘American Afrikan’ http://bit.ly/9M9ftj

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