In the summer/fall of 2004 for the first time ever I was blessed to have two co-workers toiling alongside me on the nightshift. It took some getting used to at first; we’d spend hours walking from one coffee shop to another in Brooklyn. We trekked from shop to shop desperately trying to avoid impromptu open mics, unadvertised changes to a shop’s operating hours or hordes of law or med students studying for one of their various professional licensing exams.
After about two weeks of this meandering from place to place, we decided it was time to open up our own coffee shop, and soon after, Café Ferentz was born.
Along with less expensive teas, healthier snacks and later hours, another benefit to Café Ferentz was that my co-workers and I got a chance to choose our music. No more random electronica, freestyle and definitely experimental hip-hop and reggae blends being played without our consent. And to make it ourselves feel really at home, we gave ourselves family names. As the proprietor of Café Ferentz, and the one who lives to make the ladies comfortable, I became “Big Daddy,” my sparring partner and alleged true boss of Café Ferentz became “Big Mama,” and our friend/antagonist who although two years older than me and Big Mamas, we seemed to always have to keep in check, so we named her “Baby Girl.” Call us crazy, or do as Sister Sledge did and shout out, “we are family.”
The personality traits behind these names really came out whenever we had to decide on the music for our work sessions. Big Mama loved herself, loved to love—did I say love—well Big Mama loved herself some Maxwell. For whatever reason whenever she got to the cd rack at Café Ferentz Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite was guaranteed to be her choice. Now, I know as well as anyone else that music could take people places. Music can steal our minds away on journeys far removed from our present situations. What I was never able to understand about Big Mama, and quite a few other women between the ages of 28 – 35 is how y’all are able to go on that journey with Maxwell at almost given moment.
Whenever Maxwell came on, Big Mama got this twinkle in her eye. I could see her body relaxing as the guitar chords from “The Urban Theme” began floating through the air. Big Mama was sure to be gone into fantasy land by the time the saxophone materialized on the track. Call it mojo, hoodoo or whatever you will, but whatever Maxwell put into the songs on that album evoked as powerful of a spell over Big Mama in 2004 as it did when the album first came out in 1996 .
Big Mama might be able to keep working through “The Urban Theme,” but once the song “Welcome” came on, work, as in the work she had to do to finish her book was the last thing on her mind. At this point, she’d usually put her pencil down, stop composing the haikus that she needed to complete her book of poetry and would start telling Baby Girl and me about being in Atlanta in 1996. She'd get happier and happier as she reminisced out loud about the late night drives with her home girls to The Waffle House or to Mick’s where they'd along to Maxwell from their AUC dorms and back. Or better yet, she loved telling the story about the drive to
I mean, can you really blame the woman for being unable to focus on worl; just peep the first three lines of the song: “Didn't you dig the way I rubbed yo back girl/Wasn't it cool when first I kissed yo lips/Was it enough to penetrate yo dark world.” As much as I tried playing Big Daddy in order to keep Big Mama on top of her writing, even I could not deny the power of this song.
As she told us about the first time she heard the song, Big Mama started running her hands over her kneecaps, sliding them down over her shins, and then bring them back up the side of her thighs. She’d then bring them back up as if she were giving herself a hug, warming up each forearm, then bicep and then shoulder with her palms. The more that she told her story the clearer it became that everywhere her hands went were places that a lover had at one time or another had left a kiss, and that this ritual with her hands was a retracing of each kiss, each memory left on her body to the tune of this Maxwell album.
While I was willing to join Big Mama in submitting to the power of Maxwell, Baby Girl on the other hand…….