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B. Anthony
Club Bamboo
B. Anthony, author
"In South Georgia, 1977, beyond the bright lights of Atlanta, where darkness meets light, is Club Bamboo. Best friends built the place for live entertainment, accented with Georgia bamboo and featuring a fireplace, bar, and bedrooms. Club Bamboo is the pulse of South Georgia, and Raw—Ready and Willing—often rules the stage. The band consists of Vincent “Fingers” on guitar. Charles, better known as Dr. Thump, plays bass. Sam “Pony Boy” is on drums, and Amos—Mr. Velvet—is lead singer, along with backup singers Cheryl “Butter;” Sue Ann, or Sweet; and Janet, known as Red Lady. The band plays at the club, but they’re more than musicians. These boys can fish, known in the neighborhood as master fishermen. With woven baskets they made themselves and a jar full of bait from the store, they fill all the baskets with catfish in no time and feed the people who come see them play. Club Bamboo is a story of true brotherhood, as several black men struggle in the Deep South but find victory in the power of song."
Promising that good music will live forever, Anthony’s debut tells the story of a band named Raw (Ready and Willing) and a club called Club Bamboo in a funky late 1970s of flirting and grinding to Kool & the Gang and Freddie Jackson, with disco inferno still burning but hip hop on the horizon. Among the members of this competitive cover band are siblings Vincent, Charles, Sam, Cheryl, Sue Ann, and Janet. Kate, their mother, leaves home in anger and sadness after discovering that her husband Cebo, the siblings’ father, has a large secret family, though she returns once she decides her children are more important to her. (She favors malt liquor and cigarettes “because living was a struggle.”) Later the focus of the story shifts to Marvel, the youngest sibling and a talented dancer who, encouraged by his parents, is all set to achieve his dreams.

Anthony’s story is a slice-of-life blending nostalgia—dance competitions, Soul Train, the Holy Ghost dance at church, couples-only songs, the thrill of hearing Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick at the club—with unflinching accounts of “living in a world full of hatred and racism.” Though mostly narrated in the third person, the narrative often slips into the first person, presumably from Marvel’s perspective. The author succeeds in capturing a vivid milieu and portraying the bonhomie and camaraderie of a large family and club scene, though many individual characters aren’t developed much, with some coming or going from the story with little introduction. The introduction of Lee David and Victor, Cebo’s brothers, seems contrived to demonstrate the importance of family. Their back stories are strikingly similar and they do not move the story forward.

The dialogue, frank and earthy, captures the nuances of the spoken word of the era, while bursts of sex and violence live up to the band’s name: raw. At times over-the-top and discursive, with storytelling that lacks narrative momentum, Club Bamboo nevertheless captures a time, place, and culture.

Takeaway: Vividly evoked story of a late 1970s R&B band, bursting with music.

Comparable Titles: Jacqueline Crooks’s Fire Rush, Rashod Ollison’s Soul Serenade.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: C
Marketing copy: A-