CULTIVATING NATURAL JOY
Black Economic Power Matters:
“If the heart is the image of the Sun in man, in the Earth it is gold.” – Juan Eduardo Cirlot, Dictionary of Symbols ( Great Zimbabwe: Resting Place of the Lion)
As healers, we are constantly working on ourselves. Our own weaknesses, shortcomings and fragility. It is very instructive that one of the primary ways in which Nguni/BaNtu shamans/sangoma’s/Nyanga’s become initiated into their powerful duties as mediums is that there must be a recognisable illness or sickness that they have to go through. This sickness is usually impossible to define in western terms, but it usually involves a kind of psychosis and sometimes strange inexplicable misfortunes and physical suffering.
Part of Initiation involves overcoming or conquering ingulo/ the sickness and occurs in the early stages. The healer never forgets this usually near death experience, it is a constant reminder of the fragile bond between the visible and invisible worlds, between wellness and infirmity.
We have to be healed and cleansed in order to guide and heal others. Cerebral or mental Consciousness of this is not quite enough. We have to strive to walk this path daily with the required sense of purpose and keen vision. Our guides can teach us so much, but we walk the road alone. Healing may be for the community but it is also a solitary road. We must embrace the loneliness as much as we must enjoy communal living.
While working on my own deficiencies and striving to improve my character as well as my practice, I have been studying various books in addition to a deeper meditation work. One of the key books is Anodea Judith’s Eastern Body Western Mind: Psychology and The Chakra System As A Path To The Self. I hereby quote from a chapter titled Excess and Deficiency.
“In order to develop love – universal love, cosmic love, whatever you would like to call it – one must accept the whole situation of life as it is, both the light and the dark, the good and the bad.” – Chogyam Trungpa
“Excess in the heart chakra is not an excess in actual love, but an excessive use of love for our own needs. Excess occurs when we overcompensate for our own wounds. Since love, by nature, involves others, then others become victims in our drama of overcompensating. Excessive love is desperate in its need for constant assurance, and does not uphold another’s freedom to be who they are. It is love that is used like a drug, where the goal is to get high and remove ourselves from our responsibilities and unresolved pain. We are in excess when we use love to compensate for the incompleteness in ourselves, or when we use another to go where we cannot or will not go ourselves.
Excess – An Excessive fourth chakra has such a strong movement outward that very little can get in. This eventually depletes the core, which tries to replenish itself by connecting with others in the same excessive manner that caused the depletion.
Deficiency – Rigid boundaries keep the inside from coming out and the outside from coming in, resulting in isolation, which perpetuates deficiency.
By definition the heart chakra is about reaching beyond the self and connecting with others. Codependency expresses an excessive heart chakra, where the emphasis on the OTHER is out of balance. The compulsive need to fixate on others with excessive care taking and meddling is a behaviour that arises from our own denied need for such care. Codependency is not an act of love, but an obsession clothed in the guise of love.
An obsessive heart chakra can be demanding and possessive. It is passionately connected, but often blindly so. ”
There is so much illumination in these pages, but we have to stop here and contemplate, meditate on Self care and how to let go of our own compulsive behaviour that hurts us as well as others. We often do this without noticing. I am constantly reminding myself to be aware and to act accordingly.
The next post will focus on Healing The Heart Chakra. This is a topic that the author of this book deals with deftly on Chapter Four. She begins the theme of Healing / Restoring the Lotus, with the following words, which shall be the closing of this post:
“Love is the essence that heals. Patience, skill, training, and talent all play their part, but without love they are merely techniques. All wounds cry for the universal medicine of love. As the cosmic glue of the universe, love is the force that bridges the gaps that cut us asunder. In the gap between Heaven and Earth, love is the binding force that holds together the many-coloured steps of the rainbow Bridge.”
As we close this episode, I must state that, not since reading Ayi Kwei Armah’s books Two Thousand Seasons, The Healers and The Beautifull Ones Are Not Yet Born, have I been so moved by the written word. In the next episode we shall also explore just how words can both heal and harm.
“Why is it that harm can be done in an instant, while healing requires days, years, even centuries? We exhaust ourselves trying to repair damage faster than the next wound can occur.” – Dr Wellington Yeuh
“If those early forms of social organisation also contained elements of democracy, it was the democracy of that particular time, totally unfitted to the democratic practice of man in the present epoch. To say that an African can learn democracy simply by looking backward to see what our great grandparents behaved is not only meaningless but downright reactionary. As an economy develops, new socio-economic institutions also develop with it and the peoples outlook and aspirations also undergo changes.” – African Socialism or Socialist Africa, A.M. Babu
What would be the function of kings or queens in a modern Afrika, restored and decolonized as so many of us Afrocentric activists agitate for? After having tasted the once forbidden fruits of Western style democracy, experimented with forms of socialism, monopolized capitalism and other structural adjustments, will we ever be able to become the society we once were, give or take the natural progression of time and circumstances?
During the remote past, in the often cited setting of ancient Egypt/Kemet, such was the case: “The function of the state were to own, control, divine, discipline and defend; they were also to cherish, nurture, shelter, and enlarge the population. The god-sent controller of the Egyptian people was the herdsman who kept them in green pastures, fought to secure fresh pastures for them, drove off the voracious beasts who attacked them, belabored the cattle who strayed out of line and helped along the weaklings. The Sun-God appointed him or her to be shepherd of this land, to keep alive the people and the folk, not sleeping by day or by night in seeking out every beneficial act, in looking for possibilities or usefulness.” (1)
This vision of what a ruler was or should ideally be like seems to have been shared throughout the ancient world, and when in the 18th and 19th centuries, the rise of enlightenment, various kinds of new ideas, technology and mass social revolutions swept the world, the power and usefulness of kingdoms was severely reduced. The few remaining places where monarchs are still respected pr honored, have retained for them only a ceremonial status. Still, royals appear to have retained some charming effect on the imaginations of people all over the world. That ceremonial power seems to still mystify many people, but of what use is localized mysticism in a world clearly ruled by material or global economic powers.
One thing is for sure, even in ancient times it was the law that controls even absolute rulers. In most cases, the majesty belongs to the laws of every given land. Kemet/Egypt was no exception to this rule, as it is depicted here:
“The hours of both day and night were laid out according to a plan, and at the specified hours it was absolutely required of the king that he should do what the laws stipulated and not what he thought best” (2).
So clearly it was never a matter of absolute power of either the masses or the elites that controlled how things are done, it has always been the Law. We shall return to how this law is fundamentally similar throughout the great Afrikan continent and perhaps we may find ways to blend whatever works in modern law with customary laws.
Decisions, decisions, decisions. Romanticism seems to get the best of us Afrikans when it comes to questions of power, be it political, communal or economic. Many of us dream of an idyllic Afrika where our best traditions are restored along with the land and the resources. We wish and some of us strive to regenerate our ancient systems of ruler-ship, trade and customary laws. Exactly how this can be done is still rather vague. There are several version of history and the notion of nationhood has always been steeped in a multiplicity of conflicts. We know that newly independent pro-socialist leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, Nyerere and Leopold Senghor tried their best to unite disparate “tribes” or ethnic groups in their bold attempts and nation building, yet their efforts were still executed within the confines of what the colonialists had left, the imposed borders are just one glaring example.
Is there a feasible reason to believe that the continent of Afrika can once again be ruled by monarchs, whether at decentralized local or provincial levels or otherwise?
There are many regional as well as localized associations wherein those designated as traditional leaders congregate and deliberate about matters of tradition, statutes and power. The pivotal question seems to be just how their power is shared among themselves but more crucially, how that power is shared or split between customary and modern political legislators. Where democracy and customary laws meet is rather vague, what is clear is that who ever wields the most constitutionality sanctified power also controls much of what passes as law.
So the question is, how meaningful is it for Afrikan people to dream of a return to a social setting where generationally or genealogically selected rulers lord it over the affairs of communities? While in the Southern parts of Afrika and surely in other parts of the continent, we still know of chiefs/ Izinduna and other socially and constitutionally accepted stewards who generally wield particular levels of power, their real influence is rather negligible compared to the democratically elected ones. How will the process of decolonization deal with either absolute monarchs or even benevolent rulers and what of anarchy, the notion that people can simply govern themselves?
I think that we cannot relive the past. While there may be localities wherein traditional leaders maintain some semblance of power, their influence will not reach a level wherein they can effectively be called empires. Empire is neither desirable nor feasible in the 21st century. Even the most aggressively imposed empires from Europe, the Far East and the United States of America are showing signs of serious fracture and are checkmating each other as they compete for control of the resources of developing countries. Sovereignty may still sounds appealing to many idealists and ambitious power-brokers, but even such last century ideas are fading away just like the divine rights of monarchs faded.
I am thinking of King Mswati and his precarious kingdom whose many citizens subsist outside the borders of that beautiful country. The Swati Royal House bears many aspects of the olden feudal state while still maintaining a fiction they call “monarchical democracy”. in reality it is a state that could be called a benevolent dictatorship, where the absolute monarch and several of His minions, secretly compete for influence.
The Swati Kingdom’s best asset is the culture and tradition. Is the a way to maintain some positive aspects of these traditions while transforming the Kingdom into a real democratic modern state where the needs of the masses are met in equal measure as the privileges of the ruling house? As a clear sign that rulers simply learn nothing from the examples of the historical revolutions, King Mswati still finds Himself entwined in the same corruption and scandals that former rulers in many other countries found themselves in before they were violently deposed.
Under the chapter titled, Destabilizing Africa, Babu writes: “It will be a sad chapter in Africa’s glorious history of struggle if our leaders allow themselves to be blinded by the pursuit of objectives which, in the final analysis, work against the true interests of the masses. If we are to serve the people effectively, it is our responsibility to examine critically the consequences of our leaders policies, in the revolutionary spirit of criticism and self-criticism, and to chart a course to rapid development.” The sad part is that it is the same corrupt leaders who we find speaking such patriotic words on world stages, but what they do at home leaves much to be desired. How sure are we that the Kings and Queens we say we want will not behave in the same depraved way as present day rulers? In essence, how are we to guarantee that the LAW, or Ma’at /Ubuntu as the Ancients called it, is maintained as a governing principle for both the leaders and the led?
References: The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man*.
I am currently reading devoutly a book by Kwame Nkrumah. This particular copy of African Must Unite, is actually signed by none other than Nkrumah’s daughter Sanna, with these words written before her signature, “Our father reminded us that this is our mission.” This copy of Nkrumah’s fourth book, published in 1964 and reprinted again from 1972 onwards was gifted to our esteemed organisation, the Institute of Afrikology by Ms Nkrumah herself. She handed it to the Director of the institute Yaa Ashantewaa-Archer-Ngidi in the year 2019 during her South Afrikan visit.
Towards the final pages of this very important book, Nkrumah confesses’ “I have been accused of pursuing ‘a policy of the impossible’, But I cannot believe in the impossibility of achieving African union any more than I could ever have thought of the impossibility of attaining African freedom. When I came back to Ghana in 1947 to take a leading part in the anti-colonial struggle, I was dubbed an ‘irresponsible agitator’. Independence at that time looked a long way off. None of us really imagined that by 1962 most of the African countries would have thrown off political domination an embarked upon their own national existence as sovereign states. But that did not stop us from going forward with our efforts, buoyed by the certainty of ultimate victory. And it has come, as I said, much sooner than anticipated. This is how I feel about African union. “
Toay more than ever, Afrikan activists are agitating for the very ideas that Nkrumah and other pan-Afrikanists fought so hard for. The language of Regional Integration, Inter and Intra-Afrikan trade must now bear the requisite fruits. But How?
Someone once said that to be well adjusted to a sick or abnormal society is not a sign of sanity. Arthur Koestler in his book Ghost In The Machine writes: “Poets have always said that man is mad; and their audiences always nodded delightedly because they thought it was a cute metaphor. But if the statement were taken literally, there would seem to be little hope : for how can a madman diagnose his own madness? The answer is that he can, because he is not entirely mad the entire time.“
One of Afrika’s greatest and most inspirational leaders, Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara once said that socio-political change in Afrika will require a certain amount of ‘madness’. Did we fully grasp the meaning of this statement, after his untimely demise at the hands of betrayers, can we still find mad-ones today who can dare to invent a better future for Afrika? given the amount of problems that are mostly made worst by the non-abating grip of corporate and political corruption, it seems highly unlikely that a large movement of the mad-ones may arise anytime soon. But then again in Southern Afrika, there are organisations such as Black First Land First and to a certain rather dubious extent, there is also the Economic Freedom Fighters. One of them seems cut from Sankara’s cloth, while the other appears to be larger, but appears similar to an ordinary populist political party – nevertheless, the conversations that these two parties evoke is similar and it leads young Afrikans to boldly seek solutions that appear crazy to most liberal and mainstream observers.
In the daily course of living and aiming to have a purpose driven life, where conscious choices lead to relatively high levels of success in our endeavors, there is the challenge of knowing exactly when and when not to get involved in social causes. As an Afrikan living in an increasingly crisis prone and economically struggling country/region, one seeks to have a healthy balance between personal ambitions and social responsibility.
We are not well as Black people globally. We each have different battles to fight on personal levels, and there are many success stories and inspirational instances where people beat seemingly impossible odds to emerge victorious or successful in relative terms, but how do we measure that success in the midst of severe social degeneration, poverty and corruption? Can one truly be considered successful when that success exists next-door to squalor, violence and social chaos? Ghanaian writer Ayi Kwei Armah’s maddening eye opening book The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born was premised on such questions.
While we are striving to better ourselves we are also striving to transform our society’s, to instill the self confidence and cooperative economic ethos that many social activists have striven to establish in our communities.
Surely there are ways for Black Consciousness, the ideals of Kwanzaa and Pan Afrikanism to animate the peoples of the ghettos and the struggling masses of our people. Having many activists and various movements all pontificating and agitating for political powers is not enough – we have to find more ways to create sustainable changes in our communities.
Perhaps we are also overstimulated, there is too much information flowing in and out of our lives, the current affairs and crises in the world are a real distraction from the revolutionary mission that many of us believe must take place. We know that revolution and social change is not an event …there are processes that have to take place gradually but we need leadership at different levels, from the legislation/policies to the implementation stages to see to it that what we envision actually transpires.
Here in Zimbabwe, I am currently challenging traditional healers to become more involved in social revolution. I am urging them to create real solutions to the problems of hunger, ignorance and find alternative economies where more can benefit rather than the few elites. To identify the healers among a plethora of hopefuls is not an easy task, and one has to deal with a lot of deeply set attitudes, egos and preconceptions of what it means to be Spiritually gifted or being ‘possessed’ by Ancestral beings. There are risks and dangers at every side, but there are also infinite possibilities for fruitful collaborations. Perhaps this is where Afrika’s new breed of warrior-priests and priestesses will emerge.
When we receive information from whatever source, when does it become knowledge and when does that knowledge transform to wisdom and by what processes does wisdom become enlightenment?
These are the interrelated questions that we shall tackle under this title. There are also some concerns regarding a subject we have covered before, which is the necessity of Guides, Guru’s and Master-teachers – those individuals and even institutions that purport to represent Source.
Someone writes in the Financial Mail, August 15 – August 21, 2019; “SA is sliding inexorably into a debt trap, with the government unable to make the hard political choices necessary to spark growth, or to prevent a steady rise in the country’s debt ratio. Though finance minister Tito Mboweni has warned that “we really and truly cannot go on like this”, there is every indication that this is exactly what will happen.”
Afrika is committing an acquired form of assisted-suicide at an unprecedented scale. This is happening at every level of society from the individual, the social to the economic as well as, most disturbingly, on a spiritual level.
There are more ways to die than there are ways of living. Paradoxically, Afrika has a lot of intellectuals. The continent boasts thousands if not millions of individuals as well as institutions specializing in various disciplines ranging from cutting edge-science, engineering, architecture, applied mathematics and a myriad of technological fields of endeavor. Afrika is also most revered for its Creative economy, an ungovernable and wholly innovative and lucrative sector.
Needless to mention that we have been known to produce artistic and entrepreneurial geniuses in vast numbers too. Afrikan genius has enriched the whole world since the dawn of recorded history. We are not short of human or intellectual capital.
The recent death of former Zimbabwean founding ‘Father’ Robert Gabriel Mugabe has brought this fact so sharply into our collective psyche. How can a highly educated, revolutionary and industrious people fare so poorly in the development spheres? To put it bluntly, how can such a rich people remain so impoverished? What is it that we, our former liberation heroes and general leadership have been doing so wrong that we fail so dismally to thrive and beat the usual threats to ours and future generations wellbeing?
Many Afrocentric scholars have offered that Afrika has to create its own path to economic and social development. Yes, we can an should play our part in this world of capitalist /neoliberal competition, but that part should be clearlly defined by Afrikans, united in purpose with definitive collective goals.
We have harped on and on about the practical value of Afrikan and Black people’s unity, but perhaps our voices are not audible enough to the powers that purport to be. Our voices are hoarse and our minds and hearts often grow weary, yet there are still so many untried avenues. Perhaps we have been going about it the wrong way. In the words of S.M.E. Bengu, we have been ‘Chasing Gods Not Our Own’. Is it not high-time we strive towards making Indigenous Knowledge Systems part of our training/education in the formal education circles? It is not enough to host numerous conferences and write thick volumes and actively pontificate on pulpits and social media.
Yes, Afrika must wake up, but the awakening must not be towards contributing so gallantly to economies or systems that have not improved our wellbeing. Even the institutions that monitor and claim to promote our progress must be re-evaluated from an Afrikological perspective. We cannot continue to be appendages in a dying capitalist system.
Former President R.G. Mugabe and the incumbent President E.D. Mnangagwa are clear examples of how power and opportunity are not enough to turn peoples lives around. Praise them or reject them, the point is not really about their individuality, it is about the fact that they represent a breed of Afrikans who are Christians and clones of their European foes. How can one honestly defeat the plans of an enemy they secretly admire and seek to become? There are so many examples of how many Afrikan leaders simply mimic the ways of their former masters in their daily living. They may speak their Mother-tongue and pay lip service to their respect for Afrikan traditions, but their general outlook is Eurocentric and verging on superstitious. It is power that is scared to dare to be different. Afrikan economies and the underdevelopment of the lives of Black folks are the direct result of detached and visionless leaders.
We may react emotionally to the passing of these leaders, but until we question their roles or culpability in our mired existence, we shall repeat their costly mistakes. The institutions that our leaders depend on and preside over, are not our own creation, so are the borders and the monetary systems that we are fighting to control. They are out of control in-spite of us and our contributions.
Let us no longer squander our gifts. Afrika must and can define itself. We can escape the double edged sword of contradictory economic growth figures. We can start by being clear that economic growth as well as technological advancement does not benefit Afrikans in any significant scale.
We can also note that mineral resources have not benefited us neither. Then we can start answering the questions such as, when exactly will we rid ourselves of the parasitic corporations that make billions from the rest of the continent yet have not helped us to lead better lives? Again the onus is on our leaders, from the political, the business as well as the traditional levels. Afrikan leaders have failed dismally to protect its inhabitants from extractive and exploitative commercial farmers, minders and other speculators. Our intellectuals are merely playing musical chairs, writing about an economy in industries that WE DO NOT OWN.
Here is a brief look at some recent statistics from the African Development Bank:
This year’s African Economic Outlook from the African Development Bank shows that the continent’s general economic performance continues to improve. Gross domestic product reached an estimated 3.5 percent in 2018, about the same as in 2017 and up from 2.1 percent in 2016. Africa’s GDP growth is projected to accelerate to 4.0 percent in 2019 and 4.1 percent in 2020.
But even that growth is not fast enough to address persistent fiscal and current account deficits and unsustainable debt. Indeed, countries have to move to a higher growth path and increase the efficiency of growth in generating decent jobs. The 2019 Outlook shows that macroeconomic and employment outcomes are better when industry leads growth.
The special theme this year is regional integration for Africa’s economic prosperity—integration not just for trade and economic cooperation but also for the delivery of regional public goods.
New research for this Outlook shows that five trade policy actions could bring Africa’s total gains to 4.5 percent of its GDP, or $134 billion a year. First is eliminating all of today’s applied bilateral tariffs in Africa. Second is keeping rules of origin simple, flexible, and transparent.
Third is removing all non-tariff barriers on goods and services trade on a most-favored-nation basis. Fourth is implementing the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement to reduce the time it takes to cross borders and the transaction costs tied to non-tariff measures. Fifth is negotiating with other developing countries to reduce by half their tariffs and nontariff barriers on a most-favored-nation basis.”
Lastly, David Manang, former Mines Minister and Second In Charge at the Exchequer in Botswana, had this to say in his book, Delusions of Grandeur: Paradoxies and Ambivalence in Botswana’s Macroeconomic Firmament:
“Botswana’s territory is a 582, 000 km affair. The population therein is a sparsely distributed 2 million. The proportion of unused land is practically infinite. Yet land acquisition both for citizens and investors is one hell of a headache. The hurdles in land acquisition are in fact one of the most commonly cited impediments to investment besides immigration permits. —Government, as the primary provider of serviced land, is guilty of failing investors big time. Puzzlingly, it is not aware that it is its own road-block to inward investment traffic in this regard.”
That sums it up.
As we say Rest in Peace to Robert Gabriel Mugabe aka Gushungo, let us make sure as younger Afrikans, to not repeat the gullible and arrogant mistakes of our ancestors. Afrika can still create its own path to prosperity and we do not have to do it in any one’s terms. Who ever seeks to do business with us can do it in our own way. But We Must Find The Way.
“The well based resistance to change which is usually for the worse, explains the obvious reticence of officialdom to release information, because the silent approach offers the greatest prospect of getting the obviously unacceptable accepted, if at all possible.” – John Page in Protest at Urban Environment from Protest and Discontent (The Nature and Causes of Student Unrest)
Harare is about to enter into another period of unrest, and I am reasonably nervous and skeptical about the outcomes. The protest planned by the opposition party the Movement for Democratic Change with a few other affected partners such as members of civil society and workers unions does not seem as well planned or articulated as it should, given the track record and results of such uprisings in this country. What is the value of a protest in a country where many people are ruled by fear? What happens when the uprising fails and who compensates for the loss of lives?
The flippant response from the deputy leader of the national defence forces is both predictable and worrying. By simply dismissing the intentions of the people behind the protest and stating that it will not happen, he is simply playimg to the gallery and stoking the fires for more aggression from both ends. It would have been wiser to simply tow the legal or constitutional line and even pretend to be allowing the democratic process to unfold. I personally have been concerned about the lack of coherent revolutionary strategies and ideological incoherence from the opposition party, even though I had not expected much from the liberal and populist leader, I have been hoping that there is a radical youth or intellectual element within the party or countrywide, to at least formulate some semblance of revutionary direction. I am hoping to hear what happens beyond the protests and “legal uprisings”.
We all aware of the States propensity to unleash violence on its citizens but the silence of the president of the country in the face violations of the law by his subordinates clearly shows that he too has no capacity to lead beyond rhetoric and power mongering. He has to fight external and internal battles and pay lip service to economic fundamentals, while his finance ministers spew incomprehensible nonsense at every gala or gathering. Meanwhile there will be many protests in Zimbabwe yet no one has yet mentioned just what will happen to the economy once the rulers are deposed. The crucial question is How Will Zimbabwe rise from the mire of state sponsored debauchery, steering its society from Fear to Creative and Proactive action ….
Some trust in the Ancestors guidance while others trust in Jesus Christ ….I trust in thw people’s Will to get Free and Create a New Zimbabwe, learning from the Ancient, the present and daring to invent and invest in the Future.
“Magic consists of KNOWING the correct, exact gesture, word, pronunciation, all at the correct time; if these are not so, the system will not work. Those who go against nature may do so for a short time, but will undergo the correction of nature at their own peril.” – Ancient Kemetic (Egyptian) Proverbs, On Right Action
“Ain’t no rules ain’t no vows / we can do it anyhow / neither can be bought or sold / Cause everyday we pay the price with the rebels sacrifice / Life is worth much more than gold.” – Bob Marley and The Wailers, Jammin’
Being an artist in the ‘modern’ capitalist society is no joke. Being an artist who is not business minded in a capitalist society is a recipe for tragedy. But then again what is Art for, and in how many ways can it be appreciated without succumbing to preconditions of the market or the “Faka Imali Uzobona” ( Put it money you shall see ) paradigm?
In searching for the Essence of the Arts, I am seeking to figure out how Arts can exist and flourish independent of commercial interests. But then again, perhaps financial gain and commercial success is a veritable motivator for many modern Artists, especially those in the entertainment field or industries.
I am trying to find out whether true Arts could or should be bought and sold, but I am fully aware as an artist myself, that I cannot toil on my work only to give it away to people who may or may not value it. How else can we measure value and appreciation outside of the commercial or financial markets?
The essence of the Arts is not really to always pursue commercial interests, yet in a society where sustenance means one must sell what is most precious to them including one’s “Soul”, the spiritual or ritual significance of Art becomes contentious. Where does one draw the line between true personal expression and doing it to survive, to make a living or even to be a commercial success?
Let us not assume that the commercialization or commodification of Art is a new thing. Throughout history and in many varying societies, Artists have held different leadership and hierarchical positions. While some were porters, artisans, trained and skilled craftsmen and women, others were entertainers for aristocrats, the noble and the affluent, there have always been those Artists who are simply born to do it. Others were trained to imagine and/or build the images of State and affluence. Only the Creators know why some are predisposed to fashion something of aesthetically interest out of base materials while others are simply there to enjoy and benefit from such creations.
The question of what is ethically sell-able and what should not be bought or sold, is an old one. But for our interest as Afrikan people whose Arts and Crafts often holds sacred value, we need to look at commercialization for what it is. The corruption or profanation of the naturally sacred – leading to the undervaluing of divine objects and divine actions or creations. But if I do not buy a Charles Mingus, Joe Henderson, Zim Ngqawana or Winston Mankunku Ngozi album, how else can I get a chance to appreciate the work and contribute to the wellbeing of the Artist?
Art is work and to some people who are not even considered Artists, their own work or even their sporting activity is considered an Art by themselves or even their admirers. To many people, a sportsman like Lionel Merci is an Artist. When I was younger, watching Maradona, Pele or Jomo Sono was like watching an Artist weaving his magic on the theatre of dreams.
When we were young and innocent, it never dawned on us that these Artists were involved in business transactions worth millions in cash and other lucrative benefits. In short, someone is always making money or profiting from someone else’s talent. How that advances or negatively affects the Art and the Artists him or herself is another longer debate that requires deeper analysis on various levels. Such as what are the motivating factors that compel an Artist to do what they do, and how much coercion is involved in the transaction from pure artistry to the market for talent. Malcolm Gladwell’s observations in his books The Tipping Point and Outliers offers great insights into these questions and provides answers to questions such as how the Best or the most successful competitors and players are selected.
Perhaps the question we should ask is, when exactly did we start buying and selling our Arts? Perhaps the simple answer would be, whenever we started setting up communities that were defined and fixed in the varying traditions of increasing and competitive people. In other words, we started trading in artifacts around the same time we began identifying ourselves as different from each other in terms of clans and different identities and professions. It was distance, variation of talents and environmental factors that compelled us to seek out what we did not have or did not know how to create or fashion for ourselves. I do not want to speculate on which Age or Era, but the moment we each discovered that certain specific communities specialized in whichever Arts, that is when the trading and bartering began.
We each possess something that the other does not. The moment we identify that something and figure out that we want it for ourselves, that is when the deal begins. Whatever price is put on it that is the price we will pay if we can afford it. The market provides a space for availability and choice, but the problem with the capitalist market is that it allows for unfair competition where advantage is given to those who can produce more rather than those who specialize in quality rather than quantify. This is how commercialism and materialism becomes corrosive and destructive in society.
This kind of unfair competition exists in all forms of Art, including literature. While writers and song-makers from all nations have the capability to produce Fine Art, it is the ones from the recognized and hegemonic commercial hubs who get to monopolize the markets and flood the whole world with their own ideas of what is true, beautiful and valuable. But they also never shy away from stealing directly from the rest of the world.
But then again what does it mean to be Afrikan in a world that has become so globalized and an Afrika which operates on Western value-systems?
Let’s see what one of Afrika’s greatest philosophers and writers had to say:
“I am an Ibo writer, because this is my basic culture; Nigerian, African and a writer …no, black first, then a writer. Each of these identities does call for a certain kind of commitment on my part. I must see what it is to be black – and this means being sufficiently intelligent to know how the world is moving and how the black people fare in the world. This is what it means to be black. Or an African – the same: What does Africa mean to the world? When you see an African what does it mean to a white man?” – Chinua Achebe.
I know a lot of Artists who have sold more of their visual Arts work to Europeans than to other black people. They have even begun to believe that Black people simply do not value Art in general. Is this part of the modern culture or is it something to do with how we view Art in general?
My simple answer is that, We Art. Art is everything to the Afrikan psyche. There are many among us who believe that everyone is an Artist or at least a potential one. This is where the expression, “if you can talk you can sing and if you can walk you can dance” comes from. But can everyone draw, paint or do what Bheki Mseleku does with the piano, or what Shaluza Max Mtambo does with his voice?
How much should Artists be paid to attend a Festival such as the one happening now, the essence Festival. There are so many questions demanding real answers as to how exhibitors and Artists were chosen. Where does the money go and does it sufficiently support local talents …
Some will say very much so, but others whould strongly disagree … Who is selling what to who and who is fooling who?
Love and Light, Thokoza, Hutuapo or Hotep …
These are some of the words that we usually use to greet each other whenever we chat with my Spiritual brothers, either Eugene Skeef, Nduduzo Makhathini, Madoda Mditshwa, Zwelibanzi Dlamini and a few others. We do not use typical greetings because we are not typical. There is nothing predictable about us besides the Love we exude for Life, People, the Motherland and the Omniverse. Hold that thought, we will return to those words and their meaning to us later and in other essays too, as the Spirit leads.
Earlier this evening I was dropping off some fliers at my second home, the Ethio-Eritrean Habesha Cafe’ and also still deciding whether I should attend the Poetry/Musical event hosted by my team the Nowadays Poets just across the road at One Two Seven Restaurant – but lo and behold, Mama Nomusa Xaba comes walking up the road and so after we greet the owner of Habesha Cafe’ and also passing some greetings to the Poets/Artists – I had decided to drive her home.
When we got in the car I had to change the music. I had been listening to the Australian avant garde Soul band Haitus Kaiyote, but since I was in the presence of an Elder, I decided something gentler would be better… yet I was now torn between playing Nina Simone or Jay Electronica featuring Kendrick Lemar, surely Mama Nomusa could dig that, after all she is from the USA and her Lifelong partner is the one and only premier Avant Gardist Baba Ndikho Xaba.
Anyway while I was fiddling with the music and driving up to her house, we got to talking about work relationships and how it is difficult to work with people who have not defeated their sense of self-importance, people who are either diva’s or egotists.
Mama gave me such simple yet sage advise, I found myself letting go of so much pain and confusion that had settled in my heart like a some immovable mystical heavy object. But our subject matter shifted to something more beautiful and even though it was related to the first issue of what causes relationships to break down, she was showing me how the opposite is possible if peoples hearts are Open to the Spirit of Love, Light and Godness…
Mama Nomusa being the consummate storyteller, begun telling me the story her last experience of watching and listening to Nduduzo Makhathini at the legendary Rainbow Restaurant this past weekend. Mama was simply awed by the sheer amount of Love and Healing that Makhathini brought to the music.
“He silenced the typically loud place with his big heart Menzi.”
Said Mama Nomusa, spreading her arms around us like a great white headed Eagle. “There is the music itself, but then there is the face and purity of intention, the Heart of Love of the young man … he became an Elder on the stage, as if he was evoking all the wise old men who he can easily summon from the broadness of his Love.”
As Mama Nomusa spoke, I couldn’t help remembering that Nduduzo Makhathini’s music is the daily fix at my home. Hardly a day passes in which I do not play Icilongo for my babies, or Matunda Ya Kwanza or my favourite Inner Dimensions just to cleanse the house of any bad vibes or heaviness that may settle in and hide and fester in corners that we cnnot reach by either prayer or incense. It is only Ingoma that can permeate the very crevices and sinews of the heart and the space we call home.
Ingoma YalesiSangoma iyaselapha. OkaMakhathini wazi kahle kamhlophe ukuthi uzalelweni noma umsebenzi wakhe ngqangi yimuphi emhlabeni. Njengezinye Izithunywa ZikaMvelingqangi namaThongo KaMenzi, uzokwelapha isizwe esimqondo udungekile.
It takes a heart full of ecstatic musical Love to usher in the Age of the Divine Mother. It is not by coincidence that the coming of Makhathini was preceded by two or three other great Healers who happened to be pianists, the tormented genius and Tarot-like Hanging Man – Taiwa Moses Molelekwa and the Krishna-centric Drowning Man – Bhekumuzi Hyacinth Mseleku. These two trailblazing phenomena were to music what Jesus Christ was to the Gentiles – a gate, or a door towards Higher Consciousness.
As human beings they are or were as flawed as any of us, but as Artists, whose work sets them apart as Avatars of the Universal/the Omniversal Spirit or God, they were divine beings, messengers whose sound was poured on our heads to christen or edify those who have the gift of hearing. The music or Ingoma that they do is so expansive and powerfully evocative that it exist as a strong elixir against egotism. If we can listen with a clear conscience, perhaps we can find ourselves bathing in Umsunduzi River or finally heed the message of Mseleku’s Sun Race Arise.
Of course there are many musicians in South Africa or in the world today who exude a similar aura of Shamanism or UbuNgoma. But in an age where the sheer amount of information that comes through is dazzling, where does one go or what can one do to simply soak in the vastness of the gifts of Ingoma – Ingoma ka-Omar Sosa, Ingoma ka-Christian Atunde Adjuah Scott, nengoma ka Kendrick Lemar, The Soil, The Brother Moves On, Existing Consciousness nabanye abelaphi …?
As we do not see each other as much as we would wish to, Mama Nomusa and I spoke about other influential Leaders we both have known. One of them being Shekem ur Shekem aka Ra Un Nefer Amen. I was carrying three Divination cards from the Ausar Auset Society in the car and I had asked her to try and find me a complete pack as these belonged to my partner Yaa Ashantewaa Ngidi who kept them on her desk at our Institute of Afrikology office. I was returning them today, but I seriously need my own and also to learn to use them.
Mama explained in her characteristic lightness of speech, how some of the smartest and most connected people are simply enslaved by their ego and the best way to deal with them is to Love them and leave them. “For the sake of your own journey, my son, the best thing is to leave with Love.”
I did not fully understand what she meant until I put on Joshua Redman’s Timeless Tales for Changing Times – and the song that really brought home the message, was Visions.
It is the kind of music that invokes the past while affirming the significance of the present yet treads firmly as a walking bassline towards an envisioned future. . .
I am trying to put into words, how music / Ingoma helps me to figure out stuff that is supposedly not related to sounds or even to emotional matters. It is as if music is an intelligent lifeform in its own right. The players may be participating in its production but only the music /Ingoma itself knows which direction to go and if we are receptive enough, we can be carried on the wings of its Loving Kindness and perhaps only then would we appreciate the meaning of Hutuapo/Hetepu/Hotep/ Thokoza (Be Joyful) and all the words we choose to use when we see each other as Kindred Spirits.
They call it jazz but this music is much bigger and broader than any definitions.
Miles Davis called it Social Music, Nicholas Payton calls it BAM (black american music) but the closest description has to be Wayne Shorter’s “I Dare You” music.
Call It what we may, this phenomenon known as jazz is fun, intricate, witty and full of whimsical freedom and wisdom; It is music at its most sincere, although often highly enigmatic.
As Amiri Baraka poetically stated “jazz listen to it at your own risk”.
It can literally either heal your soul or blow your freakin’ mind .
Here is a taste of the gloriously visionary maestro Sun Ra and is Solar Arkestra. Its from a record titled God Is More Than Love Can Ever Be.
Just click on the link and enjoy:
Please note that I wrote this in November 2014. I am only re-sharing here as I am moving some articles/notes/essays from one old blog into this one. Some of these will form part of the upcoming book, The House of Plenty.
The CHI: Thoughtless Dancers or Dancing Thinkers?
In his book Representing African Music: Postcolonial Notes, Queries, Positions; Kofi Agawu writes
“Inventing African Rhythm: That the distinctive quality of African music lies in its rhythmic structure is a notion so persistently thematized that it has by now assumed the status of a commonplace, a topo’s.
And so, it is with related ideas that African rhythms are complex, that Africans possess a unique rhythmic sensibility, and that this rhythmic disposition marks them as ultimately different from others.
Consider a few of these characterizations. The eleventh-century Christian physician and theologian, Ibn Butlan, in a tract entitled “On how to buy slaves and how to detect bodily defects,” claimed that If a black were to fall from the sky to the earth, he would fall in rhythm.” In other words, even while facing certain death – speaking as metaphorically as Butlan did-blacks (especially black women) continued to exhibit an essential and irreducible rhythmic disposition.
The association of dancing with death, the racialist referral of particular sensibilities on particular groups of people, and the construction of African rhythm as complex, superior, yet ultimately incomprehensible: these and other implications of Ibn Butlan’s casual remark are found reproduced in diverse ways and with diverse accents throughout the history of discourse about African music.
In many twentieth century accounts, the emphasis on dance and the constancy of music-making are retained while rhythm as a separate dimension is singled out for special mention. Erich von Hornbostel describes a piece of African xylophone music in which he found one of the parts “syncopated past our comprehension.”
And A.M. Jones, writing with characteristic enthusiasm and confidence in 1949, declares that – “the African is far more skilled at drumming rhythms than we are – in fact our banal pom, pom, pom, pom on the drums is mere child’s-play compared with the complicated and delicate interplay of rhythms in African drumming.”
All the above clearly shows the various stereotypes and convenient generalization with which the Euro-Americans and some lazy minded Afrikans have continued to view Afrika. This single-story narrative has been analyzed and rubbished by the likes of Franz Fanon and even Aime Cesaire in his Return to My Native Land and other essays, poems and songs from the Negritude and Black Power era’s.
Recently the celebrated Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi-Adichie did an TED Talk on this very notion of a single story, although she was speaking out against the expectations that weigh African writers down to the extent that they no longer have individual/personal or unique stories to tell since the world expects some types of narratives.
The rhythmic African narrative has even been thrust comically onto the public sphere by neo-liberals caricaturing the South African president Jacob G. Zuma as a dancing buffoon with no other redeeming qualities.
They even go so far as contrasting him with the more Western palatable ‘rhythmless’ former President Thabo Mbeki. The problem with all these Eurocentric constructions and deconstructions of Africa is that many Africans follow suit unquestionably.
But fortunately for the thinking Afrikan, the Afrikologist, there are still many Black folks such as V.Y. Mudimbe who provides a sustained interrogation of the very idea of ‘Africa’, showing it to be a construction of European fantasy and discourse.
Mudimbe argues that beyond its relative stability as a geographical pointer,” Africa” is not readily ontologized from within an imagined Afrikan worldview; nor is it easily graspable either as a unified cultural phenomenon or as a fruitful epistemological referent. Kwame Appiah similarly argues that “the very invention of Africa (as something more than a geographical entity) must be understood, ultimately, as an outgrowth of European racialism.”
Yes, we have rhythm, yes, we gravitate towards the polyphonic and syncopated sounds of our cultural environment but that does not make “us” any more humane, or special as a species. We are just as fallible and as beautiful as any other people. But more than anything, Afrika’s people are diverse and as multifaceted as the peoples of any other continent.
That Africa is a continent rather than a country, that crossing national borders is not – in terms of restrictions – like going from one American state to the next, that a greater portion of it is French – rather than English-speaking, that its numerous languages are not mutually comprehensible dialects of a few languages: knowledge of these and other “facts “cannot yet be taken for granted.
“Indeed, it is possible to discern an ongoing resistance to knowing Africa. Why should we bother to learn the strange and often unpronounceable names of people in remote places practicing weird customs when we can simply use the all-purpose term Africa”?”?
Allied to the retreat from comparison is a retreat from critical evaluation of African musical practice. The pious dignifying of all performances as if they were equally good, of all instruments as if they were tuned in an “interesting” way.
All of this reminds me of how Europe and America systemically underdeveloped Afrika and how this underdevelopment continues until this day and that popular music largely contributes to this colonization at least on a psychological level.
Our purported sense of uncanny rhythmic ability may be a natural impulse, but it may very well be our undoing as “a people”.
The saga continues …
Tehuti or Thoth, represents the divine intelligence, which at creation uttered the words that when spoken turned into the objects of the material world. He ( It) was self produced and was the great Ntr/God of the earth, air, sea and sky; he united in himself the attributes of many Neteru/Gods.
He is the scribe of the Neteru and such He was regarded as the inventor of all the arts and sciences …some of His titles include: “Lord of writing”, “Master of the papyrus,” “the mighty speaker’. He is the Neter of Right and Truth. His name Tehuti/Djehuti means ‘The Measurer”.
In the great metaphysical battle between Set and Heru, Tehuti is known as the great Judge. He is mentioned in the Pyramid Texts as the Brother of Wsr/Ausar.