The Freedom Trap

Is music the ultimate expression of human freedom? Having written so much about the music called jazz and the socio-political nuances it often carries, I do feel like I may be laboring the point just a bit, but each time I look through my old notes, I keep finding half-finished essays and quotations connected to this phenomenon.  The aim is to elaborate on the various ways in which Black peoples invention is misappropriated to their detriment, but I am also investigating how music and other art-forms are the spaces where possibilities for deeper intercultural communication can be articulated and convergence of humanity can be established. It is not an easy road towards harmony. But as we have heard and witnessed, music is a great equalizer, or is it really? Because what does it really mean to be equal, and when can the Black peoples of the world get their dues? As a cultural currency music is unmistakably translucent, anyone who has a heart can captivate us with song and even their understanding earned through learning or experience. Anyone who has a heart can feel and express it, so how come the racial stereotypes and abuse of power still persist?

A case in point is a quote attributed to Greg Thomas, dated February 6, 2012.

“Jazz, an art form given birth in the United States by descendants of the formerly enslaved has a complicated relationship with race. Although race as a popular idea has no basis in biology, many people mentally adhere to the idea of diving groups of people based on ‘race’ as opposed to understanding how groups of people evolve or regress, via culture, so very real social dynamics and results exist based on the belief in race. A key purpose of this column is to explore culture vs race as it manifests in the discourse of Jazz, historically and presently. “ – Find this and other articles on this subject here:

https://www.allaboutjazz.com/bam-or-jazz-part-two-by-greg-thomas.php

Another great and more detailed article is this one by Stanley Crouch, a veritable writer, jazz activist and critic.

https://www.vqronline.org/essay/stanley-crouch-our-black-american-mencken

I have chosen to highlight these two articles according to their merit and scope but I also deliberately chose two writers from the two ethnic backgrounds in question. The white man’s and the black man’s perspective gives a balanced understanding of what is at stake. Perhaps jazz like many forms of art born in the pervasive climate of racialized capitalism is as Bud Powell put it ‘A Dance Of The Infidels’ and we cannot remove it from its milieu, maybe then the best that one can do is enjoy it without visceral interrogation. But then the music itself kind of forces one to delve deeper than the sound. The creative impulse, themes and motivations of the musical creators compel us to Listen deeper, beyond basic enjoyment.

Elsewhere, writing about himself, Crouch states: ” He came into politics slowly, through art, as a child, he had posters of Dizzy Gillespie hanging everywhere, formed a jazz club in high-school and was an actor and director with the Watts Repertory Theater, in the wake of the Watts riots of 1965, he was caught up in the black nationalist movement, but he became a traitor to it later because he was bored with the militant strategies. The movement, he wrote, “helped send not only black America but his nation itslelf into an intellectual tailspin on the subjects of race, of culture, of heritage, where there was not outright foolishness, there was a mongering of the maudin and a base opportunism.” –

The above is taken from some of his essays in his first book, ‘Notes of a Hanging Judge“, (Oxford University Press, 1990), originally published in the Village Voice that same year.

So when will music and arts escape from the racial traps that have been constructed by capitalism and opportunism?

 

 

 

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Inspired By The Living Road

Everybody gets the Blues! This is what I thought this morning, while driving to BK bookbinders to print yet another batch of my book Rock ‘n Rule – I was listening to one of my many mix-tapes ( I never can decide what to listen to so I decided to put it all into either mix-tapes /Compact Discs or in a USB ).

Between the Hip Hop,  Reggae-Dub, Jazz, Afro-Fusion and Rhythm&Blues,one can never be done with these labels, these boxes; there came along songs by such artists as Msaki and The Golden Circle and the indomitable and deeply engaging voice of Lhasa de Sela; The Mexican-Canadian artist was introduced to me by a very intelligent and eclectic Romanian ex-girlfriend a couple of years ago. I am yet to thank her for this and many other indelible gifts she may not be aware that she bestowed upon me. Only the music lives to tell the soundtrack of the journey.

Now, I am working on a film project about the Life and Dreams of an intriguing friend of mine and I am actively listening for Soundtracks or Cinematic music to fit with the spirit and images of this quasi-magical project. Hearing Lhasa’s song My Name, this morning got me so very inspired, I almost did not reach my initial destination. All I wanted to do was park by the roadside and somehow register this light-bulb moment, perhaps match the song with some of the images and texts that we have already put together.

Lhasa sings with such melancholic surrender and the musicians accompanying her carry her lovelorn tales with dexterous precision. The music is at once very modern or electronic based, yet remains decidedly grounded in the minimalist genius of the individual players.

Such is the power of music. We have even considered making the film project a sort of tapestry of sounds, scenes that a woven together in such a way that they form a coherently multi-storied collage. But let me not give away too much. I am now listening to Blue Note recording artist Lionel Loueke’s Heritage project, a swooning and magnificent project, co-produced by pianist/keyboardist Robert Glasper. Yet again, my ‘scatter-brained’ Self discovered Loueke’s Karibu album, another ‘gift’ from a friend who called Osmosis Liza, who is actually involved in the film project.

By sheer coincidence, (If we can call these strings of serendipitous incidents coincidences), Karibu contains a version of Naima, the John Coltrane song I recently told the lady who is the main subject of the project that I wanted to include in the Soundtrack. This is the difficulty with labeling music. This version of Loueke’s version of Naima is so string laden, electric and expansive, it is only the clarinetist and bassist who make it vaguely recognizable, yet somehow this now seems to be the perfect fit for this Afrocentric tale that we are trying to tell.

Here are the Lyrics to the Lhasa song that captured my imagination; I so hope that one can obtain the Rights to use it once the whole film is ready for Production etc:

Lhasa de Sela – My name (The Living Road 2003)

Why don’t you ask me How long I’ve been waiting / Set down on the road With the gunshots exploding / I’m waiting for you In the gloom and the blazing / I’m waiting for you I sing like a slave / I know I should know better / I’ve learned all my lessons / Right down to the letter / And still I go on like this Year after year / Waiting for miracles And shaking with fear /

Why don’t you answer /Why don’t you come save me / Show me how to use All these things that you gave me / Turn me inside out So my bones can save me / Turn me inside out You’ve come this close/  You can come even closer / The gunshots get louder / And the world spins faster /And things just get further And further apart / The head from the hands And the hands from the heart /

One thing that’s true Is the way that I love him / The earth down below And the sky up above him / And still I go on like this Day after day Still I go on like this / Now I’ve said this I already feel stronger / I can’t keep waiting for you Any longer / I need you now not someday When I’m ready /Come down on the road Come down on the road

My name, my name Nothing is, nothing is the same / And I won’t go back the way I came My name, my name Nothing is the same “

The sadness and the sheer Blues of these lyrics and the way the late Canadian-Mexican singer carries it just grabs at the heartstrings and will not let go until the last phrase.

The Language of Dance

It has been a long time since I have witnessed a contemporary dance piece that moved me so much. Just a few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to witness the collective multi-disciplinary installation of the Iqhiya Artists, a collective of women who met as students in Cape Town and subsequently formed a movement of themselves for various noble purposes. Although I did not spend a lot of time at the KZNSA viewing their installations, I really was captivated by some of the work they displayed and how they articulated themselves both individually and as a collective. Their work had an implicit and also explicit feminist tone. When they showed one of their films at Ikomkhulu Art Gallery, run by Amasosha Arts Movement, it generated a very healthy debate around questions of women’s invisibility both socially and as artists. A robust debate was had surrounding matters of patriarchal dominance of every conceivable social space and how women were challenging that and taking charge of their own narratives – moving away from the predominant colonial and male gazes and conditioning.

Tonight at the KZNSA Gallery I and I witnessed two elaborate and well executed dance movements. Part of the Jomba festivals, programs called Jomba! @ The KZNSA Gallery presents; Jomba!’s KZN ON THE EDGE…

The first piece, called “Otherwise” a sort of freestyle and interactive experience where almost all the members of the audience were included in the piece. . . It actually began with some of the dancers writhing and contorting  on the floor of the courtyard while some were seated among the audience. There was a lot of running to and fro, and despite the few clear communicative and Unitarian pieces of choreography, the work was rather long and had me lost after a while. But this does not take away from the dancers erudite and dedicated moves, whose language clearly depicted the struggles of an otherwise co-existential humanity.

What moved I and I mostly was the second piece, called ISIFUNGO. An English translation would be, The Oath or The Vow. Choreographed by celebrated dance educator and choreographer, Sifiso Khumalo from the well heeled FLATFOOT DANCE COMPANY, featuring a fluid team of  Durban’s “young veterans” of contemporary dance; Gcina Shange, Zinhle Nzama, Njabulo Zungu, Jabu Sphika, Kirsty Ndawa and Thobile Maphanga. This was a truly remarkable work, as intense as it was gentle and nuanced with the themes of an Urban-Afrikan wedding, the inner turmoils of the bride and the groom as well as the family and community. The live musical accompaniment by Mdu and Siya was very evocative, I could not help but move…

This sight responsive work was so engaging visually and the choreography was so intense and evocative, it made me look into the oaths I have made myself and the circumstances and consequences thereof.

 

The Revelation

a poem for John Coltrane

“To tremble in prayer & trepidation

To tremble against trepidation in prayer

Screech – Scream – Cry

To tremble with prayer

and arch the muscles of my back

in face of trepidation,

transparent beads bubbling from my forehead

Screech – Cry.

Bird of blood with razor-sharp

wings of boiling stone falling from God into my throat

claws my tonsils

sticks its feet way down into my stomach

and I double over trying to vomit

forth this bird

to the rhythms of anklets ashake

in the dance of a black-blue-black blue – black a black blue black African

Witch Doctor wailing wailing –

Scream high out into God.

fall heavily from the pole of light He offers to the snow

of doubt that freezes

all Spirits dancing gallop

to slabs of ice across the tongue.

Father, Father, understands me

Make, Purification, Psalm of Warmth

within Light – understand the reverent

screams of this confused devotee. “

its all natural

There is a sacred relationship between the natural and the spiritual worlds. I want to write about and for Black people. The people of Afrikan descent who are found all over the world. But we are going to use all knowledge and all the language we have inherited through our oppression and subjection to colonialism and imperialism to express some of the colors we exude. To express the way we were, the way we are and the potential we have to become whatever we collectively seek to be in the future. There is a song by Bheki Khoza called The End of The Blues, it is an interesting title for a deeply moving song. Although it is a guitar led instrumental, one can discern the sighs and existential pains of the people who are going through great tribulations. The musician as a prophetic vessel of the spirit has the freedom to paint a picture of a future where All Blues are gone, the proverbial How Long Blues of yesteryear, when the social, cultural and economic death of a people has come to an end. Even though surely the memory shall remain. But it is the nature of all things to change. Nothing really stays the same, even shades of blue can become black or white with the passage of time.

Since what I write emanates from a place of blackness, there will be a lot of Blues, more Blues then Greens, more Sepia, Browns, bloody red and all the rhythmic colours that define us a people. As Amiri Baraka wrote : We are the Blues people. What does that mean exactly, when there are so many colours in the spectrum of life? Beyond the Afrikan Amerikkkan musical evolution, is there anything that can explain why the Blues are so called? Has it anything to do with the colour of the night illuminated by the Moon? Does it have anything to do with the night rituals of our ancestors as they sat or danced around bonfires in the Deep Southern plantations during times of slavery?

Poet and former president of Senegal, Leopold Senghor writes: “Rhythm is the architecture of being, the inner dynamic that gives it form, the pure expressions of the life force. Rhythm is the vibratory shock, the force which, through our sense, grips is at the root of our being. It is expressed through corporeal and sensual means; through lines; surfaces; colours and volumes, in architecture, sculpture or painting; through accents of poetry and music, through movements in the dance. But doing this, rhythm turns all these concrete things towards the spirit.”

This is about Nature. Nature and Music, Music and Sacred spaces in which we make and enjoy or engage with music. There are patterns in nature which parallel the human existence, it is our work to strive to understand or at least find some meaning in the suffering, the joys and the tensions in between.

Patterns in nature are beautiful. They help create order. The universe possesses such beauty and perfection. It has been the objective of many brilliant scientists for thousands of years to find ways to explain and express the universe using math, geometric shapes and even music. While most of us jazz musicians are not trying to explain the meaning of life in our solos, we are trying to express something meaningful. Improvising a combination of knowledge, technique, thoughts and feelings.” – Ted Nash ( How To Use Patterns to Enhance Your Creativity …)