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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Truth Will Free We All, Including Our Leaders

Freeing ourselves from psychological slavery is a daily task. Firstly we have to know how we are victims of this slavery, secondly we have to see ourselves as the primary agents of our own emancipation. The next step in my opinion, is we have to continually educate ourselves, our families and communities regarding our history, present situation and collectively find solutions to our predicament. The question of Leadership always arises. In an age of fake news and false prophets as well as virtual reality we have to ask ourselves certain crucial questions. What are the characteristics or traits of the best leaders we can find among ourselves, because it still remains true what Marcus Garvey said, “None But Ourselves Can Free Our Minds.” We have to be truthful and we have to expose the fakers and promote the realness.

Lately I  have been watching with earnest concentration, some video’s from and about Dr Umar Ifatunde Johnson and thinking deeply about my own agency as a Pan-Afrikan activist. I am impressed as millions of others by the robust debates that the brother raises as well as his vision of establishing a Pan Afrikanist school for Black boys. When we hosted Dr Umar as The Institute of Afrikology in Kwa-Zulu I had several detractors to deal with. Most of the people who disagreed with Umar were Black feminists, Black radicals as well as people from the LGBTQ …community, yet our lectures were fully packed and great insights were shared among ourselves. I wrote a couple of essays about that and debated a few people in addition to speaking to Dr Umar in private regarding the concerns of all these people who follow our work. I still stand by my opinions, yet I have further concerns. The problem of viewing  and judging each other or ourselves through European and white liberal eyes.  We need to remain confrontational and factual as we carve our way towards Afrika’s liberation.

After posting some of the videos and debates on Umar on my Facebook timeline, I sat and meditated for a bit. The main realization and concern I have is not what Dr Umar Johnson said, but the problem of the Ego. Now everyone has a right to define and defend him or herself, but if we have a long term vision and seek to remain truthful, we have to become as transparent and as honest as possible firstly among ourselves. We owe no white people any explanations regarding our mission.

But I am writing today because I am watching videos of Dr John Hendrik Clarke, a scholar and activist of a much higher order. The videos that piqued my interest was the series titled The Million Man March and Fake Leadership, posted by Afrikanliberation*.

Dr Clarke is to me part of the foundations upon which brothers such as Dr Umar Johnson stand upon. Controversial mainly because they reveal things about the Black community which we are often afraid to confront. I will come back to the question of respect, egocentricity, the quality of our leadership and what we have to do to take progressive steps towards proper Black Power Pan Afrikanism. For now, please just listen to Mkhulu JHC.

Ankh Udja Seneb.

Ngcamane!!!

Remembering Eric Miyeni’s Work – The Only Black …

I have been re-reading the great work of Eric Miyeni, especially the O’Mandingo series of books, such as The Only Black at a Dinner Party, published by Jacana Media in 2006. The actor, ex-talk-show host and creative director at the Communications company Chillibush, is one of the talented 10th of what one could call the Black intelligencia of Southern Africa.

Although he can’t still be regarded as young, he was among the few real outspoken and cleverly opinionated writer/creative activists of this often perplexed and perplexing country.

Without having to dwell too much on the person, although I would like to celebrate and ventilate the works of many South Afrikans who have directly or indirectly contributed to our freedom of expression, let me turn to a particular article in this aforementioned book.

In the chapter, A Little Politics Perhaps? Why Not?, subtitled Frankly Indian South African, Miyeni touches upon a topic which is always approached but never really unpacked for its nuanced complexity. He first narrates a childhood story of how an Indian shopkeeper literarily short-changes an illiterate Black woman and how this episode made him feel so powerless and  angry at a young age. He then states:

“There are many black people with these horror stories of black South African exploitation at the hands of Indian South Africans. None of these Indian South Africans have ever stood up, like the Afrikaner South Africans and the black South Africans at the TRC, and said, “We are sorry. We benefited largely from apartheid; at times we did horrible things to further exploit our fellow South Africans. We are sorry, and as the Jews say, ‘Never again'”. The Indian South African community has never stood up, spoken in one voice and acknowledged its apartheid sin, asking for forgiveness. And now Fatima Meer has the gall to stand up and blame black people for the lack of Indian South African support for the ANC. This is disgusting to say the least.” (p.201, O’ Mandingo – The Only Black at the dinner table )

What Miyeni is dealing with is a matter that can be stressed further towards many poles. We can either use the tools of analyses learned from our grasp of what Black Consciousness, according to Steve Biko teaches, or we can deal with it as he does from the standpoint of the African National Congresses embrace of a multi-racial democratic South Africa. Whichever tool we use, the Indian South African community will still fall short of the basic test of what it means to be humane. While there is a miniscule number of so called Indians in the ANC or who became members and meaningful contributors in the Black Consciousness movements, the collective amnesia and downright apathy and even cruelty of many of them towards Natives is appalling.

On a personal level, I have been struggling with the tendency of my South African Indian /Muslim comrades to fight for the rights of Palestinians, yet they remain silent or wilfully ignorant of the various struggles taking place all over the Black world, whether it be in the African continent or in Europe or America. It appears as if there is a selective focus on their own ethnic groups or even religious groups. How do I stand up for Palestine when I cannot stand up for Central African Republic, the repressed people of Swaziland or the Shack-dwellers all over Southern Africa.

The only person of Indian origin I ever see flying off to offer humanitarian assistance in African lands and even as far as Haiti is the CEO of the NGO, Gift of the Givers. This is a problem that we have dealt with during my days as an active member of the radical political movement, Black First Land First. We have had seminars where we invited everyone, especially tertiary students from UKZN and DUT etc to deal with the Indian Questions, but guess what, NO INDIAN ever attends. We end up debating among ourselves whether our open armed and BC based inclusion of Indians in our movements isn’t vainglorious?

But then again these days, someone may read this and say “But everybody has their Indian.”, citing the BLF’s defence of the Gupta/Zuma ‘faction’. Suffice to say, the enemies of Black peoples liberation and humanity are many, and even those we may think are for us can be our downfall.

I can go on further, and deal with how the relationship between the black people of Kwa-Zulu Natal and their Indian neighbours is far from healed and is a potential powder-keg just waiting for an accidental or incidental spark to blow up. Perhaps it is only through revolutionary violence that freedom is attained, but we must make sure that we do not turn against each other while the main architects of our division still remain comfortably white.

As he states in one of the essays, titled, Are White South Africans Nice People? “…Based on this definition of the word “nice”, my short answer to this tricky question is “No”. Most white South Africans are not nice people. But do I have any scientific research to back up this claim? Sadly, the answer to that question is “No”. So then, on wat do I base this contentious answer regarding my fellow citizens? Well, the explanation is complicated in its simplicity. It’s based on a little research and a little intuition that comes from this little research. First, the research part. I don’t know a single black South African person who does not have a horror story that involves a white South African person. These horror stories range from being beaten to a pulp for no reason other than being black…to having a chef coming out and asking people at every single table at his restaurant how they are enjoying their meals only to skip the only table full of black people, and then say he did not see them …”  (p.24, The Only Black …)

There is still a lot that can be said about Miyeni’s vision of a non-racial society and whether it is realistic or not, but I would like to honour him while he lives, for daring to speak his truth.