Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Caribbean Poet Cicely A. Rodway's Worlds Away From Home

Worlds Away From Home (from her book Sunstreams and Sunsets)
by Cicely A. Rodway
Looking out at snow-capped trees
in the heart of Queens, Jamaica,
worlds away from home
yet home
the heartmind trembles,
rails at the ceilings
lowered by the
for whom the Lady's torch
does not shine bright.

In the heart of Jamaica
worlds away from home,
glimpses of possibilities
sporting chances
level fields
equal odds
dreams of undeferred dreams
fuel the need to challenge
the rigid ceilings
erected for the hounded
lowered on the shadowed
the old new prey
confined by carefully erected
low ceilings
in this new world
where the Lady's lamp shines
shines brightly
only on the chosen.

Cicely A. Rodway, Ed. D, LCSW, CASAC, is a retired English Professor of the Percy E. Sutton SEEK Program at Queens College, CUNY (City University of New York). Currently she functions in two roles: Coordinator of the SEEK Program's Academic Learning Center and the Coordinator of Vocational and Higher Education at HANDS ON Health Associates, an outpatient clinic for people in recovery in East New York, Brooklyn. A daughter of the Caribbean, she was born in St. Lucia, West Indies, and grew up in Guyana.
Sunstreams and Sunsets was published by African World Press, Inc.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The African Oral Tradition of Storytelling in Dancehall: Early B, The Doctor

        The African Oral Tradition of Storytelling in Dancehall: Early B, The Doctor
                    by Kaya Omodele 
(first published in Method Mecca Magazine for @ZigZee)

"When an old man (griot) dies, it is as if a library has burnt down." 
- African proverb

When it comes to storytelling, Early B - The Doctor had lyrics by the bag, plus style in his delivery. I've said it before, I rate a dancehall artist first and foremost by his/her lyrical content - I rate highly the artistry in spoken word. I love it when a lyricist communicates message, experience, and cultural relevance in song. And so, Earlando Arrington Neil was a modern-day griot the way he brought past events to life for his audience.

I first heard him chat back in The Eighties on one of my bredren's dancehall cassettes and I still remember how he related the story of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I's visit to Jamaica in 1966. Since I hadn't even been born back then, my only knowledge of the emperor's visiting Jamdown came from Early B because up to that time I hadn't read any account of the event.
I will never forget the year because the griot sang
"It was the year nineteen sixty-six/ when Selassie I made a visit..."
The artist's words sketched and painted the scene for me.  I saw, vividly,  the rain dripping that day, then easing up once the Emperor's plane landed. I could hear the roar of tens of thousands of people. Early B's words painted the flock of wild birds flying down, then pitching on the plane's wing before Selassie stepped out
"...with him lion an' him stick
inna him military clothes with the sword 'pon him hip..."

Later on in life when I read the details of His Imperial Majesty's visit, the written account only affirmed my mental image which was first created by the storyteller's artistry. Early B, The Doctor, had many songs I will never forget because his descriptions and timing were colorful and exciting.

Other Early B songs that tell stories:

One Wheel Wheely - Early B heralds David Weller and Xavier Miranda (Jamaican National Team Cyclists) and give drama about a crew of youth cyclists riding through town

Sunday Dish - help Early B cook his Sunday dinner; he lists every delicious thing on his menu.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Chatting Lyrics: The Oral Tradition of Storytelling

The Oral Tradition of Story Telling 
(Spoken Word in Dancehall)
By Kaya Omodele
(first published as Lyricist Chat for Method Mecca @ZigZee)

The oral tradition of storytelling is intricately woven into African culture and throughout the ages griots/djeles/jelis have relayed didactic stories, ripe with history and moral values, from one generation to the next. Since many cultures in Africa had little or no written archives, these storytellers were revered, as it was they who transmitted the peoples' history, knowledge, wisdom, and moral understanding. An essential component in African oral tradition is its integration of music, which has continued in various cultures throughout the African Diaspora.

The spoken word aspect in dancehall, calypso, soca and other genres of Caribbean music communicates message, experience, social commentary and parody, much like the griots/djeles of old. And when it comes to dancehall, I rate an artist by lyrical content, first and foremost, even more than feeling the vibes of the song. Captivate me first with spoken imagery- make me think; then, the vibes in his/her style and flow can hold me.
Now don't get me wrong, I have liked songs now and again, when the artist not really saying nuttn much, but he/her is riding the riddim with style. And sometimes a song will grow on me if the lyricist's words have a great flow; because after all, it's not just what you say, it's also how you deliver. Like:

Ting-a-ling-a-ling, school bell ring/dee-jays' ears cock-up when them hear boom riddim... - Shabba Ranking

However, I highly rate the spoken word-sound as power; and since lyricists are supposed to be masters of words, I hope dancehall artists will continue the oral tradition of storytelling. Dancehall culture should never stray from the early years when dee-jays were street commentators, reporting the mood of the people live from the street, relating their experiences and carrying the flame of the African griots, the original sounders of the oral tradition, spoken word.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Perspectives from the African Diaspora: Repatriation To Africa (The Business Climate in Africa in the New Millennium)

African Repatriation: Journey Back To The Continent
Written by Joshua Chikudo; Edited by K. Omodele @TheAbeng

Ever since I was a little boy growing up in Southern Africa, Africans have left the continent in search of so-called greener pastures abroad. These Africans had professional ambitions, sought better living conditions and wanted to explore the world. Many became doctors, lawyers, tech professionals, financial gurus, etc. But then, due to declining opportunities in their adopted countries, some were forced to accept jobs for which they were overqualified. For example, some of these Africans who migrated with advanced degrees settled for jobs as domestic helpers, chauffeurs, care givers, security guards, construction workers. In recent tears, I have seen an increasing number of these migrants returning home to Africa, raising hopes that the brain drain has been reversed.

Whereas previous policies, such as those built on socialist principles, drove away investors, today, Africa offers great economic opportunities, with better governance, improved property rights and respect for human rights.

Economic growth in the continent is expected with governments prioritizing political stability and opening free-market economies, which has in turn lured foreign investment. Of course, corruption is another major catalyst that deters foreign direct investment - by multinational companies and Africans of the Diaspora. Many citizens of African nations now welcome new, relentless anti-corruption campaigns. A noticeable example is Rwanda, East Africa, where President Kagame has introduced a one-stop solution which combines all the government agencies responsible for the investment process under a single roof, thereby reducing time loss, the possibility of corruption and other unnecessary deterrents to investment.

In East Africa, the formation  of the East African Community (E.A.C) has a potential 130 million customers. A decade (2004-2013) of 6.2 percent economic growth rate* has piqued investors' interest. American power-houses like GE and Microsoft have found new homes in East Africa, creating jobs that attract skilled workers and professional talent from the African Diaspora.

In West Africa, market growth appeals to the Diaspora community and encourages foreign investment. The market capital of the West African Regional Stock Exchange grew to US$ 15.1 billion last year, up 9% from 2014 (Wall Street Journal, 2016). The eight French-speaking countries** in West Africa that share a common currency( the CFA franc*** ) also share the stock exchange, which is based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. The presence of multinational corporations has created employment, not only for locals, but also for repatriating Africans.

The Southern African Development Community (S.A.D.C) welcomes those returning Africans with open arms. Economic and infrastructural development in Mozambique, Congo and Angola have been attracting an experienced labor force of engineers, etc. Countries that had once possessed heavily-regulated economic adjustment programs have openly debated their policies and readjusted them in order to attract investors. The S.A.D.C has a potential of over 220 million consumers and now encourages free and open trade.

The North African region has experienced the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprising, which initially slowed down economical growth. The region, like much of Africa, has been hobbled by political ineptitude and corruption which contributed to migration. Egypt's government, however, has introduced reform through new investment laws that have afforded investors more protection and have created one-stop shops which eliminate long waiting periods for licenses from government agencies. Today, foreign companies are partnering with North African companies to launch joint ventures in viable markets. Such is the case with Vice Media which, in launching Viceland Africa, has created hundreds of media jobs in North Africa. (Wall Street Journal, 2016)

Because of this new, positive climate in private business sectors, Africans in and around the Diaspora are now considering repatriating. Besides the potential for economic growth in Africa, the xenophobic back lash against African immigrants combined with economic uncertainty across Europe has contributed to Africans, and African descendants, reconsidering the future.  Some have already repatriated and have begun business start-ups, thereby creating more domestic revenue and opportunities for local workers. The future for the continent is bright; the political environment is more stable than ever. The business climate of Africa in this current epoch, this age of information, is conducive to bringing in investment, especially for those in the African Diaspora.

* In the top 20 percent of "the distribution of 10-year growth rate world-wide since 1960." (IMF Working Paper African Department: How Solid Is Economic Growth in the East African Community? Prepared by Nikoloz Gigineishvili; Paolo Mauro; Ke Wang)

** Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Cote d'Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo

***CFA - Commicaute Financiere d'Africque (Financial Community of Africa)

Joshua Chikudo began his business career in the hotel and casino industry and has over 14 years of experience in business development. He has a long and successful track record helping investors from all over the globe structure and seal investments in a number of countries in Africa, Europe and across North America. Joshua Chikudo combines extensive entrepreneurial experience in various markets with a deep commitment to rebranding and rebuilding Africa. In 2006, he created Consulting JC, a consulting firm that maintains up-to-date market analysis and data, educates clients about socio-political environments in emerging markets and developing countries while proactively seeking new opportunities. 

Mr. Chikudo is passionate about new construction technology that is durable, affordable, energy efficient, and pest- and disaster-resistant (such as Organo and Structural Insulated Panels) that provide solutions in building Africa and countries in the developing world.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Chicken Little and (An Urban Story) Vol. 1, Part 2

Chicken Little: Haunted Blood (An Urban Story) Vol. 1; Part 2

copyright K. Omodele 2016

The minute Glass' gun popped out, I realized - we got set up, plain and simple. How they, and them alone, get guns up in The Turntable?
Then, soon as Mongrel grabbed the tool from out coward-rass Glass' hand, Bull got low and dashed for the bar. That man dove head-first like some Olympic diver, clear over the counter. And the same time Bull moved right, me, Doc, English and them girls took off to the left. Which exposed Shortman with that half-built spliff in his hand.
He looked up but it was too late. With his back against the wall, all he could do was duck as Mongrel and Boo aimed at him.
Then the shots thundered. BADAP! BADAP! BADAP! BRAP! BRAP!
Over and over, booming over the music, 'til even the music stopped dead.
Then, all you could hear was shots. BLAM! BLAM! BRAM!
People scrambled for the door. No screaming, just silent, frantic like ants. I turned sideways, squeezing myself behind a skinny post that couldn't be no more than six-inch wide. Buddy-bye and Mammal ducked behind two tables. Doc and English and the rest of them? I didn't even see where they'd run and gone.
Shortman was taking shots. He tried to run, but the shots penetrated, twisted and turned his body, like he doing the Rocking Dolly. Then he dropped, his navy-blue Sergio Techini sweat suit turning black with blood.
Then, all of a sudden, the shots stopped. Them dutty niggas backed up a couple steps, looked around like they snap out a daze. Boo turned and dumped two shots into the bar before all of them ran to the door, guns held high. Before they exited, Mongrel swerved his tool around, threatening.
Then they were gone.
Two, maybe three minutes; that's how quick the whole bangarang played out - from the time Bull pointed them out to the moment they hauled rass out the door. Later, Shortman said that the first time he noticed something wrong was the instant Bull started yapping with Glass. Everything after that was a blur to him.
Looking back, it seemed longer; but that's because I remember every little thing. I don't panic, even in the middle of chaos. It don't matter if it feels like you stewing in a pressure cooker, you can't allow your emotions to swallow you up.
With them fools gone, the remnants re-surfaced from various crevices and corners. A set of girls ran out babbling, down from the DJ booth. My ears were buzzing and my eyes and nose were runny from all the lingering gun smoke.
I instructed myself: settle down! Find the crew! Don't rush outside into another ambush like some lamb to a slaughter! I looked around the dancehall carefully.
English, Doc, Mammal and Buddy-bye gathered round and I saw adrenalin pumping through their temples and flaring open their nostrils. Bull stomped over from behind the bar and we began searching for Shortman, but couldn't find him on the floor.
The Women's bathroom door was wide open so, slowly, we peered in.
The dingy-white and black tiles had a path of smeared blood leading to a stall. Three girls squeezed together by a sink, flinching when they saw us. One of them hollered out.
"He crawled in deh. He in there!" Pointed at the stall.
Shortman was curled up, hugging the toilet like salvation. His head propped awkward on the side of the bowl, his torso tensed. He was dry-heaving and his sweatshirt  was soggy wet. His footballer's legs lay sprawled like some pick-up stix. When Bull pried his arms from the toilet and pulled him out the stall, Shortman had tears streaming down his face but he wasn't crying; his eyes just shifted looking around the bathroom.
I knew exactly what he was thinking - we got set up.
I nodded.
Bull grinded his teeth hard like he was chewing wire.
Shortman gurgled. "Water. Thirsty." He struggled to breathe. "Gimmie some water." His teeth pink with blood and slobber.
Suddenly, sirens wailed and someone yelled.
"The Beast."
Everybody with us turned to exit, except Shortman, of course. Half of we had warrants, the other half, illegal; so, none of us wanted to take a check. As we filed out the bathroom, fire fighters streamed through Turntable's front door, followed by a gang of police and EMS.
I pulled my Kangol brim low over my brows and walked out, calm and natural, right past them. I kept thinking, don't freeze up. Don't look away but at the same time, don't stare at nobody! That ole crow see fear, it will take set and prey on you; might make this a longer, colder, sitting-behind-bars night.
At the door I turned and saw them people lift Shortman out the restroom and lay him on the floor in front Bob Marley, smiling with his guitar. I wondered what Bob might've been singing - Woman hold her head and cry??
The EMS converged on Shortman like a pack of wild dogs and cut his pants off him.
I stepped into the night and the air slapped me in the face. A news camera's light blinded me. I looked down, brim down; said nothing, just kissed my teeth and sidestepped the bag of excitement. I darted down the alley to where I'd parked round behind the nightclub. Bull had done cranked up his whip and had pulled beside my beamer, waiting. D.C. was bout to run red. Board box under ground by time we done.
The Harshness had stolen our night.

COMING SOON: Haunted Blood - Volume 2 (Chicken Little Sagas Continue)

Read the preceding episodes:

*(this is a work of fiction. Any similarities to actual persons or situations are coincidental and unintended)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Haitian Revolution (The Revolt That Birthed a Nation - Part 2)

The Haitian Revolution 
(The Revolt That Birthed a Nation - Part 2: Vincent Oge and John Boukman)
                               by K. Omodele @TheAbeng

How the French Revolution Affected the Haitian Revolution

   After the French Revolution toppled the French Monarchy (King Louis XVI) in 1789*, the French National Assembly issued the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizens. News of these events were carried from France, off ships and spread amongst the people of the colony of Saint Domingue, stirring hope among the oppressed and disdain among the upper classes. Then in 1791, this new, revolutionary government decreed that free, property-owning mulattos (gens de couleur) in Saint Domingue were to possess the same rights as plantation owners. Saint Domingue's Colonial Assembly (which was comprised of plantation owners of French descent) refused to accept this decree and bucked against the orders from the new French republic.

Vincent Oge and the uprising of Gens de Couleur

   The colonial plantation owners sought representation in the French National Assembly, but wanted no representation for mulatto freemen. The colony's own assembly excluded mulattos from representation, which poured gasoline on already-fuming racial tensions. In February 1791, the gens de couleur, led by Vincent Oge, rushed to arms and rebelled against the white colonials. But their revolt was quickly squashed, and Vincent Oge escaped to Santo Domingo (the Spanish side of the island). He was subsequently caught and extradited to Saint Domingue, where he was sentenced to death by the gallows. Right before he was hung, he was stretched and quartered**; then, after being hung to his death, his head was chopped off.
   But by now, the flames of insurrection had ignited. In August of that year, the slaves jumped in the fight and the revolt roared towards a full-blaze revolution for emancipation, equality and national independence.

John "Dutty" Boukman (Bookman) - The Obeah man (Vodou priest)

   John Boukman (Bookman in English) was a Jamaica-born, runaway slave. Nicknamed Dutty Boukman, he was a vodou priest (obeah man)  and as a fugitive, he wandered the northern Saint Domingue  countryside, holding clandestine meetings in secluded areas around plantations. His gatherings were intense with vodou/obeah worship and charged with talk of rebellion. Dutty Boukman preached with insight and persuasion; his mystique was powered by spiritual, esoteric rituals passed down from ancestors.
   In Saint Domingue, many slaves were either African born, or one or two generations removed from the continent. Vodou priests were respected, revered as leaders, spiritual griots linking slaves to their African origin. John "Dutty" Boukman's oratory skills captivated his audiences; and at Bwa Kayiman (Bois Caiman) on August 20-22, he incited the slaves to revolt - from rebellion to revolution to freedom.

The Haitian Revolution (The Revolt That Birthed a nation - Part 3)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Caribbean Culture: Where Does Winding Come From?

Where Does Winding Come From?
by Kaya Omodele .@The Abeng (first published in Method Mecca @ZigZee)

     A while ago, I stumbled across a website where someone was asking "How do you wine dance?" (you know, winding, wineing, wining, however you want spell winding your waistline) Then in the comments/replies, X-amount of people jumped in with they own answers, without thinking, knowing or even considering logic before opening their mouths. ;-)
     Trinis, Yardies, Bajans, GTs, people from the biggest to smallest islands, everybody claiming is they island, and their island alone, that invented winding. And what's more, nuff of them insisted their island wind the best.

     Then, somebody interjected, writing how "Africa is where the dance originated." But, that comment just sat there, unnoticed, midst the bag of noise that surrounded it. So, make me set the whole controversy straight:

     Winding didn't start with dutty wine (dutty wind) nor go-go wine nor dollar wine nor even tiny winey. There's a reason every island knows it, from Jamaica to Trinidad, down to even Bahia in Brazil; even if people perform it with different styles and in different fashions. And it's because of the one thing we all have in common, but nuff of we choose to forget.
     Africa. Africans. Yes, them - the ancestors.

African Dance

     You see, from the earliest times, dancing has played significant roles in African societies. In day to day tribal life, dances were used to ward off evil, express emotions, display fertility, ask for blessings in peace and in war, and even worship in rituals. Not to mention, dance throughout the continent was also used in celebration ceremonies such as marriage, birth and harvest. In other words, dancing affirmed life.

     African dance is distinct in some ways from dancing in other parts of the world where a dancer's entire body acts as a single unit (you ever see people waltz?). In most areas around the world, dancers are taught to keep strict lines in body flow and movement. Not so in African dancing, where the dancer is almost always moving different sections of his/her body to different counts within the rhythm itself. The movement in African dance is much more complex as the various segments of the dancer's body move in conjunction with each other.

Caribbean Dance

     Now compare this to Caribbean dancing. Notice how in dancehall a woman will move her waistline in a different timing than her shoulders and arms. Just like in soca and calypso.
      Now except for spiritual dances like Nyahbingi and Shango, the dancing most of us do here in the West is celebratory and not so much spirituality. But you can still see Africa in the winding skill Caribbean women possess.
     Some things are just imbedded in the genes. Know thyself and recognize!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Longing for, More

"I was cold and I danced to keep warm."~ Josephine Baker
"Ms. Josephine-" Kaya Omodele replies, "this is why I write."

I've suffered a thousand deaths
caged in an eight-by-ten
a bull in a pen
pacing steps, grunting
confined in concreted spaces
designed to
gut spirit from ribs
and plastic wrap thoughts
in stifling loneliness.

When Lonely oozes through
these cinderblocks
and tussles with my dreams
sucking warmth from conscience;
you photos spark the darkness
with so much soul-rousing light,
you taste lingers, sweet,
like tongue kissing time.

Thought you're not here in my arms tonight
your memory I hug tight
I'm so longing for-
a hint of your scent
in that Egyptian-cotton, white sundress
wispy whispers, "Yes,"
of you.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Blessed Earthday, Rastafari

There is no night in Zion, there is no night there
HalleluJah there is no night there
Rastafari is my light
I&I need no candle light
HalleluJah there is no night there.

"Let Jah arise and let his enemies be scattered: let them that hate him flee before him. As smoke is driven away, so drive them away: as wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of Jah. But let the righteous be glad; let them rejoice before Jah: yea, let them exceedingly rejoice. Sing unto Jah, sing praises to his name: extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name Jah (Rastafari) and rejoice before him."

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Abeng Tribute: A Grandmother's Love

Abeng Tribute To A Grandmother's Love
by K.Omodele@TheAbeng

My grandparents' love was pure, over half-century cured. I don't mean theirs was the definition of love because dictionaries only spurt out academic verbiage. And my Grandparents' love wasn't that rhetorical, I-love-you kind of love; words lightly strung together to be routinely regurgitated on some exam day: subject, verb, object; sometimes dangling pacifiers, sometimes carefully placed manipulators, sometimes careless whispers. My Grandparents' love was none of those.

My grandparents' love lasted a lifetime- I witnessed this myself. They really and truly were best friends for life. Ever heard  about that love-you-til-we-old-and-gray love? They had that in real life.

Sure, they sucked teeth and threw words at each other from time to time, but they were forever doting on one another. He suffered from diabetes and she was riddled with arthritis. And so, every night they had this love ritual:

Since she could see the cc marks on the syringe better than he, she'd draw his dosage of insulin for him then pass him the needle. Then, she'd drip eye drops to treat his glaucoma and gently dab the excess that leaked out his eyes. Next, he'd break out the rubbing alcohol and ICY HOT and massage all her joints - knuckles, elbows, knees, ankles - for bout a whole hour while they watched TV. Every night they loved each other up this way. I saw it with my own eyes.

Granny's love is a living, being, doing thing, natural like breathing. Like, minding* a baby grandson so his mom could properly educate herself. And like, showing him how to use a rolling pin when making roti; how to grind real scorching scotch-bonnet and blazing bird peppers to make a loving batch of fire-pepper sauce. And how to dry pepper seeds by putting them out to sun; then once dried, she told me where and how to plant them (oh sorry, "sow" them) in soil.

Granny's love never wavered. Over decades, across borders, from Berbice to NY, raising children and grandchildren, through good and tough times, it never waned.
Even when mischief was tickling her bones.
"Grandma, I'm dapper like my grandfather, right?"
"Nah Boy. When that man used to walk down The Strand, every girl and they mother stop and stare." Smiling, eyes closed, face beaming at the recaptured image. "You handsome though, close."

Growing up, I loathed bringing strain to Granny's eyes. Couldn't begin to account the amount of wrinkles I etched in her face.

- "Ow Boy. How you could do something like THAT?"
- "You hard ears or what?"
- "You don't have no shame? You mustn't treat woman like that. You wouldn't want nobody treating your sister, or mother, or daughter so."
"But Granny, you don't see how she-"
"Go and tell her you sorry! You just like your father."
- "I was washing your pants and, here, what is THIS?!" As if she didn't already know the answer. "How much for this?"
"Ten dollars, Granny."
"For this lil bit a thing? You schupid or what?" Shaking her head.
I felt smaller than that bag of weed.

My grandfather transitioned twenty-three years ago and all them years my Grandmother laughed, and cried, and chastised, and ached, and cussed Donald Trump (long before he began popping up daily on CNN); and tantalized, and cooked, and gardened; and loved me, and love us all, our whole tribe, until she was ninety-four, going on ninety-five. And in all them years, she lived her life with fullness. But I always got the feeling she was waiting to see my Grandfather again.
On July 4th, she told my aunt she was tired.
"You hear that band playing?"
"What band, Mommy??" My aunt asked.
"You don't hear it?"
Then my Granny ascended to the ancestors. Left me in a total lunar eclipse - that's when your moon gone and you're left with a black and empty night.

But I know my Grandfather's grinning now. I hope he stocked up plenty of rubbing alcohol and ICY HOT.
They're never really Gone!
Never Forgotten!
Jah Bless.

* taking care of; raising

Monday, July 11, 2016

The African Diaspora: Scenes from Cuba (Vol. I)

The African Diaspora: Cubans of African Descent

The Caribbean island Republic of Cuba is culturally both Latin American and Spanish Caribbean. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade brought Africans whose massive contributions in culture have shaped Cuban culture as a whole.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

CARIBBEAN POETRY: If We Must Die by Claude McKay (Jamaican Poet and Novelist of The Harlem Renaissance)

If We Must Die
by Claude McKay

Strange Fruit

If we must die - let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die - oh, let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the the common foe;
Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

More about Claude McKay

Jamaican Claude McKay: Writer of the Harlem Renaissance

Caribbean Writer Claude McKay: Poet Laureate of the Harlem Renaissance
by Kaya Omodele @TheAbeng

Writer Claude McKay was a pre-eminent poet and novelist of the Harlem Renaissance. His experiences coming up in Colonial Jamaica in the late 1800's to the early 1900's heavily influenced McKay's writing; and his encounters with racism in America affected him deeply, just check out his defiance in "If We Must Die", one of my all-time favorite poems.

Claude McKay was born to farmers in the Jamaican countryside in 1889. In 1912 he published two books: Songs of Jamaica and Constab Ballads; both are volumes of poetry written in patois (Jamaican dialect patwa) and reflected McKay's belief in the resilience, self-sufficiency and strong community values shared by people of his rural Jamaica.

Claude McKay Comes to Harlem
Although migrated from Jamaica to the United States in 1912 to study agriculture at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, by 1914, he had move north to Harlem, like tens of thousands of African-Americans from the South, and immediately began writing poetry again. In 1919, he wrote the sonnet "If We Must Die"- a call to arms for African Americans to stand up to the violence being unleashed on blacks in that post World War I era. In that same year, Claude McKay became contributor and editor at The Liberator magazine.

McKay in Europe (Turns to Communism)
McKay grew angry , rebellious and increasingly more radical in his views against the oppression of blacks.  He attended the  Fourth Congress of The Third Communist International in Moscow in  1922 and by 1923 was living in Western Europe and Tangiers. But soon, he grew disillusioned by, and then became critical of, American, British and Soviet communists. By the 1930's, he abandoned communism altogether. In his vocal criticism of international communism, he never wavered in his championing of the cause of working-class blacks and never stopped bigging up the need for community development. By 1934 McKay was back in Harlem, USA, where he continued to write and publish.
The Claude McKay died in Chicago in 1948.

On June 2, 2016, in a proclamation that June had been declared National Caribbean-American Heritage Month, President Barack Obama stated "...the legacy of Caribbean Americans is one of tenacity and drive... and by carrying out Jamaican-American poet Claude McKay's call to 'strive on to gain the height/ although it may not be in sight', we can enable more young people, at home and in the Caribbean, to reach for the change that is within their grasp."*

* The Weekly Star (June 9-15, 2016 North American Ed., p.19): June Declared National Caribbean-American Heritage Month

Cooper, Wayne F.. Claude McKay: Rebel Sojourner in the Harlem Renaissance: A Biography. Baton Rouge, LA, 1987

Claude McKay's Works

Songs of Jamaica (1912)
Constab Ballads (1912)
Spring in New Hampshire and Other Poems (1920)
Harlem Shadows (1922)

Home to Harlem (1928)
Banjo (1929)
Banana Bottom (1933)

Collections of Short Stories
Gingertown (1932)

A Long Way from Home (1937)

Collection of Essays
Harlem, Negro Metropolis (1940)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Perceptions in The African Diaspora: Black History

African Diaspora 101: Black History
by K. Omodele .@TheAbeng

"It's not all that glitters is gold/and half the story has never been told..." 
~ Bob Marley; Peter Tosh

They gave the whole, entire month of February in recognition of Black History? Wow; Imagine! One problem with the whole dolly house, though; feels like somebody hand-picked history and white-washed the story with a set of sanitized plots. Now it's like viewing a cropped, air-brushed photo through a borrowed, out-of-focus lens. Our story needs narratives from our perspectives. Since, history hasn't delivered our Truth, we must demand our writers and djeles do so. (Calling all Diops, Fanons, Jan Carews and Rodneys)

You see, people's perceptions are based on our experiences and affect how we relate with each other and the world in general. As independent thinkers, our views shouldn't be founded on the mainstream; status quo views should not define our experiences for us. We must examine and discern from our experiences then propagate our own perspectives. And we don't need nobody else to validate our views.

Photo-cropped Heroes and Sanitized Plots: Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro

Take Nelson Mandela's visit with Fidel Castro, for instance. Soon after he was freed from prison in 1990, Mandela went to Cuba to meet the Cuban leader. Tata Madiba's face was beaming with reverence as he shook Castro's hand and asked why the Comrade  had not come to Africa as yet. Right then, BRADAP, a whole slew of politicians, media and Cuban exiles started ranting and railing, bawling 'bout how Mandela friending-up this "evil dictator" so. Some of us who didn't know the fullness of our story, black history, might have scratched our heads wondering the same thing.

But see! Look how history done blurred up the lens and fogged up we views. In reality, Fidel Castro supported the African fight for liberation from colonialism way back in the 1960's when Che Guevara set up camp in the then, so-called Belgian Congo; then, Mr. Castro supported Africans again in the Seventies and Eighties by sending tens of thousands of Cuban troops to Angola to fight  alongside the MPLA* against the Portuguese and an invading South African army.

Now for those of us who can't remember, in them days, Britain and the U.S. backed the racist, apartheid South African government and opposed Mandela and the A.N.C.**, branding them terrorists, subversive elements, etc. Back then, Madiba was vilified by many in the West, let's not forget. To many, he was on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, the left side of the Cold War. It didn't matter to them that he was fighting for black people's human rights, fighting against racist oppression and colonialism. And so was the MPLA.

In its December 20, 2013 edition, THE WEEK magazine reported Peter Beinert stating on TheDailyBeast.com that "America isn't always a force for freedom," and pointed out how Reagan and other conservatives viewed the plight of Black South Africans "through a Cold War lens," when they politically supported the murderous apartheid regime.

So see? People need to learn what's going on for ourselves and stop relying on the mainstream media to shape our views. I am not necessarily endorsing Castro nor condemning Reagan; I'm just making the point that the status quo and popular opinion are subject to change. Mandela, like Muhammad Ali, was reviled by many in the mainstream at one time. Slavery was legal in most countries at one time. Black history is our story and we must not rely on someone else to relay our stories. If we do, then expect that our perspectives might be distorted. To paraphrase The Right and Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, we need to  see the world through our own spectacles. In other words, through our own lens, in our own voice. "None but ourselves can free our minds."

*Movimento Popular de Libertacao de Angola
**African National Congress

Sunday, June 19, 2016


by K. Omodele .@TheAbeng

I got three bredren who have a total of eleven different baby mothers - that's three point six, six... baby mothers a piece. And each one of these bredren have drama with at least one of their baby mothers, and personal conflict with at least one of their youth. Because, when a man chooses to settle down with one out of multiple baby mothers, then somebody down the line will feel left behind, left out, left alone, which is only natural.

See what happened is, these bredren were just in their teens when they began making babies. And none of us at that age was really prepared for parenthood-not the bredren nor the young baby mothers. And none of us were yet mature enough to commit weself to a relationship; after all, flinging and planting seed is how we validated our manhood. So we bouncing over here, bouncing over there, we bouncing all over the place, not committing to no one-somebody. Which turned out detrimental to the social development of some of these children.

I don't have any youth of my own, but I got enough nephews and nieces and god children to see clearly that children need social stability and structure. Most children I know who are well-nurtured in family units with two loving, mature and committed parents, generally turn out more comfortable with their space in the world. They tend to get along better in social groups. When a child grows up seeing his or her parents respecting one another, that child stands a better chance navigating his or her own relationships. They have better examples from which to draw.

But on the next hand, the children whose parents, one, aren't together; and, two, stay quarrelling and fussing and fighting, some of these children grow angry and distrusting and disconnected. To me, the greatest gift a father can give his child is love the child's mother. Simple. Love the woman who brought your child into the world.

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