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Friday, May 27, 2011

Spoken Word Griots: African Oral Tradition in Caribbean Music (First Part)

Spoken Word Griots: African Oral Tradition in Caribbean Music (First Part)

copyright 2011 K.Omodele

West Africans didn’t rely primarily on writing to document history and preserve culture. Like many African cultures, they emphasized an oral tradition in which Griots /Jelis passed down stories and accounts of events from one generation to the next. These storytellers were relied upon to educate the masses on their tribal history, religion and give the people a sense of identity.

“I acknowledge immense debt to the Griot (tribal poet) of Africa--where today it rightly said that when a Griot dies, it is as if a library has burned to the ground.” - Alex Haley

Integrating storytelling with music is an essential component of the African oral tradition. As music has played a significant role in African societies, the spoken word has been a firm basis for relating wisdom and moral values in rhythm/song. Historically, African music was functional and had to be effective in its purpose–songs are customarily designed for everyday occurrences like farming, harvesting, washing, childbirth and rearing, marriage and death announcement, revering ancestors, exalting martyrs; there are even tradition songs about fertility and virginity.
The music’s functionality united with collective participation- an active audience was vital in giving life to the spoken word. For instance, call and response in African music cannot exist without significant involvement with the audience. The storyteller, music, audience participation were, and still are, dynamic components that make up the African oral tradition.

“Music in the West Indies has always been about the people; communicating how they feel to each other- it’s perfectly true what they say that it is the ghetto’s newspaper. Calypso and mento was about that; ska and rocksteady highlight the Rudeboy era. Reggae was celebrating independence and the optimism of the time, then the Rasta movement and the roots music showed up the general dissatisfaction at what was going on. It’s the same today, the dancehall reggae directly reflects the mood of the people, whether you think that mood is positive or not.” –Jimmy Cliff (Bass Culture, Lloyd Bradley)

African oral tradition survived the slave ship and plantation despite the slave owners’ discouragement of most forms of African culture. The prohibition of slaves from academic schooling contributed in preserving the culture of African-based oral tradition through storytelling, folktales and the African-sentiment phrased in similes and proverbs. Instead of learning from written texts, slaves learned culture and mores through Livity-the activity and practicality of living, which is comprised of oral tradition.

In the Caribbean, we've kept this oral history culture alive to the extent that we have even documented history in music and song through mento, calypso, reggae and dancehall. True artists document our stories, giving social commentary on daily happenings just like griots of old.

 Spoken Word Griots (Part 2).
Spoken Word Griots (Part 3)

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Reasoning: Conspiracy Osama?

copyright K. Omodele

Monday morning, a cloud-draped second of May and the whole of New York City buzzing. All on the way from Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan, the subway car was a slow-rippling sea of Osama photos and Bin Laden headlines like: “Got Him! Vengeance at Last,” “US Nails the Bastard,” “Rot In Hell!” and people busy glancing around suspiciously each time the train stops and the doors open. By the time Trevor and Rudeboy march in the Malone Construction site, they feel like something, somewhere is ‘bout to pop off. They secure their lunch in a tool-storage chest as a couple of plumbers saunter pass, mumbling.
A lead plumber, Mike LaTronica, pumps his fist in the air.
“Got the son of a bitch!” LaTronica says. And as he’s sliding by, he nods up at lanky-limbed Rudie, who just handkerchiefs up his cane-rows, lifts his brow and blank stares down at the George Carlin-looking Italian.
Trevor chuckles shaking his head and dips into a supply container.
Bajan strolls in, Dickie’s starched up like if this a office work and not a bonafide, true-life construction site. “Wunna* see Obama last night? Is ‘bout time sumpm go right for the man.”
Dreadie and Spence come in almost on his heel back. Spence hands Dreadie a copy of the New York Daily News then trods over to the chest.
“Wha’ kinda cow manure drop outta Bajie mouth now?” Spence asks, stroking his scraggily, cotton-beaded beard.
The rest of them nearly drop dead with laugh.
“See deh, Bajie?” Rudeboy asks, pointing at Spence. “One month ‘pon the work and this man done know you good, good.”
Bajie wags his finger between Spence and Rudie. “I done already expect two Jamaicans to gang up one Bajan.”
Trevor exits the container slipping a dust-mask band over his mini-‘fro. Pulls the mask down unto his neck, and interjects. “Schups! Nonsense! It got nothing to do with JA. Ey Boi Bajie, all in Georgetown you’d be a skunt there too.”
More laughter.
Bajie skins his buck teeth. “HOWEVER, wunna can’t say I wrong. Obama need a good break. And killing Bin Laden? Just watch! The man approval ratings gon soar through the roof - all the republicans patting him on the back now.”
Spence looks around at the whole crew. “Then wait! Oonu* really think Osama bin Laden mastermind this whole bangarang**? Alone? With couple man and one bag a box-cutter?”
Bajie answers. “I telling you. I was right here in the City when them planes brought down them towers. Man, that was real. I was really hauling my ass up Broadway trying to get way from all that blasted-no pun-debris.”
“So, Spence wha’ you seh? You subscribe to the conspiracy theory thing?” Rudeboy asks.
Dreadie leans against a post. Unfolds the Daily News and dives into the front page.
Spence addresses Rudeboy directly. “I don’t know but some ah this sound like bare propaganda to me. None a oonu never stop and wonder how come this terrorist mastermind-who duck out di C.I.A, duck out di F.B.I., di National Security Council and every other US security agency; plus, Scotland Yard and MI6, NATO, Israel with them Mossad, not to mention the Pentagon and US Military with all them branches and Joint Chiefs of Staff-” each name is emphasized with a finger like a deliberate flicking of a ratchet knife, “and who did get training from di C.I.A in the first place and who done squeeze pass National Security one time already with a bumbling crew and them box-cutters, how this real-life, big, bad Al-Qaeda don couldn’t manage fi pull off just one more thing in nearly ten years? So how come American security fail so bad one time and then, all of a sudden, BRAP! it get perfect again, just so? Fool some people sometime. Cyaan fool everybody, everytime- Bob Marley tell yuh dat.”
Bajan asking. “So, it sound like you saying that no one name Osama bin Laden didn’t exist none at all. So what now? They invent that man?”
Trevor add in. “Well Bajie; Dread. I don’t know. I do know they in’t show we no body, ‘bout how they bury him at sea so we may never see one. Just like them aliens in area 51 or whatever. How we even know he exist or they kill him? Or they could be giving him some water treatment right now. Or some jump starting his scrotum with a car battery.”
Rude boy ponders for a moment. “One thing I do notice, though, is the White House and C.I.A. say how is the information they draw out from all them detainees in secret C.I.A. camps that lead dem to bin Laden. To me is like they using this ends to justify the camps and water-boarding and torture.”
Trevor deh ‘pon*** a roll now. “And a next thing too, the U.S. claim of killing bin Laden, in a sovereign nation the U.S. is not at war with, is a crime under international law.”
LaTronica is suddenly there outta nowhere– and just like Columbus- jumping in people thing without an invitation:
“So what? Like Malcolm X said, ‘By any means necessary.’ This asshole blew down the towers. My cousin died that day and we never even had a body to bury. Fuck that terrorist!” Face redding up.
Dreadie folds the paper tight and straight with military precision. “That’s what they called Mandela at one point, a terrorist,” he notes, tucking the paper in his back pack. “Until so-called world opinion change and he went from terrorist to freedom fighter to hero and president.”
LaTronica twists and stretches his neck. “That’s different. Mandela was fighting injustice against his people.”
“Mmmmm.” Dreadie utters, tight lipped. “I guess one man freedom fighter is the next man terrorist. Since you jumping in OUR conversation-,” Dreadie asks, “notice how all the rejoicing in the US streets starting to look exactly like streets in the mid-east back then?”
“You sound anti-American there, Dread. What’re you guys, unpatriotic? You gotta beef with Americans or something?” Mike says, squaring up his husky, roly-poly frame. “So why’d you’se even come here then?”
“Same reason your people came here,” Dread replies. Face straighter than Bajie pants seam.
Rudie eases in beside dread, and together they twin-towering LaTronica. Rudie says:
“But when we sign our papers or when we tek that oath we nuh give up we right to think fi weself. Dread, they tell you anything ‘bout dat?”
The others gather ‘round, even Bajan.
Dread glowers. “HMMMMPH! LaTronica, nobody here really care wha’ you want chat ‘bout. We reasoning amongst bredren. ”
Mike LaTronica doesn’ budge and some of his crew hustle over.
Next thing you know, you have a two sets a people lined off facing each other, talking loud and reckless with jaws clenched tighter than decisions about whether or not to release Osama’s death photos.
The brisk morning is laden down with a mix of tension and testosterone.

*you plural. As in “you all.”
**uproar, disorder, or disturbance
***(deh ‘pon) literally “there upon”; meaning: is on

"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." - Martin Luther King Jr

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mommy Frock is Bulletproof

My Mother is a radics, a radical. When I was a little boy she wore tie-dye and batik dresses, African-themed garments and a soul-shouting Afro that was 'bout two or three sizes too big. She was a single mother pushing herself through school riding on a student visa, balancing an off-the-books job, with a little rug-rat clinging to her frock tail (that's me). She didn't have much, but she had a plan and a good head on her shoulders.
One day, right as she picked me up from school, some man was shooting somebody because of something right in front the school. The shots shocked me. But then Mommy tucked me into her hip, somehow, and we tear up that little side road. I'll never forget thinking Mommy frock is bulletproof.
As I got older, I start turn wild. Two days before I took Common Entrance* I got sent home from school. My teacher did split the class into girls 'gainst boys for a kind of trivia game. I kept throwing up my hand to answer before any of the Girls, but would Ms. Harper pick me? Hell no. So I gently stated, "You only tekking** up for them ca you a girl too!" You coulda hear a fly piss pon piece a cotton, 'cause by the way, Ms. Harper was also the Head Mistress of my Primary school. We marched to d'office where I pushed up my chest and declared, "I am not taking no caning!"
I plodded home with the fingers of the Wrath wrapped 'round mi throat, thinking I had a few hours to think before Mommy come home and tear off my rass. But she was there for lunch. Why God?
Two days before common entrance.
She pulled up her nurse's whites, sprinted down into the yard and grab up a rod of correction. Beat me straight back to Ms. Harper- d'office.
It's amazing how I carry her with me.

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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Seeking Makeda I: (Journey into Sound)

All rights reserved for The Abeng and My Conscious Pen/
YardCore International, Inc. Publishing

Seeking Makeda I:  (Journey into Sound)
copyright 2011 K. Omodele

Because Makeda is still a symbol of the epitome of African wombmanhood, there was never a time when the Empress was not…

...Empress Divine…
like destiny enshrined in mind and time
as gems essence glows in Solomon’s mines
sublime, King Solomon’s sun-burned sweet
divinely implanted life's breath, heart beat

breath takes
pulse race



fun-deh,  bass

vintner’s red glint in long ling-er-ing kiss
on Rosa-moist lips inhaled soul-ful bliss

copyright 2011 K. Omodele

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