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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Poem: Roots - For Women of The African Diaspora

Roots by Caribbean Poet Cicely Rodway 
(from her book of poems Facing The Wind; 2009)


Her roots are deep
many bloods cruise through her veins
yet she can trace with certainty
her beginnings.

She comes from a long line
of strong woman
the spirit of goddesses runs through
the spirit of earth and
sun goddesses
spirits of the elements
the forces
of life
rest in her.

Spirit of Oya
Yoruba goddess of winds
and tempests
The Strong Protectress of Women
Yes, she comes from a long line
a long line of strong women.
She springs from survivors
from enslaved women
from women
who struggled to be free.
made stronger by this history
Bathed in the power of her ancestors
strengthened by the faith
and works of sisters
she shapes the world.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Abeng Editorial: Coronated Queens

Coronated Queens
by K. Omodele @TheAbeng

I'm drawn to strong, steely queens who bend but don't break, who may crack but don't shatter; practical, can-do, will-deal-with-any-situation women; Women who throw hands akimbo and laugh in the faces of hurricanes; though a continent removed, women who gather skirts and frock tails, bend over and toil soil under sun; one empress who wheeled a truck all day, then on the refill, struggled with the over-sized nozzle at the pump, trying to earn a check that way.

Centuries ago these women would've stood up, gathered hammers, axes and saws, and built a whole girls' dorm for Old Timbuktu; would've encircled, forming council 'round Yaa Assentewaa while she cranked up.
"Since you men won't fight the British invaders, we women will fight them ourselves."
The type of women who ride, like warrior-queens Nanny, Nyabinghi, Nzinga, like Hatshepsut ruling over Egypt and Ethiopia.

Empresses whose I do's ring true through decades; whose heart-fires slow-burn, turning up in time; sisters who step up in courts pleading for brothers, cleaving to brothers, year dragging after year grieving but believing in brothers. Women of resistance who raise right fists in the air, like Assata, Andaiye, Angela and Bonita; women who stand for their men, stand with their men; sit with their men; never trailing behind but, with heads high, walking side by side with their men. Like Waiyzaro Menen, empresses who are coronated on the very same day as their Kings.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Dry Cry (Revised): A Writing From Prison

Dry Cry (Revision): A Short Story
by K. Omodele copyright 2004

This is a revision of a short story I submitted as a lesson for a correspondence/self-paced writing class I took through UNC-Chapel Hill, Friday Center. The lesson was description and the assignment was to describe the student's/writer's immediate setting.

10:15 PM
I'm stuck in a block with twenty-six convicted felons who never shed no tears. Ever.
I'm not writing in my cell right now, I'm in the dayroom, a rock-hard twenty by thirty feet with a concrete-slab floor and solid-brick walls painted in more layers than make up on one of them frozen-faced geisha girls. Tables are lined in rows. Hanging in a locked, metal frame, a JVC boob tube lords down on its faithful followers. Even with earplugs, I can't drown out all the buzzing anticipation, the constant babbling and laughter leaking through as A.I. and Lebron shoot it out. A muted shout slips into my thoughts here, gasps of conversations seep through there.

Right outside the bathroom, Rasheed hangs up the wall-phone.
"Man, it's brick-cold up in Philly right now. What's up with all these warm-ass winters down South?"
His voice barely sifts through my earplugs. From my table in the back, it's like watching a drama with the volume turned way down.
'Sheed barks. "Yo Frizzle, Grab the horn."
Looking like JJ- Kid Dynomite from Good Times, Frizzle drops a pair of dice and hops on the phone. Must be calling Virginia Beach; yeah, he's cheesing bright as hell. Virginia Beach the only one can get him smiling like that.
The next man up in the dice game scoops the bones, shakes and tosses them against the wall.
'Sheed strolls over to the table right in front of mine. He meets my eyes, shakes his head, sighing under the heaviness of  bars and walls, missed birthdays and anniversaries.
I nod knowingly. Holidays are always rough up in here.

At a table to my left, Wolf and Bass shield hands from one another, dropping cards, piling and scooping them, then shuffling and dealing. Casino - every time you see them at a damn table. Bass is this ever-cool, surfer dude with skin that always looks sun burnt. Wolf is Grizzly Adams from the Mountains of West Virginia and when he opens his mouth, he sounds like a Harley, idling; smells like one too, exhaust fumes like stale Camels. Last week we jumped on him; made him hit the showers. 'Bout time for another fresh any day now.

The Uptown Saturday Night hip-hop mix on Power 98 outta Charlotte must be jumping because the younger Brothers got their headphones up on blast, doo-rags flopping, heads bopping and bouncing, while they catch the basketball game, or shoot dice or strategize over chessboards. They're spitting Jay-Z and Young Jeezy lyrics and, what the hell, I might as well pick smoking back up 'cause the room is totally fogged up - a mish-mash of Newport, Camel and Tops. My lungs are vex and I gotta suck some relief from my inhaler, quick.

Cornered up against a wall, this industrial microwave been humming morning, noon and night, ever since our holiday packages (ordered by loved ones) got hauled off a UPS truck last week. I hear The 'Ville - as in Vomitville, AKA the chow hall, looks like one of them ghost towns out a Louis L'Amour western right about now. Every few minutes the bell on the microwave DINGS and someone yells, "NEXT." The poor thing might stage a revolt any time now. Popcorn, salmon, garlic, jalapenos, sausage and cakes gang up, warring 'gainst a relentless tobacco stench.

In B-block, holidays bring a haunting like forgotten photos and left-behind toys in an abandoned building. Beneath our masks resides a longing only revealed in sunken eyes. Under cloaks of forced laughs and fake nonchalance, we hide our nakedness - our isolation from the world, and we vent this angst in raised brows, grumbles, grunts and gnashing teeth. Everything. Anything. But no tears.

Early tomorrow morning, the big and empty day, we'll rise from our bunks, methodically wash faces and routinely scrub our teeth. One by one we'll bleat, "Who got last?" for the phone. Then, when our turn finally comes around, we'll pull up a chair, burrow into the phone partition and wish our loved ones Merry this or Happy that. We'll carry on catching-up, tender conversations with family and kids. But always, with determination, we grin and smile and absolutely refuse to shed tears.
Never. Ever. Shed no tears.

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.

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