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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Abeng Op-Ed: African Governments Should Honor Black History Month by Jah Rootsman

copyright 2019 Jah Rootsman

What an anomaly that governments in Africa have little or no appetite in honoring nor celebrating Black History Month, which is celebrated in February to honor the black men and women who inspired us, liberated us mentally, spiritually and physically from the yoke of colonial oppression. South Africa has a lot to be thankful for, to stalwarts like Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, Albertina Sisulu, Mahatma Gandhi, Desmond Tutu, Fatima Meer, Oliver Tambo, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and countless others who sacrificed themselves for our freedom and independence in a thankless world.  They left legacies that need to be remembered and fulfilled and unfortunately it is up to conscious cultural groups like us, Rastafari, Kwanzaa and similar entities that are prepared to accept the responsibility and run with it. Regrettably, this reflects the puny minds of African political ‘so-called’ leaders, whose only interests are in self- aggrandizement, political propaganda and selfish agrarians. Their predominant agenda comprises a prevailing addiction to greed and self-enrichment. 

In Africa, #BlackHistoryMonth is supposed to generate a host and hive of cultural activities throughout the continent for the month to inspire communities and kids by edutaining them through music and other cultural and historical perspectives. Inculcating pride, confidence, honor and dignity in themselves as peoples of this great and majestic continent, ravaged and converted by colonials whose legacies have become the norm by which we Africans have shaped, defend and live out our lives today; lives which we call normal. The Bible is the most damaging contribution left by these nefarious colonialists and has usurped our own cultures.

"Africans are in bondage today because they approach spirituality through religion provided by foreign invaders and conquerors." ~ Emperor Haile Selassie I.

Sadly, in Africa, our children still do not have the slightest clue about the importance of #BlackHistoryMonth.  As Africans, it is embarrassing and disconcerting to watch the Diaspora keep the flame burning while we in Africa nonchalantly “carry on” with our lives, whereas our proud African legacies are being disregarded by the same people who see and call themselves ‘freedom fighters’ and struggle heroes’. Jamaica has even elevated this month (February), to “Reggae Month”. As Rastafari in particular, we thank you, our counterparts, for this extended auspicious honor.


Rastaman. South Africa

Saturday, February 23, 2019

On The Abeng Playlist: Dave - Black

Currently in My Playlist: Black by Dave

The lyrics and the flow to this song caught me hard, the words got me hooked. 
" ... Black is people naming your countries on what they trade most,
Coast of Ivory, Gold Coast and the Grain Coast,
but most importantly, to show how deep all this pain goes,
West Africa, Benin, they call it Slave Coast...
loud in our laughter, silent in our suffering,
Black is being strong inside the face of defeat,
poverty made me a beast, a bout with the law in the streets,
well you struggle but your struggle ain't a struggle like me,
how could it be, when your people gave us the odds that we beat?...
Unconditional love is strange to them, it's amazing them.."

Just a small sample of Dave's art, by a pure artist.
Listen, nuh!

Monday, February 11, 2019

Spoken Word Griots: African Oral Tradition in Caribbean Music (Third Part) - Calypso

Spoken Word Griots: African Oral Tradition in Caribbean Music (Third Part) - #Calypso
by K. Omodele

African traditions and customs are in the heartbeat of Caribbean culture; so, its not surprising that the African tradition of storytelling drums so deep within many forms Caribbean music, none more so than calypso. Matter of fact, whenever I think of calypso, I think first about lyrics - the buildup, the punch line and the reflection. Niceness. As a wordsmith, I marvel at the wordplay of the great calypso storytellers. Whether the lyrics be somber-social, political or commentary; or, whether they're witty and precocious slackness, or just straight, belly-bussing comedy, this Caribbean music with its roots planted in the African oral tradition is art, pure art, plain and simple.

A Short History of Calypso Music

Like many forms of Caribbean or West Indian music, Calypso's roots were dug up from Africa, then transported to the Caribbean on slave ships during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The slaves in Trinidad and Tobago weren't allowed to speak to one another while they slaved in the fields, so they sang to communicate. They kept the freestyle (improvisational), functional elements of West African kaiso as a form of covert communication (separate from the overt language of the slave massa). This early predecessor to calypso was rebellious chanting about their conditions and the status quo, i.e. plantation life. They were songs with clever lyrics about social conditions and often mocked slave masters or political leaders.

The French Influence: Carnival and Canboule 

Spain had first colonized Trinidad, but up to the 1770s the population was small, less than 3000, two-thirds of them Arawak. In 1770, a Frenchman made a proposal that would bring the French, their slaves and some free blacks from the French colonies/islands of Dominica, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent, to heavily populate Trinidad, which would help develop the plantation economy. These French (and blacks from French islands) turned the slow, undeveloped, Spanish colony, into a culturally French dominated one. And they brought the carnival and canboulay festivities and traditions.

Kaisos were now performed by griots and/or chantwells (from the French word chantuelles) at canboulays (harvest festivals, from the French cannes brulées), which was the black alternative to carnival (which neither slaves nor free blacks could attend). As a result, Kaisos and canboulay music became the voice of the people and  were the music blacks performed and listened, under tents at canboulays. 

In the old West African ways, the chantwells  often told stories that challenged each other in competition, boasting and ridiculing, while also challenging the audience to "keep up" with witty wordplay and double meanings. Sometimes songs were quick to make fun of adversaries within the griot fraternity - like free styles battles and clashes today. In other cases, the stories would be didactic, or cleverly packed with sexual undertones, or just analytic or critical of the authority and power structure. These early calypsonians were skilled wordsmiths, slamming, slicing and nudging each other with sharp verbal skills.


Spoken Word and Storytelling 

When you check the various components that make up calypso, storytelling and commentary are functional. The calypsonian (the calypso singer) is most definitely a spoken word griot, a djele. He or she is a storyteller in the true sense, relaying his or her take on social and political issues of the society. That calypso derived from African oral tradition is obvious and undeniable when you consider this music's functionality.

"A Calypsonian is a poor man newspaper."
 "I consider the Kaisonian  as the old African storyteller..."

Monday, February 4, 2019

Africa Was Born in Me: Black History 24/7, 365

Black History 24/7, 365 @TheAbeng #theabeng

Black history is world history. African history is part of the Black story; after all, Black history didn’t begin with slavery, neither did it end in Africa. Black history reaches from the Rift Valley floor to the various ages of mass-incarceration cages, to repatriation and reclamation of African citizenship. Black people stories rather leap off ships, jump off cliffs, tear their own skin with sparks from munitions than live bowed on knees. Black history (ourstory) is love while gritting teeth, while kissing teeth, while sucking teeth, while grinding teeth down to chalk so as not to have families torn apart. Black history is Black people story.

We now reclaim Black history as Black people’s story–we will tell our own stories, express our own experiences; we will no longer sit down by another fire side and hear someone else tell us who we are, what we should be, who we should dress like, how we should talk. I want talk how-so-ever I feel fah talk to me Nua. And if it pidgin, or creole, or patois–soundin, is because one time we couldn’t talk unless we talked like how the colonialists talked–speaky, spokey. So, Black history is Kreyol, Black story is CreoleseBlack story is Patwa, Black story is Ebonics or Pidgin or Papiamento or Krio. AND, Black history is also Twi, and Yoruba, and Mandinke, and Xhosa, and Ibo, and Hausa, and so many others because African tongues is the root of we ‘tory, our story.

African history is black history because Africa is born within us, and walks with us; right, Nana- Buluku and Olorun? Right, Shango? See me, Nyame? Listen me, Nyambi, nuh man? Africa born in all we Samba, all we Rhumba, all a we Nyabinghi, we Kumfa, we Kumina; in all we Merengueing and we Limboing and we Wining, and we Kumbaying, mi Lord. You overstand? Africa born in all we cassava and yam and ochro gumbo and metemgee/oil down/run down and even when we pop a top a pour a lil libation pon de ground for we bredren wah gone; Africa in deh, it in deh, ayahhh- ohhhh, it in deh.  

“I am not African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me.” ~ Kwame Nkrumah

Washington, D.C.


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