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Chiwoniso: The Power of an Ancient Voice

chiwoniso380b

It’s a school night, either in 1992 or 1993, I can’t really remember, and I am sitting on our kitchen counter in our old house in Mutare, Zimbabwe with my “twin sister” Judy and we are laughing and snapping our little fingers to a song we are hearing for the first time that is blasting from our older sister’s radio cassette player. The song is From the Native Tongue by 90s Zim hip hop outfit A Peace of Ebony. My older sister is excited to share this awesome song by one of her former classmates at Mutare Girls High School, Chiwoniso Maraire, with us and she joins us in our revelry that night, singing and dancing along to the music in my grandparent’s kitchen.

It was then that, without even realising it at the time, 7/8 year old me fell ridiculously in love with this fiercely inspirational and gifted woman without even really understanding what her music meant, what it stood for, what it represented or that as time went on, she would proceed to be one of Zimbabwe’s best known female musicians and cultural icons who established a name for herself in her 20 year + career as queen of the mbira – both as a solo artist and as a member of bands like A Peace of Ebony, Andy Brown & the Storm and Women’s Voice – nationally and internationally. In her short but very full life, she received various accolades for her talents both locally and internationally and collaborated with other artists from around the globe which include Ambuya Stella Chiweshe, Tumi & the Volume, Busi Ncube, Baaba Maal, Sinead O’Connor and Mari Boine.

I was out with friends when I got the news of her passing two nights ago and I shocked both myself and my friend with the amount of grief that overwhelmed me. I was embarrassed and confused by my little episode and I still am in a lot of ways. I make no pretences here of having had any sort of reciprocal relationship with Chiwoniso outside of the one way one which really boiled down to me being insanely and unabashedly in love with her and her music and her Spirit. I did not know this woman personally and had only ever spoken to her once 8 years ago when I had found myself dining at a table away from hers at the Italian Bakery in Avondale, Harare and I had gone up to her to make an idiot groupie of myself and ask for a photograph with her, to which she happily obliged. I have never even attended any of her shows (and not due to a lack of trying) and I have only ever seen her perform live once at this past HIFA edition where she cameod in the Noisettes’ performance, so why was I, and still am, taking this so hard? Me, of all people. The same person who has in the past judged others very harshly for making a big deal about celebrity deaths. Heck! I have even written a whole blog post that generously served up my judgement when Whitney Houston died for crying out loud!

A lot of possible explanations come to mind which include my own mother’s death at thirty six (just one year younger than Chiwoniso was) 10 years ago exactly on the 17th of July, as well as me empathetically grieving for a newly made friend (along with her siblings) who not only had a mentor but a mother in Chiwoniso. Grieving for them and all the other people I know, mostly young Zimbabwean artists, who did in fact have real and mutually beneficial relationships with Chiwoniso, those who called her sister. Grieving for my nation, for even though some may not realise it, but we have suffered a great loss. We have lost a musical and cultural icon, pioneer, teacher, warrior and leader.

It is from the last reason that I find the courage to write this because I think the world must hear about her and the impact she has had on so many young Zimbabweans’ lives, even if it is only from my humble and very personal perspective. I am not going to give you a historical account of her life or career as I do not know anymore than what is already available on dozens of websites on the internet but I will tell you about her life within my own and possibly other fans out there.

Although I am not a musician (Lord knows I wish I was), Chiwoniso and her music still inspired me to be myself and be unapologetic for it in spite of any resistance or judgement that may come my way. Having partly grown up in the U.S. Chiwoniso was still very in touch with her roots and identity as a Manica woman, probably more so than a lot of young Zimbabwean women of both our generations are, and this set her apart from the rest. Indeed she came from a very musical family but to assume that to be the only source of her great talent would be a great dishonour to her memory. Her courage and passion that resonate through her music played a big role in gaining her status as a gender bending female mbira player and cultural ambassador despite the fact that traditionally women weren’t known to play the mbira. Her music speaks a lot to identity. The identity of tribes and cultures, of a nation, of the feminine and of the individual and it was through this that she inspired my love for culture, love for the spirit of the mbira and my reverence for ancestry.

When I saw her on stage with the Noisettes, Hope Masike and Tariro Ruzvidzo or in her music videos, I saw Spirit in her. The Spirit that chose her and gave her its gift of music. Gift of the mbira. Having learnt almost a year ago that I have a calling to become a sangoma, I have struggled to accept this new reality and I have battled with it. I have cried and I have pleaded with my ancestors to choose someone else because I did not want it. I have been terrified by the idea of never moving back home because I would be too afraid to live in Zimbabwe amongst the people I have known and grown up with and shared a life with now that I have this “thing” that only served to make me even more weird, more random, more of a misfit and now added to the mix, untouchable but then I saw the Spirit in Chiwoniso and it was nothing short of inspirational and almost comforting.

Ours is a country of mostly (Christian) conservative people and they don’t like anything too “unusual” or too eccentric (never mind that in Zimbabwe something as simple as dreadlocks is enough to have you qualified as eccentric and troubled) so it is no real shock that I have heard people describe Chiwoniso as “very talented but a bit too random” or “she has lost the plot”. Some even had the gall to say that she is too crazy and attributed her extraordinariness to “smoking too much weed” as though they knew her like that. It is no real shock but it is infuriating all the same. Like I said, I didn’t know her personally but I saw what a lot of these people did not see and that was her gift, her calling. Callings come in various forms and it is not everyone who has a calling who is meant to be a healer. Some become artists, social instructors, messengers as it were, through their art and Chiwoniso was one such person. She embodied ancestors from her family line that had chosen her. The Spirit of the Mbira, the Ancestors, had chosen her to be an instructor just as my Spirit has chosen me to be a diviner. Staying true to the meaning of her name, she brought enlightenment to all those who took in her music. The Ancient Voices really and truly did speak through her and will continue to do so through the legacy she has left behind as a gift to us.

I do not know if this is something she knew or acknowledged but if I am to hazard a guess based on the subject matter of her music and the person I saw in her, I would say she did and not only that but she embraced it and lived it and because of this, she inspired me to embrace and live my calling too. Although, we are probably nothing alike she certainly directly and indirectly declared to the world through her stage presence and the conviction in her voice and her relationship with the mbira that it was ok to be nobody else but herself making it possible for me (and hopefully a lot of other young brown women and girls) to declare the same of myself.

Her strength and integrity resonated in her music and her relationships with both those she knew and those she didn’t, family/friends and fans alike. She unwittingly helped shape my personal and communal identity as a young Zimbabwean brown woman and although I only ever became conscious of the impact her music and her person had on me in my late teens, her work on me had started over two decades ago, on one random week night in my grandparents’ kitchen in Mutare. So to her I say “Mai, fambai zvakanaka. Basa masiya mapedza. Thobela.” (Go well mother. Your work here is done. Rejoice.)

 

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The God Within Gerald “Synik” Mugwenhi

Gerald Synik Mugwenhi

Gerald Synik Mugwenhi

Hailing from my Motherland, Zimbabwe, Gerald Synik Mugwenhi is a truly gifted MC, poet and (consciousness) teacher. An introverted soul, totally down to earth, friendly and very deep, Synik is a Pan Afrikanist artist and ambassador in the making. His album Syn City, is both a social commentary of the life of the average Hararean as well as a sort of journal where each song is an entry of various aspects and experiences in his life (or that of those around him) as well as his journey into the world of hip hop. You especially see this in the first five songs of his album. The songs paint a very vivid and honest picture of real people’s lives in metropolitan Zimbabwe and not what one would mistakenly assume to be L.A. or New York as can be the trend with some of the impressions given in some hip hop songs on the continent. Syn City is not necessarily bleak and dire as that would be too easy and overly simple but neither is it superficial and glamourous as that would be false. It’s unassuming and it’s just honest, raw and real in an almost romantic way as it paints a picture of a painful but beautiful love. Love for his city, love for Afrika, love for the people, love for hip hop. Synik is about reflection, introspection, Afrocentricism and community, the Afrikan community, ubuntu. This comes out in his songs Africa and Marching as One. One can see he is in touch with the soil in which his roots are embedded and the sun beneath which he grows strong and magnificent in his song Hamurarwe where he personifies the “Sunshine City” aka Harare into a restless, seductive and ruthless but also somewhat, in a weird sort of way, caring and loving woman, a little reminiscent of the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone archetype found in Neopaganism. He is a soul that has traveled through many lifetimes, has seen many things, done a lot more and is now ready to share all the knowledge it has accumulated over the millennia with the other more restless and impatient new born souls around it. He is definitely the kind of young talent that we need in Afrika. He is deeply and importantly talented and not merely entertainingly and superficially so. God truly resides within him.

Check out his latest video to his song God Within

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBkAmGT3WjM

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2013 in Afritude, Art, Music

 

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What’s Next (Written for Chimurenga Chronic)

What’s Next

by  on June 1, 2013 in ArchiveArts & Pedagogy

Socially conscious rhymes and hipster swag; sexy dance moves and magical mbira; traditional Shona sounds and contemporary jazz skills; rock, traditional Japanese, Colombian cumbia music and electro…the recent Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) got bodies from different racial and social walks of life, some even from as far as Europe, the U.S. and Asia, moving and grooving. Doreen Gaura joined the party.

Noisettes

Noisettes

The Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) whose theme this year was “What’s Next” began and ended a couple of weeks ago, 30 April to 6 May to be precise, and I am still reeling from the few shows I managed to catch. This year’s festival was its biggest to date with over 200 performers from both Zimbabwe and other countries around the world. If there is one thing art can do, it’s bring people together. Well, almost. The Harare Gardens were swarming with people from different racial and even social walks of life. Some even came from as far as Europe, the U.S. and Asia. Class diversity was not as present of course because like in all other parts of Afrika and possibly the world, the enjoyment of the arts in such a set up is still a privilege reserved for the bourgeoisie and at the most only extends to the middle class. However, artistic expression, especially at the festival, has become more diverse and it transcends the “class” barrier.

Most of the shows I managed to catch were those of Zimbabwean artists and I must say I got my money’s worth. The opening night was a wonderful exhibition of Zimbabwean talent in the form of singers and dancers who dished out various popular cover song delicacies starting from as far back as the 1960s right up to 2013. The musical greatest hits (that transcended geographical and genre boundaries) timeline, beautifully performed and put together, kept people in the crowd either on their feet grooving away or enthusiastically singing along (or both) throughout the entire show. People, including whole families, were there in spite of the nippy conditions on this Harare late autumn/ early winter night and the jubilant atmosphere easily made one grateful to be a part of one of Zimbabwe’s greatest offerings. Also the fireworks finale was a real treat for all, young and old and cemented the euphoric sensation of festiveness and community amongst HIFA goers.

The highlight of the night for me was Ammara Brown’s performance of one of her father’s, the late great Andy Brown’s, greatest hits Mapurisa. That sent the crowd going wild. This vibrant and extremely talented young woman is intoxicating both on and off the stage. Her appeal goes beyond her talent but extends to her confident, meticulous, self aware and enigmatic personality which at first can easily be misconstrued as arrogant and standoffish but can later be respected and even admired once one sees just how loveable she is. Brown has managed to maintain a very good relationship with her step mother, renowned and extremely talented Zimbabwean musical icon Chiwoniso Maraire (whom she has performed with countless times) who taught her how to play the mbira which is also included in her musical repertoire. This fierce young woman by no means attempts to ride her late father’s wave of musical success even though she always commemorates his legacy in her all her performances. She is an artist in her own right and she carries with her the blessings and gifts bestowed upon her as a chosen one by the ancestors of her clan. It is easy to tell that she is dedicated to her calling in the arts from the attention to detail she paid to the preparations for her performances which included wardrobe organisation, time management and rehearsals to making sure she puts on the best performance she can when the time comes and best believe her vocal abilities, sexy dance moves and magical mbira skills left the crowd yearning for more.

Ammara Brown during the opening show of HIFA 2013

The epic opening was just a prelude of what was to come. The following night I had the pleasure of attending the performances of Zimbabwean hip hop artists Tehn Diamond, Junior Brown, Karizma and Take Fizzo at the Coca Cola Green stage. I must admit, in the last few years I had become rather cynical of Zimbabwean hip hop, mostly because I felt, that there isn’t much that makes a lot of it stand out from other MCs around the world but on this night I was completely wowed by these guys and proven wrong.

Producer Tatenda Jenami aka Take Fizzo has been around since my high school days (eons ago) and he is extremely talented and his work appears to be getting better with time. He started out as a rapper in the group Madd Flava of the Hapana Chakaipa fame and he soon went into producing when he started Chamhembe studios. He has produced some of Zimbabwe’s more popular Urban Groovers over the years, namely Roqui, Mafriq, Leonard Mapfumo, ExQ, Stunner (now of the Tazoita Cash record label), Tererai, and Taurai. In his earlier stuff, Jenami fused traditional instruments such as the Zimbabwean mbira with more modern/ urban instruments and beats and this, along with the fact that his artists don’t only sing or rap in English but also Shona, contributed to his success with the greater Zimbabwean audience who were mostly critical of the Urban Grooves genre of music. His love for music and his gift and talent have kept him in the industry for over 10 years in spite of various obstacles and we have seen him grow from strength to strength and we look forward to hearing more of his offerings if they are going to be anything like the afore mentioned and the newer generation MCs like Junior Brown and Tehn Diamond.

Tehn Diamond is one very talented young man. He is both an artist and an entertainer who is both a singer and an MC. His song Heppi featuring Junior Brown is a great party song that makes use of double entendre and beneath the jovial and upbeat tune and chorus, he speaks to the need for people, especially young people, to always know who they are, where they come from and that not all that glitters is gold. He has also worked with other Zimbabwean maestros on the hip hop circuit such as producer and MC Simba Tagz who has also just recently released his new album Black. Appearance wise, he has a certain hipster swag that definitely gets the girls’ attention. That and his self assured and “but I am a nice guy” playful demeanour on stage makes it difficult to not pay attention to his presence and performance.

Junior Brown, has the spirit of a skilled hunter and the moment he steps onto the stage you are wowed even before you hear his deep and captivating voice. He is a dedicated artist and lyrical master and this showed when he performed that night in spite of having lost his father the night before. He exudes an energy that makes him come across as sincere in spite of his efforts to come across as blaze and “chilled”. He has a way of seeking his audience out without even trying and drawing them into his presence on the stage and the message he is conveying by the way he strings his words together in his rap. The moment he went down on one knee in prayer during his performance of the song The Realness was very powerful and moving and put weight behind two of his lines at the beginning of the song where he says “presence of a king, pachivanhu ndiri mambo” which in English translates to “in our culture (Shona) I am a king”. It’s no wonder the crowd went totally wild when he go onto the stage.

Tinashe Sahanga aka Karizma is a young and talented up and coming Zimbabwean MC who until a little over a year ago had been based in the UK for 12 years. He is back in Zimbabwe and has taken the airwaves by storm with his single from his mix tape No Guts No Glory version 2 The Homecoming, Tsvarakandenga featuring UK based brothers BKay and Kazz and quickly making a name for himself. His strategic collaboration with the likes of Take Fizzo, Tehn and Jnr Brown has positioned him nicely on the Zimbabwean hip hop scene. He entertained the crowd with another gem from his mix tape titled Ma Passport which he performed with Junior Brown. With his Cool kid swag and playful boyish charm coupled with his skill of stringing together words that the young and hip Afropolitan can definitely relate to, one can’t deny that he is definitely a star in the making.

Zim hip hop is certainly coming up and starting to be recognised as an actual career and there are a lot of talented young MCs in Zimbabwe.

On the Thursday night I had the pleasure of attending the UK band the Noisettes’ show and see the famous, talented, stylish and beautiful Zimbabwean vocalist Shingai Shonhiwa in action. Their career has spanned over seven years and they have produced smash hits like Don’t Upset the Rhythm and Never Forget You. Their music easily puts you in a happy-go-lucky mood and the band had the audience dancing and singing along in spite of the fact that Zimbos are generally not known for their appreciation of indie rock. Her outfits and the extraordinary, witty and rather random personalities of her band mates were very festive indeed. What made this show even more awesome was the fact that the Noisettes were accompanied by three other great Zimbabwean female artists; Tariro Ruzvidzo aka Tariro neGitare, Chiwoniso Maraire and mbira darling Hope Masike although in this performance she was on the hosho and the queen of the mbira, Chiwoniso was doing her thing on, well, the mbira.

However, in spite of all this Zimbabwean awesomeness my personal ultimate experience at Hifa was seeing Senegalese singer and guitarist and human rights activist Baaba Maal in action. It was, as expected, a performance like no another. The djembe drums played by members of his band, his powerful voice and stage presence and that of his entire band served to remind one of what it means to be an Afrikan. He sang, as always, in a language that all in the audience could understand no matter in the world they are from and that was the language of music and ancestry. What made this exhibition of Afrikan strength and supremacy were the messages he conveyed in between his songs. Messages of love, unity, respect for women and Afrikan pride. His inviting the great Chiwoniso Maraire onto stage with him rather unceremoniously from the crowd also helped this along of course. The visual and the energy of these two Afrikan greats together on stage was overwhelming and reinforced the Pan Africanist ideology of a united Afrika to all who were present to witness it.

In addition to the live musical performances at the main venues, there were music DJs who kept the party pumping till the early hours of the morning after the main shows as well as shows running parallel to HIFA at various other venues both in Harare and in Bulawayo by some of the artists who performed at Hifa. I was lucky enough to catch Hope Masike again but this time accompanied by her band and she had teamed up with Bokani Dyer at the Book Café on the Friday night. Hope’s relationship with the mbira and the hosho is one of true beauty. The combination of traditional Shona sounds and contemporary jazz carry her sweet and melodic voice right into the hearts of her listeners. This show in particular was especially excellent thanks to the accompaniment of South Africa’s very own Bokani Dyer’s keyboard. The son of musical legend Steve Dyer is a very gifted but humble young man whose music was greatly appreciated by the audience who were not disappointed in the performance in the least.

That same night at the Book Cafe, Japanese mbira player Sakaki Mango also wowed the crowd with his very eclectic brand of music. Mango has taken the mbira from its Afrikan context and added elements of traditional and modern Japanese culture to create a unique and deeply spiritual but modern musical fusion of rock, traditional Japanese and Colombian cumbia music and electro which he sings in his native Japanese.

All in all, HIFA was well organised and the venues were secure and family friendly not to mention pocket friendly as festival goers were permitted to bring in their own cooler boxes with their own refreshments, this in spite of the various food stands and strategically positioned and well stocked bars all around the venue. This in – good – faith allowance really made up for the rather pricey tickets that cost anything between US$8 and US$15 a pop, I must say. Unfortunately I did not manage to catch any of the literary workshops or the theatre productions this time around but if word on the proverbial street is anything to go by, they were just as amazing and worth the trip from whatever corner of the world one may have journeyed from in order to be a part of this extravaganza. The craft stands and fashion shows also exhibited the various talents coming out of Zimbabwe.

Ours is a country often incorrectly portrayed in the international media as a desolate country in turmoil on the brink of conflict but events like HIFA do a good job of dispelling these misconceptions and instead show what a “heppi”, vibrant and welcoming country it is, so full of life, energy and promise. As a devout lover of the arts and firm believer in their importance and influence as well as a proud Zimbabwean Afrocentrist, I am truly encouraged by my first HIFA experience in four years since moving to South Africa and by my reacquaintance with Zim hip hop but I also remain cautious in my enthusiasm as we are still to see in which direction our young artists, especially in hip hop, wish to take our country. Are we conscious of the kind of art we produce as young Zimbabweans who will one day be the elders of our societies? Art is not a toy or something to be trifled with after all. In our quest to express and entertain we must also always remember that we also instruct those who take in our art. It is both a tool and a weapon, depending on its bearer, and should be respected as such. It is so easy and even tempting to get caught up in trends, Western pop culture that is not necessarily edifying or constructive and the “yolo – bitches&hoes – drank – in – my – cup” lifestyle but I think that it should not come at the expense of the kind of future we want and most importantly need to build for ourselves as Afrikans. I certainly look forward to my next HIFA experience and being about that (hip hop) life in Zimbabwe again.

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2013 in Afritude, Art, Culture, Music

 

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I am Afrikan! But What Does it Mean to be Afrikan? (Part 1)

This Is New Africa

This Is New Africa

In a lot of ways I suppose I can be described as an Afropolitan and I suppose in some ways I do identify as one. However, this does not dismiss the fact that I am struggling with what or how I really feel about certain aspects of it and that these aspects have caused some form of disdain within me. A few weeks ago, Minna Salami, an Afrikan woman writer/ blogger I admire and respect so much, posted a piece titled Can Africans have multiple subcultures? A response to “Exorcising Afropolitanism” on her blog Ms.Afropolitan and that, along with the conversations that took place beneath the post, is what inspired this post.

In many ways Afropolitanism is a wonderful thing and a necessary stage of evolution for the peoples of Afrika. It has brought about in the young people of Afrika a resurgence of their sense of pride in their identities and their origins, a little reminiscent of the start of contemporary Pan Afrikanism on the continent in the 40s. It is particularly popular amongst the young Afrikans in the diaspora and in a way they were the ones that coined the term, much like Pan – Afrikanism was popularised by Afrikans overseas around the beginning of the 20th century.

This pride, that has mostly been facilitated by Afropolitanism in recent years, is expressed in Afrikan pop culture today; in the music, in the visual and performing arts, in fashion and design, literature and socio-political activism, although the latter is not as popular among the, according to my own observations, mostly apathetic youth. It is because this pride finds rooting in the fact that Afrikaness has become a pop culture and a brand that I battle with completely embracing Afropolitanism.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is all great. Not only are we exhibiting pride in who we are and demanding recognition as equals in the global arena but we are also demanding that we participate and that we ourselves be the ones to bring what Afrika has to offer to the global table. My problem is that although we are doing this, we are not redefining how we participate or changing the narrative of what and who the Afrikan is in the least or rather in a way that I consider ideal. We are not really, or better yet, not always demanding equality and recognition based on who we were and who we can be in relation to our forebears but rather we are demanding recognition for our ability to be like the Westerner – as if to say “we are not the other because we can be just like you”.

Historically, what has been considered the brown person’s “greatest and only” contribution to the post modern state has mostly been in music and sport. This of course is something that we should continue to be proud of but it is not the only thing we are good for. A lot of people agree with me on this and we see this in articles on young brown achievers (mostly in the diaspora) and that is wonderful but what I find problematic is that we are calling for recognition of brown achievement only in spheres of influence that are not necessarily recognised as historically or culturally Afrikan like playing the violin or chess or in modern science and neglecting to call for, not just the recognition of the individuals themselves but the discipline i.e. why are we not calling for the international recognition of the central Afrikan kora as an indication of excellence for instance along with the individual that has mastered it?

A couple of months ago, people were hoping for the first “black” pope and my question is, why aren’t we calling for the recognition of Afrikan or Aboriginal Australian or Native American traditional spiritualities and their respective leaders? I mean, we recognise the Dalai Lama of Tibet so why can’t our spiritual leaders also receive the same respect and recognition? People the world over, including in Afrika, celebrated America’s first “black” president, even those of us who hail from countries in Afrika where Barack Obama would not be classified as “black”, while very few question when America will know its first Apache or Cherokee president just by way of example. I find it worrying that as a historically oppressed people who have experienced colonialism on the continent (and in South Africa apartheid) and in the Americas, slavery, we will celebrate our complicity in the continued oppression and marginalisation of the indigenous peoples of America.

In spite of this resurgence in Afrikan pride and the tidal wave that is Afropolitanism, I still come across a lot of young Afrikans who believe that prior to our encounter with the colonisers and slavers, we really were primitive savages with no form of civilization to speak of and we therefore should be grateful, to a certain degree for colonisation. We will widely recognise every other religion and faith on the planet except the faith of our ancestors. Instead, we, at best, dismiss it as backward and primitive and at worst we regard it as evil and demonic and call for its eradication. A lot of young Afrikans on the continent believe that Afrikans did not know God before the bible or the Q’uran reached our shores. I am all for freedom of worship and respect people’s religions but the moment people decide to ignorantly attack their indigenous beliefs and their respective practitioners, well, I get really riled up. To quote Ancesrtal Voices: Esoteric Knowledge

Since 9/11 ‘religious tolerance’ has become a key phrase in the mainstream, emphasising the need for respect of other faiths even if we do not share them. But does this apply to all? African spirituality despite being the oldest spiritual thought and expression known to humanity, is the least acknowledged and the most disregarded by society.

Our widely accepted alleged lack of contribution to the history of the world is barely being challenged in this new “we are Afrikan” “This is New Afrika (TINA)” fever that has taken us over and question is “what exactly is it that we are trying to achieve here with all this awesomeness around us?” As a people who for the last few centuries have been taught that we were nothing but uncivilized savages and barbarians surely this should not be the case in our demand for respect and recognition. For a long time it was believed that we were lesser and today, in more subtle ways, the same message is still being conveyed. Western science and the foreign religions all supported this belief. The belief that we are not completely human and that we are as good as mules to be exploited to the fullest by the more “superior” other. We have been taught to feel ashamed of our physical, social and cultural identities. Told that they were things in desperate need of remedying. This remedy? To aspire as far as possible to “elevate” ourselves to the level of other more superior cultures and races. We have challenged this of course but the narrative has not been about our competitiveness based on the identities of our ancestors prior to the forced assimilation but based on our ability to assimilate post the indoctrination.

We shun our traditions and call them harmful primitive and uncivilized, and this in the absence of historically common place prompting or encouragement from our oppressors. It is now a voluntary action on our part. When we do embrace them, we only embrace the commodified and bastardized (sometimes harmful) cultures and traditions the same way as the visitor does because we are now the visitors ourselves. Practices and beliefs that defined us in ancient times are now just as exotic to us as they are to the visitor that is enticed by the “beauty” of certain aspects of the other. But of course we are. Why wouldn’t we be? We have arrived after all. We are now included in the inner circle of whiteness and we have proven our right to be so. We will, as outsiders and “foreigners”, group our hundreds of cultures and merge them into one that is called Afrikan. Afrikan music, Afrikan print, Afrikan art, Afrikan language, Afrikan culture, Afrikan woman, Afrikan man. It is all one big village after all and we are all the same. We have created this homogenized product (not to be mistaken with united) that is to be pimped off to the world, including the peoples of Afrika themselves as a brand but this time we are doing it ourselves. Viva la revolucion! (tongue lodged firmly in cheek).

 

As if that’s not enough there does not appear to be a desire to really understand, respect, value or embody this culture, its origins or its journey into the future. Caucasians on the whole, even in their progressiveness and modernity, wear their whiteness with pride. They wear their “supremacy” and their privilege with pride. It is so embedded in them that it has practically become a part of their DNA. Even with the pan cultural or neo liberal, who may feel uncomfortable with certain aspects of their realities or may envy certain attributes in other people’s realities, one thing that remains certain is that they never truly feel shame or hatred towards their whiteness. Is there anything wrong with that? Absolutely not! However, why do we not do that with our us-ness. Why is it so important to us to qualify ourselves by demanding a right to “white” pride and denouncing our right to “black” pride?

We define our success using their standards of measurement, be they modern or post modern. Our grasp of western forms of education puts us above others but never our grasp of our own forms of education. We no longer recognise or accept different ways of doing, knowing and being that exist outside of western formal structures. We will judge each other harsher for our inability to articulate ourselves in western languages than we do for our inability to articulate ourselves in our native tongues. In fact, the latter is more often applauded than ridiculed. We will take pride in the size, grandeur and location of our homes than we do in our family relations. We personalise wealth and limit it to the nuclear family and term that progress while doing away with recognising that family goes beyond the nuclear and family wealth is not just reserved for the nuclear. We focus more on the duration of our life spans than the positive impact on others that we make in our life times however long or short they may be.

Sure, we need to look towards the future, modernise and keep up with the times but at what and whose expense? Can we truly demand an equal share of the pie when we don’t really believe that we deserve it as we are? Can we really consider ourselves a formidable force to be reckoned with if we are just but trees without roots? We are convinced that we need to let go of the past and catch up with the rest of the world in the future and yet the rest of the world knows exactly what their past is, how it informs their present and how it will define their future and their role therein. Surviving monarchies in the west not only continue to exist but continue to be respected and yet the surviving  monarchies on the continent are held up for public scrutiny or completely ignored. I believe that as a group of peoples that have been taught to hate ourselves we desperately need to love ourselves first, find pride in where we come from and the contribution we have made to civilization and the modern world before we can seek to position ourselves at the global table. Until we do this, I believe that whatever or however many places we secure at said table, we will always be bottom feeders, be it explicitly or implicitly. Pride in ourselves is great and always welcome, but it is what informs and inspires that pride that is paramount. Afropolitanism can either make or break us and so I believe we must proceed with caution.

 

© Doreen Victoria Gaura/ Colouredraysofgrey, 2013

 

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Urban Grooving it to Stunner

I am a very proud Zimbabwean and I believe that my country and its people have so much to offer but sometimes I find it difficult to locate that pride when it comes to our young musicians or as we call them in Zimbabwe Urban Groovers. Sometimes I feel that they waste their talents and skills on not only cutting and pasting from American musicians and genres of music but doing such a shoddy job of it it’s hard to take them seriously or to support them. But then, sometimes, sometimes, you get a real gem like this song here by Stunner featuring Roby Gee and Jusa Dementor and that pride just comes bubbling over.

Bearing in mind that music is very fluid and malleable, one cannot completely escape an external influence or inspiration, as it were, on your production but the one thing that determines whether you should be considered an artist or an aspiring entertainer, the one thing that some Urban Groovers seem to miss but Stunner over here has seemed to grasp is to include something that makes it yours (Zimbabwean). This song, outside of it’s catchiness and dance (sele mama)-in-your-chair-in-the-office-inspiring beat and the talents of all three musicians is that, to me, it represents contemporary urban Zimbabwean culture (although it was recorded in the UK) from Stunners’ colloquial rhymes in vernacular to the subject of the song being specifically Zimbabwean -“Zimbabwean girl” with the girls in the video being fashionable, “glamorous” and well, beweaved and of course let’s not forget the ragga/dancehall influence that is (and has been for as long as I can remember) the centre of a night out dancing in most places in Zimbabwe (we do love our reggae and dancehall). Enjoy the video!

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2012 in Music

 

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Patrice and Laygwan Sharkie In Worship of the River

I can not begin to express just how much I am in love with this song and not simply because it is sung by one of my favourite musicians but because it is sung by men who in their tribute to the Goddess, to woman and to Africa exhibit reverence for our roots. From a Zimbabwean perspective, the introduction venerates the Shona Goddess Dzivaguru or Dziva whom, amongst the Shona, is the Goddess of the river, the earth, the rain clouds and the darkness of the night. Patrice personifies her here and therefore, she not only represents our continent but she represents the Woman:

He went down to the river
And this is what she said:
I look simple yet I’m complex
I do not distract
I have the same color 
As the son I was built of
My shape is beautiful

A little further into the song Laygwan alludes to the inspiration for his name and also gives praise to what I assume is the Gwan of the Bambara of Mali. The Gwan are believed to represent fertility and childless mothers are taken to Gwan societies/ associations to help them conceive. In Mali you will find Gwan sculptures which are usually of a mother and a child and a father:

“lay” was born from the soil
that was planted by the “gwan
I am the son of sons of chamnuka and
Nehanda hrere true kwere kwere african

Patrice aka Patrice Bart-Williams is Sierra Leonine-German decent and is based in Europe while Laygwan Sharkie is a Zimbabwean musician, also based in Europe. No matter how far you may be from the Motherland, it is hard to stop loving her and longing for her, if at all your love was pure and true. In fact, sometimes you find that it takes you leaving to realise this love. Enjoy! 

With love,

From Africa x

 

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