Zap Mama is an incredibly exhilarating music experience, a sound that is deeply African yet permeated with experimental jazz, rock, reggae and even hip hop influences, all held together by an incredible female vocal ensemble that fused rhythm and voice into something that blurred the boundaries of music, language, lyrics and beats. The group’s leader is a creative genius, with vocals in French and English, and a way of blending genres that sound something like beat boxing meets Ella Fitzgerald, Fela Kuti, Ziggy Marley and Weather Report.
I like South African President Jacob Zuma far better than his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki. At least Zuma doesn’t question the basic link between HIV and AIDS and he seems to show some rhetorical interest in addressing the massive poverty and inequality that plagues South Africa. I’m definitely not trying to deal with South African politics here; in my mind the public life of Zuma and his four wives brings to light a more fundamental issue about the nature of polygamy and its impact on Africa and the Diaspora. Polygamy is intriguingly real and very complicated in Africa, and perhaps Zuma’s dilemma raises important questions about the nature of certain polygamous behaviors and their implications, even for African Americans.
Invictus is an inspiring film with fascinating historical content. Clint Eastwood’s latest cinematic production provides an intriguing glimpse into the some of the endearing moments that changed engrained prejudice and helped cement South Africa’s social transformation. Based on John Carlin’s book, “Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game the Made a Nation,” Invictus casts light on Mandela’s brilliant strategy for using the 1995 Rugby World Cup to make the Springboks national rugby team a moral force for change. Through deft moves, love, personal character and a sense of inclusiveness, Mandela was able to prevail against a history of fear, hatred and violence. In retrospect, it is all too easy to take for granted that South Africa’s political transformation was a matter of destiny, rather than the aspirations of individual personalities who found within themselves the ability to lead by example and reconcile past injustices.
Slavery is a very real problem in Sudan, and more people need to be informed about it so that activists, human rights organizations and abolitionists can get the support they need to help end it. The reality is that a cruel form of slavery and human trafficking is happening in Africa, in the new Millennium, just beyond our peripheral vision of Darfur. Tamara Banks’ experience and her documentary, “The Long Journey Home” is a story with many intersecting dimensions. Everyone should see this documentary, because slavery is a terrible affront to human dignity and decency. In our global society, this kind of repression is a test of our humanity and compassion.
Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe have become such controversial catch phrases for fearful demonization that few people remember the history and context out of which Zimbabwe became a nation, and Mugabe its early hero. Without a doubt, recent events in Zimbabwe are very disturbing, and this prompted me to finally have a long and heartfelt talk with a friend of mine who has a powerful and intimate connection with Zimbabwe. While Sulieman Dauda and I are pretty good friends, I had never really talked with him in detail about what drew him to Zimbabwe in the early 80s. From a journalist’s perspective, I thought it would be a good idea to try to examine some of Zimbabwe’s current issues through the eyes of a unique person who has experienced a lot of history there. From a personal perspective, our conversations affirmed that Africa is often about mysterious connections, synchronicities, heart and soul, patience and intuition; I would say that Sulieman Dauda knows this very well.
“Much respect, John Matshikiza–much respect… Don’t get me wrong–your work in theater, stage, film and television is uncompromising. I loved you in that artful, stupendous film, “The Heart of the Country.” Between the breathtaking scenery, shining cinematography, and passionate portrayals of idiosyncratic characters karmically entwined in the Free State, I saw a glimpse of the possibility of what real, world-class South African cinema could be. And you had me in stitches when you were steppin’ around in the white baas’ boots and taking his daughter’s virginity! As a director, writer and actor, you know your craft, and you know how to bring out the best in folks…” In talking with the late, great African fundi John Matshikiza, I was beginning a dialogue about complexities and tensions as the Hollywood studio system and African American box office celebrities meet the artistic and storytelling aspirations of Africa and African actors. Some of this was addressed again in my post on Clint Eastwood’s film Invictus.
Before I interviewed Leslie Fields and talked in depth with her, I had given some thought to ecological issues in Africa, but I didn’t see them as clearly as I do now or with the same sense of urgency. I knew something about the problems in the Niger Delta as well as climate change, soil erosion and desertification, but Leslie gave them a new prescience and a new realness.
It’s very unusual for an American elected politician to have experience living in Africa and doing Christian service work. When former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter was in high school, he thought he might want to be a Catholic priest. Years later, he found a way to express his Christian ideals at a Catholic Mission in Zambia, outside of the seminary and the path to priesthood. In doing this interview with Ritter, I found that he was very easy to talk to, and he has far more depth to his personality beyond public role as a politician. Listening to Ritter’s story leads me to believe that Africa sometimes has an almost mystical effect on people, nurturing profound encounters.
Africa, of course, is a continent, a location on our planet; but there are many dimensions and many ways of accessing Africa. While people jam to the latest pop dances and grooves, it sometimes escapes us that the common practices of African American popular culture or African traditional culture can be the gateway to a profound inner wisdom and intuitive knowledge. Teachers like Maurice Haltom – or “fundis,” as they say in South Africa – remind us that we can find an infinite world of truth and beauty through the Motherland within ourselves.
On June 16, 1976, Soweto school children rioted in protest to the oppressive apartheid school policies, and signaled that they were no longer willing to accept an inferior education or to be denied their basic human rights. Their rebellion sparked a nationwide resistance movement that eventually culminated in the unbanning of Black political parties and the release of Nelson Mandela from prison. There’s a lot more to Soweto than meets the eye. Africa’s most famous community is colorful, sophisticated, vibrant and full of joy . With a little bit of extra effort and some help from the right Black tour companies, you can transcend the surface level and get more into the real groove of the people and their lifestyle. Soweto is a great community to visit, and there are many ways to experience its unique African urban culture and sense of unity and oneness.
Few people know that the commercial venture of satellite radio that would eventually become the merger of XM and Sirius, was pioneered in the early 90s by an African, Ethiopian engineer Noah Samara. Samara had a vision of establishing satellite radio in Africa, as a resource in economic, social and cultural development, that would later spread to Europe, the United States and the Western world. Samara’s African company, WorldSpace, was the progenitor of XM, which pioneered satellite radio in America. There are many stories to the development and evolution of modern information technology in Africa that are relatively unknown.
“Buddhism and an African Greeting” is my way of describing how the emotional associations and meanings of certain African words can create an intuitive bond between people that has a transcendental wisdom and natural beauty. This kind of linguistic intimacy and transference is virtually entirely lacking in English and European languages, and in the Western world we desperately need some way to connect with each other in a transcendent way in day-to-day simple encounters. While we have a vast proliferation of words, phrases, technologies, terms and terminologies, we have somehow lost a sense of wholeness and unity that is refreshingly present in African culture.
I feel honored that I had the opportunity to meet and interview Ezekiel Mphahlele. He is truly one of the giants of our African cultural leaders, and given his age, this recent visit to the States most likely will be his last–he doesn’t travel here very much. Meeting Es’kia reminded me somewhat of a chance encounter I once had with James Baldwin 22 years ago; they both had a powerful presence, a profound wisdom and soft-spoken intellect that is subtle yet overwhelming. I would have loved to have spent more time with Es’kia (or for that matter, James Baldwin), but alas, there never seems to be enough time to spend with these great “fundis.” Their writings live on for future generations, but sadly, their time is limited in this world. In this article I wanted to present Es’kia in the broadest context of his life, and to hint at his ideas of “African humanism” which I believe can form the basis of a viable and creative African educational system.
Sophiatown was the first community targeted for forced removal under the notorious “Group Areas Act.” Africans were sent to Soweto, mixed-raced Coloureds to Western Areas, Indians to Fordsburg and Lenasia, while Sophiatown was bulldozed and rebuilt into a White working class suburb called “Triomf,” meaning victory in Afrikaans. Sophiatown was Don Mattera’s roots, the source of his poetry and personaltiy. His book “Memory is a Weapon” describes the destruction of Sophiatown and how the seeds of hate and suspicion were sown between different racial and ethnic groups by forced removals.
In my experience, speaking in an African language involves a big shift in how you relate to words emotionally and how you relate to people through language, in comparison to speaking English. A lot of it is social and cultural, but a lot of it is based on the way words and meanings are actually constructed.
Africa is full of mystery, overflowing with wildlife, and nature has a passion and energy that seems to be more intense than in other continents. The intimate emotional bond–as well as the struggle–between the human kingdom and the animal kingdom seems unusual there as well.
For African Americans, genetic technology in the new millennium is proving to be an unexpected source of knowledge and self-discovery. Incredibly, the tools of modern genetic DNA research and analysis are forming an unlikely connection to lost ancestors, broken families and forgotten languages and traditions dispersed by the legacy of slavery.