This conversation between two of the most authentic Black artists is so powerful, so instructive, so wise.
“If racial differences are the effects of geography and isolation, civilization, on the other hand, seems to be a product of contact and communication. Every civilization, in extending the area of human intercourse, has invariably brought about new concentrations of population and a new intermingling of races.” – Race Relations and World Economy, pp 144 Race and Culture: Essays in the Sociology of Contemporary Man, Robert Ezra Park
I recently met a Black Jew of the Lemba ‘tribe’, while having a drink at Harare Rainbow Towers hotel. I had been there to purchase a ticket to watch a music concert show featuring Jamaican-American artists Morgan Heritage, Lutan Fyah and a plethora of local acts. After trying to secure a media-pass so that I would be able to secure good parking and a ‘good’ seat come the Saturday of the concert, I decided to go and relax at the foyer-cafe’. My phone was running out of battery and so ran out to my car to fetch a charger and adapter. Back in the cafe’ while looking for a table wherein I could sit and charge the phone nearby, I met a very tall, dark and corporate suited man who was also looking to charge his phone, we decided to sit together. I thought I would just continue reading my book while he also did his thing, afterall we were perfect strangers. It only took us a few minutes to ask each others names and as I usually do with Zimbabweans, I asked for his surname and his Totem. After he said his surname was Zhou, and his name was Paul. Now as an Afrikologist, I am always looking out for connections or interrelations between the large and diverse Afrikan family. Mr Zhou told me his totem and proceeded to explain that he is a member of the Black Jews and that the totem of the Elephant ( which also happens to be the clan-name and totem of both my paternal and maternal grandparents ) …is the originator of all the Tribes of Abantu as well as what is today known as Israelites. Before our robust conversation was interrupted by his uncle who called him aside to speak to him until I left, Mr Zhou explained to me whence his people migrated from, he mentioned the so called Middle East, Yemen, Ethiopia and the Great Lakes region down to Mozambique, Malawi and a specific area in Zimbabwe. We spoke briefly about the Beta Israel of Ethiopia, the colour and racial mixtures of the people who occupy the land of Israel today. He spoke about a particular geneticist who has apparently proven that it is indeed the Jews of Afrikan descent who are the original stock or the ones who carry more than 65% of the DNA that is considered Judaic or Israelite. He also explained how and where his ancestors settled in Zimbabwe, in an area called Mberengwa, and how the head-chief or Mposi is anointed.
Needless to say, I have read plenty regarding this subject, but meeting a person who has a lived experience and extensive knowledge of self is rare. This historical reflection caused me to reconsider my present theories and beliefs regarding the matter of Jews, Judaism as well as some Christological and prophetic traditions in Afrika. My attitude towards Jews, although not antagonistic has been dismissive ever-since I began delving into what is called Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Afrikan Traditional Religion/Spirituality and my own inner journey through ancestry, AmaHubo and transcendental meditation. We cannot deny that we a complex lot as Black people, with much of our lives hidden in plain sight in our totems, gradually fading customs and transforming traditions. When Mr Zhou insists that the 12 Tribes of Israel emerged from the Great Elephant, I could not help thinking about my own ancestors, the Maseko, whose migrations from the central and northern parts of Afrika are not as well documented. I could not help thinking about the identity of the one ancestor called Ndlovu who is known as the progenitor of all the Ngcamane clans as well as many more others. While Afrikans are not a homogenous group, there are several studies and traces that confirm that we are a family that emerged from one Great Tree. Now, there is no denying that each clan, tribe and ‘nation’ practices different cultural rites and rituals but there are also many similarities and common archetypes. What has made the Israelite story so pervasive? One may offer that much of the proselytization and transfusion of the Abrahamic lore was effected through guileful and unjust means. This may be more true of Islam and Christianity, but the older of these is Judaism, the Zion philosophy. The Hebrew speaking people have been nomadic and migratory for many thousands of years. There are many contradictory and controversial theories regarding what the original home of the Jews is. Many would simply say, but that’s a no-brainer – Jerusalem in Palestine/Israel is the homeland of the Israelite folk. But a clear and unbiased reading of even the Torah, the Bible or any other of those religious texts from that part of the world, reveals that the land that these people call home, was not truly theirs to begin with. But this is a subject for another day. We shall explore how both Jews, Egyptians, Babylonians/Iraqis and Iranians became Eurocentricised and Arabianised. We will also explore how certain parts of Northern and East Afrika are occupied by peoples who have a confused racial identity. This will not be just a discussion about race, but also about the persuasive power of words, images and propaganda.
To many Afrikans today, the God of the Hebrews, the Arabs and the Europeans is the primary source of all life. Very few Afrikans are left who remember how we worshipped the Creator during our days in Kemet, Kush-Meroe, Pre-Christian Ethiopia, Uganda, The Congo, Ile Ife, Cameroon and along our journeys along the Nile and the Zambezi. Most of us take it for-granted that our cultural institutions and practices were more Earth based and cosmically connected to the daily cycles of the heavenly bodies, rather than bookwise. Even though in Egypt/Kemet we had written works or books of instruction such as the Instruction of Ptahotep and many others, these were more like practical and proverbial moral admonitions rather than dogma. There was no one holy place but several sacred sites where everything was identified to its requisite spiritual power or Neter. These reflections caused me to question the efficacy of monotheism for Afrikans and the whole concept of Zion.
As a person who has practiced Rastafari livity for almost two decades, I too have been chanting about Zion, about the JAH or the Jews and the Yahweh and other religious artifacts of the Christian and Jewish kingdom. My whole family is into what they call “Kingdom Culture”, and the author of this is supposedly the God who is he creator of all the universe. But there are certain deep contradictions to this whole story of the Heavenly Father. We who are Afrocentric in our approach to divinity, cosmic harmony and social justice have serious misgivings about this monolithic heritage which although we have professed it for centuries, still find it rather contrived in many ways.
I will explain in part two.
This article originally appeared on:
In his new book, The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics, Louis Chude-Sokei samples freely from history, music, literature and science, conjuring new meanings from dead texts, to build an echo chamber where the discourses of race and technology collide. At a time when automation threatens jobs and pits humans against machine and Artificial Intelligence systems manage financial markets, Chude-Sokei’s arkeological excavations reverberate through the future-present. In this conversation, he joins Kodwo Eshun and Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom on a journey into science fiction and Afrofuturism that engages the intimate relations between black peoples and technology within the wider imperial histories of industrialisation and slavery.
“What then comes up for me in this conversation about the limits of the human is what constitutes the human, right? Because whenever you ask whether or not this is human or that is human, you’re actually asking “what is the human?” in the first place. Which is a question that we still don’t really know. The same thing when we talk about artificial intelligence. What artificial intelligence has taught us is that we don’t know what intelligence is. Whenever we encounter a machine, can it think? Does it have a soul? And then the question becomes: well, what is thinking? What is a soul? Are they human? Do they merely mimic us? Will they take over from us? Will they revolt? These same exact questions that were asked about slaves during slavery. This is not an accident. Things that seem accidental are not accidental at all. It’s a shared logic around a restrictive understanding of what constitutes the human. And that’s where blacks and robots and machines really come together – not just in a clever, theoretical formulation. It’s there in history. It’s why Robert Johnson wants to have sex with his phonograph.”
Read more from an edited transcript in The Chronic: The Invention of Zimbabwe.
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, for none but ourselves can free our minds.” – Marcus Garvey.
These often repeated words from the erstwhile leader of the the pan-Afrikan, Negro Improvement Association were said and written in the early 20th century, yet their impact is still felt today during the 21st as Afrikan people globally still languish at the bottom of the socio-economic ladders. It is dawning on most of us that regardless of accolades, riches or highest levels of educational success, the Afrikan still need to learn more about herself/himself in order to be truly liberated, otherwise their liberation is a sham. Your Phd, Doctorate or Masters thesis which is based on Eurocentric education will not free your people from the shackles of white supremacist hegemony.
“The present generation is the hinge of history …we may now be in the time of the most rapid change in the whole evolution of the human race, either past or to come …the world has now become too dangerous for anything less than Utopia.” – J.R. Platt
The word utopia usually conjures up some fantastic vision of idyllic or even imaginary living. This is not always the case though, in a world where almost anything goes and moral/socio-economic as well as ecological decay is rife, it has become crucial for people of vision to apply themselves to processes of healing, restoration, repairation and cosmic balance. Utopia, then does not necessary mean an impossible or fictional world, but actually connotes a highly possible, longed for future state, one which can be attained if people organised themselves to attain it. We must become something we have never been.
We are currently on a quest towards establishing an Afrocentric school for Black children and young learners in the Southern Hemisphere. While this may not be a novel idea/ideal, as it has been done before with varying degrees of success or sustainability, it is becoming more evident that Afrikan parents need an education system that caters to the particular needs of Black children. As a father of three boys who have to attend a ‘secular’ private nursery where 99% of the images the children see do not represent either their race nor our cultural worldview, the urgency of this vision has become very real.
This desire to be taught in one Mother tongue, be surrounded by positive Black/Afrikan images and cosmic symbols,imbued with the cultural aesthetics as well as the values that characterize intrinsic Afrocentric ideals is not new, while it is a noble ideal, it is by no means easy.
The reality of existing within a highly volatile capitalistic global system perpetuated by a so called Free market founded on racist ideologies, means that more and more values that make us human/humane are being eroded for the benefit of unscrupulous profitters.
The aim of such an Afrocentric/Afrikological school is to restore the essential characteristics of Ubuntu and Natural progression of the learner, who then grows up to become a well balanced citizen. It must and will be a Futuristic learning system, characterised by transformative and highly conscious teachers and learners.
The late educational transformation activist Neville Alexandre, wrote during the year of his death:
“Once the commodity value of people displaces their intrinsic human worth or dignity, we are well on the way to a state of barbarism. Unless and until we bring back into our paradigms, and thus into our social analyses, the entire human being and the ways in which human beings can live fulfilled lives beyond their mere economic needs, we will continue to promote anti-human philosophies and policies that ultimately tend to work to the benefit of those who have, and to the detriment of those who do not.”
Our school will include a sufficient concentration on Agrarian as well as vocational training. It will also place emphasis on information technology, from coding to robotics as well as ecological knowledge and non-Western examples of mathematics and scientific disciplines.
We are now at the stage of collective information, research and like-minded contributors. The vision is that the schools will begin on digital platforms before establishing satellite schools on the ground.
Dr Phil Valentine painstakingly cuts through some of the well established theories from science, to religion to astrophysics. There is an interesting expose on Neil Degrasse Tyson and others who represent conventional science.
I am sharing this because I have also developed a healthy questioning of the status quo according to theoretical physics and dogmatic sciences.
“Love and Light Interested me so
That I dared to knock at the door of the cosmos” – SUN RA Arkestra
There is music and there are artists that dare to throw caution to the wind, yet like a masterly boomerang wielder, ensure that whatever they throw windward returns exactly where they are. These artists are neither interested in trends, fashions, nor commercial interests, what they create is monumental beyond monuments, it is significant beyond their particular genre and draws humanity and the universe closer to the heart and to the meanings of Life. Sun Ra and Lupe Fiasco are just two of the ones we would like to shine a light on for now.
Of course there are many such phenoms, we can count at least 12 from the top of the head, but this is not a list of luminaries, it is about the serendipitous connections that visionary creators seem to have. In some cases there is a conscious effort to emulate each other but in some instances, it is just dividual morphism or happy coincidence and consequence.
Let us begin with a spontaneous poem I wrote while deeply engrossed in the music of the Hip Hop artist Lupe Fiasco and then we shall take a look at how both Fiasco and Ra come together in the cosmic balance of all things Black genius.
“The Buddha is sage, impepho yabaNgoni
The sage Buddha devours everything
Walking barefoot emisebeni
Yamalanga onke …
Bearing the terrible Black beauty of Kali
Black and Blue with the temperament of Krishna
Peaceable as Ausar the foremost of the West
The greensome 12 digital Lord is a maiden voyager
Lonely as a cloud of unknowing
Now contemplative under trees
Now a dervishly whirling wind under the sea
The Buddha is a sage
The Buddha is a black sage
Whose appetite is beyond eclectic
Grips nothing too firmly
And so it all, it all falls down
Mindless while mindful
Horsepower with no harness
No pressure, nor stress
No desire, no aversion
All risk so no risk
No test, nor failure …” – Menzi Maseko
Wikipedia has a serviceable description of who Sun Ra was if one is seeking a basic overview, but what we aim to illustrate here is how this artist has influenced generations of innovators far beyond his milieu, that is if anything was truly beyond the man from Saturn.
Here is an overview:
“Sun Ra (born Herman Poole Blount, legal name Le Sony’r Ra; May 22, 1914 – May 30, 1993) was an American jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, and poet known for his experimental music, “cosmic” philosophy, prolific output, and theatrical performances. For much of his career, Ra led “The Arkestra”, an ensemble with an ever-changing name and flexible line-up.
Born and raised in Alabama, Blount became involved in the Chicago jazz scene during the late 1940s. He soon abandoned his birth name, taking the name Le Sony’r Ra, shortened to Sun Ra (after Ra, the Egyptian God of the Sun). He developed a complex persona and an idiosyncratic, myth-based credo that would make him a pioneer of Afrofuturism. He claimed to be an alien from Saturn on a mission to preach peace, and throughout his life he publicly denied ties to his prior identity.
His widely eclectic and avant-garde music echoed the entire history of jazz, from ragtime and early New Orleans hot jazz, to swing music, bebop, free jazz and fusion. His compositions ranged from keyboard solos to works for big bands of over 30 musicians, along with electronic excursions, songs, chants, percussion pieces, and anthems. From the mid-1950s until his death, Ra led the musical collective The Arkestra (which featured artists such as Marshall Allen, John Gilmore and June Tyson throughout its various iterations). Its performances often included dancers and musicians dressed in elaborate, futuristic costumes inspired by ancient Egyptian attire and the Space Age. (Following Ra’s illness-forced retirement in 1992, the band remained active as The Sun Ra Arkestra, and, as of 2018, continues performing under the leadership of veteran Ra sideman Marshall Allen.)
Though his mainstream success was limited, Sun Ra was a prolific recording artist and frequent live performer, and remained both influential and controversial throughout his life for his music and persona. He is now widely considered an innovator; among his distinctions are his pioneering work in free improvisation and modal jazz and his early use of electronic keyboards and synthesizers. Over the course of his career, he recorded dozens of singles and over one hundred full-length albums, comprising well over 1000 songs, making him one of the most prolific recording artists of the 20th century.”
Enter the prolific super MC/Rapper/Composer, Lupe Fiasco.
It would require a few more pages to describe the proficiency and scope of the prodigy called Lupe Fiasco, suffice to say that not since De La Soul or Digable Planets and Shabbaz Palaces, has there been a Rapper possessing such a heightened sense of cosmic balance. His music is simply larger than his genre, his lyrics are unparalleled and with the advent of his latest album Drogas Wave, he has simply gone beyond the level of musical world building and created an epic of gargantuan proportions. Drogas Light and Drogas Wave are an Afrocentric Science Fiction odyssey unheard of, except maybe since Deltron 3030 or Del The Funky Homosapien and Dan The Automators collaboration …( more on that later).
Here is a review ( I shall add mines in another post):