Friday, July 28, 2006

Dollar Bills falling like Snow

About five years ago I had the opportunity to play keyboards and percussion with Chief Doctor Oliver De Coque from Nigeria, one of the legends of African music. I was not really familiar with his legendary status prior to performing with him but the excitement that surrounded his show was palpable. I soon realized that there are at least four volumes of Chief Doctor Oliver De Coque "Hits" on the market because the man has 86 recordings to his credit! I learned that he has had many titles conferred upon him; the Alaafin of Oyo crowned him the King of Highlife music. In 1994, he was conferred with the honorary doctor of letters in Music at the University of New Orleans. Among his Igbo ethnic group he also has the honorary title of Ikemba.
The night that I played with him was very memorable for me. The show occurred during the month of Ramadan which meant that I was fasting from dawn to dusk. After a day of not eating or drinking water, I had to find the intense energy to play music Nigerian style. When Nigerians play music it can be a test of endurance. I once saw Fela Kuti play from 9pm-2am without a break! Lucky for me, being a Caribbean musician means learning how to play Carnival style which is also an endurance test.
The band started at 9pm and played two sets without the Chief, as the late arriving African crowd warmed up. After midnight, we took the stage and started to play a Highlife groove while some beautiful girls spread a path of rose petals from the dressing room to the stage.
The crowd began to stir when the Chief emerged in full royal regalia complete with a real leopard skin cape. One of the girls handed him his flaming red guitar when he reached the edge of the stage. The Chief looked to the band and then launched us into the stratosphere of African funkiness. We played until the band's groove reached a plateau that allowed the Chief to begin his famous "praise singing".
Praise singing is a Nigerian tradition. The praise-singer will call on stage community leaders, elders, politicians, and party hosts to literally sing their praises. The singer draws upon diverse and complex knowledge about family names and reputations, historic poetry and epic tales, and geography and regional folklore to create relevant stories or admiration that honor the addressee.

The recipient of the praise responds in kind by "“spraying"” the singer with cash is done in many ways and with a lot of style. It can take the form of pasting dollar bills on the singer's sweaty forehead, showering the singer with money, or other ways of demonstrating gratitude for the praise. In fact, the method of spraying has itself taken on an art form, with some sprayers having a reputation for their particular style of spraying. And the longer you stick money on the singer, the longer the audience is focused on giving you attention. But once your money runs out, you must make room for the next person to be praised. There was a long line of Igbos waiting their turn to be paid homage to that night. It was as if each person suddenly had their own personalized song. Not only were the words a tribute to them but the grooves would change to suit the person. The chief was not the only one being sprayed with cash! I was playing my butt off and sweating a river. My musical intensity was rewarded by people who plastered money on my sweating face and forehead. Spraying is almost mystical, the more the band gets sprayed with money, the more the music intensifies. I felt like I was in a trance and when I looked around from my delirium; I was standing in a pile of money. There was money all over the stage like snow! The line of patrons did not seem to get shorter. The music never stopped. The chief would lead us from one groove to the other with a skillful hand. We would seamlessly go from one great person to the next. Some people had so much style to their spraying of the band that they became a show for us. They would dance around the stage with two fists of cash. Then when the moment was right they would toss the bills high in the air. The shower of bills was surreal and I would watch the money float down around my keyboard until it was covered in money.
It was 4am when we finally ended the praising and I could only laugh at how many times the Chief's assistant had run onto the stage to collect all of the bills. He would collect them when they seemed to be like a thin blanket covering the stage. Within minutes he would have to return to fill his sack again. I have no idea how many times he filled that sack between the hours of 12am and 4am but he was a busy little man.
When the show was over all of my band mates lavished me with praise because I had played for so many hours without a proper meal. They were amazed that I had only broken my fast with dates and water before the night of music began.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Confused by the Color of their Skin!

I had a friend from Nigeria who was a Yoruba. She moved into a predominantly latino area of Brooklyn. One hot summer night she heard the distinct sound of drums. She was startled by the sound of her own traditional Yoruba rhythms. She immediately went outside and followed the sound of the drums to a nearby park. When she arrived at the park she was taken aback by the sight of a group of "white" Puerto Ricans playing the drums. She was instantly confused as she had just arrived in NYC.
Who are these "White Africans"? How did they learn my culture?
She called me on the telephone and told me how confused she was by this group of "White Africans" who spoke Spanish. I could only laugh.

Listen to: Africano and Africa Occidental

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Intellectual Racism?

When I was growing up we had this incredible set of encyclopedia; The Encyclopedia Britannica.
This was the original, made in England, set of books that explained the universe of thought in every minute detail. Surely, I can attribute much of my intellectual headstart in life to the presence of this great library of British intellect. There was just one thing that I noticed early on, an extreme Euro-centric, white supremist view of the world that was shocklingly matter of fact.
Written into the informative text histories of the yellow, brown and black world were little racist concepts that were included as fact. I would reread things like: "the Africans as part of their nature are not inclined towards hard work..." in disbelief. If you doubt this fact all you have to do is dust off an old copy of Encyclopedia Britannica, British Edition. Nothing of value was attributed to people of African descent and we were largely missing from the pages of great accomplishments.
When I first became aware of the work of people like JA Rogers, John Henrik Clarke and Arturo Schomburg I was amazed at how marginalized they were within the world of academia.
I thought that eventually the world would gradually change and inellectual fairness would win out. Instead, a new generation of educated racists have taken their place.

Today, more anti-intellectual Afro-American streotypes exist than ever before.
If an African-American male college student is on a major university campus it is assumed that he is a student-athlete. A shocking number of African-American males are not even graduating from high school! I feel compelled to celebrate the lives of some African-American historians who have dedicated their lives to toiling in virtual obscurity to collect our stories.

Is there a Afro-American Audience for World Music?

Being a "World Musician" brings me in contact with many social and cultural phenomena.

In the US, being classified as a world musician brings me into contact with several social realities. I am increasingly aware of the demographics that sustain my chosen musical genre.
  • It has been determined that world music followers are primarily people who have a college education.
  • People with a college education are more likely to have been exposed to other cultures.
  • Most world music format radio shows are on college campuses.
  • Most world music in the United States is performed in university concert halls.
  • This audience would also tend to be mostly female since upwards of 60-70% of all college students in America are female.
Of the many young people seeking a higher education, how many of those students are African-American ? UCLA, which has one of the premiere ethno-musicology departments in the US has an African-American student enrollment of 2% for the coming 2006-2007. The majority of the African-American students at UCLA are student-athletes!
What that means to me is; the African-American audience for world music should be expected to be extremely low. It also suggests that a male African-American is much less likely to be a world music fan that all others.

Maybe I need to prepare a marketing plan for basketball & football players.

The Council of Elders: JA Rogers

JA Rogers (1883-1966) was a world traveler, a prolific writer, an accomplished lecturer, and the first Black war correspondent. Rogers became an anthropologist, historian, journalist and publisher. He was a scholar unparalleled in assembling information about African people, and probably did more to popularize African history than any single writer of the twentieth century.

Joel Augustus Rogers was a man without peer in gathering up and binding the missing pages of African history.

"Rogers came from Jamaica in the West Indies. He settled in Chicago. He eventually took a job as a Pullman porter so he could visit different cities and libraries and do research. I got an interesting story about that. The story was that in a lot of large cities a lot of libraries were for whites only. Black people weren't permitted to go into them. So Rogers had to pay the Pullman conductor to go to the libraries and take out books from them. The conductor said, "Rogers, I believe you're a damn fool. But if you want to throw away your money that way, I'm willing to cooperate."

JA Rogers was a meticulous researcher, astute scholar and very concise writer. He traveled tirelessly on his quest for knowledge which often took him directly to the source for information for his books. While traveling in Europe he frequented libraries, museums, castles and many places of interest that would help to prove Africans had an ancestry and history that the world could and should be proud of. He challenged the biased viewpoint of Eurocentric historians and anthropologist eventually destroying the myth of African inferiority through his books Sex and Race Vol.(1-3)

Rogers worked to prove that color of skin is not what determines intellectual genius and that Africans have contributed much more to the world than what was previously stated.

Rogers was self-financed, self educated, self-published. His collections of works are enormous exstensive complete with detailed references documented ever so carefully to prevent scrutiny of his facts are a testament to his due dilligence, work ethic and commitment to not only African people, but the world, its history and culture.

Rogers was linked to both Haile Selassie and Marcus Garvey, whom he knew from their youth in Jamaica. He wrote regularly for Garvey's UNIA's weekly newspaper, the Negro World. In 1923 he covered the Marcus Garvey trial and he also interviewed Garvey in prison for the New York Amsterdam News in 1926. In 1930 Rogers went to Ethiopia as a correspondent for the New York Amsterdam News to attend the coronation of Haile Selassie I.

A prodigious and meticulous detective, Rogers did exhaustive, primary research into the global history of African people. In 1925 he went to Europe for investigations in the libraries and museums there.His travels made easier by the fact that he spoke Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian and German. In 1927 he returned to Europe for research lasting three years, and journeyed to North Africa during the same period. Between 1930 and 1933 Rogers continued his explorations in Europe, while in 1930, 1935 and 1936 he pursued his researches in Egypt and Sudan.

When publishing houses refused to publish his works, undeterred, Rogers published them himself. All told, J.A. Rogers wrote and published at least sixteen different books and pamphlets. These publications became classic works--works that were circulated primarily in African communities. Rogers' texts covered the entire spectrum of the global African community, from ancient and modern Africa, to Asia, Australia, the South Pacific, Europe and the Western Hemisphere.

Among Rogers' most acclaimed and prominent works are: From Superman to Man, One-Hundred Amazing Facts About the Negro, The Real Facts About Ethiopia, Sex and Race, Nature Knows No Color-Line, and World's Great Men of Color.

Rogers' first publication, From Superman to Man, was published in 1917 and focused on "the stupidity of racism." The book was called; "a genuine treasure," and "the greatest book ever written in English on the Negro by a Negro."

One Hundred Amazing Facts About the Negro With Complete Proof: A Short Cut to the World History of the Negro went through many printings and at least eighteen editions. A singularly provocative quote in One Hundred Amazing Facts About the Negro is by the English scholar and traveler Samuel Purchas (ca. 1575-1626)). According to Rogers, Purchas claimed that "of all (the kings of Ethiopia), Ganges was most famous, who with his Ethiopian army passed into Asia and conquered all as far as the River Ganges, to which he left that name." In the same book Rogers mentioned that "Beethoven, the world's greatest musician, was without a doubt a dark mulatto. He was called `The Black Spaniard.'"

In 1935, dissatisfied with the reporting of news by the White press concerning the Italian invasion and occupation of Ethiopia, Rogers served as war correspondent in Ethiopia for the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper. After returning to the United States in 1936 he published a highly popular illustrated pamphlet entitled The Real Facts About Ethiopia.

Sex and Race was published in three volumes from 1941 to 1944. The first volume focuses on antiquity and is arguably the most fundamental of the three. As to ancient Asia, for example, Rogers devoted several pages of Sex and Race to the Black presence in early Japan. In the process he cites the studies of a number of accomplished scholars and anthropologists, raising the question "were the first Japanese Negroes?"

Other chapters are devoted to "The Negro in Ancient Greece," "Negroes in Ancient Rome and Carthage" and "Were the Jews Originally Negroes?" The appendices of Sex and Race are equally fascinating, focusing on "Black Gods and Messiahs" and the "History of the Black Madonnas." In Volume Two of Sex and Race Rogers examines "racism and race-mixing in the New World," while Volume Three of Sex and Race seeks to define the concept of race itself. Like most of his works, all three volumes of Sex and Race are lavishly illustrated.

"Ethiopians, that is, Negroes, gave the world the first idea of right and wrong
and thus laid the basis of religion and all true culture and civilization."
--Joel Augustus Rogers

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Eight African Intellectuals Everyone Should Know!

J.A.Rogers / Arturo Schomburg

John Henrik Clarke / Yusef Ben-Jochannan / Chancellor Williams

Cheikh Anta Diop

Ivan Van Sertima / Runoko Rashidi

Yesterday I posted a promotional bulletin for this at internet community bulletin board with a provocative question: "Are you proud of your African roots?".
Once opened, the bulletin presented a flash slideshow with the above photos while asking the question: "Do you know who these men are? If you don't, you need to read my blog".

Being an artist means wanting to provoke people to feel or think. I knew full well that the majority of the people who would see this bulletin would have no idea who these great thinkers were. That is my point, why would you know these intellectual minds of the 20th century?
They are not hip-hop music stars or athletic stars. These men are African historians whose contributions to the intellect of the African Diaspora are obscured by the lesser contributions of pseudo intellectual media stars.
In the coming days I would like to further elucidate their contributions.

Listen to: The Teachers by Rasheed Ali & Rain People
From the CD: 'Thunder in the Jungle'

Saturday, July 22, 2006

My Social Experiment: Joining!

This is a duplicate of today's blogpost at

When I first showed up here at this "alternate universe" known as myspace 5 weeks ago I was very apprehensive. I hate the telephone and I hate IM even more, so how would I make out in a world where people could and would contact me often. Being a private person who has been on stage for most of his life, I started performing professionally at age 12, how would I react to previously anonymous strangers having instant access to me. Even though I've been interviewed hundreds of times, how would I react to "somebody who doesn't know me from a can of paint" asking me; "So, what kind of music do you like?" Even worse, how would I react when people say to me; "Tell me about yourself". Not to mention the fact that since I do have some "fans" in other time zones, how would I react to people wanting to have a meaningful 'chat' at inopportune moments. Since I am a good Island boy with impeccable social graces and manners, I knew that I would mostly be able to handle most of these awkward moments gracefully.

Still, my own personality strengths have already been challenged here at myspace. It is in trying to be a gracious person I have unwittingly exposed myself to the very rude underbelly of this mostly shallow myspace.
I have tried to connect to all of the people who have added their thumbnail photo to my little world here. Being a free-flowing spirit that I am, I have at times commented on people's pages. Now, there is my first big mistake!
By taking the seemingly innocuous step of extending myself a bit, I have left myself open to be ignored. This is where the ugly underbelly of myspace can be found, in people being impowered to feel the full extent of their self-importance. A person who ignores you has demoted you to a lesser life form, one who exists merely to give praise or offer weak comments.
Now, this person who ignores you can feel some sense of power at having hundreds of other strangers to similarly ignore.
This is the; "I'm busier than you”, "I'm more important than you" being acted out for an unlimited audience.
Funny, those of us in show business are taught early on to make time for 'fans' and well wishers because without them we cannot exist. For those who have never played in front of thousands of people or appeared in any media such as: radio, TV, etc. this must be exhilarating to feel important.
For me, it reminds me that, though I've been unusually not as busy as normal these past 5 weeks, I don't have excess time to waste writing people who have not mastered the art of their self-induced celebrity.
So, as the old adage goes: "Nothing ventured nothing lost". If I don't want to be exposed to just how rude humans can be then I should not be driven by my own good social skills to waste my time.
I am very thankful that a small audience of people at myspace has grown from 1 person to (last count) 833 odd people in a few weeks. I am not as thankful for finding out that some people don't even come here to listen to anything at all; they just drop off their photo so that they can have some other anonymous stranger to ignore. I had one girl send me a message: "So, what kind of music do you play?" She hadn't heard not one note!
Now, my Caribbean manners can easily give way to my New York ghetto self but I've got to "keep the devil down in the hole".
Sure, I wanted to say: "So, why the fuck did you come to my page?" but really I don't cuss though I have that lexicon at my disposal. Don't we all?
I have too many instances to recount already in such a short time. Being an Aries with a short attention span means that each time I feel underappreciated for my efforts I 'm reminded that I'm wasting my time.
So, as I am about to go on the road for the month of August I don't think I'll bring my laptop with me!
If I did bring my laptop I would be reminded that while Israel invades Lebanon, some great thinker here has posted another mindless survey.
If I bring my laptop with me I will be reminded that as the US tries to annex all of the Middle East oil and gas prices here in Cali are $3.75 per gallon, somebody is asking me to see how sexy they look in their bikini.
I've got to "keep the devil in the hole" and hold my tongue so I will not be bringing my laptop with me.
I am a musician; I love my art, my craft, and my work. I play music to share with others. If someone listens then my mission on the planet has been fulfilled and one day I shall rest in peace. Anyone who is reading this blog is probably somebody who I would never refer to as being shallow. It means that you are in some way a potential friend because you are like me; a person who talks to and listens to the postman and the clerk at the store and the waitress at the club when I play a gig.
I have talked to people in small villages who had no idea where in the world I came from but we bonded as humans. I have had conversations that were partly in 'sign language' because we only shared a smattering of words but spoke different languages. If you are like me then you already understand that ignoring any human being is a function of some ugly world.
When I was kid I was amazed at how island people would always greet everyone, perfect strangers! Sure, sometimes it was a shy nod and grunt of a "good day" but a human acknowledgement none the less.
I love the "third world" because this way of being human largely still exists there. The third world is crowded and busy but still people find it really hard to totally ignore one another.
Until the next road trip I endure the "first world", including this one.

Friday, July 21, 2006

An Angel on a Mission

Roberto Clemente: Afro-Boricua hero

His eyes towards the heavens in this photo,
maybe Roberto Clemente saw his final destination.
The Hall fo Fame baseball player died
while attempting a humanitarian air lift of several tons
of supplies for Nicaragua's earthquake victims in 1972.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

That Place...

Have you been to that place where the world ends?
Have you been to that place where all the noise stops?
That place where the sound of your own heartbeat commands your attention.
When the noise stops, you are reminded that you are alive.
The sound of the air leaving your lungs, each breath magnified.
Suddenly, you can feel every bit of space that you command.
You can feel where you begin and where you end.
You know that you 're alive.

Listen to The Trance
From the CD: "Thunder in the Jungle"

Monday, July 17, 2006

Hot, Hot, Hot or The Modern Day Minstrel Show

Being a musician has its funny moments.

Like every other musician in the world, I have had to play all kinds of gigs to survive (pay bills, eat, etc.).
Like every other musician on the planet, I have played every musician's nightmare gig; weddings!
Being a Caribbean musician means having certain experiences that only we can relate to.

One such phenomenon is that we would always be asked by the party planner if we could wear "something islandy". Islandy? is that even a word?
Every party planner has the same request; for the band to look like fun.

We already had the steel pans and congas.
"Can you guys wear a flowery shirt?"
We island musicians call these gigs the; "white pants & island shirt" gigs.
I have played thousands of these gigs!
I always dutifully wore the costume that helps provide comfort to our hosts.
This reminds them of their vacation in the sunny Caribbean.

Of course, their Caribbean is very different from mine.
My Caribbean is about going home to mom & dad and brother, etc.
My Caribbean isn't based upon a ‘hedonism tour’ and pina coladas.
My Caribbean is about getting away from them and their world, their television, their food, their clock, their stress, their jobs and their bosses.
For two weeks or ten days they are our best friends, they are happy to be in my Caribbean, happy to waited upon by such ‘polite, warm and friendly people'.

Just like the travel brochure had said they would be!
Then they go home where they truly run things.
For two weeks or ten days I deal with family issues, our flexible Caribbean clock, more family issues and our gentle way of living each day.
Though my Caribbean is as imperfect as the rest of this world, I understand it and its inhabitants.
In my Caribbean I am free, even though I can not quantify what this 'freedom’ is but I can feel it.

Surely, my Caribbean has changed drastically from that of my childhood but no matter how many American restaurants or shopping malls are built, we resist some part of their world. Yes, the older people do lament how the Caribbean's youth is becoming slack and unruly. But their remains an innocence in the eyes that is captured in every one of the photos that I've taken when I'm home.
There is something profound that remains unchanged in my people. It's there, in my photographs, when I return from the island. A true smile, the kind of smile that I’ve rarely ever seen in this country. It is a smile that continues to resist becoming totally like them.

The Caribbean smiles that I capture with my camera are very unlike the smiles that we island musicians show to the drunken party goers. We were always safely hidden behind our ‘polite, warm and friendly’ travel brochure smiles. Grin and bear it, Caribbean style. Many of these gigs were an endurance test to see if I could make it through the obstacle course of human interaction that is flawed by others perceived racial stereotypes.

The song we always played at the end of every gig was; “Hot, Hot, Hot” by Arrow.
Americans always break into a drunken conga line at some point in this song, almost as if on cue.
For me this song always signaled the merciless end to another minstrel show that I had endured for the sake of survival. The smiles on our ‘polite, warm and friendly’ faces meant we could leave your world now.

Thanks for the check.

Friday, July 14, 2006

I Love The Jungle

The jungle is so alive. In the tropics the cycle of life is accelerated. Whatever dies in the jungle regenerates within days. The transmutation of life energy plays out on a daily basis. A lifeless animal carcass seems to magically disappear. In its place, the electric green sprouts of budding life.Could this be the true meaning of reincarnation?

Listen to: "La Naturaleza" from the CD: "Agua que va a Caer"

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

From Africa to the Americas: Acarajé

One of Bahia's many baianas selling Brasil's famous street food: Acarajé

Is Brasil's most famous street food.
You can also find this deep-fried black eyed peas fritter on the streets of Lagos,Nigeria.
And in Jamaica the very same fritter is referred to by its proper Yoruba name: Akkra.
There is a story behind the reason why Northeastern Brasil's African descendents
call the fritter acarajé.
The street vendors used to sing a song to attract customers.
The song urged people to "come and eat acara."
The yoruba word for eat is: jé.
Eventually the fritter's name was corrupted
into the present: Acarajé.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Wall Mural in Loiza

This mural depicts the traditional Afro-Boricua Dance form:Bomba

Friday, July 07, 2006

Sacred Passion

Those people, who are my closest friends, know that besides being a musician I am a drum maker. When I discovered this passion for creating musical instruments I was swept away. I did not make one or two drums, I made a few hundred. Each drum that I have made has been a meditative channeling of my African-Caribbean heritage. Maybe I came from a family of artisans, maybe this desire to create musical instruments was dormant in my DNA? One thing I am sure of, whenever I have made a drum, I felt as if I was in the presence of my ancestors. Each drum, each shekere felt as if it were a small piece of a spiritual jigsaw puzzle. The need to fashion more and more instruments came from the feeling that each instrument was only a small part of me. In order for me to feel more complete, I would have to fashion many more drums. The truth is, I feel this same compulsion when I write music. Each song is a part of distinct story that carries me away. At first the destination is totally unknown; where am I being led to? When I recorded the CD: "Thunder in the Jungle" I was led to tell an entire story of being an African in the Americas. It didn't start out like that but (22) tracks later, it had turned into an epic. My best friend called me after I sent him the first dub and he tells me: "Rasheed, I love the music but don't you think (22) tracks is too much?"
So, I tried to edit the number of songs down but each song told me: "No! Not me!"
Suddenly I was apologetic for the breadth of my creative vision, I never want to be long-winded.
Still, the spirits would not loosen their grip on me and I kept all (22) songs. Ultimately, my sacred passions will always over rule my logic. My brain cannot rule my spirit.

Hear my Handmade Calabash Drums: "The Empty Vessel Speaks"

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Power of Dreams

I am still a dreamer, maybe it's because I have not yet realized all of my dreams. Sometimes the glow of our dreams begins to dim. Sometimes the motivation for our dreams weakens and our resolve to succeed loses its edge. When that moment arrives, we need inspiration. Inspiration is a new breath, a new burst of life force. My oldest son is my inspiration. He inspires me to continue to dream. He inspires me to dust off my dreams and make them shine again. He inspires me because he has his own brilliant dreams to polish. His dreams might be alot like my dreams but they are his alone. When I look at this CD cover that he created for his "one day to be released" CD, I know the power of dreams.

Mr.Kareem, my hero.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Secret of the Drums

Our colonial masters were never able to successfully take our drums away. In the Caribbean, and in much of Central and South America, our music retained much of its authentic African identity because we continued to play our African drums. We were not forced to create entirely new forms that were largely based upon a European musical model as were our cousins in North America. We had no need to transform classical piano pieces into ragtime. We had no need to channel our African desires into foreign marching band instruments. We had no need to bottle up all of our emotions until they exploded into this thing phenomena called Jazz. We were not relegated to telling our stories with one lonely guitar or fiddle. We did not invent the blues. That is not to say that we did not have any pain. We had pain but we also had our drums. With our drums we retained our African ways of storytelling. Sure, we had to hide our sacred ceremonies but we did not have to change the way we spoke to our God. We did not have to invent any new forms of praise or devotion. We did not have to hide the fierce power of our rhythms or hide the fertility of our thrusting, suggestive hips. I am not saying that they did not try, as they did in the American colonies, to impose laws that banned the playing of the African drums. I am saying that they were never able to break the code of the secret of the drums.

hear: the secret of the drums
from the cd: thunder in the jungle

Monday, July 03, 2006

A colony by any other name is still a colony.

La isla Del Encanto?
Encantado con la vida,me amo el cielo azul
Entonces, recuerdo que sigue siendo una colonia
Pero cuando estoy bailando,me siento la magia
Hasta un turista me pisa el pie

English: "The Island of Enchantment"

Enchanted with life, I love the blue sky
Then, I recall that we are still a colony
But when I am dancing, I feel the magic
Until a tourist steps on my foot

Independence Day is a celebration in the 50 states but for a country with "commonwealth" status, it is a day for some of us to reflect. I can't help but think that a colony by any name is still a colony.

*Puerto Rico is referred to as: 'la isla del encanto'

Listen to:Qua, Qua, Qua
From the CD: "Agua que va a Caer"

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Invisible Island?

The US government has tried to isolate Cuba from the rest of the Caribbean.
The largest island in the Caribbean, Cuba 's influence in the region and in the world can never be silenced.
Cuba's importance to people of African is unfathomable. For musicians like myself, Cuba occupies a sanctified place. In Cuba, our African culture was preserved with more reverence than in any other place in the New World. Nowhere in the Americas does so much of Africa yet live! There is no other country in the Americas where so many words have been integrated into the patois of the people. Not even the vast country of Brasil, where formerly enslaved Africans formed Quilombo settlements, can they boast of the cultural retention of as many African ethnic groups.
The diverse musical lexicon of traditional African rhythms found in Cuba warrants an exhaustive search. Ethno-musicologists have proven to be very resourceful in finding their way to Cuba. It is a place where my own personal musical pilgrimage must take me before I depart from this world. No economic blockade or trade embargo can keep Cuba from our souls and hearts.

There is a saying in Puerto Rico: "Cuba y Puerto Rico son dos alas del mismo pajaro". Translated into English: "Cuba and Puerto Rico are two birds of the same bird!"

Anyone who has listened to the forms of rumba, mambo, danzon, cha-cha or son montuno knows the veracity of that saying. I grew up listening to all of the traditional Yoruba liturgical chants and my musical lexicon of traditional African rhythms derives from the same source.
The history of the two islands is tightly intertwined though today's political climate might seem to defy that truth. Puerto Rico's military occupation increased greatly after the Cuban revolution. The symbiotic relationship of the two islands was never overlooked by political and military strategists. Many in Washington feared that Cuba's' little brother would attempt to follow suit after the revolution. Puerto Rico's post-colonial political status and fate were sealed after Fidel Castro's successful overthrow of the corrupt Batista regime.
There after, only in New York and Miami could the two island's ex-patriot musicians collaborate. The resulting modern hybrid has been called: "Salsa" (sp. 'sauce').
For me, this term for the music is ridiculous and I absolutely hate it! I always refer to the music by its proper name: Son Montuno or by whatever style it is; son chanqui, colombia, etc.

Until I actually get to Cuba, I can continue to listen to the music that eludes the blockade and dream.

Listen to: La Isla Invisible
From the CD: "Agua que va a Caer"