Thursday, September 28, 2006

Part-2: We protected our ideas without weapons

"La Mala Lengua" / Cuba / a warning to those who tell

We preserved our ideas without books and we protected our ideas without weapons.

The concept of secret fraternal orders was not foreign to Africans.
In a hostile new world; secrecy was survival. The art of secrecy had already been ritualized for Africans. Males and females each had their clandestine rites of passage. The traditions of sacred societies such as the: Sacred Grove, Oro, Ogboni, Poro and Ikuma were well established before the slave trade.
Long before contact with Europeans; the Africans held to the principle that the truly sanctified should be guarded, concealed and secluded. The dense landscape of the tropics made it easier for Africans in the Caribbean to sequester their religion and their true identity. Of the colonial masters; it was the English who most actively prevented and prohibited Africans to openly congregate. The Portuguese and Spaniards were at times more negligent in preventing mass gatherings of Africans. The historical result is that in both Cuba and Brasil, the two most populous colonies, enslaved Africans were more able to establish places of worship. Mandatory convertion to Catholicism created the pretense that allowed for the practice of the syncretic "Santeria" and Candomble. However, the negligence of the Iberian colonizers cannot be confused with sanction and liberty. Both the Portuguese and Spanish were as ruthless as the English, Dutch and French; as the historical record provides.
The need for secrecy as the rule for preservation of the most important icons was persistent among all enslaved Africans. Only the initiated could be entrusted with the important task of preserving the wisdom of the ancestors. As it was in Africa, so it was in the Americas;not everyone or anyone was entitled or vested in the sacred. Eventually, the immutable bonds of cult members was the foundation for revolts and rebellions.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Part-1: Preserving an Idea

This is an interesting photograph from contemporary Central Africa. These salesmen are selling their faux Western clothing wares; jeans, big t-shirts and the like. The photographer said that they were all very pleased to explain to him that they were "real niggers" who had all the latest hip-hop styles for Africa. It may seem, at first glance, amazing that any African would be pleased with himself for being a "nigger". It might startle one to think that contemporary American culture could so easily trump African sensibities. It might surprise any sane person that such an injurious word, that so easily escaped the vitriolic mouths of racists, could find a home on the revered continent of the Maroons. We who fought to preserve every taste of herb, every sacred drum beat, every nuance of culture that we could inject into a foreign tongue.
We are apalled! We who created secret societies in order to honor our ancestors' memories; are apalled! We shall put a curse on the deaf, dumb and blind. Those who are deaf to the muffled cries of our mothers and fathers. Those who are dumb and numb to the sensations of a collective soul. Those whose eyes are veiled to the brilliance of ideas preserved without books. Those are the accursed, the damned. After centuries of dreams. After centuries of memories. After centuries of yearning to be like them, now we can finally travel back through the middle passage to discover that they no longer exist.
Yet, my people know. My island people know that which they always knew.
The great undiscovered land of ideas that we preserved without books.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

"Fica no Brasil" (Stay in Brasil) Underground Version

Artist: Rasheed Ali & Rain People
CD:Tristeza e Beleza na Cidade Negra
(Sadness & Beauty in the Black City)
Label:Digital Rain Factory 2005

Rasheed ali composed and recorded this music in Salvador da Bahia, Brasil in 2005.

Tristeza e Beleza (Underground Version)

Artist:Rasheed Ali & Rain People
CD:Tristeza e Beleza na Cidade Negra
Label:Digital Rain Factory

Sunday, September 24, 2006

ñáñigo / Abakuá


I am not only an African drum maker, I also repair drums.
I replace the goatskin heads on djembe drums. When I work with drums I always feel as if I am doing something that one of my ancestors had done long before me. I feel as though I am channeling this wisdom from the great beyond of my ancestors.
I was never formerly instructed in the art of drum making by anyone. Yet, I can say that I was instructed in drum making by guiding spirits. I have made hundreds of drums and my drums have been featured in two major museum exhibitions.

One day I repaired some drums for Onoche Chukwurah who is an Igbo storyteller from Eastern Nigeria. We were having a typically enlightening conversation about African and Afro-Caribbean culture. I can't remember how it occurred in the conversation but he said that he thought I should investigate the Efik culture in relationship to my own Caribbean bloodlines.

Some things that happen to me are quite esoteric and difficult to explain; in terms of my knowledge of Africa and my ancestors. I have always been able to identify "what comes from where". I've always been able to understand Africa in a way that only historians can. Many times in my passionate research of African culture, I would innately know the answer to the question. Research would only validate that which I knew or felt before hand. My psychic connection to my ancestors is simply something I took for granted. It is not anything that academics would respect without research. Maybe my real quest is to prove to others the validity of my psychic knowledge.

Something esoteric was sparked in me by Onoche's comment about the Efik ethnic group. Earlier, I had told my older brother (who shares my passion for African cultural research) that I had a feeling that we had some connections in our family to the area of Nigeria referred to as the Cross River Delta. It is the southwestern region that borders Cameroon. The region is also referred to as Calabar.

When one thinks of the ethnic groups that have discernible cultural influence in the Caribbean the major groups that come to mind are Yoruba, Bakongo, Ashanti, Mande and Fon. We can very easily see, hear and feel their influences. The Yoruba gave us the liturgy and musical foundation of La Regla de Ocha & Shango. The Bakongo gave us many musical instruments and spiritual concepts beside Palo Mayombe. The Ashanti brought many fine arts and a joyous non-secular music and dance. The Mande, like the Yoruba, brought the civic organization of former city-state dwellers. The Fon brought the powerful way of Vodun. Some other groups contributing to the Caribbean's culture were the nomadic Hausa & Fulani who were adept at agrarian skills and animal herding. What about the Efik? My friend Onoche suggested that the Efik contributions could be seen in the majority of the colorful carnival costumes.

I had heard the Abakuá music of Cuba since I was a kid but I thought it was just a kind of Yoruba music. I did not know then what I know now; the Abakuá Secret Society is a male-only fraternal order. Abakuá members derive their culture from the Efik and Efo of the Cross River Delta in Nigeria. I thought that Abakuá existed only in Cuba, now I know otherwise. The Abakuá society went beyond Cuba to Puerto Rico and Trinidad. I have seen the name Calabar used as a designation of ethnicity before; on the manifest of Puerto Rico bound Spanish slave ships.

When I was younger, my mother would always refer to ñáñigo whenever she referred to traditional African religion. She never said Lucumi, Santeria, Obeah,Vodun or Palo. As far as I was concerned, there were some unexplained spirit concepts that I didn't understand but I only knew one word to describe them: ñáñigo. It was a word that I heard my mother and my grandmother use often but I thought Lucumi and ñáñigo were one and the same. When I got older I mistook ñáñigo for ñágo. What I did not realize is that ñáñigo and Abakuá are the same. Some people say that the secret society practiced a malevolent sorcery, still others disagree.

Looking at the Abakuá ceremonial costume I see some similarities with some of the masquerade costumes in Ponce. I am especially drawn to the fact that the mask and costume have a leopard spot pattern. This is intriguing because the leopard is a symbol of power for the Abakuá. Since my mother and grandmother only used this word ñáñigo for certain occult practices or occurrences I feel that I must do my research to understand more.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Living Dead...

It is the nightmare that I am living. It is the night of the living dead.
They are walking the streets next to me. They are in the car next to me on the freeway. They are at the grocery store, on line in front of me, on line behind me. They are everywhere; the living dead. They just bought the house next to mine. I see them on the television.I hear them on 'talk radio'. At least they are not 'here' reading my blog. I am happy for that. I do not have to worry about them being 'here' because they cannot read. The living dead have eyes but they cannot read. Here; I am safe!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

What Does Any Of This Have To Do With Music?

When I pick up my telephone these days it makes a terrible sound. It's a sound that you used to hear years ago when you were making an overseas call. It's an odd sound because we know that telephones can be tapped silently but somebody made a mistake with my phone. This odd sound is an obvious reminder that someone out there thinks that I am worthy of a wire tap.

Could it be because I'm a World Music Musician?
Is it because I'm a Recording Artist who has recorded several CDs?
Is it because somebody out there has heard one of my songs on the local World Music Radio show?
Is it because somebody read one of my Blog postings and decided they'd rather hear my actual voice instead?
Is it because I've been interviewed by the L.A.Times Sunday Section?
Is it because I my art work was included in a Smithsonian Institute Traveling Exhibition? Maybe It's because I've been on a National Television Commercial that ran for a few years, it must be that, right?

Or is it because the last name on my passport is: Ali and I've taken a few plane trips in my life?

Before September 11, 2001; I was never asked to exit the passenger boarding line on an international flight and interogated by the Federal Police of a foreign country.

Before September 11, 2001; I never noticed well dressed, clean-cut individuals sitting in sensible American sedans parked outside my tree lined residential street.

Of course that was before the dawning of The New World Order:Part-2.
Does any of this have anything to do with music, anyway? So guys, please tell the other guys
(on the silent end of my telephone) that I'm just a musician.

Oh yeah, if you've never heard my music and you're not a fan, please tell the guys at Homeland Security that I need CD Sales badly.
I'm on iTUNES and many other download sites like; Rhapsody, Napster, etc.
Hey! I'm even on Verizon Ringtones, in fact in Japan you can download my music to your telephone guys. I just want to make your surveillance down-time pleasureable and interesting. Just trying to do my part for National Security. I figure we don't want any miserable D.H.S. agents out there without any cool sounds on their iPOD.
If all else fails, how about the next time I make an out going call, I can blare my music into the telephone. Ok? I know it sounds ghetto but then you can make a mix tape of my conversations and my music and download it to your iPOD.

On second thought; can you guys just go to and purchase my CD ? If you're really cheap, you can download my individual songs for $.99! Please guys, help me out here!

Anyway, sorry I'm so long winded guys but then again you guys already know that I hate the telephone. Duh! Give my regards to John Ashcroft... Oh, that's right...he's not with you guys anymore. Peace!

To Get DHS /FBI / CIA Special Discount on all Rasheed Ali & Rain People CDs Click This Link!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

What is this unique love that we Island People share?

Sure, all people have some sort of attachment to their homeland, their people, their culture or their region. Many people have some tribal attachment to their race or color but few people share the unique bond that Caribbean people share.

In order to understand this phenomena we must first look at the name Caribbean and its origins.
If you look at most sources they claim that the region was named for the indigenous Carib Indian Tribe. Historical evidence affirms the Arawak, Taino, Ciboney, Kaniripbuna (Garifuna) & Lucayan tribal names but what about the name Carib? There is no evidence that the indigenous people called themselves Carib. In fact they called themselves: the Kalinago. It was the Europeans who called these people the Caribs. While Christopher Columbus was still on first voyage he picked up the word, or something like it, from the Tainos on the Greater Antilles. Why is understanding the name Carib important to my essay on the region?

My knowledge of Arabic led me to contemplate the mistake with the name.
I think it is really interesting that the Arabic word: Qaribun translates as; something that is close in proximity or related. Qaribeena would refer to; several things in close proximity or relationship, relatives or kin. What is easily overlooked is the fact that many crew members among Christopher Columbus' expedition spoke Arabic as well as Spanish. The sailors would obviously had commented on the relative sameness of the tropical island chain that arcs from Trinidad to Cuba. They would also have marveled at the relatively short nautical distance between islands. It is easy to imagine the sailors calling these islands: the Caribbean Islands.

The feeling of kinship among Caribbean people is stronger now then ever before. In today's post-colonial Caribbean the boundaries of language are being erased. Bob Marley was at first embraced as a Jamaican hero then as a West Indian hero but now the entire region celebrates him as a Caribbean hero. Whether people speak French, Spanish, Dutch, English or Portuguese there is a great pride in a Caribbean culture that easily translates from island to island. As our traditional African rhythms can attest, the veracity of our roots bears witness not to our colonial masters but to our African ancestors. Our unique preservation of religion, food preparation, language syntax, customs and artistic culture is staggering. Yoruba elders in Nigeria were recently amazed at how well Yoruba language and rituals were preserved in Cuba after hundreds of years removed from Africa. Elements of the two most powerful ethnic groups are easily distinguished among the Caribbean's traditions. The Congo (Bantu) left their spiritual outlook and cultural mark on every island. The well organized Yoruba left their powerful religious influence and fraternal concepts. The cultural influence of these dominant groups helps to link the islands in a profound way. Despite the colonial efforts to decentralize the unity of enslaved Africans. The 'Creole Africans' of the Caribbean found a way to form a cultural consensus for their traditions. The resulting cultural confederation allowed all of the Diaspora's ethnic groups to contribute to the Afro-Caribbean culture. The proportions of the ethnic mix was different from island to island. In some islands there might have been more Mandinka or Mande, on other islands more Akan or Aja peoples. The melting pot of the Caribbean begins with the mix of Africans not to mention the host of would-be colonizers. Some islands changed hands several times, leaving a mix of disparate European influences to compliment the African mix.

Thanks to the landscape of urban centers in the United States, Caribbean immigrants are forging yet another identity as they create a new Creole mix for the 21st century. Today, island people are interacting with each other more than ever. Despite the close proximity of the Caribbean islands, inter-island travel was not necessarily easy in the past!
Urban centers like Toronto, Brooklyn, Miami, Boston, Washington DC, London,etc. are helping to facilitate social intercourse & intermarriage among Caribbean people. As we reclaim our real heritage I expect we will discard the false mantel of colonial identity. I expect we will identify less with the French-Caribbean, the English Caribbean, the Spanish Caribbean or the Dutch Caribbean.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Hurricane on the Horizon

My last post was about how difficult it can be to "block out" the world and just create.
Artist live in the world and sometimes our art is an escape from this world.
Other times our art is a commentary or an exposé of the world that we know.
Either way, my music is my life and my life is my music.
I am about to return to the recording studio to record a new CD: "Hurricane on the Horizon".
It has as its inspiration ; Hurricane Katrina.
The songs for this CD are about the bulding firestorms in the world today. There are many storms on the horizon, not unlike Katrina, many people are not heeding the signs.

Listen: Thunder in the Jungle

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Trying to Stay Creative When Hatred is Everywhere

I have devoted the majority of my life to the pursuit of my Art, my Craft: Music.
Despite my devotion to my creative forces, I do not worship music. Music is not my God!
Music is, however, the means that I utilize to serve my God. What does that really mean?
It means that I am an extreme pacifist that has found the same state of transcendent peace in music as I have on the prayer rug.
I have found the same trance-inducing intoxication in the dynamism of my drumming as I have in the recitation of my prayers.
I have expressed the joy of lyricism with my piano and my compositions just as I have earnestly delivered the call to prayer.
By remaining creative in the face of fascist hatred; I honor the ultimate creative potentiality of the universe.
When the ugliness of loud voices threatens to render my altruism paralyzed; I make a joyful noise.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Autumn; the gathering time.

I love September! It is the ninth month of the year and it is a month with a powerful vibration. It is not by chance that school begins in September. It is a month that demands our attention. It is a gathering time for our personal year. We must set aside the freedom of summer and collect our thoughts for year's end. I always felt that September was a very serious, no nonsense month. September gives us a chance to take stock in ourselves and gather our strengths to expand or clarify our vision. In September people feel a sense of resurgence and return to business. I love September. My dreams are renewed come September. I have big plans for Rain People! It's September! Rejoice!

Monday, September 04, 2006

"Bastards of the Party"

Sometimes a movie or book title can confound or mislead.
When a new friend invited me to see a screening of "Bastards of the Party" I was both confounded and misled by the title of this documentary movie.
Though I didn't have any preconceived notions about what journalistic stance the movie would take on Los Angeles street gangs, I didn't like the title. Maybe I assumed that I wouldn't find any redeeming qualities in a film about L.A. 's Bloods and Crips. As an educator, I am no stranger to gangs having worked with incarcerated youth throughout Los Angeles. I always felt that street gangs were a misguided criminal fraternity that was killing our inner cities. This film goes further in depth than any documentary I've ever seen on this subject.
Maybe the brilliance of this film owes to the fact that it is directed by an insider, a Bloods member. The film neither condemns nor glorifies the ethos or pathology of gang-banging but it explains the history that has heretofore escaped the vision of outsiders. I never knew that the gangs ever had any political affiliation or revolutionary agenda. This documentary opened my eyes to the political perversion of the Black Nationalist movement that created L.A.'s infamous street gangs. This film illuminates a necessary missing link in our African-American history, it should become required educational material for one and all. After you see this film, the odd title makes perfect sense to you.

Bastards of the Party is the award-winning HBO documentary which traces the history of black gangs in Los Angeles. The film, directed by non-active Bloods member Cle "Bone" Sloan, provides viewers with insight into the complex and compelling history of the Los Angeles based Bloods and Crips.

This is a chance to see the film before it runs on the HBO network early next year. Also, lookout for the film's companion book to be released by One World/Ballantine in March 2007.