Good Vibes | Music, Hope, and Monochrome Mayhem

I always want to talk about important subjects, but with hope. Music is supposed to heal people. — Fatoumata Diawara

At the beginning of the year, I thought I’d focus on developing my monochrome photography skills, but life got in the way. Before I pressed pause on that venture, though, I was able to coordinate and complete two “Monthly Monochrome Mayhem” swaps in the “A Thousand Words” group on swap-bot.

Through the swaps, I made another photographer friend, Betty H., from the United Kingdom. She does a lot of concert photography, so she shared photos from a show at Birmingham Town Hall that featured Fatoumata Diawara and Staff Benda Bilili, singers from the continent of Africa.

Diawara is a Malian singer-song writer and actor whose music:

draws elements of jazz and funk into an exquisitely sparse contemporary folk sound – refracting the rocking rhythms and plaintive melodies of her ancestral Wassoulou tradition through an instinctive pop sensibility. At the centre of the music is Fatou’s warm, affecting voice, spare, rhythmical guitar playing and gorgeously melodic songs that draw powerfully on her own often troubled experience.  –from Fatoumata Diawara’s Facebook Page.

Diawara opened for Staff Benda Bilili, a group of disabled street musicians from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The group consists of:

Four senior singer/guitarists sitting on spectacularly customized tricycles, occasionally dancing on the floor of the stage, arms raised in joyful supplication, are the core of the band, backed by a younger, all-acoustic, rhythm section pounding out tight beats. Over the top of this are weird, infectious guitar-like solos performed by a [young] prodigy on a one-string electric lute he designed and built himself out of a tin can. –from Staff Benda Bilili’s Facebook Page

The name of the group translates roughly to “see beyond [appearances].”

Betty says the musicians were “a joy to photograph.” I can tell! There’s so much energy in the photos that I can feel the good vibes.

The spark is even more apparent in the original color photos.

Aren’t the photos spectacular? Betty confessed that she frequently converts concert photographs to monochrome because “working around the choices of the lighting technicians” can be challenging. I see her point, but I love the mysterious aura of the color photos too.

Indie Week’s interview of Fatoumata Diawara outlines her philosophies of music and life. And if you have never heard this soulful singer, please take a listen to Fatou, her debut album.

And then, turn to the rhythmic fusion of soukous (influenced by rumba), rhythm and blues, and reggae found in the music of Staff Benda Bilili.

As Diawara points out, there’s a lot of difficulty in life. There’s also hope, joy, and laughter, which make the tough stuff bearable. I feel all of this in the music of Staff Benda Bilili and Fatoumata Diawara. Don’t you?

Until next time…

#ThursdayTreeLove | You’ve Got a Place Here Too

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots. –Marcus Garvey

It rained so much during the last two weeks that my heart sang whenever the rain ceased or the sun brightened the skies–even if for only a few moments. As always, I took every opportunity to note the trees.

For some reason I was most drawn to the interaction of the trees: Trees touching. Bare trees mingling with half-dressed trees. Signs of spring and winter in one shot.

I enjoyed witnessing the elements of nature conspiring to push us toward certain awakening.

I read Nikki Giovanni’s poem, “BLK History Month,” earlier today, and I realized how often we use trees to underscore the importance of Black history and presence. And since the final #ThursdayTreeLove of the month falls on the last day of Black History Month (BHM) this year,  I’m ending with Giovanni’s poem, which uses a tree [?] analogy to challenge the argument that BHM is not needed.

“BLK History Month”
If Black History Month is not
viable then wind does not
carry the seeds and drop them
on fertile ground
rain does not
dampen the land
and encourage the seeds
to root
sun does not
warm the earth
and kiss the seedlings
and tell them plain:
You’re As Good As Anybody Else
You’ve Got A Place Here, Too
Nikki Giovanni, from Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea

I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Walk with Truth

Children, who made your skin white? Was it not God? Who made mine black? Was it not the same God? Am I to blame, therefore, because my skin is black? …. Does not God love colored children as well as white children? And did not the same Savior die to save the one as well as the other? –Sojourner Truth

I chuckled to myself when I realized the reason for today’s Google Doodle. Initially, I wondered why Sojourner Truth. Did the google gods discover today is her birthday? Then, it occurred to me today is the first day of Black History Month (BHM).

Why the chuckle? Because it’s predictable.

Sojourner Truth–like Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman–is almost always brought up when discussing anything related to Black history.

Do I mind? Not really.

I like Sojourner Truth. I like her moxie. I love how she stood up for herself when the odds were most certainly against her. There are a lot of amazing lessons in her life.

Today, I opened class by talking briefly with my first-year students about not allowing themselves to  be so focused on the mountain in the distance that they render themselves incapable of taking the tiny day-to-day steps that make conquering the mountain achievable.

I wish I’d thought to weave some of Sojourner Truth’s life into that brief talk.

Sojourner Truth didn’t look at the mountains in front of her and freeze with fear or run in the opposite direction. She didn’t see the obstacles of her skin color, her gender, or her status as enslaved person as barriers to conquering the insurmountable. As a result, among many other “unlikely” accomplishments, she won a lawsuit against her former “owner” who sold her son into slavery after the State of New York had declared slavery illegal. And while we haven’t quite figured out whether Sojourner Truth said “Ain’t I a woman?” or “Ar’n’t I a woman?” in her famous speech at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, the reality is even if she never said a single word, the fact that she showed up to a party she wasn’t invited to and insisted on her Black presence and humanity says enough for me.

She literally walked the path to freedom in her own truth and with a righteous insistence on her own humanness. As long as she held on to the essential value of her personhood, no racial or gender mountain could stand in the way of her truth.


The art above is part of the “Celebrating Women” banners that were on display at The Lower Eastside Girls Club’s Celebrate Cafe in New York City when I visited several years ago. If I remember correctly, each piece of art added to the banner was created by a young woman who was involved in the Club.

If you want to know more about Sojourner Truth, click any of the links above, particularly the Google link.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. | Self-love and Soul Work

One of the most amazing experiences I had last year was traveling to Montgomery, Alabama [with a colleague and several Huntsville area K-12 teachers] and walking the path where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began his activism. We often discuss King’s leading the fight for Civil Rights in this country with emphasis on his practice of non-violent/passive resistance. But, while he worked to build bridges between blacks and whites during one of the most turbulent eras of United States racial history, King also addressed the need for African Americans to resist the stigmatization of blackness. He urged us to love ourselves in spite of our country’s ingrained propensity to chip away at any inclination we possess toward authentic self-love and acceptance.

King would have been 90 today, and since his birthday falls during Pics and Posts’ “Self-love Week,” I am sharing an excerpt from a speech that encourages self-love.

I come here tonight to plead with you. Believe in yourself and believe that you are somebody. I said to a group last night: Nobody else can do this for us. No document can do this for us. No Lincolnian emancipation proclamation can do this for us. No Johnsonian Civil Rights bill can do this for us.

If the Negro is to be free, he must move down into the inner resources of his own soul and sign with a pen and ink of self-assertive manhood his own emancipation proclamation.

Don’t let anybody take your manhood. Be proud of our heritage…we don’t have anything to be ashamed of.

Somebody told a lie one day. They couched it in language. They made everything “black” ugly and evil. Look in your dictionaries and see the synonyms of the word “black.” It’s always something degrading and low and sinister. Look at the word “white,” it’s always something pure, high and clean. Well, I want to get the language right tonight.

I want to get the language so right that everyone here will cry out: ‘Yes, I’m Black, I’m proud of it. I’m Black and I’m beautiful!”

And because MLK’s speeches are best experienced aurally:

King spoke specifically to African Americans in this speech, but there’s something in his speech for everyone. Dig deep and do the work. Love the skin you’re in. Find within you that which is good and strong and beautiful.

Perhaps, if everyone took the time to love themselves the world wouldn’t be such a mess! We wouldn’t have to feast on fear and hatred or make ourselves sick building superficial lives in search of acceptance by others.

People who love themselves love people. People who love themselves are beautiful. People who love themselves use their energy and resources to build up others, not tear down and destroy.

Self-love is work, but one of the best ways we express self-love is through the soul work of loving others.

 

Voting: Your Right and Responsibility

Protest Art on display at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Since we are heading to the polls in a couple of days, I decided to share a two-minute video reminding Americans why we must vote. In the video, my 83-year-old relative recounts her experience with attempted voter suppression and finally casting her first vote for U.S. President.

I’ve heard far too many “reasons” people don’t vote or didn’t vote in this or that election. As Cousin Marie declares, “your vote is where your rights are.” A decision not to vote may eventually lead to revocation of certain rights.

Despite the struggle between Democrats and Republicans that is constantly thrown in our faces, your vote should not be about party affiliation or who makes the most noise. Make an effort to ignore what one candidate or political party says about the other. Avoid the all-day news commentary. Steer clear of social media. Make time to research each candidate for yourself. Take notes. Make lists. Think about what you want for our country, and vote for the individuals whose actual values most align with your own principles–hopefully, principles rooted in love for humanity. Pay attention to what they do, not just what they say.

In short, as my friend Uzoma O. posted as his Facebook status recently:

Stop being Democratic or Republican. Be honest. Have morals. Show empathy. Value integrity. Be a good human.

If it all still sounds like noise to you, vote anyway.

I’ll spare you the lecture on how many people fought and died for our right to vote.  I realize our right to vote includes our right not to vote, but I hope you choose the former. Why? Because beyond being a right, voting is also a civic and sacred responsibility.

In his sermon this weekend, my pastor reminded the congregation that in voting we comply with two of the directives of Micah 6:8–to act justly and love mercy. In voting, we raise our voices, protest, and do our part to right societal wrongs. We stand up for social justice and we work to make compassion and kindness part of our personal and national character.

There’s too much at stake this election season. Your vote–your voice–is far more powerful than silence. Nothing is gained through inaction.

Meet the Pedi of South Africa

When my Tk went to South Africa a few months ago, she sent a postcard and a note card. Both took a really long time to arrive— almost one month and two months respectively. Though Tk was a little frustrated, they were worth the wait. The Mandela quote has a place on my inspiration board, and I learned about the Pedi People. Wouldn’t you like to know a little about them too?

Here’s the mini history of the Pedi People printed on the back of the card:

Two groups of Sotho-speakers migrated into South Africa from North Africa in about 1400 A.D. Both groups had totems or mascots that they held in veneration. One group called themselves baFokeng and settled on the edge of the Kalahari Desert (Botswana). The other group were skilled metal workers and called themselves baRolong, settling in the Northern Province but soon splintered into different groups as a result of infighting. The splinter group which settled along the beautiful Soutpansberg Mountains (neighboring the Venda) became known as the Pedi deriving their name from the Karanga people (the Wambedzi) whom they conquered. BaPedi is the Sotho-Tswana from of the name Wambedzi.

The Pedi dominated large parts of present Mpumalanga and Northern Province until attacked by the Matabele under the rule of Mzilikazi. Under Apartheid, a homeland was established for the Pedi, known as Lebowa, which has subsequently been incorporated into the Northern Province of South Africa.

The card is gorgeous, but I’m sharing it because the long timeline of the Pedi demonstrates that the continent of Africa has many peoples with complex histories and diverse contributions to art, culture, and history.

The beautiful 6×6 card features the work of South African artist Barbara Tyrrell (1912-2015), represented exclusively by Asher House in association with Pretoria University.