Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Where Our Travels took Me During My 2016 Trip to South Africa

Recommendations and Suggestions for places to go in South Africa
By Daphne Muse
The Goddess of Travel and Wanderlust must be embedded in my DNA, for I have had the most compelling journeys.  With one eerie exception (Guyana in 1970), all my journeys have been quite remarkable.  I have journeyed to remote villages in Europe, gone deep in the bush in Tanzania and Suriname, languished on beaches in the West Indies, driven 850 miles of Cuba with my dear friend Mary Louise Patterson, and most recently spent a month in South Africa. 
While I’m writing an extensive piece focusing on the observations I made and conversations had with amazing people I met during my month in South Africa, I wanted to share these links to some of my most memorable places and experiences.
 In 2009, I did the grassroots tour of South Africa with Prexy Nesbit (Makingtheroad.com).  There I met activists, grandmothers, museum curators and artists.   On this trip in January 2016, I joined my dear friends and consummate travelers Mary Lou Patterson and Sumiko Takeda.  We engaged with more people across the class and color spectrum from former ANC activists who are now government officials to “Born Frees” (post-apartheid children) and Afrikaners to members of the one percent and Uber drivers. We stayed with friends Trevor and Thelma Fowler, their adult daughters and a nine-year-old granddaughter.  Their home is in the upper middle class neighborhood of Observatory, near Houghton in Johannesburg.   Trevor was Mandela’s chief of staff and now serves as the manager for the City of Johannesburg.  Thelma is an architect.  They devoted so much of their personal time, energy and extensive knowledge and history of their country.  It made our trips so memorable for all the right reasons.
In my travels, I’ve always made sure to go into communities/villages, stay there if I can and get a real sense of how people’s day to day lives unfold.  It provides a much more in depth view into the flow and psyche of a country.  You also get a closer look at how the politics and policies do or do not translate into people’s lives.  I encourage you take public transportation or hire Uber drivers to take you into various neighborhoods, for they really know how life rolls where locals live. 

Nature
Everything in nature really is linked and we are doing the planet and our own species a tremendous disservice, as we contribute to the ongoing slaughter and extinction of other species occurs.
The Cradle of Human Kind—Here I stood on the most affirming and significant place, I’ve ever been on Earth.  My spirit was grounded and soul squared with my heart and mind.  http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/915
The Kruger National Park, especially Skukuza and Satara www.sanparks.org
Along with seeing hundreds of animals from elephants, Springboks and lions to hippos, rhinos and dung beetles (my favorite), we saw a marvelous array of beautiful birds.  The tenacious dung beetle can bury dung 250 times heavier than itself in one night. I highly recommend the night tours and the magical carpet of the exquisitely adorned , night sky in the Southern Hemisphere; now, that’s really some breathtaking dancing with the stars. 
http://astronomyonline.org/Observation/ConstellationsSouthernHemi.asp
The Indian Ocean at False Bay—There I highly recommend staying at the Blue on Blue B&B in St. James, a town that has an old school Santa Monica, back in the day beatnik and hippie vibe.  The B&B is owned by my former student Dorothy Yumi Garcia and her husband Tom Harding-- http://www.blueonbluesa.com/
Table Mountain—I have yet to go to the top to experience another manifestation of the true majesty nature, for on my first trip it was socked in with fog and this time, it was too windy to ascend.  https://www.sanparks.org/parks/table_mountain/  The winds also prevented us from traveling further to Cape Agulhas, the southern-most tip of Africa.
God’s WindowThis is another absolutely breathtaking testament to the power and beauty of our planet.  http://www.southafrica.net/za/en/articles/entry/article-southafrica.net-gods-window 

Museums and Galleries
These galleries and museums feature the works of some of South Africa’s renowned contemporary artists including Florine Demosthene, Robert Pruitt, Ziyanda Majozi and Jonathan Freemantle.
Museum Africa--http://www.gauteng.net/attractions/entry/museum_africa/
Gallery Momo-- http://www.gallerymomo.com/
The Apartheid Museum-- http://www.apartheidmuseum.org/
The Mandela House -- http://www.mandelahouse.co.za/
The Slave Lodge http://www.iziko.org.za/museums/slave-lodge
The District Six Museum-- http://www.districtsix.co.za/
Gateway Guides www.gatewayguides.co.za
The Orbit Jazz Club--http://www.theorbit.co.za/
Wineries
This is the wine route in Stellenbosch, (Cape Town http://www.wineroute.co.za/).  I highly recommend Fair View Winery (http://www.fairview.co.za/), especially their culinary Nirvana of a masterpiece:  the cheese platter.
(Did not make it to this winery.)
  
Neighborhoods
I encourage you to hire Uber drivers or friends to take you into various neighborhoods, for they really know how life rolls where the local people live and sometimes work. Some of the neighborhoods in which we lived or visited included:  Houghton, Observatory, Yeoville, Melville, District Nine, St. James, Constantina & the township of Soweto.  
 Soweto, District Nine and Yeoville fascinated me the most.  Soweto and District Nine have histories that are integral to the antiapartheid movement and that history and its ongoing impact are reflected in the museums, stories told and public policies graphically reflected in people’s daily lives.  Yeoville is referred to as the Pan African, rainbow suburb of South Africa and encompasses Bellevue, Bellevue East, Bellevue Central, Highlands and Randview.  It’s culturally diverse, has a strong street life vibe and buzzes with young intellectuals and artists.  Yeoville can be a bit dicey, for those not accustomed to navigating off the beaten path.
The Bo-Kaap area of Cape Town where the houses are painted in an array of vibrant colors--http://www.thenational.ae/lifestyle/travel/the-rainbow-nation-can-be-found-in-bo-kaap-area-of-cape-town
For those of you who wish to experience Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his religious/spiritual milieu, he conducts a 7:00 AM Friday morning service at http://sgcathedral.co.za/ in Cape Town.
First Thursdays in Cape Town—First-Thursdays.co.za
Shopping
We found exquisite items from jewelry to fabric and truly iconic art to the art of fashion, which really rolls out marvelously in South Africa.  While I’m not a big fan of malls, I found those we went to felt more like villages and included shops, grocery stores, boutiques, cafes and cinemas.
Amatuli—A mother lode of amazing fabrics, furniture, iconic sculptures, and jewelry in the design center of Joburg. http://www.amatuli.co.za/
Rosebank Mall—Shops galore, including the Johannesburg rooftop flea market and great cafes.
Select Galleries in Graskop—http://www.graskop.co.za/art/
Great Second hand stores where I found great jewelry and scored some literary treasures as well—http://www.jhblive.com/Stories-in-Johannesburg/article/best-vintage-stores-in-the-city/5196
Twenty-Seven Boxes Mall--http://www.27boxes.co.za/the-27-boxes-experiance/
Mangwanani African Spa—Be prepared to traverse pot hole filled dirt roads and a raging river up into the bush to a serene journey of renewal, where each section of your body is massaged by a different masseuse--https://www.mangwanani.co.za/
Restaurants
The Duchess of Wiseacre—Cape Town
Harry’s Pancakes--Grasskop
Moyo Zoo Lake--Johannesburg
Tashas—throughout the country
Goats Do Roam at Fairview Winery—Stellenbosch (Cape Town)
Beluga--Johannesburg
Publications
I read the local and regional dailies, along with books and magazines while I travel.  Found several treasures including Maru byBessie Head and Song Makers by J G Goodacre and S. Makosana.  I’ve also listed others below.
House and Garden South Africa edition
Lowveld Living—Lifestyle Magazine
Apartheid:  A Collection of Writings on South African Racism by South Africans—Alex LaGuma, Editor
Craftart in South Africa:  Creative Intersections by Elbe Coetsee
Awesome South Africa-- http://www.awesomesouthafrica.co.za/
A Brand New Day by Nelson Mandela --
http://www.amazon.com/Nelson-Mandela-Bay-Brand-New/dp/0620380861
Izinyanya by p.naidoo-- http://www.literarytourism.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=393:phyllis-naidoo&catid=13:authors&Itemid=28
South African Coasts--
http://www.randomstruik.co.za/books/south-african-coasts/5652
Africa's Finest--
http://africasfinest.co.za/
Hidden Capetown--
http://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Cape-Town-Paul-Duncan-ebook/dp/B00EPF5SIU
Halala Madiba: Nelson Mandela in Poetry edited by Richard Bartlett
Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise Art by Diego Rivera—Found this jewel at http://www.bookdealers.co.za/, a secondhand bookstore in the Melville District of Joburg .
QUAGGA Rare Books & Art—www.quaggabooks.co.za
Daphne Muse is a writer, social commentator and poet living in Oakland, California.  She made her first trip to Africa in 1971, where she learned how the leadership of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere moved the country from the clutches of colonialism to an independent nation that now has a woman vice president.

msmusewriter@gmail.com, daphnemuse.blogspot.com

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Rising Tides of 21st Century Middle Eastern and Arabic Literary Voices

The Rising Tides of 21st Century Middle Eastern and Arabic Literary Voices
By Daphne Muse
Growing up in a home where my father passionately followed the politics of the Middle East and Arab worlds, I became intrigued by the cultures and peoples whose lives pointed towards Mecca, Mount Arafat, the Mediterranean Sea, and  Gulf of Aden.  But it wasn’t until I began my studies at Fisk University in 1962, that I read any literature written by a Middle Eastern author.  At Fisk, out of my adoration and respect for a circle of intellectually dynamic poets including Barbara Mahone, Ebon Dooley and Nikki Giovanni, I was introduced to The Prophet: a book of poetic essays by Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran.  In the late 60s, I gifted my mother with a copy of The Prophet.  It remains a point of spiritual and emotional reference for various rites of passage in both our lives.
In 1970, my literary horizons were expanded exponentially, when in an act of solidarity Drum and Spear Press, Inc. published Enemy of the Sun:  An Anthology of Palestinian Poetry edited by Naseer Aruri and Edmund Ghareeb.  Included were the piercing, magnificent and emerging voices of twelve Palestinian poets living in the Diaspora and Israel.  Mostly written during and after the 1967 Six Day War, the poems reflect the angst and awe of Palestinian life and culture emerging at the time.  One of the poets featured in the anthology is Naomi Shihab Nye went on to become an award-winning voice resonating powerfully across the landscapes of Middle Eastern, US and global poetry.
As waves wash ashore from the Gulf of Aden to the Mediterranean Sea, the landscape of  Middle Eastern and Arabic literature are filled with a growing number of lush, clarifying and insistent voices including Moroccan/North African novelist Mohammed Achaari; Kuwaiti short story writer Mai Al –Nakib; and Saudi Arabian novelist Abdo Khal.
While their works are not seminal treatises on Middle Eastern and Arab life and culture, they provide compelling lenses through which readers can learn how people press forward to normalize lives all too often torn asunder by the strife of repression, shifts in cultural rites of passage and the evolution of practices and behaviors around gender.  Winner of the 2011 International Prize for Arabic fiction, Achaari’s The Arch and The Butterfly is set just outside the magic and mysticism of the legendary and seemingly timeless Moroccan city of Marrakech.  But none of that magic or mysticism prevails in Achaari’s novel.  Instead the complexities and intersections of 21st century identity, culture, extremism and generational change turn the novel on the axis of a life shattered by abandonment, crime and the death of a secularly raised son thought to be studying architecture in Paris, but killed in Afghanistan fighting with the Islamist resistance.
Right out of today’s headlines Al-Nakib’s The Hidden Light of Objects is a collection of short stories that reflects the dissonance and wretched earth policies created by all too many contemporary politics.  A young girl named Amerika becomes a barometer of hostility towards the West; a Palestinian teenager entrapped into a botched suicide bombing by two belligerent classmates; the abiding forgiveness of a wife for her dying husband’s "dickly dalliances;" and the return of a Kuwaiti woman to her family, after being held captive in Iraq for a decade.   These stories reflect dimensions of the all too often overlooked lives about which we here in the West remain bunkered in our stereotypes, Islamaphobia and overall dire dearth of knowledge about Middle Eastern and Arabic life and culture.  I long for the voice of former Senior White House Reporter Helen Thomas to provide her astute historical and political insights on this region of the world.
In Khal’s Throwing Sparks, Tariq dreams his way out of a life of petty crime and poverty into the reality of becoming a slave to a master from whom he finds it nearly impossible to liberate himself.  In the thick of torment, palace politics and the moody, powerful and capricious men by whom he is surrounded, he finds himself in love with the master’s mistress.  Every word, especially the most brutal, ferociously embeds itself like smoldering embers in a burned out forest, on your spirit.  Kahl’s narrative harnesses the embers and casts them back out into the Universe as the energy of eternals stars. 
“Those with a particularly sensitive disposition suffer a life-time of torment because a star continues to burn brightly despite the ashes and smoke of its dying embers.  Stars are like that:  they continue to burn even after they collapse.
    Tahani would be my eternal star.
    The night I stole her virginity, the ogre stole my life.  It wrenched her life away, and mine with hers.”
          Publications like the always compelling World Literature Today (http://www.worldliteraturetoday.org) and these offerings by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing are creating greater access to works by Middle Eastern and Arabic writers. This year marks the fifth anniversary of Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing.  Established in 2008 and based in Doha BQFP aims to publish books of excellence and originality in English and Arabic; promote the love and reading and writing and establish a vibrant literary culture in the Middle East; and cultivate new literary talent. 
I’m eager to read more from Achaari, Al-Nakib and Khal and the ever growing list of Middle Eastern and Arabic authors.  Upon reading each of their works, I realize I need a deeper historical grasp and much more insight into the complexities of contemporary Middle Eastern cultures and politics.  Beyond the haze of the seemingly endless embers, their works are turning me towards the Sun. 
Daphne Muse is a writer, social commentator and poet.  Her work appears in This Week in Palestine, The Atlantic and has aired on NPR.  Go to www.daphnemuse.blogspot.com to read her blog.

©Daphne Muse, Oakland, California 2015

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Conceived, Born, Raised and Living Black

Conceived, born, raised and living black
    By Daphne Muse
I was conceived, born, raised and now have lived as a human being cast in black for almost seventy years.    I’mo die black, too.  And in my next life, I’ll be honored to return in the black.  I refuse to be drowned in the bile of oppression and no racist savagery, pathology or steroids of genocide will stop me from living the authenticity of who I am.  Be clear that efforts to kill off an entire race of people are bound to implode, as our blood spills all over you and the spirits of our ancestors (and some of yours, too) haunt you in ways you don’t even realize.  The ongoing slaughter, murder and economic lynching of my people will not make me turn against them or stop me from seeking and working to secure the freedom that is inherent for every being.  You can kill a person, but the energy of their spirit sometimes has a way of recharging life.  Mine is constantly recharged by those whose spirits continue to rise in power including anti-lynching activist and journalist Delilah Beasley; Mississippi voting and civil rights activists Fannie Lou Hamer; and, Dred Scott, buried a few miles up the road from Ferguson in St. Louis.  Scott launched a legal battle to gain his freedom that went all the way up to the Supreme Court (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dred_Scott_v._Sandford).
Despite the high toll and centuries of efforts to resurrect Apartheid and annihilate us, the ongoing slaughter in the streets is not deterring people like the residents of Ferguson, and their supporters across the country and around the world including St. Louis native and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.  He is right up in the mix protesting the killing of unarmed Michael Brown.  I refuse to allow the hatred of my people to diminish the love I have for my often brutalized and brilliant people.   Our DNA is historically, culturally, politically and economically encoded on this country.  From rural roads to outer space, our innovations and inventions also drive many aspects of everyone’s daily life. 
If we’re being punished for the election of the first known black/mixed race president and the appointment of a black attorney general, then wake up and smell the Melanin, because millions of us refuse to be pushed backwards off the cliffs into the swells of oppression and racism.  While bold face, refutable lies continue to twists your tongues into contortions of sheer absurdity, ongoing efforts to revise or erase us from history continue to implode:  Truth has both an ironic and empirical way of blooming through concrete; and destroying documents, eradicating images and attempts to vanish reality can have powerful blow back.  We’re also issuing a cease and desist for your racism to remain a revenue stream for municipalities, jails and penitentiaries; that’s off the table.
Millions of us continue working diligently to seed and harvest the awe and wonder of young people of color, for we recognize how much more vital our country would be, as a result of the benefit of the brilliance and creativity many of them bring to the table.  I will continue to working with others to educate and empower young black men and women to earn diplomas and advanced degrees, so they can become skilled workers, 21st century innovators, strong leaders and even surgeons who skillfully navigate beyond the craters of hatred embedded in the souls of racists to save their lives.  And there are those highly skilled social justice “surgeons” conducting hatred bypasses on a daily basis, an operation that could vastly improve the quality of millions in America.  Even in the dust of my ashes, like millions before me, I’ll proudly align my legacy to stand tall in the power of blackness.
Daphne Muse is a writer, social commentator and the oldest sibling to four brothers.  While navigating the mine fields of racism and oppression, they also have lived and celebrated the joy(s), power and brilliance of being black.

Copyright October 2014, Oakland, California
Daphne Muse


Sunday, January 25, 2015

My Great Grandmother's Fork


 My Great Grandmother’s Fork
By Daphne Muse
More than thirty years ago my father, Fletcher Henderson Muse, Sr., gave me my great-grandmother’s fork.   My father had a way of passing on family history and legacies, for he also gave my brother Vincent the knife with which he so deftly carved meat for the dinner parties he served in wealthy homes up and down the Eastern corridor.
Born an enslaved woman in Cuthbert, Georgia and my namesake, Daphne Allen lived to be 97-years-old.  That fork, made of tin and wood, now has a ball of cotton on the prongs which I picked on a trip to Cuthbert about twenty years ago. It sits in the lap of a beautiful doll made by my mother.  The doll sits on a rocking chair that belonged to my great-grandmother when she was a child.  I’m now amazed that she is a part of my life in this way and am reminded of her presence each time I walk past that rocking chair.
          I met her twice: once, when I was about six-years-old and again at Christmas break from college, when I went to spend a very challenging holiday in Cuthbert with my grandparents Henderson Muse and Johnny Clyde Muse.  They argued incessantly about the Bible, him touching her Bible and maddening matters not of a biblical nature.  I thought I’d been sentenced to hell for impure thoughts and transgressions made during early childhood.
While I don’t so much remember her physical presence during the 1962 visit, I have a very clear memory of meeting my great-grandmother when I was about six.  She had on a crisp white dressing gown and had just finished serving my great-grandfather breakfast.  She was a short spindly woman framed in Ebonized skin with no smile, but a solid suit of armor surrounding her spirit.  I don’t recall one word my great grandfather said, as his head remained buried deep in his plate, while he sat alone at the head of the table.  One did not sit at the table with him, while he ate.  I guess he came up out of African royalty of some sort and one needed an appointment to speak with him.

That humble fork is about to be installed in an exhibit I’m mounting and will rest on the page of Ruth Gaskins  A Good Heart and A Light Hand:  A Collection of Traditional Negro Recipes.  Instead of transporting it the three miles from my home to the site of the exhibit at Mills College’s Olin Library, I feel as though I should hire a Brinks trunk to transport that fork.  I’ve been the caretaker of this “family jewel” for more than three decades now.  My great-grandmother’s legacy is integrally intertwined in this fork and embedded with secrets both culinary and personal.  She held it in hands prickled by the thorns from picking cotton and hopefully soothed by cradling the children to whom she gave birth.  I remember being absolutely perplexed upon a visit to the Smithsonian some fifty years ago and seeing George Washington’s teeth included in an exhibition.  I could not fathom why his teeth would hold an esteemed place in a museum, especially one like the Smithsonian.  But I’ve learned from historians and scholars including John Henrik Clarke, Francille Rusan Wilson and Leon Litwack that those teeth are filled with stories about class, race, gender, power, privilege, and slavery.  Her fork tells another kind of story about the same dynamics.  My enslaved great grandmother’s fork is just as important to me and my family as Washington’s teeth, extracted from slaves, are to the history of America.  Her fork reflects the history as well as pain and pleasures of her life long-lived life; she lived to age ninety-seven despite an often bone crushing existence across two centuries in rural Georgia.
While others place rare jewels, trophies of conquest and priceless carpets from vast empires on display, my great-grandmother’s fork has now been cataloged for an exhibition.  As people cast their gaze upon three centuries of iconic books and ephemera in On These I Stand, they will stop and gaze at her fork, learn her name and a little bit more about the relationship between this simple eating implement, my family and the history of 19th and 20th century America.  At every turn, we have to find ways to honor our ancestors, their survival against all odds and learn to wear the armor that allowed them to keep their spirits marching towards freedom land.
Daphne Muse is a writer, social commentator and poet.  She proudly lives in Oakland, California and recently completed her fifth children’s book about a squirrel named Leroy.


 


Monday, January 12, 2015

“Selma” powerfully reflects black people boldly and defiantly speaking truth to power.  

     "Selma" powerfully reflects black people boldly and defiantly speaking truth to power.  Whatever the range of critiques regarding the film, the courage and dignity with which the people of Selma, Alabama and their allies met their mission to secure voting rights for black people, is riveting in its portrayal.   Despite being whipped with blood-letting, nail infused Billy clubs, having their jobs threatened and friends, family and allies murdered for seeking and advancing justice, they continued to persevere.  Despite my own critique in “Ten Responses to Selma,” I am grateful to DuVernay, Pitt and Winfrey and the others who made this film possible.  The film truly reflects the dignity, strategic thinking, bravery and compassion of black people.  It also reflected the vision of Dr. King and young men including SNCC activist John L. Lewis and SCLC strategist James Bevel.  From his mentor theologian Howard Thurman to activists whose names will never be known, King’s vision also was forged by other movements and voices contemporary to the times.  What was not at the table was the fierce leadership of the movement’s female “architects,” including Ella Baker, Septima Clark and Fannie Lou Hamer.  The presence of SNCC strategist Diane Nash nuanced beyond recognition.  And while the voices of everyday people did not form the primary dialogue, the fierce determination of people including Amelia Boyton, Jimmy Lee Jackson and Annie Lee Cooper was apparent. 
     How many have walked even one mile, let alone fifty-four miles, dressed in the same reflections of dignity, self-respect and perseverance? Their feet were not comforted by Nike Air Jordan shoes or Adidas. Many women were attired in church lady outfits and men suits.  Allies including Michigan housewife Viola Liuzzo and Unitarian Minister James Reeb came in a heartbeat and were murdered at the hands of white supremacist.
     Despite King’s decision to turn back on the first attempt to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge and march to Montgomery, the insistence and agency of local people and other activists from around the country, resulted in accomplishing the fifty-four mile march from Selma to Montgomery.  That stride toward freedom resulted in twenty-five thousand people assembling on the steps of the capital at Montgomery and in the same year, the Voting Rights Act was signed by President Lyndon Johnson.  The inherent pride and belief by black people in black people (supported by diverse groups of celebrities, religious leaders, union members and educators) went the distance in that pen being put to paper to make the Voting Rights Act a reality.  In the aftermath of Ferguson and the daily killings of black people across the country, this generation of activists is making Black Lives Matter.  They have the legacies of Selma, and the wells of so many other battles and victories claimed for social justice, from which to draw. 
     The experience of Selma and this film translate differently across the generations.  But, I feel a sense of reassurance now that my forty-one- year-old daughter, sixteen- year- old grandson and thousands of young people have seen the movie.  My grandson loved the film and the closing song “Glory” by Common and John Legend.  Interestingly enough, he was most taken by the FBI tracking notes that came on the screen during the film.  He curiously noted “No one could say this wasn’t real.”  I plan to sit with him this week, using my own FBI file, to discuss how millions of citizens have been tracked across administrations and decades because of their determination to secure what is so inherently ours:  Equality and Freedom.
I highly recommend the reading list noted in this link:  http://www.jsums.edu/hamerinstitute/resources/hamer-inistitute-suggested-reading-list/


Daphne Muse is a writer, social commentator and poet.  Her work has been published in The Atlantic, Washington Post, Black Scholar and aired on NPR.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Conceived, Born, Raised and Living bBlack

Conceived, Born, Raised and Living Black
    By Daphne Muse
I was conceived, born, raised and now have lived as a human being cast in black for almost seventy years.    I’mo die black, too.  And in my next life, I’ll be honored to return in the black.  I refuse to be drowned in the bile of oppression and no racist savagery, pathology or steroids of genocide will stop me from living the authenticity of who I am.  Be clear that efforts to kill off an entire race of people are bound to implode, as our blood spills all over you and the spirits of our ancestors (and some of yours, too) haunt you in ways you don’t even realize.  The ongoing slaughter, murder and economic lynching of my people will not make me turn against them or stop me from seeking and working to secure the freedom that is inherent for every being.  You can kill a person, but the energy of their spirit sometimes has a way of recharging life.  Mine is constantly recharged by those whose spirits continue to rise in power including anti-lynching activist and journalist Delilah Beasley; Mississippi voting and civil rights activists Fannie Lou Hamer; and, Dred Scott, buried a few miles up the road from Ferguson in St. Louis.  Scott launched a legal battle to gain his freedom that went all the way up to the Supreme Court (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dred_Scott_v._Sandford).
Despite the high toll and centuries of efforts to resurrect Apartheid and annihilate us, the ongoing slaughter in the streets is not deterring people like the residents of Ferguson, and their supporters across the country and around the world including St. Louis native and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.  He is right up in the mix protesting the killing of unarmed Michael Brown.  I refuse to allow the hatred of my people to diminish the love I have for my often brutalized and brilliant people.   Our DNA is historically, culturally, politically and economically encoded on this country.  From rural roads to outer space, our innovations and inventions also drive many aspects of everyone’s daily life. 
If we’re being punished for the election of the first known black/mixed race president and the appointment of a black attorney general, then wake up and smell the Melanin, because millions of us refuse to be pushed backwards off the cliffs into the swells of oppression and racism.  While bold face, refutable lies continue to twists your tongues into contortions of sheer absurdity, ongoing efforts to revise or erase us from history continue to implode:  Truth has both an ironic and empirical way of blooming through concrete; and destroying documents, eradicating images and attempts to vanish reality can have powerful blow back.  We’re also issuing a cease and desist for your racism to remain a revenue stream for municipalities, jails and penitentiaries; that’s off the table.
Millions of us continue working diligently to seed and harvest the awe and wonder of young people of color, for we recognize how much more vital our country would be, as a result of the benefit of the brilliance and creativity many of them bring to the table.  I will continue to working with others to educate and empower young black men and women to earn diplomas and advanced degrees, so they can become skilled workers, 21st century innovators, strong leaders and even surgeons who skillfully navigate beyond the craters of hatred embedded in the souls of racists to save their lives.  And there are those highly skilled social justice “surgeons” conducting hatred bypasses on a daily basis, an operation that could vastly improve the quality of millions in America.  Even in the dust of my ashes, like millions before me, I’ll proudly align my legacy to stand tall in the power of blackness.
Daphne Muse is a writer, social commentator and the oldest sibling to four brothers.  While navigating the mine fields of racism and oppression, they also have lived and celebrated the joy(s), power and brilliance of being black.

Copyright October 2014, Oakland, California
Daphne Muse


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Somi: An Ancestrally Rich Voice Electrifying the 21st Century

Somi:  An Ancestrally Rich Voice Electrifying the 21st Century

 “One of the cool things about seeing Somi’s show Friday was that, even while the great voices are steadily falling silent, new ones are arriving – and she’s got one.”

Jon Streeter, Board of Directors for SF Jazz

Imagine yourself at the electrifying, eclectic and global intersection of Lagos Boulevard, Kigali Way and New York Avenue.  Well that’s exactly where I found myself transported from to the Red Poppy Gallery smack dab in San Francisco’s Mission District, on a recent Saturday in September, with an intergenerational assembly of folks who came to feast on the voice of Somi.  Her ancestrally rich and sometimes haunting voice scaled walls, brought blooms onto flowers and poured out into Folsom Street, where it cast a net of light out into the Universe.  In a space not much larger than my living room and seating about one hundred people, she “Gingered Us Slowly” and had us testifying to “Four African Women,” her homage to the High Priestess of Soul Nina Simone.  I first got a “taste” of her voice when she performed at the London wedding of Ashley Shaw Scott Adjaye and David Adjaye. 
The range in her voice crosses deep rivers and cascades right into the ravines of your soul.  She soothed my chakras when she dropped her tall brown frame into tribal movements to catch notes and bring them up out through her vocal chords, right after navigating them right up out of her heart.  Mesmerizingly beautiful in voice and presence, she performed a ninety minute show that transported us through the lyrics of  “Last Song,” Shine Your Eye” and “When Rivers Cry,” a piece filled with moral urgency, that she performs on her CD with the rapper Common.  While “Two-Dollar Day” is a kind of soliloquy challenging the absurdity of making and trying to live on two dollars a day, “Brown Round Things” calls up the nefarious world of human trafficking of innocents.  She is a marvelous singer-lyricist and wrote all of the songs performed on The Lagos Music Salon.
While it is clear that her music is infused with African, R&B, mid-twentieth century jazz and soul influences, an eighteen month stay in Lagos helped her create a powerful and vibrant “New African Jazz.”  There is such a span of cultural history in her powerful voice. The spirits of Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone and Miram Makeba surely sat up and took notice, as Somi’s distinct style also conjured up theirs.  On “Shine Your Eyes,” her voice also took me into moments with Joni Mitchell with some Sonia Sanchez riffin’ off her tongue.
It also takes great musicians to carry a singer’s vocals the distance and my word did they ever carry—all the way out there to an ancestral shout out to Nigerian icon Fela Kuti and an intergalactic wave to Sun Ra.  Drummer Otis Brown III took the beats way deep across the centuries back home to the “Motherland.”  Ben Williams “burnt” up that malachite looking bass and guitarist Liberty Ellman wove an improvisational touch.  But it was pianist Toru Dodo, along with Tomi, who took my spirit to every corner of the Universe it needed to be in those moments.  Dodo played that piano with every cell in his body and molecule in his mind.  I could have sworn Somi and Dodo’s roots were up out of the same village.  And at some point in the not too distant future, I can just see Bill T. Jones choreographing “Love JuJu#1 or the Alvin Ailey Company performing “Last Song.”  I’m so eager to return to the global intersection of Lagos Boulevard, Kigali Way and New York Avenue and meet Somi there.
To find out more about Somi and her music go to http://www.somimusic.com/.

Daphne Muse is a writer, social commentator and poet.  She blogs at www.daphnemuse.blogspot.com.