16 June 1976: Soweto Uprising from Sarafina!

Sarafina_poster
Sarafina poster (Wikipedia)

In order to remember the 16 June 1976 Soweto uprising, I decided to share with you these images and song from the movie Sarafina! which focused on the 1976 Soweto riots. It is simply beautiful! The character says: “They fear you because you are young, they fear you because you are the future; How fearful they must be that they shoot you children? How powerful you must be that they fear you so much. You are powerful because you are the generation that will be free. The violence, the beatings, the torture, the killings, all this is the bad pain of our free nation. … Freedom is coming tomorrow!” In essence, this is a message for all the youth around the world: You are the future, you are strong, take hold of it, and do the best!

A TEDx Talk on the Griot Tradition of West Africa

Sibo Bangoura is a griot from Guinea, West Africa, now living in Australia. In this TEDx talk, he shares the traditions of his musical heritage with people from all over the world. While playing the Kora, a musical instrument from West Africa, Sibo sang a traditional West African song, Nan Fulie, about the importance of the Griot people – the West African musicians, storytellers, custodians and teachers of tradition through music and dance. Enjoy!

The Griot, the Preserver of African Traditions

Senegal_Wolof griot 1890
Wolof griot in Senegal, c 1890

Africa has a strong, deep, and rich oral tradition. In many countries across West Africa, this tradition is often preserved by the griots, who are historians, storytellers, praise singers, poets, and/or musicians. Often, the griot is the preserver of the history of a family, a clan, and sometimes of the nation. This is done by narrating how the family/clan/tribe/nation was founded and its outstanding achievements. In essence, the griot is a repository of the oral tradition, and is often seen as a societal leader due to his or her traditional position as advisor to kings and leaders.  The griot’s praises centers around the leader of the clan, of the tribe, and of the nation. Thus, great kings throughout history had griots: Sundiata KeitaKankan Musa, and many others.

The Mali Empire (Malinke Empire), at its height in the middle of the 14th century, extended from central Africa (today’s Chad and Niger) to West Africa (today’s Mali and Senegal). The empire was founded by Sundiata Keita, whose exploits remain celebrated in Mali today. In the Epic of Sundiata, King Naré Maghann Konaté offered his son Sundiata a griot, Balla Fasséké, to advise him in his reign. Balla Fasséké is considered the founder of the Kouyaté line of griots that exists to this day.

MALI_empire
Mali Empire (Wikipedia)

Each aristocratic family of griots accompanied a higher-ranked family of warrior-kings or emperors, called jatigi. Moreover, most villages and prominent clans also had their own griot, who told tales of births, deaths, marriages, battles, hunts, affairs, and hundreds of other things.

The Cameroonian author Francis Bebey writes about the griot in his book African Music, A People’s Art (Lawrence Hill Books): “The West African griot … knows everything that is going on… He is a living archive of the people’s traditions… The virtuoso talents of the griots command universal admiration. This virtuosity is the culmination of long years of study and hard work under the tuition of a teacher who is often a father or uncle. The profession is by no means a male prerogative. There are many women griots whose talents as singers and musicians are equally remarkable.

Mali_Griots of Sambala king of Medina Fula people 1890
Griots of Sambala, King of Medina (Fula people of Mali) c.1890

In Mande society, the jeli was an historian, advisor, arbitrator, praise singer (patronage), and storyteller. Essentially, these musicians were walking history books, preserving their ancient stories and traditions through song. Their inherited tradition was passed down through generations. Their name, jeli, means “blood” in Mandinka language. They were said to have deep connections to spiritual, social, or political powers as music is associated as such. Speech is said to have power as it can recreate history and relationships.

Youssou NDour_1
Youssou N’Dour

In addition to being singers and social commentators, griots are often skilled musicians. Their instruments include the kora, the khalam (also spelled xalam), the goje (called n’ko in the Mandinka language), the balafon and the ngoni.

Griots can be found throughout Africa and bear different names from country to country. A world-renowned singer and grammy award winner descending from a family of griots is Senegalese singer, Youssou N’Dour. Below is the trailer to the movie Griot. Enjoy!

Great Quote on Shaka Zulu by Miriam Makeba

Shaka-Zulu
King Shaka, of the Zulu people

The British often talk of Shaka Zulu as the ‘Black Napoleon’, but I think that Napoleon was a white Shaka!” Miriam Makeba

Napoleon
Napoleon

Les Britanniques parlent souvent de [Chaka Zoulou] comme du ‘Napoléon noir’, mais je dis que Napoléon était un Chaka blanc.” Miriam Makeba

Quote by Miriam Makeba

miriam_makeba1
Miriam Makeba during a concert

In the West the past is like a dead animal. It is a carcass picked at by the flies that call themselves historians and biographers. But in my culture the past lives. My people feel this way in part because death does not separate us from our ancestors.” Miriam Makeba

“Yamore” by Salif Keita and Cesaria Evora

To wish you all a happy Valentine’s day, I decided to share with you a classic love song by two outstanding African singers: the late Cesaria Evora: the Barefoot Diva– the Love of Cape Verde, and the great Malian singer Salif Keita. It was shared with me this morning. I love you mi Amore… too much! Enjoy! and do share with those special ones, even if it is not love the Valentine way, share it with the precious ones in your life.

 

Hugh Masekela on African Heritage

Bra Hugh was involved in African heritage restoration. He gave a talk at the TEDx about African culture, and restoration. So I am leaving you here with his TEDx talk. He used to say, ” I’ve got to where am in life not because of something I brought to the world but through something I found – the wealth of African culture.” Enjoy!

Remembering Hugh Masekela

Hugh Masekela4
Hugh Masekela (Source: The Guardian)

This past Sunday,  Hugh Masekela was  honoured with a musical tribute at the University of Johannesburg (UJ)’s Soweto Campus. Various musicians performed at this final public tribute to the legendary artist, activist and composer.

I leave you here with an excerpt from a poem written by Nigerian author Niyi Osundare. For the full poem, go to SaharaReports or check out his book Pages from the Book of the Sun.

 

Waiting for Rain (for Hugh Masekela) by Niyi Osundare

Your trumpet pumps the wind
into a bold, metallic roar;
the universe throbs in awe
a worsted thunder whines
in a blue corner of the sky

   Waiting, waiting for the Rain

Memory hides in your song
in the sepia folds of a tune
which remembers its tongue
in the throat which bakes the bread
for our common feast

The Nile’s long-limbed gallop
the limpid lyric of the Limp, the Limp, the Limpopo
the Kukuruku’s tall whisper in the ears of the Kilimanjaro
the sun never sets in the empire of your song
your garland a forest of flowers and dappled murmurs

 

Niyi Osundare
(from Pages from the Book of the Sun: New & Selected Poems, 2002, pp. 42-43