Vybz Kartel – More than just a bleacher

Vybz Kartel is a dancehall artist who is known for super-slack explicit lyrics and for bleaching his skin. He is currently incacerated facing murder charges. Many of us will stop at that basic, simple overview of  Vybz Kartel and move on.

I am one of those Reggae/Dancehall fans who craves for a return to the days when conscious messages abounded. There is no doubt in my mind that music has a dialectical relationship with society – with ‘reality’. Too many Dancehall songs have lyrics focusing on slackness and vulgarity (as well as violence, intoxication, etc) partly because these are the things which pre-occupy the attetion of many young people in the ghettos of Jamaica, the US, UK, etc. But the cultural and political awareness and collective organisation among Africans in the diaspora was much more intense in the 1970s and 1980s. And this was reflected in the Reggae and Dancehall of that era which lots of progressive lyrics and imagery.

The influence also works in the other direction. In other words, the messages in the music also have an impact on society. The regressive lyrics encourage people to think regressive thoughts and do regressive actions.  Many young people were alterted to a PanAfrican, Black Nationalist, Rastafarian (etc.) worldview through the Reggae and Dancehall. I personally owe a massive debt to the likes of The Wailers, Dennis Brown, Steel Pulse, Buju Banton, Capleton, Anthony B, Sizzla and Luciano for inspiring me to be proud of  my African identity and history, our militant global struggle against White Supremacy, Colonialism, Neo-Colonialism. It was in the song Revolution by Hip Hop group Arrested Development that I first heard about Kwame Nkrumah – who is now one of my key ideological influences. Sadly, I don’t see many artists who are consistently putting out these kinds of revolutionary, conscious messages in Dancehall (or Hip Hop) today.

So, I share much of the ambivalence toward Vybz Kartel. But there is another side to him than just the slackness, violence and cake soap. In fact, he is more than capable of using his undoubted intellect and music prowess to make uplfiting songs, and to give cutting social commentary. A great example is his Poor People Land (aka Mr Babylon) on a one drop riddim by Don Corleone. The lyrics are militantly pro-Black and pro-Poor, and like Anthony B’s Fire Pon Rome, he calls out big time Capitalist exploiters by name. Another example is Good Father, a tender homage to all fathers who look after and provide for their children. These songs aren’t exaclty ground-breaking, but the fact that it’s Kartel making them is significant. It means that millions of people will hear them who are maybe not paying much attention to similar songs by, say, Tarrus Riley, Lutan Fiyah or Pressure.

Interestingly, last year, Palmer complained that his conscious output is ignored by the Media. He said “Di media nah gimme nuh credit fi di reality, social conscious songs me do. Dem jus highlight the negative. Me do Mr Babylon addressing the squatter land issue in Trelawny, dem nah play it. Me do From Me Born Me Been Sufferin, dem nah play it. Me do Fallen Angel, dem nah play it. Me do Yeah Though I, dem na play it.” This is a story we have heard over and over again from artists, that when they look to cover topics other than the usual slackness and violence, the Media is not interested. Wise Intelligent (of the 90s Hip Hop group Poor Righteous Teachers) delivered a classic address at a Nation of Islam conference a few years ago where he suggested that the Music Industry deliberately dumbed-down musical output in order to curtail its revolutionary potential:

So, the fact that the vast majority of songs we hear from Vybz Kartel (and other Dancehall artists) are “niggerish” in content is partly because the Industry won’t promote their conscious material.

There is clearly more to Vybz Kartel/Adidja Palmer. This year he released a book called “The Voice of The Jamaican Ghetto”. The front cover has Palmer copying a famous Malcolm X pose. I haven’t read the book yet, but this radio programme below suggests it’s worth a read. Apparently, Palmer gives some penetrating analysis of a range of issues pertaining to the social, econimic and cultural climate in Jamaica. Check out the show here and if you read the book, let me know what you think. Peace out.

Western "Democracy" = Corporate Dictatorship

There are many people who I encounter online who consider themselves to be liberal, progressive types. They say they want to see an end to poverty and they want more people in the World to have a share in the wealth of the World. These people think that the prevailing economic and political system in the World – Capitalism – is essentially fine, and that it just needs some tweaking here and there to make it more humanitarian and compassionate. 

Here is where I and they part company. Capitalism is an anti-human system. It depends on the exploitation of the many in order to create profits for the few. Everything is about making more profits. The motive of Capitalism is the lust for bigger profits, not the wellbeing of the people. It is precisely because of Capitalism that there is so much poverty, disease and death in the World. As long as Capitalism reigns supreme, the World will never be a just place.

Now, usually, the well-meaning (and not so well meaning) liberals I mentioned earlier don’t really talk about Capitalism. It’s almost as though they are unwilling to admit that Capitalism exists. But when people like me mention the alternative to Capitalism, i.e. Socialism, these people are super-quick to attack. They will rail against the supposed evils of Socialism, they will pontificate about how Socialism doesn’t work and how Capitalism may not be perfect, but it’s the only viable system.

A favourite accusation I hear against Socialist countries is that they are dictatorships. This gets to one of the fundamental hang ups of many do-goody liberals. They are obsessed with the concept of democracy – by which they mean western forms of liberal democracy. Most of the time, these people have not spent even 10 minutes researching into the political system in places like Cuba, North Korea, China or pre-NATO/ NTC Libya. They just swallow the corporate story that these places are/were dictatorships.

But the bigger problem with these folks is that they totally ignore that the so-called democracy in places like Britain and the US is a sham. There are 2 or 3 parties in those countries that have any hope of winning an election. But all of these parties represent the same tiny group of people, the 1%, the super-super rich. These ‘democracies’ are in the business of transferring the wealth from the poor to the super-rich. This is a dictatorship of the 1% with a veneer of actual democracy. These same people also control the media, which means they control what information the public gets to hear. They relentlessly push the agenda of the 1% – ensuring that any views outside of their status-quo are portrayed as dangerous and even crazy.

What’s worse is that not only are these so-called liberals ignorant about the lack of democracy in the West, they are often the biggest cheerleaders for western militarism overseas. They seem utterly oblivious or perhaps unconcerned at the fact that the ‘democractic’ West continuously attacks genuine democracy around the World in order to defend the 1%’s global hegemony.

So they cheered loudly when the North Atlantic treaty Organisation bombed Libya into ashes. For them, this was a necessary bit of violence to remove a ‘brutal dictator’. Never mind all the massive increases in the quality of life for Libyans that had happened under Jamahiriya – what Libya really needed was multi-party democracy! They are now salivating at the prospect of ‘our boys’ going over to Syria to ‘liberate’ the country from the ‘evil’ ‘satanic’ President Assad in Syria. And they will probably jump into action when the US tries to engineer a situation in Venezuela this coming October during the elections there.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that for all of their lovely-sounding talk of ‘development’ – many do-goody liberals are actually enemies of human progress. They are (probably unwitting) cheerleaders for Capitalism and Imperialism, exploitation, inequality and injustice.

Buffness: If you can conceive it, You can achieve it!

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You have probably heard of this saying before, “if you can conceive it, you can achieve it.” It’s a very daring concept because it has a very high view of the creative potential of human beings. The idea is expressed in a powerful way by the Brand New Heavies in their 1997 hit “You Are the Universe” (remember when funky, empowering songs like this would get into the pop charts?):
Now, I imagine that it’s not possible to prove this concept scientifically. This means that many of us who have a certain kind of Western, ‘rational’ mindset will dismiss it. But I think this is a very valuable and practical idea which can be applied to our lives in order to make full use of our talents.
Before every act of creation, there is a creative thought, a plan, a blueprint, a vision. The computer or phone or tablet (etc.) you are probably using to read this blog began its life as an idea in a designer’s head. In his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, the recently deceased Stephen Covey refers to the 1st and 2nd. The 1st creation is the plan, the blueprint. The 2nd creation is the physical manifestation of that 1st creation. One of the keys to being effective in life is to understand this basic idea and then to use it to take control of our lives. It’s all about being proactive.
If you are a skinny dude and you want to get buff, you should create a clear vision for your body. It’s best to keep this as simple and as visual as possible. You can simply go online and find a picture or video of some dude whose physique you would like to emulate. Save this image or video somewhere that you can refer back to regularly. This is your blueprint, your first creation. You are already a creator! Your next step is to manifest this creation in the physical realm.
Having created a “vision for buffness”, you should record exactly where you are right now. What do you look like now? How much do you weigh now? Take photographs of yourself. The best thing to do is to find a specific place to take the photo(s). You should also weigh yourself and record this somewhere.
This will give you the baseline from which to measure all of your future progress. Every month, you should take new photos in that exact same place and with the exact same lighting so you can get a clear idea of your progress. You should also regularly weigh yourself to see how much weight you putting on. You will be amazed at how quickly you will notice changes to your body once you start putting in the work. This will really inspire you and give you confidence. I love looking at photos of me in the past, but I am a bit vain like that!
The next step in the skinny to buff journey is to think about food!

A skinny African gets Buff: Introduction

This is an introduction to what i hope will be an ongoing series of online articles and possibly videos called “A skinny African gets Buff.” Hopefully the title is fairly self-explanatory, but in case you’re wondering, let me explain what it’s all about.

I’m an African and for the vast majority of my life, I have been a skinny African. For most of my nearly 40 years trodding this Earth, I’ve been overly self-conscious about my body. Previously, I would never show it off in public unless I absolutely had to. Being naturally slim, it seemed as though I could eat any amount of food without putting on weight. Every so often I would tell myself I need to put on some muscle and I’d start doing some press ups, sit ups and stuff, but would get bored very quickly and it never lasted. So, as a result, this is what I looked like in June 2011:

Then last year, I bought the new “Super Creatine Protein Muscle Mass Shake”… Nah, just kidding! But last year I did start putting some serious thought and effort into building up my body. And I’m proud to say that this effort has had some good results. Here are a couple of photos showing what I look(ed) like in July 2012 (just over a year later):

I’m not yet where I want to be but I’m much much happier with where I’m at! And being happier with my body has helped me to be happier and more at ease with myself as a person. This whole experience is really empowering. I am learning that if I have a clear vision and if I dedicate myself to achieving that vision – I can achieve it. I want to apply this lesson to other areas of my life.

This is not just about ‘looking good’ out of a sense of vanity, or a shallow desire to ‘fit it’. Physical fitness is a fundamental part of our existence. It has ramifications on our health, our diet, our lifestyle, etc. I have found that being serious about my fitness has helped me to think more deeply about myself as a person, my goals, my purpose, my ambition, my values, my identity, my worldview and even my politics. I know this probably sounds weird, but hopefully I’ll be able to break this down in this series.

My aim is to share lots of the excellent advice that I have gathered over the past year. My hope is that this series of articles (and maybe videos) will be useful to my fellow skinny-dudes who want to put on some muscle. Obviously, we all have different bodies and not everything here will apply to every skinny dude. We all have to listen to what our bodies are telling us and adapt our routines accordingly. But I reckon at least a few of these points will be useful to everyone.

When I was researching for my own benefit, I found that lots of articles used a lot of weight-training jargon and didn’t break things down into normal English. It was all this talk about “reps”, and “sets” and “Lats” and this and that. For an absolute beginner like me, this was useless. I had to do a lot of work to get past the jargon and find out what the hell they were actually talking about.

So, I will not use any jargon words without explaining what they mean. I’m also not going to tell you to spend money on supplements or any new fangled product. I gained well over a stone (from just under 13 stone to about 14.5 stone now) in one year, without buying a single protein or Creatine shake. And I also didn’t spend my whole life in the gym.

I would love to hear feedback from anyone who finds these articles to be helpful. And if there are things I’ve got plain wrong, then post comments and share what you know. I’ll happily make changes to what I’ve written.

So, stay tuned for the next installment of… “A skinny African gets Buff“!

Everything is as it should be!

Recently, I’ve been getting used to the idea of accepting every moment as it is. It might not be how I want it to be, but it is as it should be, based on what has happened before.

We all know the idea of cause and effect – if certain things happen, then certain results will occur. So, if you close your eyes, you will not be able to see what is front of you. If I drink a whole jug of water, I will go to the toilet in the near future. Nothing radical here so far. The universe is based on principles like this. There is order to the universe, rules and laws.

By choosing to accept the moment, we align ourselves with the Universe. As Deepak Chopra puts it in “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success”:

When you struggle against this moment, you’re actually struggling against the entire universe. Instead, you can make the decision that today you will not struggle against the whole universe by struggling against this moment. This means that your acceptance of this moment is total and complete. You accept things as they are and not as you wish they were in this moment. This is important to understand. You can wish for things in the future to be different, but in this moment you have to accept things as they are” – p. 57-58

I find that by taking this approach, I avoid many negative feelings that would normally occur if I instinctively judged the moment. No-one can force me to feel bad about something. I am in control of how I will responds to most events or situations. By accepting the moment as it is and not judging it, I am freeing myself to choose my response to that moment. I empower myself to take control of my emotions and my feelings rather than other people or situations controlling them.

Accepting the moment also helps me to conserve my energy. When react negatively to something someone says to me, my reaction uses up some of my energy, in a negative way. It also puts out negative energy to the person I am speaking to. This in turns pushes me away from that person, it puts up a barrier between us and prevents us form being able to connect with each other. I’ve recently learned that this is how arguments occur. Each person reacts to other’s reaction and eventually, all lines of connection and empathy are blocked.

I’ve been practising this approach for a short while now, and I’m finding that I experience much less angst and frustration, etc. I’m also feeling much more empathy with people around me, more of a connection with them. I definitely recommend it to everyone!

Recommended resources:

Deepak Chopra on The Law of Least Effort

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People [Habit 1: Be Proactive]
Stephen Covey

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success
Deepak Chopra

Entire audio available on YouTube here:

Everybody Loves Holland

Holland are one of those teams that have plenty of fans from other countries. The main reason for this is their tradition of “sexy football”, a tradition which goes back to the great Ajax and national sides of the 1970s who scored goals like this:

I first came across them at EURO88. I remember collecting Panini stickers and being dazzled by the bright orange shirts. I was also intrigued by the fact that they had more black players than England. Of course there was Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard, but there were also lesser lights like Aaron Winter and the 2nd goalie Stanley Menzo. They destroyed England with a hat-trick the mighty Marco van Basten. Having grown up in England, I was totally ignorant of van Basten, Gullit, the Koemans and watching them was like a revolution.

And then there were the fans! A sea of bright orange was so eye-catching. It was love at first sight. The fact that they really, really seemed to hate the Germans also sat well (although more recently, Germany have turned into a multicultural, friendly, attacking team who everyone loves – until they win something!).

Since then, Holland have usually disappointed at major tournaments, though they were bloody good in France98, only going out to Brazil in the semis. Remember Dennis Bergkamp! Dennis Bergkamp!, Dennis Bergkamp!

One thing that the Oranje always bring is in-fighting between their players. This took an ugly turn in Euro96 where there were allegations of racial divisions between the players, but usually, their factionalism is pure comedy.

In truth, the Holland teams of recent years have been pretty dull to watch. In the 2010 World Cup finals, they did give us some cracking goals like this one against Uruguay

But in the final against Spain, they suddenly turned into a hideous cross between the 1980s Wimbledon and the Israeli Defence Force. Nigel de Jong’s textbook karate chop in Xabi Alonso’s chest captured their approach perfectly. I was glad Spain won, despite them being a bunch of racist MFs.

Adios Holland. I hope one day you’ll to the joyful, open free flowing style of old.

The UK Garage Years: 10 Classic Songs from a Golden Age

The UK Garage Years: 10 Classic Songs from a Golden Age

There was a time in the mid to late 1990s when the word “urban” was still wet behind the ears and David Guetta was still just another obscure French house dude. In those days, Britain was rocking to the UKG sound. The genealogy of UK Garage should be well known, but I’m gonna give you an overview before introducing 10 classic songs that defined the era.

In 1993-1994, Jungle had re-introduced RnB, Hip Hop and Ragga heads to electronic music. But by 1995, it had all gone a bit dark and aggressive (as would happen with Garage). At around the same time, more and more heads started frequenting clubs and bars playing house music and gradually a distinctive UK sound emerged. While the earlier songs still stuck to the basic 4/4 “four to the floor”, they introduced more vocals and melodic elements. There was an annoying but thankfully short-lived period when big basslines took over, before 2 Step emerged.

Instead of the normal 4 to the floor, producers skipped the 2nd and 4th beats to usher in the 2 Step sound. This is the sound that would explode onto the national scene and make stars out of people like Craig David in 1998 to about 2000. Then, as we know, the mainstream got bored of UKG and on the grassroots level, the ‘yout ‘dem pioneered what would become Grime.

Here are 10 songs that I think nicely sum up the UK Garage years. The good news is that UK Garage never really went away and has remained popular on the radio waves in London. And in the last few years, a revival has kicked in with new tracks bringing back those golden years. Enjoy!

1. Smoking Beats – Dreams
Such a simple track but so powerful. A perfect example of 4/4 UKG.

2. CJ Bolland – Sugar is Sweeter [aka Sugar Daddy Yo!) – Armand Van Helden mix
Guaranteed floor filler to this day. Probably the first UK Garage track to cross over in to the RnB clubs and get away with it. Armand was hot property after this one. See also his remixes of Nuyorican Soul – Runaway and Tori Amos Professional Widow.

3. Danny J Lewis – Spend the Night (H-Man mix)
There are at least 3 mixes of this song that I could have chosen. I opted for this one because it’s a good example of the transition from 4/4 to 2 Step. The live bass gives it a disco kinda feel too.

4. Goldie – Believe (MJ Cole Mix)
MJ Cole’s productions were the classier side of UKG. This mix is classic MJ, with the horn stabs, bumpy bass line and switches from 2 Step to 4/4… and back.

5. Roy Davis Jr Ft Peven Everett – Gabriel
This was produced by US producer Roy Davis Junior and featured singer Peven Everett. The chilled out soundscape and uplifting, spiritual lyrics make this an absolute classic. Never fails to get the crowd moving:

6. Ramsey and Fen – Lovebug
This might be track that really got 2 Step going. A little known fact about this song is that MJ Cole was the engineer for it.

7. Brandy & Monica –Boy is Mine (Garage mix)
For some reason, Brandy’s voice seemed to suit garage remixes. The bass lick was also used for “I Wanna Know” by Restless Natives (aka Y-Tribe). Wish I could include that here also.

8. Sound of One – As I Am (Todd Edwards Mix)
The fact that this guy is called “Todd the God” by UKG aficionados says it all really. Had to get one from him in there.

9. Wookie – Scrappy
There was no other producer like Wookie, though many tried. His remix of Sia’s Little Man and his various remixes all displayed his militant drum patterns and bass addiction.

10. Zinc – 138 Trek
UKG always maintained a darker, edgier side which would eventually blossom into Grime. This is probably the archetypal example of this.

I’m ashamed about all the songs I’ve had to leave out, so please also check out this Youtube Playlist for more:

Racism in Football: Bilic Shames UEFA

Racism in Football: Slaven Bilic v UEFA

Croatia went out of EURO2012 last night. It wasn’t quite in a blaze of glory but they can hold their heads high. They gave Spain a decent run for their money. Some may say that losing to a team playing with no striker is nothing to brag about. But Spain could play 11 defenders and would probably still beat most teams in Europe.

We should give special praise to the outgoing Croatian national team coach Slaven Bilic. In the days prior to the Spain game, he came out and firmly condemned those Croatians who engage in racist abuse. Normally, players and managers choose to stay silent about racism unless it is done against them. But not Slaven. When asked about the alleged racist incidents involving Croatian fans, he went on the offensive:

“It (racism) is a big problem all around Europe and all around the world and on behalf of the entire nation, not even as a football manager, I want to say that I am really disappointed as a Croatian, a parent, and a sportsman, a person who comes from a modern, open-minded and tolerant state.

Everyone is welcome in our county. I don’t like these kinds of supporters and nor do my players. I don’t want them to come into the stadium.

“I live in Croatia and we really are a tolerant county. We are not a racist country and we are angry at these few crazy supporters. We have to put sanctions on these kind of supporters and stop them forever.” Source

Bilic deserves major props for this. His team was just about to play a crucial Euro2012 match. He could have opted to avoid rocking the boat and distracting his players. He could have just hid behind nationalism and claimed that the problem of racism is exaggerated. But he stayed true to his stated anti-racist principles and condemned his own “crazy” kinsfolk.

If only UEFA could show that they too were serious about racism. Instead, they have demonstrated their priorities by fining Nicklas Bendtner £80,000 for advertising a non-official sponsor after scoring against Portugal last week. This amount dwarfs the fines which they have dished out recently over racist abuse. The message seems clear, doesn’t disturb the corporate sponsors, so it’s not a big issue.

Slaven Bilic is now off to Locomotiv Moscow in Russia, ironically, a country which has serious problems with racism in society and thus in football.

Should be interesting!

Akala: The Hip Hop Prophet

What is a prophet?

If you’re like me, when you think of a “prophet” you conjure up an image of an austere bearded man in the Middle East somewhere several centuries ago, shouting at passers-by in a market square. This chap is very angry and spends his time warning anyone who will listen about the impending catastrophe that is about to befall them from God, unless they change their ways.

A prophet is usually seen as one who predicts the future, hence the term “prophetic.” And according to the Bible and other texts, this is indeed a big part of the prophet job spec.

But a prophet doesn’t necessarily tell the future. He or she (despite its generally patriarchal and somewhat misogynistic outlook, the Bible does affirm that women could be prophets) is also someone who speaks about and critiques present day realities. I think of people like Martin Luther King and Omowale Malcolm X as great African prophets of the past century. Their words were like flaming arrows, telling America and the world, just how unjust and ugly it really is.

It might seem a bit outlandish, but I believe that we have a prophet in our midst, right here in north London. I’ve seen Akala (aka Kingslee James Daley) perform live a few times and I’ve also seen several of his talks and lectures and I’m always impressed by his clarity and by how deep he thinks about a range of subjects. For me, he shares the same sprit as MLK and Malcolm, the ability to speak uncompromising truth in a manner that is engaging and inspiring. He has recently released his latest album, Knowledge is Power Vol.1. More details on his website www.akalamusic.com.

I’m sharing two examples of his vision and clarity. They are two completely different audiences but in both cases, he commands the audience’s full attention.

The first is a rhyme he delivered at a school in 2011 (I think). I especially love this because of the way the young students are all hanging on his every word, even though he’s going for nearly 10 minutes… with no beat.

The second vid is a TED talk that he did on the connections between Hip Hop and Shakespeare.

Thus sayeth I and I, don’t sleep on this brother. www.akalamusic.com

Why no East African Pidgin?

<!–[if !mso]> st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } <![endif]–> So, Onyinye is another banging P-Square song ain’t it? Even the fake Rick Ross doesn’t manage to ruin it!

Anyway, if you listen to Afro Beats or hang around West Africans from Ghana, Nigeria, etc., you will be familiar with Pidgin English. As I understand it, pidgin it’s a kind of patois, sort of a broken English, or better still, Africanised English.

How come we don’t really have Pidgin English in East Africa? I mean, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, etc were all lumbered with the same burden of British colonialism. And part of that experience has involved taking on the English language. But for some reason, unless I’m missing something, we didn’t develop a Pidgin English.
There must be a logical reason for this. But I just can’t think of it. Wetin Dey?