The Ga People of Accra, Ghana (Some History)

Learning about the Adangbe people of La in Accra, Ghana, particularly about the Ga people. The brother speaking is full of great information, I learned so much from him! As he was telling me about the La people being warriors, I kept thinking of this Tarrus Riley tune, La La Warriors:

AfricansArise Spotlight on: Chronixx

Chronixx is one of the most exciting talents to emerge in reggae music for years. 19 year old Chronixx (born Jamar McNaughton) is building quite a reputation with his silky smooth effortless vocals and conscious lyrics covering a wide range of subjects. One song among many form him on heavy rotation in my Ipod is Odd Ras (Buss What?), where Chronixx takes aim at much of the craziness going on in dancehall today, including the skin bleeching and tatooting epidemic. As you can see from this selection, Chronixx is equally comfortable with dancehall and one drop riddims. And the interview at the bottom demonstrates that he is humble and serious young man who respects the deep history and lineage of reggae music and is looking to follow in the footsteps of the great pioneers

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Chronixx – Behind Curtain

Chronixx – Most I

Chronixx – Odd Ras (Buss What?)

Chronixx – Ain’t No Giving In

Chronixx – Interview On Stage

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Groundhog Day in #Uganda

This week, Uganda marks 50 years since gaining ‘flag independence’ from Britain. The  leading opposition figure Dr Kizza Besigye of  Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) has taken part in yet another public confrontation with the Museveni regime. The campaign is entitled “Walk to Freedom”, a slight amendment on the previous “Walk to Work”: 

Personally, I’m sceptical of Besigye’s motives. I mean, he knows that the Police have placed a ban on public demonstrations this week. And he knows full well how they will respond when provoked. These scenes are a virtual re-run of several previous stand-offs, especially in post-election period last year. Thankfully, at least this time round, Kizza Besigye did not get such a ferocious battering. 

I wonder what these kinds of tactics are aimed to do besides getting some publicity. I admit that perhaps I’m not in a position to comment being thousands of miles away from Kampala. But it seems to me that these confrontations always blow over with no substantive achievements. 

The regime of Yoweri Museveni would have no choice but to introduce radical reforms and/or step down if it was faced with an genuinely mass popular movement. Despite being the main opposition party, the FDC doesn’t appear to have the ability to organise the masses Uganda. This may be due to a general political apathy among Ugandan people. Or it may be due to the fact that the FDC do not appear to offer much of an alternative to Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM). 

Anyway, I hope I’m proved wrong, but I anticipate that this will just be another flash in the pan and things will return to normal until the next organised publicity stunt.

Africans: be IN the World, but not OF World!

Author’s note 11th August 2013 – This article was written at a time when I believed that socialism was the answer to the problems that Africans face. I no longer subscribe to that idea. I have posted a video recently which outlines my current understanding. Please view the following video in conjunction with the article:

A while back, I made a video in which I wondered out loud why so few Africans are involved in progressive politics and activism. This is what I said in the video description: 

“From where I’m standing, Black Britain is asleep and pacified. It’s bloody hard work trying to get even 50 Africans out to hear a speaker and see some cultural artists, LET ALONE going on a march or other forms of action. I’m confident that things will improve, but I’m a bit concerned that this might take a long time.” [What Happened to Black Power (UK)]

Two years on and still very few Africans are involved in political organisation of any kind. Recently, I’ve been thinking about how an idea in the Bible helps to understand the reasons for this.

In the world, not Of the world
I used to be a church-going Christian and I was a big Bible reader. One of the biblical concepts that resonated with me was that of ‘the World’. In Christian circles, there is this concept of being IN the world but not OF the world. I actually think that this is an excellent way of looking at the lack of political involvement among Africans. To explain, let’s first look at two sections of the Bible.

Just prior to his impending death, the Hebrew prophet Yeshua (aka Jesus) made a prayer concerning his followers. The prayer included the following request:

“I have given them Your word; and the world has hated thembecause they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.[John 17:14-16] 

In another part of the New Testament, a follower of Yeshua wrote the following to Christians in Rome:

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.[Romans 12:2]

The ‘world’ in one sense means simply the place that we all live. In this sense, you cannot be taken out of the world as long as you are alive. In a negative sense, the world refers to the evil ways of people in the world. It is this aspect of the world that Christians separate from – at least in theory! 

This means the unrighteous behaviour such as lying, cheating, stealing, drunkenness, fornication, etc. But more importantly, it refers to the ideology of the world – The system of ideas which dominates the world. Paul encouraged the Roman Christians to ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ – in other words, an ongoing revolutionary overhaul of their ways of thinking. Another term for this might be a paradigm shift. Someone who has the wrong kinds of ideas will do the wrong kinds of actions.

Too Many Africans are OF the world
The most explicit and obvious way in which many Africans are ‘of the world’ is in our commitment to the political and economic system of the world – i.e. Capitalism and Neo-Colonialism. We are turned-off by the mere mention of ideas like Socialism. We think that Capitalism and Neo-Colonialism are natural. As far as we can see, Capitalism is the only thing that works and so there is no point in doing anything to bring it down. Somehow this faith isn’t shaken by the galloping Great Recession of the last 4 years which has hit Africans especially hard. I guess we’ve bought into the idea that this is just a temporary thing that will eventually blow over and we’ll all be fine. We think that the problems that African countries face can be fixed by them simply working harder and being more honest. They think it’s been too long since Independence for us to keep blaming colonialism.

Even many avowed Pan Africanists are committed to Capitalism, and thus ‘the world. There is a tendency among ‘conscious’ Africans to go down the cultural nationalist route. This is the idea the answer to all of our issues is for us to focus primarily on reclaiming our culture (our spiritual systems, our names, our languages, etc). Cultural nationalists are usually quite committed to Capitalism. For them, we will find our salvation by creating our own African space within the existing system. We just need to get our slice of the pie and then we’ll be alright. Many Africans who share this kind of worldview are thus not interested in getting involved with any kind of organisations of initiatives which are anti-Capitalist.

Another way in which we are committed to the world is in our individualism. The idea of working together with other people to achieve a common goal is almost non-existent. The only people we work together with consistently are out workmates and our immediate family and possibly housemates. In this environment, it seems an alien notion to join a political. Even where we can see problems in the world, or in our communities, many of us only want to know how we can make a difference as individuals. We are unconvinced of the necessity of collective action. 

This point on individualism also impact on those who do actually join organisations. Once you join an organisation, you quickly realise that effective activism requires your time, commitment, accountability, reliability, patience, humility, etc. We start to realise that we will need to make some sacrifices in order to be a productive organisation member. This might mean us having less time to socialise, less time to spend with the family, less time to just relax, and so on. This conflict can result in different things, depending on if we take a collective or individualist approach. What often happens is that people will take the individualist approach which usually means they engage with the organisation less and less and just drift away. Another example of taking an individualistic route is to simply pick and choose when and how we will be active within the organisation.

The Way Forward: Learn from the Church?
Looking at the Churches, we see that they also face problems with people converting, being born again, and then falling away. They actually have a great term for this which is ‘back sliding’ – sliding back to the ways of the world. But despite this, the churches have thousands of Africans filling out the pews every Sunday and other days. We can perhaps look at them and see what we can learn.

For example, the whole experience of going to church can be an emotionally and even physically satisfying one. I’m talking about all of the ritual and singing and collective praying and so on. Too many Pan African meetings are about sitting down and being talked at for a few hours. If we’re honest, this is not going to attract people or inspire people to remain in our organisations!  Another strength of churches is that they provide people with a very clear ‘result’ – i.e. eternal life and salvation. I wonder if we Pan Africanists are clear enough about what we are offering to people. To this end, we should really study the examples of Socialism in the world today in places like Cuba and Venezuela and show these examples to our people.

Anyway, these are just some thoughts around the concept of being in the world and of the world. Hopefully they will inspire you to do something constructive for Africans and humans in general. Let’s finish with some Dennis Brown!



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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.