Thursday, 8 November 2012


Flyer of this weekend's gig at Passing Clouds...

I was meeting a Jamaican friend who goes to Ethiopia and Tanzania regularly. He loves Africa which by itself is a pleasure. You know why? There is a feeling amongst us Africans that blacks from these parts of the world are not so keen on the motherland. We sold them as slaves to the whites and secondly, they have already settled here and do not need the continent any more.
 Is that correct?

Idriss K Traore, takes a brief Solo during a jam with Planetman's Band- video by F Macha

In the 1970’s when I was a teenager the motto was Black is beautiful and Africa is the motherland. Seeing African Americans on our East Africa streets created rainbow feelings.  They loved Africa, kissed airport tarmacs upon arrival.  We in turn tried copied and emulated their Afro hairstyles, walking gaits and clothes while they took Swahili and African names.
I used to have a friend who spoke English with a perfect African American accent; which was then considered high status -the epitome of black fashion.
It was all part of the mutual attraction. Started by Marcus Garvey, the legendary Jamaican journalist, ("the black Karl Marx"), at beginning of 20th century – back to Africa movement (repatriation) was as glorious as it is the idea of Kwenda Majuu – these days. Marcus Garvey played a big role in the consciousness of ex-slaves. He pioneered Pan Africanism and the image of our continent as a special place; unfortunately not many of us are aware of this man’s contribution.  He died in London in 1940. Most of past and present black leaders have been influenced by the teachings of Marcus Garvey (pictured below, courtesy of Wikipedia ).

In the last 30 years Africa has developed a dual image.

 On one hand it is misery, suffering, corruption, negative pictures of dying kids, witchcraft, killing of Albinos  and the rising tide of Islamic extremism – Mali (Ansar Dine led by Iyad Al Ghaly)  Nigeria (Boko Haram), where churches are burned to Somali’s Al Shabaab...and where else? Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam. Religious intolerance. Sharia has been introduced in Mali (slowly adopting Afghanistan’s Taliban culture), chopping hands of robbers, stoning, prohibiting TV, smoking, alcohol and football- plus 200, 000 refugees, according to latest figures.
Iyad Al Ghaly who leads Ansar Dine in Mali - pic fromGlobal Dispatches....

The other duality is Africa’s majestic landscape, game parks, a haven of animals, natural resources and hot beaches. These are the images of Africa in overseas media.
So to meet someone who loves and sees Africa for what it is – is a pleasure and joy.
I won’t name my Jamaican friend; this article is not about him.
We meet for a beer at a club called Passing Clouds in East London. It is around eleven o’clock one Saturday. A long queue of mostly white Londoners is striving to get in.  Entry fee is eight pounds (approx 20 thousand shillings); it would be much more expensive in West End and central London venues.
The crowd here, nonetheless has people of quality and soul; mostly whites who have been overseas, university students, professionals, sensitive people who want a better world.
In the course of the evening I chat with a lady working with a charity helping disabled children. I also converse with chap who just got back from Burma. He shows me photographs of the much adored Aung San Suu Kyi. She was under house arrest for many years. Suu Kyi fearlessly opposed the military government in Burma.
“Did you get an autograph?”
“Almost,” he chuckles, “Everyone wants to talk to her. She is like a rock star.”
Speaking of stars, Passing Clouds promotes unique and unknown artists. The host is a friendly guy with long dreadlocks called Planetman.
Planetman sings his World Reggae Music accompanied by his dynamic trio, last month. 

He introduces the guest of the evening a chubby African with big muscles and a drum called Djembe. Djembes are the most popular ngomas in the Diaspora. They have a high pitched sound and a low, vibrating bass. Idriss K Traore is accompanied by another skillful Djembe player Abdullah Samfo and two musicians – Siemy Di (Congo) and Williams Cumberbache (Venezuela). The rhythms quartet rocks the night. Idrissa sings in a wailing voice akin (but not exactly similar) to the famous albino Salif Keita- in his mother tongue- Bambara. Then it is time to thrash his drum: hard and loud and strong; faces of the audience lighten up.

Idrissa in action -by  F Macha

They take pictures and videos on their mobile phones. This show makes one proud to be African. Through the sound of the ngoma drum, the West African Djembe, we are no longer faced with starving children or wild animals. Beautiful music. Power, rhythms and rich tones. Sometime later I am offered a beer by a stranger and even dance with a very pretty lady who asks many questions about Africa.  The mood is superb.
It is through culture and art that the best of Africa, the deepest soul of the colossal continent shall always shine.

 Also published in Citizen Tanzania...last week.

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