Only one hand works but two is company. To feel the resistance of a hand that does not obey the head. To reconcile. I wore a cast for years. I drained the fluid. It returned within minutes. It refuses to be compliant. It hurts me all the time. Since I was 8. But it has taught me a lot. It defies me. And I defy it. That is our harmony.
“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
– Bob Marley
I was not meditating but there are times when I tap into a peace that bounces back up in the abstract of sounds and colours. In this captured moment I put on my Sci-Fi music and reached for my guitar just to see what might happen. Sometimes I like to work out ideas on just one or two strings. Not chords. Single notes. Purples and reds at the bottom of the neck. One note can be everything. It can tell the whole story if placed and timed right. Not to say that it necessarily comes down to the semantics of right and wrong in the creative playground of imagination. It is as much a percussion instrument as anything that hands and feet can hit. The lower E string is home. It gave me my first guitar child, Love Never Fails, but I don’t always arrive at something of permanence. I had an old tape of home made jungle music that I dabbled in for a little while, trying to learn some modern production techniques in 1999 when I got my first computer. I was just throwing ideas out into the ether to see what might happen at a particular bpm. I had also read Octavia E Butler’s Mind Of Mind in my local library within that period or maybe a bit earlier and the images and ideas I got from the Afro-Futurist world of her novel aligned with the sounds and colours I didn’t know I was searching for. Fast forward to a few years ago, and I was now hearing something else in that old jungle music. I started to employ techniques pioneered by the late great Lee Scratch Perry, to strip down and make new out of the old. Just to see what might happen. I dared myself.
Jungle is a true school London sound which had faded out of counter-cultural relevance before the turn of the century but still held up low end sonic value owing much to Black America as most popular music does, and the polyrhythmic continent that we associate with the groove of life. In an ideal world of parity and fairness, The Amen break should have provided financial compensation for drummer, Gregory Coleman, and his bandmates in The Winstons for they and their heirs lifetime. Not to trivialise, but it is no less than the Henrietta Lacks of music samples, perhaps only matched in equivalent significance by Clyde Stubblefield’s Funky Drummer break. A similarly glorious and tragic story. I say this respectfully and without exaggeration. It is a cornerstone of recorded music over the last 30 years. Though Jungle music never truly crossed over, it had its moment in the zeitgeist. And its cult heroes. Goldie whose album, Timeless, marked its emergence from the underground into the homes of taste makers and gatekeepers of perceived cool in the era of Brit-Pop, has been a part of the institution of British music for many years. A purist? I couldn’t say. Whatever that means and for whatever that’s worth. What I do know is that the power of Jungle is visceral and almost indescribable.
I remember going to a Jungle music basement party in Camden with my friend, Beru Tessema (just for the record, this is not a false memory), long after its heyday. The hardcore massive as we would say, were out and they were mostly youngsters. Kids in late adolescence. They didn’t live those years of its come up and scene. Not that I did either. They would likely have been in their primary school years during its peak in the mid nineties and some in infancy. It found them or vice versa before the playlist era. There were mantra like moments when the DJ would mix out the drums and turn up the wobbling, squelching, soul curling bass. Alien textures that was felt. Colours of mystical sounds wildly spraying over everyone like lighter fluid in a sprinkler. Then the drums would come back in and planets in orbit collided or so it seemed. In that heaving space packed with substance fueled low gravity bodies, the intensity was overwhelming. Sweat dripping and filthy. The bass was that dirty and heavy all night. Sexual pummelling of the sensory. All the air was sucked out dry. Flesh watered by sound, and wet as the greatest sex ever consummated in a standing position. Possibly. Perspiration photographs life and holds mysteries by the hand too.
In my time, I painted pictures. Were the colours
bright enough to hold the gaze of your first
In our time, I told stories. Did the plot
stray from the sincere path? And substitute undefined character flaws for a happy ending?
Life is in the blood, and the cup runs over. Love covers a multitude, and the pen still wonders.
Blood is only as thick as the cake mix added and stirred with it. You can put blood in the spotlight but it won’t dance on command. The blood howls. Its lashes out. It bites. Its unruly. The splatter is our history. Maybe blood will not reconcile with blood. Maybe they will find sacred ground and tread lightly around the pain. At a distance they might greet cordially and in their small talk they might reveal things they will not explicitly say about how they feel. That cake mix is not going to hold together the fragility and mistrust. Time won’t cast lots and aspersions to see who surrenders a position of advantage on a Chess board. But a thousand words in a photograph knows all too well that it won’t matter in the end. Who was right? Who was wrong? Did she hold you firm? Did she kiss your cheek? Did she brush your hair as your helpless torso rested on her lap? Did she watch you crawl to her when she returned from work to a cold appartment shared with hangers on? An abode of drifters taking refuge with a half wanted child and a mother who stayed the course, when the river pulled at her hem. Mothers and daughters and the waters between them….
Painting by Piyali Muni
This Roman city has been my stomping ground for all my life, and like a woman, it remains a mystery to me. A beautiful and sometimes infuriating mystery. And with all its challenges and failings, it has a beating heart that dares you to embrace it. Its old architecture and industry built from the profits of the slave trade, colonialism and the far reaches of the British Empire are part of London’s legacy. As a post colonial descendant, I am able to harness the history of London as both a symbol and witness of the city’s possibilities. The immigrant blood that upholds the NHS and that has permeated its way into the life and culture of Londoners is only one of many ways in which the history contends with the present. I try to see the beauty, resilience and hope that escapes into the polluted London air. I see the London of the Arts. I think of the fact that London can claim Mozart, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye as former residents. Its been the city of visionaries like William Blake. It gave the world the genius pathos of Charlie Chaplin. Its the city of Shakespeare and boasts the world’s greatest theatre scene and tradition. Charles Dickens did not hide the ugliness and brutality of London. Neither did Dizzee Rascal. As reflected in the Grime and Drill music, London has a screw face too. Knives and young lives have not been kind to eachother. But I’ll always be grateful to London because its where I found the great love of my life. She knows who she is. I hope that we will enjoy this city together again someday. A man can dream. I love London.
Covering the half that doesn’t speak. I know people who fear Spiders more than death. The half mask adorned with eyes to lie in bed unwillingly with questions like lingerie.
Once upon a time I presented this painting, ‘The Deep Thinker’, as a gift. It was turned down because the person who it was gifted to, said the face had no eyes. And that it was tantamount to bad luck. I’ve never dealt in charms but I graciously took back my painting. It seems the only eyes we recognise more often than not are the peep holes for our iris to take a snap shot of what we percieve in surreality. In real life as we term it, we are blinded by sight or rather blunted. The optical illusion of the vision is only equaled by the delusion of what we choose not to see in plain sight. We are all complicit in the great deception and visionaries will burn at the high stakes of our unseeing eyes.
The Deep Thinker
Acrylic on canvas
Clementine kisses you on the nose. Rose button drowned in your eyes. I drank your milk of kindness through my lies. Red wine and coke, you must play through the madness. Best thing you ever heard in your blindness. Muted tongue on pause bites the lip that feeds you. I remember what mama told me. And I remember you. Oh so tall in stature till they bent you over the bullsweat. They have teeth to match your fangs. And tongues of fire to heat up your secular soul. It burns just as hot on the outside of the inn. Keep it. She’s a keeper said nobody but your gentrifried mind. The flame dies but twice. Let it burn like the bushes of vanity, skin deep and heart swept feet off the ground, you put the foot in the mouth but forgot to bite down on it. Deep dead on it. Liver for the thrill. Killer of sheep you ran through the mill on a goose chase for the ages. Bronzed behaviour patterns after laughter and the clock is tocking.
It dawned on me this week that its been 20 years since I’ve been writing songs. Over that time I’d like to think that I’ve learnt a few things about music composition and myself. I’ve always loved creating and over the years I’ve enjoyed painting, sculpture, and various genres of writing, but nothing has been as rewarding as seeing the germ of an idea travel through the universe of my heart, mind and soul into a song. It is a thing of wonder. At one point in time I was meticulous in keeping records of my work. Dates and places. Not so meticulous about equipment. I’ve worked with a variety of keyboards on the low bracket and three guitars. I’ve worked closely with one songwriting partner for a period but mostly alone. The gift and the curse is that an idea can take over your life. You persue it, in or out of pocket, whether its affordable to dream it into reality or not. You dream about what a song can be when given its wings. I’ve studied the work of many songwriters, famous and obscure, but when I create, its from the blood of my soul. This year I had the pleasure to complete the recording of a song that meant a lot to me at this stage in my life. I had to wait almost two years to get the artist I wanted to breathe more beauty into what was already the apple of my eye. I still can’t say I’m done with it but the journey is its own reward. I feel fortunate to have written it and the hundreds of others. I am also grateful for the people who have helped me in collaboration. Musicians and engineers. Friends and hired hands. The inspiration has come from every conceivable thought, memory, feeling,…all corners of the human experience. I thank God for my inner ears and the organs that work together with the spirit in me. Curtis Mayfield is one of my many teachers, and I know I wouldn’t have become the songwriter I am without the lessons I learnt from the craftsmanship of masters like him.
July juxtapositions strangers and life is an exercise for eyes that lament the unanswerable. Streams of thought drown out the intrinsic fear to ask of who they are and what they know. I often wonder about what they have seen when they gaze at the wind or the silence that screams their middle names out of view.
A man wrestling is a man whistling.
Do you always see ghosts and tell of their whereabouts? Hiding places are the low tide. I never question the voices unheard in the storm of ones incoherence. Or the certainty of the unbelievers in the masquerade. What burden of proof will you wear today? And how will you dress down your despair? Welcome is a mask without a face to invent. I wear every doubt you’ve ever had about me with pride. Shameless like you wouldn’t believe. But then again, most of us were reborn naked. Some of us will die that way