My sister shared some things with me today about her experience of watching the major television event, Roots, in the 70s. A bit before my time (I watched it much later), she can vividly remember that other black families would come over to our little house when it was on. It brought people together. And its notable that she can recall the role and performance of one woman in particular.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the impact of the great Cicely Tyson extended to these shores as great Artists transcend their geography. A standard bearer for excellence, the significance of her complexion is equally as relevant as her talent and honed craft. The things that my sister believed about herself had much to do with what she was taught and not taught by the world she inhabited. The making and unmaking starts very early. So when she watched Ms Tyson on screen she saw her kin. Though culturally different, a woman as dark and beautiful as she was, with an undeniable presence. Not what they told her at school. You don’t learn and unlearn who you are every February. The work to excavate one’s true worth is a daily endeavour, and inspiration can take the form of a book you read or a great actress lighting up the screen with grace and extraordinary command. It’s not baiting to testify. It also doesn’t edify to be silent on things that matter to people and how they percieve themselves. The seeds that Ms Tyson sowed on her journey as an actress have produced fruit in many fields of imagination. That’s something worthy of acknowledgement alongside her illustrious body of work that lives. Continuity in life and what one hopes for in the aftermath is to have served purpose in time. The rest and restitution is deep and dark waters and the light hovers over it.
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.
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.
Thank God for music and messengers of good will. Its in the light of melody that I often retreat when confronted by the indifferent and desensitised world of polar extremes. Like many, I discovered Jacob when he first started posting videos on youtube. How time has flown. He is now rightly acclaimed for his limitless musicality. I knew from the jump that he was a different level of musical possibilites than I had encountered in this young century. Its not like there hasn’t been virtuosos on the scene, but I don’t know if there are many or any with the depth and breadth of Jacob’s savant like gift. And where harmony is concerned, his innate ability is uniquely bewildering.
Today was a heavy one for a myriad of reasons. The load management of pain that is expressed in the phyche of the community can be overwhelming. I was giving moments of thoughtful reflection on lives lost and the present suffering. I was remembering dear Zainab and little Jeremiah. And I tried to stretch my mind and heart to things that I lack in understanding. All of life is seemingly politicised within constructs that are layered. Peeling the skin to get at the wounds within, it takes more than the bridge of well meaning words. Perhaps making sense of some things is beyond the relm of reason and so I find in music a gifting of discernment and sage wisdom in melodies. One such melody is Henri Mancini’s Moon River. The words and music of this composition are very special to me. The chords are so in tune with my heart. I remember how Audrey Hepburn’s plaintive rendition blanketed my heart when I watched Breakfast At Tiffanys for the first time. Its still a favourite. Then I experienced Terence Trent D’Arby’s spellbinding a capella rendition at a gig about 17 or 18 years ago. That was unforgettable. From time to time I go on YouTube and watch the late crooner, Andy Williams, wrap his velvet tone around the lyrics. And then we come to Jacob’s arrangement which I have listened to today. In his own way he has reached into his heart to pour out the wisdom and medicine of Mancini’s humanitarian aid to the broken hearted of the world. Its a blessing. A small mercy for the walking wounding, stunted and immobile.
I wrote a film score last year that I put away. One of several things I wrote in a prolific writing and recording period. Its just what I do in between my real life which is spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally labour intensive. But I digress. I didn’t have a title for it till today. Often the music will take the lead in the naming ceremony. After listening for a concentrated period, it began to suggest its ideal and ideas. Sonically its as harsh and as blunt as its subject matter till it opens up with a bit of colour after four minutes. And as I started to think about the contrast of sharp and pounding intensity of monolithic rhythm like a plantation field that shadows the soul, the humming dabs of colour stained the picture like droplets of sweet water on the tongue. And like a drop of blood mixed with sweat, landing without a parachute on the soil of that tethered soul. On one level its about the slavery that masters the body, which is mastered by desire or beauty or something else. Everything is a slave to something. Everything is mastered by something. So Its called ‘The Slave Who Masters The Mistress’. The recording has not yet been mixed and mastered.
Today is a wedding ceremony. A marriage of possibilities. My cousin has exchanged vows and time will study and tell what it has seen, heard and known under God. Black life like black bodies have long been a surrealistic feast for the voyeuristic eyes of fetishists and fantasists. Joseph Conrad could not open his eyes even behind the safety of his pen, to straddle his imaginative reconstructions of the monolithic burden bearers in the heart of darkness situated in the continent of his mind’s perception.
Baldwin generously invested the deformed and fragmented faces of exotica with the unusual idea that they were worthy of being depicted as fully human, even in a foreign land. The continent is not a country. And a country in this context is not a geographical destination. The poetry of Baldwin is not merely the words sentenced to a page but rather the lives affirmed by his words dancing to the tune past the margins of hate and redeemed by love. In his writings love is the great pacifier even when it sets fire to our expectations and challenges our notions of who is worthy of grace, and the horrors that transgress the invisible inhabitants who are generational custodians of a manifested multifaceted curse with wings.
Barry Jenkins painted the poetry of James Baldwin beautifully in ‘If Beale Street Cold Talk’. Next week lovers around the world will serenade each other with cards, gifts and kisses flavoured with wine and chocolates. Babies will be conceived. Lies will be ever more creative. Truths with be earnest and unsparing. Death will still be in business. Card or no card. Life will go on. Love in its bittersweetness covers the multitude and will endure the fall out. A torn page is the pity that a chapter can afford to lose.
“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”
Wettest eye watering skinned brother on the inside, arachnid crawling out, side eyed, hunger bites the heart of fear, and the killer, mother knows best, knows not the fright that drives him to stomp small creatures and their secrets, like vaporous confessions that rise up with death.
Smoke city. A body burns, like nations, like bodies burning nations. Iraq hid in flames of refutation.
Web swinger, entrapped in the ganda, hung to dry on the rope that pulled him up to the measure of Spider men, climbed into company love of misery and a tail wagged for the milk of magnesia and human kindness, as mythical as the love that murders with good intentions to broadcast.
Charity. Just spare me the charity of words like the vain in life who speak of the ignoble dead, fishing in blood rivers. Dead as purpose of Pompey. Restless in peace.
Patriots are foreigners too. Like poets. Dead ones seem to outlive the living. Their words are the ideas that dreamers cling on to for a fictive future.
The living are dreamers at dawn. Walking on corn toes. Curved. Running the zig zag. They are pragmatic with crayons. And they laugh loud and unclear like the noise they speak.
Home is where the heart is heavy. If you cut through the chatter and chit it’s all bullsweat. Now if you knew where to bury the living, I’d hand you a shovel. No words. No songs. No honour to purchase.
They’ve got that one day exclusive on offer. Get your love at half the pain. All foreign currencies accepted. Faces are guilty but eyes are blameless.
Black bodies. Gold plated hope behind second skin. Black holes for weeping bullets, scream behind screens, unheard trauma scares dreams into a silence so loud that it hurts to hear. No fears to trace, to find the trail of tears that triggers the trigger of cowards and all that we choose not to see. All the cows we milk as they moo. Not yet found like Mother’s love. Away from home. Cold meat on a warm climate. Touch it. Pull. Tear it apart. A human lives behind it. Gold for skin, not cuddled, so dark as to be unseen. So much of night lives in you. Lights up your days. A paradox of mourning. You have known all your life how bright invisibility is. So shiny you didn’t need virtue to polish the skin that hides your identity. When is a human a being? In the womb of contemplation is a seed travelling the possibilities of being alive in a world not yet born.
In July 2003 I composed and recorded a piece of music called ‘Dabbler’s Hand’. An amalgamation of Piano and Synths descending violently on top of each other in confined space, struggling together on a bass line holding the pocket, with percussive late night intensity, in their attempt to exist and be heard. The music was the manifestation of my hypersensitivity and Synaesthesia (coloured hearing). During that period of time between my early teenage years and mid 20’s, I seemed to feel everything deeply. I wanted to absorb everything emotionally, to feel what was felt by others. Not so much the pain, but all the yearning, longing and desire of youth and maturity.
Some years later I added the music to footage I recorded of the high streets of Central London, from the vantage point of the top deck of a bus. I kept the camera rooted in one spot like a picture frame with masses of faceless people moving in and out of it. The footage is hazy. Every face being passed by the camera symbolises past, present, future, loves lost, forgotten, remembered, drifting in and out of your life or your memory. Those faceless masses also symbolise Time and the idea that we are constantly in motion. Time doesn’t stand still. Infact, Time is one of the two central characters in the film.
As the film nears its end the music stops. Eventually an ‘old’ man comes into the frame of view, with the focus on him. He is not faceless like the moving masses who represent ‘Time’. He walks forwards slowly, as people breeze by him. Then he stops and pauses for a lingering, metaphorical moment. The ‘old’ man is a representation of all our humanity because he has been young and is now advanced in age (Youth and Maturity), knowing all that comes with both distinctions. In that brief moment with Time (the helter skelter faceless masses) passing him by, he represents all the yearning of young and old, the desire to exist, to have our face remembered. He is the embodiment of our desire to withstand the test of Time, and our attempt to transcend it, as we cannot halt its forceful hands. In that moment he reminds us to pause and consider our lives and loved ones, and even strangers that pass us by. As insignificant as we may seem, we matter. People matter. Every life matters. In that brief moment of stillness, he cuts through the drift of Time. And then he walks out of the frame of the camera. That’s where my camera battery (and the film) ended, as if composed and directed with foresight. I called this film, ‘The Want (Dabbler’s Hand)’. In some ways we are all dabblers. Amateurs in the game of life, taking a chance at something or someone, and hoping that we’ll survive the roller coaster adventure and find some resolution if we should fall. Again and again.