On There’s A Riot Going On, Sly Stone sings with ancestral depth about his vocation. He declaritively sings that he is a poet. There is the poetry of rhyming words. But there is also the poetry of a life that reinvents itself or endures something which is far more profoundly poetic than the rhyming of words. Verses so lived in, that survival is not even the monument. A Poet who not only survives but thrives before words are accorded to her voice. We may never read her words, yet she existed.
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.
Louder than the pain of a hammer head falling on your thumb. Wounded hands play the ear drums with intent. Don’t let the beat scare you. Swing lightly with April, like your dancing with yo’ daddy.
Though we are not a gentle kiss when pressed together, and swaying hearts may rock the boat that floats on by, when Spring tries to hide her melody from your peripheral vision, you show your true colours when you swing.
No you need not be afraid of your beating heart. The beat is the life you live, and life is worthy of all your hopes and dreams. So swing with April, before the wild wind drifts you away into your last season and an eternal beginning.
A complex beast is the capacity to make music that is more humane than we can sometimes be to each other. The horn plays the player as much as the player plays the horn. Francis might have been the miles of music he heard after she was gone. Do we always hurt the ones we love the most? And did that thought ever cross his mind?
Here in this candid moment we project the idea of him that is safest for us to hold. The totality of a life is not safe to hold. We are dangerous terrain and our journey to meet each other might be on an unpaved road. The sign says I Dare You. Travelling miles alongside you to discover a fraction of the universe that you are, is several lifetimes we will never live. But you can play Blue In Green. It will tell you something. Maybe enough to go down that unpaved road of the lover you uncoiled for.
Perhaps the light knew something I didn’t before I walked into studio C without a plan. Just loose ideas and the accumulation of years lived. The life I’ve been privileged to endure and delight in, tells on itself on such occasions as this one. Both sides of a coin put in a bid for what my heart subconsciously knows. I’m still learning to speak an old language.
Your mind drinks the sound of rain. Nurtures peace. Paints possibilities. Come take your bow and find your sweet music in me. Play your song as tender as a mother’s embrace. I won’t leave you for treasures of Gold. We are bound as one. Night and brown. Round in tone. We chase dreams for fun. And when I hear your voice speak through the hollow of my body, it resonates in the realm of the unseen. A language for healing hurts. We escape into the melody. A step ahead of the drift but not too far behind the beat. The tempo of my heart quickens when I see you smile in C sharp. Your joy dances across the strings that keep me sane.
In a world of sand papered expressionists. Of clowns with crooked faces, and shiny knights made of Marzipan wishes come true, I find you in those quiet moments when the noise of grown ups fades into the shadows with your tears. I’ll never leave you for Emerald and Sapphire.
Play me again when I’m old and despised. I’ll be in the hollow waiting for you to release me from the indigo silence, that we might travel once more into new colours unimagined. Brighter than we ever sounded before. Lighter than the weight of careless words aimed at us. Stronger than fear’s hope to bring us down below the groove of love. Not for Ruby and Amethyst
Not for Diamond and……
Monk like, walking side ways to go forwards two chords ahead of cowardice, where’s the change? Front to the future, grim reaper’s keeper, swine snatches pearls before you ever caught the wind’s tail. A race?
Like walking backwards to see the ending before it all began, and how I made you feel so good before you knew me. Shall we dance my dear?
A question worn out, big toe poking out of socks, sucks to be this free without a new world to unmask. I might be everything you ever wanted, just arrange the parts around my heart, its tough to kill and too easy to die. Again?
Walking forwards, to find the back of you, we chain our eyes to red dot secrets, and embrace lasers like lovers headed to the guillotine, defy life at your own risk, to fall in, all the way down, take a left turn at the corner of your doubts, I am all your fears come true, your worst mistake and your best decision. Now?
One of three. Three. Free. Wanting to be. Young Disciples had that song back in the day about wanting to be free. Its called Freedom Suite. A beautiful work in three movements or parts. Carleen sang with such authority about a longing for a state of being that is not conferred on everybody. The freedom to be. Just to be. Human. To be people. Who share gifts during pagan holidays. And eat a lot during that time. Most likely, such people will have family over, and share in the merriment of that moment. It might or might not be Turkey at that table. It might be Chicken wings. Or Egusi soup. Akara. Plantain. Or good old roast potatoes with beef and gravy.
“Still in your mind all we do is keep wandering and gathering, spear chucking and dancing. You imply we must prove to you that we deserve freedom.”
Wanting to be…..
Just to be….
Just to be…..
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.