Signs as I crossed my heart. Eyes have held up the world. A dereliction of duty. They should have been watching you. As I do. Only seeing. Always open to seeing you. Through. Getting out of the way of the lens. Losing only the focus just a moment before the flash catches hold of you. And why do you look at me instead of the lens that designs an impression of something you might not yet be? Or do you see me as the lens that is too close to know your secrets, but too far to not be curious about who you might be?
While I was tinkering and thinking about whether a Blues guitar solo should share amicable space with an alto saxophone on a number, I was captured by this captivating photograph of Tsehai Essiebea Farrell which led me on a great train of thought for the lyrics to come. Ethiopia had been on my mind recently because of a conversation I had with a great Ethiopian Artist about an awakening he had. A revelation about his place in the world, his vocation, and the micro of the worlds within his wider perception. So much of the telling if not the toiling of life, both in our written past and living present, has much to do with our vantage point and the dubious nature of our muscle memory where matters of the tender heart are concerned. Uncomfortably numb but our eyes never tire of seeing and being seen. Or do they? Do they know? Do they look in on us and play our hand against better judgement? Our windows remain the seducer and the seduced, for perpetuity. It can seem that way. And what is seen is unseen. What is known is a mystery as I am to you. Always the stranger from eye to eye. Yet familiar in some kind of way. Never fully known.
I could have been anywhere but of course it would be Shoreditch. If anywhere epitomises the chase for the taste and the life that the city might afford those who would conquer it, the place would be here. I had a recent conversation about it, and we didn’t even have to break it down. If you know, you must have feasted your eyes on the wanton displays of the artful and ambitious in hopes of ‘making it’ with or without the rain that is sure to fall on the hopeless. Every shore that safe guards the dreams of the eternally green hearted and young, knows the way to the ditch. Not bitter. Possibly high. Yet still determined as all Alexanders are fated to be in the lies of greatness.
“As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles.”
– Walt Whitman
It has been noticed that I sometimes hold mine as she does hold her own. I wasn’t aware of that until it was pointed out to me. However in my case it may have more to do with the sack of fluid pressing on the nerve which restricts the fingers and forces the hand into a mildly clenched form when not active. Or it might just be that I am my mother’s son and have inherited a physical trait of hers.
Last December she told me that before I was born she prayed for another boy. She had read an article in a Reader’s Digest magazine titled ‘If your dreams came true’, and that was her dream. I was her dream come true. I was a little startled when she shared that with me. The idea of being someone’s dream is rich food for contemplation. Naturally I was destined to disappoint somewhere years down the line. Lawyer was not becoming of me with my head high up in the clouds. And there are some other things on the vicarious life through your children box that I didn’t tick off. But the hands have not failed to live up to the weight of dreams if not expectations. I’m not the baby in the picture and I’m not the differed dream. Just the dreamer still working with troubled hands that turn inwards but reach out for impossibilities like love. Some do wonder if fate and destiny, like some parents, have favourites. And yet children take sides too. I had only the hands of my mother so there was never a choice to be made. The bastard is fathered by the world he reconfigures. Made up mentors in books and elsewhere fill up his imagination. He chooses to love. He chooses to believe. He chooses to never give up. Bolder than stone. He chooses the hand he was not dealt and the hand he has not felt, to hold. And to be held, not held back.
When I was a child I was taken to see a Palmist who revealed something that would happen to me when I was older. It happened but I survived. Do not let people speak into existence your present or future if it is not for the good of your life. And that goes for your children too. When I was lying in bed in hospital in 2014, looking through an open window, I rejected those words spoken over my life. A hard lesson learnt. I spoke words of my own aspirations and decided I would live on. God would have the last word. And the hands of time would have to fall in line.
“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.
Choosers at the begging, offer bread for cake money. Healing hand opens up to reach down into a pocket full of ashes where foundations forgot. Smile is on the honey side of life, but not a dry eye in August to ply with tears. Cheers. They’ll drink to this when they swap places in the next life that catches fire before they choose where the burn marks will reside.
An Igbo couple in Lagos, 1955, reads the caption. I still find myself in contemplation of the fact that once upon a time most lives lived were untold or rather undocumented. And it didn’t matter. Your world was a village. A town. Maybe the expanse of a city. And that’s all the world that might have known of you. The people you encountered. Perhaps they wouldn’t have a picture of you, so you would have only existed in the memories of people till they unremembered you. Cause you still existed in the memory. At least in real time, when you encountered and were accounted. So what can one do with images without a context? Maybe this is one of the chief reasons why fiction as a literary form is enduring and vital. These people caught in the lens of their lifetime could be any number of possibilities of character and story that is invented. It is probable, though I can’t prove it, that every human scenario has already been lived before so that even projections into vacant images to invent narratives are old tales retold in new clothes.
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.
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…..
60 years later. Multiplied by countless lives lived with a possibility that didn’t exist before a 6 year old child walked bravely to school, escorted by bodyguards and unseen Angels. To bear light. To shift time forward. Ahead of the appointment. To shake earth beneath stubborn feet. Moving the mountain aside to make a pathway for light to travel through. Bearer of….a burden. Light is a burden to harness.