From ‘Sugar Man’ to ‘Fantastic Man’

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These are the kind of stories I want to tell. Literary ones I’m interested in, but driven by the same agenda nonetheless: telling stories that expand the ‘single story’ status quo. The ‘single story’, as Chimamanda Adichie’s appellation refers, is one that is bent on creating stereotypes, even blueprints, about particular discourses. For instance you associate particular characteristics with Africa: darkness, jungle, backwards, primitive, etc., without questioning how that discourse was constructed. Here I think we have an amazing story of William Onyeabor, an artist who was key in the funk and electronic music genre movements of the 1970s and 80s, but whose music has never been deemed worthy in the larger scheme of things. The single story has sidelined him and cast him in a peripheral position of the entertainment world. Asked to name important figure in the development of electronic music, you would never mention his name. I am also interested in the mystery and myth that surrounds both these men. Their simultaneous ‘invisibility’ and ‘popularity’ – their peripheral identities and warped celebritydom – has led to rumours, myths, wild imaginative constructions, and lores about both their private and public life, making them legends!

I’m hell-bent on learning the dance moves from 23:31 minutes…

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I’m an Artist

Frida Khalo

For the longest of time I had difficulty accepting that the label ‘writer’ could ever apply to me. What with all the worlds people such as Sello Duiker, Chimamanda Adichie, and Biyi Bandele have opened up for me. Worlds that I had a deep desire to immerse myself in, and have a drink with the characters as they share with me their deeper philosophies. Worlds of one individual’s creation, creating something out of nothing. Worlds that travel and open in their readers forgotten layers. Worlds that have been created in response to a buzz, an image, a sound, a smell, a touch, an outstanding sensuality, sensibility, and obedience. Worlds created out of sheer raw creativity.

I don’t struggle with using the label ‘artist’ to signify who I am. Being an artist is a sacred state of mind and state of being. I often hear writers talk about how they can only write when they are going through difficulty, and I can relate. When there is an immense depth of feeling, that is, when you delve into the darker corners of who you are, when darkness seems to threaten the lightness of your soul, you are called upon to explore that slice of life, for being a writer is exactly that: you cannot function without the lucidity of events, characters, context, and position. Every depth of feeling must be afforded a deep plunge, an acknowledgement, and articulation.

When you explore a depth of feeling, a most primal and raw emotion, it comes unaccompanied by language or reason; it is as it is, like a dream it presents itself as nonlinear and delineated from worldly order of events. It is an image a writer must trust and obey. Obedience is forsaking the ego and accessing a child-like state in the face of exploring that depth of feeling. This is how you can (re)create a world from a prelingual state—a piece of music can give way to the first words; an image, a painting, photograph, or poster can lend its grammars to your world; the silent beauty of nature can envelop you with sensuality that overwhelms you with vocabularies of creation.

However you must not only hear but listen. You must not only see but practice vision. Summon the third eye. You must employ the third eye to extrapolate from everyday life the nuances of what we have deemed normative. You must, in a most unassuming way, position yourself as a diviner—prick your ear to listen to the raw sounds that will respond to your raw feeling, align yourself with worlds that can burst open and broaden your own, and prise your heart open to levels of fluidity, constant motion and evolutions. Nature abhors stasis, as does art.

You must immerse yourself in art in order to be a creator of worlds. You must be sensitive and sensible to the pulse of creation. You must surrender to the rawness of drums, paint, light, saxophone, words, movement, clay, performance, marble, wood, charcoal, voice, feathers, and so forth; keeping in mind that for anything of value to come out, you must deplete and deconstruct. You must free these commodities from their conventional use and create a world for them to find another use that responds to your depth of feeling. The same goes for self. You must strip yourself to the most bare as to invite the royal robe of creativity to enshroud your naked senses. You must create!

My name is Uhuru, and I am a creator. I create art using wor(l)ds borne out of images, sounds, nature, movement, performance, piano, feelings, smells, motion, tastes, water, alphabets, light, … In this video below, Chimamanda invite us to create worlds of our own making, multi-dimensional worlds that are not as flat as the conventional everyday life depict. There are so many layers to who we are, and we must endeavour to plunge into those layers to recreate satisfactory images of who we are. If you don’t write your own story, someone else will draw misconceived conclusions about who you are. Writing your story can happen in various ways. Find your medium. Find a fitting interface between you and who you are. Create your world, create yourself.

Heaven and Hell are Right Here on Earth

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The biggest blunder in personal philosophy and growth is to believe and invest in the afterlife, or in heaven and hell. This relegates life here on earth as a liminal space between birth and heaven or hell; depending on the magnitude of your sins. It also presumes that heaven or hell are polarised stations, where a choice for one destination can simply be afforded. This repudiates the complicated dualities and layered textures of humanity, and forgoes to squander the inextricable links between heaven and hell. That is, it collapses the complexity of living in this time and space, and celebrates a life of idealism over conscious and responsible living.

A life of ‘afterlife idealism’ celebrates, as its major thrust, the destination as opposed to the journey, whereas we know that the journey is precisely where the lessons lie. To assume that there are only two destinations for the human spirit is to undermine the multifaceted nature of humans. This has a tendency to manifest in viewing all humans with a monolithic lens: you are either going here or there, either good or bad. This leads to judgement. We condemn ourselves and kill the human spirit by prescribing predetermined paths, instead of celebrating the human spirit by perpetually and persistently pioneering our own journeys.

I will take as an example the absolutely uncreative popular destination that we celebrate in society today. One is celebrated when one is born, sits, crawls, walks, goes to school, finishes school, goes to university, graduates, works, buys a house, meets a partner, procreate, push for promotion, retires, and dies. If that one is forecasting a particular heavenly future in the afterlife, then that should keep one going strong. If one seeks heaven in one’s life, then one is being heretic. If one does not comply and commit to this predetermined journey to ‘heaven’, then one has evidently, according to society, picked hell.

This malignant pathology often results in unconscious living; a life that is always forecasting a particular future without focusing in the present, which is essentially all the time that is guaranteed to us to be responsible sentients conscious of the living relationships we have with other humans, the moon and the stars, the animals, the earth, water, wind, fire. This unconscious living is beside itself with megalomania, feeding the ego for the benefit of an imagined ‘just’ human destination. It is a spirit that has no regard for the inner self and its workings; no particular investment in being in the service of others; no empathy for the human condition: a spirit in perpetual slumber…

ImageI am of the belief that heaven and hell are right here on earth, and that inasmuch as the spirit does not die when the physical body takes its last breath, we will certainly not possess this consciousness to trace its trajectory. Instead of investing time in figuring ourselves in relation to the afterlife, we can rather be fully awake to the responsibilities of this particular life we are currently afforded to journey in. One may live with the faith of a spirit that rests at peace, but one may be certain that while one is living here in the now, one may be able to get a taste of heaven (or hell, depending on their disposition).

All humans are born with a conscience, and that conscience is precisely the seat for heaven or hell. Your conscience can offer you peace or guilt. Guilt can be a force with the burning power of fire and brimstone. All religious texts, most of which I have been privileged enough to explore till now, preach the same thing: respect your mother and father; do not kill your neighbour; and strive to rise above all deadly sins. This is the thread that ties us together: an inherent humanity. It is perhaps the essence that makes us human, push us to act in a humane manner, and make us see the divine in others. No one is above their conscience.

If you kill another human, you will live in hell; if you do wrong unto your neighbour or parents you will live in hell. Your conscience will not let you find peace/heaven unless great measures are taken to absolve your sins. At any given time, when you do wrong against another human, you will feel it weigh heavily on your soul. When this happens, do not negotiate whether or not what you did was received in a negative manner by another; be steadfast to acknowledge that if it does not sit well with you, you are experiencing a gravitation towards hell.

To apologise to another human, no matter how (in)significant the crime, is to honour the divine being in you, firstly, but mostly, to explicate the clutter and the quagmire that threatens to contaminate your conscience and your soul. In the process, you honour the divine in another human. This process is sacred and divine, and has all the makings of heaven. To wake up with no heavy conscience; to live without regret; to depart daily from an uncluttered centre of who you are; to honour self as a temple; and to meditate day and night on the cleanliness of your temple: that is heaven. Allow your life to be testament that heaven is right here on earth. Light and darkness co-exist, but choose to be in the service of light.

Know thyself and you shall know heaven

The queendom of heaven is where light and divinity lies. Know thyself and you shall know heaven

Creating Light Out of Darkness

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of speaking to one Kgafela oa Magogodi, a poet extraordinaire, and artist in the making. We delved into great reflections on art, and agreed that all disciplines of arts are interconnected, and that we may feel veraciously suspicious of an artist who does not appreciate all forms of art. As you might have noticed, I am greatly inspired by visual arts; my blog has been punctuated by paintings and great photography, together with jazz performances, all in celebration of the fact that in recent times visuals arts have spoken to an aboriginal feeling within me as strongly as Pharoah Sanders’ or Bheki Mseleku’s riff have been able to tap into. There is something about images that constitute totality of human experience.

I spoke to Kgafela about this, and he opened a new world for me. He divulged his hobby of watching painters paint. When you watch a painter paint you are involved in creation; you partake in the process of creating something from nothing. The silences become as important as the sound of the strokes that brush against the canvass, and one stroke can give birth to possibility. When paint drops on the surface of the floor, the splatters also contribute to the signification process; it becomes a charged space where the painter is moving to the rhythms of orbiting semiotics, prompted into the action of notating them on the canvass, trusting the depth of feeling and surrendering to the desire-object and object-desire. It is a sacred space of creation.

Have you seen Moses Molelekwa, Coltrane, Ngqawana or Bokani Dyer in that sacred space of creation? There is a world in them that also begs to be engaged with and inhibited. The sacred caressing of the piano or saxophone is the act of appeasing that world; it functions to bring that world closer; it is an act of surrender in breaking down one’s own boundaries to get closer to that world. That world is desired and you have to fine-tune your approach to the sanctity which it promises. In the world of creation, when Molelekwa or Dyer lapse into that primal space, the floodgates burst and the true purpose of life is comprehended. There is a purity that is experienced. Nirvana. The joy that we as audience feel emanates from experiencing the rays of light the musician is immersing himself in. Ah, that is perhaps the value of watching a painter paint, and witnessing a sublime performance: basking in the light that is commanded into being by the artist: let there be light!

All art forms work with images and numbers. It is a perfect and symmetrical image that orbits around your world of ordained creativity. When you write you mangle images and strive to notate them with language. This can be limiting given the various linguistic backgrounds and the ‘civil’ pretences of language. That orbiting image of desire must find an outlet, so we make do with language the best way we can. The rhythms of our lines are dancing to a tune in our heads—we start to move to the pulse of the orbiting image. Writing hence becomes a perfect number informed by the tapping foot of music; particularly poetry. Iambic pentameter and jazz poetry is precisely the ordered rhythms of the perfect image.

Musicians and performers however—or any artistic form that eliminates the civilised pretences of language—function from raw feeling without the limitations of linguistic baggage. Writers deal with object-desire-sense (unless they are Dadaists), whilst performers deal with object-desire without having to make prescribed sense. As Keorapetse Kgositsile proclaims, “poetry at its best becomes frustrated music”. Ahum. That is why most writers finely align themselves to jazz and other forms of music: it is the perfect symmetry between number and image; music has capacity to communicate an aboriginal feeling; music transcends the constructs of humans, such as language, to draw and signify this that I call aboriginal. In the beginning was the word, but the word is derivative of sound…

Obey Your Calling

VOice

When you do what you love a world of possibilities reveals itself to you. When you make decisions about your life from looking inside—from learning what kind of spirit steers the body you are in—and obeying that tiny whirl of desire you have, expanding it and making it a resource and source of passion, all will be revealed in measured pace.

When you make life decisions by looking outwardly first you tend to obey current trends and somebody else’s idea of who you are, and what you can be. It is possible to find a world of possibilities on this path, but it is ultimately your exclusive voice, passion, desires, and resolve that will fuel you to give it your all, and make a sound contribution to what you do.

I come from a generation where most of us did not have the fortune of options and choice. Given our recent history, most of us had to study and work in industries that were not necessarily our passion, but a way to celebrate a new-found freedom by seizing new opportunities. Most had to, and still have to, support their families and alleviate their impoverished backgrounds.

I was most fortunate to spend valuable time looking inside of myself, and learning the nitty-gritties of who I am, and where I want to be (mostly because my parents could not afford to take me to university). The former was more important. Once I figured out who I am, despite all the failures and shortcoming in my school years, I realised that I had dreams, and I had talent. I started working from inside out. I exerted who I am to the world…

Studying literature was my calling, but I didn’t know what on earth I was going to do with such a mostly-leisurely subject. I followed my heart and listened to my own voice with a keen ear. I allowed my spirit to steer my thought and my movements. The world started revealing itself to me. It continues to do so. This week a world of possibilities opened, and I am rejuvenated and drunk with enthusiasm.

The work that I do is ordained. It is a true calling that birthed who I am. There was no walking away from this passion. The more I walk closer to it, the more it gives to me. I have no kind of ego in place that blinds me from seeing what is being revealed to me. I am obeying this journey—it is my master, and I am an obedient learner.

There is no greater joy and fulfilment in my life than feeling, sensually—hearing, touching, tasting, smelling, and seeing—the textures, contours, colours and depths of my capabilities; and constantly being pleasantly surprised at who I can be and what I can do. It is a matter of passion, hard work, faith, and courage.

I testify to you now: if you heed the calling of your voice, if you obey your talents, if you sow the seeds of your desires, if you look inside and not outside to find out who you can be, then you will harvest a world of possibilities. Prepare to be in a constant process of ‘being and becoming’, and make peace with not knowing where you are going, but instead trusting the coordinates of your exclusive life journey. It is not about the destination but the journey itself.

Contrary to popular belief, life is long and hard at times. You want to be living a life that fulfils you and creates a well from you to drink replenishing waters from…

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