Healing & bodies – The Chimurenga Chronic https://chimurengachronic.co.za now-now, a pan African gazette - in print quarterly and online Fri, 17 Sep 2021 12:32:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/cropped-CHIMURENGA-LOGO-32x32.jpg Healing & bodies – The Chimurenga Chronic https://chimurengachronic.co.za 32 32 NEW STORIES ABOUT MUSIC IN AFRICA https://chimurengachronic.co.za/new-stories-about-music-in-africa/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/new-stories-about-music-in-africa/#respond Fri, 17 Sep 2021 12:25:28 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=18599 PASS presents: Salim Washington, Dalisu Ndlazi, Asher Gamedze in conversation

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Pan African Space Station presents that latest edition of Stories About Music in Africa, a musical conversation between Salim Washington (saxophone/flute), Dalisu Ndlazi (upright bass) and Asher Gamedze (drums). This session was recorded live at the Chimurenga Factory in June 2021.

Watch/listen to other episodes from the Stories About Music in Africa series.

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READING FRED HO https://chimurengachronic.co.za/reading-fred-ho-2/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/reading-fred-ho-2/#respond Mon, 13 Sep 2021 10:04:57 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=18594 Gwen Ansell and Salim Washington celebrate the revolutionary life, language and hard-ass leadership of an unconventional saxophonist, composer and generous collaborator.

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A jazz suite in the key of red. Gwen Ansell and Salim Washington celebrate the revolutionary life, language and hard-ass leadership of an unconventional saxophonist, composer and generous collaborator.

READING THE TEXT
Gwen Ansell

Prelude: Home is where the violence is
‘Everything I create starts with the music… [and music]… like any conscious human activity, can be a force to change humanity, society and the world.’ Baritone saxophonist, composer, martial artist and revolutionary polymath Fred Ho (Fred Wei-han Houn) was born in Palo Alto, California in 1957 and grew up around the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where his father taught political science. By his mid-teens, he was playing baritone sax in his high school orchestra and consuming everything he could learn about the Black Power Movement, the Black Arts Movement, the music called ‘jazz’, (Archie Shepp and Max Roach were on the faculty and their sons were his friends), and the emerging Asian-American movement.

His ‘first insurrection’, he told the Harvard Review, was staged at home. He used his fists to defend his mother against beatings from an authoritarian father who, despite the academic distinction he achieved, still suffered racism, which he ‘internalised and took out on those at home’. After high school, Ho was undecided about his future. A brief foray into the Marines taught him more about the violence of arbitrary command structures, imperialism and racism, his resistance contributing actively to its brevity. It also taught him skills – particularly in hand-to-hand combat – that he would later employ and teach in situations he saw as demanding revolutionary self-defence: ‘I’ve never subscribed to turning the other cheek, or to pacifism.’

Toyi-toyi: Fuck patriarchy
Fighting patriarchy at home made Fred Ho a militant. When he wrote his first opera score in 1985, Bound Feet, he attacked the Confucian practice of defining and restricting women through their bodies: a recurring theme in Ho’s compositions and texts since then. ‘I share the political view that violence against womyn [spelled this way by myself to take the ‘men’ out] will only end when womyn defend themselves by any means necessary and overthrow patriarchy.’ Ho saw all oppressions as rooted in capitalist patriarchy, and thus all struggles – for worker rights, immigrant rights, gender rights, land and environmental rights – as interconnected. He did not campaign ‘for’ women, with all the patronising baggage that position carried. He worked alongside women. His music, whether directly pro-matriarchy, such as Warrior Sisters (1991),Yes Means Yes, No Means No (1998) and Momma’s Song (2002), or more broadly radical, showcased the words of women, including poets Jayne Cortez, Sonia Sanchez, Andrea Lockett and Christine Stark.

On stage or record, female musicians and performers featured in the line-up. As a writer and editor, Ho valued ‘first voice’, so in the books women speak for themselves and their own self-selected images were seen. For a couple of years, from 1998, Ho edited the Calendar of Sheroes and Womyn Warriors. All the works are often searing in their honest naming of abuse, but defiance, strength and hope also resound: ‘The blues is not about sorrow, but about hope.’

Slow blues: From a whisper to a shout
Racially bullied at school, Ho read the autobiography of Malcolm X and joined (and left) the Nation of Islam before he entered Harvard. There, he joined the radical Asian-American organisation, I Wor Kuen, which later became the League of Revolutionary Struggle (LRS). He described moving from nationalism toward Marxism as Harvard taught him ‘what I did not want to become… part of the elite’, and as he and his comrades saw the interconnectedness of all struggles. That was an era when many radical organisations argued that national and gender struggles should be mentioned softly, subordinated to the bigger battle; either the revolution would solve them, or they could be dealt with ‘later’. That’s not Ho’s position today. There is space on his pages and in his grooves for Chicanindio poet and activist Raul Salinas, feminist writer Christine Stark, African-American saxophone colossus Sam Furnace, Persian-American vocalist Haleh Abghari, and too many more to number. The battlement-shaking shout of protest in his work is made up of diverse voices, each confident in its identity, all hollering together.

The diversity of militant voices in Ho’s work owes much of its inspiration to the Black Arts Movement (BAM), which flourished between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s. For cultural workers around BAM, art was a powerful tool for social change. To enhance its punch, inspiration was drawn from multiple sources, and art forms and codes of expression – words, images, sounds – were integrated and deployed in iconoclastic ways.

Intermezzo: wooden-fish chant.
Buddhist monks used hollow fish-shaped wooden blocks to strike rhythm while chanting the sutras. The practice was adopted by Taoism and much later fed into the Gold Mountain lyrics: workers’ songs by Chinese immigrants to America. By legend, the fish never sleeps: it’s all about wakefulness and so is Fred Ho’s work. Political, academic and mass-media hegemonies have rendered words like ‘struggle’ and ‘revolution’ unfashionable even when they are the most useful words for certain realities. They have buried the histories of militants, such as jazz trumpeter and composer Cal Massey, inside whose music ‘one could hear the Black Panthers marching’. Ho tells it like it is, restoring memory, replacing linguistic fashion with revolutionary style, waking up our ears and tongues again to the discourse of change.

Shifting groove: The journey to the future
When Ho moved away from the LRS, one factor was:
its ‘line’ on cultural work of producing work that would be ‘accessible’ – in my view, tailing the familiar and conventional… Revolutionary art is about what is coming into being. Therefore it is innovative… I am adamantly against one-dimensional, so-called ‘correct’ prescriptive forms that bourgeois critics try to label as ‘political art’. I’m also not in favour of the errors of socialist-realist art with its glorified ‘socialist heroes’, but favour imaginative critical realism: a sensuous rendering of the colourful material world. Art can fill us with love, with hope and with revolutionary vision.

The future, the fresh, the barrier-breaking were important to Ho. The music called jazz, he declared has ‘revolutionised the world of music by introducing new instrumentations… or refiguring others, [creating] aesthetic transformations of the very components of melody… rhythm… and harmony’. His first opera, Bound Feet, employed Chinese traditional instruments like the son and er-hu. As he explored the use of these further, in ‘using jazz voicings in harmonising traditional instrumental parts’, he ‘discovered fresh timbral qualities – something Afro-Asian in sensibility’. Such musical alchemies, founded on a deep analysis of forms and a mastery of technique, were very different from the pastiches of commercial World Music. Those he described as merely legitimising cultural appropriation while rendering the real authors invisible.

Ho cheerfully mines the now for ideas about what’s coming next: manga comics, pop music and, like Sun Ra before him, science fiction. As he told Jazz Times, since commodified big pop culture has always appropriated ideas from the genuinely authentic, there is no reason why the popular culture of the small – the guerillas – can’t ‘go into the big and abscond with something from it.’

He also tries to live the future: a pared-down, less environmentally wasteful lifestyle; collective music-making and self-reliant ‘guerilla production and distribution approaches’ that bring in a modest income without ‘being indentured to the system’. Ho, wrote Archie Shepp, was ‘making art for the free world even before it really exists outside the rhetoric of those who keep it unfree’.

Rearranging the elements: celestial green giant
Ho was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2006 and his book, Diary of a Radical Cancer Warrior, documented his struggle with the disease and with capitalist (allopathic) medicine. That first diagnosis, he declared, marked the death of ‘Old Fred Ho’ and the birth of a new one. He now farms and eats a raw food diet, more mindful of the ways capitalism damages life and the earth, and of the necessity for eco-socialism: ‘Capitalism is cancer for the planet; cancer is the social and environmental toxicity of capitalism for the individual person.’ Recurrent tumours have reduced his establishment-calculated odds of survival to less than one in 30 000, but he fights on, embracing the Samurai warrior philosophy of living while preparing for death.

Coda: real dragon-flying
It is hard to construct a complete discography or bibliography for Ho, or even to list all his official awards and accolades. There is simply too much. After his fourth recurrence of cancer in 2010, he embarked on an intensive series of recording projects: ‘I’ve been gifted with continuing life and I don’t want to squander it.’ But go online and listen to his performance of his 2008 composition for baritone saxophone and orchestra, When the Real Dragons Fly, which premiered with the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall (available at http://www.instantencore.com/music/player.aspx?ListItemId=3537678). Listen to his baritone soaring up across multiple octaves toward realms that should be impossible for the instrument. Like the man says: ‘The journey into the future should proceed without past hindrances of any kind, including dogma, sectarianism, issues, grudges… Travel light.’

READING THE PRAXIS
Salim Washington

At Harvard: revolutionary enthusiasm and dedicated technique
What attracted me most indelibly to Fred initially was his relationship to the music. More than the correctness of his political line, it was his understanding of the music that marked him as hip in my eyes, and which initially secured our friendship. We were both saxophonists and flutists, and we were both serious about being composers. I admired his ability to write long forms and he admired my ability to write good bass lines. But although my compositions had been about my love affairs and other adolescent longings, Fred’s were about political struggle and dismantling the capitalist system. I was intrigued.

We began performing together, mostly playing Fred’s compositions and reciting his poetry. His aesthetic was closer to W.E.B. Dubois’s notion of art as truth and propaganda than to Harlan Ellison’s ideal of symbolic heroism. We chanted for the death of multinational corporations, decried the greed of capitalists and landlords, and championed the oppressed nationalities and the working class in our shows. My love of the Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk had prepared me for these experiences of meshing political vision with jazz technique. How thrilling it was to collaborate with a like-minded person. While most of our musical peers down the street at Berklee College of Music were staking their lives on being ‘discovered’ and becoming famous as the baddest cats on their instruments, Fred was already demonstrating that an artist could be dedicated and sincere without being careerist and without living in an artistic ivory tower.

Our music wasn’t all politics, and we put a lot of store in building our technique and understanding how the masters built their art. Fred encouraged me to memorise études from Yusef Lateef’s Flute Book of the Blues, and to transpose them in all keys, a text and practice that I use with my students to this day.

There were moments of tenderness as well. We did a performance together in 1979, shortly after the death of my mother, when Fred quietly omitted ‘Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child’ from the programme. I also remember some slight improvisations I used in the poetry recital that night, to add a more vernacular phrasing and greater urgency. He responded by sending a letter thanking me for playing and reciting, beautifully. This was a cherished letter coming from a young man who seemed long on criticism and short on praise.

The Interim Years: Building the music and the vision
Shortly after this we went our separate ways. Fred moved to New York and I went down south on the road with a band of jazz spiritualists. It wasn’t long before I got a letter from Fred chronicling his musical growth and success. He had carved out a space for himself in the Big Apple. In between he sent me a letter about the jazz luminaries that he was meeting and playing with after joining drummer Charlie Persip’s band. He was now going through a box of reeds every week, he wrote. His exuberance was just the beginning. He would soon become a big name in the Asian-American jazz community on both the east and west coasts, and recognised as a composer.

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, I had begun to think that my music was best used for fomenting greater connection to spiritual consciousness and became less involved in organised politics as such. Meanwhile, I went to a Boston performance of Fred’s, which included the soulful, incendiary saxophone stylings of the late Sam Furnace, and included a polemic against Trey Ellis’ recently published essay, ‘The New Black Aesthetic’ (Callaloo, 1989), which posited a post-integration black aesthetic removed from issues of authenticity and blackness per se. It was not simply a clearing of space for new black artists who freely mined their white influences, but also a generational and cultural distancing from the political content of the Black Arts Movement. As we were catching up, Fred informed me that he was trying to rebuild the socialist movement in the United States. I got the feeling that he was fully prepared to do so single handedly, if necessary. When I moved more permanently to New York, we began collaborating more regularly again.

From then to now: freedom, discipline and making the new in jazz
I have played in a variety of contexts with Fred during the 30-plus years that we have known each other. We began and ended with duos, combining our musical and political thoughts with songs, poems, speeches, improvisations, and question and answer sessions. Since the late 1970s, I have also played in Fred’s ensembles, ranging from the sextet format of the Afro Asian Music Ensemble (AAME) – which is my favourite – to his various sax quartets, including the Brooklyn Sax quartet and more recently the Saxophone Liberation Front, to the Green Monster Big Band: a slightly expanded big band comprised of his favourite players, put together when he thought his transition was near. Each of these contexts is not only different in format, but also in operating procedures necessitating differing praxes.

In all of Fred’s ensembles there is a strong commitment to creativity, and hence a certain kind of freedom. But at the same time there are also strict orders to not play conservatively and, the larger the ensemble, the more specific he can be about what he wants and does not want from his players. By the time you get to the big band, it is quite clear that this is not a democracy. Rather, this is Fred’s band and his vision, though of course with very individual players who bring a wide palette of expressive devices and strategies to bear upon every aspect of the music. Fred has very specific ideas about what it means to fuse the Asian- and African-American aesthetics, and he will yell, and cajole, and even fire you if you do not meet his standards.

Likewise, he is irritated beyond belief with sloppiness of any kind, especially tardiness, lack of preparation, and not taking initiative to improve things. It is difficult to manage large groups of musicians and jazz musicians are not known for being particularly anal about logistical matters. Fred has absolutely no patience whatsoever for this and therefore runs a very tight ship. But alongside this tendency there is also openness to accepting ideas, amendments and the contributions of his band members. In fact, while there is never any doubt about whose band it is, there is always very meaningful collaboration.

There are other practical reasons for Fred’s hard-ass leadership style beyond the herding cats phenomenon of leading jazz musicians. His music is quite challenging and some passages are downright difficult. He uses very unusual metric schemes, like 15.5/8 or 11/4, and will mix them freely. Many times he will write figures that are reminiscent of the groove musics we are already familiar with, but write them in a very awkward timeframe and demand that we bring the same funkiness that we have in 4/4 to these new contexts. Also, he routinely writes beyond the normal range of the saxophone and has devised his own language, based upon attempts to be supra-normal and heroically non-conventional; all underpinned by a constant effort to make it all swing. The rewards are immense, including the satisfaction of musical achievement in the technical sense, but also in the excitement in the music and for the audience. There is the real sense that we are making revolutionary music to spur us and everyone on to new thoughts and new actions.

One of my most satisfying moments was the collaboration recorded on the Sweet Science Suite, dedicated to Muhammad Ali, and subsequently performed at the Guggenheim Museum along with the InSpirit dance company led by Christal Brown The fourth movement, called ‘Rope a Dope’ – in honour of Ali’s revolutionary strategy to beat George Forman against all odds – is Fred’s arrangement and orchestration of my own composition, ‘Self Love/Revolutionary Ontology’, which I had composed while on tour with the AAME and which I dedicated to Fred. I provided some voicings along with the composition and he made a beautiful orchestration of the piece and also retained space for me to keep my improvisational flair, which has several contrasting motifs and feels. The struggle for self-love – not for vainglorious conceit, but for acceptance in the face of oppression and induced self-doubt, or even what is known as self-hatred – was a struggle Fred had engaged in, as had I.

Playing in Fred Ho’s Afro-Asian Music Ensemble is a thrilling experience and satisfying on many levels. For one thing, in an industry that is all too often racially segregated, it is nice to play with Asians, blacks and whites, in a band that acknowledges that there are differing aesthetics at play within the jazz world, but strives to fuse them and create something new rather than reifying the differences and reinforcing the now-prevailing practice of ignoring the margins and establishing a retrospective (conservative) canon.


This piece features in the Chronic (April 2013). To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop.

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Chimurenganyana: Home Is Where The Music Is by Uhuru Phalafala (September 2021) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-home-is-where-the-music-is-by-uhuru-phalafala-september-2021/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-home-is-where-the-music-is-by-uhuru-phalafala-september-2021/#respond Wed, 08 Sep 2021 09:58:35 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=18591 The latest addition to the Chimurenganyana series

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“Home is where the music is” is drawn from Keorapetse Kgositsile’s poem “For Hughie Masekela”, dedicated to the South African trumpeter, composer and bandleader. The poem ends with the lines, “This then is the rhythm / and the blues of it / Home is where the music is”. The poem was published in the 1974 collection, The Present Is A Dangerous Place To Live, however it was presented to Masekela earlier. Bra Hugh then recorded a double album titled Home Is Where The Music Is, with artwork by South African abstract expressionist Dumile Feni, released in 1972. The album features the song, “Blues for Huey”, which evokes the lamentation and longing of exile in Kgositsile’s poem, interweaving New York and Maseru, revealing continuities across the Atlantic.

A limited Chimurenganyana edition of Home Is Where The Music Is by Uhuru Phalafala is now available.

As soundtrack to the writing, Uhuru has assembled a sonic documentary, which can be listened to here:

[for track info and credits, check in here]

Copies are available for sale at the Chimurenga Factory, as well as through our online store.

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PASS LANDING AT LAVOIR MODERNE PARISIEN, PARIS https://chimurengachronic.co.za/pass_pop_up/pass-landing-at-lavoir-moderne-parisien-paris/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/pass_pop_up/pass-landing-at-lavoir-moderne-parisien-paris/#respond Tue, 06 Jul 2021 14:12:59 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=pass_pop_up&p=17901 From 5-9 May 2021, Chimurenga’s Pan African Space Station (PASS) landed at […]

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From 5-9 May 2021, Chimurenga’s Pan African Space Station (PASS) landed at Lavoir Moderne Parisien in Goutte d’or, Paris, to imagine, re-examine and re-circulate sonic archives of black radicalism in the francophone world. This session dug into the “soundtrack” (bande-son), an underlying container of information and ideas that is seldom explored on its own terms.

We departed from cinematic practice, specifically films/filmmakers (Julius-Amedee Laou, Elsie Haas, Med Hondo, Kanor sisters, Sarah Maldoror, etc) represented in the printed archive we had recently installed in Centre Pompidou, and expanded the soundtrack beyond the screen to other areas of knowledge production: the street, the club, recording studios, kongossa, live performances, noise, even the magazine page.

We imagined a live in-studio soundtrack that responded to and expanded visual footage from the 2nd Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Rome 1959 – an event charged by the-then process of decolonisation and the unwelcome presence of younger, radical thinkers such as Fanon, Beti, Glissant, Beville and more. We took the cues from Fabienne and Véronique Kanor’s “La noiraude” to explore zouk as aesthetics of black transnationalism – a geography of unauthorised pleasure throughout the 1980s. We listened to Sarah Maldoror’s record collection, and her use of music on film.

In Julius-Amedee Laou’s “Solitaire a micro ouvert”, the brother of a man killed in a racist murder in Paris of the 1980s takes over of a black radio station to address the “community”. In “La Vieille Quimboiseuse et le majordome” he highlights the dialectic between the seen and the heard. We listened to the oral history of “La coordination des femmes noires” that writer Gerty Dambury continually produces; or Gerard Lockel’s development of gro ka moden as decolonial praxis; or the Paris-based afro/astrosonic network documented in the music Jo Maka, Ramadolf, Cheikh Tidiane Fall, Yebga Likoba and more, which not only connects directly to Maldoror’s film “Un dessert pour Constance” but also puts sound to the immigrant struggles of the post-May 68 era. And brought us to the ongoing gentrification and structural violence in Goutte d’or.

We considered Frank Biyong’s retelling of the war of decolonisation in Cameroun in his album “Ibolo Ini”, and more broadly his use of music as site of memorialising; and explored black ecologies through sound.

We presented “Act 2” of Christian Nyampeta’s acclaimed radio-play “The Africans”.

And live performances, talks, screenings, DJ sets. And more.

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Chimurenganyana: Even When My Soup-curlers Slur, I Still Keep the Take by Georgia Anne Muldrow (June 2021) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-even-when-my-soup-curlers-slur-i-still-keep-the-take-by-georgia-anne-muldrow-june-2021/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-even-when-my-soup-curlers-slur-i-still-keep-the-take-by-georgia-anne-muldrow-june-2021/#respond Thu, 17 Jun 2021 14:09:44 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=17875 A limited Chimurenganyana edition of Even When My Soup-Curlers Slur, I Still Keep the Take by Georgia Anne Muldrow is now available.

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Georgia arrives in the middle of a song. She multiplies there to become singer, instrumentalist, poet, producer, her very presence is lyrical and elides fixed meaning and form. What orbits her work, at the risk of becoming jaded and delirious while circling her innate rhythm in a land that tries to contain its reach, is optimism. Her sound is often that of someone dejected by her own optimism, as if it betrays her reality or turns some purposed doom to triumph before it can strike. Do you ever check on your well adjusted, optimistic friends, the ones who always make you feel a little better just from being around them for a few hours? Those who give the most and make it seem effortless are often the most neglected. Their shadows become weapons of potential self-sabotage because no one notices that umbra looming beneath so much shine and defiance. Here we get to bask in such a shadow as if we have earned access to the part of the music that will never be on the market, that refuses the transactional, that confesses ahead of the beat, unmarks the beast, achieves true self-actualization.

(from the preface by Harmony Holiday)

Also featuring drawings by Yaoundé Olu.


A limited Chimurenganyana edition of Even When My Soup-Curlers Slur, I Still Keep the Take by Georgia Anne Muldrow is now available. To purchase in print, head to our online shop.

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IMAGI-NATION NWAR (APRIL 2021) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/inprint_posts/imagi-nation-nwar-april-2021/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/inprint_posts/imagi-nation-nwar-april-2021/#respond Mon, 14 Jun 2021 12:24:26 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=inprint_posts&p=17867 Genealogies of the black radical imagination in the francophone world

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imagi-nation nwar – genealogies of the black radical imagination in the francophone world

de-composed, an-arranged and re-produced by Chimurenga

feat. Mongo Beti & Odile Biyidi’s Peuples Noirs, Peuples Africains; Elsie Haas, Julius-Amédée Laou; Cheikh Anta Diop; FEANF; GONG; Gérard Lockel; Glissant’s IME; Suzanne Roussi; Paul Niger; Andrée Blouin; Maryse Condé; Guinea’s Cultural Revolution; Awa Thiam; Francoise Ega; Yambo Ouologuem; Groupe du 6 Novembre; ACTAF & Revolution Afrique; Med Hondo; Sidney Sokhona; Nicolas Silatsa; Somankidi Coura; Edja Kungali; Sarah Maldoror; Sony Labou Tansi; Madeleine Beauséjour; and many, many more…

New writing by: Michaela Danjé; Hemley Boum; Olivier Marboeuf; Marie-Héléna Laumuno; Amzat Boukari-Yabara; Amandine Nana with Julius-Amédée Laou; Sarah Fila-Bakabadio; Pierre Crépon; DY Ngoy; Dénètem Touam Bona; Christelle Oyiri; Native Maqari; Seumboy Vrainom with Malcom Ferdinand; the “undercommons” collective translation workshop coordinated by Rosanna Puyol (Brook).

French/English/Kreyol


To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop,or get copies from your nearest dealer.

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FESTAC 77 BOOK (Oct 2019) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/festac77/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/festac77/#respond Tue, 01 Oct 2019 11:40:01 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=13686 Early in 1977, thousands of artists, writers, musicians, activists and scholars from Africa and the black diaspora assembled in Lagos for FESTAC ’77, the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture. With a radically ambitious agenda underwritten by Nigeria’s newfound oil wealth, FESTAC ’77 would unfold as a complex, glorious and excessive culmination of a half-century of transatlantic and pan-Africanist cultural-political gatherings.

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Early in 1977, thousands of artists, writers, musicians, activists and scholars from Africa and the black diaspora assembled in Lagos for FESTAC ’77, the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture. With a radically ambitious agenda underwritten by Nigeria’s newfound oil wealth, FESTAC ’77 would unfold as a complex, glorious and excessive culmination of a half-century of transatlantic and pan-Africanist cultural-political gatherings.

As told by Chimurenga, this is the first publication to address the planetary scale of FESTAC alongside the personal and artistic encounters it made possible. Featuring extensive unseen photographic and archival materials, interviews and new commissions, the book relays the stories, words and works of the festival’s extraordinary cast of characters.

With: Wole Soyinka, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Ahmed Sékou Touré, Archie Shepp, Miriam Makeba, Allioune Diop, Jeff Donaldson, Louis Farrakhan, Stevie Wonder, Abdias do Nascimento, Keorapetse Kgositsile, Mario de Andrade, Ted Joans, Nadi Qamar,Carlos Moore, Ayi Kwei Armah, Ama Ata Aidoo, Johnny Dyani, Werewere Liking, Marilyn Nance, Barkley Hendricks, Mildred Thompson, Ibrahim El-Salahi, Jayne Cortez, Atukwei OkaiJonas Gwangwa, Theo Vincent, Lindsay Barrett, Gilberto de la Nuez, Sun Ra and many others.

And featuring new writing from: Akin Adesokan, Moses Serubiri, Harmony Holiday, Semeneh Ayalew, Hassan Musa, Emmanuel Iduma, Michael McMillan, Dominique Malaquais and Cedric Vincent, Molefe Pheto, Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi, Hermano Penna, Alice Aterianus.
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Published by Chimurenga and Afterall Books, in association with Asia Art Archive, the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College and RAW Material Company, 2019.


The FESTAC 77 publication is available for purchase through our online shop.

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Survivor’s Guide to Smelling Naais https://chimurengachronic.co.za/8111-2/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/8111-2/#respond Wed, 05 Apr 2017 03:01:24 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=8111 In the pre-Apocalypse, Zayaan Khan nurses the Apartheid hangover that carved up […]

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In the pre-Apocalypse, Zayaan Khan nurses the Apartheid hangover that carved up sensibilities, lives deep in the crevice of being and after more than 20 years still sticks to the roof of the mouth. To empty out the bitter taste, she sucks on fennel flowers and takes her sweetness where she can get it – walking in the fallow land of District Six and sharing odes to the plucking and sucking that a good harvest delivers.


Introduction to the Apocalypse Pantry

The apocalypse has already happened or, in Public Enemy’s words, “Armageddon been in effect.” So how do we get a “late pass” that allows us to continue in the aftermath of colonial and capitalist catastrophe? In the Apocalypse Pantry it starts with food – as a basic of survival but also a source of pleasure, a site of knowledge and a communal conduit around which we regularly gather.

Founded by Zayaan Khan and Heather Thompson, two Cape Town-based activists set on reclaiming the kitchen as a space of liberation, Apocalypse Pantry recognises that food (in)security is an invention of capitalism, as is hunger; that vulnerability is the default, and so support must be primary. It offers community and self-sustenance as solutions.

“The number of people growing their own food is on par with those remitting food or depending on aid; for every 50-60 persons accessing their food through a supermarket or a restaurant there are two growing their own,” the two women explain. “It has become a global condition in developed areas that healthy food remains a privilege of the wealthy when in fact, we believe, healthy food should be the most cost-effective of all.”

Heather and Zayaan maintain that food sovereignty – not just eating, but eating well – can be improved by reconnecting to the source of the food – the land, the sea, and the farmers and fishers that cultivate and collect our food – and by drawing on time-honoured food preservation and nutrient optimisation techniques to make healthy ferments, broths or preserves, thereby creating one’s own pantry system.

This requires learning and experimenting. The Pantry is thus also a laboratory – a site of corporeal research, experiment and revelation that takes seriously growing, preparing, and consuming food as knowing activities. It’s a space occupied by envelopes of rare seedlings, charcoal rubbings of tree barks, hand drawn maps of the Cape Peninsula, vats and vials of oils and salts in a thousand shades of white, large jars layered with indigenous foods in different stages of ferment. Everything tastes. Everything smells. Here, hands, muscles, tongues, noses, eyes, fingers, and stomachs are combined sites where knowledge resides. It celebrates the pleasure of food, while recognising the political implications of taste, with its connected cultures, politics, imaginaries and identities.

In the Pantry food is also always magic – not simply the material resources for human survival, but a means of regeneration through engaged interaction between the physical and imaginative worlds. There’s an alchemy involved in its kinetic, improvisational experiments that draw on a spiritual tincture of historic, cultural and scientific knowledge.

The Apocalypse Pantry’s website and blog (http://www.theapocalypsepantry.com) is the space they use to perpetuate their survival knowledge. At once a research tool and an archive, it takes the form of notes and photographs from fieldtrips, recipes, “inspiration seed bombs,” videos, and podcasts that provide thought windows on how to survive in the current apocalypse. – Stacy Hardy


So many of our families were forced out of District 6, Cape Town. My family too (they lived on Dover, on the corner). With this forced move came a cultural shift – no longer were doors always open for unexpected guests: not a plate of food for hungry souls nor a couch to rest on for weary travellers. Gates remained locked and neighbours gradually became more distant. Every time I walk over the fallow land of District Six, I imagine the hundreds of little feet kicking up dust, the neighbours, the friends, all the loves and all the calls to prayers that echoed through the streets.

The Apocalypse came through the foot of this mountain and in its place sprouted hundreds of fennel. The sweet one, not the bulbous one. Where you might see weeds, I see sweets, wild and dripping. And while I’m harvesting and licking my fingers, I’m doing soft calculations of how much this costs me in the slave house of capitalism: two hours’ intensive harvesting of pollen (in glaring sun and even sometimes South Easter tempest) gets me an amount that makes it very expensive to sell. And who would buy it at such a price? My pantry is invaluable, the collections of flowers, resins, salts, woods, minerals, herbs, insects – how could you charge for such things? Money makes no sense here.

This thing of owning land – with all the roots in the ground, every stone and every hole – is this where all the trouble started? When the continent was divided by the colonisers? And we are still here, with the majority of the people landless and the forced removals continuing. Land occupation is something that stems out of survival and a need to sustain livelihood. It is as if the Apocalypse came when the colonisers hit, then had a biggerlypse in Apartheid, and now all the residual shrapnel lingers in the land and people.

In the aftermath – surrounded by growing yellow sweets and memories, in the quiet and heavy heat, the heady fragrance of hot grass and hot fennel – there’s no way to change this devastation, only to continue to pluck and suck, licking sticky beads of pollen sacs that cling to me.

Nature/Natural

When I think about Victoria Walk Park (also known as Victoria Park), I think about open space. Woodstock homes tend to be dark, mostly semi-detached, not too much open space.  

I’m here to look at this space through the lens of: how natural is our nature? I always consider the eucalypti, how economically viable they are while also being so detrimental to our water table and allelopathic to other plant species competing to live where they live. I stop at the red flowering gum, so stunted where it stands, but pushing out flowers. They’re at my height (and not the normal grand diplodocus size), so I notice them for the first time. They are exquisite in colour and in their formation, as if they landed here from space. Yet, they are obscene, a luminous coral red gaping sex, enticing pollinators and radiating lust. These alien plants settled and assimilated in Woodstock, Cape Town.

Part of me feels guilty for using the term alien. Who am I to judge the rights of life and species; whose fault is it that they are here? Global trade routes? They are up high on the local chain of commodity: paper (toilet paper), pulp, wood, honey, essential oil, real stuff.

Yesterday as I left home to run my dog at Victoria Park, I could smell chicken being cooked in someone’s kitchen, a smell I know so well, roasting gharam masala wafting round the park. Smell is one of those senses that have evaded the greatest of scientists and designers; smell-o-vision has a long way to go to be captured technologically. The story of food as nature is an obvious yet convoluted one. The chicken most likely came from a factory and not a farm. How much nature is in that food? Still, the aroma is enough to catapult me back in time, putting me in the kitchen with my mother, us talking about our day or maybe about the food we will eat in an hour.

Survivor’s Guide To Smelling Naai’s

Flowers. Flowers all over the lands. Different species of these reproductive organs, standing erect or hanging soft and low. So many colours, textures, tastes, smells, shapes, feels. Where fields lay fallow and within the stillness of our arid spaces, hundreds of thousands of daisies pop up as if a sex meteor has hit. It’s incredible that these are evolutionary adaptations, but mostly that they’ve evolved so particularly for insects (sometimes rodents or birds or even the wind) to get busy in them. It’s been this way for millions of years. Such ancient sexy times.

It’s season for Rosa and Jasmine. These flowers are friends, they can smell each other’s heaviness on a good berg wind day. Their scents are heavy, heady, full, sweet like the first kiss of a marshmallow. They make you wish you were an insect so you could have this rose as your bed, undressing under the soft rose sheets. Or slipping down the tube of the jasmine, sucking the nectar at the tip, can you imagine? Sex on sex.

I used to grow poppy plants from seed. The most minuscule seed would blossom into the most perfect cups, dark purple, lilac, white, sometimes shades between. Often this would coincide with chafer beetle recreational procreation. It looked fun from where I stood, the beetles abuzz with love, dusted up as they rolled amongst the opiates.

When you come into an abundance of these insect sex beds, collect what you can and prepare them for transformation soon after. If you’re serious and intend to alchemise them, then dawn is the best time – before the sun gets the best of them. Apocalypse perfume is not so hard to come by in the Cape, but this is the smell of love. They work even better stored on your skin – a perfume bag, if you will, nestled beneath your bra, just like Marjane’s grandmother in Persepolis, the heat of your body puffing Turkish delight clouds. Or wear them under your scarf, your hair will smell defuknlightful.

Place them in a low dish or basket so air doesn’t stagnate around them. Do this somewhere where you spend most of your time, so your vibes are delighted. In the Apocalypse, you’re going to have time to collect flowers, so it’s good practice to carry smells with you. We all have to deal with stinky stuff from time to time – the apocalypse is no different. Nostrils are a great place to store petals, just don’t sniff them into your nasal canal because that would be most uncomfortable.

These flowers could go into tinctures, bakes, an enfleurage, macerations, waters and a bajillion other things. The moments of living with them are fleeting, but their seasons are abundant so your time together will linger.

Smokablez

Oh sweet tobacco, how you have become an evil in this contemporary world of consumption. Nicotiana tabacum, like many other sacred plants, quickly became bastardised through commercialisation via colonial mercenaries (the earliest multi-national corporations). Tobacco is now grown all over the world and cigarettes are sold in every nation.

Tobacco evolved in the Americas and its use is an integral part of indigenous cultures. The smoke is used as a mode of communication, in prayer, for protection, cleansing, and healing. The plant was (and still is) used as incense, bunched up and burned, and smoked also, though not to be deeply inhaled. Nicotine is a very poisonous substance, it can and will kill you as well as many other smaller creatures. You need to treat it with respect.

Now take all of that knowledge that has been garnered over centuries, strip it down completely, and, in fact, negate it all by growing the plant as a cash crop for the masses. Grow it with chemical input, process it with chemical input, package it with chemical input, light it up and suck on it. Crying shame. Never mind the marketing. Now cigarettes are all about Pall Mall, Dunhill and Peter Stuyvesant (a Dutch coloniser celebrated on cigarette packs around the world).

Yet, smoking is a cultural practice all around the world. It has come out of every culture, whether recreationally or medicinally. That means there are many other smokable plants all over the globe too, right? Down here we’ve heard about smoking kanna (Sceletium tortuosum) and wilde dagga (Leonotis leonurus), but what else? We began looking at plants, not only in terms of medicines or foods or cosmetics, but also in terms of smoke and created blends that became plant world answers to our bodies’ call, subject to change and future curiosities.

The Bug Bang Theory

I am fascinated by insects. They have become metaphors for survival and intrigue. They are enigmatic, surreptitious, ubiquitous, eternal and adaptable.

The first time I intentionally ate an insect was with Justin, a fynbos farmer, outside his home in Hopefield, north of Cape Town. A hot summer, dry and dusty, heat packing. Typical West Coast. The termites, in a deep hustle, orderly, in tune, in time, almost institutionalised.

I remember a moment when I was eight years old and my baby sister was deep in thought, lying down with baby fat fingers learning to grasp. She plucked at ants and put them in her mouth. How entranced she was (the inherent knowledge this new person had) to see these tiny insects and to instinctively put them in her mouth. It took a moment to shake out of it. When she was picked up, her face brushed of grass and the insects, her new brain must have computed this as a food truth, ants must not be for eating. I know better now, of course – it’s taken a few years to unlearn and relearn food truth. The true meaning of edible.

I’d given a talk about indigenous food revival, where a new friend had heard me sing the song of insects as edible. He connected me to confection demiurge, Heather. Heather needed insects to enrobe in chocolate and play with flavours – like bacon on waffles, so crickets and chocolate. The crickets were blanched in boiling water before being roasted for 20 minutes. They were spiced and enrobed in dark chocolate, sprinkled with smoked salt and paprika, chilli or rose or cinnamon, and some set in chocolate bars. It was especially auspicious because these were the last nine crickets and two grasshoppers left of the season’s hunt.

Enrobed, chocolate works with everything. Like when the Mad Hatter started eating his plate.

Upon the Mantle of Mycelium

To be self-aware is to gain awareness of everything outside of yourself. Of course, this is the complete antithesis of what we have come to know about self-awareness. This thinking builds upon the thought that we cannot grasp our ego within the vacuum of our single existence. Nothing, not even the intricacies and extremities of space, is separate to anything else.

Perpetuating this understanding of self-awareness – that says that it is the “capacity for introspection and the ability to recognise oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals” – is incorrect for me. It’s inside out. I am self-aware because I am aware of the other, I know myself because of how I exist, have always existed, will always exist, within the other.

Opening up your every sense to what it takes to survive, you begin to see the value in every bacterium, every virus, every plant, every insect, and every life.  Every life (and non-living life: water/virus/mineral) is valuable in a way capitalism cannot quantify. We begin to see or uncover uses for the smallest and simplest natural things. In the pre-apocalypse, we have the years of scientific (and non-scientific) uncoverings to map out why things work the way they do, sometimes to uncover new exploratory routes to newer innovations, or find the answers to the greatest questions the universe continues to entice us with.

Mycelium was there before us all, a bajillion years ago. When you pick up a mushroom, when you eat it, you never think of how fucking old that DNA is. The way mycelium and insects live in community, even having little fungi pouches, is the sweetest of life’s loves. Fungi are e v e r y w h e r e.

Mycelium is the vegetative part of the fungus, the strands of growth that reproduce asexually (in the same way that strawberry plants, potatoes or bananas reproduce asexually). These strands find their way through rock, through the earth, through decaying matter and into any suitable substrate.

The sex bits of the fungi, the mushrooms, are the parts we eat for food and medicine, the parts we notice in the state of awareness when we forage, hunt or gather.

إِنَّاللهِوَإِنَّـاإِلَيْهِرَاجِعونَ (I Am God, And To Him We Shall Return)

Death is the mystery in which I hold the most faith. Living in an Apocalypse is the acceptance of my own demise, to think about the end of me. My end. I have seen a lot of death since I was very young and not everyone has that experience, I have come to learn. This doesn’t normalise death, but makes it more acceptable. Death becomes a peace. It humbles you right down, debilitates you, crushes you and breaks you. To deal with grief, the trauma of death, you have to let it flow out of you, even if it takes years. You go through all of it, an unbearable burden of mourning, and mostly come out of it OK, open to more of life and grateful to be among the living.

I was so madly in love this one time that my spirit was weaving poetry for the most wonderful person. He filled my home and my mother’s home with flowers, , spilling out into the streets. The fragrance and life from all of the vases made us all heady. Hearts in our eyes. I started collecting all the pollens in their different shades from all the lilies, stockpiling dyes for the future Pantry, yellows and burnt oranges and rich reds. I saved all the petals and made potpourri, like my grandmother used to do. I added to it every time something magical happened, like Kholofelo and Farhan’s wedding: the eucalyptus hangings were invigorating, some were burnt and the rest went into the Pot of Love Pourri. 

So in love were we two that we wanted to do it forever and we almost did except that our love made us too hungry and we started eating ourselves. It was fine that it didn’t work out, it was our decision and it was better to be friends who can love instead. A few weeks later my grandmother passed away, the love of our lives, the Rose, our Matriarch, most beloved Mamma. Death had finally arrived for her, she welcomed it and we knew it would happen. There was absolutely no space to feel anything else but the full gravity of her passing, the agony of being without her. I could not mourn the love who filled my home with flowers, I had absolutely no capacity and of course he could not compete or grieve with me.  

The days before her final passing, I came to recognise the face of death. I’d seen it before and understood at that moment the truth was absolute, she was already within death’s loving embrace. It is certain that death was a gradual process.

I knew exactly the moment my grandmother passed away. I was not with her, but in meditation I felt her last breath come from me and my eyes shot open. I needed a moment to be in myself before I got back to her and my family. To fall apart, even just for a bit, before having to stand up again and do the necessary duties to prepare for the burial the next day.

We were privileged to prepare her body, to wash her with all the women in our family, altogether. We dried her and shrouded her, her kaffang (shroud, from Malay “kafan”) so much bigger than she. Roses and camphor with her in her linen sheets. There were so many flowers that I kept them and dried them with the camphor. Of course I had to, I couldn’t throw them away or compost them. Camphor has a very specific smell if the first time you smell it is when you kiss the forehead of the deceased as a child. A smell of death for me. I had that smell in my room for months as I would toss the flowers. They had eventually withered, dried and died and they were beautiful, even more beautiful. I had so much of it, huge piles, but I could not throw it away. I poured vinegar over some of it, preparing a potential of uses from cleaners to conditioner. Preparing a new life to the things that had died. Refreshing and restarting.

Grief is not something that goes away or heals entirely, it stays with you forever, as long as you live, and as Mamma said: “Death often comes to show, we love more deeply than we know.”  When death happens, our depth and capacity to love is expanded beyond our knowledge and experience. Imagine how much space that creates for those of us in life. The ultimate potentiality of Love Matter.

As for the broken heart, to give him the respect he held in my heart I decided to remember only the good and only the magic, the sanctity and not the struggles. Keep it as a memory, something that happened to us in our pasts and dilute the sense of time. It’s about survival, this life.   


This piece features in the Chronic (April 2017). To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop.

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QAMATA PULA — an ancestral invocation https://chimurengachronic.co.za/african_live_events/qamata-pula-an-ancestral-invocation/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/african_live_events/qamata-pula-an-ancestral-invocation/#respond Wed, 07 Jul 2021 10:25:54 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=african_live_events&p=17904 iPhupho L’ka Biko and Pan African Space Station presented QAMATA PULA, an […]

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iPhupho L’ka Biko and Pan African Space Station presented QAMATA PULA, an ancestral invocation collapsing past, present and future, over three days at the Chimurenga Factory (157 Victoria Rd, Woodstock, Cape Town).

iMbewu / Seeds – Thursday, 3rd December

The many ancestors and living ones who preceded us planted seeds that allow us to dream different dreams. We pay tribute to the likes of Miriam Makeba, Madala Kunene, Busi Mhlongo, Stimela, Kutu and others who created conditions for us to become and overcome

iNhlabathi / Soil – Friday, 4th December

Because the past and present are always in conversation, we understand that we come from a lineage that demands from us responsibility. Joined by Cape Town-based artists, we interpret and share Biko’s dream,

uMthimkhulu / Tree – Saturday, 5th December Here is a tree rooted in Afrikan soil. It belongs to us, and those who come after us. On this sonic journey to our desired and foreseen future, we share with you the divine nectar of the tree’s

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The Agronomist https://chimurengachronic.co.za/the-agronomist/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/the-agronomist/#respond Mon, 05 Aug 2019 04:17:41 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=8265 Stacy Hardy follows the path of JJ Machobane, the social visionary, writer and agronomist from Lesotho, who challenged orthodox colonial thinking about land and land use.

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Stacy Hardy follows the path of JJ Machobane, the social visionary, writer and agronomist from Lesotho, who challenged orthodox colonial thinking about land and land use.  

“An employed man is like a well-fed and chained up dog.” This brief sentence, emblazoned on the back cover of Drive out Hunger, a slim monograph on Lesotho writer and agronomist JJ Machobane, delivers a mindblast against prevailing discourses. At a time when employment is everyone’s top priority – featuring equally in the political manifestos of the right and the left, as on agendas of NGOs and government agencies – Machobane’s thinking re-opens an important path towards liberation.

A farmer, novelist, social visionary, and self-taught scientist, his was a liberation not based in violent revolution but instead born of the everyday, and deeply rooted in land, in the geography of the earth, the body, the soul. His weapons were seed, earth, bone, river, spirit. And his legacy is still visible in the soil and in the mountains of rural Lesotho.

Raised as a cowherd in colonial Lesotho in the 1920s, Machobane was broadly part of a revolution in Africa that began in the 1950s and 1960s and sought to wrestle the land across the continent back from colonialism to place agriculture in the hands of the people. It was a movement led by artists, intellectuals and revolutionary agronomists such as Amílcar Cabral in Bissau, who shared a deep belief in the possibility of radical social change. The challenge for them was to confront colonialism, with its particular forms of oppression, enslavement and violence, including violence done to communities and to the land. Machobane’s work was distinctive in that it did not develop out of a political agenda, but sought a new space, out of which self-autonomy and dignity might be asserted as prime human realities, a space which might give birth to a different type of society.

Like many of his generation, Machobane was educated by the church but his real teacher remained the land. While still at school he wrote his first book – the first of many – an original Sesotho orthography based on his own experience of language. “It came about like this. One day I was just walking along and I saw the letters of the language in front of me, as if in a mist,” narrates Machobane. “And with each letter there came a sound. I suddenly saw that language was made of sounds. I went and sat down under a rock, I could hear the cattle and the horses. And I thought, sitting there, that there is a language for every creature which lives on the earth, a language for every person who lives on the earth.”

This mystical, musical quality permeates Drive out Hunger. Framed as a biography by publisher Jacana, it is really an edited oral autobiography, with co-author Robert Berold transcribing Machobane’s life story as he narrates it. Filled with anecdotes, self-taught knowledge, traditional Sesotho wisdom, and written in compelling everyday rhythms, spattered with epic and lyric tones, it is poetic and funny, yes, but also thoughtful, deeply politically engaged, and generous. Like a fierce and unrelenting force of nature, Machobane sees the world from another angle, he pays attention to its injustices, its peculiar beauties and simple pleasure, and he wakes us up.

Published in 2003, the book was born out of a commission by an NGO to document the life and work of a little-known agronomist, whose agricultural methods had revolutionised small-scale rural farming in Lesotho. At the time of the commission, Berold, himself a poet and rural activist, had already edited The People’s Workbook, a DIY manual for living sustainably in rural apartheid South Africa. Published in 1981, it was written in plain English and beautifully illustrated by, amongst others, artist Percy Sedumedi, whose drawings and diagrams’ penwork (d’jy ken!) brings to life its encyclopaedic scope – from breeding geese, making hand pumps, and organising seed-buying groups, to making a will, dealing with police, and starting a library.

Informed by this experience in collective bookmaking, Berold travelled to Lesotho armed with agricultural pamphlets and historic information on Machobane supplied to him by the NGO. He quickly discarded these after he sat down to interview Machobane. Struck by his intimate and searching voice, and natural storytelling ability and extraordinary life, Berold reframed the work as a memory project. “I wanted it to be his voice,” explains Berold in an interview. “All those words are his just about. I edited and crafted it to capture his rhythms – you know, the voice and the way it’s shaped. I wanted the book to sing.”

And sing it does. Framed in brief chapters, whose compelling titles tell their own story, (“The Urge To Kill”, “My Reward Was To See Them Eat”, “Clash With the Church”, “The Machobane Mass Agricultural College”, “Clash With Government”, “Harassment And Hiding”, “The Return Of Machobane”), the book follows Machobane as he moves from the hills of rural Lesotho, learning from his elders, to forging friendships in Catholic boarding school, through his intellectual and political coming-of-age as he experiences colonial oppression.

The pivotal point in the story is when Machobane finds himself slowly starving during his school years. Refusing to ask for his food from his colonial church masters, he suffers to the point of near collapse. Finally, driven by unbearable hunger, he begins to steal food from the church’s herd of pigs. This experience makes him realise that even if he frees his mind, until a man is able to feed himself he will remain slave to the colonial system.

“This incident taught me that there is no way I could defeat hunger. I cried and am still crying even today to think that I have been eating with pigs. You know, if anybody feeds you and she is female and you are male, you will end up marrying her. I began to feel that if I were to spend more time being fed by the pigs I would find myself married to a pig. Even today… If I am eating and I see someone hungry, I want to pull the food out of my mouth and give it to them.”

Through his personal experience of hunger, he came to an almost bodily understanding that the violent process of colonialism was one of extraction and exploitation, a process that promotes a master-slave paradigm and condemns the majority of people to a form of depraved existence. Driven by this lived knowledge, he refused a scholarship to study at what was then the University College of Fort Hare and returned home. “I’m burning the bridge to the devil,” he claimed.

Berold elaborates: “He decided, I’m going to find a way in which I’m going to stop hunger because it’s this that turns us into slaves dependent on our masters, it’s this that decimates communities, causing families to break up because people have to go to the mines etcetera… I’m going to find a way that works for everybody, even an old woman who is widowed, or even somebody who’s crippled. Everyone should be able to grow their own food. We’ve got to find a way to do it.”

For 13 years, Machobane researched and experimented, drawing on the traditional knowledge of the elders in the surrounding villages, trusting the messages that came to him in dreams and visions, listening closely to the language of nature, and combining it with trial and error, a process of uncovering and discovering. What he achieved was not a new form of farming, or a combination of disciplines, but something beyond all of that, and maybe, far less recognisable, a system that is process-guided, site-specific, culturally-based, spiritually rich, scientifically rigorous, intellectually provocative, and accessible to all. It was an organic system that combined intercropping, ways of companioning planting, ways of using natural compost and very little water, trench gardening, looking at the conditions of the soil, measuring conditions of the water, working in harmony with nature and innovative tradition. “It took him a long time and he worked on his own. And then eventually he said, ‘okay, I’ve done it, I’ve got it. I’ve worked it out. Next step: I’ve got to teach this.’”

And he did. Instead of waiting for a government grant or NGO support, he set about building. Working with a group of young people, he founded what eventually became the Machobane Mass Agricultural College. His system soon caught the eye of international NGOs who hoped to convert Machobane to their development philosophy.

“In 1959 I was awarded a grant by the Ford Foundation to travel overseas. They took me to see agricultural systems in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland and Egypt. I could see that these countries had big crops and rich farmers, but all were following the same road of chemical fertilisers and tractors and contour banks. I had already experimented… So I knew these methods did not work. I told them that if you take humankind in 100 years to come, you are destroying the land for people of the future. Even though you have a good crop now, your production has no future. When I had been to all these countries they also suggested that I go to Japan but I said I was tired, I’d seen enough.”

So Machobane returned home, but not before meeting with both the Pope and the World Council of Churches to complain about how religious infighting between different Christian churches was dividing his people.

It wasn’t long before he fell out with first the colonial government and then the newly elected independent government of Lesotho. Berold recalls:

“He told the colonial governor, ‘none of your agricultural extension departments work. I mean, it’s all crap. It doesn’t work. You’re trying to use chemicals, tractors – bullshit! We can’t do that here. We can’t afford it. This is not for us. Plus it’s all artificial and doesn’t nourish the soil. I want to see a system that works and I’ve worked it out. Here it is. I want to show you…’ Basically he said people must do their own thing and that was a threat to the system. Then they started farming potatoes and produced this huge potato crop, huge, huge! There were so many potatoes that the whole of Lesotho couldn’t absorb them – they had to be exported to South Africa. By then, as you know, Lesotho had a fascist government. And the fascist government was suspicious of Machobane. They were scared of the following he had attracted. People were eating, potatoes filled tables and bellies. The system was working. Eventually they closed him down. They basically stopped him operating. He had to go and teach people at night how to garden. He had to go underground more or less. They were killing people. It was fascism.”

Machobane finally came out of hiding in the early 1990s, at the invitation of an independent-minded upstart group of young lecturers and students at the Lesotho Agricultural College, who were researching his life and methods. His system was finally incorporated into the syllabus and remains in use today. While Machobane never lost his optimism or his vision of a liberated people, he was deeply critical of the new generation. “People today have the culture of slaves, they want to live and work under a master. They are looking for jobs. Who is going to employ them? Why don’t they create jobs for themselves?”

Until his death in 2007 at the age of 94, Machobane remained a cultivator of the earth with no true land to call his own – and continued to teach and learn, investigating the changing conditions of land, exploring the relationship between soil and society, myth and history, and offering a vision of culture and knowledge that was at once individual and communal, local and archetypal.

As Berold explains:

“In my mind there are three pillars to the Machobane system: whatever your piece of land is, you must make it productive; the second pillar is JJ Machobane’s motto: ‘First develop man and man will develop the land.’ This is the attitude, desire and confidence to achieve a good life for oneself against all odds. And this is possible if the skills and knowledge have been learned.”

The third pillar is solidarity with fellow farmers and the social responsibility each farmer shows towards those still needing external assistance. This responsibility flows directly from the hymn used to start all proceedings and demonstrations of the Machobane system:

Ha ke le tjee, ke le mobe,
Ke le ea khesehang,
Na haría baetsalibe
Na ke bonoe joang?
Jo! ke mohlolo-hlolo
Ha ke ratoa le ‘na
Ka rato le lekalo…

Concludes Berold: “Start at any corner of the pyramid, travel clockwise or anti-clockwise – the aim is to reach the top that reflects maturity; where all three are one. For me this is really the future of this great knowledge system.”


This piece features in the Chimurenga Chronic (April 2017). To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop.

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WHO WILL SAVE THE SAVIOURS? https://chimurengachronic.co.za/who-will-save-the-saviours/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/who-will-save-the-saviours/#respond Wed, 11 Aug 2021 11:23:33 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=18147 A close gaze at the collective apathy that killed Dr. Sebi

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In the annals of challenges to orthodox medical consumerism belongs the science and practice of one Alfredo Bowman – aka Dr Sebi – a Honduran of humble origins, scant formal education and voracious curiosity. A sailor by trade, Bowman learned the functioning of ship drainage and applied the same principles in pursuit of optimum health of the human body, particularly the black body. His African bio-mineral treatment, founded on the science of intracellular cleansing and electric revitalisation using natural vegetation, was used to treat celebrities from Michael Jackson to Lisa Left Eye Lopez, applied to the taboos of AIDS treatment in South Africa, and pitted against the hyper-consumption of laboratorised, genetically manipulated Western pharmaceuticals that Sebi claimed were to blame for chemical imbalances at the root of disease. His life and work were the subject of debate, derision, legal action and infighting. His death was ignoble. Harmony Holiday takes a close look at the collective apathy that killed Dr Sebi.


In the iconic photograph of black men in suits on a dingy balcony, pointing toward the empty sky above Martin Luther King’s bloody, bulleted body, there’s an eerie sense of choreography and the seed of accusation looms over every phrase in the scene. It would not be until about forty years later, King long dead, his mother also murdered by gunshot while playing organ in church, that one of those sudden dancers from the photograph would slip at a live press conference and admit his role as an accomplice: “[W]hen I moved out of the way that day so they could get a clear shot”. He was speaking of the scene on that Memphis motel balcony that endless April day, gloating how well he had danced it. He was proud. He had never been complimented on his ability to be an unsuspected enemy of the King of Love. The confession slipped out, like OJ’s hands wished to have slipped out of those gloves, and just landed right in that disaster happy press conference light.

But it was too late for true retribution, too dispersed, the delayed gasp too shallow. And who’s to say the calculated grooming of a martyr doesn’t begin with the will of the martyr himself. King’s family went back to trial in 1993, was placated with a verdict substantiating their claim that the US government, in cahoots with the Memphis Police Department, colluded to have our King of Love murdered. The family was awarded $100 in damages.

Everybody wanna be a nigga, but nobody wanna be a nigga
The antiseptic folklore will tell us that MLK’s autopsy revealed the heart of an old, ailing man. A sick man. A man heartbroken by the obstacles on the road to healing the sickly-pretending-to-be-robust nation into which he was born. When shot, he was having a cigarette on the way to a feast, elated about the soul food he would enjoy after a heavy day and his heaviest, most anchoring speech. King had been trapped in a cycle of monasticism and temptation, stuck wearing three-piece suits and shiny church shoes, looking respectable, staying black while craving a backlash of wilderness. Can a corroding heart keep the pace of a redemptive soul? Can we repair the socio-economic condition of black people without first healing the black body, returning it to its optimal function, and letting go of the habits that soothe us into the wrong kind of citizenship? At what expense do we struggle for integration? What if the grandest irony is that the very contrived value of equality that we faintly believe will rescue us from being black, when achieved or even pursued, proves far more dangerous and dishonest than segregation. Do you really dream of milk and honey?

Tradition is not what we think it is
The legacy of black diasporic culture in the West is haunted by the tradition of our most sublime and messianic men dying, or being murdered the way King was, before they reach the age of 40. It’s as if these deaths are a rite of passage. Subconsciously, we are made to know that any black leader or cultural hero in the West who makes it past 40, does so at the expense of his spirit, is rendered useless to the revolution, has skipped his turn and will slip into wilful spiritual atrophy for the remainder of his days, afraid to suffer, afraid to bleed, and full of excuses for his complacency or just more and more trapped in the rotting fat of American bureaucracy. There are a few vivid public exceptions I can think of: James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, Miles Davis, and Alfredo Bowman, aka Dr Sebi. These men lived relatively long lives and never became total mules to their comfort. These men are the redeemers of a long list of fallen, including everyone from Martin Luther King to Tupac to Malcolm to Trayvon Martin to Sam Cooke to J Dilla to DJ Rashaad. They give survival real meaning beyond the mundane symbolism of proving that black men can live like white men, which is actually to prove that we can reject ourselves and effectively numb our deeper yearnings in the service of fitting it to a system that destroys us.

But even these redeemers tend to die like their martyred cousins. Even after biding their time, they pass on suffering, working tirelessly to their very last days, unappreciated and with fewer and fewer loyals around to check on them. Many of them broke, broken, suddenly gone. And once they’re gone we often revise the reach of their accomplishments before the work can speak for itself, nervous at what a closer look at the end of the life of a delayed blackman martyr might reveal about the clear and present danger we all face when awake enough to be our truest selves.

Here we take a close enduring look at the life and death of the most recently fallen, Dr Sebi, born Alfredo Bowman, raised in Honduras, appropriated by the US, and who died this past August while in police custody, allegedly having been placed in jail for carrying US$37,000 in cash. He died just days before he would have been exonerated on the public record and released back to his famed Osha Village, a Honduras-based healing centre where he had cured everything from AIDS to sickle cell disease (SCD), where he had mastered healing the human body through the lens of the black genome and melanated peoples, using food, sunlight, water, air, and herbs.

In the last circulating photograph of Dr Sebi, he’s sitting, back against the wall, on the floor outside an airport in Honduras, his gangly, kingly legs huddled at his chest, his knees nudged into arrows, his arms wrapped around his shins and his forehead resting on his knees. He appears anguished and utterly abandoned. There are no men in suits pointing. This is not the sabotage plot of grandiose cogs of empire, but the quiet hunt for any black man who stands in the way of Big Pharma, anyone who’s hip to the fact that if you wake up the body on a molecular level, the systems controlling the mind and soul of black men and women in the West will be decimated, the collective frequency will shift and there will be no more telling us how to live and what to live for. We will want to live again, for our spirits, with a sense of purpose that transcends that cotton and flax currency we chase all our lives. Dr Sebi was taken from this slump at the airport to a local jail, charged with money laundering and held until proven innocent. And he was proven innocent, all charges dropped, but he didn’t live to witness it.

We’re told Sebi succumbed to pneumonia while in jail. We’re told betrayal and loyalty are equally impossible and we were left to resolve the riddle at that impasse. Some of us watched and learned how not to take ourselves or our healers too seriously when we realised Sebi smoked weed every day, a steady rapture to bend the monastic metronome. We know that at the same time he imbibed only herbs, juice and water, like a bona fide nigga jesus, consumed his herbs and sea moss daily, and when he ate, stuck to a strict list of non-hybrid, starch-free foods. He talked a lot of the “mucus membrane”, how it had been compromised by modern patterns of consumption. He candidly admitted that he had been schizophrenic, obese, diabetic and impotent, and was cured by a Mexican herbalist also named Alfredo, Alfredo Cortez. Sebi was so moved by his regained health at the time, so roused by the simplicity of real healing and cellular regeneration, that he left his work as a merchant seaman to become a healer. He wanted to heal the black race worldwide. To wake and repair the DNA, the genome, and with that literally rewrite our history, restore the matriarchy, grant us our happiest and most eternal feminine ending. So a man who had no formal education and was raised on joy and nature in a humble village in Honduras set out to study herbs and water and soil and anatomy, to self-educate his way into natural genius and redemption.

A man who loved jazz, loved his mother, and loved his sin sincerely, set out to purify the black spirit, to rescue it from the vestiges of slavery. Because more than anything, Dr Sebi loved black people. The sad volta is that even if you heal yourself to a large extent, surpass yourself even, when you love sick people, a group obliviously living out a blood-addicted necrotic culture and vibrant in spite of, not because of, what its members consume on a regular basis, part of you loves what they’re sick from. The healer – one who deliberately sets out to fix the perceived flaws in our way of life from the bottom up – is deeply lonely and vulnerable to an addiction to black culture, to belonging, to the bastard rhetoric of liberation that associates it with mastering, rather than quitting, the West.

When Dr Sebi formally became a healer, he relied on the dualistic zeitgeist he carried as a city dwelling former villager. He went into cities such as Miami, New York, and Los Angeles. He left a sublime refuge in St Croix to tackle the crack cocaine epidemic in Harlem. He catered his teachings to the people suffering there. He also hobnobbed with black celebrities; was taken to court for practicing medicine without a licence – there, he claimed that he had reversed what is called AIDS in 77 patients. This was in 1989. He survived. With this and other victories, Sebi developed a following, wives, groupies, hopelessly ailing entertainers knocking on his door in minor disguises looking to be saved, a diverse posse who viewed his teachings as the secular gospel, the mercy they had been waiting for. Although it was rooted in the intention of healing, the more healing he did, the more Sebi was forced into becoming a brand, a commodity, another of the West’s fetishised rebels. Dr Sebi’s attempt to save his people from within the social and economic structures that strangle them was his ultimate shipwreck. This seemingly harmless nuance of integration, where we gain visibility for our most authentic truths and systems by subjecting them to the rubric of their predators, is almost more dangerous than the full cries for utopian unity we saw at the height of the civil rights movement. Dr Sebi’s consciousness was in effect split between hermetic shaman and saviour complex and these two distant states of being united by a fundamental charisma cannot be safely reconciled. Los Angeles/ Hollywood and a tropical village in Honduras cannot be reconciled. Love and money cannot be reconciled. One has to make a choice about which laws he will live under and force his environment to conform. Ambivalence when you know the truth can kill you faster than any fully formed lie.

***

In his own gorgeous and frankly informative improvised speeches, Sebi would hint that he needed healing too, that he was stressed out too, that we all were. He mentions this while bursting with energy and information at 82 years old, with two children under three he’s busy raising, and his healing centre in Honduras thriving, along with his shop in Los Angeles. He’s wearing a three-piece suit because he’s in the US. In Honduras, he wears linen and no shoes. He’s using the iron slang of urban Americans, calls himself a nigga, falls to his knees to demonstrate what sea moss does for his bone density. There’s a faint hint of heartbreak in his eyes when he admits he thought he was going to heal all of his people and realised few cared and fewer could translate that care into action. But Sebi’s overall spirit, the cheerful despair spiralling out of him, was be as children.

He spoke with the frankness of a child and called out what he saw so openly that honesty could have been mistaken for bitterness, though it was actually just him being a conduit, a consummate griot. Sebi knew, like King knew, the generosity and soul loneliness that had forced him to try and hip people to his simple secret would be his undoing. He warned himself, he knew the heroic impulse is as suicidal as it is life-giving, and he risked it because love and danger become one in the West, inevitably.

As with Sandra Bland, so too with Dr Sebi: we do not know, can’t get straight answers, and we may never know on paper what really occurred in those cells. We can speculate and cross reference and accuse and insinuate our way into private verdicts, and we will, forever. One of the questions leading the private inquisition being: who let them stay behind bars for so long for such petty offenses? In Sebi’s case, why was his jailing silenced, where were his allies, where were his enemies, what were they feeding him in there, what was he given? Where is the autopsy? How sudden the shift from vibrant man with a bright swinging light in his eyes to prisoner suffocating in his own skin. We know that environmental activist Bertha Caceras was gunned down in the night in her own home in Honduras and wonder if a government capable of arranging that might also arrange to off a herbalist, whose techniques could single-handedly send all the assumptions of allopathic medicine into pandemonium and disrepair. Or could grief and exhaustion and all the acid trapped in his lungs from smoking weed so often have invaded Dr Sebi’s will while he sat in the jail awaiting trial? Could he have just allowed ambivalence to yield to distant certainty?
In either scenario, Dr Sebi is a martyr and, like MLK, asserted his fallibility and manhood almost aggressively, as both a cry for help and an announcement that no matter what about society and the black experience they had set out to fix, fixing themselves completely would have been a threat to the survival of their reckless need to try to heal the world of its sacred affiliations. They needed a taste of the poison they set out to destroy; they needed to understand the difference between morals and brainwashing. They needed their problems, their flaws, their pain and their distractions from the pain of so much seeing and so little being seen and heeded. They needed to be betrayed to be fully seen in a way.

What’s different, what should alarm us into some sense of urgent torch handling, is that in a time when we are supposed to be liberated from Jim Crow fanaticism, Dr Sebi died virtually unknown and unnamed. There was a brief and muffled uproar before it felt like he had never even existed: no major obituary, no autopsy or open investigation into his final days. It’s possible that Big Pharma colluded to have this man who set out to really heal the whole of the diaspora, killed in his tracks, right when he was about to open free healing centres on a mass scale, and that no one even flinched, no one mentioned it in the mainstream news, the ads for fried chicken and antidepressants kept running, the shop in LA got almost famous, raided by guards, kept running. The centre in Honduras kept running. The healers who learned from Sebi began advertising their products more, but with fewer and fewer nods to his. His sons and daughters argued publicly over who owned what, who was a fraud, who a chosen heir. Men half Sebi’s age and stuck in the matrix started editing his teachings with minor but arrogant caveats. A circus of imposters now stands in the place of this monolithic figure who managed to unite the thinking on the black genome for a while by simplifying its tenets. And very few are the wiser.

Dr. Sebi went from vibrant living legend to distant myth in a matter of weeks, and no one is outraged. We’ve made no demands on the state or ourselves, we have no manifestos, no threats of mobilising the forces he put in place for good. And what’s most disconcerting is that we still don’t see the uselessness of social, economic, and cultural freedom when our cultural habits demand oppression, and wilful illness. Freedom to kill ourselves is what Sebi died trying to save us from. Will we at last wake up to the importance of how we treat our bodies every day, or did he die in vain? Without repairing our DNA, the epigenetics embeds repression in the genome so that we keep recreating it in new ways like the creative geniuses we are. Without getting our feet in the earth, bodies in the sun, the herbs in our bloodstream, the dead animals out, without making serious changes to the way we treat our bodies, to the very way we think about success on a material level, no amount of social change will add up to anything. We’ll keep inventing new ways to oppress ourselves the more resources we access. New resources are new ways to die in the current paradigm. We’ll keep stuffing starch up a turkey’s ass while a saviour passes away on a cold jail floor and wonder why we feel like smuggling screams into our laughter.

I give you your problem back
Maybe, like MLK, like Sebi himself, there’s a part of us that doesn’t want to be healed, that believes that being saved has something to do with keeping one foot in the slave quarters while the other gallops adjacent to the wheel. I believe that every saviour of their stature is both suicidal and deathless, but they do not go softly into the broken night of empire. Reparations begin in the body. Sebi was the realest and repairingest black saviour alive. His ambivalence is what made it thus, because it aches to transcend yourself alone. Back through the septic waters of empire, he marched home.

The day after his so-called death was reported, mainstream news outlets also reported that AIDS had been cured. There’s a patent on every virus, every disease, every mythic lethal invention, and there’s an equally valued contrived cure and it could cost you your life to question this. Not every rebel is a saviour, but every saviour knows the wages of showing us which way is up.


This piece features in the Chimurenga Chronic (April 2017). To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop.

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Who Killed Kabila I https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/the-chimurenga-library-who-killed-kabila-catalogue-now-available/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/the-chimurenga-library-who-killed-kabila-catalogue-now-available/#respond Fri, 01 Dec 2017 08:12:16 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=12558 The Chimurenga Library is a research platform that seeks to re-imagine the library as a laboratory for extended curiosity, new adventures, critical thinking, daydreaming, socio-political involvement, partying and random perusal.

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From December 13 – 17, 2017, Chimurenga installed a library of books, films, and visual material mapping extensive research that ask “Who Killed Kabila“, as the starting point for an in-depth investigation into power, territory and the creative imagination. This book catalogues all the research material produced and collected for this installation.

The equation is simple: the length of a Congolese president’s reign is proportional to his/her willingness to honour the principle that the resources of the Congo belong to others. Mzee Kabila failed.

Who killed Kabila is no mystery either. It is not A or B or C. But rather A and B and C. All options are both true and necessary – it’s the coming together of all these individuals, groups and circumstances, on one day, within the proliferating course of the history, that does it.

So telling this story isn’t merely be a matter of presenting multiple perspectives but rather of finding a medium able to capture the radical singularity of the event in its totality, including each singular, sometimes fantastical, historical fact, rumour or suspicion.

We’ve heard plenty about the danger of the single story – we want to explore its power. We take inspiration from the Congolese musical imagination, its capacity for innovation and its potential to allow us to think “with the bodily senses, to write with the musicality of one’s own flesh” (Mbembe).


The catalogue is now available for sale in the Chimurenga shop.

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From Seven Modes for Hood Science https://chimurengachronic.co.za/from-seven-modes-for-hood-science/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/from-seven-modes-for-hood-science/#respond Wed, 11 Aug 2021 11:00:19 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=18151 The black spirit is universally sick with dissimulation and at the same time triumphant in its incessantly performed healing, having turned suffering into a kind of spectacular wellness

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by Harmony Holiday

Mode One, Charles Mingus: Just go on your nerve
The spirit is always the first afflicted in the patterned deterioration we name dis/ease. Spirit seizes in the nearing distance, must choose one of two stances: being/nothingness. The black spirit, diasporic from outer space, the cosmos, the unsayable traits of the unknown, traitor to itself on this planet, is universally sick with dissimulation and at the same time triumphant in its incessantly performed healing, having turned suffering into a kind of spectacular wellness, an excellence, a triumphant swell of counter meaning, a con and a come up. Having turned the word “ill” into a compliment, a praise, a wilful state of grace.

And we aren’t casual about much, keep our intensity on the hush, but we casually announce the pathologies of our heroes in the tone of accolades. That Nigga’s Crazy! turns to mean, we love him dearly, he is our hero, he is completely himself. Charles Mingus was crazy. Lazy affirmation. He grew up in Watts in the 1930s in a working class family, son of a stoic military man. His autobiography will tell you he was punished as a young kid for wetting the bed, and teased for being bow-legged, the teasing a mixture of envy and disdain, the punishment his father’s fear that he would grow up to be a chump if he couldn’t even control his own bladder.

He grew up to be a jazz soldier, his motor skills on the bass likely on par with those of a marksman in the battlefield, his temperament somewhere between bleeding heart and kill or be killed. Taurus in the Arena of Life. He was in love with music, women and food, though all seemed subsidiary to the music, and the literacy and elegance it leant to being in space and time. He wanted all black people to know and master that dignity, to regain control over their thinking by way of rhythm-understanding.

But in all of this yearning, Mingus’s nerves short circuited too early in his life, all of the bouts of overeating, over-thinking, over-feeling, overstanding, getting over, converged in a kind of manic self-abnegating signal breach. His brain stopped telling his body how to be and his muscles began to atrophy. And we forget that certain organs double as muscles and we forget that jazz musicians are athletes, and they forget how to be mules.

Formally called Lou Gehrig’s dis/ease, the condition that Mingus acquired or willed and that ultimately led to his complete physical deterioration, is described as a neurodegenerative disorder that causes paralysis, weakness and, ultimately, respiratory failure. Motor neurons in the brain, specifically those that control voluntary motion, begin to die, and therefore cannot send signals to the muscles to initiate basic movement. The whole physiology begins to collapse on itself, eclipse itself.

If we look at the human body or form as a kind of unique grammar, the place where rhythm and tone converge turns into an endlessly muted scream and even the screamer can’t make it better.

For unknown reasons, military veterans are approximately twice as likely to be diagnosed with the disease as the general public. Mingus is a jazz soldier. The bed wetting in his early life was a sign that he was born with weak kidneys, the result of generations of adrenal trauma. Slave, slave, slave, soldier, play me the strings of my soul, in that order. Of retaining water in the holds of slave ships. See the kid in there on his knees talking into his own clasped hands this way, in the dark, under water. And the kidneys calibrate fluid and also anger, one clench away from danger. And the anger and also the water are switched off and on by hormones that in turn control the adrenal glands which sit right atop the kidneys, chillin’, landing. And no one wants to hear that the American dream murders its early anomalies and poster children, the pimps and jazz musicians and batters and battered, one by one.

So we zoom in on a lurid nuance of Charles Mingus. We zoom in on a young black or yellow child soldier, son of a negro (they would have called his father then, with disaffected sophistication) general. He’s inherited his parents’ stress and converted it into intuition and talent, genius, and he’s hip enough to pretend he doesn’t blame them, to their faces. He masters the cello, the bass, the English language and its bastard patois situation too; he masters women and meaning production, becomes one of the best composers of black classical music the world has ever known, eats grapes and chicken until the seeds become bones, and he expects to live forever. We expect him to live forever. Supernigga. Forever Living. He is infatuated with eastern religion as well as psychoanalysis, what the West uses to analog it. He is paralysed as well as a pathological dancer. He eats and thinks and fucks and loves too damn much. Does too much acid with Timothy Leary. Disdain comes as easy as joy. He enters a constant state of fight or flight propelled by his already compromised adrenal glands and finally the body grows so fatigued and overloaded with meaning that this surplus short-circuits everything. It could have been different. He wanted it thus. Dying again and again for his sins which he intended as acts of generosity, jubilation in the tone of loss. He was so misunderstood that he became excessively literal. It was this compromise that killed him, this self-translation or double medium or the time he mistook excess for rebellion ‘cause he was tired of being arrested. Sincerity is a killer.

Mode Four: Abbey Lincoln senses when niggas is redundant
Polygamy is a Black African technology. It is also a health practice. A poetic form and force and civilised. Several trap queens rising. It is the truth alighting souls loved by nature, our divine order, our birthright, our versatility and our discipline, our means of transcending the tropes of pimps, hoes, and adulterers, wives and lovers and husbands, and think of your liver and how every time you lie, your aura, your electromagnetic field, weakens, trusts you less as source. As soul loved by nature. Either/or. By Kierkegaard is nothing like Fear and Trembling by the same manchild.

It is not enough to say that the West’s smug and dismissive treatment of polyamory and polygamy threatens the Black spirit here; the West’s fear of universal love destroys all love born here, not only black love. The aura of love itself is weaker in this abyss of one-dimensional commitment. In this mental institution we call the civilised world. If you want a new world you need new concepts, Sun Ra grinned once in a lecture. Do we want a new world? Are we satisfied with this one, patterned around our repressed infatuation with death. Given meaning by the very love that we trouble with ultimata.

Abbey Lincoln wants a new world. She was once Jet’s girl of the week. She sings in nightclubs on film and on islands and in Manhattan and Berlin and Paris and in fits of rage and tenderness. She has married the drummer Max Roach who is rumoured to be a pimp and it’s possible that when other men look at her while she’s on stage singing, his blood runs hot, and when they get home the drum is a woman. Her jaw looks tilted. Her eyes keep the calm of someone who has been in quotidian danger, and survived it. She is a new world. She is the new world she is seeking. A genius is the one who is most like herself in the new world she creates and absconds. Just as well.

What she is trying to tell you is that you are a slave. You don’t think your own thoughts and your radiance is bought out and splayed across the plasma screens of the boss man. When Abbey escapes her drummer/pimp/husband who taught her how to scream more, she no longer thinks society’s thoughts. She can hear her own voice again, crying, telling the truth, looping the vigil around the will again. And she informs us that a man in love with more than one woman is actually a stronger more intelligent more powerful and more loving man for it. If he knows how. If he doesn’t use it against the women and himself, but instead trusts what the body tells him and the heart and mind. And a woman in love with more than one man is a healer. And several healers can come together and make a family. And a family is a fractal not a square.

The Black African fractal family is meant to be its own opulent village, a space wherein no scarcity was ever meant to exist. No need for escape routes or entrapment. And just like it is safer to legalise prostitution because then the men and women who sell sex for a living can be tested and protected, and their clients protected, in the same way it is safer to honour and admit every lover so that all parties are protected and so the psyche is not fragmented between bogus senses of right and wrong. Love is never wrong. White Supremacists taught us to go against our natural penchant for community and openness. What is wrong is to have multiple partners and to only claim one. In West African models of polygamy a man can have as many wives as he can afford. Both financially and spiritually. And he can only afford as many as he needs. They all complement one another and jealousy is ridiculous, really, petty and small, when all of this is happening in the open. Today in the West the average black man has three women he loves and pretends otherwise and neglects them as such and in the end loves no one because he rejects himself, does not love himself. It is hideous to observe and, even worse. to be a part of, remedial at best. Backwards in the very way we accuse Africa of retrograde. Abbey Lincoln needed a man who could let her work in peace; who would not have to beat her off the stage in the face of her beauty and then run off and pimp a few more for the good measure of his rigged ego. She needed someone stronger and less brute. She needed someone to be king, who wouldn’t make her suffer for it, fearing his own unworthiness.

It is not only men who seek the idyllic openness of a bond with no legally binding contract attached and at the same time yearn to be the objects of devoted love and desire; women also reel in this binary, as Abbey did. As I do. And the primitiveness we fear is our most abiding salvation under the circumstances. To simply avoid sanctimony by not rejecting ourselves. And in the end that kind of freedom brings us home, to cook and clean and work and make love and money and babies together. In the end we love it when niggas are redundant. Acting otherwise is a lie like sweet Lemonade. Drama/charade. Some days we actually wish some sister wife would take the reins so we can get some work done. Others we wanna spend all day in bed feeding him grapes and melon. If Miles hadn’t beaten Frances out into the garden, made her quit dancing her lead in Westside Story, made her run to Hollywood and come up on Marlon Brando. If women weren’t possessions and men weren’t possessed. Abbey, look at your shadow, fathoming all our saved souls joined to jump the cage.


This piece features in the Chimurenga Chronic (April 2017). To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop.

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Chimurenganyana: The Night Moses Died by Nicole Turner (June 2012) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/15301/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/15301/#respond Thu, 31 May 2012 15:04:01 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=15301 “Sleeking through the night city towards Hillbrow, it was Thapelo who asked […]

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“Sleeking through the night city towards Hillbrow, it was Thapelo who asked where we were going and why”. Photographs by Pete Williams, Peter McKenzie

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A Brief History of Fufu Pounding https://chimurengachronic.co.za/a-brief-history-of-fufu-pounding/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/a-brief-history-of-fufu-pounding/#respond Tue, 20 Jun 2017 11:51:33 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=8852 The preparation of fufu is a far from the drudgery and waste of time bemoaned by the World Bank.

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By Moses März

In July 2016, the Kumasi Polytechnic presented the K-POLY FUFU MAMA, the latest machine promising to ease the labour-heavy preparation of Ghana’s national dish. The selected audience of fufu pounders, connoisseurs and chop bar owners present at the launch covered by TV3 is shown as enthusiastic recipients of this Ghanaian technological breakthrough. The inventors of the machine rehearse the ever-same argument: K-Poly is more hygienic, less burdensome, less noisy and more nature-friendly than the traditional pounding with mortar and pestle. And even more importantly: with K-Poly, fufu is ready in less than five minutes.

However convincing this might sound, chances are that, like its many predecessors promoted since 1975 – the Hobart mixer, the Kenwood mixer, and hammer mills – K-Poly Fufu Mama will not enter Ghanaian households at all. Prices such as US$225 for a comparable yam pounding machine can only be part of the explanation. The sophisticated palates of many fufu eaters insist that one can taste the difference. The sound of two metals rubbing against each other can never match the rhythm of topam-topam or the soft fu-fu, fu-fu sound the air makes when it escapes from the mash in the final stages of pounding. As a result, what is not prepared with mortar and pestle cannot be fufu, and the use of machines is nothing but laziness.

As long as the culinary standard remains this high, there will be competition for the machine. And Ghanaians will keep pounding, with hardening of palms, sweat dripping into the mash and all – the same way as “from time immemorial”, in the words of the Daily Graphic article announcing the new machine.

Without even going as far as the preparation of the soup that comes with it, the creation of a perfectly smooth fufu ball can take anything from the main hours of the afternoon to a couple of days, or, if fermented cassava is being used, a week. At the very least, it involves two people, the pounder standing upright, and the moderator, flipping and turning the mash of plantain, yam or cassava in the mortar in the brief moments after the pestle is lifted and before it is dropped again. In the process, all remaining lumps are meticulously taken out by hand until the ball is so soft that it can be swallowed without chewing.

Fufu is not reserved for special occasions. Before the recent rise in the price of cassava, it could be bought for GH₵1.00 at chop bars in Kumasi, an affordable price for those without the manpower to do their own pounding. More importantly, fufu is not food, it is a culinary choice. It is a passion, both in the intense excitement leading up to the meal, as well as in the enduring and suffering having gone into its preparation. It is a dish standing for the nation’s place in the world.

But maintaining such a high level of culinary sophistication on a national scale comes at a price. If it is not backed by the right kind of imperial machinery it will almost certainly earn you one of the lower ranks on the world’s GDP table. On a geopolitical scale, the World Bank is a powerful ally of those who invent pounding machines. A 2006 World Bank report, Gender, Time Use and Poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, found out that “time poverty” needs to be understood as a new dimension of poverty on the continent, meaning that reproductive/ unproductive/ unpaid/ care/ domestic labour takes up too much time. What they call a culturally determined “household time overhead” is the total of things that need to be done around the house. And in their view it is configured in particularly unproductive ways in Africa. Seen from New York, what is worse is that this type of work is also unevenly distributed among men and women. Their numbers show that African women work 30 per cent more than men – and that is even though most of their activities are not even reflected in the data, because women tend to not consider what they do as “work”. In conclusion: “labour-saving domestic technology relating to food processing is likely to have a greater immediate impact in raising the productivity and reducing the time burdens of many women.”

As Yemisi Aribisala points out elsewhere in this edition, Nigerian women in fact use the labour-intensive work in the kitchen to showcase their strength over men, and they have been doing this very successfully: “Over 70 percent of our immunity to disease is sitting inside our guts at the mercy of the food we eat. SHE has license to spit in his meals or lace them with arsenic. She has him, innards and all.” Against the “gender equalising army orders” calling for the inclusion of women into the capitalist work force, she warns that the kitchen is “being falsely implicated in the diminishment of a woman’s power. This much-needed, loved and utilised room is now outrageously persona non grata.”

Accordingly, for Aribisala the preparation of fufu is a far from the drudgery and waste of time bemoaned by the World Bank. She writes:

“The mortar is the vagina, the pestle the penis… but the pounding of yam into a supple mound is at the woman’s pleasure. She decides pace, force, beginning, end, heat, coolness, yes or no. Being in that room where fires are lit is an apparel of power worn by a woman that money cannot pay for. The room yields its secrets to its owner and not to the paid drudge.”

In “The Truth about Fufu”, published in Kalahari Review, Kofi Akpabli also makes use of the sex analogy to explain why fufu is life for many enthusiasts: “When all is done, the pestle is no longer needed until the next session. Meanwhile, the end product lies in the bosom of the mortar just like a new baby issues from the woman’s womb.”

The time poverty strategy is not the first time the World Bank has intervened in the division of labour in African families to save women from using their time in unproductive ways, that is, in ways that do not necessarily produce products to be sold on the market. Three decades ago, when it identified that too much money was being invested into the African state – the national “household time overhead” – the World Bank put a lot of money into attracting women to work on the plantations for the cash crops economy.

According to Silvia Federici in A Feminist Critique of Marx, the refusal to being recruited to work on the plantation, once again, and the defence of subsistence-oriented agriculture by African women, was in turn identified by the World Bank as the main factor in the crisis of its agricultural development projects. A flood of academic papers on “women’s contribution to development” ensued, turning first into NGO-sponsored “income generating projects” and then into “microcredit lending schemes” – all aiming at integrating women into the system of paid labour.

In this light, fufu pounding is a political tool of resistance against a long tradition of Western philosophising about “taste”, stretching from Plato to Hegel to Hannah Arendt. Marked by a profound disregard for the actual taste of the tongue, it locates taste among the lower regions on the hierarchy of the senses and in opposition to the rational character of genuine, cultured, aesthetic experiences. The view that food is fuel derives from this tradition, and it is a prerequisite for how willingly industrial nations have given into the promise of fast food being just that, fast.

In his writings on labour in Capital, Marx never recognised reproductive work – such as cooking or childcare – as work per se, and instead associated it with the world of nature and instinct, like “a spider weaving a web or a bee building a honeycomb”. In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith claimed that not the goodwill of the butcher or the baker provides our daily supper, but the self-interest of all economic agents involved in the process of food production. It should be mentioned that he was still living with his mother at the time. In Arendt’s influential conceptual trinity of labour, work and action, homo laborans works like a machine to meet the basic needs of life, remaining a slave and leaving the freedom to act with others and to affect change as an exclusive privilege of homo politicus. Be it the belief in the economic man or the political man, liberals, Marxists and capitalists all agree that technology will eventually pave the way to a better life, will liberate first men, and then women too, from the “burden of chores” like cooking towards more meaningful work.

Little do they know of the Ghanaian kitchen as a place where communities are created, knowledge transmitted and, perhaps most importantly, where those homines politicus who appear to make all the decisions are subordinates to the absolute power of the one who does the cooking.

According to Kofi Akpabli’s account, fufu pounding underwent several technical innovations over time. The spread of chop bars has, for example, given rise to the specialised profession of “fufu macho-men” operating with giant pestles and mortars. If the pounding is not done by a pounder and a moderator in the classic fashion also known as “Fufu-One-on-One”, it can also be done by a single person who possesses the outstanding psychomotor abilities and the mental balance to do the pounding by herself. This technique is also known as “Automated Fufu Machine”. The so-called “Pestles of Mass Destruction” technique requires a massive mortar and can involve about six people. No moderation is needed in this case.

In the latest survey on work and leisure in the high-income countries forming part of the Organisation of Economic Corporation and Development (OECD), time spent cooking or preparing food is so insignificant that it does not even feature in the statistics. People in Germany, for example, work for an average of 1,478 hours a year and have 7,282 hours of leisure, of which sleep makes up the biggest chunk, with an average of 8 hours and 22 minutes a day. Ninety-seven minutes per day are dedicated to eating.

If this “work-life-balance” is to be maintained, a diet made up of sugar cereals for breakfast, bread, spaghetti and frozen pizza makes sense. It can all be arranged in five to ten minutes. That is if one does not have the money to afford food that is prepared by someone else who does the hard work of operating a restaurant or take-out place.

Apart from the compromised quality of the food, the health hazards posed by sugar, fats, excessive wheat consumption and preservatives have all been linked to diseases ranking from schizophrenia to cancer, autism and ADHD. As a result, “bio” and organic supermarket chains are on the rise in urban centres of the West, selling rye and spelt (instead of wheat), and gluten-free, dairy-free and preservative-free products at premium prices.

As John McMurty wrote in The Cancer State of Capitalism, there is something to be learned from feminist economists working from the vantage point of the “unwaged force of women who are not yet disconnected from the life economy by their work. They serve life not commodity production. They are the hidden underpinning of the world economy and the wage equivalent of their life-serving work is estimated at $16 trillion.”

Women have for some time seen through the false promises of capitalist or Marxist progress. Despite washing machines and dish washers, mixers, blenders and microwaves, nappies still need to be changed, rooms need to be cleaned, the young, weak and old ones need to be taken care of – that is if one does not opt for the robot-option as currently being explored in Japan’s “carebot project”.

Even taken on its own terms, the technological liberation thesis does not hold. The divide between paid and unpaid work, between a mother and a chef, is still very much in existence and jobs are still unevenly distributed and remunerated by a patriarchal system. With every new invention, it also becomes clearer that the technologisation of reproductive work has not eliminated its exploitative elements. Just as we know by now that no time is saved by machines, it remains doubtable whether there has been an actual speeding up of the cooking process in the West. Has it perhaps rather been outsourced from the kitchen to the factory, where the work is still being done in the hidden areas of fully industrialised societies?

The first pasta machines date back to the early 17th century. In the mid-19th century, commercially produced pasta was widely available throughout Italy. Meanwhile, the cultivation of wheat, spanning a period of 10,000 years, undertook a drastic change in the last 50 years. To enhance its resilience on the world market, its genetic make-up has been changed so dramatically that the metabolism of human beings – still much the same as 2,5 million years ago – cannot keep up with the genetically engineered grain.

Moreover, the fermentation process of bread dough that has been part of baking bread for millennia, taking place the night before the baking and reducing the amount of protein to make the bread more easily digestible and tastier, has been cut short since the age of industrialisation. More large-scale bakers, pasta and pizza producers are now using ready-made mixtures and frozen dough, and leading to a sharp decline in taste and a rise in intolerances. It is perhaps needless to add that the pressures placed on the yam or cassava root to change its genetic make-up in order to conform with the norms of the world trade system were not nearly as devastating.

And yet, even in societies that depend almost entirely on the consumption of quick and convenient wheat products, a poetics (in the original sense of “making”) of buttering bread, of fixing a tomato pasta sauce, of cutting up the vegetables of a salad, or decorating the base of a frozen pizza, serves as a reminder that the creative and the productive can never be completely divorced from the process of cooking.

Among the alternative economic models on a global scale – beyond social security and basic income grant schemes that operate on the basis of the same capitalist system – some economists have recently started to advocate for the introduction of a new distribution system based on the actual energy that goes into the production of a product. Only then, they argue, could the myth be dispelled that money is an adequate representation of human energy. Their basic unit of value would be the calorie. Finally, then, a system would be in place that values work according to its difficulty, its hardnesss, its social usefulness, the time or energy invested into a product.

Among the only downsides of such an approach would be that fufu in its current form would probably become unaffordable.


This piece features in the Chimurenga Chronic (April 2017). To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop.

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Chimurenganyana: Rumblin’ by Dominique Malaquais (June 2012) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-rumbling-by-dominique-malaquais-june-2012/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-rumbling-by-dominique-malaquais-june-2012/#respond Wed, 30 May 2012 15:16:30 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=15316 A text and image reflection on the “Rumble in the Jungle”, the […]

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A text and image reflection on the “Rumble in the Jungle”, the Muhammad Ali / George Foreman boxing match held in Kinshasa in 1974. Norman Mailer started The Fight, Dominique Malaquais punched back. Artwork by Kakudji.

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Chimurenganyana: In Search of Yambo Ouologuem by Christopher Wise (June 2012) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-in-search-of-yambo-oluguem-by-christopher-wise-june-2012/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-in-search-of-yambo-oluguem-by-christopher-wise-june-2012/#respond Tue, 29 May 2012 12:27:06 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=15329 Yambo Ouologuem, the Malian author of Le devoir de violence and other […]

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Yambo Ouologuem, the Malian author of Le devoir de violence and other literary works, has been shrouded in mystery since he disappeared from the West, effectively turning his back on literature. Christopher Wise goes in search.

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XXYX Africa https://chimurengachronic.co.za/xxyx-africa/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/xxyx-africa/#respond Wed, 01 Oct 2014 16:51:14 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=3980 LGBT Africa held two truths: you fuck, you die.

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by Nick Mwaluko

African Sexualities: A Reader Sylvia Tamale (Ed.) Pambazuka Press, 2011 Queer Africa : New and Collected Stories Karen Martin, Makhosazana Xaba (Eds) MaThoko’s Books, 2013 Queer African Reader Sokari Ekine, Hakima Abbas (Eds) Pambazuka Press, 2013
African Sexualities: A Reader
Sylvia Tamale (Ed.)
Pambazuka Press, 2011
Queer Africa : New and Collected Stories
Karen Martin, Makhosazana Xaba (Eds)
MaThoko’s Books, 2013
Queer African Reader
Sokari Ekine, Hakima Abbas (Eds)
Pambazuka Press, 2013

On the subject of voicing that inner scream that is your song…

LGBT Africa held two truths: you fuck, you die. Both truths were intimately interwoven, like tapestry spun by a wild heart against an overreaching national government bracketed from the world, answerable solely to itself and wielding unmolested corrupted powers. If you were caught, the government had every right to have you killed – shot dead on the spot – or tortured. If you were lucky, you fucked like you might die – with intensity, not wasting that urge to connect with someone of the same sex who shared your wish to be alive, truly alive, because what proved to be deadly was living a lie every day.

Third World fucking was hardcore sex zero nonsense: we sucked, swallowed, dicked, gulped, licked, fingered, penetrated, moaned, groaned, grunted, squirted, sprinkled, dribbled, bent down, bent over, spread wide, even wider, head-downass-up, swallow-every-drop-nonstop whenever and wherever nobody was watching, and if they did chance a glimpse, we fucked even harder, not wasting a drop of love or life or sex seized in zero time with a loaded gun at your skull. Healing powers were summoned to quiet that extra-crispy brand of brutality reserved especially for queer Africans.

We licked the death-wish within the body’s hidden caverns, our skilled African tongues glossing over bruises from beatings – pipes, stones, Daddy’s belt while your mother watched in silence.

We never saw ourselves on TV; never heard our stories on radio; never held parades to celebrate hard-won struggles; had no materials, no paraphernalia, no lube, no tube; no twelve-inch, uncut, jet-black dildo with glow-in-the-dark sprinkles to decorate your cock; no flag, no label, no symbol, no language, no code, no metaphor, no song; no shops, no clubs, no bars; and no celebrated space to pour our souls into alternative realities. No church or sacred community prayed over us or blessed gay people because they said we have no souls. We were invisible, that unreality within reality, a truth so true that when we first appeared they said we were a lie.

The ones who couldn’t take it anymore, the ones who refused to stay silent or hide, the few brave ones who stood up to declare themselves openly gay and proud Africans became un-African instantly: abandoned by family, disowned by lovers, denied by community, spat on by the ancestors, they went from office workers with (decent) salaries to bums fishing garbage from dumpsters, roaming the streets as sex workers prostituting among tourists to get by hand-to-mouth – if lucky.

These were our very first foot soldiers, heroes and sheroes and trannyoes, who sang their noble song, risking life’s preciousness to voice a more precious truth; LGBT Africans armed with beautiful queernesses prepared to die for an ideal, unprepared to force-fuck heterosexuals in exile, stunned when treated like strangers at home in their own motherland. They did not die from HIV/Aids, NO!NO!NO!, they died from loneliness, acute isolation sapped their strength. In the end, they never knew their worth to their own community; but we know it and we will sing it forever, proclaiming eternity as we reach for infinity where queer Africa lives forever, amen.

For us few watchful survivors on the sidelines, the village sent a clear message: “Fight back, you will fall. Fall, nobody will catch you. Die, no ancestor will receive your rotten, gay body in the hereafter where judgement is even worse.” We looked in the mirror, measured our stubborn pride and saw death. It’s that look you get when you don’t stand in your own truth, when you spin lies to fuel dreams that account for your emotional isolation. We were safer and yet hypocrites; in other words, we were not ourselves.

“Better safe,” we thought, so we played at being “normal”, “ordinary”, “average”, “nice”; we made ourselves “predictable”, “routine”, “stale”, “flat”, modelled our behaviour after “good citizens” who worship the grave.

We fabricated shallow but necessary lies, swallowed spoonfuls of homophobia to stay safe inside the cosy closet. We looked at each other sideways, if at all. “Wide-eyed blind” is what I call it: when you look not to see someone but to make sure they stay invisible. Easy enough: how do you identify when your process involves erasing “self”? We betrayed each other, hurt each other, cursed and destroyed each other. And we drank – too, too much – liquor plus laughter a bubbling tonic during troubled times.

Suddenly, one bright morning, everything broke: the sun rose high to cast penetrating light on our lies, but they had gone, disappeared. The false, artificial ring in our voice sounded true, even authentic; plastic gestures that made us normal became natural; we were masters of the world and its shallow, stupid standards. So we were comfortable, yes, finally safe. Next day, we were still safe and just as plastic. Following day, still fake, still safe. Next day, more fake, more nice, more polite, more shallow, more insincere, more accommodating, more agreeable, more accepted, more lies, more safe, less alive.

When we were too fake we were too safe because we were dead.

There is a war between my legs. It keeps me pure. To reach out, to touch someone who touches me back fuels the frenzy feeding my lust. Love defeats death, my soul defeats my mind, scars speak, pain shared, our chaos is made gorgeous. When partnered it means someone is out there, another African just as starved for life and love. Maybe, just maybe a tribe is in my future if I survive this moment. If I claim the body that holds the story to voice my song, if I taste the death-wish during illegal fucking, if I re-imagine the world behind my eyelids, recreating reality to make it mine. Is this why some of us refuse to hide? When I live in integrity, don’t I like myself more? Aren’t I more alive?

Two centuries later. Post-apocalyptic queer Africa. The ground is simmering. Government executions number in the millions. Repeated blows to the skull with a hammer; failed escape attempts; jumping out of three-storey buildings only to fall smack dead; raped; shot on the spot. Queer blood seeps to the earth’s core, still not ripe for revolution, though the seeds are there. On a stand sit three excellent works: Queer African Reader, African Sexualities: A Reader and Queer Africa: New and Collected Fiction. Written for, by and about queer Africa, a refugee calls them bibles, why? They tell the story in our bodies that voices our song, the first lyrical line is this:

“Our future is now.”


This review appears in the December 2013 edition of Chronic Books, the review supplement to the Chronic. Available in print or as a PDF at our online store.

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Chimurenganyana: The Making of Mannenberg by John Edwin Mason (June 2012) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-the-making-of-mannenberg-by-john-edwin-mason-june-2012/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-the-making-of-mannenberg-by-john-edwin-mason-june-2012/#respond Mon, 28 May 2012 13:00:48 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=15330 On a winter’s day in 1974, a group of musicians led by […]

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On a winter’s day in 1974, a group of musicians led by Abdullah Ibrahim entered a recording studio in the heart of Cape Town, and emerged, hours later, having changed South African music, forever. John Edwin Mason pens notes on the making of the icon and the anthem.

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Chimurenganyana: The Forest & The Zoo by Aryan Kaganoff (June 2012) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-the-forest-the-zoo-by-aryan-kaganoff-june-2012/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-the-forest-the-zoo-by-aryan-kaganoff-june-2012/#respond Sun, 27 May 2012 13:20:48 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=15331 Johnny Dyani offers a method to the Skanga (black music family) in […]

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Johnny Dyani offers a method to the Skanga (black music family) in this extended conversation with Aryan Kaganof. Photographs by George Hallett.

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