Archive for November, 2008

bongani madondo remembers mama africa

By bongani • Nov 14th, 2008 • Category: Hnic-ism, features



 You Still a Black Queen, Mama 


Fate’s a bitch ain’t it? I mean here we are. Celebrating what the magic realist, essayist, poet, and literary seer of sorts Ben Okri, regards as “probably the first great historic moment with a positive charge in the 21st Century.”  


The man you are bound to hear about and from, possibly for the next coming hundred years, eight of which, straight from Capitol Hill, or somewhere about.

And then what happens? That beautiful, healer, diva, sizzler Miriam goes on die on us. 


I’m like, what, Mama? Why did they ask you to perform in an anti-Mafia concert in the first place when the Mafia had issued out death threats to all performers and attending audience in the South of Italy? Doesn’t matter now. 


A person of resolve and artist of extraordinary conviction and passion, you went to Italy, even when you were supposed to have retired by now, and performed to your heart and the audience’s content even when your life was in danger, Mama. 


Look, Mama; you are gone but you are still with us and I know I’m speaking for many when I say, you will still be with us for generations to come.


Yours was a sound straight from humanity, religion and the healers hearts. 

Yours was a voice somehow trapped between that of a pure, sinless child and a wise, old and experienced soul to whom mere age was but just a number. You could have been 5OO years old and living in the mountains, for all I care.  And I do. 


Your voice conveyed the spirit and message from the world beyond. The world that came before us and which await us in the beyond. But also, yours was a voice of those not quite born. 


I am not one of those fakes who’ll just heap praises when you are no longer here, unafraid of telling it up straight when you were able to respond for yourself. I cannot lie, that yours was my all time favorite, or your entire body of work got my heart pumping, cause it didn’t. 


Not all of it, at least. And that’s ok. Show me any artist who can fulfill all of their fans and critics’ yearning for love, insecurities, idealism, and that old perception of what a helluva written and performed should sound like. 

Sometimes we fans and critics expect a lot from artists. Sometimes the impossible. 

I know that’s childish. Churlish, even. Too “bad”- as in too beautiful: that’s the emotional pact the artist signs with us, the minute they walk on stage or slam their vocals down in the studio. Too bad. Too unfortunate. This love we extract from you. But you applied for the job, we didn’t.

Same applies to you. I loved you smacks and was even more critical of you. On all those moments of despair and neediness on my part, you fulfilled me to my wildest un-expectations. Like a lot of young black South Africans, I saw you, Hughie, Katse Semenya, Jonas Gwangwa and Letta Mbuli among others, as our true liberators when our leaders were in jail.  They tried to silence your voice, but we smuggled and exchanged your cassettes and LPs on the underground in the townships. 

Even as I write this, I can hear your teary voice on songs LPs such as Evening With Harry Belafonte, your live performance at Au Theatres Des Champs Elysees in Paris- which in my head matches Mack The Knife: Ella Live in Berlin, or better still, Ella Does The Cole Porter Song Boo !

I can go on and on. Talk about possibly – for me your most haunted and emotion demanding pieces, way beyond the level of classics, particularly the Katse Semenya produced album, A Promise. 

Often, I would like to fancy myself a blues connoisseur. . .you understand the topography: Mississipi to Timboctou. Blind Willie Dixon, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell, Howling Wolf, Bessie Smith, up to Nina Simone, Johny Cash, Ali Farka Toure, Lobi Traore, night crawlers who could elicit a painful scream of a slide guitar, mimic a lovers’ moan, replicate the sounds of blackness that refuses to be defined only by slavery and n’ver do-good hipsters in it.  

And yet, I’d never ever imagined you as a blues torch singer, until that day after my own momma Nomvula got wheeled six feet under, that rainy February day 1991. Too numb to cry, I rushed to a friend’s backyard shack in the village, and buried myself in your songs back to back. The symphonic strains of your wails! 

Did I say you weren’t my favourite voice? “ Compared To What ?” Brothers Les McCarn and Eddie Harries would have asked.  Better still,  “So What?”

There’s A Promise, you comforted me. There’s a city, Gauteng, known for swallowing men and children, never to come back, you told me. But also you cautioned me to Quite It now. And when the tears rolled down my cheeks, you winked at me: Show Me The Way, My Brother. 

But then I had to myself the way first. The way. Our way.  

Many moons later, we met. You cooked for me. Reprimanded me.  You told me personal, intimate tales about a cast of other tortured beauties: Nina, Nakassa, Hughie, Stokely, Coltrane, Aretha, Dolly, about Tsietsi, about your late and only daughter, Bongi. 

And then you wept. Gave me a hug. And dished for me. 

I left dizzier with love. Giddier with the sound of music in my head: Mas Que Nada, I remember. And I felt calmer. Slightly. I wrote the story.  You became both upset and ecstatic. Then I met you in Lagos, a city on perpetual boil. You called me around, whiling away time at the airport. Ordered me on your lap.  

“Sit ! ” you mock commanded. “Tell me, what’s new, what are the young artists doing?”  

I mumbled something. Bit my lip. What exactly is it that I could have told you, other than, I love you, Mama?

–Bongani Madondo

mama tate remembers miriam makeba

By florence tate • Nov 14th, 2008 • Category: features


  For people in the 1960s Freedom and Justice movement, the 1968 marriage of Miriam Makeba and Stokely Carmichael was our wedding of the century.
Scores of  activists from SNCC, SCLC, CORE, the Black Panther Party, Congress of African Peoples and assorted other civil rights, nationalist and Pan Africanist folks, a number of African diplomats and other African dignitaries all gathered with friends and family on that beautiful 1968 summer evening at the Mount Vernon, NY estate of the Guinean Ambassador to the United Nations to witness and celebrate the union of Mama Africa and the reigning prince of Black Power.
    The bright and elegant attire of the  wedding guests could have rivaled that of any assembly of the royal court of Versailles. The large ballroom was aswirl with grand and flowing silk bubas, satin gelees, brocaded jac kets in spectacular colors — a brilliant array of scarlet, aubergine, sapphire and royal blues, cerise, golden yellows, creamy whites. Resplendent in royal kente cloth, the Reverend Douglas Moore performed the  nuptials  before the hushed audience which knowingly tittered when our penurious prince  promised to endow Mama Africa with “all of my worldly goods.” The dapper and debonair young William (Winky) Hall was best man  . the radiant bride in a lovely form fitting gown wore her famous fez-like crown and was attended by  a  sister friend whose name i don’t recall.
    On that memorable evening,  hands that had picked cotton in some of the Deep South places where Stokely and the SNCC workers had organized freedom schools and voter registration campaigns picked up flutes of Champagne to wash down the myriad dishes of African foods prepared by some of the finest African chefs. For the occasion, soldiers  from the struggle were on temporary leave of duty from South Central to South Carolina, from NewArk to Neshoba, to celebrate the union of Mother Africa and Africamerica that we hoped  would bode well for the future black world.
    During the few times that I was to see them before they left to settle in Guinea, Miriam and Stokely were like two lovebirds cooing and chattering, often about politics and more often just about life.  It was always a big kick to accompany Ethel Minor, Stokely’s secretary-editor and Miriam’s frequent traveling companion, backstage at a Makeba concert and chat with her.
    Miriam was such a magnetic and fierce but very feminine warrior — always radiant and sparkly-eyed with that beautifully coiffed short Afro that both she and her great friend Nina Simone perfected. Mama Africa personified and idealized that “African Queen” image to which many women of my generation aspired. Her recent passing leaves a void. I’m afraid they just don’t make Makeba’s breed of warrior star anymore. Godspeed, my sister.
–Florence Tate

Dear Rosa

By Nona Hendryx • Nov 9th, 2008 • Category: Hnic-ism

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Dear Rosa; As a child growing up in New Jersey I went to the farm every summer and picked a variety of fruit and vegetables, string beans, tomato’s, potato’s; blueberries, strawberries, peaches.  It was hot and it was work.  We went to earn money to live not as a fun outing for the family.  Yes, it was hot, the hot sun beating down, turning the skin a deeper shade of colored than it was the day before. The dust created by the trunks picking up bushel baskets and of vegetables and fruit covered our heads and work clothes.  But the heat of the midday sun, the kind heat that makes you day dream as you inch along the row of beans, dreaming of jumping into a swimming pool, dreaming of air conditioning or just holding a cold bottle of coke to your forehead or neck while lying under the shade of a tree and longing to hear the lunch whistle blow.  Tired and longing to sit down.

Tired, Rosa Parks was tired and must’ve longed for a seat, to sit down on the bus that day.  A seat, her mind and feet could rest in on the ride home.  A seat to carry a worker from a day of labor to her home and family.  A seat has many important meanings; a place in which administrative power is centered, the seat of the government. A part of the body considered as the place in which an emotion or function is centered; the heart is the seat of passion.  The office or authority, etc, right to sit as a member in a legislative or similar body, a right to the privileges of membership, cause to sit down, to install in a position or office of authority.

Rosa Parks did not desire any of the previous meanings from the seat she chose, it was just her right to ride seated from one destination to another and it’s denial that became the spark that lit the flame that turned into a fire that consumed segregation in America.