Pan-African solidarity is about African people, both on the African continent and throughout the African diaspora, finding ways and means to reconnect and create energies.
So summated Ghanaian musician Rocky Dawuni during the start of the 2021 virtual staging of the Kwame Ture Lecture Series on YouTube on July 11. Dawuni joined a five-member panel to explore the topic “Music Get No Enemy: Rhythm Sound and Soul as Tools for Pan-African Solidarity”.
Chaired by Trinidad and Tobago-born journalist and cultural activist Attilah Springer, the virtual forum also included assistant University of Trinidad and Tobago arts and culture Prof Dr Kela Nnarka Francis, calypso icon David Rudder, rapso artiste Wendell Manwarren and Zambian afro-pop musician Matthew Tembo.
“Pan-African solidarity is no matter what cards history has dealt us, having that opportunity to reconnect and create that energy. In order to move forward, we have to go back and find our way,” Dawuni said to unanimous nods from the panel after being asked to summate Pan-African solidarity.
Manwarren, who is a member of rapso collective 3Canal, echoed Dawuni’s sentiments, adding that “growing up in the republic of Belmont” in East Port of Spain and “being exposed to the Carnival and steelpan on every corner” first awakened his African consciousness.
“Pan-African solidarity is about coming into that consciousness more and more and actively going in search of that rhythm and vibration to find that sense of self that was not reinforced in the education system or at home in the brown skin family that I was a part of. To think the authors of Pan-Africanism are Trinidadian is mind blowing...it changes your life to learn of CLR James and George Padmore. To think Kuame Ture was just down the road from where I grew up is mind-blowing,” Manwarren said.
Rudder meanwhile pointed to T&T being the launching pad for African music into American markets during the ’70s as his ultimate example of Pan-Africanism solidarity.
“We used to have these big parties; what hit me was the music that was played to us was out of Africa. Everybody would be singing. Trinidad was like the departure point for the music to get big in the States and the rest of the world. Arnold Henry was the DJ who took (Manu Dibango’s) ‘Soul Makossa’ to New York. A generation pass and don’t know what going on, and so they will think that’s Michael Jackson’s song,” Rudder said, referring to the late king of pop’s famous sample of the Cameroonian chant on his 1982 hit “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”.
“The connections were going forward and backward. And I feel proud to know all these magical things happened out of Trinidad,” Rudder continued.
Finding African unity in culture
Earlier, Dr Claudius Fergus, co-ordinator of the Kwame Ture lecture series, said all themes in the 2021 edition embrace the theme of the 2021 Pan-African festival, “Advancing Pan-African Solidarity Towards a Balanced World”.
“They also fit in the African Union declaration of 2021 as the year of the arts, culture and heritage levers for building the Africa we want. Indeed, this year’s series is a collaborative effort of the Economic Social and Cultural Committee, the Civil Society Cultural Committee of the African Union and the Emancipation Support Committee of Trinidad and Tobago,” Fergus said.
Springer asked the panel to listen to Rudder’s 1988 release “Haiti” with new ears, in the wake of the assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moise. Moise was murdered at his residence on July 7. A group of 28 foreign mercenaries have been blamed for the killing.
“When I heard the news the other day, the first thing that came to mind is this song,” Manwarren admitted.
“The first thing I try to do is understand what is going on in Haiti. That line in the song, ‘we misunderstood you’, stood out because we continue to misunderstand Haiti. Trying to make sense of what is going on there will get a few more grey hairs, but it is something that we have to confront, even if it starts with the music,” Manwarren added.
Rudder meanwhile recalled the very inspiration for the song came out of his first-hand experience of seeing the ignorance of Haitian history before his very eyes in New York City.
“I took a cab home with a friend of mine and when we arrived to our destination, the guy said that would be $4. But normally that trip would cost about $3. So the guy I was with start to get on and say allyuh Haitians always want more. It kind of hit me. And I asked do you know the history of Haiti? And he say he doh care about dat, they does charge too much.
“That triggered something in my head to write a song. I never thought the song would take on that kind of life of its own, yuh know. Because even with what’s happening right now in Haiti today, when there is anguish in Port-au-Prince, it’s still Africa crying. We outing fires in faraway places while our neighbours burning. The Middle Passage is gone, so how come overcrowded boats still haunt our lives. I refuse to believe that we good people will turn our hearts and eyes away,” Rudder added, quoting from the song’s famous lyrics.
“This is our brothers and sisters despite geographically, identity is bigger than you being Trinidadian or me being Ghanaian and see a bigger Africa,” Dawuni chimed in.
Dawuni’s retort resonated with Prof Francis. The UTT lecturer warned she was getting “on my soap box” and began to explain a concept of disassociation she has coined “post-colonial traumatic stress disorder”.
“We have this mentality of you hold your space over there and I hold my space here. We do it with our music, too. Okay, soca has gone regional and a calypso, too, so we no longer have this idea of you can’t be singing soca if you from somewhere else. But we don’t talk about calypso as a Caribbean-wide phenomenon. When we talk in forums and books, we talk about calypso as a Trinidad and Tobago thing, more Trinidad than Tobago,” Francis said.
Dawuni said the rhythms that echo through the African diaspora are a clear indication of “our sameness”. He recalled a visit to Miami years ago when a promoter took him to hear some new music he immediately recognised.
“He took me to a club and as I walked in and I felt like I was walking into a traditional African event. The bell patterns were the same, the tonality of the call and response, the community aspect of the music was the same. The instruments were literally the same, the melodies were the same, but I realised the language was Spanish. He said this band is from Cuba.
“All of a sudden, I recognised that aspect of us is still alive and that has been the seed that has kept us thriving. Although geographically and historically, we have not been connected and through the current state of politics we have been kept far apart, the music and the culture and the essence of who we are have magnified and thrived in all these places. And as we find our way towards each other, we see these as sign posts that help us to forge new connections towards each other,” Dawuni said.
Rudder: Haiti, we’re still sorry
The bloodshed in Haiti has given a new life to Rudder’s timeless classic. Rudder called it unwanted attention, saying “there are lots of songs I write I doh wanna hear dem anymore”.
“People call and say I’m hearing your song all over the place, but you wish it would go away because by going away, it would free up my spirit. I feel like the song has done something because it still, in a sense, speaks of a lot of people across the diaspora, in terms of how we treat Haiti. How we operate in this world of selfishness, this ‘me’ world.
“No one is saying, ‘David and I again’, is, ‘Me and David’. It starts with the pattern of the language itself. It is a fact that today, if the song could help to shift the vibration into a positive, okay, but I feel sad every time I have to think we have to play this song again. It’s kind of a mixed emotion,” Rudder said.
Despite the overwhelming challenges, the time of united African people is fast approaching, Dawuni said. While noting there are elements that oppose and fear such a union, he believes it will serve all humanity for African people on the continent and throughout the diaspora to come together.
“We can help all humanity. I don’t see us rising as black people as a threat to anyone. We are the roots of the tree, and without strong roots the tree will not be steady. Our stability and strength is important to all of society,” Dawuni concluded.