A Guest Post: DANCE AND DISRUPT

caribbean lady gathers moss

by Atillah Springer, the LAB and ZIFF

LAB ZIFF Catalogue 3The notion of development is often a tricky concept to navigate. We have bartered with market women from Kingston to Accra and walked the hills of Haiti, denuded of mahogany forests to repay France, and know that entrepreneurship lives, but that wealth remains elusive for many in the Global South, and that a country may have untold natural wealth, quickly decimated and gone to enable another’s growth. By contrast, we have lived and worked in the major cities of the Global North, where there remains insufficient awareness that its comfort and development is built on a result of centuries of heavily asymmetrical systems. We observe vestiges of this past where inequalities persist among nations and discrimination and exclusion also manifests. Moreover, tens of years after decolonisation, the view of development still remains largely defined based on the likeness to the Global North.

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From Home to Home

lookbeyond

Ah went away
Ah leave and ah forward home
Ah forward to stay
Ah must see mih way
—Forward Home, Andre Tanker

You know that move? The one when the pressure from the drumming gets to be too much. When you feeling like your spirit might separate from your body. You ketch the power of the rhythm and it’s like your spine can no longer keep your body upright. You are water and fire and moving air. You are one in a crowd heaving like jouvay morning when you on that Savannah stage and the sun coming up over your Laventille hills.

Your knees buckle and you dip. Your arms end up on top your head—you can feel all your chakras open and the kundalini rising like smoke from some sacred fire burning inside you. Your feet do steps you never knew you knew. Your bottom is a republic.

I am outside the palace of the Asantehene in Kumasi dancing with a couple hundred other people I have never seen before. It is the day before the funeral of someone I do not know. I was passing by and heard the music and the combination of a riddim section and sweet brass was too much to resist. It’s a telling moment in this my first visit to Africa. I submit to a bigger force that has drawn me here. I submit to what Africa has done to consolidate itself not just in a vague way in my imagination but in the front of my mind.

I’ve seen a few different Africas in the past three weeks. I’ve seen the Africa you see on television. The one they want us to believe is the only one that exists. I’ve seen the Africa that made me want to plead with the gods of personal hygiene and promise to never take indoor plumbing for granted again.

I’ve seen the Africa of my imagination. The one that looks like home. That feels like I belong here. That I blend into and don’t feel like an outsider. And people who don’t question why a little black girl like me should be interested in the things that I am interested in. I have seen more Christian churches than I can count. And the fear on the face of the woman who accompanies me to witness a roadside ceremony that marks the death of a powerful traditional priest.

I have seen the kind of wealth that would make my uptown London friends feel like paupers. And discovered another level of pan-Africanism that we forgot that out little T&T that has given the world. Speak the names George Padmore and Henry Sylvester Williams and CLR James and Kwame Ture in some quarters and the air starts to vibrate with the memory of the contributions.

I have met Ghanaians who want to know what scenes Trinis really on. They want to know how come the T&T Government acted so shady in signing the gas deal that eventually went to the Chinese. They want to know if Trinis don’t want to deal with Africans, if they really believe the fiction that black people not good at business.

They want to know if we know that it is because their past President Gerry Rawlings came to Trinidad for Emancipation that the Door of No Return at Cape Coast castle was reopened and that every year people come from all over the diaspora to walk through that door.

Ghanaians pick at their wounds too. We talk politics into the wee hours. E-mailgate rubs up against a court hearing on irregularities in their recently held general election. We laugh on the outside at the colossal stupidity of politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. But weep on the inside. At how we are still confronting the same post-colonial monsters.

We commiserate with the African Americans who have only recently discovered what we have known for 50 years—that because your leader looks like you it doesn’t mean that he or she has your best interests at heart.

I wish I could bring a few people from T&T to meet all the little black boys and girls I was hanging out with. The highly educated ones. The ones who do not feel the need to apologise for their blackness or don’t feel like you curse their mother if you call them African. Who understand that being sure of who you are isn’t a threat to anyone else’s identity. In fact, your surety puts you in a better position to contribute to forward movement.

When I regain control of my body and the music is just an echo, my spirit is dancing still. To the music of possibility. I wash off the last remnants of doubt on that same coast where my ancestors were taken away in ships. I left home to come home. And they welcomed me like I had never left. When I leave home to go back home, I hope the welcome will be as warm.

eintouandmecoast

Ghana Roadtrip

John1010

Hurtling into Fanti country in a beat-up Benz with a wonky gear box, the potholed roads make us zig zag, narrowly missing kamikaze goats and African versions of maxi taxis. Women walking between villages with loads on their heads and babies on their backs and cutlasses in their hands. I’m on the way to a clinic in the middle of nowhere with a Trini warrior named Dr Susan Alfred from Matelot who trains young village women to become dental technicians.
Our young driver Sammy swerves in time to the Bunji I am blasting. What is this music? I say soca…He says ahhhhhh and nods his head.
Different vibe, same energy. Keeping us moving forward.

This evening at WEB Du Bois’ compound

eintouandjudith

Went to WEB Du Bois’ compound for an open forum with Angela Davis and Ama Ata Aidoo, the grand dame of African women’s writing. Looking for a seat, this woman sees my mother and says ‘you look familiar’! Turns out she was in Trinidad a few times for Emancipation, but hasn’t been back for several years. She say she coming back this year!
She’s finding us molasses and honey for Eintou to do her rituals when we go to Cape Coast on Monday to walk back through the Door of No Return….
They also spoke about how many Caribbean people came and lived in Ghana thanks to the efforts of early Pan Africanists like Garvey, CLR James, Henry Sylvestre Williams and George Padmore. It’s all a bit overwhelming, to be honest. So I’m going to do like a good Trini and find a fete so I could dance out all that I’m feeling and trying to find names of feelings for. Ase!

Ghana in a Timing

RollinginGhana

Told you we ain’t dead yet
we been livin’ through your Internet
you don’t have to believe everything you think
we’ve been programmed wake up, we miss you.
they call you indigo, we call you Africa.
go get baptised in the ocean of the people
say reboot, refresh, restart
fresh page, new day, o.g.’s, new key

The Healer, Erykah Badu

 It’s as if I’m floating over my own body as this is happening. Like I’m not really here. In Accra, Ghana. In the heat and noise of an African night. Talking with Angela Davis. Yes, THE Angela Davis. Her afro still big and defiant, challenging the straight acceptance of weaves and relaxer. The words are tumbling out of my mouth and I feel jumpier than ten teenage girls in a Justin Beiber concert.  

 I am telling her the story of that time when I was in Cuba in 2000 and I met Assata Shakur who, like a runaway, had escaped to a freetown called Havana after the FBI decided that she was a terrorist. 

We bumped into her, Mariamma and I, on the last day of an international solidarity conference, the young people from all over the Americas seeking her out, hoping to get a glimpse of her. We were about to catch a train to go and see Che’s remains in Santa Clara and in looking for a quiet spot from which we could sneak out, ended up sitting right next to Assata, who smiled at us with the quiet dignity of one who is notorious and loved. I thought at the time and I think now: everything happens when it’s supposed to. 

Like this is the moment when I am meant to be in Ghana. In Africa. For the first time. Standing between my mother and Angela Davis. Two giants in the development of my personal and political consciousness. On the scale of life experiences and adventures, I think I would rate this moment in the top five. Second maybe to being born. I’ll allow myself this rather un-Aquarian exaggeration because I don’t know how else to process what I’ve been thinking and feeling and living for the past two days.

But it’s a wonderful confluence of life experiences against the backdrop of a conference hosted by the Organisation of Women Writers of African Descent at which my Eintou is presenting a pan. Yari Yari Ntoaso brings together women of African descent from around the continent and the diaspora to explore the individual and collective experiences of women as writers, as academics, as queer theorists, as troublemakers, midwives of a new era for young black women. 

In addition to the conversations on the panels and the conversations over lunch and on the bus to and from the conference, there are the moments with the volunteers. Young Ghanaian women. Who have the kind of beauty that you see on every street from Brixton to Kingston and everywhere in between.

 An unconscious kind of beauty. Hidden behind lace front weaves. Talking with them is what I enjoy the most. Their voices and their smiles and the spontaneous dance moves we break into at random moments in our conversations tell me that this is where I am supposed to be at this moment in my life. For no magical or mystical reason I am never going to be the same again. Places and people change you. Adding this experience to my life’s equation is no idle feat. 

I try to be reasonable about processing my feelings. Along the way I worried that I would have anticipated this too much and that it would either be disappointing or tragic. I cried with fear and nervousness and joy at every point of the journey from London, to Rome to Lagos and then to Accra.

When I finally got out of the plane and felt the heat and smelled the smells and heard the voices, I knew it was going to be okay. And a man behind me said “You are home.” And I looked about for the camera crew because it was just too much like a film moment to be true. There is no film crew following me but I know I really will never be the same again. 

Africa, this corner of it, far from being the home I thought it would be, is the place where I am even more comfortable in my state of being that unapologetic small-island Trini. An amalgam of things and people and ways of being. More than an African. I am a Steel Pan African. I am the product of survival. I am the reconfigured, reconstituted truth of globalisation. I am Anansi and Osun bouncing up Durga and Hyarima. 

Everything happens for a reason. And how it’s supposed to. In the right timing. African time. Not too early or too late. Just right. What else can I be but thankful.

First published in Trinidad Guardian May 18, 2013

You are home

I cried when we took off in Rome. I cried when everyone started clapping when the plane touched down in Lagos. I cried again when we got to Accra and everyone clapped. I ran out of the plane, hoping I wouldn’t further embarrass myself with more tears. I started laughing instead, when the wall of heat hit my face. The smells and the people and the steupsing and the laughter. ‘You are home,’ the man behind me said. ‘You are home.’

Ghana Independence – A view from Trinidad

Ghana celebrates 55 years of Independence today.   Later this year Trinidad and Tobago will celebrate 50 years of Independence.  Countries like Ghana led the way for other colonies.  But I want to remember two Trinidadians who were involved in the celebration of this day March 6, 1957.

The first is George Padmore, who was born in 1901 in Trinidad, the grandson of a slave, the son of a school teacher. He was a writer and activist and close friends with CLR James.  He was also the Personal Representative of Ghana’s first President Kwame Nkrumah.

The second is Lord Kitchener, calypsonian extraordinaire who sang about Ghana’s independence.

Trinidad has given the world some of the most significant Pan Africanists of the 20th Century. From Henry Sylvestre Williams to CLR James to George Padmore and Kwame Ture. I wonder where that legacy has gone. I wonder too why the connections are not as strong as they used to be.

It’s not like Declarations of Independence have made the problems magically disappear.  If anything the economic shackles are still there and Western multi-nationals continue to call the shots when it comes to what we do with our natural resources, whether it is oil or cocoa or culture.

And it’s not just about politicians signing bi-lateral agreements. The disappointing legacy for the Caribbean and I imagine also for Africa is that our leaders have become agents of colonialism, selling us out piece by shiny piece to the highest bidders.  The majority of the citizens do not benefit from these deals and all that we are left with is the social and environmental complications.

We need to have more communication between our artists and intellectuals and activists.  We need solidarity because in a lot of ways our struggles are the same and it makes no sense for us to be labouring in our small corners without sharing ideas for solutions.

So that days like today are truly days for us to celebrate.  The victory of all peoples against the tyranny of oppression and the terror of self-doubt.