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  • RESEARCH/PERSPECTIVE: There Is No Detour

         We, here in America who have undergone the transplantation of slavery usually make reference to 'Africa' as one land mass.  This annoys many people and they charge us with ignorance.  But, it is not because we are ignorant that we ignore the nationalistic boundaries sculpted by colonialism and/or civil conflict.  We simply refer to the continent as it exists in our lives, as a mass of land.  Our interactions with the 'Africans' here in 'America' let us know that they are our 3rd cousins, close in spirit though not in mind.

         Many frown upon how we understand and speak of our heritage and misunderstand the unprecedented dilemma that we face here.  For example, there is the Ghanaian musician Guy Warren, also known as Kofi Ghanaba. Guy Warren reminds me of Charlie Parker in the sense that he was a well-studied, well-meaning man who was in pursuit of novelty. Music has a great capacity to foster communication and connection.  But, you can't communicate with people or hear the source material of their music when you think you are better than them existentially. The following quote was taken from the book, “America Speaks, Africa Answers.”

    “There has never been anybody in the history of jazz music like me... I am to jazz music what Kwame Nkrumah was to modern African politics.”

         It is only the familiarity of the word 'jazz' that makes this sentence seem reasonable. This word has been made familiar as part of the market.  It is a war strategy which promotes global assimilation. Anyone can play 'jazz' because the term just means “shit.” Oftentimes, on the bandstand, you will even hear 'jazz' musicians say things like, "Play that shit!"  If you replace the word 'jazz' with any word that actually references the People from which the music comes, Warren's words become an undeniably moronic statement. For example, although I personally would prefer not to label any of our music as 'Black' or 'American,' we can easily use Payton's concept of 'Black American Music' to prove this point:

    “There has never been anybody in the history of 'Black American Music' like me... I am to 'Black American Music' what Kwame Nkrumah was to modern politics.”

         Surely, the fact that Guy Warren is not 'Black American' at all reveals that he is thinking aggressively. What he is saying is that he is actually a more complete person. In some respect, the sentence doesn't even make sense anymore, since there is no land or resources for 'Black Americans' to reclaim, like there was in Nkrumah's movement. Though I do understand his assessment that the music is controlled and needs to be liberated, his viewpoint is quite the cliché. Yes, the musical idea we created has many elements in it from our land of origin. But, rather than being the product of a place, it is the experience of specific people that cultivated the ideas that comprise our music. And those people are over here, with us, in our homes and places of gathering. There is only one way to our true creative reserve. There is no detour made for those who do not respect the People.

         The music is far more controlled today and I would argue that Guy Warren's need to aggressively assert his individuality contributed to this fact, as it is a result of the same supremacist mindset that he decries in this quote. It is a mighty fine example of what it means to be so removed from the People, so purely nationalistic in thought, that to the People, your viewpoint is simply the same as any other outsider. From this viewpoint, engagement with the music will be as an attacker. 

    “Art Blakey bores me to death. He excites you at first; the first two seconds – and then that's it – he can't go any further than that.”

         There is a pervasive idea that the People need to have their essence completely emptied and refilled with something better, something implanted by the Citizens of Europe, of modern Africa. This man, Guy Warren, though a valuable historian, was not helpful to a village that is constantly being taken hostage and pillaged. He seems like the crab that jumped in the barrel only to complain about being pulled down. Charlie Parker is Bill Evans is Stevie Ray Vaughn is Rudy Van Gelder is Amy Winehouse is Eminem is Elvis Presley...is Kofi Ghanaba?