Thursday, August 30, 2012

The rhythm of activism for peace in Harry Belafonte

Mending the hole in the bucket

It does not matter where you start... if you sing out loud "There is a hole in the bucket... " everyone will join in with "Dear Liza, dear Liza!"  "Coconut woman is calling out... and ... " Before you can go any further you will hear all join in " and everywhere you can hear her shout eh... " If you start singing, 'wid plenty rydthm and so sweetly... " before long you will hear " dey play this stilbahn... " If you star "Day O... Day O... " You know what you will hear.
Harry Belafonte was even suprised that before he started "Day O " in Japan when he visited... the people had gathered to sing his song to him. Then, he told us in the Melafestavalen in Oslo last week, he knew then that the power of song is immense. See, he went on, among all the arts music is with us everywhere. It is found wherever we are because we take it there. That includes in the bathroom and the bedroom.

 A singing soul

But Harry Belafonte has another song in his soul that we were so lucky to listen to. And this song calls one to consciousness. He is a resilient activist and unabashed to speak out for the voiceless.. you will be left shattered by the images in his film "Sing your Song" especially so the last image. I will not say what it is. And again once you hear this song of championing for justice deeply in you,  you will find you will join in singing it  somehow... you will find your own lyrics, you will begin to do your own thing, you will start  to Sing your Song if you had not began. If you had began it you will find that it has more and more verses and choruses and that you just have to keep on singing louder after hearing Harry Belafonte.

It was amazing to watch the film Sing your Song and listen to HB's live interview in Oslo's Melasfestivlen 2012. I am glad that a friend had a reservation for me. You see it was a very special thing to be there not because of fame or how shall I put it? It was something else that happened at Klingenberg Kino. It was the fact that I heard a song that Belafonte sings very deeply with his soul. It is the song of peace. The song of that peace which many of us know is not found by just smiling back but by speaking as he often repeated, 'Truth to Power'. This is the song I did not know that Belafonte sang so deeply with all his might and soul. It was very inspiring. The film, which am not reviewing here is a jolt for those who sit back and watch all the violence and injustice in the world going on.

We cried and laughed and went through deep soul searching with Harry Belafonte whose life story is an example of what it takes to be resilient. Growing from poverty of not just not having material things but also lack of voice and recognition for the many black people in the South and becoming the icon he is another sign that much can be achieved in this life. Let me say quickly that for me this interview was life defining. I can say and this not just because he is a UNICEF Ambassdor of goodwill that Harry Belafonte can change lives with his words. I will blog this story in bits but I will blog on for some time because I want to explain what I mean as well as share thoughts on Harry Belfonte's thoughts in Oslo. I warn you that am not referring to any notes or magazine. Only if I need a spelling or some data. I am doing this a week later and without notes to see how much of it I made mine and why. I am challenging myself.

So we were waiting and then the movie rolled on. Violence, poverty, blood and song. The first scene in the house where Belafonte in the house where he was born is pacing up and down and the title of the movie on his backs is a masterpiece as the rest of the documentary produced by Gina Belafonte is. The movie is fast and intense. I went through a whole range of emotions. Some of the things I heard are never to be forgotten. Smiles, tears, tough times, telephone calls. Joy in Afrika, the visits to Afrika and a place where am going to go deeper. Harry Belafonte and Afrika. I knew that he had sang with Miriam Makeba but I must say I was very impressed that this was the first question that the interviewer asked him. No notes, so what I remember is that he was asked what it was like to and how he came to sing with Makeba. The answer was beautiful. He said he heard hear and he knew at once that this was a voice from Afrika singing... and telling the African story from Afrika. My soul was smiling as I so love as many people do, Miriam Makeba. I know she sang in western capitals but Miriam was in touch with the soul of her continent all the time as is Harry Belafonte when it comes to Afrika. He is committed to championing justice and am glad the issue of so many black Africans in prisons today in America is so well analysed and taken to deeper levels. Modern day slavery. I have been shocked everytime I have switched on programs on TV and especially one National Geographic which for me was meant to always be about scenic and exotic travel. Lots of crime in one color. We went form Norway where the 22nd of July was a real alarm to realising that this unfortunately is the world. From Mississippi to New Guinea. I count myself lucky to have been in that hall and heard and seen for myself what Harry Belafonte is all about. A friend and I had watched Carmen Jones before when we saw he was coming. I had not seen this old movie and it is mindblowing. In Sing your Song, clips of movies with famous actor come in. He narrates some details relating to the movie that one would never have got to know.

The picture coming to my mind now is Nelson Mandela's. I did not write earlier how the flight to Afrika from Mississipi impressed me. The dignity and joy of the people on the roads dancing and singing is captured so well. These and many other scenes keep coming to mind. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so close and so far.. in death. The scene where Harry Belafonte is asking where he had gone is heart rending. Seeing our Kenyan Tom Mboya almost made me stand up in the hall but on the way home always the puzzle of what we know about who assassinated this man Tom Mboya in Kenya in 1969. The decade sixties for those with strong convictions did not only swing, it stung.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated at 6:01 p.m. on April 4, 1968, Tom Joseph Mboya was assassinated on July 5, 1969 in Nairobi at about 1 pm and J F Kennedy at 12.30 p.m. on November 22, 1963.

But we go back to Mandela and hear Belafonte saying that he would rather wake up listening to Tata's wisdom than looking at his accounts. And then the wonderful meeting where Madiba calls him "Harry Boy" and laughs asking if he remembers him... so wonderful. See... am carrying on...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Marikana Miners' burial song (South Africa)

Marikana broadcasted live during burial of 44 miners killed, 34 of them shot by police.

12.32 local time

"The cage moved downwards till it was out of sight and there was a vacant hole where the cage had been.
Xuma had known it would happen. Yet it shocked him. His heart pounded. His hands wre clammy with sweat"
Mine Boy, Peter Abrahams 1946. Heinemann Johannesburg

To the 44 miners
by philo ikonya

In death
It is impossible for this poet
to break words like kola and
wrap you with oil squeezed from seed
I have heard the miners blood crying as priests sing salve
and their shroud I must make with no cheap justice
from speaking minds we must get liberation
Racing beyond fears for a loss so deep
I weep at your burial from the north
violence the robber black and white
and anger that you have gone
chokes me in songless silence
All miners and the 44 miners killed in Marikana
I still hear your worksong unfading and tearing the world
and I pray you sing it till they in power tremble
We perish our tears and grab your struggle

So simply you asked for your rights
which so long all miners have deserved
Behind a rock you stayed put
holding on to tough ancestry
hands triggering smooth bullets
get you down forever
and Afrika has become lesser
she shrinks in my praying hands
Undressed in pain and moaning
Leaving widows carrying sticks
crying unclad in gold and children who know not copper
Like your blood devoid of diamonds
You writhing no more in rigor mortis held

And I stand up to make your tiaras
with same hand I open word power curse
To them that kill you so
To powers that standby and watch
Afrika raped and killed no matter when
entertaining your leaders in fine wine
To hearts and minds unmoved
All Africa should be in demon stration
Not enough to pencil evil: ballot castration
To churches and peace elders quiet
To young people waiting in violent dreams
Change this course as soil covers these miners
Change this shaft of blood, change these cages
And let us open up new ways so old
Let the miners keep singing till they break power drums

Without aparted salary, destroy apart wages
Join the cry of ages while anger still rages
Injustice must depart no new color can it wear
This nation can pay and it must pay now
Chile and China saved her trapped miners
You shoot ours dead and leave the rainbow bleeding

All Miners, your eyes you must not close
Blaze your fire beyond death and drill ruling brains
Blaze it beyond church prayer and free silenced lips
Occupy and occupy the world
Raze with your spirits a new path build and pave
for peace for your children and ours. Rest not now
Rest not. The bugle cries the world over
that together we shall not perish.