The Sona sand drawings from the Tchokwe people of Northeast Angola are part liturgical songs and ancient ritual – a kind of Mnemonic language endured by oral tradition and depicted on sacred objects. Images: Mario Fontinha, “Desenhos na Areia dos Quiocos do Nordeste de Angola” (Instituto de Investigação Cientifica Tropical: Lisboa, 1983).
The long-winding epistemological path of Afro-Sonic Mapping often leads to multiple crossroads. Crossroads are symbols that hold manifold meanings. A towering example of this immediately comes to mind: Eshu Elegba, the divine trickster, the Yoruba flute playing Orisha God, who sits at the crossroads in all his dualities; followed by Mississippi Delta bluesman Robert Johnson – the mythic bluesman who, as legend has it, sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads for musical prowess. Could the devil at the crossroads be Eshu? I’m simply trying to connect the dots, to let the navigational cosmic compass spin, point and highlight the timbres within which our ordained genius sonic resonators chose and still choose to reverberate. My sketching in the latitude and longitude guidelines is an attempt to decipher and present both the ancient and contemporary resonators. The decoding of this, I firmly believe, will unveil and reveal the keys to many of our unsung narratives. Slaves on the Black Atlantic crossings were acting as human portals – portals that carried a mnemonic sonic lexicon, a complex network of varied sounds. Along with the sounds came designs of musical instruments imbued with magical and religious values, various singing styles of the human voice and the sounds of their quotidian habitats and natural environments. Those palimpsest partitions and newer asphalt-concrete urban-layered scores continue to exist in the genres of our contemporary music of today. They have been created both on the African continent and in the transnational African Diaspora all within the context of what I term “The Eternal Migration of the Afro-Sonic Signifier.”
Black resonance matters have held utmost importance in the cartography of our existence and ongoing evolution on this planet, from the un-named Tchokwe Kisanji player to George Bridgetower’s virtuoso violin playing, which so caught Beethoven’s attention that he invited Bridgetower to collaborate in the Kreuzer Sonata. Fast-forward to today and we have Childish Gambino’s protest of gun violence and racial profiling oratory in his song (with 418,299,493 views) “This is America”. Now, like never before, Black resonance matters are impacting areas that until now dwelled in amnesic denial. When we reflect on relevant incidents in our lives or our frequent mundane daily meanderings, they are more often than not complemented by sound – ever-changing soundtracks imbued with melodies and rhythms, noise and cacophony. We are, in fact, vessels that house complex narratives. The many voices we possess are located in different parts of our mortal coil; this human body is an acoustic resonator continuously emitting sounds and vibrations, both audible and silent.
Malcolm X was one of the world’s most powerful orators and typifies the essence of radical Black resonance. I highly recommend you listen to both of these speeches, especially in light of Brazil’s recent election result.
“The human body is the ultimate source of musical articulation. According to the Bakongo people of Lower Zaire, Angola, and the Congo Republic in Central Africa, music is a living entity as vitally present as a human body. Thus, images of the human body, when added to Kongo musical instruments, symbolize the life of the spirit in patterned sound. Bakongo also believe that musical instruments are human beings invoking the people from wherever they may sound.” 1
No Muhammad Ali boxing victory would have been complete without his adroit foot shuffle and chant-like, woke prose. Great orators, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., fully understood the complex power of Black vocal resonance; they understood the science of the human sonic resonator; and they understood in which areas of the body to place, resound and to project the voice from.
Up to three thousand Woodaabe gather to celebrate the Geerewol festival. The Woodaabe live in Central Niger, parts of Nigeria and Cameroon. They devote enormous care to their appearance for the Geerewol and the young men in particular spend hours decorating themselves. The Woodaabe believe that they have been given the greatest beauty on earth. Images: Angela Fisher, “Africa Adorned” (William Collins Sons & Co Ltd., 1984).
Within a colonial and post-colonial context the Black body has been inflicted and, for centuries, has been forced to endure insurmountable thresholds of discomfort. Above and beyond any discourse in victimization its recipient souls have repelled, rebelled, rejoiced and eternally reinvented ways of deflecting the negative force of power-wielding global oppression. Culture, namely music, dance, the visual arts and theatre holds a pivotal position in the attempted cohesion of splintered, displaced cultures. The African diaspora is the perfect example of a transnational entity that exists in states of constant reinvention, pulsating in networks of complex re-imagination within which Africanisms are dually embraced and repelled. It is that stereo space between identification and alienation that enables us to resonate and realize our true social selves. To wade in Afro-futuristic waters for a moment, I believe some of us wear spiritual cloaks woven from finely tuned harmonics, which in turn, like a cosmic radio, tune us in with supernatural frequencies. We are, in fact, reflective sounding forms with untapped sonic capabilities. In this highly capitalistic material world, priorities have shifted. Due to an obsessive overdrive for material gain, we have created the Anthropocene. In spiritual matters, we are neophytes as yet to realize our full sonic-spiritual potential. But lest we forget, in this current incarnation some of us will take the opportunity to become liberated, self-realized, conscious souls.
1 Robert Farris Thompson, “Body and Voice: Kongo Figurative musical Instruments”, in Sounding forms: African musical instruments, ed. Marie-Thérèse Brincard (American Federation of Arts: New York, 1989).
Sound clip: “Luanda Crush”, featuring MC Chris on vocals and deft guitar playing from the legendary Teddy N’singui. Here’s a rough mix teaser from one of the eleven tracks on the Afro-Sonic Mapping album. I’m now doing overdubs and fine-tuning with Henk Heuer in his Berlin studio. This is the sixth recording studio that I have worked in on this album. Recording started in Sacerdote’s Museque Sambizanga studio in Luanda, Angola, then in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil and Lisbon, Portugal – where I will return next year for more research, etc. Listen out for more short teasers til the final mixed and mastered version is available.