​Shared memories reunite Africa and the Americas on black magic spiritual flights

By their nature, columns, like poetry, are a tricky lot. As with the heart of verse, columns tend to expose the columnist — they reveal more about them than the subject at hand. My man Seamus Heany was on the money when he intoned: there’s no reading between the lines.

Often, the lines, nay the verse on the page, and their orator are the story.

Now Credo Mutwa is known for his complex beauty. If you blink (or bling!) you’ll miss his big-picture expressive delivery, anecdote and metaphor. His Shaolin Temple’s chops of blurring the magic line between the conscious and the subconscious, also known as the dream world’s inner-vision. Thus, dismiss him as a pig-skin fat salesman, your loss, hun.

Among other nuggets he has shared many times is that early African explorers stretching from the West African coast down to the south of present-day Namibia were much more ahead of the game than “modern” science and engineering would have you know.

They constructed ships and undertook maiden voyages into the vast, uncharted westward seas. Their explorations led them to lands such as the present-day South and North America years before Chris tha Hustler’s, otherwise known as Mr Columbus’s, drift westwards in search of India. Kwa-kwa! Hear that.

If you believe Mutwa is given to buck-wild conspiracies I have an antibiotic fer ya in four words: Dr Ivan van Sertima. Look him up and his scholarship and dial me up, son.

So what? This is the ‘what’ aspect of your ‘so what’ — that Africans from the continent, including the southern shores, have had a long, joyous if blues-drenched umbilical connections with the Americas, north and south, for good and for worse — the blood and cultural links between the Americas and the continent usually erased in discourse.

This is also at the heart of several discussions the Ohio-born, District of Columbia-raised, Gotham city-based scribe Greg Tate will be exploring in his quest not only to update the narrative to our super-digital, Black Atlantic age — where #BlackLivesMatter can be said to have been symbolically inspired by the #Rhodes&FeesMustFall uprising here — but also culturally, especially through hip-hop (Kendrick Lamar, for example) and hip-pop (Beyoncé) inspired the south-blowing winds, in return.

Tate arrived in South Africa courtesy of a brief art residency I’m directing in association with Gallery MoMo — Flyboy Goes South.

In a way, he and thousands of Africans in the Americas, brown and red bands of indie-Genius avatars before him, is retracing the aforementioned, northwest winds voyages across space and time. The to and fro journeys traversed by the likes of Pixely ka Seme, Charlotte Mannye nee Maxeke, Bernard Magubane and Phyllis Ntantala, Lewis Nkosi, Miriam Makeba, Ndikho and Nomsa Xaba, Welcome Msomi and Thuli Dumakude, just to name a trickle.

These are the spiritual trips that have had a psychic and funk-kick bearing on the likes of Pharoah Sanders, Clarence Carter, the Blue Notes, Muhammad Ali and Alf Kumalo’s bromance, Janet Jackson’s Got Till It’s Gone visual style fest, and so forth.

So yo! These are not individuals’ trips. These are black magic spiritual flights — kinetic exchanges that have swept the sounds, visual styles, poses, dialects and science wizardry from the African continent to be reborn in the not-so-New World.

The net profit of that racial and economic chock-hold on black bodies is priceless — gospel, the blues, Cajun, jazz, zydeco, rhythm and blues — which was appropriated into rock ’n roll — funk, soul, rap and hip-hop culture stylings and visual tagging, b-boying and capoeira, and so forth.

This is the context with a wicked sense of humour empathetic enough to allow Solange Knowles space to lose us in her confusion of Gugz in the Cape Flats for Kinshasa, as the setting for her peakockin’ Sapeurs in the video of Losing You, only to reclaim our pump-fisted, brown-black emojis when sister-gal gave a shout-out to Zulaikha Patel and the other tar-babies in their much-televised (and cannibalised) up-yours gesture to Pretoria Girls High’s authorities.

As the African indie-Genius oracles might have prophesied, Tate’s voyage down south coincides with the arrival here of the fiery blues-oracle and same timeframe as the annual Joy of Jazz Festival, the Open Book Festival and the Johannesburg Art Fair, all which have in their programming several African space travellers such as the United States-based Naijah-magic fantasist Nnedi Okorafor, the Gikuyu art magician in the ancient sense of the word, Wangechi Mutu, and Michela Wong, a fellow Afritude traveller in these and other spaces.

I find myself in the belly of some of those travels and discussions and for that I reserve dope love for the ancient magicians. Like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ben Okri, Busi Mhlongo and a truckful of Kalahari San trippers, I luxuriate in soul-fulfilled knowing that my surrealism and psychedelic excursions into the search for magic as a storyteller is rooted in the real. Now if y’all will excuse moi while I kiss the sky. 

Bongani Madondo
Bongani Madondo
Author:Sigh The Beloved Country(Picador) Essays On Photography. Joburg Review. Essays NewYorker/Aperture/S'Times.
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