Category Archives: Music

Phil Ochs and the Crucifixion of President John F. Kennedy

They say they can’t believe it, it’s a sacrilegious shame
Now, who would want to hurt such a hero of the game?
But you know I predicted it; I knew he had to fall
How did it happen? I hope his suffering was small.
Tell me every detail, I’ve got to know it all,
And do you have a picture of the pain?

— Phil Ochs, The Crucifixion

You are aware of only one unrest;
Oh, never learn to know the other!
Two souls, alas, are dwelling in my breast,
And one is striving to forsake its brother.

— Goethe, Faust

President John Kennedy was assassinated by the U.S. national-security state, led by the C.I.A., on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas.  That is a fact beyond dispute, except for those who wish to engage in pseudo-debates to deny the obvious.  I prefer not to, since there is nothing to debate.

But there is everything to mourn, even after fifty-five years, first, of course, for the man himself, then for those who have suffered and died for bearing witness to the truth about his assassination, and finally for the consequences of his murder, because it cut savagely into any pretense of American innocence and set the stage for the nihilistic tragedies that have followed, including the murders of Malcolm X, MLK, RFK, the September 11, 2001 attacks, and the ongoing “war on terror.”

Today, JFK’s killers have tightened their choke-hold on the country and on the throats of those wishing to tell the truth.  Their penetration of the corporate mass media is wide and deep, and the narratives they spin can make an innocent soul’s head spin.  Everything is twisted to serve their interests.  With a click of a finger, truth and falsehood rotate like spokes on a rapidly turning wheel – spooks turning spokes in a game of hide and seek meant to confuse and derange the public. Constant befuddlement is the name of this racket.

It’s a melancholy task to contemplate the parts played, consciously or unconsciously, by various actors in this deadly game, not least because one’s own naiveté prompts one sometimes to question or abandon those one once admired and to dive deeply into the twisted minds and hearts of fellow humans.  What follows concerns one such man’s strange story as told by another man, whose story is perhaps stranger, and what their relationships with U.S. intelligence, if any, might suggest about our situation today.

Oh I am just a student, Sir, and only want to learn
But it’s hard to read through the risin’ smoke of the books that you like to burn
So I’d like to make a promise and I’d like to make a vow
That when I got something to say, Sir, I’m gonna say it now

Those are the words of the folk singer, Phil Ochs, from his 1966 song I’m Going To Say It Now. Ochs wrote and performed passionate protest songs during the 1960s that inspired many to speak and act in opposition to the Vietnam War and many other injustices.  He was a fiery, sardonic activist whose music, such as I Ain’t Marching Any More induced many to refuse military induction and to burn their draft cards.  He, not Bob Dylan, was the committed voice of the 1960s radical anti-war folk music world, singing at events and rallies across the country, culminating at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago when the Chicago police rioted and savagely beat anti-war protesters, and Yippies and Hippies gathered in Lincoln Park to listen to Ochs sing defiant songs to keep up their spirits. But Ochs’s own spirit was broken that terrible year of so many deaths, which started his long descent into alcoholism and mental chaos that ended with his suicide in 1976.

I was one of those who was inspired by his music. I still am.  Soulful and satiric, biting and beautiful, stirring and inspiriting, it has a power few can equal.  But I have come to a point where I feel compelled to broach a mysterious story involving Ochs, something that when I first heard it in passing shocked me terribly. No, I thought, that can’t be true; it’s impossible.

But the more I have researched it, the truer it seems – with emphasis on the word “seems” – for there is only one source for the story, a source I don’t doubt but can’t confirm.

But either way, I have come to see the story as emblematic of the treachery and confusion sown by the CIA, its Operation Mockingbird, and its so-called Mighty Wurlitzer that have played so many for fools through its control of the corporate mass media and the production of narratives that run like little movies too perfect to be true, but too true to be false – even when they are.  Screens within screens within screens.  Efforts to fuck up as many people as possible in operation chaos, to derange and cleave them into split personalities within and without, and to mystify as many minds as possible.

I think Phil Ochs was one so mystified. I am wondering if in life and death he was used and abused by radically evil forces, whomever they may be.

According to Phil’s best friend from college at Ohio State, the man who taught him to play guitar, his singing partner, best man at his wedding, constant pal in their days in Greenwich Village, and life-long friend, Jim Glover, Ochs was in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, standing outside the Dal-Tex building in Dealey Plaza when JFK was driven by to be killed. Glover says Phil told him he went there as a “national security observer.”

I had read about this on some off-beat websites, but never in biographies of Ochs, or in the latest documentary about him, There But for Fortune. There seems to be an “official” ban on mentioning Glover’s claim, even though Glover appears in the books and the documentary, has been interviewed by the authors and filmmaker, and is considered by them, as Phil’s old and close friend, to be a reliable source.

Jim Glover, who was one half of the well-known folk duo, Jim and Jean, back in the 1960s, and is now an anti-war activist in Florida, says that he has told Ochs’s siblings and biographers all the details, has also reported it recently and as far back as the early 1990s to the FBI, and has put these claims out on some internet sites and openly spoken about it. These disclosures have resulted in silence from Ochs’s family and biographers.  There have been no efforts to refute it, and so it circulates far outside the mainstream.  Since Glover speaks of it openly and in great detail, and since it is a shocking claim with serious implications, one would think it worthy of response.  But it is only greeted with silence.  It seems perhaps like another example of what Thomas Merton called “the unspeakable” – “the void that contradicts everything that is spoken even before the words are said.”

So I contacted Glover and asked him about it.  He told me that Phil had told him months before the assassination that he was “working for National Security, something like the C.I.A.”  Then, he later told him he had gone to Dallas with one of the Gambino boys as “a national security observer” and had been standing in Dealey Plaza outside the Dal-Tex building where he was filmed when JFK was shot.  Jim Glover has sent me photos that he discovered decades later that he says are photos of Phil in Dealey Plaza at the exact spot he mentioned and also in the movie theatre where Oswald was arrested.  He thinks they are very conclusive, especially because of the Dealey Plaza location, despite their blurriness.  While I think they are not dispositive, they do look like Ochs in a fuzzy sort of way.

 

The first two photos are outside the Dal-Tex building, after and before the assassination.

Inside the movie theatre where Oswald was captured and taken out the front door, while the second Oswald was led out the back door.

And the last is a photo of Ochs at Ohio State in 1961 for comparison purposes.

Whatever you think of the photos, they are one piece of a larger mystery, a tale stranger than fiction.  They may or may not show Ochs, as Jim Glover is certain they do, but if Ochs’s biographers trust him on other matters, why would they doubt him when he says Ochs told him he was in Dallas that day?  He says they are afraid to entertain the possibility.

So we might ask the question: If Phil Ochs was in Dallas that day, what was he doing there?

Let me reiterate: The murder of President Kennedy is not a mystery, and I am not exploring it.  We know he was killed in a coup carried out by the national security state led by the CIA.  If you want to know why, and if you want to know why this Thanksgiving, November 22, we should give thanks for John Kennedy’s life and witness, read JFK and the Unspeakable by James Douglass.  It’s the only book you need to read on the assassination.

Phil Ochs is the mystery in Glover’s telling, and I am wondering about him (and Glover), what he thought he was doing getting tangled up with shadowy intelligence operatives, how that awakening knowledge subsequently affected him, how he responded, and what place guilt and fear played in his post-1963 life and death.  I am proceeding as if Ochs went to Dallas at the naïve age of 22 not to harm Kennedy, but as Glover said he said, to investigate the threats against Kennedy that he had heard of in NYC through V. T. Lee of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC) and others. (This is the same V.T. Lee who received a letter from Lee Harvey Oswald, who was proposing a FPCC chapter for New Orleans in May 1963, where he was performing his theatrical stunts.  Lee warned Oswald not to provoke “unnecessary incidents which frighten away prospective supporters” in a place so hostile to Castro.  But Oswald, of course, did the opposite to establish his fake support for Castro.)

Glover says he also knew of the plots against Kennedy that were widely circulating in leftist circles, and afterwards felt Phil and he were being set up to be implicated in the assassination in case the official cover story fell apart since he and Glover were sympathetic to Castro and Cuba. He says their phones were tapped and they were being surveilled.  At this time Glover and his partner Jean were persuaded, against Ochs’s advice, to go on a Hollywood Hootenanny Tour of southern college campuses, a surreal trip that made stops in Dallas and Houston and seemed clearly connected to the Kennedy assassination as strange people got off and on the multi-bus caravan, talking about Kennedy being killed.  Glover says these included George and Barbara Bush and J. Edgar Hoover, who were picked up by the bus at the Houston airport late in the day of November 22.

You would have to have a fantastic imagination to make this stuff up.  Why would he?   Yet his tale is truly bizarre, revealing the intricate nature of the government conspiracy to kill Kennedy and to create multiple tales of plausible deniability when others failed.

He told me that he doesn’t know who told Phil to go to Dallas, but he is unequivocal that he did.  He said:

I don’t have all the answers.  All I know is what Phil told me to keep us both as safe as possible.  He told me I’ll never lie to you but there are things I can’t tell you.  Knowing I had a big mouth if he told me things you [me] are asking, I might not be alive.  His purpose as I see it was to observe, and being set up if Oswald lived, he could have been used as, ‘See a Castro sympathizer knew and was involved.’  And that would apply to me also [learning what he did on the Hootenanny Tour] and they would stop at nothing to have us both silenced permanently if Oswald or Kennedy lived because we knew too much.

Once, he said, as an example of his big mouth, he was performing at the Gaslight in Greenwich Village and told the audience that Phil had been in Dallas as a national security observer.  He thinks Ochs’s manager, Al Grossman, and Bob Dylan heard it, “because Phil came over and said, ‘Are you trying to get me killed?’”

Phil, he said, was a super patriot and would never have done anything to harm Kennedy, but was tricked into going to Dallas under the assumption that he was working with those trying to prevent the assassination by investigating the plot or trying to infiltrate it and perhaps stop it. But when Ochs returned to NYC later that day,  according to Glover, he was devastated by Kennedy’s assassination and at the realization that he had been used and was now compromised.  That is why he cried so terribly that night and wanted to die.  His youthful innocence had died.

Phil Ochs was a man of two minds and inclinations, not unusual for a coterie of musicians of that era who knew and associated with it each other, had military/intelligence family backgrounds, and were never drafted like so many young men not in college. Like so many of these musical icons – Jim Morrison, David Crosby, Frank Zappa, “Papa” John Philips, Stephen Stills, et al (as Dave McGowan chronicles in his book, Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon, where he questions their public personae and the strange ways they gathered from far distances at one time into Los Angeles’s Laurel Canyon, at the heart which was a covert military film facility, Lookout Mountain Laboratory)  – Ochs had a military background.  He was a conservative rebel who suddenly transformed from a conservative to a radical at Ohio State in his last year, according to Glover. He attended Staunton Military Academy with Barry Goldwater’s son and John Dean of Watergate fame and was a sergeant in the ROTC at Ohio State where at the least he was aware of military intelligence spying on radical students; he idolized John Wayne, James Dean, Marlon Brando and the American western film mythology of the cowboy and soldier; he loved John Kennedy; he sang powerful anti-war songs and would jokingly say to his audience that now that they had listened to his anti-government songs he was turning them in to the government; he was a drama king who loved heroes and wanted to be one; he was a left-winger who mocked liberals; he was a folk singer who loved Elvis.  In short, he was a man of many contradictions, of highs and lows, hope and despair, driven to stop war and injustice and to become a star in the superficial entertainment culture, etc.  As he fell apart in his last years, it became easy to categorize him with the facile term “manic-depressive” or “bipolar.”

I think that misses the heart of the matter, as if a term explains its reality, as if his paranoia had no basis outside his mind, as if he was just nuts to think the CIA was out to get him, as he did regularly and especially after he was attacked and choked while walking alone on a beach in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, when his vocal cords were ruptured and his voice permanently damaged.

My guess is that he was driven by guilt and fear and that his suicide at age 35 was connected to being in Dallas on the day JFK was assassinated.  I think he died that day too, and that the next 13 years of his life were courageous attempts to quell his guilt for being gulled into going to Dallas and fear that he might be killed for doing so by singing out his rebellious songs in the face of his ghosts. He was a haunted man, and produced haunting songs in response to exorcise his demons, including the songs The Crucifixion and That Was the President, both about John Kennedy.

In his last years he said he was John Train (sometimes John Butler Train), not Phil Ochs, and that John Train had killed Phil Ochs in the Chelsea Hotel on the summer solstice in 1975, the solstice being a significant turning point.  His biographers give various explanations for his adoption of this pseudonym, all of which, I believe, miss the mark.  To say he took the name from his heroes John Wayne, John Ford, John Kennedy, and William Butler Yeats, avoids the key word: Train. It’s as if the word is unimportant or unspeakable, or the name John Train is a common name that “crazy” Phil just made up.

As he was unravelling in fear and trembling, I believe he was referring to a real John Train, a CIA operative, when he metaphorically said “on the first day of summer 1975, Phil Ochs was murdered in the Chelsea Hotel by John Train….For the good of societies, public and secret, he needed to be gotten rid of.” Train assassinates Ochs.  Then the following spring Ochs assassinates Ochs by hanging himself.

Could it just be a coincidence that there is a real John Train who from the early 1950s onward was connected to the CIA and the covert state in various activities as an asset or an agent?  This John Train, who was one of the founders and funders of The Paris Review, its first managing editor, who together with the CIA’s Peter Matthiessen and George Plimpton started the magazine for the CIA under its propaganda front, The Congress for Cultural Freedom.  This John Train, who ran cover corporations for the CIA and was connected to George Herbert Walker Bush through the CIA’s Thomas Devine, who was involved in setting up Bush’s company Zapata Offshore.  This John Train, who was deeply involved with the CIA’s activities in the early 1980s backing the CIA-supported mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan.  This John Train who….1

It is farfetched in the extreme to think that Phil Ochs just plucked the name John Train out of thin air. But the fact that this is asserted by his biographers makes sense when we realize that Jim Glover’s claims are ignored by Ochs’s family, his biographers, and the makers of the documentary about him.  That there is a real CIA-affiliated John Train and that Glover insists Phil told him he was in Dallas on November 22, 1963 seem clearly connected.  But these facts are unspeakable.  I think they need to be explored.

Like Jim Glover, I don’t have all the answers about Phil Ochs.  My guess and my hope is that Phil was used and was not complicit, that he naively thought by going to Dallas he was working with the good guys to protect the president from the killers, and when he witnessed the brutal murder, he felt compromised, and felt so overwhelmed with guilt and fear that life eventually became too unbearable for him.  Clearly this is Glover’s story.  I think it is incumbent on those who don’t believe it to explain why Glover would fabricate such an intricate tale that glorifies his friend as a true patriot,  whom he claims was used by intelligence operatives and who therefore suffered for the rest of his life for trying to protect President Kennedy.

Whatever the truth in this age of “not knowing,” I think his story is a parable for our times.  Whenever you think you’re getting the straight scoop, think again, and then again.  The CIA’s Operation Mockingbird is still singing its siren song to convince us that the crucifixion was a one-time event, when Phil knew otherwise, right from the start and right to the end. I think he tried to warn us and wouldn’t be silenced, even in death.

When I’m Gone

  1. See Joel Whitney’s Finks, Russ Baker’s Family of Secrets, David McGowan’s Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon, and Bill Kelly’s http://jfkcountercoup.blogspot.com/2013/05/phil-ochs-at-dealey-plaza.html

Develop and Deploy Empathy

Here is a new song from Chris Time Steele called Develop and Deploy Empathy. It speaks on the prison industrial complex, drug addiction, issues of people experiencing homelessness, LGBTQ rights, and right to migrate.

calm. is time (rapper) and AwareNess (production).

Is Shocking People Revolutionary?

Image from Maria Online

White popular musicians rebelling against appearances

Recently I attended two music concerts in one of our local parks that were billed as a combination of soul, rhythm and blues and blues. The musicians were all white.

I am not going to argue that white people playing this kind of music is “cultural appropriation” and that they should not play it. There are wonderful white musicians historically and contemporarily who have played in all these musical forms. What I am more interested in is the appearance of the band members. Historically, music, like all the arts originally came out of sympathetic magical practices. In preparation for a magical ritual, the participants had clothing made for them or they made the clothes themselves. In addition, each participant had a very specific role. The ritual was intended to draw a line in the sand and say “what is going on here is beyond everyday life and we have to look and dress accordingly.”

In western religion, singing in church was and is accompanied by a choir who had roles to play and dressed according to their role so they distinguished themselves from their audience. Historically, when black musicians began to play secular music, they continued to carry forward the same things they did in church. They dressed for the occasion. Their dance moves and the outfits were choreographed with the background singers dressed in the same color. The lead singer would be dressed in a color that might be analogous or complimentary to the background singers. If any of you remember the Temptations, the Miracles, or Gladys Knight and the Pips you know what I am talking about. In the 50’s and the early 60’s the white Rock ‘n’ Rollers also dressed up for their performances: the groups Danny and the Juniors, Dion and the Belmonts both did this.

But somewhere in the late 1960’s white rock bands decided that dressing up for performances was somehow giving ground to the Establishment. So, the band members began to wear any old clothes: tee shirts, jeans, sneakers, anything that would level their relationship to the audience. In addition, each band member dressed in a way that was not coordinated with what the other band members were wearing. They made an extra effort to tell the audience, and especially whom they deemed the authorities, that they didn’t give a fuck about clothes or roles. However, the band still had to play roles, because, of course, they were specialists in what instruments they played. But as much as they could, they were rebelling against the concept of taking appearances seriously. I cannot track what has become of popular music since then because, frankly, I lost interest in the kind of music that was being played. But if my recent experience in the park is any indicator, there are at least some white musicians who operate with this same code of appearance fifty years later.

I am not trained as a musical critic but I spent three years working in music stores in Times Square in New York City and this job required you to become familiar with different types of music. In addition, many musicians came to our store and gave us tickets to the Apollo theater in uptown Manhattan so I’ve seen many musical acts. I was about 20 years old and working in a music store at the time the changes in appearance of the white musicians were taking place.

The western rebellion against appearances in philosophy

The predominant western tradition has been at war with the value of appearances for most of 2,500 years. Plato characterized appearances as deceptive, shallow, temporary and lacking of substance, while reality was true, deep and eternal. Socrates attacked the Sophists and rhetoric for very similar reasons. Mainstream Christianity, at least in theory, has seen the preoccupation with appearances as a sign of the devil’s work, associated with idolatry. A true Christian got beyond the surface appearances of this world to discover the true source of reality – God – on a transcendental plane. The major philosophers of the west have been hostile to appearances, whether it be Descartes, Kant, Bradley and to a lesser extent, Leibniz, and Hegel. Those who have taken appearances seriously have been few and far between, (Hume, Locke) and the Enlightenment philosophers.

Romantic Rebellion Against The Enlightenment

The Enlightenment and the Renaissance were two intellectual movements that appreciated the magnificence of nature, whether expressed through science or through art. Neither were interested in the above, the beyond, or the transcendental. They made clear distinctions between form and content in art. In terms of clothing, the Enlightenment, while rebelling against of foppishness of aristocratic appearances, still believed in the importance of clothing because they were linked to roles people played. Like those in the Renaissance arts, Enlighteners valued the power of illusion, whether it was in perspective painting or in creating distance between the stage and the audience in their plays.

The romantic rebellion in the early 19th century was a new kind of rebellion against appearances. The importance of a person’s inner essence required that they dispense with roles and appearances in order to get to the essence of the person’s soul. When they did that they were being “sincere”. The romantics were about tearing down boundaries: the boundaries between form and content; picture plane and reality; stage and audience; roles and inner state; the objective world and the subjective world. This boundary trampling characterized modern 20th century music, the symbolists, the Dadaists, the surrealists and the abstract expressionists.

Romanticism and the Early New Left

Beginning in the early1960’s the New Left rebelled against the Old Left in a similar way as the romantics rebelled against the Enlightenment. Identity politics, with the focus on individual experience, replaced class politics; the “subjectivity” of the situationists replaced the economic analysis of capitalism. Infinite diversity replaced unity. By the mid 1970’s to call for unity within diversity was seen in some sense as imperialistic. From the Frankfurt School, to postmodernism, boundaries between disciplines or genders were all signs of the Old World. But to rework the title of James Hillman’s book One Hundred Years of Therapy and the World is Getting Worse, we’ve had One hundred years of Romanticism and Capitalism is Getting worse.

The rebellion against appearances and roles of the musicians in the introduction to this article is part of a larger New Left movement rebellion against the Old Left and a continuation of the romantic rebellion against the Enlightenment. But here is the problem. It is one thing to wear whatever you want if you are content to exist for your entire adult life at a university as a professor or work with a liberal non-profit which prides itself in “diversity”. If all the members of the New Left wanted was some kind of “lifestyle” politics, than there wouldn’t be a problem. But there is a big problem. The New Left socialists are increasingly cut off from mainstream Americans and capitalism is getting worse for 90% of the population.

The New Left and the Shock Value of Appearances

The New Left in the US understands that it must reach sectors of the population that are not on board with its romantic roots. For almost 50 years the New Left has ignored its working class and dismissed them as stupid, bought off, simpletons and Archie Bunkers. What is its strategy? To shock people. So, by the multiplication of half shaved – fluorescent colored hair, body piercings and tattoos along with compulsive black attire, it tells the authorities and mainstream Americans to drop dead. The problem, however, in the case of the working class, is that you are telling the same people you need to make a revolution with to drop dead. It would be naïve to think that working-class people in the United States, at least in their thirties, do not also color their hair, have tattoos and more. However, the working class is also composed of people in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s who are still working, have the power to stop capitalism with strikes and boycotts, and they don’t particularly like all the New Left garb.

On the one hand New Lefters think appearances are phony and don’t really matter. In true romantic style, what is of substance to them is an inner essence beyond those appearances. But on the other hand, in trying so hard to rebel against traditional appearances they develop a new set of counter cultural appearances that they work very hard to maintain, scrupulously crafting the appearance that “appearances don’t matter”.

The psychology of shock value

As a social psychologist I say the desire to shock people by appearances is not a desire to extend and move people to join in a common project. Rather it is a haughty, in-your-face “we don’t give a shit what you think” stance. I also have suspicions that the people this hostility is really directed at are not as much the general public but the bankers, and other elites (whom they naively imagine are paying attention). Just as likely as a target, this shock therapy of appearances might be directed at their parents. Given the age of the people who are in the business of shocking people, I see this as a developmental issue of people in their late teens or early 20’s. I would be happy to admit I was wrong if I could find a substantial number of people over 40 who continue to dress this way.

You have to meet people where they are if you expect to take them where you want to go

Let me use my own experience as an example. I have been a “full-time” adjunct college teacher for 27 years. I have taught in universities: mainstream and alternative. I’ve taught for the Air Force and the Navy, I’ve taught in prisons and I’ve taught in community colleges. All these students have a great deal of differences in how they expect their teachers to dress. I also have my own agenda about how I prefer to dress. My goal in teaching is to appear in such a way that gives students a sense that I respect the role I am in, and gives them clear messages that the role I am in has something significant to do with what I am wearing.

I have had about 1-½ years of training in figure drawing and color theory based on the Old Masters approach. From studying the Old Masters, I came to appreciate earth colors – yellow ochre, olive green, burnt sienna, burnt umber – and I try to incorporate these colors into how I dress. I also like two-toned shoes, like the old-fashioned wingtips. I also like to wear the caps that were commonly worn in the 30’s by the working class. I also wear colored bandanas which I have been wearing all my adult life. Lastly I have a pirate earring, which I started wearing ten years before other straight men invaded the earring departments in the early 80’s.

So, compared to most college teachers, my appearance is outside the norm. At the same time, I always wear a sports jacket, sweaters and cotton or wool pants. Although I like all these things, I am also aware that that they fulfill the role of a respectable looking teacher. Overall, I’d say I look more like a musician in a soul band than I do a college instructor, but because of the sports jacket, sweaters and pants, I get a pass. I’d say I am unusual enough not to be seen by students as “establishment” but not so “out-there” that students or faculty don’t know what to make of me. My message to students is something like “I have my own life and tastes but still intend to play my role as a teacher.”

Other instructors, especially at community colleges, don’t see it that way. Many of the male teachers go out of their way to look as much like the students as possible so that an outsider cannot easily tell from walking around the campus who is a student and who is a teacher. These teachers keep up with students not only with scraggly beards, colored hair, nose rings, tattoos and earrings, but they sometimes out-do them. I can only guess that it is confusing to students that these same people who act like they are showing solidarity with students, then act like authority figures who discipline them for lateness, absences, missing papers and low grades.

Shocking people is cross-culturally individualist

Cross-cultural research shows that 80% of the world population, mostly outside the U.S and Western Europe, are collectivist. “Collectivism” means that the needs of the group come before the needs of the individual. Collectivists very clearly link up clothing worn to the role that is being played.

The problem for those teachers who are wearing clothes that confuse or deny their role is that the people from other parts of the world who are their students as sojourners studying abroad lose respect for them. I base this on both cross-cultural research and my experience as a college instructor. Secondly, they are likely to put off college students within their own country who are in the military. The military is a very clear collectivist institution within the individualist U.S with the ranks, clothing and roles that goes with it. Lastly, these individualist teachers who are on a “shock mission” are also confusing and turning off first and second-generation students who come from collectivist countries and are immigrants and refugees. If these liberals or socialist teachers think they are “building solidarity” they will be doing so in spite of their appearances.

The dilemma for New Left

Since the middle 50’s when the Socialist and Communist parties were destroyed in Yankeedom, the New Left has existed on the margins of student life and identity politics with little relationship to the working class. Whether they be social democrats or anarchists, if they wish to reach the 60% of the poor and working class, most of whom don’t vote, they must be careful about how far out they go. These are matters of degree. There need to be some concessions in appearance that imagines what these classes think is normal. Appearances have to be sensitive enough so people don’t have to withstand your appearance in order to listen to you.

Conclusion: Appearances as a means – not an end

Talking about socialism and capitalism is easier now than it has been in well over 70 years. So to the New Leftist I say – “Why make these conversations more difficult because people are put off by your appearance?” I am not proposing which part of appearances should be changed. It is not a question of picking a part of identity and saying, “don’t wear this or that”. It is more a question of quantity and intensity of the hair color, body piercings and clothing that matter.

The heart of Christmas is the Christmas tree. The tinsel and the ornaments are subordinate. Past a certain point, if there is too much tinsel and too many bulbs on the tree, the tree becomes lost in the shuffle, or as the Christians might say, the meaning of Christmas is lost. Talking about socialism and creating a new society is like recognizing we are part of the Tree of Life, the tree whose sap produces all the wealth. We must focus on strengthening the tree, not on becoming preoccupied with the decorations. Our appearances must invite people to come and look at the tree of socialism and it must be an invitation for them to stay and get lost in its branches, twigs and leaves. The New Left is mired in tinsel, bulbs, and darkness and this must change if it is to ever join a working class which will mobilize without them.

• First published at Planning Beyond Capitalism

Rim Banna and the Cultural War that Palestinians Must Win

Rim Banna passed away at the age of 51. Her death on March 24, after a decade-long battle with cancer, brought grief to Palestinians everywhere.

Rim, a Palestinian Christian from Nazareth, united the Palestinian people across political and geographic divides.

When she sang for the Homeland, nothing mattered but Palestine. Christians and Muslims, Fatah and Hamas, Gaza and Ramallah, all became one.

Through her soulful and warm voice, she imparted sorrow, yet celebrated life. Her songs ‘Fares Odeh’ and ‘Sarah’ were poetic interpretation of precious young Palestinian lives cut short by Israeli soldiers.

The butterfly will carry you to the back of a cloud
The gazelle will run with you to a hollow of syamore
The scent of bread will take you, a martyr, to the embrace of your mother
The star said to him, “Bring me to the courtyard of my house”
“Take me to the mattress of my slumber”
Sleepiness climbed up my sides
And settled in my head.

Music unites Palestinians when politicians fail. In fact, while for years the collective calls for ‘Palestinian unity’ has gone unheeded, Palestinian music has continued to bring Palestinians closer.

Deep-rooted Palestinian culture is what makes Palestinians who they are, a people with a unique and lucid identity, despite 70 years of exile, ethnic cleansing, sieges, numerous borders and wanton killings.

And when Rim sang, her voice penetrated through the seemingly impregnable Apartheid walls, checkpoints, military curfews and unbridgeable distance.

It was during the First Intifada (popular uprising) of 1987 that Rim gained access to the hearts and homes of many Palestinians; initially in Palestine and, eventually, all over the world. Her voice, soft and reassuring, gave hope to those who lived under a 7-years long relentless Israeli military campaign. Israeli tactics, then, aimed at breaking the spirit of the rebelling Palestinian people.

Rim’s music offered new, modern renditions of Palestinian traditional songs, but without erasing the historical and cultural identity of that music.

Her music belongs to the Palestinian music genre of nationally-driven and culturally-centered art form, aimed at reintroducing – and, sometimes reinventing – the past in a more relatable fashion.

While Israel is doing its utmost to deny and erase Palestinian culture, such cultural icons, as Rim Banna, but also Reem Kelani, Kamilya Jubran and Shadia Mansour, among others, have reasserted Palestinian culture, thus identity, around the globe.

Although a rarely publicized form of resistance, cultural resistance is at the heart of the Palestinian fight for freedom.

Italian thinker, Antonio Gramsci, who was imprisoned by fascist Italy for much of his life specifically because of his ideas on cultural resistance, had warned of how cultural hegemony is as much the enemy as outright dictatorship.

Palestinians contend with cultural hegemony, not as an academic notion, but as a daily reality.

Israel has spent decades launching and perfecting its cultural war against Palestinians, aimed at erasing Palestinian culture, on the one hand, while imposing its own cultural alternatives on the other.

Oddly, much of what Israel brands as Israeli culture is, in fact, the very Palestinian and Arab culture spanning millennia; from food, to music, to fashion and everything in between, the ‘Israel brand’ is essentially a Palestinian, Arab brand, stolen and rebranded.

But, unlike military and political war, cultural wars are often invisible and incremental. While the Israeli government is now busy replacing Arabic street names with Hebrew ones and outlawing the commemoration of the Nakba – the destruction of the Palestinian homeland in 1947-48 – it also aims at breaking the unity of Palestinian culture altogether.

Historically, early Zionists promoted the false idea that Palestine was a land with no people and that the natives of the land were nomads, passers-by with no cultural roots, no identity, thus no collective political aspirations.

Such propaganda was essential to promote the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine. The supposed ‘nomads’ who existed in Palestine eventually evolved to become the ‘refugee problem.’ To this day, Zionists and their right wing supporters still encourage the cruel idea that Palestinians are an ‘invented people’.

So, when Rim Banna, Reem Kelani, Mohammed Assaf, and numerous others – joined by poets, artists, and other Palestinian cultural warriors – celebrate the traditions, music and culture of their people, they stand at the frontlines of fighting a violent Zionist discourse that has, for over a century, been committed to the total erasure of Palestine.

In her music, Rim fought against the Israeli attempts at the cultural dispossession of the Palestinian people, while humanizing the likes of Fares, Sarah and many others.

This is why many Palestinians wept when Rim died; it is also why millions wept tears of joy when Mohammad Assaf – a refugee from Gaza – won the ‘Arab Idol’ competition in 2013.

It was not merely because Mohammad had a beautiful voice and that he deserved to win, but because of the representation of that thundering, self-asserting voice, his lyrics and, of course, the singer himself.

Assaf is a Gazan refugee. His family was driven from historic Palestine during the violent Zionist ethnic cleansing campaign of 1947-48. He was born in shattat (diaspora) and eventually returned to Gaza, only to live under a hermetic Israeli siege. He broke the siege to participate in the competition.

When Assaf sang, millions watched in wonder as he skillfully demolished all the walls, erased the checkpoints and bridged all the distance. Suddenly, Gaza, Ramallah, Nazareth, Haifa were once more united. Those in diaspora returned. The homeland became one.

Rim too offered that multi-layered representation, which supersedes politics and geography into a realm in which the Palestinian nationhood was made of shared culture, grief, resistance, poetry and hope.

Rim has died, but the generation of artistes she patiently nurtured will continue to sing, to celebrate a culture and a civilization that cannot be tamed by guns or imprisoned by walls.

Rim Banna was the voice of Palestine that can never be muted.

Animals

This is our anti-poaching/animal slaughter anthem. It’s almost Christmas 2017 and nearly every iconic animal on Earth is in dire straights. To their survival we give this gift, please get involved, donate $1.00 to World Wildlife Fund and tell them we sent you.

Thank you — Patrick Henry from One Earth Music

What Was Verifiably Great About America

Having been born in a coal and steel company town but destiny delivered, as an adult, to reside, during extended intervals, in the East and West Coast cities of Los Angeles and New York City, and, at present, the continent of Europe, I have come to conclude, people born into situations providing economic advantage, both liberals and conservatives alike, experience difficulty, more often than not, envisaging the lives of those born into a labouring class existence. Worse, a wilful obtuseness, in combination with a supercilious posture is, all too often, evinced, by reflex, towards those scorned as “hillbillies,” “trailer trash,” and “genetic retreads.”

Among groups possessing economic advantage, a lack of curiosity prevails as to the nature of the lives of individuals who have spent their lifetime subjected to the life-defying tyrannies of full-spectrum, company town capitalism. Life circumstances, under the present, neoliberal order, that are, in all but rare cases, intractable; wherein, the meagre and fraught with economic instability livelihoods earned as a mine, mill, factory worker, and, in the service industry economy in the US wage and debt slave archipelago of fast food outlets, Big Box retailers and Dollar Discount stores, and as a domestic worker, presents, for the vast majority of workers, the degrading, anxiety-inducing option of submitting to low pay, no benefits, long hours of tedious, vastly under-compensated labor or facing homelessness and hunger.

I was born in the foothills of Appalachia. I know, bones to brain, the painful plight of the labouring class. I will go so far as to say, the transforming, I would even suggest, redemptive element, in my life was a house stocked with books and an indomitable yearning to seek out the music indigenous to the region.

My family later moved to the then small, Piedmont region city of Atlanta, Georgia. Shortly thereafter, in the living room of a musician, science fiction writer, and general Beat polymath my father had befriended, I swooned — was, I suspect, transformed — when a guest in the home (where a young Bob Dylan used to crash when in Atlanta — which was, at the time, a rundown, mafia-owned apartment house but where, decades earlier, Margaret Mitchell had penned Gone With The Wind — North Georgia-born folksinger and activist Hedy West played her most famous song, “500 Miles Away from Home” also known as “Railroaders’ Lament.”

During childhood, a period of life in which one is transmigrating through a wilderness of archetypes, for me, the experience of being in West’s presence felt as if I had been transported to glens and gardens inhabited by a veritable muse.

In the year, 1970, in the summer I turned 14, in Piedmont Park, in Atlanta, Georgia, the Allman Brothers, among other bands, would perform free, impromptu concerts for a tie-dye-clad, reefer-reeking, bell-bottoms-caressing-the-Georgia-red-dirt gatherings of “freaks” — which was the preferred tribalist term, as opposed to the media-created, socially pejorative – hippies … which, when bandied among counterculture insiders, was generally applied ironically.

Although the park was located only a few miles from my family’s home, undertaking the trip presented a degree of peril. To make one’s way to the park included traversing a tough, in-town, White working class neighborhood (now a gentrified into soul-sucking blandness, yuppie enclave) where, from the perspective of its denizens, their world, and all they held in reverence and reference, was under siege.

And, although inchoate, their animus was instantly distilled, simply upon a glimpse of the untamed tresses of a singular, thin of wrist, dirty hippie, commie faggot — whose mere presence was considered an affront to their pomade-crowned, muscle car-thundering parcel of redneck paradise.

Accordingly, the locals were pledged to do their part to fight the scourge … by increasing their intake of PBRs and Jack Daniels, and, upon sight of said dirty hippie interlopers, bestowing ass-stompings — and for no-extra-charge — involuntary haircuts upon errant longhairs caught in their midst.

Yet as the era progressed, the savage dance between hippie freak and redneck belligerent changed in tone and tempo, an extemporaneous type of metaphysical jujitsu occurred, in which the predator was subdued and seduced by the prey … as if by cultural contact buzz, redneck fury yielded to counterculture insouciance.

“When the individual feels, the community reels” … Aldous Huxley

Briefly, this was the anatomy of the seduction: In their pursuit of fleeing freaks into the park, the young males of the cracker tribe happened upon a few of the things of this vast and vivid world even more compelling than the possibility of ass-kicking … in the form of attractive young women.

Yet to the young men, the hippie sphinxes, sirens, waifs and gypsy queens were baffling, unapproachable; these women were less than taken by their greasy, pompadoured forelocks and aggressive bearing.

In short, and to appropriate the parlance of the era, the hippie chicks didn’t get off on these young men’s “bad vibes … it, like, really harshed their high.”

But these great, great grandsons of the Lost Cause proved much more malleable in countenance than the ossified in memory, now enshrined in marble statuary, of their confederate forefathers.

Consequently, a kind of cracker Lysistrata started to unfold. The pomade lacquer faded from stiff pompadours, yielding to lank, draping locks of hippie plumage. The habit of rebel bellicosity was sublimated into an avidity to “boogie.” The zealots of ass-kicking became the acolytes of acid and devotees of the gospels of kicking back and getting down.

As time passed, on weekends, as the Allman Brothers preached Sunday sermons vis-a-vis guitar and drum solos, these newly minted freaks could be found in positions of repose and reflection upon the grassy hills of the park, eating Orange Sunshine and drawling, “aw mahn, Dwayne’s guitar is shootin’ sparks into mah brain…”

Or as Marcel Proust put it, “The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.”

If the US is great in any regard, it is not because of the psychotic belief in its own exceptionalism or its risible grandiosity involving the claim to be the one and only “indispensable nation.” Conversely, its best quality is evinced in the voices of the country’s economically bereft rabble, as expressed in the blues, in jazz, folk, country/western, and hip hop music, in which the powerless find a voice that moves the heart by inducing the soul to be able to penetrate the thick walls of shame that the class-based capitalist prison state imposes on the laboring class.

Waylon Jennings rendition of Billy Joe Shaver’s outlaw country classic, and its Cracker Zen philosophy of: The more adept one becomes at growing down — even composting — one’s pride, ego, pretensions, and careerist striving the richer the soil of the soul grows.

(Billy Joe Shaver’s mother, eight months pregnant with him, was severely beaten by her husband and left for dead in a ditch. Later spotted labouring in the scorching heat of an east Texas cotton field, a child harness to her back, young Billy at her side, by a recruiter for local honky-tonks scouting the area to fill waitress positions, Shaver’s red-haired mother’s good looks proved providential for exposing him to venues of country/western music.)

The early 1980s. I am attempting to navigate, and failing on a psychical basis, the vales and canyons of Los Angeles. It is the advent of the Reagan years. The idiot stare of the encompassing dome of the LA sky is too much for my Appalachian Hill country psyche. There is no green-on-green canopy to filter the relentless sheen of sunlight. It renders me manic, angst-ridden, and sleepless.

The damp evening air envelops one at sundown in LA. It gets damn cold. A clinging chill wafts from the Pacific Ocean. But the phenomenon is not weather related; instead, the cold is the embrace of the ghosts of the dead dreams of the city’s inhabitants.

X captures in tone and limns in lyric the effects of the atomised LA landscape upon my besieged psyche…I slouch in the direction of The Whiskey to catch them.

This song, by Elizabeth Cotten, here, interpreted by Rhiannon Middens, seems to me, concerns the type of release borne of lament, whereas one has lost everything and made every attempt to right oneself with circumstance and fate but to no avail. Every worldly possession is in hock…but destitution has not been dodged.

Oh Lordy me, didn’t I shake sugaree
Everything I got is done and pawned
Everything I got is done and pawned

Yet a stark, painfully beautiful, indomitable truth rises up from the soul. I am still here. My voice still rises heavenward. The deathless heart of my song endures in the face of misfortune and grief.

Wallace Stevens captures the sentiment in verse: Excerpted from his poem: A Weak Mind in the Mountains:

Yet there was a man within me
Could have risen to the clouds,
Could have touched these winds,
Bent and broken them down,
Could have stood up sharply in the sky.

One can imitate, with virtuoso precision, musical and poetic technique — but the verities garnered from life lived cannot be counterfeited, no matter how perfect the mimicry. The performance will remain at surface level.

Conversely, as is the case with Roscoe Holcomb, the sublimity of his exquisite rawness arrives from the authenticity of his experience. Listening, at least in my case to his Appalachian cadences, causes my wounded heart to bleed lambent light.

As I write these words, it has been dark for hours here in Munich, Germany, as, collectively, we, in the Northern Hemisphere trudge into the long, dark nights of the dying year. Short daylight hours, haunted with grim and grisly news. Our era, lit up but not illuminated, by twenty four/seven artificial light. Perpetual media distractions at our finger tips. Nature banished. Communal experience atomised.

We attempt to grieve, but remain empty, by means of the same Mephistophelian illusion that has left us estranged from the beating heart of earthly life. Conversely, the US blues/gospel/folk tradition captures the cadences of grief wrought by the knowledge of the vastness of creation, within which unfolds the tragic dance between the fragility of human life and the reality of ever present human folly.

This ballad by the Carter Family defines the form and reveals what has been scoured away by Mephistophelian light. (As a general rule, songs about trains are about anything but trains.)

Pete Seeger, a few years before his death, told me and a small group of others this anecdote about he and Woody Guthrie. The two of them were playing a gig for striking coal miners, deep in the Ozarks. Because no one present could afford babysitters, the union hall was filled with women and small children. A short time into their performance, a squad of large, brutal company goons, wearing long coats concealing clubs and other weapons, entered the hall.

Pete inquired of Woody as to how they should respond. Woody told him to keep playing, and play for all they were worth, which they did. They continued their show and no trouble came to pass that night. Afterwards, one of the members of the goon squad approached Woody and Pete and confessed to them. “We came here to bust up the meeting. But what was going on was not what we were told. You seem like good people.”

Pete related, Woody, much taken with the declaration, returned to their quarters and wrote his song Union Maid, in a single sitting. That is what Woody meant by, “this machine kills fascists.” His music and that of other inspired troubadours kills the soul-dead ideology of fascism with the life-vivifying veracity of truth.

Walls

Our anti-border wall anthem. Laws are laws and politics are politics, but we are all people & no walls should be built to separate us – or keep us in!

Remembering Fela Anikulapo Kuti: Revolutionary African Musician

Fela Kuti was a revolutionary African musician, the inventor of a genre which he called ‘Afro-Beat’ and the scourge of successive military dictatorships and civilian governments whose misrule of Nigeria has blighted the development of Africa’s most populated country. Fela was an iconoclast who challenged the powerful in society, a rebel whose bohemian lifestyle traversed the boundaries of socially prescribed behaviour as well as a social commentator whose lyrics, often suffused with coruscating barbs and comical vignettes, laid bare the daily tragedy of the lives of the suffering African proletariat. His death twenty years ago was mourned by millions of his countrymen and his legacy of social activism, critique of Nigeria’s governance as well as his Pan-Africanist aspirations remain as valid today as they did at the time of his passing.

*****

Fela was born into the upper-middle class elite of colonial-era Nigerian society in the Yoruba city of Abeokuta. The first part of his original hyphenated surname, Ransome-Kuti, was bestowed on his grandfather Josiah Jesse Kuti, an Anglican clergyman, by an English benefactor. Josiah was a talented composer of Christian hymns and a church organist. Fela’s father, Israel Ransome-Kuti was a prominent educator and his mother, Funmilayo Kuti was a feminist and social activist with Marxist leanings who was part of several national delegations representing Nigeria at conferences which were designed to set out a pathway to independence from Britain.  It is from these antecedents that Fela’s talent for music, a predisposition to rebel and his interest in politics and the plight of the ordinary person stem.

Fela formed his first band Koola Lobitos in London when studying at Trinity College of Music where he enrolled in 1958. He learned classical music by day and played the trumpet at nightly and weekend gigs which catered to the tastes of Britain’s West African and Afro-Caribbean communities. He played conventional West African-style highlife music: songs about love and the mundanities of everyday life. It was a style he continued with on his return to Nigeria in 1963 right through to the period of the Nigerian Civil War when most of the federation was pitted against the secessionist state of Biafra in a bloody civil war that raged between 1967 and 1970.

It was not until he embarked on a tour of the United States during the war that Fela’s music and his raison d’etre undertook a radical shift. His association with Sandra Isidore, a black American immersed in the politics of the Black Panther Party and the growing drift towards Afrocentricity, ignited in Fela a new vision that involved integrating black politics with a hybrid style composed of contemporary horn-driven Afro-American popular music, psychedelic rock and the African rhythmic cadences of vocal and instrumental expression. A key part of this musical expression was the drumming of Tony Oladipo Allen whose input first in regard to an increasingly jazzified element to the music of Koola Lobitos and then with the new breed of politicised and funked-up music qualify him as being the co-creator of Afro-Beat.

The musical rebirth led to Fela renaming his band the Africa 70. American funk and soul collided with Yoruban rhythms which were accompanied by lyrics layered with Pan-Africanist sentiment. Fela’s new model sound, a symbiosis of Afro-Diasporan elements, sounded fresh but also natural. The Yoruba culture is one which is highly syncretic in nature.

The new bent towards protest singing was also consistent with Yoruban modes of expression. In contrast to the praise-singing directed at the wealthy and the important in traditional society was abuse-singing. Fela’s Yabis songs which ridiculed and denigrated the rich and powerful in Nigerian society would form the backdrop to many popular compositions as well as a multitude of iron-fisted reprisals from the authorities. His popularity markedly increased as the 1970s developed and his audience ravenously anticipated his next incendiary epistle on long-playing vinyl.

Fela lampooned the high-handedness of police officers and soldiers in “Alagbon Close” and “Zombie”. His disdain for the ‘foreign imported’ religions of Christianity and Islam and his belief that they served as an opiate for the masses was reflected in “Shuffering and Shmiling”. He criticized middle class Nigerian aping of Western mannerisms in “Gentleman” and mocked African females who bleached their skin in “Yellow Fever”. His uncompromising position on eschewing the colonial-derived mentality and promoting black pride formed the backdrop to his dropping ‘Ransome’ from his surname. In its stead, he adopted the name ‘Anikulapo’ which means “he who carries death in his pouch”.

He had established his pan-African outlook via his album “Why Black Man Dey Suffer” in 1971 but when criticising the racist regimes of Rhodesia and South Africa in songs like “Sorrow, Tears and Blood” and “Beasts of No Nation”, did not fail to remind his listeners of the hypocrisy and the brutality of Nigeria’s military rulers. He sang against imperialism and neocolonialism while pointing out that he felt certain of Nigeria’s elite such as the wealthy businessman, Moshood Abiola, were agents of the Central Intelligence Agency. Abiola, who rose to be the Vice President of the African and Middle Eastern region of the International Telephone and Telegraph company (IT&T), was lambasted in the song “ITT (International Thief Thief)” in a diatribe against the exploitation of Africa by multinational companies and the African ‘big men’ who aid them in this endeavour.

Corruption and the inhumanity of Nigeria’s elites were a consistent topic for Fela in his recordings, his stage banter at his popular club ‘The Shrine’ and in his frequent utterances to the press. When Nigeria hosted the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture in 1977, he refused to perform at the gathering in protest at the corruption surrounding the event. “Money is not Nigeria’s problem”, the overthrown General Yakubu Gowon had said a few years before, “it is how to spend it.” And ‘Festac’, the abbreviated name of the festival, had induced a wild spending spree by the Nigerian government which proceeded with the obligatory backhanders for organising officials.

The bringing together of artistic talent from Africa and the African Diaspora had appealed to the Pan-Africanist sentiments of Fela who as a young boy had been introduced to its greatest champion, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, by his mother. He felt that the gathering could be used to “redirect the thinking of the common man”. He had been invited to join the National Participation Committee for Festac along with other luminaries from Nigerian drama, music and literature, including his cousin the future Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, but along with Soyinka and a few others withdrew disillusioned.

When the festival commenced, Fela denounced the military government in nightly sermons delivered at ‘The Shrine’ where musicians flocked to pay him homage. Among them were Stevie Wonder, Sun Ra and Hugh Masekela. The Brazilian artists Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil who for a time had been forced into exile by the military junta of their country also met Fela.

Fela would pay a heavy price for his harangues. Less than a week after the end of the festival, the army surrounded his commune, known as the Kalakuta Republic, before storming it. Its inhabitants, not least Fela were beaten and the female members of his entourage sexually violated. Fela’s mother who resided at the residence was thrown from a first floor window and although initially surviving the attack died a few months later from injuries that she sustained.

It was a dark period for Fela. He spent 27 days in jail and suffered different bone fractures. He was put on trial and an official inquiry whitewashed the invasion and destruction of his compound concluding that the damage to his property had been perpetrated by “an exasperated and unknown soldier”. To top it all off Fela was branded a “hooligan”.

He went into temporary exile in Ghana and responded with lamentations of his experiences with the songs “Sorrow, Tears and Blood” and “Unknown Soldier”. In the former, Fela rails in his trademark pidgin English which was readily accessible to the common person:

So policeman go slap your face
You no go talk
Army man go whip your yansh (buttocks)
You go dey look like donkey

Fela’s allusion to Army brutality, a common occurrence in 1970s military-ruled Nigeria, carried a resonance among the many civilian victims who had been verbally humiliated, maimed and even killed by soldiers.

Yet Fela remained defiant. He partook in a traditional marriage ceremony with his entire female entourage of 27, performed at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1978 and in anticipation of the first civilian elections to be held in Nigeria since the middle 1960s, he formed a political party, the Movement of the People Party, and offered himself as a presidential candidate in 1979.

Fela continued to release music and embarked on many tours of European and American cities gaining a wider audience and respect from members of the rock community. He had known Ginger Baker, famous as the drummer for the 1960s blues-rock trio Cream, during his sojourn in England in the 1960s and both men collaborated in the 1970s and met each other frequently while Baker was resident in Nigeria from 1970 to 1976.

Paul McCartney was introduced to Fela when he went to Nigeria to record his album ‘Band on the Run’. After an awkward first meeting that had Fela accusing McCartney of coming to Africa to “steal the Black man’s music”, both men developed a friendship. McCartney would later confess to have been reduced to tears by the power of Fela’s music. In his autobiography published in 1989, Miles Davis acknowledged Fela as a force in music.

Fela would continue to endure numerous arrests: many of them for possession of Indian Hemp but also one last major politically-motivated arrest in 1984 which involved an alleged violation of currency regulations just before he was due to embark on a tour of the United States. His detention under the military regime which had overthrown the civilian government that had been elected in 1979 led to an international campaign spearheaded by Amnesty International to free him. Soon after his release in 1986, he played alongside artists such as U2, Sting and  Peter Gabriel in a series of benefit concerts for Amnesty.

Over a million people turned out for his funeral after a lengthy illness. His brother Olukoye, a medical practitioner, announced that Fela had stubbornly refused to seek medical help and that by the time he agreed to be taken to hospital was not cognizant of the diagnosis of AIDS.

The cause of death many blamed on a hedonistic lifestyle. The image he frequently portrayed in songs and interviews of a playboy were real enough. Alongside  the praise he earned from many of his country men were the denunciations of others. During his life he was criticised for corrupting the nation’s youth due to his fondness for marijuana and his projection of hypersexuality. While he may have spoken up for the nation’s downtrodden underclass, Fela was attacked for exploiting young women many of who came from poor backgrounds. The accusations of misogyny were often backed up by evidence of his living arrangements, the interviews that he gave as well as songs such as “Mattress”.

He was a mass of contradictions. While he may have spoken out against dictators, he ruled his commune in an authoritarian manner. And even the atrocity committed against him by the soldiers ransacking of his home was preceded by an incident in which a number of his employees had a violent confrontation with some soldiers during which they appropriated a motorcycle and later set it on fire. For some, Fela had set himself above the law from openly smoking weed on stage to holding up traffic while he crossed the road on his pet donkey.

Fela was uncompromising. In the early part of his career he turned down offers from foreign record companies to market Afro-Beat to Western audiences in the way reggae music was because it would have meant that he would have had to shorten the length of his songs. Later on he prevaricated over signing a one million dollar deal with Motown records until the offer lapsed. He could have chosen to live a relatively comfortable existence in European exile in a city such as London or Paris but that was never an option.

He had several distinct nicknames each reflecting a part of his multifaceted personage. ‘Omo Iya Aje’, which translated from Yoruba means the son of a witch, alluded to the belief that Fela inherited supernatural powers from his mother, in her prime a powerful female figure. Fela’s unusual disposition and rejection of convention earned him the sobriquet ‘Abami Eda’ (Strange creature). He was the ‘Chief Priest’ because of his practice of traditional Yoruba religious rites which were featured during his performances at the Shrine. Finally, the ‘Black President’ was an acknowledgement of his leadership qualities and his promotion of ‘Blackism’ and Pan-Africanism.

Now fully two decades after his passing, Fela’s music and the message in his music continue to resonate. His records still sell and his life story has been retold in several biographies and through a successful Broadway play “Fela!” He was more than a musician simply because his protest songs were not merely abstractions confined to the music studio or to music festivals. He transcended the role of a conventional musician because he spoke to the masses and confronted successive military dictators at great cost.

Wrote Lindsay Barrett, a Jamaican-born naturalised Nigerian novelist: “It is no exaggeration to say that Fela’s memory will always symbolise the spirit of truth for a vast number of struggling people in Africa and beyond.”

Fela Kuti was born on October 15th 1938 and died on August 2nd 1997.

Wake Up

I recently released this new track called Wake Up with Bobby Sanchez:

Here is the link to the music video:

Link to song:

Five months into Trump’s presidency, dropping the largest non nuclear bomb in history on Afghanistan and 525 years into the colonial system of what bell hooks deems “imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” more people are finding themselves and each other to resist exploitation and destruction amidst rising fascism and ecological destruction. Although Wells Fargo, Chase, and multinationals continue to fund the leaking pipeline on indigenous land in North Dakota, people continue to organize.

In the middle of the largest prison system in planetary history where New Orleans alone is the most incarcerated area on earth with plantation style prisons built by confederates such as Angola Prison, people speak up. Amidst Trans people being killed and people of color being murdered by the state with no accountability from slave patrols to George Zimmerman calling police 46 times to report people of color before Trayvon was killed to Mike Brown laying in the sun to Sandra Bland to Philando Castile to Charleena Lyles. While the right wing seeks to build walls and shoot and stab people in the name of free speech, liberals blame Russia for their problems ignoring their wall street, prison industrial, migrant
enslaving, drone assassination programs and policies. This is what hip hop is for, spreading ideas, educating each other and coming together to fight oppression. Wake up…

Peter Tosh’s Resistance against Racism, Apartheid and Settler-Colonialism

March 21 was the 57th anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre that was carried out by the South African apartheid regime against protesting Africans in 1960. This protest was organized by the liberation organization, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). It targeted the pass law of the settler-colonial regime that regulated the movement and residential pattern of the indigenous Africans. International opinion was so outraged by the murderous behaviour of the apartheid system that the United Nations’ General Assembly was inspired to declare March 21 the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (IDERD).

Whenever we commemorate the Sharpeville Massacre and the IDERD, we are politically obligated to highlight the valiant effort of the late reggae singer, Pan-Africanist, Rastaman, revolutionary, and human rights champion Peter Tosh in creating greater public awareness of the crimes of South Africa’s apartheid system. Tosh was one of the original Wailers’ trio alongside Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer. He was a reggae superstar at the time of his assassination by lumpen elements in Jamaica on 11 September 1987. Tosh was known as a militant cultural worker and organic intellectual who did not mince words in condemning the powers-that-be like the Old Testament prophets.

According to Tosh’s former manager Herbie Miller in the book Remembering Peter Tosh, Tosh loved to read about international affairs and politics in general, biographies of noted Pan-Africanists as well as “literature about the origins of the apartheid system.” Tosh’s 1977 album Equal Rights was an anthem against racial and economic oppression and Miller said that “it was this era of legal segregation and political unrest that inspired Peter’s recording of the album.”

On this album Tosh demonstrates his function as an organic intellectual of the international African labouring classes with the anti-apartheid song Apartheid that exposed the economic motivation and action of the apartheid regimes in South Africa and Namibia. The first four lines in the song bear witness to the natural resources extraction activities of the white supremacist, capitalist, settler-colonial regime in Southern Africa:

Inna me land, quite illegal
You inna me land, dig out me gold, yes
Inna me land, diggin’ out me pearl
Inna me land, dig out me diamond

Tosh is not distracted by the ideological structure of white supremacy that was used in a vain attempt to mask the economic and financial imperatives behind the system of apartheid. It is not accidental and is quite instructive that this Rastafari prophetic voice went straight at the foundation of the system of apartheid in this song – the theft and occupation of Africans’ land and exploitation of the natural resources.

This militant reggae icon exposes and indicts before the court of international public opinion the vicious and murderous apartheid system for its neglect of the social needs of the oppressed. Since the apartheid regime lacks legitimacy in the eyes of the people, it was forced to invest heavily in the coercive arm of the state (the police, army, courts and prisons) in order to keep in check the people’s struggle for freedom:

You inna me land, you no build no schools for black children
You inna me land, no hospital for black people
You inna me land, you built your prison
You inna me land, you built your camp

Peter was quite aware of the threat of the apartheid regime in South Africa and Namibia to international peace and regional stability in southern Africa. The settler-colonial apartheid regime did not confine its vile and brutal actions inside the territories under its control. It went after the liberation movements from Namibia and South Africa. South African apartheid brought death and destruction to the people of the frontline states that gave shelter to the freedom fighters and anti-colonial forces:

You cross the border, you shoot off the children
Cross the border, shoot down women
Cross the border, you take your might
Cross the border to beat the right

Tosh told the apartheid regime that it must expect a fight from the victimized Africans. He knows that the language of force is the one in which the forces of white supremacy and Babylon were most fluent. The downpressed had no option but to fight:

Now we have to fight, fight, fight
Fight ‘gainst apartheid
Black man got to fight, fight, fight
Fight ‘gainst apartheid

Come on and you fight, fight, fight
Fight ‘gainst apartheid
We got to fight, fight, fight
Fight ‘gainst apartheid

If the call to arms against the forces of exploitation and the disastrous consequences for them are not clear enough, Tosh outlines the desperate situation in which the downpressors will find themselves in the decisive and final moments of the triumph of the downpressed. In the song Downpressor Man from the Equal Rights album, he informs the exploiter of his fate:

Downpressor man
Where you gonna run to
Downpressor man
Where you gonna run to
Downpressor man
Where you gonna run to
All along that day

You gonna run to the sea
But the sea will be boiling
When you run to the sea
The sea will be boiling
The sea will be boiling
All along that day

You gonna run to the rocks
The rocks will be melting
When you run to the rocks
The rocks will be melting
The rocks will be melting
All that day

Long before activists coined and popularized the slogan “No Justice, No Peace,” Tosh captures that sentiment of the people and immortalized it in the song Equal Rights. This Rastafari cultural worker knew that the foundation of peace is justice and equity. The absence of peace and equal rights would ensure the continuation of predatory warfare by the downpressor and the necessity of revolutionary violence or armed self-defense by the downpressed:

Everyone is crying out for peace, yes
None is crying out for justice
Everyone is crying out for peace, yes
None is crying out for justice

I don’t want no peace
I need equal rights and justice
I need equal rights and justice
I need equal rights and justice
Got to get it, equal rights and justice

Tosh was an internationalist and he links the fight of Africans against racism, settler-colonialism and apartheid in Southern Africa with the struggle of the Palestinians against Zionism and Israeli apartheid. In the song Equal Rights, he proclaims that “Palestinians are fighting for equal rights and justice.” This reggae and Rastafari revolutionary took the opportunity at the 1977 No Nukes concert in Madison Square Garden, New York, to demonstrate his solidarity with Palestinians and other Arabs against Israeli colonial and military aggression.

Herbie Miller says that Tosh purchased and performed in the traditional clothing and headgear of the Gulf State Arab men. According to Miller, “He intentionally did this at the No Nukes concert because he knew that there were certain countries with nuclear armaments and the concert date also fell close to one of the Jewish holidays. He made this political statement fully aware of the ongoing conflicts between the Arab and Jewish states in the Middle East.”

Tosh expression of internationalist solidarity with the cause of Palestinians and others in the Middle East might have caused the withdrawal of his invitation to address the relevant United Nations’ committee on apartheid. He would have been the first reggae cultural worker to do so.

We should share Tosh’s legacy of principled resistance and solidarity against apartheid, racism and economic exploitation with young people. Tosh used his art to turn the people on to the struggle for justice, equal rights and world peace.