Sunday, October 31, 2010

Langston Hughes On Democracy


Democracy will not come

Today, this year

Nor ever

Through compromise and fear.

I have as much right

As the other fellow has

To stand

On my two feet

And own the land.

I tire so of hearing people say,

Let things take their course.

Tomorrow is another day.

I do not need my freedom when I'm dead.

I cannot live on tomorrow's bread.


Is a strong seed


In a great need.

I live here, too.

I want freedom

Just as you.

Langston Hughes

Friday, October 29, 2010

Marjorie Oludhe-Macgoye on those Relas…

A Freedom Song

Atieno washes dishes,

Atieno plucks the chicken,

Atieno gets up early,

Beds her sacks down in the kitchen,

Atieno eight years old,

Atieno yo.

Since she is my sister's child

Atieno needs no pay.

While she works my wife can sit

Sewing every sunny day:

With he earnings I support

Atieno yo.

Atieno' sly and jealous,

Bad example to the kids

Since she minds them, like a schoolgirl

Wants their dresses, shoes and beads,

Atieno ten years old,

Atieno yo.

Now my wife has gone to study

Atieno is less free.

Don't I keep her, school my own ones,

Pay the party, union fee,

All for progress! Aren’t you grateful

Atieno yo?

Visitors need much attention,

All the more when I work night.

That girl spends too long at market.

Who will teach her what is right?

Atieno rising fourteen,

Atieno yo.

Atieno's had a baby

So we know that she is bad.

Fifty fifty it may live

And repeat the life she had

Ending in post-partum bleeding,

Atieno yo.

Atieno's soon replaced;

Meat and sugar more than all

She ate in such a narrow life

Were lavished at her funeral.

Atieno's gone to glory,

Atineo yo.

Marjorie Oludhe-Macgoye

This poem is a throw back to way back when. It reminds me of those hideous English lessons in scorching January afternoons. A Freedom Song has always been a favourite of mine, childhood memories notwithstanding and this does not detract from the important issue at hand. Thematically it is a common story told with a bizarre detachment of one who has seen this happen all to many times. Atieno didn’t meet her prince charming in real life, societal and familial obligations took care of that, robbed her of innocence and shrouded her in shame, malice and disillusion. Like all parables, Atieno is a cautionary tale but Macgoye cleverly (and ironically) turns her wagging finger not at the poor orphan girl but at us, we who did not save the girl from her perverse prison. We who killed her in her childbed whilst she fought to give birth to Vain Hope. Atieno the hapless victim/ Atieno yo!

Marjorie Oludhe-Macgoye went on to tank the high school careers of many a Kenyan Youth when she published Coming to Birth. She lives in Nairobi.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dennis Brutus on Freedom Fighters

For a Dead African

We have no heroes and no wars

only victims of a sickly state

succumbing to the variegated sores

that flower under lashings of hate.

We have no battles and no fights

for history to record with trite remark

only captives killed in eyeless nights

and accidental dyings in the dark.

Yet when the roll of those who died

to free out land is called without surprise

those nameless unarmed ones will stand beside

the warriors who secure the final prize.

Dennis Brutus

Mashujaa day is all about remembrance. Not much has been done to honour the lives of those who died for or freedom. Countless others who actively took part in the Struggle remain banished to obscurity. Dennis Brutus, a South African, wrote this poem at the height of apartheid when no end was in site. Nonetheless he had hope, a hope that was not in vain, the false naivety of the rhyme scheme does nothing to shroud the horrors of an oppressive regime. This was political writing at its most ironic.

So on the 20th of October let us salute the lives that were lost to build this country and the countless sacrifices not forgetting the barbarous aftermath of the 2007 General Election, “the nameless unarmed ones”.

Dennis Brutus, poet, political activist and instigator of change died on December 26th 2009. He was 85.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Solomon Burke, Entertainer, Preacher and Soul Man, died on October 10th, aged 70.

Solomon Burke’s career was as colourful as his stage performances. His songs were steeped in the gospel tradition, which suited him just fine. Both his mother and grandmother were honest to God churchwomen and by 9 he was widely known as the Wonder Boy Preacher.

Mr. Burke never reached the ethereal heights of his contemporaries like James Brown or even Isaac Hayes. He didn’t need to for embedded in his songs was that unmistakable voice, the voice of a man whose soul was touched by God himself. In concert he often wore flowing robes, a crown and even sat on a throne as if to say all hail The King of Soul.

His eccentricities extended beyond the stage. Mr. Burke leaves behind 21 children, 90 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. This patriarch of soul left behind a legacy of biblical proportions; his music a gift to all mankind. I first came to know Burke, much older then, from his album Don’t Give Up on Me (2002). The album was mellow and without the brassy pulse of Everybody Needs Somebody to Love. This was Mr. Burke at maturity. His voice was soothing but his music was like that, easy listening with a hint of melancholy, it was soul for beginners but veterans also went back to Mr. Burke like Prodigal Children so that he could wipe away the pain and tell us everything was going to be all right, and it worked, like therapy on the cheap. Fast train is one if my all time favourite songs, an analogy of life and all it’s misery but Mr. Burke argued as to move on not despite of this but in spite of it. Always a group of wailing women served as back up vocals making his songs so catchy and endearing as he decried moral decay or the fact that (always and everywhere) Everybody Wants to Fall In Love.

Mr. Burke died in Amsterdam, at Schipol Airport. His website reported that “He was on his way to spread his message of love”. He may not have reached where he was going but his message reverberates around the world in the hearts of many. He sometimes sang about going home, indeed We’re Almost Home (1972) was all about that wholesome place, almost metaphysical in definition. Mr. Burke is now finally home. At peace after giving so much of himself. He gained neither obsessive fame nor excessive fortune and I think he was okay with that.

To King Solomon.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Words and Meaning

Half Caste

Excuse me

standing on one leg
I'm half-caste

Explain yuself
wha yu mean
when yu say half-caste
yu mean when picasso
mix red an green
is a half-caste canvas/
explain yuself
wha u mean
when yu say half-caste
yu mean when light an shadow
mix in de sky
is a half-caste weather/
well in dat case
england weather
nearly always half-caste
in fact some o dem cloud
half-caste till dem overcast
so spiteful dem dont want de sun pass
ah rass/
explain yuself
wha yu mean
when yu say half-caste
yu mean tchaikovsky
sit down at dah piano
an mix a black key
wid a white key
is a half-caste symphony/

Explain yuself
wha yu mean
Ah listening to yu wid de keen
half of mih ear
Ah looking at u wid de keen
half of mih eye
and when I'm introduced to yu
I'm sure you'll understand
why I offer yu half-a-hand
an when I sleep at night
I close half-a-eye
consequently when I dream
I dream half-a-dream
an when moon begin to glow
I half-caste human being
cast half-a-shadow
but yu come back tomorrow
wid de whole of yu eye
an de whole of yu ear
and de whole of yu mind

an I will tell yu
de other half
of my story

John Agard

Sometime ago while talking to a friend from the Caribbean the subject of race came up. He was shocked that the word 'half-caste' was in regular usage here in Kenya et it was nearly taboo where it came from. Agard, a man from his part of the world, puts his sentiments into a whimsical yet poignant poem.

On Stars

On Starts

Stars are the nipples
of angels
pressed against the face
of heaven.

Grace Nicols
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