Sunday, June 17, 2012


On Sunday, June 17 Fathers Day will be celebrated near and far when children (from infants to adults) spend time with their fathers and father figures in many cases bearing carefully chosen gifts. Some will spend time remembering those men who have transitioned, who fathered them or represented a father figure in their lives. Over the past three months my siblings and I have been spent many hours at our father’s bedside reminiscing with him. My father suffered a stroke which left him incapacitated for weeks. He has shown vast improvement since March 19 when he was rushed to hospital. Thankfully he is regaining his speech and mobility. It was very distressing watching this man, my father (Papa) who was always energetic, walking with that military strut that came from spending decades as a police officer suddenly unable to even move his legs much less stand on them. We could not have a conversation with him because he could not communicate verbally. His bright intelligent eyes would brim with enthusiasm as he tried to communicate but the words would not emerge when he opened his mouth. After a while it became very frustrating for him and those with whom he tried to communicate.
Two of my sisters visited every day ensuring that he was kept clean, fed and comfortable. My two sisters are absolutely amazing women because of the dedication they showed visiting every day and the progress my father has made is definitely due in part to them. Other family members including myself would visit three or four times a week so there were always visitors at my father’s bedside to cheer him up. We kept his memories alive because it seemed the stroke had robbed him of some of his memories. We reminded him of stories he had told us of his childhood and youth. We would sing his favourite songs while he tried valiantly to join in sometimes with very entertaining results. His expressive eyes would light up, that unforgettable uproarious, infectious laugh of his would just bubble up and out enchanting all within hearing. Always the ladies’ man he is a favourite with the nurses who drop by to chat and joke with him.
Some of our memories are funny yet some are sad including remembering my mother who transitioned in June 1975. She and my father had been married when she was in her late teens and he in his early 20s and they were fortunate enough to celebrate 25 years together. He still misses her and tears would appear in his eyes when she is mentioned.
It has sometimes been surprising the differing memories we have of living with our parents even though we all lived in the same family. However, some memories we all share. All my father’s children can attest to the fact that he was extremely strict and even over protective of his “girl children.” As a police officer who was often confronted with the seamier side of life my father seemed to think we should be wrapped in a bubble for protection. It was very frustrating to think we were being limited and prevented from enjoying the freedom we witnessed other young women enjoying but I have come to realise that my father was a product of his time, his culture, his upbringing. One of my earliest and fondest memories of my father comes from when I was six years old and attended Kitty Methodist School. We had moved from Stanleytown in Berbice because my father was stationed at Eve Leary (police headquarters in Georgetown) and we lived on William Street, Kitty next to the school. There had been a massive amount of rain that day and not surprisingly the school yard was flooded (Guyana’s coastland is 2.4 metres below sea level.) My mother was at home with my three younger siblings and could not leave home to rescue me although I could see her anxiously looking over at the school. Then my father came home from work, came striding over to the school, lifted me up onto his shoulders while several other children looked on enviously (they did not have talL, handsome fathers!) and took me home. This memory always makes me think of Folami Abiade’s poem “In Daddy’s arms I am tall” from the book “In Daddy’s arms I am tall: African Americans celebrating fathers” published in 1997. As a small child I thought my father was the best artist, the best singer, the most handsome man in the world. When I was older I realised that although he had a great voice my father never knew the words of any song and was always adlibbing but I loved him anyway even though I would be embarrassed if other people were listening. I still think that my father is way better looking than Sidney Poitier who was considered the epitome of handsome African American men (that was before the arrival of Denzel Washington.) When Poitier appeared in the movie “To Sir with love” and there were comments about his good looks I would let people know that my Papa was better looking. I think I should have had a t-shirt that read: “If you think Sidney Poitier is handsome you should see my Papa” but alas nobody in Guyana wore such t-shirts at that time.
One of my other wonderful memories come from when I attended secondary school in Lethem, Rupununi in Guyana’s interior many decades ago. I was assigned the exciting project of researching and writing about a prominent family in the area. This family who traced its roots (maternal) to the indigenous people (Wapishana) of the area as well as (paternal) all the way back to Scotland meandering through Jamaica before arriving in Guyana in the late 1800s had members spread across the Rupununi savannah land. The descendants of this man from Scotland and the two Wapishana sisters with whom he sired a total of 10 children were spread across the Rupununi all of them owning ranches, countless cattle and thousands of acres of land. It was fascinating material for a child who loved history, mine and anybody else’s. To access the information I needed for my project I had to travel miles across the Rupununi to speak with the children and grandchildren of the man who began what seemed like an empire. There was no library with research done and books written about this fascinating and seemingly avaricious and cunning man and his family but it was an exciting project that I was determined to complete. My amazingly accommodating father would come home from patrolling miles across the Rupununi savannah sometimes spending days on horseback. He would then take me (we travelled countless miles by land rover) to the various ranches where the children (all of them older than my father by then) of the Scottish/Wapishana liaison lived. The next generation of that family by then counted other Europeans who had married into the family. My father would proudly introduce me to the surviving children and in many cases adult grandchildren of the family and explain why I was there. I interviewed the people learned much about them and their ancestors toured the ranch houses and wrote an excellent report (it was a few decades ago but I am sure it was excellent for a 14 year old.)
Papa is making progress with therapy and his speech and mobility have improved but his children never imagined when we were all visiting Guyana in December 2011 and January 2012 that on Fathers Day 2012 we would be visiting our father in hospital. Life is fragile and fleeting so make sure to call if you cannot visit your father (although this should not happen only on Fathers’ Day) on Fathers Day.

Monday, June 4, 2012


Sun is shining, the weather is sweet Make you want to move your dancing feet To the rescue, here I am Want you to know, where I stand When the morning gathers the rainbow Want you to know I’m a rainbow too So, to the rescue here I am Want you to know just where I stand We'll lift our heads and give Jah praises We'll lift our heads and give Jah praises, yeah
From the song "Sun is Shining" released in 1971 by Bob Marley and the Wailers on their Soul Revolution album Imagine how much poorer the world would be without the melodies and lyrics of Africans like Bob Marley and the Wailers! Africans whether from the continent or the Diaspora have greatly influenced world music for generations. The influence of Africa on calypso, reggae, soca and zouk for example is recognized however music from mostly Latin American countries is not afforded the same recognition. Regardless of where they were taken during the centuries of enslavement Africans influenced the culture of that society through their music which in turn influenced other art forms including dance. This is the case even in countries like Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico where there has been a deliberate effort to whiten or Europeanize the population and erase the face of Africa but the influence of Africa is present in the music, dance, religious practices etc. The samba, the rumba, meringue, salsa all owe their existence to African rhythms and in his 2011 published book "Black in Latin America" African American professor Henry Louis Gates writes that he was surprised to learn from a Mexican ethnomusicologist that the fandango in Mexico owes much to African influence. June has been recognized and celebrated as Black Music Month since June 7, 1979 when then President Jimmy Carter designated June as Black Music Month at the urging of Black Music Association founders Kenneth Gamble and Ed Wright. Although it was not until June 2000, the United States government officially recognized Black Music Month after the African American Music Bill (House Resolution 509) was passed. As part of his motivation speech in support of “House Resolution 509” William Franklin Goodling a White Republican from Pennsylvania reportedly said:
"African American music has influenced all aspects of our society in the form of dance, fashion, language, art, literature, cinema, media and advertisements. All in all African American music has made a positive impact on and a broad appeal to diverse groups both nationally and internationally."
Even Madam Speaker concurred with those sentiments when she said:
"We want to rightly recognize and celebrate the magnificent contributions that African American music has provided not only in shaping the social and political fabric of our Nation but to the global culture as well."
The impetus to have June officially recognized by the government of the USA came after Dyana Williams co-founder of the "International Association of African American Music Foundation" was informed by the White House that even though President Carter had declared June Black Music Month he had not signed a presidential proclamation in 1979. Williams explained in an article entitled "Does Black Music Month Still Matter? Yes, It Does" published June 2011:
"One day, I wrote President Bill Clinton asking him to host a Black Music Month event during June. The White House informed me that while President Carter had declared June Black Music Month, he did not sign a presidential proclamation. I was stunned at this revelation, but even more shocked when the White House suggested that I lobby Congress to get legislation recognizing June as Black Music Month."
Through her efforts and the support of politicians including Congressman Chaka Fattah and Congressman Goodling each President since 2000 has signed an official proclamation declaring June Black History Month. Because African American music has been appropriated by non-Africans over the centuries it is not always recognized that jazz, the blues, spirituals, hip-hop etc., owe their existence to African rhythms. Maybe that is why last year President Obama declared June “African American Music Appreciation Month.” There are those who have taken issue with renaming the month as exclusively recognizing African American music and not recognizing music from the Diaspora. However in his declaration the President did recognize Africa and the islands of the Caribbean and part of his proclamation read:
"Throughout our history, African-American music has conveyed the hopes and hardships of a people who have struggled, persevered and overcome. Through centuries of injustice, music comforted slaves, fueled a cultural renaissance, and sustained a movement for equality. Today, from the shores of Africa and the islands of the Caribbean to the jazz clubs of New Orleans and the music halls of Detroit, African-American music reflects the rich sounds of many experiences, cultures, and locales"
The President omitted many African musicians including Africans in Central and South America. It would be very unfortunate if the dearly beloved President Obama's education like the recent American ex-President is lacking in the area of knowledge of the history of Africans in the Americas. It has been widely reported that the former US President did not seem to know that there were "Blacks" in Brazil and probably could not fathom that we also have lived in all the countries of the Americas for centuries. Maybe each US President should be compelled to read Ivan Van Sertima’s 1976 published book "They Came Before Columbus." Apart from US Presidents it is important that we all recognize that Black music which includes music from the continent and the Diaspora is African music. Since it is important for our children to know their history one of the recommended children’s books on the subject is the beautifully illustrated "The Sound that Jazz Makes" written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Eric Velasquez, published in 2000. The book traces the history of modern popular music’s indebtedness to Africa. From the ancient African culture through its forced migration to the Americas and following its sometimes painful progress through slavery, Jim Crow oppression to modern day racism that gave rise to jazz, blues, hip-hop etc., this book is a must read for educating our children about their history. Of course not everyone will be eager to learn about the history and the contributions of Africans to the music we enjoy today but we need to encourage our relatives and friends to enjoy learning about our history. The Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey (one of the greatest influences on Bob Marley's music) said: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” That should not be us, rootless like tumbleweed blown hither and thither by the slightest breeze.