The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #81179   Message #2553537
Posted By: Azizi
31-Jan-09 - 06:26 AM
Thread Name: African American Secular Folk Songs
Subject: RE: African American Secular Folk Songs
Megan, I appreciate the fact that your comment emphasizes the point that Africa is a huge continent.

I'm surprised that you appear to think that I think otherwise. I am also surprised that you appear to think that my statements on this thread or elsewhere in this forum indicate that I have applied or that I apply stereotypes to Africa or African people.

Because few African Americans know which ethnic group/s and which nation/s our African ancestors came from, those African Americans who have embraced our connection to mother Africa, tend to speak in generalities about Africa. We {that is to say, in my opinion, many afrocentric African Americans {afrocentric here meaning those who are interested in African history and cultures} tend to embrace and to claim as their own all the positive traditional African culturally indices that we become aware of. For example, in the late 1960s and early 1970s {the decades of the flowering-or the reflowering-of the 20th century Afrocentric in the USA}, the Egyptian ankh was highly favored by Afro-centric African Americans. In those decades, that Egyptian symbol of life became a symbol for a number of African Americans and other people of the African Diaspora of African cultural awareness. Not only was the ankh used in necklaces pendents, earrings, and rings {worn by both Black people and non-Black people}, but often the ankh was used as logos for many African American cultural organizations. The ankh symbol is still being used by African Americans to symbolize our connection to the continent of Africa and not necessarily the ancient country of Egypt, and even less so the modern nation of Egypt.

To cite a few other examples of African Americans claiming a patchwork quilt of African cultural artifacts and customs as the way we identify with our African heritage-

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Maulana Ron Karenga used Swahili words rather than Wolof or Ibo words for Kwanzaa, the African American holiday that he created. And a number of African Americans {such as me} either selected or were given KiSwahili personal names, and not names from West African languages {though some African Americans did select or were given Akan or Yoruba personal name}* Note that by changing our names to Swahili names, we weren't particularly claiming any East African or East Central African descent. Instead we were celebrating the fact that we were of some African descent.*

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, many Afrocentric African Americans became aware of traditional African music through the albums of Babatunde Olatunji. Some afrocentric African American men wore dashikis which were based on the Yoruba men's dansiki, and some afrocentric African American women wore Yoruba and/Senegalese clothing. As a member of the cultural nationalist group based in Newark, New Jersey in 1967-1969, I recall that in the same conversation, we might use the Swahili word "harambee" {all pull together}, the Swahili word "asante" {thank you}, and the Zulu word "yebo" {yes}.

And by at least the early 1990s, Akan kente cloth from parts of Ghana and Cote d'lvoire, West Africa and adinkra symbols from these same people, particularly sankofa had overtaken the Egyptian ankh as the preferred symbols of Black Americans' connection with mother Africa.

Of course, this is a greatly abbreviated overview of how African Americans have selected various indices of African heritage to express our "Africanness". This overview fails to adequately discuss African Americans' interest in ancient Ethiopian culture & its cultural artifacts, and does not mention the connection between the Ethiopian cultures and the Rastafarian religion and lifestyle, and music {though this is based in Jamaica, there are many African Americans of Jamaican ancestry}. Furthermore, this overview does not discuss the conversion that some contemporary African Americans have made to the "traditional" Yoruba/Benin religions. And this overview doesn't discuss Black Americans' interest in ancient Malian culture and the meaning to us of our use of one of Mali's cultural artifacts, mud cloth (bogolanfini) fabric.

This brief comment also does not adequately discuss African Americans' symbolic association with such historical figures as Egyptian pharoah Akenaton, Egyptian Queen Cleopatra, South African King Shaka Zulu, and Angolan Queen Nzinga. Furthermore, this comment doesn't discuss the African Americans' embrace of many types of African musical instruments, but particularly since the 1990s, the djembe drum. Indeed, as soon as I submit this post, I'm sure I'll think of other ways in which the cultural diversity of the African continent is reflected in contemporary African Americans embrace of different cultural indices from that continent.

If it were possible for us to know which African ethnic group/s we descended from, we may not have has such a transcultural embrace of Africa. But, for the record. when I talk about Africa on this forum and elsewhere, I mean all of this-and more.

*I believe African Americans' during those times relative familiarity with Swahili names in contrast with our relative unfamiliarity with Ibo, Yoruba, Wolof, Lingala, and other West African languages, and the relative ease in pronouncing Swahili names, were high among the reasons why so many African Americans resonanted to Swahili perrsonal names for themselves and/or for their children.