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A Poet’s Progress: The Law of Unexpected Consequences, Exhibit A

Tent Ceiling, Fes

The current king of Morocco—Mohammed VI—has a problem. He has one million nomads (mostly Berbers, down from nine million only a decade ago) who are completely dependent on having enough water and feed to keep their flocks alive year-round. With a drought—like the one Morocco experienced for six years in the early part of this decade—or the floods of two years ago, a nomad family can be wiped out. If they are unable to keep their flocks alive, they will be forced to sell them and move to the city, where perhaps they can get temporary labor jobs. And in winter the mountain passes have become treacherous—last year record low temperatures reached negative sixteen degrees Celsius. Nomads caught out in this weather froze to death. So the king’s problem was, this can’t possibly be allowed to continue, but what can you do with a million people who are—and want to remain—nomads, while nature, instead of being dependable, has become erratic and contrary?

Shortly after he ascended the throne, the king hired agricultural scientists to explore the entire country and find what would grow best in different parts of the country. Then he turned the desert areas where nothing would grow into solar and wind farms (built by Moroccan peasants under guidance by its scientists). The sandy transitional soil, they discovered, was perfect for superior olive trees, a plant not native to Morocco. And in the scrub areas, argan trees flourished (whose berries—the cultivation of which is almost entirely Moroccan—can be used for cooking and massage oil and many other products), and the foothills where the nomads summered, it turned out, were perfect for apple orchards.

So the king planted apple orchards in the foothills and built a town nearby of apartment buildings with running water and electricity and modern appliances. When the town was ready for occupancy and the trees were bearing apples, the government sent sociologists into the mountains to move the nomads into their new homes, and teach them how to use those appliances, and turn the apple orchards into a business that would be easier for them than their nomadic lifestyle in these unsteady times.

The families moved in and the elders continued to tend their sheep on the hillsides and fields outside the town while the kids went to school. But after a week the elders stopped returning from the fields at night. The town was noisy and crowded and they couldn’t sleep indoors (even though there were multiple rooms and bedrooms in the apartments, families tended to live and sleep in one room, inside of which they sometimes raised a tent, leaving the extra rooms empty). They were used to having the stars as their clocks and calendars, as well as their roofs. Living in nature, everything made sense. Indoors, it was impossible to tell the time, every object had several shadows which confused them, voices became shrill, and even the smallest sound bounced and echoed off the walls, giving them headaches. And the electric light fought with the dark and pushed it into the shadows. This was unnatural. There would be consequences if Nature was overturned.

The kids, however, preferred the town and their new friends. They liked going to school every day rather than sitting under a bush in the hot sun while the livestock grazed. In a nomad’s life, there were no books, no computers, no TV sets, and very few personal possessions. Everything they owned had to be carried from place to place. But these artificial communities had enough kids to play full-squad soccer every day after school. And they had fields and not desert to play on. So when the elders made a decision to return to the wild, many of their children chose to stay behind, and there were large communities of children staying with older children.

At the same time, the first apple harvest was rapidly approaching and the social workers were concerned that none of their ideas about how to create a business had been set in motion by the villagers. But the government had been advertising the coming apple harvest in every newspaper for weeks and on the Saturday morning they predicted would be the best for harvesting apples, there was a line of cars on both sides of the mountains, toward Casablanca and toward Tangiers. As each car entered the town, they were greeted by one of the women, and each open hand would be given a bag and pointed toward the orchard. On the way out of town, each car would be stopped and one of the men would weigh the bag and collect the money.

Now the nomads had wads of cash, but what does a nomad need money for? Twice a year they take some of their flock into a city, sell them, take the money and buy what they need for the next six months. The only real change was that soon the nomads who had money were renting trucks instead of walking to and from the city with their livestock, and later some families even bought a truck and rented it out when it was not in use.

In a traditional Berber household, only the eldest man can handle money. The patriarch would often hide it without telling anyone—even his eldest son—where it was hidden. As they aged and grew physically weaker, they would often come to believe that it was only their control over this hidden fortune that gave them any power in their household, and they would often take the location of the hidden money to their graves. This brought into being an entirely new form of psychic—a spirit guide who would help families locate the hidden cash for a percentage of the take.

Lighted Arch, Erfoud

A Songlist

The Music of Western Africa: Volume I, Part One: Guinea and Nigeria

Track 1: Tefla Madlouma, Mariem Hassan. No info.

Mariem Hassan was born in the Western Sahara desert city of Samara. She taught herself music with the only instrument she could find, a drum. In the ‘70s, her songs became more political with the birth of the Sahraui independence movement. In 1976, when Spain finally withdrew from the Western Sahara, they were replaced by occupations by Morocco and Mauritania, and Mariem fled to the Sahraui refugee camps in Algeria. She is still waiting to be able to return to her homeland.

Track 2: Toko, Momo Wandel Soumah From “Rêves d’Oasis: Desert Blues, Vol. 2 (Disc 2)”

Momo is a saxophonist from Conakry in Guinea. In the late 1940s, he played banjo in a Latin American dance band, playing for mostly white colonists. During this time he taught himself clarinet and saxophone. After Guinea became independent in 1958, he joined the Syli Orchestra and then Keletigui et ses Tambourins. Mali’s second president discouraged the Latin influence of bands like Momo’s and forced him in 1984 to play only traditional music. But when that president was deposed in 1984, Momo broke free of the restraints of even orchestral ensembles and formed the jazz sextet Momo Wandel, which toured Europe. After that Momo more or less disappeared from the music scene for many years. Later he emerged as the musical director of Circus Baobab, where he not only trained but performed with young students. “Toko” was recorded when Momo was in his seventies. His music includes balaphon, kora, bolon, fula flute, djembe, traditional percussion and electric guitar, and is almost entirely improvised.

The heart of jazz is found in Guinea, I can only express what I feel in jazz. In every part of Guinea I see anguish, suffering, and poverty but I also see people who are waiting and who want to dance! So I bring all this together and I do my improvisations in my own way. I am from the day before yesterday, from yesterday, and of today. Perhaps of tomorrow too if God grants me a long life! We have to be in the forefront of a great cultural revolution even if we have to go through forests full of insults!                                                                        —Momo

Track 3: Kode, Kimi Djabate From “Cumbancha Amazon Compilation” Cumbancha.

Kimi Djabate was born into a poor musician’s family on January 25, 1975, in Tabato, Guinea-Bissau. He began playing the balafon (an African xylophone) at the age of three. Before he became a teenager he left home and traveled to a neighboring village to study the kora (African harp). After touring Europe in a Guinea-Bissau dance and music troupe, he settled in Lisboa, Portugal.

Track 4: Yeke Yeke, Mory Kante. From “Africa 50 Years Of Music – West Africa 2” Discograph

Mory Kante is a vocalist and kora player born on March 29, 1950, in Kissidogou, Guinea. He was born into one of Guinea’s most important griot musician families, the traditional oral historians of their tribes. At the age of seven he left for Mali to learn the kora and Malian vocal traditions, which is considered a necessary part of a griot’s training. In 1971, he became a member of one of the most famous and important Malian bands, the Rail Band de Bamako, while Salif Keita was their primary vocalist. When Keita left the Rail Band in 1973, Kante became their singer. In 1987 he released Yeke Yeke, which reached number one in Europe, and the first African single to sell over one million copies. In 1994, the German techno duo Hardfloor created a dance remix of Yeke Yeke. He appeared as vocalist on British DJ Darren Tate’s single “Narama.” In 2001, he became a Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Track 5: Sabari, Baba Djan. From “Mali to Memphis”; Putumayo.

Track 6: Gaeale, Diaou Kouyate. No info.

Track 7: Maloyan Devil, Djeli Moussa Diawara & Bob Brozman. From “Ocean Blues—from Africa to Hawaï” (2000).

Djeli Moussa Diawara is a balafon and guitar player, but is mostly known as a kora player and singer. He was born into a griot family in 1962, in Kankan, Guinea. He is half-brother to Mory Kante (they share a mother). His father was a balafon player and his mother a singer. At the age of 18 he joined the Rail Rand along with his half-brother. Here he performs with American ethnomusicologist, Bob Brozman, who plays bottleneck style on a National guitar (a guitar with a resonator), while Djeli plays the 32-string kora he invented (a traditional kora has 21 strings). He currently performs as part of the Kora Jazz Trio with Abdoulaye Diabate (piano) and Moussa Cissoko (drums). He has also recorded with Ali Farka Toure and Carlos Santana.

Track 8: Dmidiwan, Abdallah Ag Oumbadougou. No info.

Oumbadougou was born in 1962 in northern Nigeria, was expatriated in 1984 to Libya , where in 1987 he founded the group Tagueyt Takrist Nakal as part of the revolutionary movement that also spawned Tinariwen. “Between 1991 and 1995, his compositions, banned by the Nigerian government, were distributed via pirate cassettes throughout Nigeria, Mali, Algeria, Burkina Faso, and Libya. The peace agreements signed in 1995 allowed Oumbadougou to return from exile.”—from the “lastfm.com” website.

Track 9: Chant to Mother Earth, BLO. From “Nigeria ‘70”

“BLO was a three-man Nigerian group which derived its name from Berkeley, Laolu, and Odumosu, its three members. The group fused the Afrobeat rhythms of its native Nigeria with the mind-expanding psychedelia and funk of late-1960s Western rock to forge a wholly original sound embracing the full spectrum of black music. The roots of the group lay in the Clusters, already one of the most popular Nigerian highlife acts of the mid-1960s even prior to a stint as the support band for the Sierra Leonean pop superstar Geraldo Pino.”—from the “lastfm.com” website

Track 10: Aitimani, Etran Finatawa. From “The Rough Guide to Desert Blues”; World Music Network.

This Nigerian band is the first group to create modern versions of traditional Wodaabe folk music (a subgroup of the Fulani). Although begun by members of the Wodaabe tribe, they have since added Tuareg musicians to the band. The song “Aitimani” is “about how families in Niger gather together at the magical time of sunset to talk and sing” according to the notes accompanying “The Rough Guide to Desert Blues.”

Track 11: Zombie, Fela Kuti. From “Zombie’ (1977).

Imagine Che Guevara and Bob Marley rolled into one person and you get a sense of Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti.—The Herald Sun.

[Note: The information in this segment and the next one are largely taken from the very thorough histories available via Wikipedia.]

Fela Anikulapo Kuti (October 15, 1938-August 2, 1997) was born in Abeokuta, Nigeria, into a middle class family. His mother was a feminist activist in the anti-colonial movement and his father was a Protestant minister and school principal and the first president of the Nigerian Union of Teachers. Fela was first cousin to Wole Solvinka, the first African to win a Nobel Prize for literature. His two brothers are both prominent physicians, and Fela was sent to London in 1958 to study medicine, but decided to study music instead at the Trinity College of Music. He formed a jazz band, but then returned to Nigeria in 1963, and re-formed his jazz band and trained as a radio producer for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. At this time he also played with Victor Olaiva and his All Stars. In 1967, he went to Ghana to study with jazz great Hugh Masekela to look for musical inspiration, and became intrigued by the complex rhythms that could be found in traditional Ghanan music, and came back to Nigeria with an idea he called Afrobeat. In 1969, he took his band to the United States. While there, he connected with the Black Panthers and changed the name of his band to Nigeria ‘70. Without a permit, the INS sent the band back to Nigeria, where Fela changed the name of his band again, this time to Africa ’70. He stopped singing about love and started to sing only about social issues. He formed a commune he called Kalakuta Republic, which included a recording studio, a performance space/bar, a famous African Shrine, and enough rooms that his entire band and their extended families could live together. Once the commune began running smoothly, Fela declared his commune to be independent from the Nigerian state. At this point, he took the middle name of Anikulapo (abandoning a middle name he considered a slave’s name), which means “he who carries death in his pouch.” He began to sing in a form of Pidgin English so that his now overtly political lyrics could be understood all over Africa. Despite regular raids of Fela’s independent republic by the Nigerian government, Ginger Baker came to Kalakuta to record with Fela in 1972. At this point, Fela began to practice the Yoruba religion (a story interesting enough that I’ll give it its own section following Fela’s bio). In 1977, Fela released the LP “Zombie,” which was a term Fela used to describe the Nigerian soldiers. The LP went huge, and the Nigerian government sent one thousand soldiers to invade the Kalakuta Republic. Fela was severely beaten and his elderly mother was thrown out of a window to her death in an attempt to intimidate him. The recording studio was burnt to the ground, along with all of the band’s instruments and master tapes and a film that Fela had made. The African Shrine and performance space/bar were also razed. Fela would have been beaten to death, he said later, except for the intervention of the commanding officer. Fela took his mother’s coffin and delivered it to the door of General Olusegun Obasanjo who he considered the man behind the attack, and wrote two songs, “Coffin for Head of State,” and “Unknown Soldier,” which disputed the government’s report that the commune had been destroyed by an unknown soldier acting without orders. Fela moved into the Crossroads Hotel and in 1978 on the anniversary of the attack on the Kalakuta Republic he married twenty-seven women, most of whom were his dancers, composers, and singers. This would evolve into a rotation system where he would maintain twelve wives at a time. Following riots in Accra after a performance of “Zombie,” Fela was prevented from entering Ghana. Then, following a concert at the Berlin Jazz Festival, most of his band deserted amid rumors that Fela intended to keep all of their money from the tour for a presidential campaign. He did form his own political party, called Movement of the People, and in 1979 applied as a candidate for the country’s first elections in more than a decade, but his petition was refused. He formed another band—this time called Egypt ’80—and continued to record songs that were attacks on politicians—and he named names—that became huge hits in Nigeria and throughout Africa. But his songs were always at least 10-15 minutes long, and many of them became 30-45 minutes long in concert. This meant that his releases (over 85 them) often featured only one song on either side. He also refused to perform songs after he had released them, saying that people could listen to the recordings, so why should he waste their time and his playing them live? He referred to his lives shows as an Underground Spiritual Game, where he would give Yabi Sessions—conscious-raising word-sound rituals, with himself as chief priest. Since he couldn’t get his writings published in Nigeria, in the ‘70s and ‘80s he would buy advertising space in British publications that were widely circulated in Nigeria—like the The Daily Times and Punch from England—and publish editorials under the title “Chief Priest Say.” But finally The Daily Times and Punch bowed to pressure from the Nigerian government and ceased publishing the Chief Priest.  In 1984, the government jailed Fela on a charge of currency smuggling, which Amnesty International and many others believed was a set-up. After twenty months, Fela was released, and divorced all of his wives, saying that “marriage brings jealousy and selfishness.” In 1986, Fela performed as part of Amnesty International’s Conspiracy of Hope tour, along with Bono, Carlos Santana, and the Neville Brothers. In 1993 he and four members of the Afrika ’70 organization were arrested for murder but eventually released. On 3 August 1997, Olikoye Rransome-Kuti, a prominent AIDS activist and former Minister of Health, announced his younger brother’s death of Kaposi’s Syndrome, brought on by AIDS.  More than a million people attended Fela’s funeral at the site of the commune’s Africa Shrine. A new Africa Shrine has opened since Fela’s death in a different section of Lagos under the supervision of his son Femi Kuti.  The current Broadway musical “Fela!” (produced in part by Jay-Z and Will Smith) was nominated for eleven Tony awards in 2010. There’s a song I’d love to hear by Somali-born hip hop artist K’naan about Fela, Bob Marley, and Bob Dylan called “The Messengers” that was (as far as I can tell) released by DJ J Period on-line in 2009. Fela’s body of work (including the compilation “The Best of the Black President”) is being carefully re-released in the U.S. by Knitting Factory Records. There is currently a film in production about his life, to be released in 2012.

The Yoruba Religion

The Yoruba Religion refers to the Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria and crossing over into Benin and Togo, a region that is known as Yorubaland. During the Atlantic slave trade it was exported to the Americas, where it morphed into still thriving ways of life such as Lucumi, Umbanda, and Candomble. Yoruba religious beliefs are part of what is known as the itan, a complex of songs, histories, stories and other cultural concepts of the Yoruba people. It holds that all human beings possess what is known as “Àyànmô” (a personal destiny or fate) but will eventually become one in spirit with Olódùmarè Olòrún, the divine creator and source of all energy.

Furthermore, the thoughts and actions of each person in Ayé (the physical realm) interact with all other living things, including the Earth itself. Each person attempts to achieve transcendence and find their destiny in Òrún-Réré (the spiritual realm of those who do good and beneficial things, a place somewhat similar to the Abrahamic Kingdom of Heaven).One’s Orí-Inu (spiritual consciousness in the physical realm) must grow in order to consummate union with one’s “Ipônri” (Orí Òrún, spiritual self). Those who stop growing spiritually, in any of their given lives, are destined for “Òrún-Apadi” (Lit. the invisible realm of potsherds). Life and death are said to be cycles of existence in a series of physical bodies while one’s spirit evolves toward transcendence. This evolution is said to be most evident amongst the Orishas, the divine viziers of the Almighty God.

Iwapẹlẹ (or well-balanced) meditation and sincere veneration is sufficient to strengthen the Orí-Inu of most people. Well-balanced people, it is believed, are able to make positive use of the simplest form of connection between their Oris and the omnipotent Olu-Òrún: an adúra (petition or prayer) for divine support.

Prayer to one’s Orí Òrún has been known to produce an immediate sensation of joy. Ẹlégbara (Eṣu, the divine messenger) initiates contact with Òrún on behalf of the petitioner, and transmits the prayer to Ayé; the deliverer of àṣẹ or the spark of life. He transmits this prayer without distorting it in any way. Thereafter, the petitioner may be satisfied with a personal answer. In the event that he or she is not, the Ifa oracle of the Orisha Orunmila may also be consulted. All communication with Òrún, whether simplistic in the form of a personal prayer or complicated in the form of that done by an initiated priest of divination, however, is energized by invoking àṣẹ.

In the Yorùbá belief system, Olódùmarè has àṣẹ over all that is. It is for this reason that He is considered supreme.

According to one of the Yorùbá accounts of creation during a certain stage in this process, the “truth” was sent to confirm the habitability of the newly formed planets. The Earth being one of these was visited but deemed too wet for conventional life.

After a successful period of time, a number of divinities were commanded to accomplish the task of helping earth develop its crust. On one of their visits to the realm, the arch-divinity Obatala took to the stage equipped with a mollusk that held in its shell some form of soil, two winged beasts and some cloth like material. He emptied the soil onto what soon became a large mound on the surface of the water and soon after  the winged-beasts began to scatter this around until the point where it gradually made into a large patch of dry land; the various indentations they created eventually becoming hills and valleys.

Obatala leaped on to a high-ground and named the place Ife.  The land became fertile and plant life began to flourish. From handfuls of earth he began to mould figurines. Meanwhile, as this was happening on earth, Olodumare gathered the gasses from the far reaches of space and sparked an explosion that shaped into a fireball. He subsequently sent it to Ife, where it dried much of the land and simultaneously began to bake the motionless figurines. It was at this point that Olodumare released the “breath of life” to blow across the land, and the figurines slowly came into “being” as the first people of Ife.

For this reason, Ile-Ife is locally referred to as the “cradle of existence….”

Perhaps one of the most important human endeavors extolled within the tribe’s literary corpus is the quest to better one’s “Iwa” (character, behaviour). In this way the tribal teaching transcends religious doctrine, advising as it does that a person must also better his civic, social and intellectual spheres of being; every stanza of the sacred Ifan oracular poetry has a portion covering the importance of “Iwa”. Central to this is the theme of righteousness, both individual and collective….

An Orisha (Orisa or Orixa) is an entity that possesses the capability of reflecting some of the manifestations of Olódùmarè. Yòrùbá Orishas (translated “owners of heads”) are often described as intermediaries between man and the supernatural. The term is often translated as “deities” or “divinities”.

Orishas are more like “animistic entities” and have control over specific elements in nature, thus being better referred to as the divinities. Even so, there are those of their number that are more akin to ancient heroes and/or sages. These are best addressed as dema deities. Even though in the basics of things, the term Orisha is often used to describe either of these loose groups of entities, it is mainly reserved for the former.—Wikipedia entry

Track 12: Samba, E Falaba, King Sunny Ade. From “Synchro System”

King Sunny Ade is a Juju musician who was born Sunday Adeniyi in a royal family in Ondo, Nigeria, on September 22, 1946. He left grammar school to travel to Lagos, and was in a series of bands. In the 1970s and 1980s he toured the U.S. and Europe. Robert Palmer listed his New York City show in the 1980s in the New York Times as one of the most significant musical events of the decade. Ade’s second LP “Synchro System” earned him a Grammy nomination. His music mixes traditional Ewi, which consists of singing poetry as lyrics, and Ogede, or “casting a spell,” and it also includes elements of the typical griot practices of preserving and enacting the history of their people. King Sunny Ade was the first musician to add the pedal steel guitar to Nigerian pop music, as well as synthesizers, clavinets, vibraphones, dub, and wah-wah pedals. He has recorded with Stevie Wonder and, in 1987, acted in Robert Altman’s “O.C. and Stiggs.” In 1998, he released “Odu”—a collection of traditional Yoruba songs—which made him the first African artist to receive a second Grammy Award nomination. In 2008, he was given an award for his contribution to world music at the Reggae and World Music Awards held at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York City. In 2009, he was appointed visiting professor of Music at the Obafemi Awolowo University. In July 2009, he was inducted in the Afropop Hall of Fame at the Brooklyn African Festival USA, and dedicated his award to the recently deceased Michael Jackson.

Sunset and Shepherds, Roman Ruins, Fes

Article by Randy Roark
Newtopia staff writer RANDY ROARK worked with Allen Ginsberg for the last 17 years of his life, first as an apprentice, then as his teaching assistant, and finally transcribing and editing 28,000 pages of Ginsberg’s poetry lectures, currently available on-line through the Ginsberg trust. Following Ginsberg’s death, he worked with artist Stan Brakhage, producing art events featuring his films until his death. Since 1998 he has worked with Sounds True as a producer, where he has edited artists such as Alex Grey, writers including William Burroughs and Robert Anton Wilson, and a wide variety of spiritual teachers, including Alan Watts, Krishnamurti, Jack Kornfield, Pema Chodron, and Lakota Elder Joseph Marshall.

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