Go go go go ma lo Funke, it's your birthday
We're going to drink palm wine like it's your birthday
We're going to drink ogogoro like it's your birthday
Girl, I don't really care it's not your birthday
You can find me in buka
Eating amala
Omo I got what you need
If you’re into drinking Star
I’m into writing checks
Can’t work behind the bar
Come give me a hug
If you can cook eba!

JJC and the 419 Squad—from "50 Kobo and the Gidi Unit"

OK, this song made my day yesterday. I learned of it via Black Looks, "Naija Blog Roundup". Kobo is the hundredth unit of a Naira. "JJC" is Naija slang "Johnny just come" for a greenhorn of some sort. I've marked up the other Naija terms in abbr tags. Just hover your mouse over each one to get the gloss. The song is, of course, a parody of the smash worldwide hit "In da Club" by American rapper 50 Cent.

Find me in da club, bottle full of bub
Ma, I got what you need if you need to feel a buzz
I'm into having sex, I ain't into making love
So come give me a hug, if you into getting rubbed

Ah, 50 Cent is such a charmer, it seems. A pole away from 50's anthem to bling-bling, Ecstasy pills and frottage, JJC and co. rap a tongue-in-cheek form of Nigerian playa rap in Pidgin and Yoruba. A couple of other choice lines:

"When you see me up front, it's always Legedez Benz"
"I'm a Naija, toss it up to the good life"

The source site, Naija Jams is a find in itself. Every week or so they post a full mp3 of a Nigerian pop song. Some are new, like "50 kobo" and some are old, like Majek Fashek's "Send sown the rain" which was a hit back in 1987 or so when I was still in Nigeria. I must say I never heard the silly myth about Fashek's performance of that song ending a drought, and anyway the very idea of a single drought afflicting the all of Nigeria is just ludicrous.

By coincidence, via Jon Phillips today I found The African Hip Hop Project a page hosting over twenty Hip Hop tracks relating to the continent, most songs by African Hip Hop groups, including two different songs by JJC and the 419 Squad.

There's nothing quite like unanticipated riches.



[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


Il avait des richess de cœur,
L'est né pour jouer son accordéon
L'a donné la chemis' de son dos
C'était un grand bonhomm', monsieur [Buckwheat Zydeco]

—Michael Doucet (final flourish mine)—from "Freeman's Zydeco". Original "grand bonhomm'" is "Freeman Fontenot". My translation:

He has riches of the heart
He was born to play his accordion
He's given away the shirt on his back
He's a great free spirit, Mr. Buckwheat Zydeco

Hé toi! (that's Cajun, not French, y'all)

Last night Lori and I went to Buckwheat Zydeco at the Boulder Theater. Yes yes Lori is over eight months pregnant, but when did that sort of thing ever stop her from doing anything? As soon as we got to the theater, we were a bit dismayed. I've never had a problem with the mass of Boulder's grey hippies, but it was immediately apparent that there wouldn't be all that much atmosphere with the crowd we saw. Buckwheat was one of the first concert Lori and I went to, in Milwaukee, (after Digable Planets, though) and we danced our ever-loving asses off. Catching him at New Orleans Jazz Fest in 1996 was also a big treat (you gotta love it when Wayne Toups and the ZydeCajuns are the opening act). Boulder 2005 was clearly not going to be epic. A much smaller and older crowd than, say, Zap Mama at the same venue. It didn't help that I'd played soccer twice yesterday and I was feeling a bit fagged.

Things did quite look up when I went to get Lori some water and ran into our friend Lynette. Lynette, you see, is all Cajun, and you don't have to know her last name's Hebert to figure that out. In earlier encounters she taught me a few variations on the Zydeco two-step. I'd already learned the basics by watching the very impressively two-stepping crowd at N.O. Jazz Fest. (You don't get far in the social graces of a Nigerian university without being able to pick up even fairly complex dance steps fairly quickly). Anyway, Lynette and her friend joined us at the front, and that added considerably to the energy as Lori, Lynette and I threw out some two-step variations (OK, really Lynette and I: Lori was dancing as best one can bien enceinte) and responded loudly to Buckwheat's Cajun muttering.

Ça marche! ça marche!
Yeah! Ça roule, Buckwheat! Bien sûr!
Nous sommes partis!
Avec vous! Au Bayou!

The set was heavy on songs from the band's newest CD Jackpot!. The new songs are very good, but It's too bad he didn't get to play some of his classic repertoire such as "Ya Ya", "Hey Good Looking" and especially the Chenier classic "Hot Tamale Baby". Still, it was fun in the end. Buckwheat, as always, played the accordion as if he had twenty fingers. If you haven't gone to a Buckwheat concert, I highly recommend it, while you can—the great man is not getting any younger by any means (though Lori tells me the man on the frottoir (washboard and spoons) is his son, and Lynette surmised that the drummer might be, as well—p'raps breeding will out?). Everyone can do with a little glimpse of the Bayou in their life.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

Word to the Third

No gas face here, gee. Via Hans Nowak I learn that one of my favorite groups back in the day now has a fan site that does them some justice. 3rd Bass were always fun to listen to, what with their humor, and the killer hands they always had on the wheels and boards (The Bomb Squad, Prince Paul, and of course posse members Sam Sever and Daddy Rich). The endless obsession with Vanilla Ice wore a bit thin at times, but that's a minor glitch in an otherwise stellar career. Too bad they couldn't hold it all together for a few more albums.

Now all someone has to do is come up with a deserving site for the Poor Righteous Teachers, and I think I'll be all set for my favorites from that period (others such as Public Enemy and BDP are already well represented on the 'net).

Note: see also Hans' pointer to the history of sampling.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


Cause yo, I got the hairsplitting, self-written unbitten style
That leaves the competition running scared and shaking in their pants
You're best to set it off cause, black, it ain't no second chance
Once I'm open
All you doing is hoping
That the Live one
Will put the mic down, but son, don't try to snatch it after:
The laughter won't cease from the comparison;
How dare you, son,
Step around the booth when I'm on?
The microphone magician says "poof", you're gone With the wind. There's no trace of your friends
Cause you don't know where the beginning ends
Or where the end begins,
But you see that's the difference, you get sold, I get paid
Black I told you, get paid;
If you're broke I'll have to rain on your parade.
You belong in Special Ed if you think you Got It Made
J-Live with the mic is like the chef with the blade
Cause suckers get sliced and sautéed
Yeah, you thought your joint was fly but the flight was delayed

J-Live—from "Braggin' Writes"—The Best Part

As I demonstrate in Quotīdiē from time to time, contemporary Hip-Hop has some incredible wordsmiths (most of whom most people have never heard of, although it's good to see Common breaking into the mainstream). When you get to the cream of Hip-Hop lyricists, it becomes very hard to start working out who's really the best. How does one compare

And that's just rappers in English (Passi, en français, anyone?), and that's off-head, so I'm definitely forgetting some people. These folks are all clustered at the acme of lyrical skill. So where does J-Live fit in? I think it's enough to say that there isn't a better lyricist than J-Live, in any genre of music. His mastery of words is just amazing. A friend once marveled at how J-Live worked "amniocentesis" so effortlessly into "Braggin' Writes", but I maintain that it's not just J-Live's vocabulary that earns him the laurels (after all, he is an English teacher: he should command the language), but more importantly his effortless command of flow, Hip-Hop's prosody. (As the chorus of "Braggin' Writes" states: "everybody's rapping, and only few can flow".)

The "Braggin' Writes" quote above is ample example (and again you have to hear it to really appreciate it). Just to touch on one point, the line

You belong in Special Ed if you think you Got It Made

Works fine as direct (uncapitalized) statement, but is also a clever allusion to old school rapper Special Ed's song "I Got it Made".

I’m your idol, the highest title, numero uno
I’m not a Puerto Rican, but I’m speaking so that you know
And understand I got the gift of speech
And it’s a blessing, so listen to the lesson I preach
I talk sense condensed into the form of a poem
Full of knowledge from my toes to the top of my dome
I’m kinda young--but my tongue speaks maturity
I’m not a child, I don’t need nothing for security
I get paid when my record is played To put it short: I got it made.

—Special Ed—from "I Got It Made"—"Youngest in Charge"


Last night I went to the Fox Theater see "The Best Damn Rap Tour", headlined by J-Live (although it's mostly in support of Vast Aire's new albumThe Best Damn Rap Show). It was a long line-up of underground hip-hop stars. The kind of MCs and DJs who rule the ears of rap nerds like me, but who can't seem to get on first base in the unfriendly game of record label baseball.

Vast Aire is best known as front-man for underground sensation Cannibal Ox, and his counterpart Vordul Megilah was first up, spitting classic Can Ox in his trademark cadaver-focus style. Up next was C-Rayz Walz with tracks from his new joint Year of the Beast. I've heard of C-Rayz Walz, but had never listened to him. I definitely have to cop that album. And the man definitely has more energy than he knows what to do with: he stomped, stalked, swaggered and staggered all over the stage, often telling the DJ to cut the track so the crowd could hear his lunatic lyrics. Vast Aire was up after that, and again based on his set I'll have to cop his new album (The month's salary goes all to music, at this rate).

The crowd was a bit slow to get into the mood, which is unusual for Boulder. When J-Live came out to start his set, most folks in the front row had gone off to get drinks, or to hang with the earlier acts, who all got off stage to mingle. It only took the duration of the first song before it became a proper audience for J-Live, though. He did his amazing thing, rocking "MC", "Like this Anna", and "Satisfied?" to the jumping delight of the crowd (and me), there was an impromptu competition in the front row with folks trying to rap along to "One for the Griot". But the highlight of the night was when J-Live did something I've only ever seen him do (I saw him do this trick once before (with Chime and Davina) when he came to CU with Talib Kweli and others for a free concert). He rapped "Braggin' Writes" while dee-jaying the track at the same time (for the track he used Nas's "Thief's Theme", only the most banging beat of the new millennium), which hardly seems possible. And he didn't just prod occasionally at the wheels of steel: no, he was scratching and cutting almost throughout the song, without missing a beat in his rapping. Amazing!

I've already mentioned how down to earth all the acts were. J-Live was manning his own merchandise stand before the show, lounging in the same jeans, white tee and open red and white button-down flannel shirt in which he'd later perform. I asked him about "The Best Part", his first album, which never saw its way to stores because of record label troubles, and bought the last copy he'd brought along (duh! I should have had him autograph it). I considered asking him who his favorite poet was, but I didn't want to bug him before his performance.

One more quote to leave off with. This one Vast Aire's from an AllHipHop.com interview. He was asked whether he disliked that most of his fan base is white.

I don't even care about all that racism, it's all bulls..t. It’s a trick! It’s a demonic trick and it's disgusting. It separates people. Come on, remember Blondie? F..k Eminem, look at Blondie. F..k Vanilla Ice and Snow, look at Rick Rubin. When you wanna think about White people in Hip-Hop, think about the Beastie Boys. White people have already proven themselves in this. There should be way more White rappers, and way more woman in Hip-Hop today. But you have the powers that be. Hip-Hop is dominated by Nubian and Latino men. Where are the women at? All the women that are out now are damn near veterans, and that is sad. So I don't like any of that. I grew up in uptown New York. I grew up with a bunch of Latin and Nubian kids. Eventually, we got cool with two White kids, this kid Ralphie and his cousin, which was my first experience. And ever since that day, White people were more than Superman to me. At first, a White person is Superman, He-Man, a cop, or a bus driver. At first, you don't know a White kid. You have to meet and get cool with one, meet their family, and the next thing you know you have a friend. You are not looking at color then. And that is what happened to me. That kid was poor, that is the color we were. F..k all this racist bulls..t, we are the same color. So technically, we bonded because we were in the same class. It's class that truly brought us together. And I imagine the same thing happens to White people. A Black person has to be more than just Mike Tyson or Michael Jackson. You have to meet them, and invest time in them.

Co-sign (bowdlerization by AllHipHop.com, not me). Interesting to mention that in my list of top lyricists above there is one white guy (EL-P) and two women (Apani B. Fly and Jean Grae). Two other women (Bahamadia and Rah Diggah) are near misses. I don't go as far as to say "fuck Eminem": he's very talented, but he's just not in the same class as the folks I mentioned. It's a very tall barrier to be a top Hip-Hop lyricist.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


The court awaited
As the foreman got the verdict from the bailiff,
Emotional outbursts, tears and smeared makeup.
They stated, he was guilty on all charges.
She's shaking like she took it the hardest—
A spin artist, she brought her face up laughing.
That's when the prosecutor realized what happened—
All that speaking her mind testifying and crying,
When this bitch did the crime—the queenpin...

Common—from "Testify"— BE

Common is one of my favorite musicians, and so I'm really pleased to see his new baby, BE emerge to commercial success (#2 on the overall album charts in the week of release) as well as critical praise. I was in Amsterdam the week BE came out, and I was too busy to look for it there. I did see it at the Heathrow HMV on my way back home, but it was crazy-dear (excuse me? £13.00?). I bought Blak Twang's latest (The Rotton Club) at U.K. prices while there (can't get that ish in the US) but Common could wait 12 hours. I'm back and I've been listening to BE on heavy rotation for a week now.

A lot of fans have expressed relief that Common has retreated to home base. With Kanye West replacing former gurus No I.D. and Doug Infinite, BE feels like the extrapolation of the straight line from One Day It'll All Make Sense through Like Water for Chocolate, and Electric Circus ends up stranded as an outlier. Common has confirmed that he has turned his back on the crazy next ish of EC. From a recent AllHipHop.com interview:

AllHipHop.com: How would you rate your albums from least favorite to greatest?

Common: Well my favorite albums would have to be Like Water for Chocolate and BE, my second is Resurrection, and my third is One Day It Will All Make Sense and then, Can I Borrow a Dollar, and Electric Circus is my least.

This is very sad, and Common has taken a bad knock on the head when he rates EC lower than Can I Borrow a Dollar (the only Common album even I won't buy, not even used). I don't know whether to be happy that Common has released a tight album with BE or bitter that he has abandoned the risk that was so fertile in EC. I had intended this article to be a review of BE, but I couldn't help its turning into a sort of measuring of BE against EC. I've already rhapsodized about EC here so no doubt where I stand on that album. BE is a major swerve from EC.

Don't get me wrong. I love BE. It is a lot smoother than EC. It's much more focused. We've seen this pattern before. With Phrenology The Roots broke their bounds and put us on some next shit. After the same mixed critical and fan reaction (though much less bloodthirsty than the reaction to EC), the Roots backed off from the experimental and produced an extremely focused and cohesive The Tipping Point. BE is as tight, coherent and cohesive. The sonic texture is pure Chi-Town soul from track 1 through 11. Chi-Town soul is rich and diverse enough the this never leaves your ears tired, and each song has an ingenious little touch that sets it apart from the rest (an example apropos of the main quote is the plaintive battology of the sample in "Testify"). In contrast EC was all over the place sonically, and in one place, "Jimi was a Rock Star" was so far out to the left that it falls off the face of the Earth (and we don't miss it). EC has that one fast-forward moment, and BE has none, so BE is better, right?

In thinking about this all I can think is: where in BE is the "Aquarius" (Common spits hard about his craft and definitely non-sullen art); where is the "Electric! Wire! Hustle! Flower!" (Common zaps us with shock therapy using the sharp honesty of his internal paysage moralisé); where is the "New Wave" (Common turns this exploration to the world at large, with the help of spaced out Moog synth and the marvelously affecting crooning by Laetitia Sadier of StereoLab); where is the "I am Music" (Common, still bent on exploration, journeys on all the many axes of 20th century popular music history). There is no one track on BE quite as powerful as these. In achieving greater consistency, Common has also shaved off the peaks a bit. He takes fewer risks, and it shows in the more modest rewards. Continuing with the Roots comparison, even though The Tipping Point is much less experimental than Phrenology, The Roots retain in the former a lot more of the edge that they bled into the latter. See the madhouse genius Sly Stone mash-up "Everybody is a Star" for easy evidence.

One of the things that fascinates me about EC is that Common drops a lot of easter eggs in the lyrics. The following lines are from "Aquarius".

Playing with yourself, thinking the game is just wealth—
Hot for a minute, watch your name just melt.
Same spot where its joyous is where the pain is felt
As you build and destroy yo remain yourself
They say I'm slept on, now I'm bucking in dreams,
And rhyme with the mind of a hustler's schemes

Listening to that just gives me a frisson. You feel everything Common is saying in the very fabric of the song. Indeed, you feel how Common has just summarized the entire creative impetus behind EC. He wants to build a lasting edifice in art, like Horace, and he doesn't care if the present audience writes him off as a day-dreamer. Common writes into EC a lot of other such apt lines to justify his eclecticism. From "New Wave":

How could a nigga be so scared of change
That's what you hustle for in front of currency exchange
Ya'll rich, we could beef curry in the game
out your mouth: Ain't nobody hurrying my name
[...] Seen hype become fame against the grain become main-
stream. It all seems mundane in the scope of thangs.

I could go on with these examples.

He is a great deal less introspective on BE, and he calls this fact out loudly.

I rap with the passion of Christ, nigga cross me
Took it outer space and niggas thought they'd lost me
I'm back like a chiropract with b-boy survival rap
This ain't '94 Joe we can't go back
The game need a makeover
My man retired, I'm a take over

—from "Chi-City"

He has come out of his dreams in BE, and how he has more material aspirations, as the reference to Jay-Z in the last line hints. And even though I'm rocking out to it f'sure, I just feel that I'm not experiencing the same level of magic as with EC, which certainly "took it outer space" but didn't lose everyone. EC brings me to mind of Gerald Manley Hopkins' poems. What would Hopkins have accomplished if he had the time and encouragement to work on sprung rhythm further? We got some superb poems out of his oeuvre, but nothing that quite matched up to Hopkins' claims for sprung rhythm. You get the sense that he could have built it into a new major branch of metrics in English. I feel that if Common had the time and encouragement to build on EC's approach, we would have not just one superb album, but an entirely new subgenre of hip-hop. Do I exaggerate? The reaction of people whose opinions I respect, to whom I play EC bears me out. I think being a long-time Common fan can give you a touch of tunnel vision when you first listen to it. A fresh ear recognizes the originality and genius.

Anyway, LWfC and EC are still my favorite Common albums, with BE close behind, and then SiWaMS followed by Resurrection (although the latter contains one of the all-time Hip-Hop classics in "I Used to Love H.E.R."). Despite Common's disappointing ranking of EC in the interview I mentioned, he also shows that deep down, he knows better.

AllHipHop.com: I know a lot of critics weren't feeling Electric Circus, but I liked the fact that it was very artistic and pushed your creative ability as an MC. Overall though, what has changed between Electric Circus and BE to cause such a distinction between the two albums?

Common: Exactly. I think Electric Circus was just a part of my evolution and my experimentation as an artist and it was kind of like since this was my fifth album I was trying to continue to grow and elevate in what I was doing. To me what changed the most is that I got more in tune with myself and more grounded. Electric Circus was me and I don't apologize for it, it is was it is and it's something I created, so it's a piece of my art. With this album I did something simple and raw because it felt good to me at this time. When I did Electric Circus I wanted to go way out there because I was tired of how Hip-Hop was sounding, that's why I did it like that. But with BE, I actually like some of the Hip-Hop now, but besides that I am more hungry on the creative side.

We were all tired of how Hip-Hop was sounding. We all needed EC. Don't you ever forget that, Common.

AllHipHop.com: How do you think Electric Circus will be treated in time?

Common: It's hard for me to say how it will be looked upon, but I hope that people will look back and say, “Man, this was an innovative album.” I feel that as an artists you should be able to paint a picture, so that even if people aren't feeling it now, they can go back with a different perspective later on and feel what you were saying because they are at a different point in their life. That's my goal when I create music.

Right. Right. And it wouldn't be our beloved Common if he didn't say:

AllHipHop.com: Do sales play into your satisfaction of the albums?

Common: People always looked at me like, “Aw man, you don't care about record sales.” I do want to sell records but I won't give up what I believe in, or take away from the integrity of my music to sell. I'm worth more than that.

But I'm determined to at least close with a bit of appraisal of BE. The master quote above is from "Testify", my favorite track. I cannot listen to this song as background music. I always have to stop and concentrate on listening. I already mentioned the foundational sample, and within that frame lies Common's softly-told story. You're all into the tragedy of this lady's predicament, until the sharply executed twist at the end, when you realize that she's sold her man off to prison. It's brilliantly done. Other favorites for me are "The Corner", "GO!", "Chi-City", "Real People" and "They Say", which I've heard somewhere else before (I can't remember where right now). And oh yeah, Pops is back in "It's your World". I just love Pops. That strong and dignified voice says so much about the nurturing of Common's agile mind. If you're a Hip-Hop fan, or a Soul fan you shouldn't be sleeping on BE, but then again, based on those sales figures, you probably aren't.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

The feckless rump of our so-called Justice Department...

Has fancied for itself the time and energy to do what? Wait. Hold up. There's a Quotīdiē in here.

There were lights and sirens, gunshots firing
Cover your eyes as I describe a scene so violent
Seemed like a bad dream, she, laid in a blood puddle
Blood bubbled in her chest, cold air brushed against open flesh
No room to rest, Pain consumed each breath
Shot twice with her hands up
Police questioned but shot before she answered
One panther lost his life, the other ran for his
Scandalous the police were as they kicked and beat her
Comprehension she was beyond
Trying to hold on
To life. she thought she’d live with no arm
That’s what it felt like, got to the hospital, eyes held tight
They moved her room to room-she could tell by the light
Handcuffed tight to the bed, through her skin it bit
Put guns to her head, every word she got hit
"Who shot the trooper?" they asked her
Putting mace in her eyes, threatened to blast her
Her mind raced till things got still
Opened her eyes, realized she’s next to her best friend who got killed
She got chills. They told her: that’s where she would be next
Hurt mixed wit anger—survival was a reflex
They lied and denied visits from her lawyer
But she was building as they tried to destroy her
If it wasn’t for this German nurse they would have served her worse
I read this sister’s story, knew that it deserved a verse
I wonder what would happen if that woulda been me?
All this shit so we could be free, so dig it, y’all.

[SNIP the verse about further abuse and imprisonment of Assata]

From North Carolina her grandmother would bring
News that she had had a dream
Her dreams always meant what they needed them to mean
What made them real was the action in between
She dreamt that Assata was free in their old house in Queens
The fact that they always came true was the thing
Assata had been convicted of a murder she couldn't have done
Medical evidence shown she couldn't have shot the gun
It’s time for her to see the sun from the other side
Time for her daughter to be by her mother’s side
Time for this beautiful woman to become soft again
Time for her to breathe, and not be told how or when
She untangled the chains and escaped the pain
How she broke out of prison I could never explain
And even to this day they try to get to her
But she’s free with political asylum in Cuba.

—Common—"A Song for Assata", "Like Water For Chocolate"

I'm a bit ashamed that I'm only now hearing that on May 2, 2005 a $1 million bounty was placed on the head of Assata Shakur, and that she was added to the FBI's Domestic Terrorist List, alongside Osama bin Laden (how dare they trivialize in this way the atrocities that bin Laden committed in Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and New York City, among other places)? I suppose I'm more a slave to mainstream media than I'd thought.

As I listened to Common's heart-wrenching song over and over again this morning, I found myself in tears. America has to varying extent venerated Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, despite the fact that they were technically criminals in their time (peace to César Chávez who astonishes me with how much he accomplished acting entirely within the law). We accept the justness of their challenge to lawfulness because of what we have distilled from their struggle—Basic civil rights enjoyed by Black Americans—Basic civil rights for people such as me who can safely come to a country that has through most of its history shown people of my ethnicity nothing but savagery and violence. I'm grateful, and not just to the big names of the struggle, but also to the many who suffered horrifically in the name of freedom, and whose lesser fame has not spared them continuing injustice.

The personal story of Assata Shakur (see her home page and autobiography), like that of most of the Black Panthers, makes for dreadful reading. These people paid a high price for being part of a pincer movement that shamed and threatened America into civility (and no, I do not believe that either the shame from the non-violent movement or the threat from the militant movement would have been as effective alone). I accept a lot of the past horror of what they endured (easy for me, who didn't personally suffer this) as inevitable loss in battle, as much as I view the extensive casualties of the Colonies' minutemen during the Revolutionary war. But for me to witness the recent action of a U.S. regime, in 2005 against one of the hapless combatants in the battle for for civil rights is entirely unbearable. We are in the midst of a loudly proclaimed war on terrorism which we the Americans of African descent are supposed to heartily endorse, and the Justice Department sees fit to address its resources towards settling old white supremacist scores? Unbearable.

There has been plenty of injustice of all variety to go around in the U.S., and abroad in recent years, and in some respects this resumed persecution is just another story to be swallowed up in the ennui of the American public. It would almost be better if people came off their couches to cheer these abominations. At least we would recognize our times as a genuine struggle over the character of civilization rather than the reign of an arrogant cadre that recognizes opportunity in a population gorged and jaded propter panem et circenses.

It is furthermore intolerable to be so completely shamed by the vicious and autocratic regime of Fidel Castro. Assata Shakur ran to Cuba as one of the only places where she could find some escape from U.S. persecution. There was an unfortunate strain of communism that ran through the Black Panther Party, but this is no more remarkable, for example, than the fact that such a Communist strain ran through Jewish intellectuals in the mid 20th century. Intellect frustrated by oppression and alienation often drifts towards communist ideals. Only a vision of utopia sustains hope reared in ghetto soil. As oppression and alienation decrease, it becomes easier to see the evils of Communism. It is important to point this out because people are already conflating the campaign against Shakur with the campaign against her present benefactors. We perjure ourselves when we fling slogans and sanctions at the cause of freedom in Cuba while showing nothing but contempt for the freedom of one of our own in that very country, who has already suffered at our hands so much more than she could possibly deserve.

I urge anyone moved by curiosity of what I've written to learn more about this story. Look at both sides of the story. I certainly did. I'm no knee-jerk anti-establishment polemicist. This matter says as much about America (whether or not you support the actions of the Justice Department) as do the other handful of stories our media has deemed worthy of presenting to you.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


I was born in Calabar and my first musical impression comes from there. I listen to the Efik inhabitants. and lgbo settlers there. And of course you know, in that area they play a lot of drum.

—Bayo Martins—biographical interview by Wolfgang Bender of The Music Foundation, Nigeria

That's our heritage here on Copia. Through our father, Linus Ogbuji, we're from Umunakanu, near Owerri (Igbo area). Through our mother, Margaret Ogbuji, we're from Ikot Ana (Umon area), about 50km from Calabar (Efik area) with which our family has strong ties (I, Uche, was born there). The strong ties between Calabar area peoples and Igbo peoples are just as Mr. Martins describes, and in music it's a very interesting combination, as shown by the Igbo/Efik grounding of the late Prince Nico Mbarga, one of Africa's greatest musicians (despite the tragedy of his early death). Prince Nico is best known for Sweet Mother, the biggest African hit ever, and still one of the best-known songs throughout the continent.

Mom and Dad (Mom especially) introduced us to Prince Nico's music even while we were living in the US, before returning to Nigeria, where we found ourselves amazed at the diversity of musical styles from Nigeria alone, never mind all the imports from the rest of Africa (and the inevitable pop hits from the US and Europe). Prince Nico's music is highlife, which is a Ghanaian style that merged with Zaïrean style (which informs Zap Mama) and found a very warm home in Eastern Nigerian. The predominance of that Eastern Nigerian musical tradition were very strong everywhere, despite the combination of political concerns and musical experimental that brought about a rapid growth in regional styles. It's important to note that the third point on that triangle was Lagos, which despite all its problems has always been an amazing furnace of cosmopolitan energy. This is where the Eastern musicians joined their Western colleagues in legendary jam sessions to hammer out styles that are now world famous (not always through direct appreciation of the specific musicians, but always through their influence on music worldwide).

[Becker, asking about the attendance at the launching of the Zeal Onyias Band (started by Martins and friends) at the Ambassador Hotel Yaba, Lagos]: Were they all Yoruba?

[Martins]: No, it was mixed: Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Efik, Nigerians. It was a big scene, a crosscultural gathering. Apart from the English language, popular music was another great rallying point for all Nigerians. Like we say Highlife was the melting pot of the various ethnic musics. In fact it is for me the first Nigerian culture that evolved. Before then if one was from another ethnic group it was difficult to understand or to dance or even appreciate the music of another ethnic group. But with Highlife every Nigerian could dance: Be they Yoruba, lgbo, Hausa or whatever, Highlife was one thing that crossed beyond the traditional specialized mould. It was something every Nigerian could identify with because it was 'detribalized' and de- ethnicalized. And then we did not only play Highlife, we played classical ballroom music too, waltz, tango, foxtrott, blues etc.

(Throughout the excerpts I've corrected typos that look like the result of OCR applied to scanned originals, leaving other typos as they are).

Mr. Martins describes his journey from Calabar through Lagos, Enugu (Igbo country), and then the leap to Accra and Kumasi in Ghana, and the further leap to London, and later on, to Germany. The following is from his very entertaining description of some of the hazards of the journey from Lagos to Accra.

Few months after that we had to go to Accra because Bobby had a six month contract there. From Lagos to Accra in those days unlike today was rough and we had too many bridges to cross and two or to three rivers upon which the car is ferried across. Like from Lagos to Idiroko. On getting to Togo there was a place called "Grand Popo". l am not sure if it exists anymore. l think its been swept away by the sea. There was a tug boat used to ferry the trucks and passengers from one end to the other before one could drive into Togo. And after Togo there was another crossing on the Volta-River before getting to Accra where we disembark and get into the pontoon to be ferried across. Sometimes, we slept in the middle of nowhere in the bush. Nothing around us but us. The car parked, we made camp fire besides the car and everyone climbs to the top to sleep. That was on our own risk. It was fun and we enjoyed doing it.

This is a good example of Martins' plain and matter-of-fact style. He writes mostly about the '50s, which is a time when West Africa was vastly different in so many ways. He doesn't shrink from the awful memories as well as the precious ones (his story about cleaning up overflowed sewage is sickening in an understated way). By the time I returned to Nigeria in 1980, things had changed greatly, some for better, some for worse (mostly for the better in that case). By the time I left Nigeria again eight years later things had changed greatly again, some for better, some for worse (mostly for the worse that time). The stories of all these changes are important for us to keep, especially from the personal viewpoint of sharp observers such as Martins. He talks about playing for some of the names whom all Nigerians will recognize as having been crucial players in these changes.

This was the period that the modern elites those who were to become permanent secretaries, solicitors general, prime ministers and presidents were returning home from Britain and the United States, and congregated in Lagos. The night-club, apart from the billiard tables and tennis courts, was a social outlet where they freely integrated and interacted with others. Dancing was a favourite past time of most them. And what marvellous dancers most of them were! l still remember a few like Bayo Braithwaite (the insurance and assurance magnet), Sunny Adewale (Chief, lawyer)'the boy is good', T.OJ:). Benson (Chief, lawyer, former federal minister of information in the first Republic), Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe ( first President of independent Nigeria), Fani Kayode (Chief, lawyer former deputy premier of the now defunct Western Region), Freddy Benson ( 'Baba Kayode', an automobile engineer of Benson Transport Service ), Bode Thomas (Chief, lawyer and nationalist). Shola Macauley (business man) amd Tommy Rose (our taylor) among others. Chief Awolowo was the one man who hardly danced and betrayed emotions at such gatherings he attended in which l played with a band. l used to wonder often about that. So l was pleasantly surprised when he formed a band in 1979 for the Unity Party of Nigeria. However for the smart ones in the band to meet and talk with these eminent and distinguished men was a great privilege. Therefore the night- club for us was a great institution of learning and of assimilation: Ideas and knowledge floated freely from both black and white audiences.

It's fun to get the occasional etymology lesson

[B]: What about other expressions for prostitutes like waka-waka baby and ashewo?

[M]: Yes, waka waka baby like Rex Lawson termed it. Ashewo is the Yoruba word for prostitute. Waka waka is Pidgin English or coloquial for a women that goes from one setting to the other. She was a walk-about woman, thats what waka waka means in short.

[B]: And that expression in Yoruba could have other meanings or is it a traditional expression? Or is it a common place in Yoruba?

[M]: Well, ashewo itself means exchanger of money.

[B]: [It] doesn't mean more than that?

[M]: No, it implies that you exchange money for your body.

Straight rolled into a street sociology lesson

[B]: What women were these usually? What training did those women have? Where did they come from? From the city, from the country?

[M]: They belonged to various categories. Most of them had been married some time in their village to men they did not like or something like that. Some just wanted to experience life in the city and to get away from the villages. Others simply wanted good time. There were some fresh from the schools who didnt actually know what to do but throbbed with the music, the modern music and they loved it. They liked the socialization in the club. Then there were educated women who were ambitious and seeking opportunity to further enhance their lives. So it was a mixture of all these interests and backgrounds that one sees in the night-clubs. Not all of the women that one saw in the night club were dedicated prostitutes. Some were there just for the fun of it and satisfaction.

[B]: That reminds me of the argument that Highlife provided liberty or that kind of feeling to men and women in a way. Not to say that these women were prostitutes. Some of these were women breaking away from their traditional bondage and tyranny?

If you find these excerpts interesting, do read the entire interview. It's long, but very entertaining. Since the interviewer is German, Martins takes care to explain a lot of the phenomena that may be hard for a non-Nigerian to understand.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


So long ago—another life.
I can feel your heartbeat.

It's not a dream—remember us.
I can see it in your eyes.

We'll find our place in time,
A place in time beyond the sun.

We'll find our place in time,
A place in time to call our own.

--Amanda Abizaid--"A Place In Time"

Free "A Place in Time"! That's not an advertisement, but an imprecation. If you watched The 4400, a fun science fiction TV series (started last year and—hooray!—picked up again for this year), you'll have heard the gorgeous song in its intro. Lebanese-American Amanda Abizaid (viva emigrante!), a totally small-time (but shouldn't be) singer/songwriter composed and performed this brief ditty (the above are the entire lyrics of the munit or so that make up the song).

If you haven't heard it you can listen to it on the Bosshouse Music Web page Flash intro.

She starts off humming the extremely haunting bars that form the backbone of the song, and croons softly through the verse that's ostensibly a love lyric, but carries a very gothic edge to it because of the way the minor key clutches at your ear. It's soft rock, but hardly as forgettable as you'd expect from that genre. It almost feels as if she's going to break into major key for the chorus, but somehow it loses none of its creepy feel despite the modulation. Lori and I actually used to sing "We'll find our place in time, in space and time..." when we heard it on the series, because of the theme of the series, and the fact that the lyric felt as if it should treat on something at least as exotic as the space/time continuum. Abizaid only hints at such a stretch when she says "A place in time beyond the sun."

So gorgeous song, right? Time to go buy the CD, right?
Uh, nuh-unh. It turns out that, unfortunately, the only way you can hear the song is by watching the show or going to the Boss House Web site. Viacom/Paramount, those notorious IP churls, are holding on to the song with a vise grip. I'm not sure why; the response to the song was tremendous, and people are fairly clamoring to buy it. This should be good promotion for the series. Here's's just one of the forums discussing the matter. Abizaid, when contacted by e-mail was originally very generous in sending people MP3s of the song, but then, in her words:

Thank you for your kind words about "A Place In Time". As much as I would like to [send out the MP3], unfortunately, I got a call from Viacom/Paramount Pictures this weekend saying I am not allowed to give out an MP3 since I do not own the song. If there's any way to get the song, they would be the one's to get in touch with. I hope you understand. Hopefully with all this interest in the song, there will be a longer version. Keep your fingers crossed.

Oh, they're crossed, alright. There's a lot more that's crossed, as well. Sometimes you just want to roach-stomp Big Media. Let's hope Viacom comes to their senses and release a soundtrack with a longer version of "A Place In Time", or at least free Abizaid to include it in an album. Until then, if we want polymer rather than bits, we have to content ourself with Abizaid's EP The Great Plan, which is very good, but not really offering anything quite as breathtaking as the 4400 theme song.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


Your current frequencies of understanding outweigh that which has been given for you to understand.
The current standard is the equivalent of an adolescent restricted to the diet of an infant.
The rapidly changing body would acquire dysfunctional and deformative symptoms, and could not properly mature on a diet of apple sauce and crushed pears.
Light years are interchangeable with years of living in darkness.
The role of darkness is not to be seen as, or equated with...ignorance...but with the unknown, and the mysteries of the...unseen.

--Saul Williams--"Coded Language", Amethyst Rock Star

And this passage, of course (and the rest of the blistering start of "Coded Language"), is but a prelude to Saul Williams tearing into his famous and raucous invocation of pan-cultural men gods, heroes and muses (including a few tin wreath wearers) new and old. Like most snippets I feature on Quotidie, this poem/rap is to be heard, not just read.

Williams is one of my Hip-Hop heroes. He effortlessly crafts weaves into sharp assault that leaves you keen, rather than numbed. There is more poetry in one Saul Williams song than in most entire anthologies of middle 20th-century verse. It's not metrical, but then again, remember clause three of the Imagist manifesto:

As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

Decades of poetasters didn't take those words literally enough, and as a result produced lukewarm prose chopped into lines, calling it poetry. I believe this clause has little practical use in criticism except in griot traditions of, which have only really come into the commonplace in the West with the emergence of hip-hop. Williams is skillful enough to use all the griot's kit, including allusion (not in the snippet above, but elsewhere in the song), vivid surrealism, personification (without pathetic fallacy), word play (the pun of "crushed pears" and "crushed peers" is especially neat), and contrapuntal caesura, as in the emphasis of "ignorance" and "unseen".

Some of this tradition informs the current world of "spoken word" performance, although most spoken word is weakened by lack of instrumental accompaniment. SOHH.com recently had a very interesting interview with Common (see an earlier Quotidie) and Saul Williams about this genre.

[Saul Williams]: Poetry has a much longer oral tradition that it does a written tradition. So that's one of the ways that Hip-Hop is very connected to the history of poetry; in that poetry was always recited since before people even knew how to write. In Europe, Asia, Africa, you name it; poetry was recited before it was written. So in many ways, it helps not to have the formal training in poetry because the formal is often misinformed.

The best training is not being lectured and brow-beaten by bureaucrats in workshops, but deciding for yourself what you like to hear and working like a slave to imitate it. Clearly this has worked for Williams. I'm grateful not to have ever taken a single course in literature or criticism. Instead I've read widely and practiced strenuously.

But thinking about the potential of the movement artists like Saul Williams and Common represent is a matter of pondering two simple questions:

1) What will Poetry do for Hip-Hop?

[SOHH.com]: The influences of Hip-Hop, The Last Poets, and the Black Arts movement also helped to shape the 90s' spoken word or "slam poetry" movement. After shining for years at poetry clubs like the Nuyorican Poet's Café, the style has now reached new heights of fame through Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam franchise. Arguably this is the form that has done more than anything to bring a new generation back to poetry.

A lot of slam poetry is just plain loud, sloppy whingeing, but to Simmons' defence, he's done a good job of picking the best for his show. Lori and I enjoy it immensely. I think of it as not so much poetry, and not so much music. It's a very energetic form of dramatic monologue that takes rhetoric from poetry and form from music. Artists attuned to this genre have formed the backbone of the camp that has been quietly preserving real Hip-Hop from the decadence of the bling/bitches/hoes era, and who are slowly emerging from the underground into the mainstream in the form of Mos Def, Talib Kweli, The Roots, MF Doom and more.

2) What will Hip-Hop do for Poetry?

[Williams]: I think [the poetry establishment are] slowly opening up to [Hip-Hop]. It'll take a few more ventures from us onto the written page for them to really embrace it. Once we find a balance between the stage and the page, the academics will realize the importance of what's happening right now. Because we are definitely the ones who have brought poetry back to life.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

Foreign Exchange

I'm taking the oppurtunity to speak a little about an album that has been growing on me: Foreign Exchange.
It's been a little while since I purchased it, but as it is with most hip-hop classics, they grow on me slowly.
Usually, it isn't until after 10+ rotations before I get a feel for an album, especially one as well composed as this. I felt compelled to speak on it last night while driving to Dave and Busters with my son Chidi in the back.
As I changed lanes I glanced back and saw him bobbing his head as he always does when the beat is banging - which brings me to the first thing I like about this album: the production is stellar. It's essentially a concept album, with the production being done in the Netherlands by Dutch producer Nicolay. As the story goes (I first heard of it on a special on National Public Radio - of all places) Nicolay would put down the tracks, send them to MC Phonte (of Little Brother fame) and Phonte and his crew would lace the tracks with their lyrics, send it back to Nicolay, and the rest is history. . The beats reek of a man who has spent quite some time on a Triton perfecting the art of melody, percussion, baseline, rythm, and the secret ingredient that get's the head nodding every time. As far as I can tell, it's completely original - with little to no sampling. The other gem, of course, is Phonte's voice - it's intoxicating. I often come across mc's with good delivery with little content or vice versa, but rarely both (only a few come to mind: Nas, Cannibus, Tupac, OC, Pharoe Monche). It was mainly his voice that drew me to Little Brother (as well as 9th wonder's production) and it has the same effect with this album. The theme is varying but alot of the songs are uplifting with cameo appearances that don't detract from the overall high caliber work that this album is. I would definately suggest this as a listen for anyone looking for something unique to vibe to. A guaranteed head nodder - for sho!


[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia