In Senegal, Obama Touches Goree

... port for ferrying African slaves to America

Africans have been largely disappointed, especially when they look at the focus on Africa by the previous presidents. They therefore have a feeling that President Obama is still not in tune with the emerging continent,
— Mwangi S. Kimenyi, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Afro-American Nobel Peace Prize laureate President Obama, who while being forced to withdraw from the quagmire of Iraq and Afghanistan, graveyard of invading empires began his African visit from Senegal. He will also visit South Africa, where he does not expect a warm welcome since US administrations were the main backers of the apartheid regime which imprisoned Mandela for 27 years, now fighting for survival for life under ventilator.

Expectedly Obama went over to island of Goree, south of Senegal’s capital Dakar. He looked across the Atlantic Ocean as he stood in a “stone doorway of no return ‘at Gorée Island, which was a major port for ships ferrying to America African slaves like cattle in shackles. He spent about a half-hour inside the slave house on the edge of the water, walking quietly with his wife, Michelle Obama, a descendant of slaves, by his side.

Do not expect any change in Obama’s policies, since the first Black in the White House is but a product of Chicago’s Jewish political machine and electorally financed by banksters, military-industry, energy and other corporate interests. He supported by almost direct intervention, demise of President Qaddafi’s welfare state now in tatters and in violent chaos, to benefit US and EU energy and other interests. USA has also been intervening in the civil war in Syria.

The author was posted at Dakar (1978-81). Extracts from one of his visits to Goree.

A few miles from Senegal’s capital Dakar in west Africa, lies the island of Goree, which long served as a thriving entrepot for European slavers to herd Africans from the hinterland, mostly helped by rival tribes , to be sorted out like cattle for export to the new continent of Americas, to labor there as domestics or in plantations.

When posted at Dakar in late 1970s I went over to Goree many times, now a small, picturesque town and a UNESCO heritage site with museums including ‘The Maison des Esclaves’ (“Slave House”), which was constructed in 1786, which displays slavery artifacts, and the Fort d’Estrées built in the 1850s.

Once I chanced on a jazz festival there to which some well-known and rising young talents, mostly from USA had come over to participate .Many others also came to West Africa in search of their roots. A few hundred miles south of Dakar is river Gambia, the locale for the book ‘The Roots’.

There were colorful and lively Jazz bands vying with each other. But there was one young girl whose singing left a searing imprint on my soul, as if after visiting the museum and the dungeons below, where Black Africans were chained like animals, she had transmuted into music the bruising of their souls, tortures and suffering of centuries - free human beings turned into animals, sold and bartered like any other commodity. Even now a flash of that wailing music, the cry of a caged soul pierces down my spine.

All that Jazz

The enslaved from West Africa, isolated both socially and geographically from their native environment created the jazz music as an expression of their culture, borrowing from European harmonic structure, Christian religious hymns but based on African rhythms. The white hunter, forbidden to enslave other Christians invented the lie that he was enslaving a savage, converting him into a Christian to save his soul (as now a days, under the charade of globalization, US led West is saving the world’s poor in Asia and Africa from poverty!) This allowed the enslaved to invent a music which diverged widely, even violently from all previous canons of musical composition and performance, as if in defiance to grab at the opportunity and the freedom. In the only domain he was his own master, improvisation ran riot as it still does. Indian classical music too is rooted in improvisation, which respects all religions, with performers though respected, used to be poor. The Indian and black musicians soon discover many affinities when they come together.

From the very beginnings and at the turn of the 20th century Jazz has been a constantly evolving, expanding and changing music, passing through several distinctive phases of development. A definition that might apply to one phase — for instance, to New Orleans style or swing — is not applicable to another segment of its history, say, to free jazz. It has used both creative approaches in varying degrees and endless permutations. It is not — and never has been — an entirely composed, predetermined music, nor is it an entirely extemporized one.

Early definition of jazz music with its chief characteristic improvisation, made it too restrictive, since composition, arrangement, and ensemble were also essential components throughout most of its history. Similarly, syncopation and swing, often considered essential and unique to jazz, are in fact lacking in much authentic jazz. But despite diverse terminological confusions, jazz seems to be instantly recognized and distinguished as something separate from all other forms of musical expression. To repeat Armstrong's famous reply when asked what swing meant: “If you have to ask, you'll never know.”

New Orleans exposes putrid underbelly of corporate greed

Across the wide expanse of the Atlantic Ocean from Goree lies the city of New Orleans, where the slaves taken from West Africa, first mostly to Caribbean, worked themselves out on British sugar plantations and later taken to colonial tobacco and cotton plantations in north America.

But the scenes in New Orleans, the Mississippi delta and elsewhere in South as telecast and reported by the media convey that little has changed for these unfortunate human beings. From time to time they cry out and explode as in the Watts riots forty years ago. Fire and anger remains bottled.

Commenting on the handling of Hurricane Katrina a senior US officer in far off Iraq said “If anything, I am kind of embarrassed. We are supposed to be telling the Iraqis how to act and this is what’s happening at home?” He further added that still he’d rather be in Iraq than in New Orleans right now! A National Guard member who returned to New Orleans from Iraq said that New Orleans was worse than Iraq.


More by :  K. Gajendra Singh

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