:: lights cigar ::
:: offers smoke ::
:: scatters five plus five iron nails ::
:: reads ::
It is commonplace in the book of Langston to find him conjuring the light of hope from the fire of politics: Ogoun's way of peace, dig?
It is from this same hot iron that he worked w/ Randy Weston, Melba Liston and an all star band* to record Weston's act of orchestral syncretism, Uhuru Afrika. The opportunity came to Weston after he made a deal worthy of Robert Johnson: he agreed to record showtunes from Destry Rides Again, a slab his record company thought would sell more, for approval of the nationalist suite. We got the crossover move working in all directions here.
Weston was, if not a a kind of muse to Langston, than at least a frequently chosen accompanist. Langston almost dedicated Ask Your Mama to him, before he realized that it would be better to dedicate it to someone born July 1, 1900. Later he invited Weston to arrange and perform the music for his funeral service, so he could sound good when he went back across to glory and joined the ancestors.
R& throws Uhuru Afrika into the crate of projects celebrating African/Afro-American liberation that includes Max Roach's Freedom, Now!, and Sonny Rollins Freedom Suite. Willard Jenkins tosses in another four "albums addressing the African-American social landscape included Art Blakey’s Africaine, John Coltrane’s Africa Brass, Oliver Nelson’s Afro-American Sketches, Dizzy Gillespie’s Africana." We must begin by recognizing that these records are no "small memory."† They are part of a powerful aesthetic political action that deserves it's own entry here @ the blue light.
But when we think of Uhuru Afrika as a page in the book of Langston, rather than an album by Randy Weston that paid a few of Langtson's bills, we draw three more conclusions:
The first, one we've been drawing now for several entries here @ the blue light and over @ the red light, is simple. Langston is a multimedia artist and his musical legacy needs to be reckoned with as a musical legacy, not the musical dabblings of a writer. I am sure there is fine secondary work on Langston's musical efforts. But we do not find his discography in the back pages of R&'s fine bio lined up as column of work next to his bibliography. His credits over @ discogs, another fine resource offered through the collective wisdom of the internets, are also way underdeveloped. (We must add, too, that we yearn for his videography, too. There's not a single frame of primary material boasted visibly to the internets in any of the archives, and YouTube offers only sad tertiary sources for the most part.)
The second, is that Uhuru Afrika is a project that takes its place in the book of Langston alongside of his late 50s and early 60s political poetry. This body of work is caught up in a utopian exchange that goes back and forth freely (can we say that enough) across the Atlantic (& we're coming back to this in a ¶).
The lyrics Langston composed for the introduction is a simple invocation. The invocation is then doubled in a second language that wishes for a single, unifying language:
Africa, where the great Congo flows!
Africa, where the whole jungle knows
A new dawning breaks. Africa!
A young nation awakes! Africa!
In his own tongue, Kiswahili, Sanga salutes the new Africa, Uhuru!
The freedom wind blows!
Out of yesterday's night Uhuru –
Freedom! Uhuru! Freedom
The lyrics he composed for the suite's second movement is a sequence of two statements, both address the "African lady," who is part muse, part metonymic vessel for holding as many wishes as the two speakers can place within it.
Sunrise at dawn,
Night is gone –
I hear your song.
The dark fades away,
Now its day,
A new morning breaks.
The birds in the sky all sing
For Africa awakes.
Bright light floods the land
And tomorrow's in your hand,
Goddess of sun
And of sea,
My lovely one,
Your eyes softly bright
Like the light
Of stars above.
Smile and the whole world sings
A happy song of love.
Dark Queen! In my dreams
You're my Queen!
My Queen of Dreams,
Both poems speak with a bright optimism of the era's liberating moment. For the bookbound who are looking for the similar, we urge you to put this work alongside "Africa," "Envoy to Africa," "Dixie South Africa," "Angola Question Mark," "Lumumba's Grave," "We, Too" "Drums," "Emporer Haile Selassie," &c. Moreover, we imagine we're missing much from his prose from the same years. This is a coherent body, whose purpose it is to conjure one out of many, to make a unity.
The third conclusion is drawn from the powerful trope of crossing over. It is a bright thread in the musical and poetic fabric of Uhuru Afrika. It is also a magic thread that all but possesses the soul in the book of Langston. In the eyes of the small-minded, crossing over is divisive, selling out, leaving behind. And that nearly goes without saying, whether we're talking about the rap game or the more horrible passage that followed the sun west across the Atlantic. But the crossing over is never in just one direction, no matter how hard the small-minded would have it so.
Crossing over makes a bigger world, a "we too" to "rise with you." The ancestral genius that inhabits the book of Langston knows this. That spirit inhabits Langston and becomes his genius, too. It is and always will be a cosmopolitan genius, one that declares affirmation in negation and fashions self out of everyone else. That's how it did.
Read this, now, and ponder all of what Langston means when he crosses over:
Old Walt Whitman
Went finding and seeking,
Finding less than sought
Seeking more than found,
Every detail minding
Of the seeking or the finding.
In seeking as in finding,
Each detail minding,
Old Walt went seeking
The is the back, forth and side to side, and not just moving in one way. It's the what Ogoun calls for when we try to start a movement. Dig?
Here's a clip of bullets documenting the primary source. Play on, Player.
- "Intro," Randy Weston Orchestra (1960).
- "1st Movement: Uhuru Kwansa," Randy Weston Orchestra (1960).
- "2nd Movement: African Lady," Randy Weston Orchestra (1960).
- "3rd Movement: Bantu," Randy Weston Orchestra (1960).
- "4th Movement: Kucheza Blues," Randy Weston Orchestra (1960).
We've got so much more to say. Look forward to posts on Langston's Simple musical, his gospel plays, his recorded children's books and his operas, especially his operas w /Kurt Weill.
* Randy Weston Orchestra
Randy Weston piano
Clark Terry trumpet, flugelhorn
Benny Bailey trumpet
Richard Williams trumpet
Freddie Hubbard trumpet
Slide Hampton trombone
Jimmy Cleveland trombone
Quentin Jackson trombone
Julius Watkins french-horn
Gigi Gryce alt sax, flute
Yusef Lateef tenor sax, flute, oboe
Sahib Shihab alt sax, baritone sax
Budd Johnson tenor sax, clarinet
Jerome Richardson baritone sax, piccolo
Cecil Payne baritone sax
Les Spann guitar, flute
Kenny Burrell guitar
George Duvivier bass
Ron Carter bass
Max Roach drums, percussion
Charlie Persip drums, percussion
Wilbert G. T. Hoggan drums
Michael Babatunde Olatunji percussion
Armando Peraza bongos
Martha Flowers vocal
Brock Peters vocal
Tuntemeke Sanga narrator
Melba Liston arrangements
Langston Hughes liner notes
Teddy Reig producer
† I have this
Strange small memory
And seven trees