“400 YEARS AND COUNTING…”

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“Tell ’em Africa we don dire, So here comes the African Giant…” African Giant by Burna Boy

Malcolm X, in a famous 1964 speech said, “We are a people who formerly were Africans who were kidnaped and brought to America. Our forefathers weren’t the Pilgrims. We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock; the rock was landed on us.” The reference is made in relation to the place where the first English settlers, known as Pilgrims, established the Plymouth Colony, in present-day Massachusetts in 1620. It was also commentary juxtaposing the 1619 arrival of the first documented ship carrying human cargo, from the region of Africa now known as Angola, in a Portuguese vessel seized off the Mexican coast by English pirates. For the record, there’s documentation of slavery in British colonies in the Caribbean even before this period. Moving on…the ship disembarked in an English settlement known as Jamestown, about 600 miles south of Plymouth Rock. Factoid: The American state of Virginia, formerly Jamestown, is ironically abode to hundreds of thousands first generation Africans from the Motherland, particularly Ethiopians.
Four hundred years later, Ghana is welcoming thousands of African descendants scattered through out the Diaspora in what is dubbed the Year of Return. Grand processions, concerts, tours, art exhibitions, plays and more are in play. While across the water African kith and kin also host tributes expressed through music, poetry, paintings, vigils, and more. The celebrations over land and sea recall the brutality while the resilience and triumphs are celebrated and expressed; thanks to the retention of ancestral cultural memories. Ambassador Dr. Erieka Bennett, Diaspora African Forum, Head of Mission in Accra, Ghana, said the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi; Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman Karen Bass, House Representatives Barbara Lee and John Lewis amongst other distinguished guests, have marked the 400 years with visits to the slave dungeons in the Cape Coast. They visited the Door of No Return, the last point of contact my ancestors had with the Homeland, before being dropped in Jamaica. On the mainland, the “US Congress has formed a special commission to mark the 400 years” which I don’t know what that means, but allow me to take you into a more familiar world, the arts, namely music with words from the famous Wailers song, penned over 45 years ago by Peter Tosh and Produced by Bob Marley:
Four Hundred Years
400 years 400 years 400 years…of the same philosophy
I’ve said it’s 400 years … look, how long and the people they still can’t see.
Why do they fight against the youth of today?
And without youths, you would be gone – All gone astray.
Come on, let’s make a move…now that the time has come.
fools don’t see…but I know we’ll be strong. So come with me to a land of liberty,
Where we can live our lives and be free. 400 years
Stop sitting down on your pride just stand high.
The song is profound, sadly still relevant and reprimanding, yet a glimmer of hope is offered through the youth. I agree.
If art is the visual voice of the people then music is the sound of the people. Beyonce’ is know all the way to Mars for her music. She’s had her eye on and heart in Africa for some time but it was a pleasant surprise that she has produced a Lion King inspired album featuring genres from Afro-Beat to Gqom, a South Africa type of house music in varying linguas such as Swahili, Pidgin English, Zulu, Xhosa and Yoruba! Nigeria’s Burna Boy, Yemi Alade and Mr Eazi; Cameroon’s Salatiel, and South Africa’s Busiswa and Moonchild Sanelly are featured amongst others. I know I know I know, East Africans didn’t make the cut. But the current sound the youth in the US are listening and dancing to is Burna Boy!
Burna was in Ethiopia a couple of years ago for a small New Year concert. I rarely go out on New Years but my son from another mother was passing through and my husband bought us VIP Tickets. So I cooked him Jamaican ital food, (he was expecting curry goat LOL) and danced the night away stage side. I felt Fela’s vibe but Burna, born Damini Ogulu, is ubiquitous. He stands apart and makes this 2019 burst with musical fire at home and especially abroad. Imagine 400 years ago they kidnapped Blacks to build America. Four hundred years later Burna Boy brings African Giant reassuring us:
Tell ’em Africa we don dire
So here comes the African Giant
Many, many people don’t try ah
But you can’t test the African Giant
Don’t nobody do it better, better than me
Can’t nobody do it better
Check ’em and see.
Africa is rising and all Africans can and will take part in the journey. I close wishing you all a Happy Emancipation Day, August 1st, the day Britain ended slavery and I encourage Africans in the Diaspora and the continent to visit Ghana for the Year of Return as we celebrate the strength of the African persona, withstanding centuries of separation yet maintaining our Africa culture. Akwabaa!

Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.