Archive for May, 2008

"Now, Dance! Sing! But as you do–Remember" Malcolm’s Birthday, New Orleans Blues

Posted in Uncategorized on May 20, 2008 by Josslyn Luckett

Malcolm X would have been 83 years old today. In July, Nelson Mandela will be 90. It moves me to re-read the “El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz” chapter toward the end of Malcolm’s autobiography and hear him talk about his post Mecca trip to Ghana–the one on one visit with Nkrumah, the state dinner held by the Chinese ambassador who screened a film featuring footage of Robert “Negroes with Guns” Williams, and later that night the soiree at the press club: “It was my first sight of Ghanaians dancing the highlife,” he writes/tells Alex Haley. He says he was pressed to give a short speech, and he stressed the need for unity between Africans and Afro-Americans.

“I cried out of my heart, ‘Now, dance! Sing! But as you do–remember Mandela, remember Sobokwe! Remember Lumumba in his grave! Remember South Africans now in jail! You wonder why I don’t dance? Because I want you to remember twenty-two million Afro-Americans in the U.S.!'”

Then later he admits…”But I sure felt like dancing!…One pretty African girl sang ‘Blue Moon’ like Sarah Vaughan. Sometimes the band sounded like Milt Jackson, sometimes like Charlie Parker.”

I like imagining Alex Haley hearing this report…I like to imagine him imagining the Ghanaian Sarah Vaughan…I wonder in 1964/65 how much Haley knew about Mandela and Sobukwe.

There’s so much to say…I’m thinking how heartbroken Malcolm would be…ah, by so many things–wait, this must be my own heartbreak, I can’t assume to know his. The first I’m feeling in relation to the quotes above is heartbreak about the violence in South Africa this past few days against Zimbabwean immigrants fleeing their own collapsing nation. And now–don’t laugh–the New Orleans Hornets game 7 loss tonight in the NBA playoffs hits me hard…boy was I hoping for more victory for that city…I’ve been wanting to write something about my recent quick trip down there for Jazz fest, but something that went down was so painful I haven’t really known what/how to speak on it…

I’m leaving Sweet Lorraine’s one night after seeing an old friend of mine perform there…we walk out and witness a straight Rodney King style beat down by New Orleans PD on one random young black man running across St. Claude. Three cops already have this guy’s face in the concrete but then a fourth cop, looking like some crazed major PTSD Iraq war vet bolts across the street to hammer this unarmed, already pinned down man with his billy club. We scream for the cops to stop…eventually they jam the kid inside a squad car…away from nosy jazz musicians/jazz club patrons…I can’t go right to bed, I need some different image/sound before any chance at sleep…I pop into a Rebirth Brass Band show and the song they’re blaring as I squeeze into the mass of swaying bodies is called, no lie, “We Got Trouble.” I dance because you can’t not dance at a Rebirth show, but there’s no way to shake loose the memory of the brutality.

The next afternoon I hear Terence Blanchard’s group with the Louisiana Philharmonic play “In Time of Need” and exactly at the moment Terence begins to sing, the sky breaks open. While directly covered by a tent I’m suddenly surrounded by a storm while I listen to the requiem for THE storm. They also play “Ashé.” I’m moved because I was so wrecked/so enraged by the white cop’s dehumanization of the black New Orleanean…and now I’m surrounded by water and the sound of two breath-giving compositions penned by long time collaborators, musician/composer/comrades of Blanchard’s, Brice Winston and Aaron Parks who both happen to be white. I gotta say it keeps me from staying fixed in one narrative…I can’t stay fixed in trouble…deep south black/white(and blue) trouble nor deep Southern African/African trouble. In times of need I need the clarity and wide reach of Malcolm, I need the staggering musical wisdom and healing of this “Tale of God’s Will.” I don’t need to be against anyone, I need to be fortified/cleansed to rebuild, to unify, to heal…Malcolm said in one of his final speeches: “We have to fight against the evils of a society that has failed to produce brotherhood for every member of that society. This in no way means that we’re antiwhite, antiblue, antigreen, or antiyellow. We’re antiwrong.”

Back to that night in Ghana, Malcolm was giving a speech for the press and must have had this need in the moment to stay “Honorable Minister” stoic, though I’m certain he flashed that “brother Malcolm” smile taking in all that “highlife”…so today, on his birthday, I want to dance the dance he did not dance that night. Dance and remember. I will always remember brother Malcolm connecting the Congo to Congo Square, to Mississippi, to Milt Jackson and the Blue Moon that sees us all, not alone, with dreams in our hearts, with love.