Healing Sounds of the Diaspora
I don’t know that I feel comfortable with the title Globalcreator just yet but I was blessed to travel between the US, France and West Africa since I was an infant and having family in all three places always called me to have a greater involvement than simply vacationing. In my adult years, beginning around 1992, my travels have largely been centered around music and cultural exchange. Although my passion for the history and cultures of Africa and its diaspora have centered most of my travels around the Atlantic coasts of Africa, the Americas and Europe, I consider myself humanist before Pan-Africanist with learning from and contributing to global cultural exchange being my ultimate goal. ”
In the summer of 1999, while visiting Kenya, two of my closest friends/musical collaborators and I got the opportunity to travel to the town of Goma in the North Kivu province of eastern Congo during the Rwandese occupation of the region in the second Congo War. The owner of the only standing bar in Goma, the Coco Jambo, was my friend’s cousin and, after surviving multiple invasions, he was proposing that we perform a series of Benefit Concerts on the bar property. The proceeds would be donated to local schools and other affected community services. Due to the political climate at the time, the only way for us to get to Goma from Nairobi was by bus; mostly local ‘Matatus’. After a fascinating 3 day trek through Uganda and Rwanda, one night reluctantly sleeping in Kigali’s ‘Hotel des Milles Collines’ (Hotel Rwanda), we arrived in at our destination.
Travel is the most unique and powerful intellectual, emotional, and spiritual educator known to humanity
Our idea was to hire some local musicians and singers in Goma to complete the ensemble, target some private shows at Western expats, U.N. personnel, travelers and finally reserve the more affordable performances for the community. The venture was largely successful but not without us becoming unwittingly involved in local politics between the occupying Rwandese forces, the subordinate Congolese military, and the local population. My friend’s cousin, our host, having been arrested by the army three days after our arrival, for reasons unbeknownst to us at the time, set a clear tone for the following ten days.
Every morning we would drive, with food and alcohol from the Coco Jambo, to the military compound where our host was being held. I would pull out my guitar and entertain the Rwandese Colonel and his entourage while the rest of the troops went about their daily activities—this occasionally involved ‘processing’ prisoners.’ The purpose of this prostration on our part, of course, was to ensure that our host received preferential treatment and that he not be ‘processed’ like some of the other unfortunate souls we witnessed. We would spend our afternoons rehearsing the band for the upcoming shows, interacting with their families and communities and our nights at the Coco Jambo drinking Johnny Walker (Johnny Mutembelezi!) for a little perspective.
As some of you know, symbolism is even more critical when power is being contested
If our visibility to the military was not already undesirable, we also made the mistake of performing Bob Marley’s Zimbabwe during which the Rwandese Colonel sent two soldiers to the stage to tell us never to perform the song again. The issue was that the western RDC government under Kabila was allied with Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe against the Rwandese occupation of Eastern Congo at the time.
As some of you know, symbolism is even more critical when power is being contested. In any occupation, the locals rarely care about the over-arching politics and usually suffer various forms of abuse from their occupiers; a principle that most of our new friends confirmed repeatedly. As a result, in true Western, liberal (and probably privileged) form, we proceeded to play the song two more times for the audience once the troops had left. Fortunately, we only experienced mild intimidation from some Rwandese soldiers during the rest of our stay. Our host was finally released before our departure and was able to spend the last few days with us.
At the time, Goma was like a ‘High Noon’ border settlement on the final frontier of post-colonial Africa where the extremes of humanity were a daily occurrence
We witnessed and experienced many more unusual and sobering events during our short stay in Goma than I could describe here but the most profound aspect of our experience was what we learned on a human, cultural, and political level from the people. In those few days we had come in direct contact with:
- Child soldiers;
- Rwandese (Tutsi) military claiming to have trained in Norfolk Virginia;
- Pigmies’ (Kango/Efe) who use consecrated ‘Lion’s oil’ to protect themselves from bullets and joined the local ‘Mai-Mai’ militias despite the discrimination they face from Bantu and Nilotic groups;
- Individuals tied to the arms trade routes stretching through the Rift Valley from South Africa to Israel;
- Men who had Master’s degrees obtained in Paris now responsible for conducting ‘interrogations’ of insurgents;
- Miners who received next to nothing for the priceless Coltan and other minerals they harvested daily;
- Bleeding heart European and American expats working for the U.N. or other groups; and
- Many other walks of life that converged on this lawless and painfully beautiful central African town.
At the time, Goma was like a ‘High Noon’ border settlement on the final frontier of post-colonial Africa where the extremes of humanity were a daily occurrence. Although I had traveled internationally my entire life, this trip more than any made me realize the immeasurable value of open minded travel. Just as the photojournalism of How the Other Half Lives at the turn of the 20th century first revealed the human realities unexposed or deliberately hidden by our cultures and governments; travel is the most unique and powerful intellectual, emotional, and spiritual educator known to humanity. It is unmatched in its capacity to make us know each other, ourselves and to unlock our greatest potential. Always seek to understand and respect. Of all the things you want for yourself in life, the ones that scare you are the ones you want most – go for those!
Programs I Recommend for Globalcreating Experiences
I freelance as a musician but I also have my own band called Sahel which performs music of the African diaspora (Zouk, Samba, Salsa, Senegalese Mbalax, Reggae, etc..). Sahel will be performing every 3rd Thursday of the month March through May (3/23, 4/20, 5/18) at Bossa Bistro in Adams Morgan Washington DC. Sahel will also be performing at the Washington Sound Museum – Hip Hop meets the music of Senegal show with Grammy nominated Hip-Hop artist Christylez Bacon on Friday, March 31, 2017, at the Bowie State University’s Fine and Performing Arts Center.