Photo C/O Celine Pinget

What is the value of an apology? That is one of the questions that JUNO-nominated singer and songwriter Khari Wendell McClelland is exploring in his new concert, We Now Recognize. The show, which consists of all new songs, will tour six Canadian cities for Black History Month. It comes to the Lincoln Alexander Centre in Hamilton on Feb. 19 at 8 p.m.

We Now Recognize is a partnership between McClelland and Project Humanity, a non-profit organization that uses the arts to raise social awareness. The two collaborated in 2017 and 2018 to create the documentary theatre musical of the Vancouver-based artist’s debut solo album, Freedom Singer. Freedom Singer interpreted songs that might have accompanied McClelland’s great-great-great-grandmother Kizzy as she escaped from slavery via the Underground Railroad.

This show is another personal work, although McClelland originally took inspiration from the current sociopolitical landscape. The number of political apologies that have occurred struck him in the past decade or so and especially in Justin Trudeau’s term. He began to question what constitutes a substantive and meaningful apology.

In writing the show, McClelland found himself reflecting on being wrong and the extent of his compassion for those who do wrong. He considered how recognizing wrongdoing feels and how to move forward from it. With this, he also thought about the relationships he has with the generations of men in his family.

“[I was] looking at my grandfather and my father and my brother and even considering what it would be to be… a father and what the implications might mean for a larger society… [I]t's men who are exerting power and have a lot of control in society… What are some of the ideas… I grew up with that I have at different times perpetuated in my own life and trying to figure out like what that might look like through a generational lens,” said McClelland.

The show explores other ideas that McClelland cares about, such as community and the way we wield power over the natural world. In bringing different ideas in proximity with one another, McClelland sees the work as an assemblage like a quilt or collage.

McClelland sees being able to explore a multitude of ideas as a way of celebrating Black life. Unlike his past work with Freedom Singer, which tackled the history of slavery head on, We Now Recognize, is a subtler approach to Black history that it more rooted in the present and in the future.

I feel like there are ways in which black life can be can be understood as a monolith, that black people in Black communities aren't allowed to have a diversity of experiences and perspectives. I'm very curious… about creating some kind of radical subjectivity around Black life, like being able to be all these different ways that we are just as human beings,” McClelland said.

Not only will the concert allow McClelland a chance to bring forth the multiplicity of Black life, it will allow him to stretch himself and grow as an artist. The personal show will force him to be vulnerable in a way that he hasn’t been before with the communities across Canada that has supported him.

McClelland sees the connection to music as something that erodes for many people over their lifetime. For him, however, it is something that he hasn’t stopped doing ever since it became a part of his life as a kid growing up in Detroit. It moves him in a way that isn’t necessarily positive or negative, but just is. He also sees the medium as essential to building community.

I feel like healthy communities move together. That they practice together, that they have rituals together… [O]ur connection to artful practices actually has the potential to heal us as communities and individuals coming together… has this real potential for a deep kind of healing… I think it is just a deep medicine in the way that we come together and make music and make art,” explained McClelland.

McClelland is looking forward to this tour to see how audiences connect with the new songs. He is eager to see the way in which people are moved by this meditation on wrongdoing and apology, whether positively or in a way that is a little uncomfortable.

 

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She is a woman known for her remarkable fight against racial injustice and advocacy for political prisoners. While Angela Davis now speaks about her past reflexively, it was her discussion of abolition and its connection to current disparities that drew 800 people to Liuna Station on Wed. March 27.

Davis was invited to mark the opening of the McMaster Centre for Scholarship in the Public Interest. Dr. Henry Giroux, the centre’s Director, emphasized Davis’ great commitment to engaged education.

“We invited Angela Davis here tonight because she has struggled greatly and with great dignity for decades to demonstrate that education is a form of political intervention,” said Giroux. “She has worked in difficult and shifting circumstances to remind us of the power of education as a central element of inspired self-government.”

Davis spoke for close to an hour, first sharing her own personal story. She described how she had an early exposure to activism.

She briefly discussed her now infamous early teaching career, which got her fired from UCLA, first because of her support for communism, then later for speaking out on behalf of political prisoners. Davis was later wrongfully jailed for her supposed connections with a murder plot.

She argued that the prison-industrial complex, a notion that was central to both her own personal experience and her talk, was first exemplified in slavery in the U.S.

The talk itself was meant to mark the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. But Davis’ aim was less commemorative and more critical of the underlying implications of the purported ‘end to slavery’ and its continued relevance.

“The civil rights movement was only necessary because the slave trade had not been fully abolished,” she said. “As a matter of fact, what we call the civil rights movement, we should call the 20th century abolition rights movement. Because it was about abolishing the vestiges of slavery. If slavery had been abolished…there would be no second-class citizenship.”

Davis argued that slavery was neither abolished nor antiquated. She noted how the actions of the civil rights movement were framed in a narrative that attempts to showcase the U.S as a model of democracy.

However, she asserted that the civil rights movement has been narrowly defined and restricted to instances like M.L.K.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, while suppressing activities of groups like the Black Panthers. But overall, she proclaimed that the emphasis on a continued need and struggle for freedom was integral.

While Davis spoke knowledgeably about the pre- and post-Civil War period, she especially captured the audience’s attention when she drew contemporary connections to slavery and the civil rights movement.

She used examples such as the Freedom from Apartheid Movement in South Africa, the Dalit Panthers and the Palestinian Freedom Riders as global movements that were inspired by the Black Freedom struggle.

Davis acknowledged that the current era is full of struggles that require social critique and discussion, similar to the dialogue that surrounded the civil rights movement. She urged that ideas should be fostered in the academy yet nurtured and used in practice on social issues.

She dismissed the notion that there is a “post-racial society” and the excision of poor people from public and academic consciousness. Davis stressed that critical education was key to questioning, addressing and restructuring oppressive social systems.

“The challenges of scholarship and activism are vast today…what is most important about this era is the consciousness and interconnectedness of various struggles. We can no longer focus on a single issue.”

Julia Empey, a third-year student in English and History with a minor in Religious Studies, came out of the event appreciating the magnitude of Davis as a speaker. Empey also noted that the gap between scholarship and activism was still present at McMaster.

“There is a desire to see it happen in some pockets of students…but to have that image realized is going to take a lot of work. How do we put these ideas in action? We’ve been told we’ve been given practical tools [through our education]. But we haven’t been taught how to use them.”

Davis concluded her talk by using part of a lesser-known speech from M.L.K., stating that, “most of what you know about M.L.K. is, he had a dream, right? And I’m actually kind of tired of that dream.”

Instead, Davis spoke about King’s desire to question, to urge broader restructuring and critical consciousness.

The overwhelmingly positive audience response and standing ovation may just prove to be one indicator of a revitalized sense of faith in a collective dialogue amongst Hamiltonians.

Edward Lovo / Silhouette Staff

Whose memory is conjured when recalling the enslavement of millions of Africans?

Often, the discussion that circulates around black history narrows in on but a small portion: slavery. And often, one speaks of black slaves instead of enslaved Africans, which subtly conceals the act of enslavement and at once meshes black identity with slavery.

A playwright once wrote, “Language most shows a man: Speak, that I may see thee.” Despite good intentions, language belies the framework in which one conceives of a subject; both must therefore be beheld by the eye of scrutiny. Most strokes of the brush depict black history with the colours of oppression and powerlessness, to the neglect of a rich and vibrant past marked by a forgetfulness of how dignity was preserved in enslavement.

A different picture takes shape as horizons broaden to include the continent of Africa. Kingdoms and empires rose and fell, cultures flourished and social life had another mode of existence than in the West.

Portuguese exploration of Africa in the fifteenth century augured the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade - or Maafa as referred to by some - but the 15th century for Africa also meant the decline of one of its empires, the Mali.

The Mali Empire, under the rule of Mansa Mūsā, became one of the largest empires in the world during the early 14th century. The Mali Empire was known for its wealth, since Mansa Sundiata had in the preceding century secured Bondu and Bambuk, lands with lots of gold. The Empire’s wealth became known to the world during Mansa Mūsā’s pilgrimage to Mecca. Arab chroniclers said of Mansa Mūsā’s procession into Cairo and Mecca that it almost put Africa’s sun to shame.

This message by the Arab chroniclers is driven home by the fact that the Cairo market was still recovering from its decline in value 12 years after Mansa Mūsā’s lavish spending of gold. Even after these 12 years, the inhabitants of Cairo (estimated at one million) still sung the praises of Mansa Mūsā.

Apart from the kingdoms and empires of Africa, tribal lives still thrived with a communal spirit and, compared to the West, were kinder in laws and punishment. In the Congo, for example, private property was an unfamiliar idea, where theft was. In connection with this, Howard Zinn tells of when a “Congolese leader, told of the Portuguese legal codes, asked a Portuguese once, teasingly: ‘What is the penalty in Portugal for anyone who puts his feet on the ground?’”

It’s true that the enslaved Africans became a powerless people, torn from their homes and communities. Some were even sold by their own people and put through the trauma and physical ordeal of the tightly packed spaces below deck the ships, chained together. Despite or in spite of this, enslaved blacks would show their refusal to submit by running away. More frequently, they acted out more clandestine forms of resistance against their slave owners: sabotage and slowdowns. On occasion, enslaved blacks would organize rebellions; there is documented evidence of at least 250 uprisings involving 10 or more blacks. All of these forms of resistance were an expression of their unshakeable sense of dignity.

By no means have I provided a comprehensive history of the Mali Empire, let alone of the other empires, tribes and kingdoms that too often go unmentioned in African history.

However, this scant account is meant to adjust the focus of black history far beyond their enslavement.

Too often do these discussions fixate on the white enslavement of blacks, which not only forms an inaccurate portrayal of blacks as meek and submissive, but also neglects the grandeur of ancient African civilizations and the richness of its cultures that deserve to stand alongside the histories of Western civilizations as well as those of the Near and Far East.

American and Canadian consciousness, because of limited hindsight or because of a fetish with depravity (really, who knows why?) erase from memory the past of a people that had an existence before their enslavement. This amnesia should make us ashamed, for it neglects that essential part of a person, that individuality which has definition emerging from a long, long history and not simply from a small portion of it.

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