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Maya Angelou's 'Africa' Poem Gets A Jazz Reinterpretation From Fallou Diop

Maya Angelou's 'Africa' poem gets a Jazz reinterpretation from Dakar-born/Brooklyn-based producer Fallou Diop.


Dakar-born/Brooklyn-based producer Fallou Diop pays tribute to the late poet and defender of justice, Maya Angelou, in a jazz reinterpretation of Africa. In a nod to the poem’s prophetic power, Diop layers Angelou’s striking words over a pacing jazz melody. Africa describes the riches and beauty of the continent plagued with instances of external exploitation and manipulation. Despite Angelou's lyrical description of battles with slavery and colonialism, Africa is not a fatalistic poem expressing defeat, but rather, proclaims the rise of the continent informed by lessons learned from the struggles of its past.

Diop’s reinterpretation of Angelou's poem is a reminder of the late poet’s time spent in Africa and the work she conducted to unite people of African descent in solidarity against systems of oppression. Throughout her life Angelou explored different ways to represent the cultural linkages that exist between Africans and African Americans. In 1968 the memoirist wrote, produced and narrated ‘Blacks, Blues, Blacks!’– a ten-part television series documenting “Africanisms still present in the United States.” Diop’s rework captures Angelou’s unifying sentiment, the rhythmic undertones of the music referencing jazz's ties to the continent with a pulsating bass imitating the steady low-sounding beats of a dundun drum. Angelou's distinct voice rings clear through the background melodies, carrying her hopes for the continent and its people both distant and far.

Africa by Maya Angelou

Thus she had lain

sugercane sweet

deserts her hair

golden her feet

mountains her breasts

two Niles her tears.

Thus she has lain

Black through the years.

Over the white seas

rime white and cold

brigands ungentled

icicle bold

took her young daughters

sold her strong sons

churched her with Jesus

bled her with guns.

Thus she has lain.

Now she is rising

remember her pain

remember the losses

her screams loud and vain

remember her riches

her history slain

now she is striding

although she has lain.

Interview

Interview: The Awakening of Bas

We talk to Bas about The Messenger, Bobi Wine, Sudan, and the globalized body of Black pain.

The first thing you notice when you begin to listen to The Messenger—the new investigative documentary podcast following the rise of Ugandan singer, businessman and revolutionary political figure Bobi Wine—is Bas' rich, paced, and deeply-affecting storytelling voice.

Whether he is talking about Uganda's political landscape, painting a picture of Bobi Wine's childhood, or drawing parallels between the violence Black bodies face in America and the structural oppression Africans on the continent continue to endure at the hands of corrupt government administrations, there is no doubt that Bas (real name Abbas Hamad) has an intimate understanding of what he's talking about.

We speak via Zoom, myself in Lagos, and him in his home studio in Los Angeles where he spends most of his time writing as he cools off from recording the last episode of The Messenger. It's evident that the subject matter means a great deal to the 33-year-old Sudanese-American rapper, both as a Black man living in America and one with an African heritage he continues to maintain deep ties with. The conversation around Black bodies enduring various levels of violence is too urgent and present to ignore and this is why The Messenger is a timely and necessary cultural work.

Below, we talk with Bas aboutThe Messenger podcast, Black activism, growing up with parents who helped shape his political consciousness and the globalized body of Black pain.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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