Webster was much possessed by death
And saw the skull beneath the skin;
And breastless creatures under ground
Leaned backward with a lipless grin.
Daffodil bulbs instead of balls
Stared from the sockets of the eyes!
He knew that thought clings round dead limbs
Tightening its lusts and luxuries.
— T.S. Eliot - Whispers of Immortality
At night I can't sleep, I toss and turn
Candlesticks in the dark, visions of bodies being burned
Four walls just staring at a nigga
I'm paranoid, sleeping with my finger on the trigger
My mother's always stressing I ain't living right
But I ain't going out without a fight
See, every time my eyes close
I start sweating and blood starts coming out my nose
—Scarface [Geto Boys] - Mind Playing Tricks On Me
My wife and I are absolutely besotted with Reservation Dogs, and bereft, alas, until the third season arrives. We're suckers for the biting humor and utter gut-crumpling pathos of the show, and of course, for Willie Jack, the best character in any contemporary TV show—fight me! Yes, yes, just barely edging it over Atlanta's Darius (and I'm Nigerian!)
Anyway, I love the many subtle ways the show dances around the irony of bits of indigenous languages which have woven their way into and out of traditions and newfangledom. Clearly the interplay in such languages were long even in 1491 days, especially in the fluid movements and polities of the Great Plains, but mix in the heavy, clumsy hands of colonizers, and…hoo boy!
The expression "aho!", is a fun one. There are legion arguments in origin—an Iroquoian hello? A Kiowan thank you? Just some shit hippies synthesized along the lines of "amen"? Maybe all of the above. The arguments, however, are the whole point. Such things should stay complicated, and the complications belong, stubbornly unresolved in storytelling by the colonized. I feel all this so deeply, because so much of it applies to my own native African context. My ancestors are just as quirkily and whimsically around me as the warrior and medicine woman spirts in Reservation Dogs. "Don't you dare Noble Savage me! I've got the street smarts of an intelligence who's seen all this crap a hundred times over."
I should know. I was born on the cross-quarter day always associated with spirits of the dead in the northern hemisphere, and even co-opted by the Catholic church as the Feats of All Souls. November 2nd. Simón, Día de Muertos. As I wrote in the last post, this is the sour time of the year, whether due to the turn to winter, as in Colorado, or the turn to the dry months, as in southern Nigeria. The sweet variety of sour, with plenty of spread flavor for the numerous numinous. Leave them enough fruit, whether literally, or in your works, and they will train your tongue for the delectable frisson of these days.
How rather rich of us to intimate,
In wild-eyed tales by the fireplace, that ghosts
Are vagabond victims necklaced in hunger,
Reaching out fleshless hands to beseech us
For food purchased at crossroads market booths,
At harvest feasts enough is served for portion
Pledged to ancestors, and though we don't mention,
To pest spirits as well. We tell tales of skull
Creatures known to kidnap good cooking wives,
Gleeful details—their cursed-open hinges—
As if such were the common theft of meat
Sliced from ample racks at the abattoir;
We grow weed of idle rumors at weddings,
Local god galas, potlatch after seasons
In profit; we grow weed where it most thickly
Chokes the plots—among drawn, mourning faces.
—Uche Ogbuji - from "Ravenant" (Ńchéfù Road)
Virtual reality on the scene
I'm an engineer largely because my father is one, and when I had to find a supposedly practical career rather than the arts, I went with something nearby in the household. I've always said, though, that the true engineering spark skipped a generation from my dad to my son. There are several futuristic technologies the latter has already delved quite deeply into, including virtual reality (VR). Before Reddit's live-streaming network fell apart, he had a very popular series appearing from his favorite VR worlds through a gecko avatar. More recently he worked on using this sort of approach for documentary-style videos, and last week he released a video discussion of the emergency docking scene in the film Interstellar. which he and I first saw together.
VR has long been a large social component of Osi's life, and some of his best friends are people he met virtually, mostly on the VR Chat app. It's easy for older folks to look down on how emerging technology changes socialization, but such prejudices are almost always nonsense. I have the advantage of growing up with a deep interest in computers and technology, and when my family moved from Nigeria to the US around 1990 I quickly got into the BBS scene, which you can imagine as local prototypes of the world wide web. I dabbled in many of the series of technologies that led from there to the web (anyone remember Prodigy? Compuserve? Usenet? Gopher?—the list is endless) and the virtual has always been a sizable part of my own adult social activity. Web and mobile based social media has brought this all become mainstream now, despite the knee-jerk tendency you sometimes find to see it as toxic. As with all human activity there will be salutary bits and noxious bits, and sometimes the balance will differ for all of us from realm to realm. I've always been amused at the mainstream perception of Twitter as a cesspool, when for me it has always been the most tractable of the popular networks.
All VR does is add a highly immersive flavor to such interactions. Osi has a lovely circle of close friends he's grown up with, as well as the VR Chat crew. Our youngest has variously overlapping circles of friends from the neighborhood and schools, intersecting with remote relatives and folks she's never met in person, all in configurations that morph across Roblox, Snapchat, Tik-Tok and dozens of other networks you probably haven't heard of. I of course want my children to be healthy while exploring the reality of the world as it is unfolding for them among their peers. I've found that engaging with them on their own terms, maintaining a natural, open-minded dialogue on how they use technology, helped ensure that technology doesn't create distance between us, and that my influence as a parent, doing what a parent must, doesn't have to be something they hide from or beat away.
I've long kept an interested eye on the work of Danah Boyd, who studies how people, and especially the young, interact with social technology with a clear and sympathetic eye. I highly recommend her book It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens to parents anxious about the effects of technology on their growing kids. Of course there are dangers, as there are in the real world, but our kids are usually much more able to cope and adapt to new influences than we might instinctively think.
Osi and I have tried out all sorts of collaborations across his worlds of interest and mine, such as our live-stream experiments with me DJing as a projection from his VR world in which he appeared as an avatar. I'm grateful he's always showing the impulse to connect as he explores, and he asked to use the song I wrote for him, and to have me recite Dylan Thomas's "Do not go gentle into that good night" to accompany it as the closing of the Interstellar video.
Brave New World
I show you this world, my darling child
So that you can show me something new in it,
This time of our sharing is brief as it must be—
If I stay here too long I shall ruin it.
Name me the features of your conjuring,
Your forests, your mountains, your oceans.
Tease me with a tour of your distant shore—
I'll stretch as I can to your notions.
Brave new world of such citizens!
I willingly wink in naïveté.
Tomorrow for me is the wise you reveal
While I gracefully take my leave today.
Heavy on the music
I'm getting into the groove of creating a fuller version of each newsletter post's music mix, adding in recited poetry and a video vignette. Here's the one from last fortnight's.
Or audio only:
This Wednesday, Nov 9 I'll be performing poetry live with Black Market Translation, a punk band, in a show called "Punketry!" in Denver.
Last night I went for a practice session, which we live-streamed. It was a lot of fun, and I think you'll agree this ain't your middle school teacher's poetry.
Oh music! Adomaa, a honey-voiced singer from Nigeria, who also has Ghanaian roots, has a new album coming out, Becoming Adomaa. Its lusciously harmonized teaser track should be more than enough to get you excited about the full release.
If you want any further evidence of the glorious talent we have on our hands here, check out her magical recreation of modern Ghanaian music through the decades.
One more bit on the African music beat: if you love Afrobeat, and I mean the real, classic Afrobeat, you'll want this latest entry from Mukambo's compilations of contemporary Afrobeat.
Horace Andy came out with a new album, Midnight Rocker, earlier this year, and true to his roots, he recently released a followup project of dub experiments based on those songs. Andy's voice is still as versatile as a master-crafted string instrument and in the spirit of the season I'll highlight "Hell and Back", based on "This Must be Hell", a sumptuous throw-back to his Coxsone Sound System roots .
I'll close with something for geeky, grown-up B-Boys. I'm a massive fan of Stranger Things—hey! can't beat that 80s nostalgia, something I watch with my horror-loving daughter. Rapper Mega Ran is clearly also a fan, because he came up with a brilliant rap ode to the members of the most recent season's Hellfire Club, part of an album on the theme. Producer Amerigo Gazaway (one of my favorite contemporaries) laced up a brilliant beat using samples from Metallica's Master of Puppets, which is featured in an iconic scene from the TV show. I'm a bit surprised they got the sample cleared from the Metal Monster band's notoriously beastly IP protection department.
Please do consider sharing this newsletter with others, and subscribing, if you haven't (button in the lower right). Always something new to listen to, some new play on words, a fresh take for tech's sake, with the side sauce of odd juxtapositions. Dá àlụ́-nu!
❧ Égwú 🪘 Ókwú ✍🏿 Ígwè 📡 Ńdụ̀ ❣️