Our cypher will complete us as we come through your receivers
You can play us and repeat us, and then take us home and read us
—Talib Kweli [Black Star] - Definition
Jumping across worlds
In condensed time
After the awkward fall
We are always at the starting point
—Lenrie Peters - Parachute Men
At the beginning of Chinua Achebe's novel, Arrow of God, Chief Priest Ezeulu dispatched his duty by spotting the new moon, “as thin as an orphan fed grudgingly by a cruel foster-mother.“
Oh yes, beginnings are the hungriest moment. My poem “Canal” shows the newborn
Eye to eye, first thickly-milk to thirsty mouth
Yesterday held a new moon—as Ezeulu would have said, “Ọ́nwá atụ̀ọ́!“, and I welcome you to the dark new tide of The Loomiverse. What’s that? It’s like the hungry-creature in The Palm-Wine Drinkard (a brilliant, demented, utterly unique novel—find & read it if you haven’t!), a vortex that consumes everything of interest. In other words it’s just one place where music, poetry, technology, culture and more come together in unconventional configurations. Less dramatically, it’s a place where I’d like to share with you news, notices, quotes, observations, itchy hustle, muscle twitch, oddments…and the occasional digital swag, typically an audio download. For this edition just a classic tune to listen along with. Les Nubians - Les Portes du Souvenir.
The poem I mentioned, “Canal”, comes early on my new book, Ńchéfù Road (Black Spring Press Group, UK), currently at the printers after some delays, and—I hope—shipping within a couple of weeks. Available for pre-order (including from me, signed).
The cover art is a commission from Igbobinna NSB, a Nigeria-based artist I encountered while exploring the continuing influence of traditional Igbo/Efik writing and iconography systems (uli, nsibidi, ukara…) on contemporary art. Igbobinna pours this legacy into his earnest, graphical probings of our continuously re-emerging culture. The attention to detail he brought to this cover is absolutely breathtaking. From the footsteps in the river to the ship in space, the road, the rising sun, the lines that mutter language at the edge, and so much more. He is on Twitter as well as Instagram, and I can’t recommend highly enough that you follow his work.
Having a powerful visual statement on the cover of Ńchéfù Road was an essential puzzle piece, because the instinct behind the poetry is in certain fertile yet too rarely explored connections in arts and culture. Classical poetry and modern spoken word, hip-hop, indigenous music and afropop, traditions of the far lower Niger delta region (proper Afara, I call it), and post-colonial Nigerian society. That’s not to mention the languages, a rainbow of Igbo, Efik, Umon, Pidgin, Western black vernaculars, contemporary standard diction, through to the renaissance-era English our British-derived schoolmasters held up as the pinnacle of post-classical expression.
The book is reviewed in the prestigious Poetry Magazine, a fine bit of fortune almost no matter what the review actually says. In this case the reviewer, though kind and even flattering overall (“an encyclopedic debut by Uche Ogbuji, reflects the polymath pursuits of its author“), took exception to some of the extremes in these spectra. Here’s fair wrestling ground. The book does throw a lot at the reader, and it’s up to you, dear reader, to decide when it’s thrown too much. I just hope that even in those moments, it still leaves you wanting to dance.
I’ve started to arrange Ńchéfù Road reading and musical events. See me in two weeks with Wendy Videlock and Claudia Putnam, in Salida, Colorado. I’ll also be bringing my DJ kit and we’re going to dance under the sunset to a motherland thump.
1st September I’m up with Wendy again, in Telluride.
18th October it’s Claudia and me, right here in Boulder.
I’ve a few other things brewing, and if you’d like me to appear near you, please drop me a line with any hints as to whom I might contact in your area to arrange an event.
Blockchain (Tech, Arts & Culture)
It’s less new moon for some technologies that have been on my mind, and in the news recently. Lately, as the artistic side of my life has grown, I’ve found myself preoccupied with how technology affects arts and culture; how it’s so often used either to sell to, or to threaten. My 30 year career at the vanguard of software tech, complete with engineering degree has me pondering how such things can be a boon—or a boondoggle for artists, especially of marginalized backgrounds.
You’ve certainly heard of one of the many thingies within the vague label of “crypto”, whether Bitcoin or NFTs. The fact that all these thingies get daubed with the same brush strokes is a huge source of confusion. Cryptography is a very useful and established tool, everywhere from digital signatures and encrypted files to establishing that lock icon you should be checking when doing anything important on the web. The novel concept in cryprocurrencies is the blockchain, essentially an ever-growing public ledger where each transaction uses digital signatures.
Blockchain is quite useful (though not so novel, going back to ideas from the 90s), but if you try to manage a lot of information on one blockchain, as folks have with popular digital currency, you end up in a runaway situation where you need rapidly increasing resources (electricity, primarily) with continued usage. You’ve heard of “network effects”? Well, let’s just say that can they can be bad things as much as good. The simple reality is that global cryptocurrencies using current concepts are not sustainable, for several ways of thinking about sustainability. I would urge caution until cleverer blockchain technologies emerge, which I do think will happen.
NFTs and smart contracts, are another matter. Some of the “Web 3.0” hype directed at artists makes sense in concept, but the main problem is that current, popular implementations bind NFTs to cryptocurrency blockchain ledgers (especially Ethereum), which I’ve mentioned are unsustainable. Again I’d pay attention, but urge caution until NFT systems emerge that are built on next generation tech.
I started a Substack thread on “Blockchain in Arts and Culture”, a good place to post any follow-up questions. Just know that I do not claim to be a blockchain specialist, and this certainly is the place neither for investment nor for legal advice.
Another tech that’s been in the news recently, including in A&C contexts, is artificial intelligence, but I’ll save discussion of that for later. That is, unless Skynet becomes self-aware and goes nuclear within the next couple of weeks 🤣😂😅🧐😎.
Rising in the sky
On a final note, I just got back from an Atlantic Islands holiday, and one of the adventures was at the famous Old Trafford stadium in Manchester to watch England vs Austria in the Women’s European Soccer Championship opener. The day before the match, around the corner from the stadium, we found an elaborate display carelessly scattered around the road. Someone had very carefully knitted a soccer pitch, ball, and at least eight player dolls. Spectacular in conception, but fallen into disrepair.
The atmosphere at the match was amazing, and my daughter and I even got to meet the Austrian goalkeeper, Zinsberger, who starts for our beloved Arsenal.
England won that night, and have now made it all the way to the final, this Sunday, against the mighty Germans. Quality of play through the tournament has been really high, and if you’re at all interested in any sports, I highly recommend tuning in to ESPN in the US. I think by now that knitted Manchester display has reassembled itself under the power of the new moon, and the dolls are playing out a dry run of the final. Just please, please, please, if England do win, don’t let them play their pet “Sweet Caroline“. For the love of mercy someone please ban that wretched song.
The new moon rode high in the crown of the metropolis
Shining—like who on top of this?
People was hustling, arguing and bustling
Gangsters of Gotham hardcore hustling
I'm wrestling with words and ideas
My ears is picky, seeking what will transmit
The scribes can apply to transcript
—Mos Def [Black Star] - Respiration
I went to the Black Star concert last night, and the crowd was right on the above lines, rapping along, with emphasis on the new moon. Respect to Denver, where heads don’t only know their hip-hop, but also their lunar phase. The Igbo calendar is a lunar one, and Despite what the colonial starched shirt Winterbottom said in Arrow of God, we take time extremely seriously, though with metaphorical reference points that a lazy observer would miss. New moons are supremely important, as the novel’s plot reveals.
Happy new moon, all! Back to beginnings, which are are the hungriest moment—actually, I guess the kids these days would say they’re the thirstiest. I’d be grateful for your help spreading the word about this space where I hope we can together nurture far-flung discussions of language, song, nature, artifice and culture. Share this newsletter with anyone you know who might be interested in those topics. Dá àlụ́ nu!
❧ Ókwú ❧ Égwú ❧ Ígwè ❧ Ńdụ̀ ❧