Intro. Break Beats with Jazz Sample Wuhan Soundtrack #8 My Mama My Mama Catalog-I Woke Up Like This-not sung-read not heard on the front of a T-Shirt on Luoyo Rd. Wuhan, China sometime in November when the sun showed it's ass after the agony of winter had presented itself. Only about three Negroes on the street- one from the Congo (dressed like African American with baby dreads), one from Guayana (dressed like us), another from Chad (dressed like us) and me (dressed like whatever-too old to be b-boy to Outkast to be corporate). Time: Evening walking to get a cup of coffee at the Starbucks. Personnel and Billboard: Chinese young'n six three with black skinny jeans on, headphones, and jet black hoody with white words painted on the front-I WOKE UP LIKE THIS
Shit is Real.
Old Code Negro Spiritual for the Old Heads
I once was lost
but now I'm found
I learned language, the mother tongue, through my mother, that should be obvious, My father's speech more muted horn, both codes would confuse any child. A child needs an education, but when you learn to "really read", ain't nobody really teaching you to read that. Reading for books and shit, not somebody moaning in the street. What you hear in the home, what you glimpse on the street, is the abyss of uncoded knowledge. Learn to read that and you be a sage, hustler, or outkast on the fringes of the empire wandering on the other side of Conrad's Heart of Darkness. You'll be the jungle my friend with it's shit before the white man came.
It's even more complicated when somebody is teaching you to read a text in a language where black means dark night motherfuckers who can bring Armageddon like the Mother Fucking Ruckus move into your neighborhood WuTang clan early nineties, make shit scatter, scatter like Fela Fela Africa in America, if you don't know the music, learn to love it baby cuz you one click off of evil with the devil in you. God help us. Only by the grace of God, that somebody came and gave us Jesus.
Motherfuckers in the Academy doing new research on shit black folks done handed down for the last ten generations. Slave speak and negated physics of surviving crazy ass shit packaged up like Noni juice, Moringa seeds, cotton, tea, opium, rubber, kola nuts, and triangle trade on your ass for the white market. Smart Negro go colonial. I'll write about this shit. I know what I know, but what I know ain't how it goes. Ain't no words ain't no code, Parliment Funkadelic, Motherlode. You'll discover yourself cuz everything else has been claimed like the boot print of some dude from Liverpool with black dust in his lungs trying to win the lottery in an empire who travels across the deep blue wide. Make your lie and hide and if you are lucky, maybe you'll get a genius award.
But you ain't gotta go to Africa. Inner city check one two one two. You can import from the innerpost of your own city, depending on the year the place where the buildings lie abandoned after the King died and the fires burned. Never rebuilt. Abandoned, until interests dropped down low like it was hot in a Luke Skywalker song from the Miami forever of Escobar madness. Though lately, it could be the suburbs with its new host of immigrants arriving amidst the white wave of imminent domain that rebuilds and reshapes until the rent is to high and folks who live there just can't afford it.
Maybe education is more a way in than a way out. I mean it's like downloading the codes of the empire into someone's brain. Matrix. I mean, shit, I'd like to own some institution whites pay to come to, to give them the tools they need to not stop believing in colonialism as a remedy for that rock/jack your body fear that makes them feel the sky is falling when I walk by. Lord knows when I walk by, they think they see me, but they don't. They see illusion written into the code, I might just grab me a heavy weight gold chain and the fat gold ring to go with it, to be it. To make the magic that more devastating. Nostalgic good ole days shit on replay-remember when. The Mis-education. Blacks with no education or educational apparatus teach for free. It has always been that way. Cuz we owned. AIN'T GOT NO INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY. You get knowledge with the body, without argument. If your fist is balled tight enough. If you know how to make it rain, a Negro will let go of their pain. Evaporate, spook mist, Nigger will kiss your ring.
Just like slavery. Check Dave Brubeck getting the Pulitzer for life time achievement while Ellington stands in the shadows waiting in pure elegance.
The trade in racism like the trade in slaves. You ain't got no knowledge but can be authentic negro, trope, and caricature. The trick is to show how you know the code, that you have been educated. If not that, you are abyssmal. You go to the other side, the dark side. Wandering around wondering if discipline works in the field. Wondering what the work becomes if you put it in, unable to figure out how picking cotton will not turn you into Master.
You have no abstract my son. This is the great tradition of this.....but if you study, ah, yes. perhaps...
So the trade in racism persists as fancy, color of the day, trend, skinny jeans and makes me wanna holla in the crossover market. Clothes, suites, and a twisted tongue are not without tactical advantage. I mean you can do shit with that, that you can't do with what my Mama and Daddy taught me true, true; but still my Mama can sing.
We gotta running joke in my house that the child with both parents wouldn't have the free black space to produce hip-hop. Most honest working folks call negro creativity a dice roll. I don't blame 'em, raised that way myself. Somebody would slap the shit out of you, or smack the gibberish out of your mouth if you came from the right family and happened to think hip-hop as some soup of words stewed in your soul. What the fuck is you saying? Shit don't make no sense. Them New Orleans Negroes might be different even though Wynton came up in some different shit to go with his perfection, fighting with his brother in public over playing Sting's music while he is throned King of Jazz at Julliard alternating between classical and classical. Yes, I know it is confusing, better to listen to the music. But truth is, nigger play pop music with just a little creative control over the way the track go and shit won't be pop no more. Quincy Jones on Thriller, how you like me now-the Michael Jackson catapult into the iconic.
In other words it is hard to set up Negro code, and even harder for it to be recognized. The song performed is deceptive. Code damned by the walls of performance. Mofos watch that shit all day, like speculation. You in a foreign country and somebody rises up to the transcendent-motherfucker even transcends but is still comfortable to call you nigger-the secret hidden in plain view. Obvious they don't know, but they have spectated, imagined, and some more shit.
But the they is simply an object in the way we sway. They come back to that original. They know who they are when they hear our music, our are, they know, they live it, have lived it. We are all one thing.
We done it so well in music, folks imagine that it is easy. For children to make rhymes somebody gotta think that it is hip to talk like that, twist up speech, and bring the ruckus. Got a look at all these other field negro blacks and imagine for a second they know something the rest of the world does not. It always begins there. Smart Negroes get trained out of themselves in college trying to explain why when they said Bob-nobody got it was Bob Marley-nobody bobbed their head to Trench Town Rock played on memory lane in their head by a boombox that sat on a concrete stoop when rude boys once roamed the streets of Kingston. Isolating and confusing-the wrong audience boo-but do what you gonna do. Get that prize, get that prize. Jesus lock down Church Folks the same way. Ain't nobody going Nat Turner with that imagining Israelites and Pharoah's army drownded in the Red Sea. The ghost of white supremacy come by for final clean in up in one of those windowless vans I seen in Philly in the nineties with a big boned muscle dude who look likes he just became white immigrated in from some country in Eastern Europe big hands with black leather gloves on cracking his knuckles. For real for real. Freddie Gray rough rides, that type of shit.
Folks act like negro code, something we can own, something that sound good ain't shit cuz they smart, but maybe they just seasoned right. Little salt on their back, give you good reason to have the thought that "this is the way the world is" rise up like a legitimate dream. Some of us cannot afford nothing else. So the code floods over the banks that year and we know some new music, some new perspective-negated until it becomes entertainment.
I'll thank the ancestors, swinging low in a different heaven where everybody is still black and God is too. White people'll get there one day, when they stop this crazy shit. Don't blame 'em, they'll get there's in the afterlife.
I'm saying mumble,mumble, mumbo jumbo, is ground zero for negro creativity. Everything you ever said was considered that. Shit even your perfection in the code of the empire is reduced to strange complement.-evidence that you ain't really got shit. It ain't really all that ingenious, the task is simply made difficult by the problem-how to speak clearly when nobody hear you, and your other option is speak like somebody else for clear tactical reasons. Hard for the black educated, wanna get over-heads to stand for that. Better the child become a poet than a hip-hop head, which is barely worth a damm thing either, but chances are higher-maybe some white folks will listen-but only if you study hard.
Study the masters.
Anyway, my mother sang in the background of all the important things in the world. The real soundtrack unrecorded, field nigger shit, mixed with the elegance of strings, horns, and the sophistication you use to make a little beauty on a hard day. Sometimes with a bottle, sometimes with a typewriter and papers thrown all across the tables and chairs. Sometimes with stare in your face you need to listen this is history. The crackle in the voice or the selection said something given the code mixed with the Habari-Gani news of the day.
Sang while she was working, mixed the blues with work, which is I guess where they have always been. Robert Hayden on the cut, "What did I know, What did I know of love's austere and lonely places."
Her singing would give many of the most well trained negroes a run for their money; especially if they graduated to the social club of I can't stand nigger's music, that shit remind me too much of home, sophisticated etiquette of the what we used to call Uncle Toms. Not to say they exist, but sometimes you just haven't coded the proper word. Everybody gotta do what they gotta do. Maybe we got Uncle Tom, Harriet Beacher Stowe and shit, wrong; but the sentiment is still profound. The upgrade to the big white house, shined shoes, spotless silverware and melancholy about the good old days.
Smart negroes would recognize the music, but might not get the intelligence. Cuz they had to leave home to get there. Cuz they had to negate home, forget home, or stand somewhere foreign in their own country imaging they were not home. Never was home. Shit, I don't know.
Probably scare their ass to death, ghost of their ancestors who perfected drums so complex we probably ain't played but one fifth of what was in Africa. The symphony of drums stuffed into one mouth with words. Oh, no, they would say. Not my child, not my son, just like some cheap Hollywood film with senseless crime and violence that bleeds into black lives matter.
They will not gamble with their lives. I am sure they would say that. They will not manage the odds of being able to do something with that given all the other Negroes who can, sing, dance or make something sound revolutionary. It's tighter out there than spandex on twerkers at the Galaxy Night Club on a Friday night where the eagle flys. Tighter than niggers looking for crack money on a dark no streetlights street in 1988.
Our code is not confused, but rather unreconciled. But I say
All the shit lined up.
Only way to fuck it up
Keep your mouth shut
Her father was illiterate, her mother an educated nurse, her brothers and sisters a strange band of gangsters, engineers, lovers, hard drinkers, and dancers. Just one generation from the field, my grandaddy taught her the thing many of you would consider a mumble. You would not understand. The anger, the frustration, the leather strap and rage, is part of the code, though it is not words; and I am sure that is why it would confuse you. It confused her too and became part of her blues, part of what she sang.
It is the field. I say cotton and you think a fiber shipped from one place to another. You think of profit and the shape of an economy. He thought of his hands. His fingertips reaching out into the cool morning air, knowing its pitch perfectly. Could tell you how hot it would be. What it would become. The sweat on his back, or the place where it aches from being hunched down, when he first learned how to do the do.
I was taught that song, the way my grandaddy was taught field. There's an angry master who chants commands somewhere in all of our lives. He says mind over matter, which means mind over body. He builds his big white house and imports slaves, stands on a hill saying what it means to be man and human. We look up the hill and the position seems to say this is true. He knows the truth. His code is supreme.
He grows angry and frustrated when he does not how we will work or accommodate his puffed chest and tales of the motherland. He is capable of brutality. Say on the day his wife will not give him some. He receives a letter from home and is reminded his family did not come with him and their tiny place outside the city of his birth is the muck and despair of a dying land that has already eaten its soul. Illusion, but yes, code. This the reality birthed. The brutal code. Us against them, them against us. Discovery and chanting in a foreign language knowing they are like you and fear the foreign, which is why you must subdue. Why you must do what you must do. His temper may flare and he may take to lash. It is an all too common agency. Brutality in the wake of frustration; but we believe he is more than that, and not capable of less-less like us. So we learn to believe in anger as much as we learn to believe in him, as much as we learn to believe in work, as much as we learn to walk into the morning saying this shit is fucked up, but I'ma get it in anyway.
Our most important school is here in the fields where we were taught by God-the earth under our feet and the heaven above our heads. Oh yes, the sun could be harsh, but there is still a giving there that is undeniable. It is the place between the rows of earth that seem endless, where we shouted to one another or sang. Yes, sang out, the first code that said this is us here, in a different place, doing a different thing, but we still the same people.
It's all too cliche now. The educated abstract up in your dome like hip-hop and American history played on headphones, but that's where the secret is seeded up. Those paths in the field are as trampled as the concrete we work now. Somebody walked there.
how this thing
how this thing go
gotta swing low
gotta swing low
oh yes I know
how this thing go
gotta swing low
The song give you what you need to know about what was planted. My people are the ones who stood beside every plant, for every moment, and recorded that history. It is in our bodies. Oh, Hell Yeah my Mama can sing.
Sugar for your tongue
Tobacco for your lungs
Cotton for your touch
You think it ain't much
But I know
Yes, I know
It is the elegance and beauty of the jazz ballad that plagues her most. Her music is the perfect child of the field, and the place where it first met the city. It is the first gasp when one enters the maze and finds themselves in the flood of history. She bends notes. She twists things up. If you are confused as I was, it is because you know; but do not have the words for it.
You should be perplexed, for that is part of the song. Rage elevated to beauty,
simplicity and destroyed dreams. The cry for mercy that seems unanswered, the impossible completed. She say my grandaddy would funk up in a rage for what seemed like weeks. Thelonius Monk in circles like when his music played, the mean stomp elevated to music. His was anger, but Thelonius, the geometry. It is a choice at the bottom of the hill. It is intellectualism, water dammed on the river? What now? they ask. Sometimes he would beat his wife. She muses some of it was the illiteracy. His wife, short in stature looking almost Asian like she was from the Philippines was the daughter of a preacher and half Native American. The slope of her face says its true, but I don't know. When my mother was young, Granpa would come to town and ride them across the Cumberland Bridge. Underneath that bridge years later, my Uncles would fish under the concrete, catch catfish, and bring them home. She married down instead of up. She had almost escaped the field, but married back into it.
And it is field that torments the man. My inheritance. It is his rage and solution and what he knows. He knows the abstract but does not have the code guarded by those who use it to manage his place. They plant him on a plantation and even when he grow, he know but know that they will never imagine his knowing. It is simply not in the code. He is locked outside a gate and cannot enter. But he knows what he knows, which is why there is rage. It is not doubt.
Don't be confused-rage is not doubt.
A lesser mind will confuse the two. Take the first as criminality and doubt as compliance. Both are illusions.
For in the field the work is grounded in the earth beneath your feet and rises up to the back. This is knowledge. It stretches the lungs. The breath mixes with the precise place you stand. If you cannot sing, you will, eventually, give it time. You tongue can be banned. You can be given a foreign language, but eventually you will sing. Singing is inevitable.
Wherever the code can be placed an kept, among the lowly like water, it goes down, We get down. Always been getting down. We will always get down.
Invisibility is to comfortable a trope suggesting the knowledge is almost irrelevant. We have always been seen, but never really contemplated. I know it is a lot to ask. But that is why the music is primed for the audience who does not know. They too imagine their rise above the field. We are their compromise with the true lessons learned, a floodgate. We are their forgetting. Because they do not know themselves, they can look upon us and remember what never was, imagine that the performance is for them. Imagine that they have recreated Europe in America, taken the abstraction of Greece and built it upon these shores. But they too are field negroes and the land they laid claim to is their justification for abstraction, their experimenting ground.
My mother stopped singing for audiences long ago, it wasn't for me, or anybody else, and that is what made it so hard.
One makes peace with the field by finding the root of abstraction. One finds balance through understanding their particular place between heaven and earth. The field has taught and the sky will recognize. The rites of culture preserve the sacredness of the field. The being born and original reality of breath, lungs, and a place to stand. Of all the things we imagine our ancestors knew and did. This is first. This is certain.
It is not a question of will.
Our confusion about what a will is, lends itself to the same thing we hate about ourselves and others. The will does not control, it governs. Go get your dictionary to learn the difference. It is subtle and distinct, like her music.
What is demanded changes, but demand is constant. Even in the code of the empire, constant adjustment is necessary. My name is lost because people imagine they know it, not because it does not exists. In the equation of my demise, incorrect naming is one of the prime numbers.
None of us are invisible, substitute seen but not known. Every last one of my ancestors are known and not known.
It is the South in her, though I was raised in the North of D.C.
When I was young it confused me. The singing of another code seemed like conflict. During the days we would sing the Christian songs at our tiny school, but they never sounded like gospel and could never pass for jazz. There was something military about all of them-a set path we followed. Regiment. Belief. The army armegeddon approach to love-love of God and want of heaven. One day we will all go to Heaven and the sinners will be punished-fascinating music. If one listens closely one can see how regiment was initially meant for them, not for me with its steady pace rhythmed towards a destination that always seemed known. Heaven yes, Heaven. We do not know, but we know that. That is where we are going. Yes, it sounds like my people and the dream of freedom. The box of aspiration that begins and ends in America. A mantra we adopt to show we are different but want to escape that. A mantra we adopt to show our transcendence, to be like them with secrets in plain view. It is a way we do not contest the code. It is how we perform.
There must be nothing more amazing that watching us do this. To imagine the field in us has been wiped clean and that one day we will rise like them out of the field on the back of an almost hallucinogenic abstraction.
Onward Christian Soldiers dressed in our our blue uniforms. The girls in plaid skirts and longs socks, and the boys in dress blues, mine riddled by holes and patches on the knees.
I was the troublesome child plagued by visions and equations, by music and proper speech.
If not in body, in mind. Almost always busy bouncing my joy and discontent between the two. The mind after I had completed my work; and the body when the doors of the school opened for recess or at the end of the day. I ran through them towards a freedom that seemed to arise after each session. Each day had it's own predictable tension and subsequent release.
But I wander a bit here, as I have wandered all of my life in between some explanation of reality that does not fit with what I have experienced. It is my struggle with the language. My struggle with the code.
Learning the language led me to a place where the logic evaporated. Indeed my mother's singing conflicted with the code. Those white people she sent me to school with, how could she transcend the laws of the Bible and Heaven with talk of their difference and shotguns, their I hate you nigger, and they don't know what they are talking about. Their strange God is love mixed in the stew.
She had sent me to learn the code; but it was all tactics. But their tactics were conviction. She did not want me to believe; she wanted me to get ahead. But only her singing could teach me the difference. There was the code, impossible for those who taught me to understand or create. It was there bent and twisted, rage and sorrow, joy and hell yeah rising from the field, crafted into something she had already learned, but still a nigger needed education. Different from the tradition of the long breathed singers-the ones who knew, the inevitable gospel.
It is the desire to move beyond performance that has the black writer and intelligentsia turn to argument and rhetoric. It is ego driven force worshipped in the myths of the country. We imagine we have been regulated to the place without code and must enter. We imagine our privilege is force, now that our ancestor's blood has soaked the fields and the plants grow again in the valleys and the hills rise with the evidence deep in their center.
But I don't buy that shit. Give me a code and I can regulate everything you say totalitarian style. I can control the floodgates on the river of knowledge that enters the empire. My scholars reconcile each word with what is already known, regardless of its accuracy. Their uncertainty is the final note, justified by the annals they have been exposed to, the field they have known. The work is done with conviction, utter conviction. No matter the change, no matter what the head learns, the root is we run this shit. The root is our version of the field is the pinnacle. We know what we know and this is how it goes.
The work we do is a stare into the mirror each morning, and set to a clock they believe tells the precise time compared to what. In this way they are helpless. Another reason there is no argument. It is simply time. A version of the field crafted to civilization must be lived out. So be it.
In my middle age, I am convinced that most people do what they do. Our solutions are pitiful and admirably human. We buy shit. We fuck it out. We eat to excess. We get angry. We become depressed. We develop habits and build dams to keep the river of emotion, the thing that falls from the sky, the undeniable reality of our existence from flowing over the edge of the levees we have built; though it always floods. Rain comes from the sky. It is magic. Sometimes it is too much to bear. I understand now those are the times she sang and reverted to some lost code.
The song could be any song, and she will change it up. Add to it, what she knows precise day and time, mood, wind, weather, My God they are worrying me, Lord Help us now, give us strength. The thing the code of the empire denies, she will add-lib and change it up into the music that she knows. Another code, inevitably rising up where the other one breaks down.