Modern Griot Spotlight: “Studying for My PhD Mixtape”

Singer and violinist, Marques Toliver has released his new mixtape, “Studying for My PhD,” which is a compilation of 14 tracks commenting on the London riots. Toliver samples a variety of sources including Al Green, Nina Simone, Roberta Flack, Beyonce, Jackson 5, Bobby Womack, Shuggie Otis, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, James Baldwin speeches, and even a racist nursery rhyme. Together, they create a swirling mass of musical sounds and dialogue accompanying Toliver’s gentle voice and violin. And surprisingly it works. For those of you who don’t know who Marques Toliver is, this is the song I first heard from him:



Remember Desi Arnaz’s performance of Babalu on the show I Love Lucy? Well, Afrodiaspores wrote a post about the Afro-cuban origins of the song:

“Last night was the vigil, and today the day, celebrated as that of Saint Lazarus, associated among practitioners of the Afro-Cuban tradition Lucumí with the orisha Babalú-Ayé, also called Asojano. He is summoned with many other names throughout West Africa and in houses of Brazilian Candomblé. As a deity, he ‘rules’ disease, chiefly dermatological and venereal, as well as epidemics, including those of smallpox and HIV/AIDS. One of the most famous pilgrimages in Cuba leads to his shrine in El Rincón, and every December 16th, devotees gather to beseech him in anticipation of his feast day, the 17th, for healing of the physical and social body.
Of course, Babalú’s name entered the pop culture lexicon not through dissemination of his rich mythology or recognition of his worshippers’ complex practices, but with Cuban musician Desi Arnaz on “I Love Lucy” in the 1950s. As Philip Sweeney writes,

The singer Miguelito Valdés, who brought the conga to New York in the 1940s, acquired the nickname “Mr Babalú” with his version of a song toBabalú-ayé written by Margarita Lecuona, before the young Desi Arnaz usurped his position and became even more successful with it. (This links to the book The Rough Guide to Cuban Music by Philip Sweeney)

Different transcriptions exist of the song; I translated the version below for a course, and offer it here, warts and all. I do so not only to dramatize the difference between what viewers thought he may have been saying and the actual religiously inflected lyrics, but also to bring attention to their racial and gendered dimensions—typical of the ‘Afrocubanismo,’ complete with dialect and stereotypes about Afro-Cuban physiognomy, that had been promoted by composers of European descent from the 1920s onward. I always wonder whether Desi told Lucy exactly what he was singing.

Estan empezando lo velorios/ The vigils are beginning
Y que le hacemo a Babalú./ And what we do for Babalú.
Dame diecisiete velas/ Give me 17 candles
‘Pa ponerlo en cruz./ To put them in a cross.
Y dame un cabo de tabaco, Mayenye/ Give me a plug of tobacco, Mayenye,
Y un jarrito de aguardiente,/ And a little jar of aguardiente [rum]
Y dame un poco de dinero, Mayenye,/ And give me a little money, Mayenye,
Pa’ que me de la suerte./ So that it gives me luck.
Yo quiere pedir/ I want to ask
Que mi negra me quiera/ That my black woman love me
Que tenga dinero/ And that she have money
Y que no se muera./ And she not die.
Ay! Yo le quiero pedir a Babalú/ Ay! I want to ask Babalú
Una negra bembona como tu/ For a thick-lipped black woman like you
Que no tenga otro negro/ That she not have another black [man]
Pa’ que no se fuera./ So that she won’t go away.


Here are two videos of dancers dancing to “Babalu-aye”

Modern Griots Spotlight: “Soul Krops Presents: The Promised Land”

Rapper Kenny’s Myth released last week his new mixtape, “Soul Krops Presents: The Promised Land.” Sampling several sources, including afrobeat music, the album mixes afrofuturism and holistic spirituality. This is the description of the album:

The Promised Land is the overstanding that every man is ONE and thus we are all created perfectly. Standing on certainty we exert out purpose to BE. Superseding Good & Evil, Bad & Good, Right & Wrong and all separate states of mind. Refraining from outward searches of tangible treasures and searching inward for the intangible treasures inside. Let your Spirit be your guide.

Kenny’s Myth caught my ear not only because of his thought-provoking lyrics, but also his rhythmic interplay with the beats, especially in songs like “SoulKropper,” “The Promised Land,” “Gumbo,” and “Progress.”

Modern Griots: Exuma


Obeah consists of folk magical practices that are performed in Caribbean islands, such as in my parents’ islands of Barbados and Dominica. It is also practiced in the Bahamas where singer Macfarlane Gregory Anthony McKay (Tony McKay) was born in 1942, and he later adopted the name of one of its islands, Exuma. Active during the late 60s and throughout the 70s, Exuma’s music had a distinct sound that differed from more mainstream music at the time. Mixing together Bahamian folk music, such as junkanoo, with rock and pop music, he created his own style.

In his signature song, “Obeah Man,” Exuma creates his own mythical legend, singing about his conception by way of a lightning bolt and his fiery birth as well as meeting with with Charon (the boatman from the River Styx) and Hector Hippolyte, a well known Vodou priest. The soundtrack is filled with a mixture of sounds from howling wolves, croaking frogs, a variety of percussion and guitar riffs. Other songs, like :Mama Loi, Papa Loi, cover topics like zombies, which actually is a word that comes from Haitian creole.

Also a painter, he designed his own album covers. He was also friends with and composed for other musicians, like Nina Simone (“Obeah Woman”). Exuma recorded 12 albums, including Exuma I & II, Do Wah Nanny, Snake, and Reincarnation. Although he passed in 1997, Exuma’s memory still lives on with his daughter Kenyatta Mackey, who is also a singer.

More on Exuma

“Obeah Man”

“Mama Loi, Papa Loi”

What is Afrofuturism? Part 3

Here are two posts expanding more on the term afrofuturism:

Afrofuturism: A Beautiful History, A Brave New World” by Nicole D. Sconiers

“We have a beautiful history, and we shall create another in the future that will astonish the world.”
— Marcus Garvey

AfroFuturism is a culture that has emerged to render a portrait of the collective history, the present happenings, and the future prospects of people of color, where heretofore our stories and our roles have been skewed, misrepresented, and diminished in the mainstream social narrative. Sampling from the visual, sensual, and literary pallets of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, horror, and magic, Afrofuturism as a genre considers what it means to be of color throughout space and time, all while considering the present day influence of people of color upon the world, and our collective roles in shaping the eternally-unfolding future of humanity.

Many of us were Afrofuturists long before it had a name. The umbrella term for the Black presence in sci-fi, technology, magic and the like is a fairly modern creation, coined in 1994 by a culture critic named Mark Dery.  Although we apply this term retrospectively to encompass speculative fiction, film, art, and music created by people of color, we must recognize that the concepts and phenomenon fueling Afrofuturism have been around for as long as there have been people to observe it and communicate it.   Whether you call it mythology, ghost stories, parable, folktale, sci-fi, religious tale, or fantasy, people of color have always contemplated their origins in the same breath that they anticipated the fate of humankind. From the Dogon tribe to the Mayans, from the old negro spirituals to the tunes of Outkast, people of color have forever been passing down their accounts of what has come to pass upon our people and what is still yet to come. We will likely continue to do so until time the day that time leaves us all behind.

Afro-futurism” by Mark Rockeymoore

Afrofuturism is not science-fiction. It is not a mechanical, technology driven vision of the future because an afro ain’t never been about anything constricting or orderly, in the hierarchical sense. Rather, an afro is free-flowing, loving the wind. Changing, shifting and drifting on the breeze, bending this way, puffing out or just plain swaying gently from side to side, following the whimsical inclinations of the melanated person upon who’s head it is perched. An afro can be taken from, it can be added to, yet it still retains its own natural structure, its own spiral and bouncy nature. It is flexible, yet patterned. It is about synthesis and holism. It is about accepting the kitchens and working the waves on the crown. It is about dreading, locking and following the patterns of nature where they lead, yet following a laterally delineated order. It is about the interplay between dominant and recessive genes. It is about diversity. It is about knowing purposes and determining the placement of diverse variables within their proper context.

Afrofuturism is about knowledge. It is about intuitively understanding the harmonics of the Earth and solar system, their electromagnetic interactions: the effect of a butterfly in Brazil upon a hurricane in France, the weather patterns of the Earth, the living cycles of our days and nights and the stilling of the mind. The rotation and evolution of the galaxy and the oneness of the universe. The true, inner connectivity between each being on this planet. The simplicity of knowing truly, what love is. It is about the science of relationships, of clearing the mental and spiritual debris from one’s life in a healthy, systematic fashion. Of cleansing the body, not only our own, but that of the earth that we, as a culturally diverse people, have helped to subjugate. It is about shattering the walls separating the sciences and realizing the oneness of all creation. Knowing, and loudly declaiming its presence and purpose in the larger scheme of creation. Afrofuturism simply is!



The Original 7ven, originally The Time, is back with their first single, “Trendin’.” Including members Morris Day, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Jellybean Johnson, Monte Moir, Jesse Johnson and Jerome Benton, this group became popular in Prince’s film “Purple Rain.” Two of its members, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, became well-known producers for artists like Janet Jackson. Twenty-one years after their last album, they have returned with a new album Condensate.

While the song is somewhat of a novelty and a little corny, the group taking advantage of the popularity of twitter, the coolness they exude quickly trumps any of that. And with Morris Day’s ego (I say that in the best possible way) and the group’s signature funky style, the song fits them perfectly. It is 80s funk meeting the new millennium digital age. By the way, tomorrow on the Centric channel will be The Original 7ven’s takeover weekend starting at 10am!