Liberation Jazz and Soul

Greetings, friends:

I heard it said, somewhere, that the days are long but the years are short. How true this is, especially in a time as uncertain as ours. The days do seem long, but February is already over!

We’ve had a busy couple of weeks at Baraza, most recently having hosted music journalist Marcus J. Moore for our first Baraza Session of the year, to have a wide-reaching discussion on his new book on Kendrick Lamar, as well as more expansively on hip hop, the global reach of Black American culture, authenticity in art and so much more. 

I wouldn’t do justice to say it was an incredibly rich, layered conversation that gave us a moment to see ourselves here in Nairobi not simply tethered to our “local context” and all its attendant issues, but also as part of the heritage of global Blackness. What a delight it is to see oneself, even just for a moment, as part of a bigger story, one that dares to imagine a kinder, gentler, more just world with room for all our humanity.

One thing that stood out in that conversation was our discussion of protest music as lament, as call to action, and even simply as bearing witness to everyday life. We’re accustomed to categorizing songs as protest music if they fit certain characteristics – an outspoken, angry tone, a hard edge that calls out injustice, and speaks truth to power. 

But last week’s Baraza Session reminded us that protest need not be ‘angry’ or outspoken. It can be an act of resistance to notice the small joys and tremendous beauty around us. It can even be a record with no lyrics at all, as Marcus highlighted with jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s work. 

Allow me to quote Marcus J. Moore on Kamasi Washington in this article in Rolling Stone: “Washington’s art seeks a higher vibration, beyond the despair and provocative tweets. As people separate themselves along racial and political lines, Washington wants you to see the good in humanity, the childlike innocence buried beneath the callus of pain and distrust.” That, in my book, is protest music in the most expansive sense of the word.

If you missed out on the conversation, we’ll have the video up on our YouTube channel and the audio version on before the next issue of this newsletter, so follow us on our social media handles to keep up to date on the latest.

In the meantime, here’s:

What We’re Reading: Delete Your Fake Account, a review of Lauren Oyler’s novel Fake Accounts in Jacobin Magazine. Oyler paints an incredibly accurate and bleak portrait “of a social media–addled world saturated with loneliness and alienation. But there must be a way out of the nightmarish social landscape she depicts,” writes Marianela D’Aprile in the review.

What We’re Watching: Crime and Justice on Showmax. The eight-part series is Kenya’s first Showmax Original, and in the first episode, two detectives investigate the gruesome murder of Abuya, a university student who was entangled in an illicit affair with a powerful politician (!) 

What We’re Listening To: Liberation Jazz and Soul, an exquisite 60-minute set of rare and somewhat familiar Black music from Marcus J. Moore’s personal collection. Marcus curated this playlist after completing his biography of Kendrick Lamar and needed some uplifting soul and spiritual healing.

As always, I remain yours,

Christine Mungai

Curator | Baraza Media Lab

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