Kalamu ya Salaam's information blog


FEBRUARY 2, 2016

FEBRUARY 2, 2016




The militant

philosopher of

Third World





Frantz Fanon

Frantz Fanon


In 1953 Fanon moved to Algeria to work in the small town of Blida, about 50 miles from the capital Algiers. He applied for a position as a psychiatrist, having recently qualified. Fanon did not leave France for Algeria because he predicted the future publishing success of The Wretched of the Earth, or that a war and revolution against France was about to break out. Algeria transformed Fanon. At the large hospital in Blida he experimented with therapies that he had seen at Saint Alban and developed with the Spanish revolutionary psychiatrist François Tosquelles. After 1954 the hospital was quickly drawn into the war.

The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution

The hospital that had been for a brief period a sanctuary for those physically and psychologically injured was sucked into the maelstrom. Members of Fanon’s staff were arrested, some beaten, others had joined in the strike action called by the Front de Libération National; others went to fight in the mountains. As Fanon’s colleague Alice Cherki remembers, ‘the hospital was considered to be a veritable nest of fellaghas. Fanon was certainly a target … a sweep up was being prepared.’ There was no neutrality. A repressive noose was tightening around Blida’s hospital.

Fanon’s working life was also overturned. His was now seeing patients who were suffering from torture, or inflicting it. Despite Fanon’s post-1961 image as an apostle of violence, he treated, with great humanity French-Algerian torturers – some of these stories appear as case notes in the final chapter of his last book. Both torturer and tortured in Fanon’s psychiatric practice were victims of the Algerian war.

One story illustrates the Fanon’s humanity. A patient, a policeman, was referred to Fanon. He complained that he could not sleep at night. Each time he fell asleep he was woken by the sound of screaming. Each scream, he explained to Fanon, he recognised as the screams of a man beaten up, hung from his wrists for two hours, and the final highest pitch was the scream as a person was being electrocuted. Fanon helped to secure the policeman sick leave after which he returned to France. In the middle of one consultation Fanon was called out. Josie, his wife, suggested to the policeman that he wait in their house inside the hospital grounds. Instead the policeman decided to walk in the hospital grounds. A short time later Fanon saw the patient doubled over dripping with sweat. He had passed one of his victims in the hospital. Fanon gave him a sedative and calmed him down. Fanon then went in search of the tortured Algerian. Eventually he was discovered cowering in a toilet, terrified that the police had been called and he would be arrested and tortured again. Finally, Fanon convinced him that he was mistaken and that he had not just seen the policeman.

Such was the work of this apostle of violence. After leaving Algeria in 1957 Fanon and his wife Josie move to Tunisia. Tunis had recently become one of the bases for the FLN (National Liberation Front) outside Algeria as militants and cadres were forced to flee the country with the defeat of the Battle of Algiers. Increasingly Fanon was absorbed in his work for the FLN and focused on building support and practical solidarity for the Algerian cause in sub-Saharan Africa. He also developed lasting links with other militants in national liberation organisations on the continent. Frequently Fanon championed the FLN way of doing things: an insurrection followed quickly by an escalation to the armed struggle. In this respect Fanon shared a naive belief in the ‘armed’ route to liberation with Guevara.

Dangerous Voluntarism

While there is much to distinguish Fanon from Che Guevara; Fanon’s understanding of revolutionary transformation, his sophisticated grasp of national liberation, but in his advocacy of the armed struggle (no matter what), the two men were remarkably and tragically similar. In Guevara’s laughable and tragic – though courageous – attempts to export the Cuban model to the Congo in 1965 and Bolivia in 1967, he made the same mistakes as Fanon. Both men shared a dangerous voluntarism that saw action and armed revolutionary struggle as a simple act of will. Fanon was a far more sophisticated thinker and theorist than Guevara but he shared many of the Argentinians belief in the heroic guerrilla. As Guevara sought a simple exporting of guerrilla war in the mid and late 1960s, so Fanon had earlier.

Yet Fanon would not have subscribed to Guevara’s belief that it was the duty of a revolutionary to make revolution, that became a rallying cry of many ‘true’ revolutionaries in 1960s and 1970s, but he did slip disastrously into a similar voluntarism with his fervour for the Algerian model. Still the differences between the men need to be restated, in case there is any confusion. While Guevara celebrated small bands of guerrilla fights, Fanon saw mass involvement of ordinary people essential for making the revolution and remaking – recerebralising – the people themselves. Revolution as an act of self-emancipation resides deeply in Fanon’s revolutionary thinking, but is not present in any meaningful sense in Guevara’s writing or practice.

As we have seen, Ghana in the late 1950s was a place of exciting meetings and possibilities. Accra was both host to pan-African conferences and a HQ for nationalist leaders and parties. Fanon loved it. He met other men – sadly mostly men – as driven and possessed as himself. Fanon did not like people who held themselves back, went to bed early instead of talking and arguing through the night. Before and after the diagnosis of Leukaemia, Fanon would repeatedly state that he did not like people who limited themselves – in French ‘s’economiser’ – literally ‘economised’ on their output of energy, conserving and limiting their activity and engagement. He criticised Simone de Beauvoir, after he had met her with Jean-Paul Sartre in Rome in July 1961. De Beauvoir was, according to Fanon, ‘one of those people’ who held themselves back. He knew and understood this side to himself, describing such exuberance, his total commitment to life as ‘doing a Fanon.’ In Ghana he met many such ‘Fanon’s’ but none with his penetrating and unyielding vision.

Liberate the north from the south

In late 1960 Fanon received authorisation to carry out a reconnaissance of a possible West African supply route into southern Algeria, but also an entry point for an African Legion to attack the French from the south. ALN troops needed to be supplied with extra forces and armaments. Supplies were cut off by the French but ALN troops fighting the French in the south could, hypothetically, be reached from sub-Saharan Africa. Fanon set out to prove this could be done.

The mission revealed a basic historical and geographical fact about the continent: at no point was the desert an impenetrable divider of the continent separating the civilised north from the barbaric south. The view that sub-Saharan Africa was populated by savages dominated the European thought throughout the 19th and much of the 20th century. In reality there had existed for many millennia a continual flow of goods and people between the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa. Gold travelled north, as certain handicrafts, salt and meats travelled south in a vibrant trade that crisscrossed the expanse of desert.

Fanon wanted to find out if a route could be used by the African Legion to replenish combatants in Wilaya V and VI. In October 1960 Fanon set out. He kept a field journal that he intended to use when he returned to write a report for the FLN leadership on the prospects for a Southern Front. What is remarkable about the report – which is found in his posthumous collection of writings Pour la Revolution Africaine – is that although these were rough notes written in the difficult circumstances of an uncomfortable and clandestine trip across 2000 miles, the language was powerful and passages beautiful. It seems Fanon was incapable of writing plain prose. The journal starts with a series of bullet points, ‘To put Africa in motion, to cooperate in its organisation, in its regroupment, behind revolutionary principles. To participate in the ordered movement of a continent – this was really the work I had chosen.’ He then gives a continental survey: Mali was ‘ready for anything’ offering a ‘bridgehead’ to ‘precious perspectives.’ The Congo ‘which constituted the second landing beach for revolutionary ideas’ but is now caught up in an ‘inextricable network of sterile contradictions.’ He then stresses the need, though now delayed, to ‘besiege the colonialist’s citadels known as Angola, Mozambique, Kenya and the Union of South Africa.’

fanon 02

The field journal expresses Fanon’s commitment to African unity distinct from the hollow sloganising from much of the nationalist movement on the continent. Fanon’s Africa was not the continent ‘of the poets, the Africa that is sleeping, but the Africa that stops you sleeping because the people are impatient to be doing something, to speak and to play.’ Fanon states the objectives of his mission – a declaration of determined will, ‘We must immediately take the war to the enemy, leave him no rest, harass him, cut off his breath. Let’s go. Our mission: to open up the Southern Front. To bring in arms and munitions from Bamako. Stir up the population of the Sahara; infiltrate our way into the high plains of Algeria. Having taken Algeria to the four corners of Africa, we have to go back with the whole of Africa to African Algeria, towards the north; towards the continental city of Algiers. That is what I want; great lives … cross the desert. To wear out the desert, to deny it, to bring together Africa and to create the continent … take the absurd … the impossible, rub it up the wrong way and hurl a continent into the assault.

Fanon’s contribution

For Fanon it was not enough to celebrate the achievements of decolonization, it was necessary to educate, to strain at the limits of national freedom and to provoke and generate debate. The All-African Peoples Conference in 1958 in Ghana was the place to do this, and to learn about the movements on the continent. Ghana was both a sub-Saharan headquarters for movements on the continent still reaching towards independence and a laboratory for real-existing nationhood and independence. The country was already a collection of vivid and painful contradictions. Many white people had stayed on to assist the new government. Even the Ghanaian army was run by British officers who were on lease to the new country until its own officers had been trained. At the same time the Nkrumah was an outspoken advocate for pan-Africanism. For a generation of young militants he was a figure to emulate. Fanon would learn much from his temporary posting in Ghana.

Three years later, in 1961, recently diagnosed with leukaemia and understanding severity of the prognosis, with life ebbing from him Fanon dictated his masterwork, The Wretched of the Earth to his wife, friends and secretaries. When he seemed to recover temporarily and find some strength after a new round of treatment he travelled to the Tunisian/Algerian border (Ghardimaou in Tunisia) and spoke to the assembled troops of the Armée de Libération Nationale (ALN). Many were illiterate, readying themselves to fight the French (and enter a free Algeria). He spoke to them from his recently drafted and now most famous chapter in The Wretched of the Earth about the pitfalls of national consciousness. He described how the national bourgeoisie after independence is only too happy to accept crumbs thrown to it from the departing colonial powers. Without social reform, without political and economic transformation, national liberation would be an empty shell. Fanon’s parting gesture in his last public appearance was a warning to militants of the anti-colonial struggle: make this independence for yourselves, ensure that the self-organisation and confidence you have developed in the fight against the French becomes a sustained and continuous programme of revolutionary transformation after the Algerian flag is raised. On the threshold of victory Fanon said be warned of your leaders, ‘No leader, however valuable he may be, can substitute himself for the popular will; and the national government … ought first to give back their dignity to all citizens, fill their minds and feast their eyes with human things, and create a prospect that is human because conscious and sovereign men dwell therein.’ Fanon’s final act was to the revolutionary movement that he devoted the last and most important years of his life, but he was also subversive of that revolution.

After Fanon’s final and exhausting resurrection from his terminal sickness he accepted treatment in the United States and flew there in October 1961 from his exiled Tunisian home. Fanon had stubbornly refuse treatment in the United States, condemning the country for its lynching and discrimination of black people. He crossed the Atlantic for the last time, but to no avail. On 6 December 1961 he died. He was 36 years old.

Leo Zeilig’s biography of Frantz Fanon, The Militant Philosopher of Third World Liberation, has just been published by I B Tauris.








bull & bass



The Bull & The Bass (2014)
Directed by Becca Hyman

(This is the story of the grandfather I never met. My mum’s telling it to me here for the first time.)

16mm documentary set in 1940s Britain: a Jamaican immigrant tries to balance dreams and reality when he is stuck between fatherhood and being a jazz musician.

Behind the scenes of my graduate film, taking y’all through the film + early concept process. Sound process + cut footage coming soon.

Interview / Camera / Sound: 
Frankie Drew
Karen Hyman
& Becca Hyman







Anthony Braxton. Photo by Peter Gannushkin. Courtesy of Sacks & Co.

Anthony Braxton. Photo by Peter Gannushkin. Courtesy of Sacks & Co.

Anthony Braxton

The iconoclastic composer discusses

his newest opera, the differences between

American and European music culture,

and space aliens.



by Nate Wooley



Anyone possessing a passing familiarity with Anthony Braxton as a public figure has probably fallen prey to the caricature of him as a bespectacled, musical “mad scientist” in a cardigan sweater. As a caricature it is not far off, but it only addresses the surface trappings of a singular saxophonist, composer, and man of incredible depth and power. From his earliest days as part of Chicago’s AACM to the present third millenium, Braxton has used a saxophone and a pencil to radically define a new, non-genre specific, musical language, making him the persona sui generis of the modern American iconoclast.

I met with Braxton on the occasion of a series of premieres, including his massive Trillium Jopera, which is being produced by the Tri-centric Foundation: an association of like-minded composer/performers which works with Braxton to present his music as well as promote the ideas of new generations. We met at (cornetist and Tricentric Foundation Executive Director) Taylor Ho Bynum’s Connecticut home and, over a glass of wine, discussed generational thinking, music and global politics, the role of the Tricentric Foundation in Braxton’s vision of the future and the possibility that aliens may have absconded with a Boeing 777.

Nate Wooley: I was thinking about the fact that you started working in a period in America when there were a lot of people under tension , a situation that created a lot of iconoclastic work. People were looking at dogmas in music—or in anything really—and saying, There’s got to be some other way, I hear something that’s different so I’m going to do that. And then for some reason, this kind of thinking just seemed to stop for twenty or thirty years.

Anthony Braxton: I have said this before, but it’s important to say again: if not for the wonderful people of Western Europe, I would have no career at all in music. I am grateful to be an American, I love my country, and only in America could a guy like me grow up and learn about the kind of things I’ve learned about. But it was the Europeans who gave me an opportunity to actually play.

As you know, our music is not just theoretical, you have to play. So much of what we do is worked out in the real-time moment. In academia, in my opinion, the challenge is to find a new generation of scholars who won’t just stay on the compound, who will go into real life with their work. What happens, from my viewpoint, is that theory becomes confused with the it of the music. The teaching of music has become so conservative: if you’re playing bebop you’ve got to play like Charlie Parker, you have to play like John Coltrane, not understanding that that music came together as a way to deal with the challenges of the real-time moment, a hope of a future, and of course, a respect for historical precedent.

Guys that I’ve come up with, we’re in our seventies now. I’m a year and two months from being seventy years old! I’m running out of time. I want to go out like my hero, Elliott Carter. When he was 103 or 105 he was cranking out music. I can see the cosmic forces pulling on Mr. Carter: “You’re coming with us.” “No! Another orchestra piece!” I want to go out like that, like John Coltrane—the people who were fighting for their music. I would like to do the best that I can do in the time space that I have. 

For me, life has actually kind of simplified itself. I know what I want to do to finish up being on this planet, the work I want to do with music . I was very fortunate to have the kind of role models who helped to set me on the path that I would take in my life. I would like to finish it up, to push the concepts and experiences I’ve had as far as I can before leaving the planet. 

But looking around at all that has transpired in the last thirty years, it’s hard to understand America anymore. To see this interconnectivity come into place the way that it has has been really interesting. In the music system that I’ve tried to erect, that connectivity will have real relevance in the sense of connecting compositions, connecting performance spaces in different parts of the planet to have one performance that takes in inputs from outside sources. In the real-time life space, that connectivity—we’re still, as a species, trying to understand how to use it. Everybody has their own email account and everybody has their domain of privacy that emphasizes singularities rather than collectively coming together to make something bigger than the one. I’m not into this kind of connectivity, but I do understand that it really is relevant. I just have to find a way to work it in my real life, though I have found a way to work it in my music system. My music system has passed me by. (laughter)

NW: It got there first, and you’ll catch up. We now have generations where that’s the norm, and it’s all about being a singular entity that is part of all these different aggregates, as opposed to being communities. 

In a way, what fascinates me about the Tri-Centric Foundation is that it seems to be truly a community of actually interacting human beings, and that is more and more rare in society at large, but definitely rare in the music world. I mean, there are boards of trustees who never see each other, there are groups that only come together for rehearsals or the performance and the rest of everything is done in e-mail chains. I think that’s something very special about Tri-Centric: It’s a family in its own way.

AB: I feel the same way. I just hope and pray we can hold it together, because if the Tri-Centric Foundation doesn’t work, more and more I know I will revert back to my real proclivity to being totally isolated and alone. I have that quality inside myself of just being a recluse.

It goes back to what you were saying—on one side, more and more, the new connectivity has produced more possibilities to be together. On the other side, there are more possibilities to be alone. I see young men and women jogging, they got headphones on, they’re listening to music; I bet you they’re not listening to John Coltrane or Stockhausen—you can’t listen to that kind of music if you’re jogging. More and more, music that requires attention, intellectually and on other levels, isn’t being heard. People aren’t necessarily being trained to have a nature that can include more abstract music. I find that unsettling.

Trillium Rehearsal, image by Kyoka Kitamura, courtesy of Sacks & Co.

Trillium Rehearsal, image by Kyoka Kitamura, courtesy of Sacks & Co.

NW: Going back to what we were talking about at the beginning, there’s got to be some tension. When you look at people who only deal in the electronic world where they’re completely separated, there’s no real tension there. If someone doesn’t like someone else’s music, instead of sitting down and having a conversation about why they don’t like that music—which of course can be very fraught with peril, but is a real-time back-and-forth, with empathy and understanding about the person, which can get you somewhere further—they make a snarky comment on a website, anonymously. There’s nothing but pure hate, without any opportunity for a discussion that might creates the tension that allows things to grow. It’s really frightening to me to think about what happens to music and art if we’re not having discussions. 

AB: If you like polkas and you go to the Internet and find people who like polkas, you’re with a group that feels the same way you feel. The Internet, which is so incredible for all the possibilities it’s given us, also gives us the possibility to find kindred spirits in every domain. So, this concept of tension is really a wonderful way to talk about this. There’s no tension when everybody agrees.

NW: That’s when things stagnate, I think.

AB: I agree. That’s why I feel it’s so important for the Tri-Centric Foundation to survive. It’s so important for American creativity to be unleashed. It’s important to teach our kids that there is something called creativity, something that calls for knowingness on one level, unknowingness on another level, and intuition on another level. It cannot be canned and one-size-fits-all; you have to be in a psychological space that allows you to have fluency and this tension that you’re talking about. 

By the way, you get outside of America and you start seeing real tension.

NW: Yeah, it’s great to go to Europe and get in those conversations with it. I played at Donaueschingen a couple years ago and went and saw some string quartets and there was a Peter Ablinger string quartet that people booed—as they do at Donaueschingen—and, at first, I was shocked, because I come from an American culture where that isn’t done. We’ve lost that ability to have public displays of tension. The conversations afterward were worth that little bit of discomfort I felt. “Why didn’t you like this performance?” “Well you know, it was a piece that was very performative.” We got into these questions like, “Why do you not like performative music?” That opens up something that is so much more human, and sometimes you have to have a little bit of that discomfort—

AB: If nothing else, that kind of opposition creates tension and that tension helps the friendly, creative person to kind of look at him or herself and what they’re doing. I normally don’t think so much in terms of tension, but this idea is something that I’ll be thinking about for a while. 

When I was a young boy, I put on Stockhausen or Albert Ayler, and I said, “I hate this music. I hate it! But what is it? Who are these people and what the hell are they doing?” I don’t feel our young people get that feeling anymore, or when they think about playing jazz, they’re really thinking about idiomatic certainty. Jazz equals walking bass, drum set, chord changes, a particular kind of voicing. But it’s all a known space. If I knew what it was about then I wanted to go to something else, because I came to see that music wasn’t about just style. What attracted me to the discipline of music was this component that I couldn’t understand, but I could sense, in every kind of music. It helped me to see how little I knew about music. It also helped me to learn humility, because whatever you can do there’s always someone who can do it better. There’s always someone in a different idiom who can do something that pushes my buttons and makes me want to work harder because I’ve been inspired. 

Curiosity is humility, when we’re talking about poetics, and we’re in this time period where there’s no general agreement anymore about what constitutes poetics. In this existential state, you’ve got various forces: Is it just about black people or trans-African people, is it just about white people or trans-European people, is it just about the polkas, is it just about parade music. Is it about tonality? We’ve broken things down in a way where the surface might be knowable but the real poetics have been distorted, and without an understanding of the poetic, things get complex. 

Now we have so much information. We’ve advanced so quickly and the world is interconnected. But how is it that we have the technology to locate satellites and have to-and-fro conversations, but a Boeing 747 leaving Kuala Lumpur disappears completely after two hours. They can’t find the plane! What is happening? I don’t get it!

NW: It seems like a story out of a different time. Amelia Earhart, Bermuda Triangle, I mean, it’s so much of that period that it’s like they took something from the turn of the twentieth century and they just transplanted it now—it’s such a bizarre story.

AB: And I’m a guy who watches shows on ancient aliens and all these kind of—

NW: Yeah me too. (laughter)

AB: I guess everybody is being affected by composite information at this point, but we’re very lucky, sir. We have more opportunities than most to actually travel and meet people. And once you’ve met someone, that changes everything; you can’t pretend that you haven’t had the experiences you’ve had. This is why I’ve had such a complex time in the Jazz and African-American communities for the past forty years, since I could not pretend I didn’t have the experiences that I’ve had. My experiences have been universal and not ethno-centric the way those of a person who has only had experiences with one ethnic group or one way of thinking might be. I was fortunate in that regard as a young person, because music helped me to discover that there was something out there that was not in my immediate space. Music made it clear that there were other worlds and ways of thinking, other traditions and vibrations, and I’ve been very fortunate to have been able to escape Chicago. 

I still say being alive is great, and I feel blessed—which is a twentieth century word—to have had an opportunity to be alive and have consciousness and to have a body, and to say it in the way that I’m saying it. I know will be viewed as a twentieth century guy, but that’s who I am. 

NW: So, are you excited that now that you’ll be done teaching and have more energy?

AB: I am so excited I can’t begin to talk about it. I’m looking forward to April and May when I will move away from Middletown, Connecticut. That for me will signify the beginning of this new cycle. But I just want to do my work. It’s not like I want to go take a cruise to the Bahamas. A vacation for me is to be at home, doing my work. I want to complete as many components of the music system as I can before leaving the planet. I’d like to complete the opera complex system, I’d like to complete the sonic genome system, I’d like to go back and do research and development and start writing again. I haven’t published any writing for over a decade, and I would like to get back into writing. I just got the autobiography of Richard Wagner, and I’d like to start reading that again, which is to say I’m going to be reading for fun. I might take up fiction, something that I’ve given up for the last thirty or forty years because in academia, all my reading and research has gone toward my class-work.

I want to have my opera cycle complete, because I’ve been, for the past twenty years, a complete fool for the music of Richard Wagner. I want to do a project on the complete music of Duke Ellington; I want to do the complete music of Charles Mingus; I want to go back and read Yosef Ben-Jochannan’s great works, which, as a young guy, were very important to me. I feel like a guy in a candy shop, because my life has been, for the last twenty-eight years, in a kind of a structured space. 

Wesleyan really does have exceptional young people, and I was fortunate to have opportunities to work with them and to learn from them. I was fortunate to have a career in music before going into academia, so I knew it wasn’t all on the blackboard, and I tried to help my students understand that. I was fortunate to not come through academia—I don’t have a bachelor’s degree, I don’t have a master’s degree. I’m a country guy, a country boy. I went to Roosevelt University, they were talking about one thing, but two miles away was the AACM. The professors were talking about it and the AACM were doing it. Already you could begin to see the difference between theory and the real-time actualization. 

I was fortunate to be a post-Errol Garner, –Dave Brubeck, -Sal Mosca kind of guy. To grow up and hear a guy like Cecil Taylor playing all this incredible music, there was no excuse for me not to do my best. So I tell the young people that it’s important to look at the spectrum of possibilities are and to hopefully find the kind of role models who help you to: one, not be afraid of work; two, not be afraid of not making money; three, not being afraid of failure because failure is part of how things happen. 

The role models are still out there, they’re men and women in this time period who have done it in the old fashioned way, and I draw strength from them, and we have many of them in the Tri-Centric Foundation, starting with a guy like the multi-instrumentalist, virtuoso, composer Nate Wooley. That’s who you are. Listening to the concert you did with Ken Vandermark, I found myself thinking, Either I come up with the money to put out a contract on these guys to slow them up, or I’m going to have to buy more CDs of these guys and go about the task that I love so much, studying music and learning from my colleagues and being grateful that there are guys like you who are pushing things forward—not just the music, but the kind of person that you are. 

The writings of the Bible were called “good news,” which is such a beautiful way of thinking about things. That’s who we are, we have the good news when it comes to creativity and doing your best in music, and we’re all fighting to try to be better people, because that’s connected to everything.

NW: It’s all so clear that that community exists because you’re the role model, in the center of it. And that’s not always evident because it’s not a community of acolytes. But for me, personally, and for anyone who’s involved in your music, you are one of those role models who keep us thinking the way you’re thinking, which means, hopefully, when I’m seventy I’ll be to be done doing whatever I’m doing and looking forward to another seventy years of finishing up whatever work—

AB: Well I’m just a Paul Desmond kind of guy, (laughter) playing a little “Take Five,” but I’m also going to record “Take Ten.” There’s so much that we have, the legacy that’s been given to us from the people who’ve come before us, it doesn’t get any better than that. I want to do my John Philip Sousa record, my Scott Joplin record, I’d like to do a Hildegard von Bingen record, John Cage, Scott Joplin—I love that music. In fact, I love music, and that has been my secret weapon that helped me to survive Chicago, survive growing up, survive the eight trillion mistakes that I’ve made in my life. It’s helped me to keep a sense of humor, which is so important, especially when you make as many mistakes as I have. I’m still excited about being alive. We can stop now though, because I’m going to get some wine—

Nate Wooley has performed regularly as a trumpet player with such icons as John Zorn, Anthony Braxton, Eliane Radigue, Ken Vandermark, Fred Frith, Evan Parker, and Yoshi Wada, as well as being a collaborator with some of the brightest lights of his generation like Chris Corsano, C. Spencer Yeh, Peter Evans, and Mary Halvorson. Nate is also the curator of the Database of Recorded American Music and the editor-in-chief of their online quarterly journal Sound American. He also runs Pleasure of the Text, which releases music by composers of experimental music at the beginnings of their careers.







 Feb. 1, 2016,

Feb. 1, 2016,







nigerian and british 01

How I Learned

To Be Both Nigerian

And British

At 6, I chose a different set of parents,

and I have been finding

my feet ever since.


I was 6 years old when I made the most significant decision of my life. While my peers were busy making tough choices in the tangled web of playground politics, I was being asked if I wanted to stay in England with the white British couple who had helped to raise me since I was 10 days old, or go with my biological parents to Nigeria. I remember I was combing my Barbie’s blonde hair when I gave my answer:

I want to stay here with Annette and John.

My biological mum said OK, and that was that. She didn’t say much at the time, but with hindsight I don’t think I’m imagining the hurt in her eyes. I had confirmed what she already knew – I had chosen another mother figure over her.

I was, of course, unaware of the complex consequences my decision would have on the rest of my life.

My choice saw me spend my teens and my twenties navigating an intricate game of identity politics that went beyond broad terms of race; I was exploring the complications of culture within an ethnicity.
My biological parents’ tale is the all too familiar ballad of the immigrant: They came to the British Isles in search of a better life. My dad came in April 1985 – by day, he got settled and tried to establish some sort of home and by night, he slept on his sister’s sofa. When my mother arrived to an English winter three years later, my dad had tentatively found his feet on the uneven pavements of east London. A year after that, I came along.

Although my parents found work (Dad as a track engineer on the London underground, mum at a frozen food factory), they struggled to afford the expenses that came with living in a two-bed flat in Stratford. They took on further night shifts to supplement their income, leaving me in the care of a childminder, Annette. The situation was more along the lines of a live-in nanny, except I lived with her. I slept in her house, and she did all the obvious things: the school run, bath time, help with homework, and the kind of love that fixes scraped knees and runny noses. At the weekends, I would go “home” to spend time with the people who looked like me – the only people I was allowed to call Mum and Dad – only they didn’t quite feel like my mum and dad. I spent Sunday afternoons sitting on the kitchen counter, glued to the window and wishing the minutes away, waiting to be collected.

When my biological parents left for Nigeria, my dad sought to make me comfortable with my blackness. My bedroom filled with black dolls and books – and since this was the time of the Spice Girls, Mel B merchandise – that spilled out into and cluttered up the living room. A blend of childhood artefacts and a pop culture phenomenon gave me my first grounding in blackness as an identity.

Rebecca Hendin / BuzzFeed

Rebecca Hendin / BuzzFeed

But my identity was also forged in less rosy circumstances. I remember one time my dad wouldn’t get me an ice cream after school. On the way home, with my face like a wet weekend in Bognor, a stranger – a black man – asked if I was OK, and if I needed help, insinuating that I may have been taken by this white man. Our horror in the moment was secondary only to my realisation that people saw us as different. It was a small thing, but it made me aware I didn’t have the privilege to act like a stroppy 10-year-old in public without raising some eyebrows.

But it wasn’t until my adolescent years that I realised my skin tone wasn’t just an indicator of difference, and that it wasn’t enough to create a fulfilling identity. While I was obviously black, I didn’t feel Nigerian. I looked Nigerian, my name was Nigerian, but I wasn’t Nigerian culturally. I didn’t have any sense of how it felt to be Nigerian. Looking back, it’s clear I felt I was merely “passing” as a Nigerian.

I felt I was merely “passing” as a Nigerian.

When I asked Annette if she’d had any fears about bringing up a Nigerian-British child she told me she just wanted to make sure I was a “good person”. When I pressed her about maybe missing out on Nigerian culture, she was pragmatic: “It crossed my mind. There is no manual to raising a child of a different race but for me, it was important that you had personal experiences.” We attended a church with a Nigerian community, my parents had Nigerian friends, and then I lucked out at secondary school. “You made great friendships with girls who happened to be Nigerian,” my mum told me. “So it was time for me to take a step back and let you form more of those relationships independently.” And I did.

My first memorable encounter with “Nigerian-ness” came at 11, courtesy of my best friend, Demi. The first time I entered her home, I made a series of faux pas that no Nigerian-born – and bred – child would ever make.

I walked into her house and simply said “hi” to her parents, with no honorific “Aunty’”or “Uncle”, no “how are you?” to cushion my impertinence. A bathroom break a few minutes later led to some confusion when I spotted a bucket in their bathtub. I brought it up upon my return to the living room, and was met with Demi’s casual truth bomb: A bucket was literally part of the furniture in many Nigerian bathrooms. At dinner (steaming jollof, fried plantain and meat), I ate the meat first, and asked for more from my generous hosts, who obliged. Later, Demi quietly informed me that you should eat the meat after the rice, a ritual that has stood me in good stead for visits to other Nigerian households since.

Through Demi and subsequent Nigerian friends I formed the misconception that there was a monolithic Nigerian identity: where girls spent chunks of their Saturdays in their mothers’ kitchens, learning about the secret ingredients that made their versions of okra soup and fried rice so unique. I heard stories of Nigerian classmates dragged to parties and being “sprayed” with dollars, a novel concept I couldn’t ask about because of the embarrassment of ignorance. I had come to the conclusion that England would never quite be home, and there was a disconnect with my Nigerian side – a disconnect that was cemented when I joined a predominantly Nigerian church at 18, and became more involved in church life. I began to dread a simple question:

How do you pronounce your surname?

Which always led to the next dreaded question:

Do you understand Yoruba?

And to complete the glorious trifecta:

Ah, do you know how to cook jollof rice?

It felt like I was being asked these questions on a weekly basis, a handy checklist to make sure I was as Nigerian as I looked. And without fail, these questions of identity left me flailing. The feeling you’ve failed a verbal identity test is strange, but knowing you will never pass is borderline depressing.

With that in mind, you can imagine my apprehension in 2008, when my (biological) cousin flew me and my mother to Nigeria for her wedding.

My last meeting with my biological mother had been to say goodbye, back in 1996, and our only interaction since had been periodic routine phone calls over the years. At a sweltering Lagos airport, here she was again: my mother, a woman I did not recognise.

As my mothers embraced for a long time, I stood on the sidelines, an observer of a moment from which I was naturally exempt. Our own reunion was a lot more awkward: slight hesitation from us both, a mix of suspicion and suspense, and then eventually – finally – a hug. I’d begun my Nigeria experience. I did a lot that week, but the most important thing is that I finally experienced being “sprayed” – while wearing head-to-toe ankara and a gele, and dancing to a live band. And it was glorious.

But something even more glorious took place on my trip. Every time someone asked me if I understood Yoruba, a random Aunty or Uncle would spring to my defence and say: Ah, she’s English now.

Rebecca Hendin / BuzzFeed

Rebecca Hendin / BuzzFeed

The relief at having that Aunty-cushion for the first time in my life was deep. But it also served to make me realise I was more of a foreigner than ever. Why had I thought my “motherland” would fill the void of unfamiliarity, when I struggled to achieve the comfort I sought in Nigerian communities in London? I knew England would never quite accept me as one of her own, but Nigeria couldn’t either. 

I knew England would never quite accept me as one of her own, but Nigeria couldn’t either.

A college friend finally articulated what I had felt. He explained his sense of a “lost identity” being a British-raised Nigerian; even without the added peculiarity of my complicated upbringing, neither England nor Nigeria felt a natural “home” for him. It dawned on me that there is no one definitive Nigerian experience – coming from the most populated country in Africa with communities spread across the globe, each with different social and cultural complications, there is bound to be more than one take on Nigerian identity. I’m a Nigerian-British millennial. We often feel like we’re in a no-man’s-land, but we are not alone. I grew up eating a Sunday roast rather than pounded yam while watching the EastEnders omnibus, but there is a plurality to the Nigerian identity. It’s OK. We’re OK.

After finally getting comfortable in accepting my version of Nigerian-ness I felt like I was back at square one when I met my boyfriend. Once again, my tell was food: When I admitted that I hadn’t had pounded yam in years, he instantly questioned what type of Nigerian household I was living in. I keep learning. Through him I have come to understand that age gaps between siblings sometimes bring titles (I’m so glad his younger siblings don’t call me “Sister Tobi”) and why it’s extremely important to know the difference between someone being an “Aunty” and a “Big Mummy”. (Trust me, it’s too complex to get into here.)

With him, I’ve also experienced another Nigerian pastime visited upon young women in long-term relationships: the constant questioning of when the wedding is. Like many Nigerian brides-to-be, I am sure I will feel the overwhelming anxiety as I organise two (traditional and white) or possibly three (legal) weddings. I know my boyfriend would love for further bonding sessions with his mother to take place over cooking sessions in which I learn her version of jollof rice. And I’m sure he’ll still correct me when I pronounce it as “jellof” rice.

The one thing I’m finally sure of is that at 26, my Nigerian identity is valid.


Tobi Oredein is the Founder and Editor of Black Ballad and a freelance journalist based in London.






February 2, 2016

February 2, 2016





miles ahead 03

Miles Ahead Trailer:

Don Cheadle Is

Feeling Kind of Blue


By  – 

miles ahead 01

Doing publicity for Miles Ahead when the film played last year’s New York Film Festival, Don Cheadle swore his only goal for his long-gestating Miles Davis biopic was to avoid all the traditional biopic tropes. No one appears to have told the film’s trailer, though — from the glimpses we get of the film, which was partially funded through Indiegogo, this thing looks super-biopic-y. One might even say it covers all of the jazz legend’s … milestones.








Writers who identify as people of colour are invited to submit science fiction short stories and artwork to an upcoming Lightspeed anthology.

“We’re looking for science fiction short stories of up to 10,000 words, reflective of the issue’s theme, written by writers of colour,” reads the call for submissions for Lightspeed’s People of Colour Destroy Science Fiction!. 

“Note that there’s a POC Destroy Fantasy issue planned, so the editors of the science fiction issue are going to make some judgement calls about whether a story is science fiction. Note also that we will not be asking writers who submit stories to tell us what makes them ‘people of colour.’ We leave that up to your world experience, your conscience, your sense of community, and your sense of fair play.”

The guidelines add, “We are also looking for artists who identify as persons of color to submit work for the People of Colour Destroy Science Fiction! issue. Payment is US$200 for the cover illustration and US$100 for each of eight story illustrations. Interested applicants should send an email with the subject line “POCs Destroy SF Artists” to with a link to images of your works.”

Caribbean speculative fiction author Nalo Hopkinson and Filipino science fiction poet and fiction writer Kristine Ong Muslim are the co-editors of the issue.

Deadline for submissions is February 19.







horror writerrs

HWA Opens Horror Scholarship



LOS ANGELES – Feb. 1, 2016 – PRLog —

The Horror Writers Association (HWA), the premier
organization of writers and publishers of horror and
dark fantasy, today announced it would begin accepting
applications for the organization’s five scholarships.

Scholarship categories for horror and dark fantasy writing include fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. The HWA also offers the Mary Shelley Scholarship for female writers. Two of the scholarships—the Rocky Wood Memorial Scholarship for Non-fiction Writing and the Scholarship from Hell—are new additions to the HWA’s scholarship offerings. Scholarship summaries are below and more information, including applications, is located at

HWA Scholarship ($2500)
Open to general public (including non-HWA members). Scholarship is designed to assist in the professional development of horror writers.

Mary Shelley Scholarship ($2500)

Open to female horror writers (including non-HWA members). Scholarship is designed to assist in the professional development of female horror writers.

Rocky Wood Memorial Scholarship Fund for Non-fiction Writing (Amount varies)

Open to general public (including non-HWA members). Scholarship is an endowed fund providing grants for research and writing non-fiction relating to horror and dark fantasy literature.

Dark Poetry Scholarship ($1250)

Open to general public (including non-HWA members). Scholarship is designed to assist in the professional development of horror poets.

The Scholarship from Hell (Travel package)

Open to general public (including non-HWA members). Scholarship package includes roundtrip airfare to Las Vegas, NV, 4-night stay at The Flamingo Hotel, StokerCon 2016 registration, and admission to all workshops. StokerCon 2016 will be held May 12-15, 2016. Visit for more information about the event.

About the Horror Writers Association

The Horror Writers Association is a nonprofit organization of writers and publishing professionals around the world, dedicated to promoting dark literature and the interests of those who write it. The HWA formed in 1985 with the help of many of the field’s greats, including Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon, and Joe Lansdale. The HWA is home to the prestigious Bram Stoker Award® and the annual StokerCon horror convention.

For more on the Horror Writers Associations, please visit






national poetry series

2016 Open Competition


The National Poetry Series seeks book-length
manuscripts of poetry
 written by American
residents or American citizens living abroad. All
manuscripts must be previously unpublished in
their complete form, although some or all of the
individual poems may have appeared in periodicals.
Translations, chapbooks, small groups of poems,
and books previously self-published are not eligible.
Manuscript length is not limited. However, a length
of 48-64 pages is suggested.

Manuscripts are submitted online via the website (, along with an entrance fee of $30.00 (per manuscript). The entry period begins on January 1, 2016 and runs through (and including) February 15, 2016.

The cover page of the manuscript should list the title of the manuscript ONLY.  Any manuscript containing personal information will not be considered for review.

Manuscripts must be:

  • Paginated (include a table of contents).  

DO NOT INCLUDE: Acknowledgments, explanatory statements, resumes, autobiographical statements, photographs, illustrations, or artwork. These will not be considered.

No additions, deletions, or substitutions once a manuscript has been submitted.
Entrants should inform NPS immediately if their manuscript is selected for publication elsewhere.

Finalists will be notified and may be asked to submit five (5) additional copies of their original submission.

Winning authors will be given the opportunity to make final changes prior to publication.

Please visit The National Poetry Series web site: for general updates throughout the competition.

If you require any additional information, write to the Coordinator, NPS, 57 Mountain Avenue, Princeton, NJ  08540 or email






Feb. 6, 2016

Feb. 6, 2016








Just as anticipation builds up for Beyoncé‘s Super Bowl performance Sunday evening, the celebrated star decided to release a video for her brand new single “Formation.”

The surprise video was filmed in New Orleans and pays major tribute to the singer’s Creole roots. Posted on top of a submerging police car, she sings “I got hot sauce in my bag,” proudly solidifying that she’s still a tried and true Southern girl to the core. Referencing both New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and ongoing police violence in America, the video also shows police officers surrendering to a Black child in a hood, while the words “Stop Killing Us” appears in graffiti in another scene.

Daughter Blue Ivy also makes an appearance as Beyonce sings “I like my baby hair with baby hair and afros – I like my negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils.”

This is Beyonce’s first release in over a year since her surprise self-titled album in 2014.”Formation” is available to stream and download for free exclusively through Tidal and the video is now live on


Download “Formation” exclusively on 
Visit for more