CLR James and black nationalism

Thu Jan 27 03:09:12 MST 2000

I just read Jose's post on this issue with great interest.
When I visited Cuba last year, the most inspiring thing for
me was the seemingly absolute lack of racial tension. Coming
from South Africa, where the new "official" non-racialism is
not even skin-deep (!), this was an important thing to see,
and I've never seen it anywhere else. The only time I ever
visited the US, a couple of years ago, I was shocked at the
apparent level of tension between black and white,
especially a kind of "aggressive disenfranchisement" which
young black people seem to exude, rather similar to what one
experiences in SA, but perhaps worse and more pervasive. I
was also amazed at the willingness of some other elements to
express their racism to a complete stranger which would be
very rare in SA outside of the most backward, rural Boer
communities. The anti-black invectives of a certain Syrian
cab driver in New Orleans will long remain in my memory for
that reason.

Coming back to Cuba, I believe that that level of
non-racialism is truly only possible under socialism, and
maybe this is the real point that underlies what Phillip was
saying, although I would not like to associate myself with
his specific arguments (I intend to respond to him still on
the issue of imperialism and S. Africa, now that I am back
after a long absence from the list, but clearly his
simplistic schema will require a more detailed response than
I've got time for right now).

I am fascinated though by the phenomenon of Afro-Cuban
identity. I saw a fabulous group in Havana called Syntesis,
and I managed to chat briefly to some of the band members,
most of whom were not very dark skinned. I brought a couple
of copies of their CD "Orishas" back with me to SA. Now what
really struck me about this music is just how African
(specifically West African) it sounds. Yet the band members
that I spoke to had never visited Africa, although they had
toured in Europe, etc. They must have somehow steeped
themselves in West African music, because you can put this
stuff next to Fela Kuti, Manu Dibangu, or what you will, and
it doesn't sound the slightest bit less African. This is
quite amazing to me and I've never heard any other music
from the American continent (North or South) that sounds as
if it comes from Africa. Black American music (US) generally
does not sound like African music at all, with one or two
occasional exceptions, like some tracks from Don Cherry,
etc. I would really like to understand more about the whole
dynamics underlying "Afro-Cubanism".


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