Saturday, November 28, 2015

Journal of my trip to Zululand for the South African Traditional Music Awards

Its been a bit more than a month, but this is the first time that I have been able to sit down and formally document my last trip to South Africa. I was blessed to be invited to witness the 10th Annual South African Traditional Music Achievement Awards (SATMA). And in all of my sojourns to the beautiful nation of South Africa, this remains one of the most powerful and cultural experiences that I have had. 
I departed Los Angeles aboard the beautiful and elegant Emirates Airlines on a 15 hour marathon flight to Dubai. The Airbus A360 is a huge aircraft that is quite modern classy and even in economy has all of the tech gadgets. The entertainment alone features 200 channels of music, movies, games and the best maps of your flight experience. We flew northeast out of Southern California exiting the North American continent over Northern Canada. The flight took us over Nova Scotia, the tip of Iceland, Sweden, Russia, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and into Dubai. I was so surprised as I perused the in-flight map, because a lot of the cities we flew near were cities, in America were associated with the war on terror. wow...

Some would say, whew 15 hours is a long flight. It is. But with the state of the art entertainment system I was able to pass the time away by viewing selections form the movie menu, and the music menu. I started my entertainment delights with Ant-Man..... *sigh*  So after struggling though some half of that film, I changed over to the radio channel which featured several choices of African Music. After all, I was travelling to the Continent. Let me just say that Fela Kuti is one of the most awesome artists in the entire world. Then I saw a section entitled Box Sets. This is where I found Marvin Gaye. And Stevie Wonder. You know I was in heaven. When I selected Stevie, I listened to Music of my Mind, Talking Book, Innervisions, Fulfillingness First Finale, Songs in the Key of Life, Hotter than July, and A Time to love.... each in its entirety, back to back, chronologically. This made my flight complete Nirvana... 

As I descended into United Arab Emirates airspace, I would see the miles and miles of desert. I could see the magnificent lights of Dubai, A glittering oasis in a sea of desert sand. I would disembark my plane and sit out a 12-hour layover..... As I spent the night in Terminal 1 of the Dubai International Airport, I contemplated my new experience. As big as this place is, I felt a bit confined. I did not receive a hotel voucher but rather had to wander about the terminal for half the night before settling in for a bit of sleep in a chair alongside hundreds of like travellers. This airport is huge! and it's a major shopping destination.. The Dubai Duty Free is one of the largest shopping malls in the world and it makes the airport terminal look like a shopping mall. It's a mall with airport gates!
The airport at Dubai is a monstrous location as Dubai is a major hub for all international destination of the east. And as I look around there are all kinds of people from the Afro-Asiatic diaspora. This is the United Arab Emirates so most of the people coming through here are Arab/Muslim. I can't help but reflect how Malcolm X felt when he went on his pilgrimage to Mecca. I've seen Muslims of all races.. Arab, black, black African, what looks to be white, Asian, southeast Asian.. all kinds of people. I'm also struck by the strong African presence in the airport. It is a powerful reminder that there are 52 countries on the continent of Africa and all of those nations are seemingly travelling through his airport.

I see the Muslim women dressed in the traditional head to toe garb. It's funny because a lot of these women's husbands are dressed in shorts, sandals and polo shirts. This is a hodge podge of eastern society. And yes, this is a Muslim nation so I've heard the prayer calls. And I've noticed that just as there are directions to the restrooms, first aid, lost and found, etc., there are signs directing one to the prayer room. Yes. This is Dubai, gateway to the middle east. And now as I sit waiting for the flight to Durban, I grow anxious to see and hear the sights that await me in South Africa.

signs and sights of Dubai Airport
It is an 81/2 hour flight from Dubai to Durban. The flight departs the United Arab Emirates heading south along the eastern coast of Africa. We fly over Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mozambique, landing in Durban, a South African coastal city that is the center of the KwaZuluNatal Province - The Kingdom of the Zulus. It was raining and dark when we arrived at the King Shaka International Airport. After passing through customs I was me by mt driver Godfrey, whose African name I learned was Njinji. He took me to the Coastlands Hotel where we had dinner from a diverse buffet menu consisting of chicken, mutton, lamb, fish and steak. The next morning was drizzly but I awoke to a great view of the Durban area. After breakfast, our coordinator Sduzo took us to a mall that adjoined the hotel. Contrary to most American perceptions, South Africa's cities are cosmopolitan or Afropolitan as they call it. In my immediate area, we have KFC - yes. A Harley Davidson dealership and the Gatewood Mall. This mall features all the top designer stores and it makes you pinch yourself because the only indicator that we are still in Africa is the amount of black people and the languages spoken. The mall was very nice, we walked around a bit before meeting our police detail who would escort us throughout the rest of the trip. After all we were part of a delegation that featured Dr. Sarah Obama, the grandmother of President Obama.

We piled into the official vehicles and with sirens and lights blazing, we rolled onto the freeway headed to the center of Zululand. It was a two and a half hour drive to our destination which was in the town of Richards Bay, home of one of the world
patio area and honesty bar of Umhambi Lodge
s largest harbors. Once we hit town, the police escorted us to the beach. It was a hot day and understandably the beach was crowded. Our lodging was located about one mile from the waves in a charming bed and breakfast that had we cabins and an honesty bar. Yes, one goes to the bar and gets his own beer or wine, writes it in a book and settles up upon check out. Amazing!

We were taken to North Coast Radio - a community based station which broadcasts in Zulu and boasts a very active and responsive listener audience of about 150,000 in the immediate area. I say active because there were a few listeners standing outside when we emerged from the studio waiting to get a glimpse of these African Americans. We walked the adjoining shopping center to get a bite of lunch from Nando's, a restaurant chain that features chicken much like our own El Pollo Loco. From there we rushed to the University of Zululand which was the site for the SATMA Awards weekend.

I must admit that I was not ready for what we witnessed as we hit the red carpet for the opening night pre-show. We were greeted by thousands of screaming fans who chanted, screamed and even rushed our policed secured vehicles. It was impressive to see the love that the Zulus have for the Obamas - and us. It was overwhelming to hear and see that they were ecstatic that we were there.

opening choir breaks out in Nay Nay
At the pre-show, we were escorted to the fist row of the venue. The show was a mix of award presentations that would not make the national television broadcast and a comedy show. This was a first in my life.. I sat in a two and a half hour comedy show by some of South Africa's top comedians.... and didn't understand a WORD of what was happening. Meanwhile the 10,000 in attendance were rolling in the aisles with laughter.... The consolation for me as a lover of music, was that I was aware and familiar of some of the artists nominated. One category struck me and has elicited an opinion. In the Best Afro Soul category the nominees were Unathi, Choko, Simphiwe Dana and Moneoa. Coko won. I have all of these CDs and while each one has its own exceptional merit, I do not feel Choko should have won. That's not a diss. It's an opinion.

After the pre-show, we returned to the lodge and spent the warn late night at the poolside patio area. The place was humming with quiet activity as there was a party in the small events area next to the honesty bar. There were 18 of us from Kenya, Cote d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Swaziland, South Africa and South LA/Inglewood... The United Nations of Africa. It was a truly awesome experience kicking it with the diaspora. Good times, Good conversation, Good people.

it was incredible at SATMA
The Parade
The next day, we headed back to the venue for a day of activities and the main event. The nationally televised SATMA Awards. First, we event was ignited by a very traditional parade. The highlight of the experience , this parade featured a marching band and one thousand girls dancing and chanting in traditional Zulu garb. most were topless. yes. That's how they get down. The sound was ROCKIN and the energy was unlike anything I have ever witnessed in life. The direct connections to what we do here in America in terms of the HBCU bands and the dances were evident. It was an exceptional experience.

The Awards show was quite a spectacle. The opening number was a representation of every culture in South Africa. All the different tribes, the white folks and the Indian folks.. It was amazing! Everyone was dressed in traditional attire. There were high ranking government officials, local officials and provincial officials. It was a tremendous gatehring. And I have got to share how the huge choir in the opening number broke out in the Nay Nay during thier very traditional presentation.

SATMA Awards
All in all and while I have travelled to South Africa several times, This was hands down one of the best and deeply cultural experiences. It was not a touristy experience. It was deeply cultural It was awesome. It was antoher level.

I've been able to journal the experience and post it on this blog. If you would like to see the complete photo album, It's here on facebook

fascinating Zulu dancers at SATMA

SATMA Awards

Dance baby girl!!!

Village mothers

The village mothers marching in to salute Dr. Obama

Our caterer is a camera star!!

The village came out to salute Dr. Obama

Dr. Sarah Obama, Step-Grandmother of President Barack Obama

The village mothers came to salute Dr. Sarah Obama

The village mothers saluting Dr. Sarah Obama

Our host Dusami Goba sharing remarks 

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

In Defense of Bishop Blake

I have been a member of West Angeles Church of God in Christ since 1987. I am a minister in training aspiring to move forward in my calling. I serve as the Recording Secretary for the West Angeles Community Development Corporation. Through my job as Marketing Director of KJLH Radio, a station that has served the African American Community of Southern California for 50 years, I have a birds eye, frontline view of the issues of our community and at many times am the catalyst for communication and solutions in our community.

I have been following the story of Elder Earl Carter since last year’s “I’m not Gay No Mo’” situation. And as I thought the issue had run its course, I see it has taken an unfortunate and ugly turn. I see some incredible allegations, vicious insinuations and some straight up lies. Please allow me the liberty to offer some observations:

Bishop Blake: I am blessed to interact with a plethora of Bishops, ministers, elders, politicians and community leaders from every aspect of the community. Accordingly I bear witness that Bishop Charles Edward Blake is a leader among leaders. There is none like him. Not in this City. The work he has done in our community and indeed across the globe is unmatched. It is a living testament that he sees the ills of our community and has activated the Church to be a central and essential catalyst for solutions toward the betterment therein. The man exudes honesty, fairness, integrity, humility, and excellence. Without question. It is hard to fathom how people can launch an attack on Bishop Blake with such insidious and twisted accusations. 

 Bishop Blake on Homosexuality: I have NEVER heard Bishop Blake come anywhere near approving or endorsing homosexuality. In fact, in my years as a member of the church, he has always been quite serious about the preservation of the family. Marriage being a Godly union between a man and a woman. He has always been about the sanctity of marriage. He has always pushed the men to be men. He has always been against ANY type of sexual immorality. I would call Bishop Blake a man’s man. I have heard Bishop Blake strongly speak out against homosexuality again and again. I keep hearing these stories and with all due respect, this notion that Bishop Blake endorses homosexuality is patently ridiculous. Farcical. In fact, when he was the Jurisdictional Bishop ordaining the new elders, it always struck me that he made it a point to insist and encourage the new elders to rebuke and refrain from sexual immorality. As a man, I have always appreciated this message from the pastor. Even when folks criticized him for endorsing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that criticism fell short to me because the signing of that document had nothing to do with endorsing gay marriage. The gay community has manipulated the core concept of that historic document to fit their cause just as they have manipulated the message of the Civil Rights Movement to promote their agenda and we fall for it. Bishop’s signing of the document is to endorse world peace and justice. Now THAT’s honorable. 

Bishop Blake and Bishop Husband: Really? Come now... Cut it out right now.

 The Apology (after the I’m not Gay No’ Mo’ incident): I too was saddened and flabbergasted by the entire incident. And as a broadcaster, I still say, no microphone, no incident. While the young man answered the altar call to claim his deliverance from homosexuality, I still find myself questioning his credibility and sincerity. I see a book by the same name(I’m not Gay No More), I see a song that generated a healthy amount of downloads, the viral nature of his proclamation of deliverance fulfilled his lust for fame. A lust he has coveted publicly on interviews. The two weeks after the convocation gave that man an international platform that he exploited to the fullest. Even here at home, the air personalities at the radio station where I am employed had a field day with it. It was painful. Yet, the actions that the Church took to damage control the situation were effective. And in my opinion the apology issued by Bishop Blake was correct and proper at that instance. I do feel that Bishop’s magnanimous position was weakened by Andrews insistent presence in the media. Instead of the story dying, we saw Andrew resurfacing in ridiculous situations that are to me, an attempt to milk the last drops of fame from of his Internet stardom. He is making a mockery of the church and he should have just sat himself down somewhere and concentrated on his “deliverance”. 

Elder Earl Carter: So the man of God has taken on a vendetta against Bishop Blake. Certainly, one has to actually take note of his language and delivery in his sermon on that fateful night. I actually get what he was saying and admittedly I tend to agree with some of what he said. However; I definitely feel that he should have chosen a different verbal strategy to make his points. I understand the passion and disdain he has for these open displays of effeminacy and homosexuality at church events particularly the Holy Convocation. It is indeed shocking and completely adverse to who we are and what we represent not to mention the effect these sights have on those who have their children attending the event. But to what gain does abusive elocution achieve? So for me, Bishop Blake’s statement is accurate. He says the man of GOD’s choice of words were inappropriate. I agree. They were. Bishop also says his statement in no way compromises the Church’s stance on homosexuality. He was clear. We still believe homosexuality is wrong. Period. In these days and times, we need the men of GOD to be unified in our stance against homosexuality. They are forcing same sex marriage on the church. Instead of helping to create strategy on how to deal with this, we are hurling insidious and libelous accusations. Its OK to disagree about the method of delivery as we stand on Godly Principles, but now, more than ever we need to be on one accord as to how to deal with this. This argument strengthens the homosexual agenda. Why go so far to advance such evil lies about Bishop Blake??

The Gomes situation: Ok. This is the gift that keeps on giving. Gomes came to West Angeles years ago. And now he’s dead. I am so sorry to all those that keep holding this up as evidence that Bishop Blake is supportive and endorses homosexual lifestyles. First of all I was there that Sunday. The firestorm that ensued after Gomes preached is unfortunate. As a member, in hindsight, I see how folk would object to him being in the pulpit at our church. From a pew-view, perhaps we should have done more research to see his background.. maybe we were blinded by the Harvard-ness. I don’t know. But all that being said, in all the years of this story, I have failed to see how this is powerful and convincing evidence that Bishop Blake is supporting the LGBT agenda. And to infer or straight accuse that Bishop Blake had some sort of inappropriate relationship with Gomes is utterly ridiculous. Libelous, disrespectful, ill informed and downright stupid. Shame on whomever is spreading that one. 

Magic Johnson: I bring him up because most name Earvin when advancing the notion of homosexual support at West Angeles. Yes, Magic Johnson and other celebrities are members of West Angeles Church of God In Christ. Don’t stars and celebrities need the LORD too? A lot of us entertainment industry executives attend also. Not because it’s some Hollywood event, but because we need to hear the Word of GOD. Now, trust and believe I am not financially blessed like Earvin and others but they aren’t going to get me to heaven. The notion that his membership somehow demonstrates Bishop Blake’s endorsement of homosexuality is ridiculous. Yes. we in the community were disappointed with Mr. Johnson’s stance against Proposition 8. I know I was.  Most disagreed with him. And I don’t know because I am not in the one on one conversations between Bishop Blake and Magic Johnson, but If I were to speculate, I am sure that made for healthy debate between the two because Bishop Blake is positively and vociferously against same sex marriage. My further speculation and this one is really deep – Magic’s life perspectives are complex in this area. He has had to interact with the Gay community because of his HIV status, that was, after all, the most affected population. But you must admit that the nation had to do something about this deadly disease. And so he lent his name and face to the fight against HIV/AIDS. We can disagree at this association if we want, but one must admit that said interactions have resulted in increased awareness and even better access to the necessary medicines and treatments needed to combat this deadly epidemic.  I think we can say that this man is saving lives!!! I don’t think we need to turn our backs on Earvin Magic Johnson. I don’t think we cast him out of the church. We can disagree. But we must continue to love and support this man who is mainly about the community development and uplift of our people. We can disagree with his position back then on Prop 8 and we can tell him so. He’s accessible! And so we did. And he is still in church. Praise God!

West Angeles Church – I want you to understand that West Angeles Church of God in Christ is a biblical ministry of excellence. Keyword: biblical. Folk across the nation seem to be critical of the church. The church doesn’t in anyway shape form or fashion endorse homosexuality. We are consistent with the Word of GOD and the doctrines of the Church of God in Christ. Sure, stars attend the church. As they should. They need salvation too. And it wasn’t just their money that built our beautiful cathedral. Us normal folks got some significant dollars on it too!!

 B. Slade(aka Tonex): Another example that folk use to say Bishop Blake endorses homosexuality.  I was at that John P Kee Concert. When Bishop Blake opens the door of the 5,000 seat Cathedral to the community for a gospel concert, it is always free and always features the top gospel artists of the day. It is a major event in the City. The community anticipates these events because as a major edifice and beacon of hope in the ‘hood, it is awesome that West A gives back to the community in this manner. The industry also comes out (LA is one of the strongest retail markets for gospel music and the gospel stars come out). In the gospel world it is the place to be. And so this is the context that the artist B. Slade was at the Cathedral that night. Those of us from the radio station were surprised actually because he is doing R&B now and he has had so much controversy in recent years. But as is the nature of a live gospel performance, John P. Kee called him up and others as an impromptu musical guest. It wasn’t planned or scripted. It was a “pass the mic” sort of thing. So to say Bishop Blake “allowed” this is inaccurate. It is something that happened in context of the concert. As to the assertion that nothing was said, you don’t know what was said. We don’t know. So to assume Bishop "allowed" this is again.. ridiculous.    

In the grand scheme of governance of the Church of God in Christ, my observations herewith are just comments from the peanut gallery. You may not even read this.  However, my words are true, wholly accurate.  I’m a humble man of GOD. I’m faithful to the Church of God in Christ. I’m faithful to West Angeles Church of God in Christ. I see what I see and I hear what I hear. And certainly, the accusations are evil, libelous, misdirected, ill-informed, crazy and utterly ridiculous lies.  

Bishop Charles Edward Blake is morally centered. Right thinking. And to suggest anything other than that is just wrong. And as a member of the Grand Old Church of God in Christ, I whole-heartedly object to the accusations made against the Presiding Bishop.