The Black man is a beautiful thing. This assertion is a declaration of faith; because every day I am told that there is no hope for him – in the news, by the testimony of others, by media. I need to believe against hope that he is more than a burglar, an abuser, a lazy man, a rapist. This assertion is a reminder to myself that my Brothers are beautiful, despite the shame that has haunted them through the ages.
Yes. Indian, Chinese etc men are all God’s children too, but I write about the Black man now because he is the one I had lost faith in. He is the one I believed was built too weak to love. He is the one history saw systematically abused and de-humanised.
During the National Arts Festival I had the honour of sitting through the amazing Sibongile Khumalo’s concert, Reflect. Celebrate. Live. at the Guy Butler Theatre in Grahamstown. The concert was the kick-off of a tour meant to look back on her journey as a singer and actress, to celebrate her achievements, and to appreciate those who have brought her through in her life. She has an impressive career spanning many years (it’s been two decades of a professional career), and as the “First Lady of Song” of South Africa, she has made a name for herself as an outstanding, talented, skilled musician to trump all others. Anyway, the concert was interspersed with anecdotes from her childhood and young adulthood; inlcuding stories of her family, her growing pains as a musician, and her lessons along the way.
One of my favourite moments of this concert came when she described going with her father to visit the homestead of Princess Constance Magogo Sibilile Mantithi Ngangezinye kaDinuzulu (1900–1984); composer, poet, singer, and authority on Zulu traditional music; in her youth. [click here to listen] She tells how she never knew, back then, sitting with Princess Magogo on the stoep of her hut, that she was “on a date with destiny”. She later represented Princess Magogo in an operatic role portraying the Princess’s life, masterfully written by Professor Mzilikazi Khumalo. uMam Sibongile Khumalo told how, as she sat at the feet of Princess Magogo, learning songs and watching her play her traditional instrument; she mused over many things, including that age old saying, “ubuhle bendoda zinkomo zayo”. Directly translated, and the Zulus will correct me if I am wrong here, the saying means that “the beauty of a man is his cattle”.
Before that evening I had always dismissed this adage, regarding it as what I had deemed an indication of the emphasis on material goods to measure the worth of a man. I could not have been more wrong.
In the days of old, when an African man was in possession of cattle, he indeed was considered a beautiful thing. To herd cattle requires discipline, persistence, cautiousness, and hard work. A man who had healthy cattle was seen as beautiful because of the implication of that possession. Seen through those eyes, the beauty and honour of a man was in his ability to care for something more than he did himself, his ability to commit to discipline, to persistence, and to hard work. The beauty of a man was in the sweat of his brow.
In a world that is overwhelmingly misogynist, it’s hard to believe sometimes, that there are still men of honour amongst us. It’s even harder to believe that there are Black men of honour who exist. But hearing uMam Khumalo speak about her encounters with Princess Magogo, learning history from her remarkable father (Professor Mngoma, who was a historian), and hearing her sing one of the songs from the Princess Magogo opera, reminded me that indeed, the Black man is not all vile and villainous.
As she burst out in song, singing about ubuhle bendoda, my heart swelled anew with pride and respect for him.
One of the best music bands to emerge from the South African live music scene in the past decade has to be the indie-afro-soul-jazz band The Muffinz. A mixture of various musical genres thrown together into a delicious mix (hence the name “The Muffinz”), they are not only five guys with guitars and a set of drums, they also happen to be immensely talented, skilled, and well, easy on the eye.
What I love about their music, besides their skill and talent, is their socially conscious lyrics. These dudes aren’t just packing “baby, baby, baby” into three minutes of a song, they are commenting on the socio-political issues of our day.
Umsebenzi wendoda (translated: the work/duty of a man), a song about single mothers who raise strong Black men in a society that is unkind to them, is another song which made my heart appreciate anew the beauty of the Black man. Every time I hear the song I feel like breaking into ukuxhentsa, or a Zulu dance. Anyway, the song was written as an ode to their mothers, many of whom had to raise them in the absence of their fathers, in a society that considers raising men to be the work of a man yet provides few positive male role models.
The song is a tribute to single mothers, and journeys through her sacrifices, waking early and toilling all day to put a meal on the table. It speaks about how their mothers can finally rest, because the load she carried alone is lessened now that her son has grown into the young man she always hoped he would.
The duty of a man is to maintain his honour. Can’t forget the image in my mind from Ben Okri’s short story, The Secret Castle, in which he describes one of the characters thus, “He looked like the word ‘honour’, in ragged clothes”. No matter his position in society, the Black man has especially the duty to respect himself and others and to maintain his honour. I believe in you, Brother, against what I see to the contrary you are Black Gold and I believe in you. And to paraphrase Garvey, there is no shame in your blackness: blackness is a badge of honour.
Strength, Pride, Honour,
“Hold your head as high as you can/ High enough to see who you are, little man/ Life sometimes is cold and cruel/ Baby no one else will tell you so remember that /You are Black Gold…But you’re golden, baby/ Black Gold with a diamond soul/ Think of all the strength you have in you/ From the blood you carry within you/ Ancient men, powerful men/ Builders of civilization… Baby no one else will tell you so remember that You are Black Gold, Black Gold/ You are Black Gold…”
“The Black skin is not a badge of shame, but rather a glorious symbol of national greatness.”
– Marcus Garvey