Last weekend I watched and later led a discussion about the film Invictus with some students and parents of the international section of the middle school here in Saint Claude, where I live. The international section is normally composed of students that have a higher level of English than other students. It is exciting to work with this level because you can practice critical thinking and analyzing skills, whereas with other groups these opportunities are few and far between and I have to exercise great restraint when planning lessons. With students that are just beginning their studies or whose English is limited I need to plan precise vocabulary lists and have a very focused objective in mind. Cosa que me re cuesta, but it’s good to have this kind of focus because I think it translates into real life as well.
It so happens that, as I was watching the film, I found that I was really moved by it, even though I had already seen it before, and even though I don’t like to give out too many accolades for films, directors, and actors who are already well-known (i.e. Invictus is a major production, directed by Clint Eastwood, and starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon). Nevertheless, I was moved by the music, of Nelson’s Mandela’s optimism; of his vision for peace through forgiveness and compassion of the people that had so violently oppressed his country and him personally, since he was incarcerated for nearly three decades.
In particular, I really enjoyed the music because it made me feel at home. It gave me goose bumps all over and made the hair on my arms stand up, even in this hot, dry climate I currently live in. African music in general makes me sentimental. Some of the songs on the movie soundtrack reminded me of the tapes my parents sometimes used to play when we were kids, and then later as an adolescent and as an adult I played them, always when I was feeling nostalgic and I wanted to remember things that were no longer. One tape in particular, with songs of Freedom from South Africa came to mind when watching the film today with the students. You can feel the spirit and the heart of the people shining through the words and rhythms that depict their struggles and their desire for freedom. The songs have the clicking characteristic of Bantu languages, a cappella rhythms, themes of non-violence, and lyrics that describe a firm faith in God. This melange brought me back to what times might have felt like when I was just a baby.
For the most part, being born in an African country as little known as Botswana and having an incomprehensible, at least in English lexical terms, middle name, normally just gets you some “really?’s” and some “what?’s”, but for me, this connection to Africa is something that is in the depths of my being and it’s really hard for me to understand it personally, let alone try to communicate it to others.
What might help to best describe the feeling was really made more concrete to me one day this past summer (Californian summer, in case anyone is ever confused to my whereabouts), when I was talking to a friend of mine about these very facts of my life and she was excited to tell me about a hypothesis she had and really wanted to eventually test out. I was once a scholar in some capacity and I know the risks of letting others know about your big ideas for fear that someone will steal your ingenious concept and you will not get the credit you deserve. However, I am going to rely on the fact that no one really reads this blog and that if they do and they like the idea, they will contact me and we can work something out.
En todo caso, her hypothesis was that the diets that expectant mothers’ eat are closely intertwined with what your palate later has a taste for, enjoys, and craves. In short, your tastes in food now can always be traced back to what you ate in the womb, or what your mother consumed during the nine months of her pregnancy. I told my friend, who had studied genetics in undergrad, that she had a fascinating idea that she should definitely test out in some way. I’m going to generalize her concept to our sense of hearing. I’m curious to know if there is a connection to the sounds that we like now and the sounds that were a part of our daily lives inside the womb. Who knows? Maybe this is the case.
As I am now in Guadeloupe, a country that has it’s roots in Africa as well, I’ve found myself really touched by many of the different sounds I have encountered here. Specifically, this weekend I had the opportunity to attend a concert of a Haitian Vodou singer and dancer. His stage presence was remarkable. He sang with a voice that used the depths of his diaphragm to articulate his message in such a way that you had to listen, you wanted to listen, you were captivated (almost put into a trance), and you wanted more. Even though most of the lyrics he sang were in Haitian Creole, I was still moved by the words that surely depicted the Haitian’s own struggle of slavery and eventual freedom and independence.
I wish I had the gift of music to share, but I really don’t. In fact, it’s hard to know what gift I can give the people around me that will really stir up their feelings like music does. Ever since Martin Luther King Jr. Day I have been focusing most of my lessons on African American history and have been reading a lot about the Civil Rights Movement in order to refresh my own memory. Right now, in my room I have a quote of MLK Jr. up on my white board that says,
The ultimate measure of man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
I put that quote up because I feel that having a challenge in front of us is a way of always moving forward. I have a yearning to stand in the midst of challenge and I want my voice to be heard. My voice may not be a moving rendition of “Freedom is Coming” but at the very least I can help to teach the history of the struggle of the many peoples in this world as well as the message of peace and a need to love more. Right now, focusing on my love of music as a way to promote what I feel, inwardly and outwardly has been very liberating. Specifically, my challenge to myself is to love more, my challenge to you all is to love more, in the best ways we know how, but also in new and different ways in which we may not have loved before.
Later, I will write more about the different music experiences that I have experienced here, but for now, what kind of music moves you? And, what kinds of music make you feel at home?