Culture  On SLĀV songs

Cocoa Butter Column

Do you not like to see me happy? When faced with the beauty we’ve created despite the beastly nature of
our trauma, do you feel uncomfortable? Do I make you angry when I smile?
Do I make you jealous when I sing
the songs that were passed down to
me through the deep waters of the
gulf of Mexico, into the thick, murky, landscapes of Louisiana swamps,
Just to reach the blood in my veins?
As I stand here today
Free and unchained
Just like their wildest dreams
told them I would be,
Can you not accept that some
stories are not yours to tell?
Not all stories will be yours to tell
Not all songs are yours to use
Recreate and dismember as you choose

Don’t take away my chance to represent the women who fought for me
Because Slavs never sang
our African slave songs
Don’t tell me that you don’t see colour Because the world still colours me black even though I know I’m more than that

Would you walk into your grandmother’s home, see her 400-year-old curtains, cut them up to make a dress without even including her in your creative process?
Don’t you think she would
be devastated to see
Something she cared so much for re-appropriated so violently
By someone who didn’t really try to research and understand the true story Behind grandmother’s curtains?
But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself
So allow me to take you on a
journey to discover the story
Behind my grandmother’s songs
My great-great-grandmother held
me in her bosom before I was even formed. She knew the pain I would have to face one day, just like the
pain she faced in her lifetime.
So, she did all she could do. She used her voice, the only thing she could use She sang me a song.
It seeped deep into her body, split cracks through her bones.
It sank and settled deep inside. It crossed time and space to reach me.
She sang me a song.
A promise that she’d always be
there, like a faint call in the air, to
sing me her lessons of despair
Softly braiding, sneaking lullabies
of wisdom into my hair.
Whispering “don’t you cry for me child” because she’d never leave me lonely. That I would always have her
song in my heart to soothe me
She sang me a song
So that I could keep it safe for her in the new world she believed would come. Refused to let them beat it out of her Even though they tried … to beat
it out of her till she was numb
She sang me a song
That crossed hills, valleys and unknown countries, poured it into herself like a fountain, and nestled it deep into the safe soil of her body She sang me a song
And now you… you come along And think it’s ok to re-appropriate a sound so pure, so strong

Vous avez dit vouloir vous approprier ces chansons… Vous avez dit vouloir vous approprier nos chansons?

Well you can’t play theatre with our stories You can’t play theatre with our pain
My great-great-grandmother didn’t sing
those songs in sugar cane, cotton fields Send them to me through the ears and hearts of generations for you to use them in a way that does not feature my voice In a way that does not feature
my body, the only instrument that can sing her song true, Because…
My grandmother looked like me and not like you
Harriet Tubman looked like me and not like you

I may have held my tongue as
children pipelined into prison
chains after graduation
I may have lost my words when a racist president was named for my nation
I may have simply shed a tear while my brothers and sisters were (and still are) being shot like quarry

But I will not hold back my poetry
as privilege is used to twist, turn,
tell, retell this story … our stories
That can only be carried by our bodies, for only our bodies have been living them, carrying them through time and space

So, if you stumble upon a song and naively decide to make it your own without questioning the history, the present implications, and the journey of hardship that song went through before it reached your ears… please consult
and converse with the only bodies that know how to sing it with authenticity and honour… because only we truly remember how
She sang us a song.