Mama Aretha Franklin and Us,
a View from Africa,
by Gabriel C Banda
ARETHA Franklin has passed on!
Many persons in America and other parts of the world have been greatly moved by the passing of the very gifted singer, music artist, and actress Mama Aretha Franklin, Thursday, August 16, 2018, in Detroit, Michigan, USA. She went down following some cancer condition.
Aretha Franklin, born 1942, was from her childhood and teens performing and reaching many church and popular audiences. She established herself in the hearts of many worldwide.
Mama Aretha Franklin came onto the wide world stage at a time of great transformation in human relations.
Aretha Franklin reached more than persons of African descent. Yes, in America, Africa, and other places with numbers of persons of African descent, people were inspired by persons like Aretha Franklin.
People in various parts of the world did not consider her American, but foremost as one of them, a human being close to them.
One of Our Mothers
For the young in Africa, Aretha Franklin was considered One of our Aunts, One of our Mothers. For those older, such as our biological fathers and mothers, Aretha Franklin was one of their Sisters.
In Africa, some widely respected singers we then considered our Mothers and Aunts included Mama Miriam Makeba and her friend Mama Dorothy Masuka. Mama Dorothy Masuka we considered one of our Mothers when at some point of my childhood she lived some forty metres or so near us along Mulilima Street, Libala II, Lusaka, Zambia.
In America, there were singers like Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, and Joan Baez. Music artists, as with other artists, could be both gifted singers and activists in favour of rights, harmonious humanity, and life.
Of African Descent
In the 1950s and 1960s, as Africa’s societies were getting independence, there was still organised racism and apartheid in USA. The US Constitution had some two hundred years earlier proclaimed the freedom by birth of human beings while it had massive, organised, slavery against persons of African descent.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Martin Luther King and others were fighting racism and apartheid in the United States.
In 1960s Africa and the Americas, images and symbols were important. Music and the arts were important channels for freedom. In the 1960s and 1970s, fighting for their fundamental rights, Africans and persons of African descent were wearing themselves with pride.
They were parts of the human race. They were legitimate parts of humanity in both its unity and its deep and pleasant variation. No person was by birth in a particular group born superior or inferior to another of some other group. Africans were not on the margins. They were also on the centre.
Rather than just fit into the agenda being designed and dominated by others, artists of African descent sought clothing and colours that they found creative for their situation. They made creative and artistic expressions that were very innovative.
The physical features of Black African persons were not to be stigmatised and repressed, but to be celebrated. The African, in all particular features, was a legitimate part of humanity. The African was not inferior. Thus the decision to take a stance of acceptance and pride in their inherited features.
It was not one’s fault that they were Black or White. In fact, it was not a fault to be Black. Being of African descent was to be accepted and celebrated. Thus the skin tone was accepted.
And thus, the Afro hair style, as promoted by persons like Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, Angela Davies, Muhammad Ali, and millions of persons in USA, Africa, the Caribbean, UK, and other places of residence of persons of African descent, asserted their hair as part of being a person and being a natural part of the human world and life itself.
For persons of African descent, Mama Aretha Franklin and others were symbols of self-appreciation and self-acceptance.
It was not just about the message in their songs. Some fans were not concerned about the message but that the singers were persons of great deepness. The singers could stand up as great persons of African descent. Some were inspired not by their songs but images they proudly pronounced, images like Afro Hair style.
And when they were singing, they DID sing! It was singing from the soul and reaching your soul. They not only moved the listener who was of African descent but others of other backgrounds. The artist of depth is able to reach the human soul in whatever circumstances the person is found in. True art is universal.
Many loved these persons, these beings, these beings showing and sharing deepness.
Mama Aretha Franklin has been one of those that stand out as great movers of the various sectors they are in. Indeed, their work affects people from other fields.
This is in similar ways that during the struggle against racism and Apartheid in Southern Africa, a person like Mama Winnie Mandela, sparked strength in many persons in various fields, including music and the arts.
In various fields, they have affected how things will be done. They move things in directions that forever transform sectors and, indeed, the whole society.
They affect many things near and far. They heavily affect those in later generations.
From their presence, musicians and artists like Aretha Franklin have set the direction in which things will move. They do their remarkable works with ease. The easiness flows with great depth and reach.
They come in and do angles that other persons will be inspired with. They show others how things could be done. Their talent fills up and provides the direction and the minimum standards to follow. Their innovation becomes a way of doing things.
Mama Aretha Franklin brought out deep talent. She was deeply passionate in her singing. She was confident in her talent. She was one of those eternal artists that take a space in their generation and move on to reach generations that follow.
They reach relevance in all generations. They cross generations. Deep art is boundless. True art is eternal. True art lives on after the maker. The maker lives on in the art.
Their arts and works reached many in the world. They were appreciated as innovators and masters in their fields. What they said and did had great influence on many others.
From various backgrounds, Aretha Franklin and colleagues were foremost human. They showed that each is valuable. We are valuable to others and to the body of humanity as a whole.
Apartheid and racism were sins against humanness. They were sins against humanity, as individuals and as a whole. Apartheid, racism, tribalism, and sexism are crimes against humanity. They are sins against life itself.
Africans and persons of African descent, as all humans, were human first. We were legitimate. All skin tones of humanity were legitimate. Wherever you were born was also an important part of the world.
Aretha Franklin reached and crossed generations. She linked generations. Aretha Franklin has been an important figure in people emphasizing the humanity of all persons from all backgrounds.
Over the six and half decades, performing to her Brothers and Sisters of various backgrounds, singing at the Martin Luther King funeral in 1968, singing in the presence of President Barack Obama in 2009 and later, or presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton before that, with a Presidential Medal of Freedom given to her by George W Bush Jr in 2005, or playing roles in the very memorable and enjoyable Blues Brothers movie, Aretha Franklin put her soul into her performance.
Aretha Franklin did not hesitate, delay, or avoid practising her talent. She expressed the deep wisdom that Barack Obama was to, decades later, in 2008, say:
“… Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. We are the hope …”
Yes, “we are the ones that we have been waiting for.” I believe this, from Barack Obama, is one of the biggest transforming realisations you will find. And, without hesitation, decades earlier, Aretha Franklin had started to follow and practise her artistic gift.
Like others, I felt some bond with Aretha Franklin. Some of us have lost another of our Mothers and our Aunts. Mama Aretha Franklin has passed on and her works continue to live on in the souls of many worldwide, now and in future.
The writer, based in Lusaka, Zambia, is independently involved in writing and the arts, social development work, and observation of peace and conflict process issues.
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GCB, August 2018, LUSAKA.