A few days ago, my heart skipped a beat when I heard the world renowned South African hornman, Bra Hugh Masekela express his desire for the new generation to hold on tightly to their heritage. It was a bitter-sweet moment when during an interview, he said: “I’m scared that when my grandchildren grow up, they will say to each other – they say we used to be Africans”.
His familiar wry laugh was ironic as it was startling. As much as his comment drew much mirth, I certainly felt a tinge of sadness.
Bra Hugh and other South African music icons are celebrating 70 years on this planet this year. Bra Hugh, a veteran activist is more aggressive than ever as he launches his latest project – 100 years. Still in development, the project is a musical which traces the migration of peoples across and into South Africa through music over the past 100 years.
His is a beautiful vision, which is proving quite difficult to sell to potential sponsors in South Africa’s private sector. Maybe they just don’t get it! Music – the universal language – tells our stories in multi-dimensional texture, it ignites our soulfyah as it roots memories of those who walked before us.
In shaping the past 100 years, Bra Hugh is thinking of those coming in front of us and preparing a Pandora’s Box of treasures that remind us of who we are.
Stories of migration and the memories passed from one generation to another are a valuable and in many cases diminishing heritage. As I imagine Bra Hugh’s grandchild, I think of my children and how their children will identify themselves. For their heritage, like most across the Caribbean is a glorious tapestry – I choose to affirm my enriched heritage status - of an ancestry that criss-crosses the globe.
What Bra Hugh’s commentary is probing is the vexed question of how one generation after another shapes its cultural identity in the journey of evolution. As we easily slip from one cultural expression to another, is it true to say we’re losing our culture. On this side of the world, the it-generation, upwardly mobile, accessorized to the hilt and worldly-wise, are branding themselves the Afropolitan.
Converging an African heritage rooted in a cosmopolitan – read European/other world – mélange which carries with it an underlying message saying: ‘now we’re really making it. We’re connected across the globe, we’re influential but make no mistake, we’reAfrican! So, if we follow the Afropolitan principle then perhaps we are on a slippery slope heading to non-distinct identity and hazy cultural expression.
A vexed question indeed with no easy answers! For, as we ponder the cultural integrity of our grandchildren’s world view, we, like Bra Hugh would do well to build on the foundation stones of those who came before us. Whatever ‘politan space you may inhabit, how will your footprints shape the future?