#musicamondays #MusicMondays (49)

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Welcome to the 49th installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

Let’s throw it on back to one of my favorite soup songs from India. I have no idea what ever happened to this guy, but even though its a sad song about a boy not getting the girl he wants it gets me bopping. And I hope it does the same for you. Have at it – all day long!

Swaziland’s Reed Festival, Feminism, Monarchy and other Africanisms…

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P1090220.jpgSince I moved to Mozambique, I had heard that travel in neighboring countries was one of the best advantages of adopting Maputo as home. And since I’d started traveling outside of Maputo, I had heard that one of the most fascinating cultural experiences in the region was Swaziland’s Reed Festival. In layman’s terms, it is an annual festival where all the girls and women in the Kingdom of Swaziland dance and sing for the royal family, in the hopes of being chosen as the King’s next wife. Yes, I said “next.” The current King has 14 wives and each year that he is alive he is able to choose another.

My human rights and feminist mind said this would be a sad festival to witness. After all, Swaziland is Africa’s last absolute monarchy and “King Mswati III has ruled the small country with its one million inhabitants since 1986. In 1973, Mswati’s father Sobhuza II banned all political parties and declared a state of emergency, which is still in place today. The king governs the country’s 55 administrative divisions, known as Tikhundla, through its chiefs.” According to avert.org, Swaziland has the highest HIV prevalence rate in the world, with 27% of their 15-49 age population infected with the deadly virus. “Heterosexual sex is the main mode of HIV transmission in Swaziland – accounting for 94% of all new HIV infections… In the context of the entire population, 31% of all women are living with HIV, compared to just 20% of men.”

So, what exactly did this festival promote? Traditionalists said it continued centuries old practices that insured clan linkages and promoted population growth to ensure ethnic survival. How could that be relevant in the context of contemporary realities? Democracy and political participation are non-starters, deadly STIs and STDs plague the country, polygamy remains prominent and partially explains the disproportional prevalence rate in women (42% of pregnant women are said to have the virus) , 63% of Swazis lives below the poverty line, and life expectancy is 48 years old.

I went in with an open mind. I knew that to most outsiders’ gaze this would be just a chance to see topless women or a condemnation of Swazi’s “backwardness” in the face of all the above, but for me this was an opportunity to see contemporary Africans performing and preserving what they considered to be an important cultural practice.

 

What I found was a mixed bag of emotion and observation, culminating in extreme gratitude. First, it’s important to know that the festival goes by multiple names, Umhlanga (officially), Reed Festival or Reed Dance. The festival is about 8 days long and it’s never the same dates each year. It’s typically at the end of August, but no one really knows until much closer to the date when the Royal Family announces the festival dates. The open space at Ludzidzini Field, the Queen Mother’s land, becomes the stage for scores of childless, unmarried, (I believe also virgin) girls and women dressed in traditional clothing, but bearing their breasts.

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Second, in the sequence of the dates of the festival, I visited on Day 6 and all photos here were taken from that small component of the entire event. We arrived at the field around 3pm to find that many of the dancing groups had already assembled and were making their way through the arena. The girls were jubilant and seemed to be having a really great time. As most people note that Swaziland is pretty boring most times of the year (except for Reed Dance and Bushfire), it came as no surprise that these young ladies were just enjoying the excitement of being together, dressing up and having something to do.

Since Swazis speak English it was a photographer’s dream! I asked them if I could take their picture before doing it and they all obliged. Some really enjoyed being the center of attention, posing in groups and staging themselves.

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Last, we left early to get back before dark. The drive from Swazi’s Ezulwini Valley to Maputo is about 3 hours, there are no street lights and Day 6 fell on a Sunday. Leaving after only an hour and a half felt like peeling myself away from something great that was just beginning to erupt. The press started to come and shoo us out of the way. More people started to arrive, including an aggressive group of Indian men who looked way too excited to be there for the festival’s intended purpose and seemed focused on a field full of breasts (…just the kind of creepy guys I expected might be drawn to such an event). More fashionable African women started to come too. Their breasts were covered, though they wore fashionable elements incorporating their traditional fabric (with the face of the King or the royal shield) with modern hipster jeans and sneakers.

As I left the festival with my 3 travel companions, we all walked away with different feelings. I was excited for having been able to take such interesting and intimate photos. My husband was sad realizing how young most of the girls were and constantly being reminded of the event’s purpose. One friend was excited to be back in Swaziland after having been gone since high school. He remembered places, recalled words and practiced recalling what he knew of Swazi. And his girlfriend observed, enjoyed and shared in the colors and styles of the fashion inspiration. So, we all left with our expectations shifted and perhaps a lot of food for thought, in all kinds of directions.

Turns out the festival is less about selecting a new wife for the King and more to “preserve the women’s chastity, provide tribute labour for the Queen Mother, and produce solidarity among the women through working together.” For me, it was one of those rare opportunities to see African people living their culture without caveats. There were no explanations or excuses, just Swazis being Swazis as they saw fit. While they spend the rest of the year shuffering and smiling, surviving in the face of historical and actual challenges, this festival felt like one of the few times they got to live out some form of vanity and celebrate themselves… in all their glory.

I was thankful to be able to catch a glimpse.

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Photos are the author’s own. Please request permission to reproduce elsewhere.

 

 

#musicamondays #MusicMondays (47)

Welcome to the 47th installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

So if you listened last week, then you know who Sauti Sol is, and if you know me by now you already love and worship Mi Casa. Ok, they had a musical baby that is this morning’s song. And if you play it on repeat this week, you are highly likely to have an awesome experience doing just about everything…🙂

Have a great day ahead!

musicamondays MUSICMONDAYS (42)

Welcome to the 42nd installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

For my lovers of house music, I think you will enjoy South Africa’s DJ Mobi Dixon and Msaki combo of Bossanova and South African house.

Enjoy the day ahead friends!

 

#saytheirnames

“Deceased individuals do not have Privacy Act rights,” says Cornell Law.

And so it is, fellow American, that when you are shot down in the street or bullets are pumped into you while seated in your car or you are put in a chokehold, that is forever your legacy. You, deceased individual, are a hashtag, a cause, a martyr and hologram, because not only do you not have privacy act rights, you no longer have the right to live. Your entire life gets boiled down to one moment, beyond your control, for which you are forever a victim. Your family members’ names get published by CNN and the NYTimes. If your story is amplified by anyone except someone who loves you beyond a headline, you become a caricature – maybe good, maybe bad. But, it’s highly likely that if you’re Black, it will be bad. But, let’s not make this a race issue…

According to some sources, there are now 700 of you that got killed this year alone at the hands of police officers. But that number is still rising, so let’s not jump to conclusions.

Let’s take last year, 2015. Remember that year?  I do. It looked a lil something like this…

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http://mappingpoliceviolence.org/unarmed/

And these officers, the ones that killed you, what are their names again? I’m sorry, I think I may have missed that detail. Let me re-read the article. Let me try the BBC. Since, you know, they’re not like our U.S. outlets and they are prone to being loose lipped.  Oh dear, you have to scroll alllll the way down… I mean waayyyyy down.

 

Let me be clear: They, the ones shielded by a blue code of silence with gunpowder residue on their hands, get to be relatively anonymous. We are never to know the names of their children or the address of their spouse’s job? Their families don’t give tear filled press conferences at City Hall offering more context about the loved one of theirs who was involved in these acts and whose lives will never be the same? Their entire lives are not boiled down to that one hot-head moment where – oh, I don’t know – they killed a person? They get to be anonymous and start over after the dust has settled on a grave across town?

Something is very wrong here. Wronger than we thought.

This kind of questioning is not radical. It is not incendiary.
It is educated. It is exactly what a person with common sense, a thread of humanity, and a moral compass pointing in the right direction should ask.

Be careful what you call terrorism. Be careful what you call a security concern. Despite many deaths (in churches, in kindergartens, in nightclubs), it is still legal to carry a gun. The ole’ “he’s got a gun” routine is up guys. Unless it is pointed at you (you know, put yourself in the place of the now deceased and relive that ‘gun pointed at you’ imagery), you’re supposed to use that cop training to know how to stay calm under said pressure. After all, you are a professional.

If I hadn’t seen these events with my own eyes, I would have vowed that there would never be another 1992 in LADec 1981 in Philadelphia , 1967 in Newark, 1965 in Watts, in my lifetime.

Because WE, all of us – you, me, the proverbial we – were beyond this. We were polite, un-intrusive about our racism and our “hidden” biases. See, we even call them hidden, when everyone around us knows that we are bigots in our own way, narrow minded in our own right. But, alas, racism has been here all the time. Moving on up from the mean streets of urban centers, to lay in wait in institutions of higher education and just below glass ceilings in elite professions.

That, my friends, is terrorism.

But the privileged among us feign plausible deniability.

One more thing left unsaid. But, we (the people) can do better than this.

We can say their names.

One by one, every time we find out. Every time it’s discovered. When you kill someone you relinquish the right to remain unquestioned by the people who pay you to protect them. Your accountability isn’t to a police station or your colleagues on high. It is to us. Why should we defend your right to privacy, when you deny our right to life?

…Better yet, the right to feel safe in our homes, our own neighborhoods, our own country.

You owe us an explanation, in both a court of law and of public opinion.

May you be reduced to nothing more than a trending hashtag. A faceless, lifeless, soulless entity who is a caricature of all our stereotypes, unable to function in this world as you once did before that fateful day. May your professional oaths force you to face up to the public you vow(ed) to serve. May your family have to suffer with reading the gory details of your past sins plastered on blogs and news outlets so long as they shall live. May their cries in your defense be meaningless and give no redemption. May you never have a sleepless night for remembrance of a moment in time when you were in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong person, on the wrong side of a powerful pointer finger.

May you never rest in peace.

#Michael Slager

#Jason Van Dyke

#Darren Wilson

#Kizzy Adonis *chokehold*

#Blane Salamoni

#Howie Lake II

#Timothy Loehmann

#Johannes Mehserle

And the names go on…

Lest we fail to exercise our right to free speech, while we still breathe free air.

 

 

 

Modest Fashion for the Soul

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Muslimah on We Heart It

This is officially the first year that I haven’t been able to fast for the month of Ramadan and it’s been a hard learned lesson in both humility and faith. In being denied participation in the one genuine act of Islamic practice that I’m committed to wholeheartedly, I found myself reminiscing about the days when it was much easier to be Muslim in this world. Easier because extremism wasn’t so pervasive, because stereotypes were less biting, and because – frankly – people couldn’t tell a Muslim from a Persian from a Sikh and, so, there was a certain peace in being able to be ignored by default. But now, things have changed, and not for the better for anyone. It feels scarier to be a Muslim now more than ever and I’m sure it also feels scarier to not be.

While everyone all over the world is worried about terrorists in Orlando and in Dhaka and in Istanbul there are other movements coming from the Islamic world’s women that should be taken just as seriously. The #modestfashion movement is something I stumbled on while trying to get my Ramadanian dose of Muslimah love via the internet. And love I found…

When most people think of Muslim women, they think of hijabs (head scarf) and burqa/burkahs (and I won’t even start on a niqab). The debate around these two articles of clothing seem to be the majority of what you might find on Muslim women – period. But, Islam is the world’s second largest religion and is estimated to have about 1.7 billion believers. Trust me, they don’t all dress the same, much less share the same beliefs about religion or religiouswear. As #blackandMuslim will tell you, most people have stereotypes in their heads of Muslims that subscribe to the belief that all Muslims look like they are Arabs or Middle Easterners. But actually Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population and there are even videos about the growing population in places like Chiapas, Mexico. Needless to say, there are variations in faith, practice, and aesthetic.

Most people believe that Muslim women are wearing the equivalent of a brown paper bag. There are no curves, there is very little femininity in the idea of a burqa/burkah. Yet, there are many brands that are bringing color and joy to clothing that bears less skin. For women who actually observe covering, there are subtle differences in how much hair is shown, how much ankle is shown, how much of the face is seen that can typically help you identify which country she might hail from. Many, like me, don’t cover at all. In any case, there’s a whole body of fashion that goes forgotten, like abayas and fabulous shoes, that are both standard fare and fashion statement. Rather than debate about how much of woman’s body is shown as an indication of her liberties or lack there of, there are many women who are owning the decision to wear what they choose and owning the choice to wear more.

Mormons, Muslims, Jews, Atheists and a variation of women all over the world, of various religious and ethnic backgrounds, have been uniting around the idea of being covered. There’s something appealing about gravitating away from the fatshaming  that’s so common in the London Tube and all around us, and embracing our capacity to be beautiful, mysterious, appealing, and amazing with a less (skin) is more aesthetic to match our attitude. Rather than continue to sing the praises of a movement you may not have seen, I’ll show you what it looks like and maybe, you too, will find a reason to get on board with embracing the freedom of femme that comes with bearing less skin. All of you with maxi dresses in your closets are halfway there already…

The (hijabi) American fencer, Ibtihaj Muhammad, is perhaps the most prominent example in the U.S. at the moment (woo hoo and she’s from the great state of New Jersey!) through her brand LouElla , which focuses on being covered AND fashionable. The idea is that you don’t have to be Muslim to enjoy not showing every inch of skin you own… Not that there’s a problem with showing all that skin… but hey, it’s not everybody’s thing.

For more ideas: London just had a Modest Fashion Show in Feb & so did Istanbul. The fabrics, the textures, man… I’m having a #fashiongasm over here. And if hijabs aren’t your thing, imagine yourself in the rest of the outfit. Use a lil’ imagination people!

 

 

 

musicamondays MUSICMONDAYS (39)

Welcome to the 39th installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

This bluesy, jazzy tune was pretty popular, so you may have already heard this one when it broke about a year or so ago. But any who, this is usually  how I feel on Monday mornings and I think the British singer Lapsley captured both the ethereal and suffering nature of the human condition.

In short, “Be Kind. Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle.”