The Talking Drums of West Africa

Over at Global Wire Associates, we released the first article in our yearlong series about the history of communication. We highlighted some of the earliest methods of messaging, ranging from cave paintings to hydraulic semaphore systems.

We briefly touched on all of these methods, but the one that most interested me was the West African tradition of “talking drums.” Drumming for communication continues to be prevalent throughout the region, especially in Nigeria. The drums would communicate specific messages across many miles to different villages. Drumming is also used to celebrate community rituals and religious traditions, as well as tell stories and even gossip. It was also used during wartime to rally the troops.

During slavery throughout the Americas, African slaves would pass their time drumming for entertainment. However, drums were banned because the slaves were communicating to each other over long distances, especially during slave revolts, using a code their owners couldn’t understand.

Go figure!

I have been lucky through my work to travel to Nigeria, Ghana, Benin and Senegal to learn about the different functions of drumming for communication.  Even within the same country, drumming has many different “languages” and traditions.

I found these great videos that explain the history of drumming among African peoples.

James Baldwin: Optimism and Relevance

Photo Credit: Bob Aldeman, Magnolia FilmsLast weekend I saw Raoul Peck’s excellent documentary about James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro. Baldwin says so many mindblowing things in the film that it would be hard to try to reinterpret everything that was said by him (so see the movie!). However, if you are unfamiliar with his work, please start reading some of his books, particularly No Name in the Street and The Devil Finds Work, which the film quotes from regularly.

The basis of this movie comes from an unfinished script Baldwin wrote to his agent in the 1980s called Remember This House. In it, he documents his relationships with his friends and civil rights icons Malcolm X, Medger Evers and Martin Luther King Jr.

I was most fascinated by this film because I now have a deeper appreciation for his thoughtfulness and powerful vocal expressions which are still relevant today. Watching the film would give you the impression that he was still alive today speaking about current racial and political issues, although most of the interviews from the movie were done in the 1960s.

Baldwin was years ahead of his time!

Out of the many, MANY things, one thing I remember him saying in the film was that he is only an optimist because he is still alive. Meaning life as a black man in America, whether in the 1960s or today, is pretty dismal. When he said that, I immediately thought of the continuing murders of unarmed black boys and men I see on the news regularly. I also thought about the continued disrespect black people face even in the highest levels of society. Look at all the racial hostility President and Mrs. Obama faced from white detractors and the amount of dignity and class they showed them in return. Unlike the current president, Obama had thick skin and had courage under fire.

We all have to be optimists just to survive.

More Compassion and Joy Is Needed Today

dalai-lama-desmond-tutuThe holiday season should be a time to think about our common humanity.  This has been a really ugly year, and now is a good time to step back and to maintain our courage under fire.

My favorite book from this year was The Book of Joy:  Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.  These two men have faced harsh adversity in their lives and it was great to read their perspectives and advice on dealing with life’s struggles.

Desmond Tutu has been a role model to me for many years and I have had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of times.  He is a true fighter and definitely someone that everyone should listen to when he speaks.

The Curious History of Men in Heels

img_00000794I was in Toronto a month ago for business and had some down time to explore the city. One place that caught my interest was the Bata Shoe Museum, which is dedicated to all things footwear.

At first, I didn’t know if I was going to be interested in going there. But a Torontonian colleague told me that I might actually like it. So I went there with an open mind and a discounted ticket and left surprisingly wishing I could stay longer!

It was actually a very interesting, thought-provoking visit. The museum goes into the long and fascinating history of footwear around the world, from the ancient Egyptians to today’s popular women’s wear. When you think about, the shoes we wear do have an effect on social, political and cultural trends.

The best exhibit I saw was one on the history of men in heels. It’s very rare to see men in heels today, with the exception of some gender-bending trendsetters. But for the most part, heels are seen as the ultimate female fashion statement.

But did you know that back in the 1600s high heels were only worn by men who wanted to show off their masculinity, authority, and wealth? About a hundred years later, there was a sharp reversal when it became unmasculine for men to care so much about their attire like women, and so men in heels went to the wayside.

However, there have been short, cultural periods when men in heels came back into fashion, like cowboy boots and glam rock platforms. The dearly departed Prince was also famous for challenging gender norms in his high-heeled dance moves.

The “Standing Tall” exhibit is on view at the Bata Shoe Museum through May 2017.  You can see some of these great, masculine heels here.