Voices of the
By Beverly Fields Burnette
were forced to leave without their drums…
dragged off without their ancient, communal voices.
were shoved, some tricked upon the vessels of their
cowry shells and colorful kente cloth left scattered
along the trail,
talking drums lost in the struggle.
drums they later carved from the mighty oak
not as authentic as those made from ebony,
they would have to do.
the captors heard their new drums
how the sounds pulsated in the wind,
drums were taken, too,
all that remained for their expression,
the percussive-ness of their bodies:
slappin’, finger poppin’, foot stompin,’
the stamping of old boots on new roadways;
religious chants were sung in hidden meadows;
picking story-songs and work songs created in turpentine
hymn~ “a prayer,”
work song~ “a crying out”,
tales of lost love ~ “a healing;”
stories told by the rhythm of powerful sledgehammers ~
few hours of their rest and leisure,
Hambone rhapsody emerged~
leathery hands creating a concert on powerful thighs!
when that African beat found its voice,
storyteller’s words matched the hand movement,
that innovation could not be muzzled.
were voices of the culture,
keeping time and creating records
with their telling.
invisible pulsating drum matched their noble spirit.
they sat among the others to share stories,
secret chants and old world ceremony.
freedom came, they passed on stories of hardships and
played “the dozens” for Zora’s books;
direction in the poems of Langston,
soulful messages in the Blues, and in the scratchy
“Satchmo’s” scat songs.
told the world their stories in teasings, tears and
just a hint of their masked feelings,
some mournful tales were left untold.
Rights marches brought brave
smokey coffee houses,
led to un-tethered tongues that tackled RAP
that Beat-box grove on BET ;
handed up that Def Jam move on HBO.
in this 21st century,
words and pictures cross continents by a “broadband”
KINGS AND QUEENS,
crowned with kufus and tie-dyed head wraps,
speak among us….
age-old fables for new villagers.
royal ones pass on stories of our victories and our
heavy messages of political caution and council
our own survival;
mouth lighthearted stories for our amusement.
day masses who’d nearly forgotten,
remove their shoes and approach the grassy stage to
disconnect cell phones, so they can sway,
jeli plays a quiet kalimba tune;
the pulse of the balophone and the djembe.
mesmorized by the voices of griots, storytellers,
historians playing NEW DRUMS and speaking in
as they summon the whole village To
* * *
For A Season’s Griot~2006 NPR/PRI
Kwanzaa Program (Written on November 24, 2006 and aired
nationally from December 26, 2006-January 1st, 2007)
posted 7 January 2006