Ah comin home. Not in a ‘ask for special permission for the border to re-open for me’ kinda way; but ah coming home, the way I have come home again and again over the last 33 years, to beg ah underscoring of meh life as Trinidadian—verification for all the ‘nansi story ah telling people here in America since ah reach up here in 1987.
Yuh know meh already. I’m a poet. I’m a writer. I’ve come asking you to hear me talk about what Trinidad and Tobago means now that I’m an immigrant somewhere else; to hear meh talk bout cricket, to hear meh talk bout pan and kaiso, and being Black in the Caribbean and translating it to being Black elsewhere.
I’ve written books. They’ve won awards sometimes, but there is no ratifying like coming home—like hearing the people say: ‘…yeah, he talk de truth. Yeah he make we look nice’.
I’ve come to you as such, and ah comin again with a crew: a band. Check we out: Roger Bonair-Agard on vocals, Andy Akiho on pan/composition, Jeffrey Zeigler on cello, and Sean Dixon on drums.
Miyamoto is Black Enough takes its name from Arianna Miyamoto, the Japanese daughter of an African-American father, who became Miss Japan to the Miss Universe competition in 2015, and despite having achieved the highest ever finish for a Miss Japan, endured the consistent critique that she was not ‘Japanese enough’ to have represented Japan.
African diasporic culture is made up of millions of Africans of mixed origin who are frequently disowned by their non-African sides. Black diasporic culture draws those to its massive Borg-like and ever evolving flex.
Blackness in its cultural production then is constantly teaching the world a lesson about what it might look like to live in harmony with the rest of its selves, and our band—of two Japanese ‘hafus’, a Black Trinidadian and a Euro-American—is making music which can be argued to be formally doing the exact same thing.
Burn/Build is our first album. And it asserts first off Trinidadian ownership of pan, and its accompanying cultural artefacts, before going on to speak to Blackness’ larger diasporic triumphs and struggles; in painfully personal tones and within the context of a larger responsibility to the world, and land, and history, and the future.
Says Dr Shana Redmond in the liner notes: ‘The musicians converge in order to record and refuse the knowledges that would keep them from each other—the drum, the word, the string, the pan; the races, the cities, the beliefs, the cultures. None of these were intended to be close or sound beautiful together and yet, thankfully, here they are: Miyamoto is Black Enough’.
Perhaps we’re a jazz band after all. Says Wikipedia: ‘Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation. Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African-American music traditions including blues and ragtime, as well as European military band music. Intellectuals around the world have hailed jazz as ‘one of America’s original art forms’.
Miyamoto is Black Enough answers to all these names, and a few others too. If there is Latin and Afro jazz, perhaps we’re some sort of hybrid Kaisoca Jazz Punk and answer to the name call of hip-hop in insistent and driving shouted vocals too. Our sound searches for a home at the same time as it relishes in the boxes it refuses to occupy.
Perhaps this is our greatest strength, that we’re making a genre all our own and one therefore that has a work to do, not explicitly claimed by a music before us. I know these are bold claims. We’re in the process of building a bold music and our audiences seem to agree.
I take their word for it, and I press on with the ever growing sense of what a vowel can do to recreate music, buoyed by the compositions of Andy Akiho (whose chops as a panman are honed in the crucible of several Panoramas right here in Trinidad), and Jeff’s and Sean’s virtuosity.
Dr Redmond also says in the notes that: ‘Each song has its own time and emphasis but together sound like a continuing story, thanks to clever narrative transitions and an enduring symbiosis between the musicians’.
She continues later: ‘[…] Listeners are obliged to run from the fires set to Black churches, from the lies of empire and colonialism, from the violence that too many of us know as life. It is a meditation on our racial present and our past, of course; we burn and build with every successive generation, knowing that destruction—that is, abolition—is sometimes the only way to mount the futures that we need’.
So yeah, Editor, ah comin home. Airwaves for now and with luck de whole side of musicians indebted to Trinidad & Tobago for what it has given us so far. Burn/Build is an anthem and thesis for our time. I’m so lucky to have a voice in it.
Sincerely and One Love,