There was a Peter Cook documentary on BBC4 last week called ‘The Undiscovered Peter Cook’. Some lovely soul put it on Youtube so I could watch it. Not specifically so that I could watch it but you know what I mean. It’s been nearly 22 years since he died and his 3rd wife Lin has kept his house in Hampstead exactly as it was, albeit much tidier. This is the first time we’ve seen any of this stuff and it was cracking. He’s been a complete hero of mine since I was about 14 so it was a total joy to see this treasure trove of home videos, long lost Not Only But Also sketches and other bits and bobs.
One thing mentioned in the documentary was his bookshelf – and loads of books about religion. In his biography by Harry Thompson, everybody claims to have never seen Cook read a book in his life. But he listed reading as one of his 10 favourite things for a newspaper in the mid 80s. The documentary voice-over (Victor Lewis-Smith) said ‘although agnostic and of no particular belief system, Peter was always fascinated by religion’. I thought ‘hello, sounds familiar’. I don’t believe in anything myself and yet am finding myself increasingly fascinated by all these belief systems, their origins, what they are about and how they are used. So much of the music I love is religious, or certainly has its roots in that, so my search for deeper understandings of the music has lead to this.
I was baptised, although I think my 9 month old self should have put his foot down more, and all the family on my Mum’s side had Church weddings and are buried in Church graveyards. They weren’t Church goers per se but lived in a world where that’s just ‘what you do’. Stuff like that was just done in Church, regardless of if you went of a Sunday or not. That’s how I saw it anyway. As a kid I was in Beavers and Cubs, which is (or was back then) closely associated with the Church, so had to go to Church occasionally for that. I absolutely hated going to Church as a kid. It was the most boring thing I could ever imagine. It smelt funny and was all dusty and everyone in there just seemed miserable. The statues all had that same face on. Plus it went on and on and on and on. I didn’t care much for Religious Education in school either.
But now, I’m incredibly interested and curious in it all, especially the religious beliefs of Africans and the Diaspora. Religions like Candomblé in Brasil, Santeria in Cuba, Rastafarian, Islam, traditional beliefs here in Africa, and the omnipotent influences of Christianity bought over this way by European oppressors and colonialists. I hadn’t realised how large the Muslim population in Salvador was either – Yoruba and Hausa Muslims that were taken over the Atlantic, who would have fought each other in Africa, found a commonality through shared beliefs when in Brasil. ‘Jihad’ just means struggle and traditionally was never about senseless acts of aggression. The Koran says that it doesn’t make distinction between religions – that everyone believes in ‘God’. All these things are covered in Don Ohadike’s book Sacred Drums of Resistance and it is properly fascinating. It covers so much about how music and religion acted as modes of resistance for black people to white oppression. Highly recommended if you can pick up a copy and I’m only half way through so far.
Candomblé, Santeria and traditional Yoruba beliefs are basically the same thing. The apparent reasons for such a large Yoruba dominance in South America is because many of the last slaves taken over were Yoruba and their religion is very resilient. Apparently many Africans regardless of their ethnicity adopted or claimed Yoruba heritage. The Orixas have fascinated me for some time now. Seyi put it really nicely the other day. Ogun is the deity of Iron, and Iron is important to us (think of Red Wine, Steak, Dark Chocolate etc). Similarly Yemanja – that’s water. We’re made up of mostly water. Eshu is the deity of free will – giving us the choice to make our decisions – AKA our conscience. The list goes on. It makes a lot of sense. The deities represent the things that make us us. The same thing with Pagan beliefs in England – using the patterns of the sun and the moon, and things that are already there, as markers for celebration, saying thank you and taking stock. I might take all the best bits and start my own.
I’ll leave this here – this is in a Christian panflet lying around the house.
We were in Satellite on Saturday and they had power again. I’d bad-punningly named it Sate-no-lite because it just never has any power. We saw the moment it happened – the kids in the street were overjoyed and one of them, shouting Oyinbo, came to shake my hand. That resulted in all of them running and shaking my hand as they larked around high on electrical life. On Ibasa, the island becomes so much calmer when there is electricity. 5 days and counting now, the longest stint yet. Everyone catches up on their favourite soap operas on television, which tend to be Indian if they aren’t the fantastic Yoruba soaps. Every Yoruba soap I’ve seen has an anguished mother and a gangstery son who gets his comeuppance.
Have you ever seen a 2 year old bash out a perfect son clave? Or a 2 year old bash out a perfect 6/8 bell pattern? I have. Lami was hitting the chair on Saturday when we were watching football and he has already got it. He repeated the trick this morning with a toy drum. Ojo and Seyi started singing a song this morning and Lami ran over to a drum and marked the tempo perfectly. The song immediately stopped because everyone was rolling around in shock and laughing. I’ve always been somebody who finds it hard around children. Even when I was a kid I found kids difficult. But Lami’s great fun; a really lovely 2 year old. He’s my new best mate. What’s happened to me!
I’m mentally preparing for leaving Nigeria, home for nearly 6 weeks now, and being in Senegal, a different language and culture and being much more on my own. I don’t know what I’ll do without Ojo. My French is made up of silly chat up lines and insults, so we’ll see if I even make it to the hotel. I’m really interested to see the differences between Nigeria and Senegal. In Lagos, everybody thinks they are the boss. A lot of the reason why you get so much traffic hold up is because nobody dare let anyone have ownership of the road. Or dare let anyone be seen as better than them at anything, ever. Everyone thinks they are the chief. I will show you who is boss! To nullify any possible attempts of someone else getting the better of them, people in Lagos just immediately show the others who is boss. And everybody is doing this, creating the aggressive chaos of Lagos. Senegal is quite a way up the coast and was a French colony (as opposed to Portuguese and then British here) so I’m excited to see the differences and similarities.
You often see this painted on to houses: ‘This house is not for sale. Beware of 419’. People pretend they own a property and try and sell it to someone. 419 is slang for fraud. Imagine waking up and having your house sold by some fraudster without your consent!
I’ll miss Eko Samba very much. I’ve been embraced and welcomed by a band in a country that is so important to me. This music that I love, with its roots here but forming in Brasil, has crossed back over the Atlantic and is played brilliantly by a beautiful group of people. To have been involved and been a part of that is going to stay with me forever. This band is so important. I’ve also been completely blessed by the things that I’ve done here, and the way things have happened. I’m taken aback by the similarities in personalities of people that play in community groups like this. You see a lot of shared character traits, or I have seen this in the different bands I’ve played in. This music appears to attract a consistent set of personalities, no matter where you are in the world. It’s fascinating. I’ll miss those guys a lot and I sincerely hope I can secure another Visa for Nigeria to spend the last days of 2016 here with the band again before flying to Ethiopia on New Years Day.