Tag Archives: jazz

One Night on San Carlos

25 Oct

One night on San Carlos

Listen now to the misshapen tall tale about how my five lettered name came to be. A Zulu horn player and his chanteuse troubadoured through the streets of San Fran and came upon our house to jam and graze through the grass.

Mama was fat with me and my rambunctiousness and no gift in hand, the African horn man looked in his bag for a name. He played her several melodies and staccatos, some somber and deep, others smooth and easy, like a drive down Pacific Coast Highway.

They must have rapped and jammed jazz and politics all night. You know how musician folk are, let alone two trumpeters, playing ego and sex in every lick like silk running over chords and dandelions while Mama and Mbulu side eyed and sucked teeth.

Soon the last song faded and fatigue lulled them to slumber, leaving the man from Johannesburg with one last offering. It was the best he had, full of Akibulan pride and history. It was green and natural, something about a flower he probably plucked calling on a memory of a spring afternoon.

Mama breathed it in, smiled graciously, and changed it to suit her best.

And so it is that Asani is rebellious in Swahili.

©Asani Charles

2016 AP Reading Poetry Reading

17 Jun

I am quite blessed and honored to serve as an AP Reader for College Board’s AP English Literature Exam now five summers in a row, and to celebrate our last reading in Louisville, Kentucky, I read two pieces from Love You Madly: Poetry about Jazz, edited by Lisa Alvarado. Here is one of the three pieces I wrote for Love You Madly Poetry, inspired by the legendary Hugh Masekela, who gave me a most perfect gift, my name.

Mahlalela (Lazy Bones)

There is no laziness in those bones.

Music is the symbiotic marriage of math and science

to passion and sound, birthing life, melody and drum

but no work of art is that simple.

Exile a man because he protests with a flugelhorn and prod him out at gun’s barrel,

amidst an ebullition of homestead and singeing flesh, and thwart him westward,

much like the fathers before him. He does not respond in kind,

but riffs on his clarion, “Mahlalela,” lazy bones, as Letta rubs their noses in it.

Rob a country of her griots and the callers will muster like Malcolm and MacDuff,

amassing millions, nations even, firing lyric and melody, chanting “Amandla!,[1]

while Makeba, Masekela, Mbulu and Semenya, turn the studio into the war room

and dismantle the Boer bear from distant waters rallying, “Idlozi livukile! Masibuyel’ emakhaya![2]

No lazy bones in this anthem and victory march song.

Its cadence proud and contagious, its timbre too bright and confident,

fully assured of the perfect, long suffering truth that neither life nor land

has been lost in vain,

and that freedom yet comes.
© Asani Charles

[1] Power

[2] The spirits of our ancestors have awakened! Let’s return home!