Writer, reporter and Pan Africanist Obi Egbuna, the U.S. correspondent to the Zimbabwean national newspaper The Herald, is one of the most active and knowledgeable people that I know of in the country when it goes beyond just spouting rhetoric about his beliefs. He recently finished, alongside co-executive producer M1 of dead prez, the third volume of the “Battle Cry for Cuba and Zimbabwe” compilation, which is a cultural protest against how the two countries have been unfairly sanctioned by the U.S. government.
At the heart of the June 2014 concert for the Cuban 5 in Washington, D.C., were Obi Egbuna, Stic Man, Mistress of Ceremonies Chioma Iwuoha, M1 and a background singer with Roots Radics. – Photo: Amoa Salaam
Check out Obi Egbuna in his own words, as he discusses African history, as well as the U.S. government’s history in trying to stifle the self-determination of these two revolutionary countries that have defied U.S. imperialist aggression for decades.
M.O.I. JR: What made you originally start this project, which concentrates on two nations that the U.S. government considers enemies?
Obi Egbuna: In the past, when asked a similar question pertaining to the “Battle Cry for Cuba and Zimbabwe” project and movement, I would instinctively talk about the dynamics surrounding this effort. However, in this interview, I feel obligated to start at the very beginning.
In 1997 after the hip hop star The Notorious Big was gunned down in Los Angeles, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan held a meeting at his residence in Chicago. His guest of honor was none other than Kwame Ture, who was given the opportunity to address the artists in attendance. This was one year before Kwame lost his battle with prostate cancer.
I had a lengthy phone conversation with him about that meeting. He was extremely positive but nevertheless determined to push the artists to be directly involved in our organizational efforts. The main feedback I provided was the views and sentiments of the artists represented a microcosm of the so-called African American community as a whole.
At that point those hip hop artists involved in struggle embraced a narrative that the vote was our only outlet of political expression. During the Rodney King rebellions at the height of our movement against police terrorism and brutality inside U.S. borders and African youth fighting military neo-colonialist dictators on our mother continent, Rev. Jesse Jackson was strongly considering hiring Sister Souljah as his voter registration coordinator in the summer of 1992.
Speaking at the Rainbow Coalition’s national convention, Sister Souljah said she could deliver 500,000 youth to the voting booth. The next day Bill Clinton attacks her at the same convention. Clinton was the main beneficiary of our outrage over the Rodney King verdict in particular and police terrorism and brutality in general.
The third volume of the “Battle Cry for Cuba and Zimbabwe” compilation is a cultural protest against how the two countries have been unfairly sanctioned by the U.S. government.
In 2004 you then had a hip hop convention in Newark where the end result was to rally behind John Kerry in his quest for the U.S. presidency. I promised my brother and comrade Kwame Ture we would reverse this trend. When we speak of Cuba and Zimbabwe in this context, our people can understand what inspired the “Battle Cry for Cuba and Zimbabwe” project and movement.
For those Africans who look at life itself through the lens of the Democratic Party, they must be reminded that in the case of Cuba, it was the Kennedy administration who imposed this monster after the CIA-led Bay of Pigs invasion failed the year before. Out of the 635 assassination attempts on the life of Commandante Fidel Castro, the first 100 were spearheaded by the Kennedy administration.
In the case of Zimbabwe, it was the Lancaster House negotiations in which Jimmy Carter in the last year of his presidency, along with his British counterpart, the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, negotiated with the leaders of the liberation movement, Robert Mugabe of ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) and Joshua Nkomo (Zimbabwe African Peoples Union). Then Ronald Reagan informed Comrade Mugabe he was not obligated to honor this agreement, where the U.S. and British governments between 1980 and 1990 would put up the currency to help the former settlers transition as indigenous Zimbabweans settled on the land lost to them since Zimbabwe was colonized in 1890.
What is laughable is how Carter is masquerading as the savior of the Palestinian people but has never explained why he never insisted that his successors honor the Lancaster House agreement that he was responsible for negotiating in good faith. The point is when we look at the U.S. blockade on Cuba or the U.S.-E.U. sanctions on Zimbabwe, the hypocrisy and deceit of the Democrats is front and center.
Cuba is our home away from home and Zimbabwe is for Africans what Palestine is for Arabs and Bolivia is for indigenous people in this hemisphere: a rallying point for daughters and sons in Africa in all 125 countries where we are living today. In 2005, M1 and I were part of a press conference with the Grass Roots Artists Movement and New York Councilman Charles Barron, where we called for Cuban doctors to be allowed to come to New York City due to the public health crisis. This was a complement to a similar campaign we had in connection to the closing of D.C. General Hospital when we called for Cuban doctors to come to D.C. and keep the doors of the hospital open.
In 2007 at a concert in Washington, D.C., highlighting police terrorism and brutality around the death of Deonte Rawlings, who was gunned down by two off-duty police officers, M1 and I met physically for the first time. We discussed the press conference we organized together. We agreed that our community dropped the ball around Hurricane Katrina, when Cuba offered to send 1,500 environmental disaster specialists to the Gulf region, yet we focused more on trivial matters like Kanye West stating Mr. Bush doesn’t like Africans.
There was no end of talent at the Cuban 5 concert last June. Here, from left, Prhyme Element, assistant producer of the third volume of the “Battle Cry for Cuba and Zimbabwe” compilation and writer of “Tupac’s Aunt,” Bomani Armah, whose song “Chimurenga” is on the first album, M1 of dead prez, Obi Egbuna and Stic Man, the other half of dead prez, salute solidarity. The T-shirts were designed by PanAfricanTees.com. – Photo: Amoa Salaam
We then discussed the attacks on President Mugabe by the hip hop icon Nas, on Damien Jr Gong Marley’s debut album “Welcome to Jamrock.” The next thing we agreed on is we would do a couple of songs about the U.S. blockade on Cuba and U.S.-E.U. sanctions on Zimbabwe.
In 2009 we sent an appeal to the U.S. government calling for the immediate lifting of U.S.-E.U. sanctions on Zimbabwe. In 2010 I interviewed M1 in the Herald, the Zimbabwe national newspaper, where it was shared with the world what our intentions were.
The next phase was M1 stating we needed to build a movement around artists vehemently opposed to U.S.-E.U. sanctions on Zimbabwe and the U.S. blockade on Cuba. He felt a couple of songs wouldn’t do these issues justice.
I want the whole world to recognize M1’s vision for calling for a movement of artists to stand with the people of Cuba and Zimbabwe. I was a tad bit hesitant because of our schedules to make a call that bold and the bulk of the work would fall on me as an organizer.
With that being said, I wouldn’t change a thing, and I thank M1 for challenging me. That is one of history’s beautiful characteristics – the challenges it imposes on servants and frontline fighters in the people’s struggle. We then shifted strategic focus and planned to do an album instead of two songs.
We will be doing albums until both the U.S.-E.U. sanctions on Zimbabwe and the U.S. blockade on Cuba are lifted once and for all.
It took three years to release the first album, which was released in December of 2013. The album that was released two weeks ago is our third offering in less than a year and a half. We will be doing albums until both the U.S.-E.U. sanctions on Zimbabwe and the U.S. blockade on Cuba are lifted once and for all.
M.O.I JR: How did you select the artists that were on this edition of the project?
Obi Egbuna: We did not select any artists. M1 put out a call to action in the fall of 2013 that was published on Your World News by our Brother Solomon Commissong. The response of the artists was inspiring.
What I respect about each and every artist is they made their contributions to this project because they felt historically obligated to stand with the people of Cuba and Zimbabwe, not because they wanted to add to their resumes they were part of a project with M1 of dead prez. When you collaborate with an artist of Brother Mutulu’s stature (M1’s full name is Mutulu Olugbala), that is a calculated risk you are taking.
On the one hand I am glad to see a protest artist of the highest order embraced and celebrated by his peers. However, it becomes a problem when artists who have so much to offer at this crucial moment in history are star struck by M1 but could care less about lending their voices to this effort to defend Cuba and Zimbabwe. We had a few artists who contributed material that had nothing to do with Cuba or Zimbabwe.
M1 put out a call to action in the fall of 2013 that was published on Your World News by our Brother Solomon Commissong. The response of the artists was inspiring.
The role I played was writing bullet points about both Cuba and Zimbabwe that served as the backdrop behind many of the original songs made by artists towards the project. With that being said, a few artists still sent material that had nothing to do with Cuba or Zimbabwe. One artist even sent us a song about Selma, for crying out loud, and felt it was something we could use. The explanation was he lost his voice. When it was all said and done, he never contributed anything.
We had another manager of an artist swear he emailed material from his artist that we never received. I only raise this because some artists and managers feel if they already have a personal relationship with M1 or dead prez as a group, they may not feel in the final analysis that this particular project is something they need to contribute to.
The main point I’m making in relationship to this matter is the sole objective of the “Battle Cry for Cuba and Zimbabwe” project is to put both our former colonialists, slave masters and freedom loving people all over the world on notice that we are building a cultural army to fight for the lifting of the U.S.-E.U. sanctions on Zimbabwe and the U.S. blockade on Cuba. On this there is no compromise.
We would like the artists who have been hesitant to become part of this project and movement to reconsider and contribute to the next volume. That would speak volumes concerning their political maturity and integrity.
I spent the entire month of February in Zimbabwe, which provided me the opportunity to engage artists on the ground. Some of them heard the first two albums played on Star FM, one of the country’s national radio stations. The track called “Trap Zimbabwe,” in which the beat was produced by the other half of dead prez, Stic Man, was done by an artist out of Portland named Mic Crenshaw, who is part of a group called the African Hip Hop Caravan, which has artists from Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Farafina Kan’s Denu drummers and dancers, ages 3-7, opened the concert. Small but so full of energy these little performers make thunder and lightning on stage. – Photo: Amoa Salaam
I had the pleasure of spending time at Morgan Zintec College in Harare. I heard their choir performing at the unveiling of the super computer at the University of Zimbabwe. We received two contributions from a hip hop group in Zimbabwe called Final Warning. One song is congratulating President Mugabe for assuming leadership of the African Union and the other song is celebrating his 91st birthday.
When I shared the project with their director, Mrs. Nhamo, she loved the music and informed me their choir would contribute some material toward the project. The group Bituaya is from Venezuela. For those who may not know, Zimbabwe’s President Comrade Robert Mugabe is the only African head of state to receive both the Jose Marti Award, Cuba’s highest honor, and the Simon Bolivar Award, Venezuela’s highest honor.
The Venezuelan embassy in Washington, D.C., shared the previous two albums with Bituaya. When they heard what our objectives were, they contributed three outstanding pieces of material. Another positive aspect of this third volume is, like the previous two, it is also multi genre; however, the cross generational appeal is rather humbling indeed.
The original singer of the legendary R&B group, The Moments, sent us a song called “Dreamin.” The DC labor chorus sent us a song called “None of Us Are Free.” It was confirmed that song was co-written by none other than Brenda Russell, best known for her epic songs, “Piano in the Dark,” “Get Here” and “So Good So Right.”
The youngest artist was a 12-year-old named Amoa Salaam, who recited a tribute poem to the late president of Mozambique, Samora Machel, who allowed President Mugabe and ZANU to set up a guerilla camp in Maputo. When his plane crashed in October of 1986, two Cuban doctors were on the flight.
We also received two pieces from Umar Bin Hassan, one half of the Last Poets.
The sole objective of the “Battle Cry for Cuba and Zimbabwe” project is to put both our former colonialists, slave masters and freedom loving people all over the world on notice that we are building a cultural army to fight for the lifting of the U.S.-E.U. sanctions on Zimbabwe and the U.S. blockade on Cuba.
M.O.I. JR: What is the story behind you getting the legendary Umar Bin Hassan of the Last Poets to participate?
Obi Egbuna: I had the honor of meeting Brother Umar four years ago when he was performing with the comedian Paul Mooney in Washington, D.C. The minute I shared what M1 and I were planning to do, a very warm smile immediately appeared on his face. He promised to contribute some material.
After hearing this, a smile appeared on my face, because I realized what that would do for our project and movement. When Brother Umar heard the first album he called and was very complimentary, I jokingly told him approval from him would make us impervious to the criticism that we would receive from Cuba and Zimbabwe’s detractors.
After we released the second album in April of 2014, Brother Umar promised to have something ready for the third album. In my capacity as the U.S. correspondent to The Herald, I would send Brother Umar my articles because he told me the propaganda aimed at discrediting President Mugabe and ZANU-PF was extremely intense.
The pieces he contributed made me realize when it comes to decolonization and overcoming the slave mentality, we have three phases of art. The first phase deals with identity and pride. This helps us love our parents, relatives, children, wives, husbands and entire community.
The second phase deals with enlightenment. Whether it’s in the form of a song, film or painting, the social commentary being made is glaringly obvious. The third phase is protest art in which the goal of the artist is to remind you fighting on the battlefield is not an option but your historical obligation. This is what Paul Robeson was speaking of when he said, “The artist must elect to fight for freedom or slavery.”
For those who realize our history is invaluable, I am humbled to say I played a small role in developing a project connected to Cuba and Zimbabwe in conjunction with M1 of dead prez and Umar Bin Hassan of the Last Poets. I feel the best way to gauge one’s commitment to our struggle is by the contributions you make to struggle.
M.O.I. JR: How have people reacted to the project? How have people in other countries reacted to the project?
Obi Egbuna: Inside U.S. borders, honesty compels me to say a combination of gratitude, shock and a tad bit of envy. Those who have met M1 know he is extremely affable and as accessible as his schedule allows him to be.
Playing major roles in the Cuban 5 concert, in addition to Obi Egbuna and Stic Man and M1 of dead prez, are the 12-year-old photographer for the show Amoa Salaam, Sister Anjahla, who performed at the concert with Roots Radics and sang “A Mighty Road” on the second album, and Renee Flood-Wright of Red Lantern Photography. Amoa Salaam, a student of Obi’s in his Mass Emphasis Children’s History and Theater Company, also recited “Your Spirit Soars Through the Sky,” a tribute to Samora Machel. – Photo: Amoa Salaam
I say this to say M1 is an organizer first and an artist second. This is why he has a multitude of projects with activists and artists in every corner of the world that are pending and will eventually be done. If one is on the outside looking in, this could be perceived as disorganization, where in all actuality it represents a higher level of organization – a protest artist of M1’s caliber who courageously and unapologetically embraces the organizers and organizations whom he feels best represents our African fighting spirit.
For organizers who question our brother’s commitment to our struggle, all I have to say is listen to the three “Battle Cry for Cuba and Zimbabwe” volumes and remember this was not only his brainchild, but think of all the artists from Harry Belafonte, Carlos Santana to Miriam Makeba who have visited Cuba but never organized artists to make material calling for the immediate lifting of the U.S. blockade on Cuba. You then realize that Bob Marley’s historical performance in the Rufaro stadium on April 18, 1980, during Zimbabwe’s independence celebration, was 35 years ago. And as captivating as it was, it was just one song.
M1 refused to make a song. He decided to build a worldwide movement of artists who would fight for the lifting of U.S.-E.U. sanctions on Zimbabwe. You then have to look at the artists who have been attacking Zimbabwe since they embarked on the land reclamation program: Thomas Mapfumo, Hugh Masekela, even Lupe Fiasco.
In the case of Cuba, you remember the statement put out in 2009. The so-called Afro-Cuban Carlos Moore organized a statement entitled “Acting on our Conscience,” a declaration of African American support for the civil rights struggle in Cuba. Some of the artists who signed this statement were Ruby Dee, Melvin Van Peebles, Susan Taylor of Essence magazine, Randy Weston and also the social critic and academician Dr. Cornel West.
This was an attempt to peddle the falsehood that racism that exists in Cuba is not a carryover from colonialism and slavery but negligence in the revolutionary process. This means we should be investigating incidents of racism instead of fighting to lift the blockade on a nation that has done more to eradicate racism than any other nation in the Western Hemisphere.
M1 refused to make a song. He decided to build a worldwide movement of artists who would fight for the lifting of U.S.-E.U. sanctions on Zimbabwe.
We choose to fight the blockade rather than validate a statement spearheaded by a mercenary who sold his soul to the Ford Foundation to get his book published and a group of artists who function from the understanding that celebrity allows you to pedal falsehoods and confusion.
One of the pitfalls of living and functioning in a capitalist society is, even in our struggle, you encounter would be comrades who are extremely cut-throat and competitive. They are well aware of this project and movement but choose to ignore it.
This decision is partly because they embrace a narrative of our struggle rooted in victimization, not resistance. If you count all the critics in our community who are critics of hip hop and popular culture, your tongue would be as dry as the desert.
One of the pitfalls of living and functioning in a capitalist society is, even in our struggle, you encounter would be comrades who are extremely cut-throat and competitive. They are well aware of this project and movement but choose to ignore it.
They simply can’t relate to organizers who develop projects, campaigns and initiatives aimed at intensifying our resistance instead of running around the country immortalizing our former colonialists and slave masters. The people of Cuba and Zimbabwe are very pleased not only with the three volumes of material we have created but appreciate our resolve.
When the Cuban diplomats in D.C. saw our concert around the Cuban 5 last June, they couldn’t believe their eyes. The concert exceeded our own expectations. When the chairman of the Zimbabwe Music Awards heard the music, he started screaming for joy. The project has been received very well from comrades and friends all over the world. We have been complemented not only for our efforts but the material as well.
When the Cuban diplomats in D.C. saw our concert around the Cuban 5 last June, they couldn’t believe their eyes. The concert exceeded our own expectations.
M.O.I. JR: What is the purpose of creating these compilations? What do you hope people get out of them?
Obi Egbuna: That our struggle to make our cultural and political expression synonymous continues and we have reached a level and conclusion that the U.S. blockade on Cuba and the U.S.-E.U. sanctions on Zimbabwe are blatant examples of diplomatic terrorism and naked aggression.
Just recently President Obama met with Commandante Raul Castro in Panama and shook his hand in public for the second time. The first time was at Madiba Nelson Mandela’s funeral in 2013.
We must remember in his quest for the U.S. Presidency in 2008, Obama launched scathing attacks on Cuba, and his concept of normalizing relations mentions nothing of lifting the U.S. blockade on Cuba. Just last year M&T Bank shut down the bank account of the Cuban diplomats not too long after a group of demonstrators campaigning for the release of the Cuban 5 were not allowed to protest in front of the White House even though they had permits. They were told by the Gestapo Secret Service to go to the Justice Department and the FBI building to protest. I guess the cameras down there work a lot better.
The U.S. blockade on Cuba and the U.S.-E.U. sanctions on Zimbabwe are blatant examples of diplomatic terrorism and naked aggression.
Thanks to history, we know normalized relations with U.S. imperialism mean nothing. When the CIA overthrew Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah in February of 1966, not only did Ghana and the U.S. have normalized relations, the U.S. ambassador to Ghana went to Lincoln University with Nkrumah.
When Patrice Lumumba was assassinated in the Congo in 1961, the two countries had normalized relations. When Muammar Qaddafi was assassinated in Libya after seven months of bombing by the U.S.- NATO alliance, he was taking steps towards normalized relations with U.S. imperialism.
We are not impressed with President Obama’s impersonation of Richard Nixon. This was the cavalier manner in which Nixon approached China. It was reading the writing on the wall, not an act of conscience and good will.
Brother Pete of the International Hip Hop Association joins Stic Man, Ma Dukes, mother of the late legendary producer J Dilla, and M1 at the concert in June 2014. – Photo: Amoa Salaam
In the case of Zimbabwe, the Obama administration makes no secret they are heavily invested in a regime change agenda. As a senator, he wrote President Bush a letter urging him not to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe until the dark cloud of Mugabe was ousted from power.
We humbly believe the “Battle Cry for Cuba and Zimbabwe” project and movement is the missing ingredient, aimed at complimenting the most genuine efforts inside U.S. borders. The bulk of nations and peoples on the planet are unequivocally against both the U.S. blockade on Cuba and U.S.-E.U. sanctions on Zimbabwe; however, U.S. imperialism has been able to contain the political efforts inside U.S. borders.
We believe the additional dimension of music and poetry being spearheaded by the children of the ‘60s generation will not only help intensify Cuban and Zimbabwean solidarity efforts, but help create the strongest ties with our people throughout the Americas and Southern Africa. We must not let this generation of youth grow up accepting this fascist and white supremacist definition of America that the Democrats and Republicans shove down your throat from the moment you are ready to receive information.
We say to them Fidel Castro is the greatest president in American history. That includes Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Carter, Clinton, the white liberals Africans worship like gods, politically speaking. We follow that up by saying the slave ship is the first form of public transportation. This forces Africans in the U.S. to realize that our political cultural and economic strength lies in our ability to strengthen ties with our people in the rest of the Americas. Defending the Cuban revolution is part and parcel of this process.
The bulk of nations and peoples on the planet are unequivocally against both the U.S. blockade on Cuba and U.S.-E.U. sanctions on Zimbabwe; however, U.S. imperialism has been able to contain the political efforts inside U.S. borders.
If one summarizes the situation in Mother Africa, it is almost inevitable you will arrive at the logical conclusion that Northern Africa is the most isolated part of Africa, East Africa is the most chaotic and West Africa is the most corruptible. Helping Southern Africa remain stable is the key to continental redemption.
This puts the Zimbabwe question on center stage. President Mugabe at the tender age of 91 has raised the bar on a level we will not collectively appreciate until our children are having children. However, what must be done must be done.
Through melody, rhythm and harmony we plan to take the efforts to defend Cuba and Zimbabwe to new, unprecedented heights. We are optimistic that people will join the fight on a massive scale.
Those of us from the ‘90s generation had an ideological struggle around the question of leadership and historical responsibility. Some of them were mentees of the civil and human rights workers who studied Gandhi.
Because of this influence, they believe leadership and visibility are one and the same. For this reason they make being seen or heard a crusade. For them, it’s all about pursuing accolades and recognition instead of challenges and responsibility.
Through melody, rhythm and harmony we plan to take the efforts to defend Cuba and Zimbabwe to new, unprecedented heights.
I used to love when Kwame Ture would say Africans in the Democratic Party illustrate visible powerlessness. When I first heard that, I started studying the lives and work of Ahmed Seku Ture and Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah. Since then I have functioned from the understanding that the challenges that history presents us with are its most beautiful characteristic.
In 2004, shortly after my contract in the Department of Housing and Residence Life at Bowie State University expired, I was contacted by the campus police, who informed me that an FBI officer was at the school asking questions about me. I contacted my lawyer, who, after speaking with the agent, was told this was standard procedure when someone spends significant time with the Cuban diplomats in Washington. I say that to say if the disciples of J. Edgar Hoover are going to violate my rights, I couldn’t think of a better reason than for standing with the people and revolution of Cuba.
Around this same period the former Zimbabwe Ambassador to the U.S. Dr. Simbi Mubako informed me that the NAACP went to Zimbabwe for the purpose of observing the 2002 presidential elections. After returning to the U.S., they had a meeting with U.S. State Department officials. Whatever transpired in that meeting, they decided not to publish their report, which was the reason why they went in the first place.
This upset President Mugabe – not just because the NAACP wouldn’t publish the report. Even worse, a copy was never sent to Zimbabwe, which diplomatically speaking is a blatant sign of disrespect. After some persuasion, the NAACP decided to take their report to Ambassador Mubako and he immediately sent it to President Mugabe’s office.
We want our people to know that the blockade has cost Cuba over $100 billion and ZDERA (Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001) has cost Zimbabwe over $40 billion. They must realize these measures are aimed at destroying the social and economic infrastructure of both nations.
The audience gave the performers a well deserved standing ovation at the concert for the Cuban 5. D.C.’s Cuban diplomats were thrilled with the concert, and the chairman of the Zimbabwe Music Awards started screaming for joy when he heard the music. – Photo: Amoa Salaam
We are still used to conventional warfare and since we live in the country Dr. King correctly called the greatest purveyor of violence in the world, equally as important, this is the work that Malcolm, Amiri Baraka, William Worthy, Julian Mayfield, Mae Mallory and Shirley Graham DuBois engaged in.
This is what historical responsibility is all about, expanding on the work of those who came before you. They stood with Cuba before we were born. The Zimbabwe work represents our commitment to build ties with the driving force behind the most stable region of Africa.
M.O.I. JR: Who are some of the other artists who participated, and where are they from?
Obi Egbuna: I mentioned quite a few of them earlier. I want to bring attention to an artist known as The Pinnakal, who is the only artist to contribute material on all three albums. He was born and raised in Washington, D.C., to be a hip hop artist, which is not easy. As you know, D.C. is the home to go-go music, which is D.C.’s spin on R&B, like Motown is to Detroit, TSOP in Philly, STAX in the South.
I have known him since he was a student at Bowie State University. Many years ago we advertised a program where the flyer stated we were showing “The Godfather” and “Scarface.” When the students got there, they realized they were set up; it was a seminar about Cuba.
As many of our brothers who credit Brian DePalma’s rendition of Scarface as what inspired them to deal crack cocaine, we forget too easily that film begins with the Cubans who chose to be part of the Mariel boat lift and come to Miami, where they were coerced to join terrorist organizations like Brothers to the Rescue and Alpha 66.
The terrorist groups are responsible for several of the 635 assassination attempts on the life of Commandante Fidel Castro. We wanted the students to understand how a movie originally made by the billionaire Howard Hughes about the life of Al Capone was remade in Miami and became a crucial piece of propaganda against the Cuban revolution.
On one hand, this film promotes genocide in our communities inside U.S. borders and at the same time aims to justify undermining a revolution where 70 percent of the people are Spanish speaking Africans with the best education and health care in the world, free of charge. The Pinnakal reminded me of that program, and said from that moment he was waiting for the right time to make a song about Cuba.
The Pinnakal is the only artist to contribute material on all three albums.
He then reminded me he was present when we brought the former Zimbabwe ambassador to the U.S., Dr. Simbi Mubako, to campus and discussed Zimbabwe 24 hours before the 2002 presidential elections. On the first album, his song has a sample of Kennedy announcing the blockade on Cuba and President Mugabe discussing the land reclamation program in Zimbabwe.
The first song, “Resilience,” is by Aziza Lisa, a neo-soul artist based in Chicago who I met at Chicago State University when we organized a showing of the film “Mugabe: Villain or Hero,” produced by our comrade and brother Roy Ageymang, who won the special jury recognition award at the Pan African Film Festival a few years back.
Another powerful song and PSA is by Tasleem Jamila, also based out of Chicago. The name of her song is “We are Still Screamin for Freedom,” which celebrates Brother Malcolm. As 2015 marks 50 years since Malcolm X was assassinated in Harlem on Feb. 21, and that happens to be President Mugabe’s birthday, we wonder how those who claim to love and be inspired by Malcolm sit idly by and do nothing about the sanctions on Zimbabwe and the blockade on Cuba.
M1 and Stic Man of dead prez close out the historic concert for the Cuban 5, who were released from long prison terms shortly thereafter. – Photo: Amoa Salaam
We have Iman Shabazz, who is based in Richmond, who did a powerful song called “Chimurenga.” We have an icon in the spoken word community, Nubia Kai, who did a poem, “In Defense of the Cuban Revolution.” One of my former students, Alan Price Jr., who is studying at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, did an amazing violin solo performance of “Guantanamera.” We also have Native Sun out of the U.K. who contributed two songs to the project.
M.O.I. JR: How can people get the compilation?
Obi Egbuna: They can go to the link battlecubazim.wordpress.com. What is also important to mention is the work we have done that is connected to this project. We are about to launch an educational project entitled “Merging Our Experiences.” The aim is to ensure moving into the future.
In the field of education, African children no longer are force fed the narrative that colonialism and slavery are separate episodes in African history. We will create a timeline in conjunction with the Southern African nations. Those of us living in this hemisphere will start our part with when our ancestors arrived as slaves all over the Americas. The SADC countries in return will chronicle their history, starting with when they were colonized up to the current day.
In addition to highlighting our resistance we will focus on our contributions to art, science, music and medicine. The project will run for an entire year upon completion. The information from the timeline can be used to create new curriculums, text and workbooks, case studies etc.
On the link, people can see the appeals we sent to the Obama administration and African Union. The one to the administration demands Cuban doctors be allowed to come to Native American reservations, prison infirmaries and clinics and hospitals that were forced to close down inside U.S. borders.
We sent an appeal to the African Union demanding a joint fund be created to finance the 4,000 member HIV-AIDS brigade that Cuba offered to send to Africa as their contribution to the millennium fund. We will still pursue this, especially since President Mugabe is the chair of the African Union.
Thank you for this interview. I also wrote a children’s play called “Cuba’s Greatest Army: A Tribute to the Cuban Doctors.” It was performed three years ago at the Venezuelan ambassador’s amphitheater.
Another play I wrote was called “Maintaining Resistance Behind the Bars,” which highlights the Cuban 5. It was performed at the Students Against Mass Incarceration’s national conference in 2013. Another play I wrote was called “Sally Mugabe Lives Forever,” which was performed a few years ago on the 20th anniversary of her death.
I also just co-wrote two plays in Zimbabwe in February with Nyaradzo Tongogara, the baby daughter of the late guerrilla icon and freedom fighter Josiah Magama Tongogara, who died in December of 1979 in a car crash in Mozambique on the way back to Zimbabwe.
People can also see our appeal to the U.S. government demanding the immediate lifting of U.S.-E.U. sanctions on Zimbabwe and a resolution we did concerning Zimbabwe being denied access to the Global Fund due to the land reclamation program. This has been a long journey, but it is only beginning.
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached email@example.com. See also stories by Obi Egbuna previously published by the Bay View: “Looking at the life of freedom fighter Obi Egbuna Sr.” and “At 91, President Mugabe leads Zimbabwe, SADC and African Union – with vigor.”
Battle Cry For Cuba and Zimbabwe Volume 3