Category: Reviews

DSC00437Few stories have brought my heart such despair as much as hope as this 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup that I chanced upon in a small hidden bookshop in Amsterdam.

Solomon has “common hopes, and loves, and labors of an obscure coloured man, making his humble progress in the world”. He is born and raised a free man. The lower-middle class industrious man is married with three children: Elizabeth, Margaret and Alonzo. Together with his wife, Solomon tries to make ends meet by running various short-lasting projects, including a career in music. Solomon is among few black males from Saratoga who can make some good money off his violin playing.

Two circus promoters approach Solomon offering him a job in Washington and promise to pay extremely well for his services as a musician. In desperate need for providing for his family, he follows them immediately without alerting his family. By tricking and drugging him, they kidnap him from his native Saratoga into slavery deep in the south of Louisiana – where he would be bound for 12 years.

“My subject is, to give a candid and truthful statement of facts: to repeat the story of my life, without exaggeration, leaving it for others to determine, whether even the pages of fiction present a picture of more cruel wrong or a severer bondage,” Solomon writes in the first page of the first chapter. I sobbed occasionally while flipping through his pages and now I balance tears reflecting upon the book as I write this. How a free man or anyone could find himself bound in chains and shackles then subjected to utmost inhumane treatment is heartbreaking.

This is a solitary tale yet a painting of the lives of so many – cast and condemned as slaves, either born into it or captured like Solomon.

Life of a Slave

tyas_cvrIn chronological order, Solomon explains to the reader the process of how he was enslaved, and the day-to-day life of a slave. The life of a slave is worthless. Some slave owners feed their animals more than a slave. And some let dogs maul their slaves. A slave’s history, if any, doesn’t exist. The words freedom and liberty must never be uttered from a slave’s mouth (lest they receive several lashes as punishment). The subject of freedom and liberty however was always spoken or thought of in private as revealed by Solomon, discrediting the old assumption that slaves never understood or even fathomed what it meant to be free. Before his kidnapping, Solomon recalls, “I frequently met slaves … Many times they entered into conversation with me on the subject of slavery. Almost uniformly I found they cherished a secret desire for liberty …”

Slave buyers bargain for human beings like they would for any commodity. Their qualities are rated just as a mule’s would. If need be, they are stripped and signs of scars from lashing indicate tendencies of a difficult animal to be made servant – the price immediately depreciates. Once bought, slaveholders can hire out their slaves just like animals or trucks. A slave can be forced to work tirelessly under the watchful eye of the overseer day and night while being whipped all through. They are also whipped if they don’t produce as expected during the cotton-planting season or if their produce fluctuates. If a slave is found walking to other plantations without a pass written by their master, any white man is permitted to seize and whip them.

At this point of the book, I am appalled at the utter darkness of an era when some life was so worthless to be branded with a price tag.

Throughout a whole year, a slave only gets about three or four days off during Christmas season – when they can eat up and meet with friends from other plantations. This is where and when married couples only unite and parents meet their children. Lovers unite too, “cupid disdains not to hurl his arrows into the simple hearts of slaves”.

The Great Escape

During his bondage, Solomon spends every day scheming how to escape and many times attempts it – a dangerous endeavor that always puts him trouble or risk with its worst punishment being death. During his first attempt, he notes, “we resolved to regain our liberty or lose our lives.” At times, he starts to lose sanity. “Were the events realities indeed?” He is constantly baffled.

After a deathly flogging for declaring that he was indeed a free man soon after his kidnapping, Solomon writes, “I resolved to lock the secret closely in my heart … trusting in my own Providence and my own shrewdness for deliverance.” It’s a chance meeting with a good-hearted white man that sees his road to freedom start. Bass risking his life to write for Solomon is show that good can always trump evil. The important letter they both draft finally reaches the right and lawful office in charge of rescuing those illegally sold into slavery.

In the 12 years, Solomon’s spirit defies, among trials, a deadly smallpox outbreak that claims lives and causes him temporary blindness, thorough flogging, whipping, the jaws of hunting hounds, hunger and an escape that forces him to walk miles and camp in a swamp (amongst wild animals like deadly snakes and crocodiles). He also writes that he wouldn’t have made it out alive without music. Many times, his violin granted him solace, favours and visits to other plantations.

This is an extraordinary story on the resilience of the human spirit, especially in the face of the worst of life’s challenges and deepest of sorrows.

America’s Dark History Vs Redemption

This book totally immerses the reader into the darkest period (18th and 19th centuries) of American history when slavery was legal. It brings to full light the brutal horrors and injustice of slavery and how historically it was associated with African descent – contributing to a system and legacy in which race still plays a dominant role.

The book balances a memoir and objectivity – even though a mere slanted moral weighing machine. Not all slave owners or white people were heartless and inclined to slavery. Many times, Solomon expresses his regret in a “unjust, barbarous and cruel” system that empowered slave owners and a mindset that disregarded a people of one race. “It is not the fault of the slaveholder that he is cruel, so much as it is the fault of the system under which he lives.”

Solomon’s mistress cries at losing her most handy servant, as his master is furious at losing their most-priced property. “Ten years I toiled for Epps without reward … I am indebted to him for nothing, save undeserved abuse and stripes,” writes Solomon. But at the book’s ending, his lawyer and associates who come to the rescue, ask him to bid his former master and mistress goodbye, which he does. Though subtle, this is a sign of a forgiving heart on Solomon’s side and it reflects upon one side of how a whole generation and a people would need to deal with the deeply scathing injustice of slavery and racism in pursuit of healing.

Unsung Heroes


Steve McQueen and the cast and crew of 12 Years a Slave accept the best picture award at the Oscars.

Poor 23-year-old Patsey of Guinean descent was a slave brought over to Cuba on a slave ship. Solomon writes that had she lived another life, she “would have been chief among ten thousand among her people.” Patsey’s life was the epitome of a series of unfortunate events. Among slaves in Bayou Boeuf area, she was known as the queen of the cotton fields and would produce twice as much as any cotton-picker but would be whipped thoroughly at the end of each day if she either picked less or didn’t pick more.

Patsey is also caught in between the lust of her master and overflowing hate from her mistress. “She wept oftener, and suffered more, than any of her companions. Her back bore the scars of a thousand stripes; not because she was backward in her work, nor because she was unmindful and rebellious spirit, but because it had fallen to her lot to be the slave of a licentious master and a jealous mistress.” In the film adapted from the book, it is indicated that their master Epps would also rape her yet in Solomon’s tale, he only insinuates such activities. However, the girl would be branded by hot metal or thrown at glasses by her mistress just for kicks. And even though Solomon endured severe lashing as well as others, he writes that no other worse lashing did he witness during his 12 years as a slave that was worse than that subjected on Patsey by Master Epps.

Patsey is the only one who dares to run after Solomon as he finally leaves Master Epp’s farm as a free man. As she weeps at him, he says nothing at all. This is potentially a sign that even though Solomon left the bondage of slavery, he would remain enslaved by the empathy for his former comrades for as long as they remained enslaved. That’s why he is unable to bid the slaves farewell or urge Patsey to stay alive or strong – for a part of his spirit forever remains in those slave pens.

If you read and reflect upon this book, you will realise that Solomon Northup and everyone who helped him regain his freedom, and tell this story (including the director Steve McQueen) – are the silent unsung heroes of both today and a past time when calling a black man a hero would be despised. It is this unforgettable memoir that would inspire the director Steve McQueen to make the Academy Award-winning film 12 Years a Slave.

The movie befits the story, especially because its characters match the spirit of the slaves as described by Solomon, but it doesn’t come close to the actual suffering and horror slaves in Solomon’s account were subjected to. However, for these two dark-skinned actors in the film adaptation: Chiwetel Ejiofor (BAFTA Best Lead Actor) and Lupita Nyon’go (Oscar for Best Supporting Actress) to win for Solomon’s story is triumphant indeed. I wish he were alive to witness people of all colour and race live and be accorded equally and rightfully. He would assert that the producers, cast and directors who brought his story to life did not trump colour or race but the darkness of an era. He would be proud that they upheld liberty, equality and justice for all.


Alas! The stories of the voiceless slaves have been told, again, hundreds of years later.

BONUS: You might love my review of To Kill a Mocking Bird. Can’t wait for the book’s sequel coming out this July.

DSC_2613~2Zukiswa Wanner has written an enticing tale about finding love and making ends meet. Set in South Africa’s Johannesburg, this is a story about what happens next after finding everything in life or losing just as much.

Mfundo, Mzilikazi and Tinaye are the Men of the South. Their self-narrated stories in first person divide the book’s three chapters. Zuki does more than shine through the voices of her three main male characters and doesn’t grapple with writing in the voice of an opposite sex, like many writers do – leaving me in awe at her beautiful mind.

Mfundo and Mzilikazi are childhood buddies and have shared a lot, from secret youth pleasures like threesomes to tough challenges as grown ups. They both grow up under the scrutiny of a society that expects them to achieve certain things and live in a certain way.

It is Mzi who is everyone’s connecter. He is best friends with Mfundo, and ends up introducing him to the future love of his life – Slindile. Mzi also indirectly introduces his friend Tinaye to his other best friend Sli.

It’s a swirl of events when, after years of friendship Mfundo discovers that Mzi has a queer sexuality. Mzi, a married man, breaks up his marriage to find his sexuality. How Zuki writes about a blooming relationship between two men simply plays out the innocence of how true love unfolds between two, irrespective of sex or cultural inclinations. Mzi’s finding of true love reminds me of Frank Ocean’s We All Try. As the song goes, “I believe marriage isn’t between man and a woman but between love and love”.

Read my review of Frank Ocean’s EP Nostalgia, Ultra

Through Zuki’s characters, the 2010 book brings to light pertinent issues in African societies like being homosexual (considered a taboo by many) and xenophobia. It never escapes her for a moment that, like many other countries, South Africa and its society is not a perfect picture – as painted by many. At the tail end of the book, her main characters all unite over some beer and end up discussing xenophobia, a recurrence in modern-day South Africa. Recent South African government figures indicate that the unemployment rate in South Africa is at 25%. Many residents have accused African immigrants of taking their jobs and committing crimes, yet it is a crime what the very same residents are doing – murdering and attacking foreigners, even blazing up their business premises.

As Mfundo’s sister Buhle defends the intent behind violent attacks directed at people of other nationalities living and working in South Africa, Mfundo interjects saying, “Some of our people are stuck in a comfort zone, waiting for the government or someone else waiting to do something for them”

To acquire a work permit Tinaye, a Zimbabwean working in South Africa, is forced to marry or risk losing a job that he’s worked for all his adult life. Sli discovers that she can’t be with the man she fell in love with. Mfundo thinks his life is over if he can’t have both his music and family by his side. When the perfect couple Sli and Mfundo break up; though unexpected there is something for Mfundo and surprisingly someone for Sli. Mfundo and Mzilikazi both turn out quite differently from what the society deems fit. How everyone rises above their seemingly non-erasable mistakes is powerful for the reader, Zuki’s way of telling us one thing – you could never be so fucked up not to start over again.

Zuki’s triumphant twist to all these scenarios is the ultimate beauty of Men of the South. How her characters’ life challenges play out is a reminder of my own life and that of my friends. It’s extremely attractive how Zuki’s writing is so original yet so relatable in relation to city life and the challenges of modern societies.

You will love Zukiswa Wanner’s wit and charm. Like a good stir-fry, she has mixed up some comedy and thought-provoking tales that dance around our everyday reality. I really love Zuki for twisting the book’s ending. Just when you expect it to end this way, she takes a different route that either leaves the reader with the power to re-write it or the feeling that the book just started afresh.

Desperately needing to know what happened next, I ask Zuki (a friend of mine – always good to namedrop where you have no other choice), “I am dying to know – did Sli respond to Tinaye’s text? And what did she say????” Her response, “Kwaa. I don’t know. Imagine that’s the end? But as one of my more intelligent readers I know you have your own good ending :-) ” I actually do and I am considering blogging it out for fans of the Men of the South.

BONUS: The South African writer Zukiswa also blogs. She has written about why we should all #Boycott South Africa till South African government takes stern action against xenophobia, what she terms afrophobia.

Men of The South was shortlisted for the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. To my lovely cousin Sharon – thank you for lending me Men of The South – my first Zuki book :) Now can’t wait to read her other books: Behind Every Successful Man, Maids in SA and The Madams.

It’s sooooo good to see D’Angelo in concert, I don’t think words or reviews have accurately described an experience with the American singer/songwriter and producer – but I will try.

DSC00198On a very cold winter night, I am with my Europe partner in crime—Sylvia at Stockholm’s Annexet concert arena. Excited to catch D’Angelo’s ‘Second Coming Tour’, we are both expecting so much and curious to see if tonight will be as magical as we imagine it will be. Standing here now surrounded by thousands of people, I can’t help but glow in the realization that the little girl from Molo made it here.

I can’t wait to hear his set list. Hope my Black Messiah favourite Betray my Heart and my all time favourite Untitled make it.

Read my review of D’Angelo’s Black Messiah here

It’s about 9:00 p.m. Some really dope old school neo soul mix takes over but the crowd is stiff and staring hard at the dark-lit stage. After a while, the music stops and all lighting on stage goes pitch dark. Amidst the crowd’s cheers and screams, the official concert kicks off with the sermon-esque intro of 1000 Deaths, which quickly transitions into Prayer in a brilliant mash-up.

D'Angelo UnveiledWe can see only D’angelo on stage, after which full bright blue spotlights overlapping each other in the smoky dark blue stage ambiance stun our expecation. This is the introduction of D’Angelo & The Vanguard – his 9-man band. Their only lady – Kendra Foster – stands out with her angelic dance moves. I can tell that she’s a a free spirit.

After Prayer, the band revisits 1000 Deaths. It’s heavy electric and bass guitar clashing in deafening sound officially denounces the idea of this being a neo soul concert – we are rocking! For the first time, D’Angelo picks his black and silver embellished bass guitar and flaunts his newly acquired skill since taking a sabbatical.

Notable are the transitions between songs – such perfect mash-ups. Like how 1000 Deaths guitar chords transform into Aint’ That Easy. Also, D’Angelo’s careful balance between falsettos and sharp growls is so Prince – he’s clearly morphed into his mentor.


Damn! I took a wonderful shot here. Mutua Matheka would be really proud of me :-)

From time to time, in between songs – the arena bursts into constant applause. And like a Messiah of sorts, sometimes D’Angelo stops to raises both his arms, so wide – as if reaching out to each and every one of us. It’s a reception only worthy of a King or some god and D’Angelo takes it in like one. Sometimes he taunts the crowd,“ Stockholm, are you done yet?”

For the blues and neo soul set, D’Angelo shows up in a red and black poncho to first perform Really Love. A red spotlight shines on Kendra Foster, who opens with the song’s Spanish (I suppose) prelude. The band eases out in this smooth session allowing us to finally hear the gymnastics of D’Angelo’s crisp voice and smooth growls.

The vocal arrangement of Brown Sugah live is really dope, probably the best at the concert – even D’Angelo tries to get us to sing along. The instrumentals have a groovy bass guitar giving the song the funky twist it would have if it were to feature in Black Messiah.

Sugah Daddy live is pretty cool and has a faster tempo. I keenly hear the lyrics of Till It’s Gone (Tutu) here for the first time – such beauty! Written by D’Angelo and Kendra Foster (who I am going to meet in Part IV of this tale). Below is part of the lyrics …

In a world where we all circle the fiery sun

With a need for love

What have we become?

Tragedy flows unbound and there’s no place to run

Till it’s done

Questions that call to us, we all reflect upon:

Where do we belong? Where do we come from?

Questions that call to us, we all reflect upon

Till it’s done

Charade is one of the last and most electric performances as D’Angelo and The Vanguard break into some crazy freestyle and dance – now we’re in church. Wow this is awesome!

The last performance is D’Angelo’s much-talked about Untitled (How Does it Feel?). Of course he doesn’t remove his clothes. This is now – that was then and since, D’Angelo has added a few extra pounds. However, sex is still dripping off him – trust me.

How D’Angelo Funxed with our Psychology

When the concert started, like most artists D’angelo doesn’t introduce the band. Somewhere half way, he introduces his band members one by one with such pride, lastly asking – “What’s my band’s name?” Because most artists do band intros at the end of the concert, I am a little sad, ‘Oh no – the concert is about to end” But its okay because I feel like its been so great so far. But there are other sets coming, yippee! The realization of there being another set makes you feel brand new and so lucky.

At the very end of Untitled, the band vocalists only sing “How Does it feel?” over and over again. It does feel like the best gig I’ve been to all my life.

One by one, the band members start to leave their instruments, either  by setting them down or walking off stage carrying them after bidding D’Angelo goodbye and thanking him – I guess for the opportunity or a great time. It’s an emotional goodbye between D’Anglelo and his band members, till only Kendra is left singing “How Does it feel?”

When she leaves, all of the lights are suddenly off, like in the very beginning, except for the spotlight on D’Angelo – who is now all alone playing the piano and singing “How Does it feel?”

He goes on and on and finally bids us goodbye. Nobody objects. It’s been so great.

I know it’s time to go meet D’Angelo in person. Wonder if it’s really going to happen because I am not leaving here without doing my best.

Look out for the last part of my tales about D’Angelo: How I Met D’Angelo Part IV, coming soon …

Read the full series here:

How I Met D’Angelo Part I

How I Met D’Angelo Part II

How I Met D’Angelo: Part III

How I Met D’Angelo: Part III (Second Coming Tour Concert Review)

Inside Second Coming Tour: How I Met D’Angelo: Part IV

How I Met D’Angelo: Final Part V


“The best-selling story of a negro teacher in a tough school in London’s East End”

To Sir, With Love is such a wonderful book. E.R Braithwaite has written an autobiography so sumptuous with its many life teachings – making it really one of those tiny books that will change your life. This is one of those books I’ve read a lot about, making our acquaintance sort of like meeting the old friend that you never had.

After studying and graduating in England, Braithwaite works for two years pro bono as a Communications Engineer for the Standard Oil Company before wanting to change jobs. He receives letters for different appointments for the same position at three different firms. Despite his qualifications, he is however always turned down because of his black skin. One time, employers note that he is overqualified saying, “[White people] might resent the posh way you speak …” A dejected Braithwaite sets the scenario, “To many in Britain, a negro is a ‘darky’, ‘nigger’ or ‘black’. [When] one sees Negroes as doctors, lawyers or talented entertainers, they are somehow considered ‘different’ and not to be confused with the mass.”

Sir Falls. Then Rises.

The book’s driving force is when a sad and idling Braithwaite serendipitously meets an old man, disguised as another “garrulous old crank” at St James’s Park. He gives counsel, “A big city cannot afford to have its attention distracted from the important job of being a big city by such a tiny, unimportant item as your happiness or mine. It’s no one’s fault.” Their small yet valuable and powerful conversation turns Braithwaite’s sadness into new inspiration making him apply for a job at an education opening. He becomes the first negro teacher at Greenslade School. His class is the most unruly and has the oldest children in the school. The children have driven numerous teachers away with their bad attitude and rude remarks. But after everything Braithwaite has been though to get a job, he’s determined to stay.

Braithwaite slowly teaches the brats life lessons like how to respect themselves first before other human beings, irrespective of colour. When he gets injured once, one of his students sees his blood and gasps, “Your colour is only skin deep, Sir.” As the older students start to refer to each other respectfully Braithwaite asserts that this is something the younger ones would aim at. He writes, “Every now and then I could overhear the now familiar ‘Sir said …’ expressed with positive finality, a constant reminder of the great responsibility I had undertaken.” Their relationship slowly transforms from bad to worse; then to amicable, and finally such fondness. The class even surprises him with a vase of neatly arranged flowers “collected from the tiny backyards and window boxes of their homes … the most wonderful bouquet in the world.” Even though Sir always subscribes to such exquisite etiquette and the finer things in life, equality and nobility is at his heart. When a local newspaper wants to feature the school, they want to interview Sir as a show of the school’s tolerance to supporting British ideals of equality. Sir however, turns them down not wanting his achievements to be aligned to his skin colour.

The book’s life lessons are many; the most profound being – respect begets respect. For instance, in the ruggedness of the kids, Braithwaite finds their style and individuality. “I could understand that such clothes merely reflected vigorous personalities in a relentless search for self-expression.” One of Braithwaite’s colleagues applauds his efforts, “You’ve made good of this job, you treat them with kindness and courtesy and what’s more they’re learning a lot with you.” This book teaches us that even those who seem most undeserving of anything deserve to be given a chance and be treated with respect.

Sir Falls in Love

When Braithwaite falls in love with a white lady, Gillian, he sees how their association exposes her to “vindictive faces and hard stares”. He writes, “It seems as though there was an unwritten law in Britain which required any healthy, able-bodied negro resident there to be either celibate by inclination, or else a master of the art of sublimation … We were to be men, but without manhood.” They are faced with difficulty if they stay together and even more difficulty if they don’t.

Braithwaite writes almost as beautifully as his own love story unfolds, “Life followed no pattern, no planned course. Before tonight I had not even kissed this sweet, beloved girl, yet now, for good or ill, the die was cast. I was afraid of this sweet person prepared to link her life to mine. But others had met this problem before and had succeeded in rising above it” She tells him, “I am not very brave about what people will say and things like that but I do love you completely. I’ll try to be good for you, I think we can be happy together.”

The death and funeral of a parent of one of Braithwaite’s students’ is the book’s ultimate gift of redemption. Seales’ mother was a white lady married to a negro. But still, most of Braithwaite’s students say they can’t go to his home to pass their condolences when Seales’ mother dies, because of what “the rest” will think of them visiting a black person’s home. This disappoints Braithwaite. He feels that they should have borrowed a leaf from the new ideals he’s taught them. Their headmaster warns, “This is a community with many strong racial and religious tensions and prejudices, most of them of long-standing …” Braithwaite decides to go to the funeral solo. Depressed by thoughts of his class; meeting them there, after all, becomes the book’s turning point. He sheds a tear, thinking, “These brutal, disarming bastards, I love them …” Braithwaite always has a sense of humour even in despair—some of his frustration in the book always bursts into comic relief.

Like life – To Sir, With Love isn’t perfect. Being told from Braithwaite’s experience and impressions, we don’t encounter a lot of other black people never subjected to prejudice or up against it; neither do we get a chance to get into the minds of those strongly against racism. There is room to question the objectivity of its themes. I am disappointed that the Sir in the book’s title isn’t the old man who sparks Braithwaite’s wits in teaching and mentoring. However, he writes, “I hope that he may one day read these pages and know how deeply grateful I am for that timely and fateful meeting.”

To Sir, With Love is timeless. Over 50 years later and we can still directly link it to the core message of the Black Lives Matter Movement. “It is easy to reach a gun or a knife but then you become merely a tool and the gun or knife takes over, thereby creating new and bigger problems without solving a thing. So what happens when there is no weapon handy?”

BONUS: It’s fitting that Sir Sidney Poitier who stars in the movie adaptation of the book To Sir, With Love – happens to be the first black person to win an Academy Award for Best Actor (for his role in Lilies of the Field). After To Sir, With Love, Poitier went on to star in two other acclaimed films dealing with issues involving race: In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.


maxresdefaultJ. Cole isn’t your typical rapper. He’s probably the most strategic in the game in recent times. In his second album Born Sinner, he writes a song for hip hop legend Nas – Let Nas Down – yet in his latest album: 2014 Forest Hills Drive (FHD) he raps about having No Role Modelz. In FHD, J. Cole replaces the s with z in songs like Wet Dreamz, A Tale of 2 Citiez and Love Yourz – just like Tupac did in songs from one of the greatest hip hop albums All Eyez on Me.

It’s weird trying to review J. Cole’s calculations. Maybe I am being too critical but FHD feels a little more structural and thought through than his previous albums: Born Sinner and Cole World. However, of all albums FHD is the expression that finally graduates Cole into the school of real rap and independence. Most notable is the fact that this is the first all Cole-World album, featuring no guests or collaborations.

Unlike J. Cole’s mixtapes, albums before FHD had some straight up feel-good music like Can’t Get Enough, Lights Please and In the Morning. But FHD is a move back towards the mixtapes raw vibe. FHD is no mainstream bubble gum music. “The lyrics are powerful,” noted my good friend Jojo, adding, “I was never a die-hard J. Cole fan but this album is perfect. If you’re looking for turn up tunes you’ll be disappointed but if you’re looking for music about real situations then this album is a gem. He spits about angst, fake people, being black in America, happiness, dreams, success, romance and hustling.”

The bravado in Born Sinner’s Villuminati takes new shape and form in FHD’s songs like Fire Squad and G.O.M.D. Plus you don’t just call a song Get Out of My Dick. In songs like January 28th Cole namedrops rap geniuses like Rakim, Kendrick and Drake—some well-crafted egotistical rap, synonymous to Kendrick Lamar’s Control verse. Songs like Apparently and Fire Squad are such dope songs!

FHD is some type of masterpiece but still not the best of Cole. My gut tells me. I feel this is as close as he’s ever come to legend status. Hope he hasn’t disappointed Nas here :-)  In summary I love Cole’s evolution, I really can’t wait to hear what’s next.

I am very selective when it comes to rappers. I look out for the skill of rap, the delivery, punch line originality and the story, Most of my ideal rappers are those that have mastered all these qualities: Tupac, Wale, LL Cool J, Pusha T, Lil Wayne, etc. A die-hard Tupac and Eminem fan, I am biased to the idea that good rap music should have dope rhymes and punch lines and still make sense. No doubt – J. Cole is a legend in the making.


dangelo_wide-79c17be966d05cf20c4eb86d01d85b7bf43a3c63-s1100-c15D’Angelo no longer has abs for days like he used to but his long-awaited new record and return is just as sexy, if not sexier.

The album: Black Messiah is a sophisticated-near-futuristic reminder of some type of music rarity and timelessness that I can only relate to his past albums: Voodoo (2000) and Brown Sugar (1995) or Maxwell’s debut album Urban Hang Suite (1996).

The return of the former R&B sex symbol – to me, is like how it would feel for die-hard Jesus followers when the real Messiah returns. In a statement included in the album, D’Angelo reveals that the title Black Messiah was inspired by events in Ferguson and New York. “Black Messiah title is about all of us,” he writes, adding, “It’s not about praising one charismatic leader but celebrating thousands of them.”

So what exactly makes Black Messiah such a gem and so damn sexy? It’s not really because of any utterance of sex in the songs’ lyrics but a slewed mesh of musical elements and strong messages. Black Messiah isn’t about one genre but such multi-dimensional songs and sounds, delivered with a punch that leaves you feeling a little dizzy and sometimes drugged. By the time 1000 Deaths gets to the end, the electric guitars make the song sound exactly how a cultic ritual would if music was involved. Ain’t That Easy is such a sweet entry into the album. D’Angelo has said severally that Prince is his biggest music inspiration. This song is rock–it is Prince.

Certain elements in the album enhance the general narcoticism of D’Angelo’s music. Betray My Heart is at the peak of it all and its theme – at the height of the art of loving someone. We normally strive not to break others’ hearts but when who you love is your definition of love, and you make that synonymous to your heart – surely you can’t hurt your heart.

With a twist and swing to it, this is probably the sweetest and deepest song (after Really Love) in Black Messiah. This song is proof that only D’Angelo’s instrumentation speaks almost as loud as his lyrics. As his ad-libs to “baby – stay right here…” rise in falsetto, the guitars and drums scream sexually with an ascending pace to the lyrics. Please tell me this isn’t sex.

If you’re looking for a really great and well-written song, Really Love it is. What is love? This song and books like Love in the Time of Cholera have taught me that love is different for everyone. Love is what you want it to be, and you can find it in the simplest of places or the extremes of suffering. “When you call my name, when you love me gently, when you’re walking near me, Doo doo wah, I’m in really love with you …” –sings D’Angelo in the first verse. Now I’d love to be in really love, such deep love that will make me talk in tongues like ” Doo doo wah …”

If you’re looking for some dope neo soul Till its Done (Tutu), Back to the Future (Part I), Prayer and Suggah Daddy are must-listens! The Charade is some type of odd sound that only music weirdos like me will really enjoy.

While Black Messiah sometimes sounds like one piece of music, every song ends up having it’s own uniqueness, edge and vibe. You’re guaranteed that loads of elements in the album will leave you bopping your head in surprise that all these elements fit in one place.

While D’Angelo was away, ladies worshipped sex gods like Miguel, Trey Songz and Usher. Other legendary figures in neo soul like Maxwell released albums – read a review of Blacksummers Night. But ladies never really forgot about D’Angelo’s olden sexy demeanour in his famed racy music video: Untitled (How Does it Feel).

To make a return just as sexy without that bod is proof that D’Angelo’s music is more than the visual aspect. It’s a psychological thing that the image of nude younger D and his music has since planted in our minds since we saw that video.


After two decades of missing a very important figure in neo soul music, call it bravado or cocky but D’Angelo and the Vanguard couldn’t have named this return anything better than the Black Messiah. Its title and release (December 2014) has been associated with the Black Lives Matter Movement. Inside the album D’angelo writes, “Not every song in this album is politically charged (though many are) … Black Messiah isn’t about one man. It’s a feeling, that collectively, we are all that leader …”

After struggling with drug addiction, surviving a fatal road accident and taking a sabbatical from music—this return, so solid and soulful, has proven to the world, at a time when speculations run wild about the slow death of R&B and evolving genres, that D’Angelo is a Messiah of sorts. Maybe most accurately – the Messiah of R&B, neo soul, funk, jazz and still– sex.

10841567_10152855080632559_21613601_nThe last few days of 2014 have seen my appetite turn from okay to wild. I don’t care that I am so busy trying to finish up work pending in 2014, I want food when I want it. I blame this to the French cuisine I recently sampled in Paris. The French don’t care for calories or time it takes to make a meal or wait to be served but that it’s made at par with food for kings and queens.

On returning to Kenya, I start to wonder how I am going to satisfy my food cravings. There is crazy traffic getting in and out-of-town, especially during this holiday season, so making my way to my favourite restaurants or food joints is a NO. NO. Well, not any more since I discovered hellofood.

hellofood don’t deliver food to the route where I reside but that’s okay because when I am at home I can cook up whatever I want. In a city with such slow service, a foodie like me would rather whip it up myself or stand by the counter to cajole the chef. So I am trying out hellofood on my last day at my office job this year. I desperately need something to eat and I am under a lot of pressure. I want to see if the food will arrive on time and just as I had specified.

1c8b642It was a great experiment on a crazy Monday trying to complete my stories on KBC’s Grapevine TV Show. It took seconds to download the app on my cell phone and a minute to find all the restaurants close to my location in Nairobi CBD. I think I want to have some yummy grilled chicken, salad and chips. And it’s been ages since I had anything from Steers.

The registration is so fast, no email notifications or confirmations – nobody has time for that. The app says it’s free for my food to be delivered and that it will take about 60 minutes. It takes less than 30 minutes (well my office on Harry Thuku Road is pretty close to Steers – but still). It’s great cropped-logo21to find an app I can trust with my food.

BONUS: Check out hellofood’s service. For more on my food tales from Paris, check out From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part III)

DSC_1494You’ve heard a lot of people call others their doppelgänger or siblings from another mother. When it comes to our individuality, what really constitutes our solitary self as human beings? Who are we? What are we made of? Who are you? Who am I?

The self is an impalpable topic, which fascinates me. The 2014 publication, Self, is probably the most interesting yet strangling philosophical text I’ve come across. Barry Dainton, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Liverpool presents to the reader several scenarios that require you to channel your sixth sense.

In the prologue, he makes you the subject of an assumption. Imagine waking up in the morning and realising that something above your head- your brain is missing. Your computer has a message left by the kidnappers that reads, “You will receive an email from us shortly – your brain will be returned to you.” Beyond mind-boggling, this context serves as a central part of Barry’s belief and argument. Barry constantly refers to theories and texts by olden philosophers and scientists on the quest to understand the self, while constantly making assumptions. In the end, a couple of things that probably constitute the self of a human being arise. Our consciousness make us more than just physical beings. But we are also more than just consciousness. Barry terms part of the self as our stream of continuous consciousness (C-System).

The self is more diverse and elusive than we think or has been deduced, because the exact point of the brain that owns the mind and how it synchronizes all other bodily/mind functions hasn’t yet been conclusively and unanimously been identified. Barry writes: suppose you lost all consciousness or you are dead in dreamless sleep – would you still be yourself or someone else? If you were to teleport, would the other person who arrives in the other destination, worlds apart, still be you or someone else with certain aspects of your self? If you had an accident and lost all consciousness and your memory, should you be considered to be a new person? VR_simulation_room_axe

Regarding how future technology might affect the self, Barry presupposes that shall technology find a way of working closely with the human brain in the coming centuries, human beings would simply use memory chips with other people’s C-systems. And if you had this chip, you could at a moment live inside the mind and consciousness of whatever personality you fancied from the past or future, even Michael Jackson or Napoleon. “These virtual reality trips to the past would certainly be used occasionally in history lessons, and future historians will no doubt make more use of the facility, as would novelists and others with a particular interest in what it was like to live at a certain period.”

A more advanced technology would have future people either have a way or extending life cells and lifespan in general or immerse minds, through memory chips attached to computer software or technology simulation, into a virtual world, where you could create your world or rebuild your existence anew—pretty similar to architectural simulation of the film: Inception. (This part of the book shikas me a good one!)

Barry is convinced that if technologies like global wireless internet connection on mobile devices, something that seemed like magic centuries ago, was invented – there are so many more innovations similar to magic that could be invented. Barry writes: It is very important to appreciate just how powerful the most powerful computers of the future might be. He refers to Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom’s simulation trilemma argument:

  1. The human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a technologically advanced stage.
  2. It is unlikely that any advanced civilization will run large numbers of simulations of their own history.
  3. We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.

But to what extent will technological simulation on humans be survivable? If you could get into a virtual world, teleport, acquire or exchange personalities and consciousness, would you return to your original self, dead or alive? Barry speculates. The self remains a subject as deep and vast as the ocean. In summary, Barry asserts that the human will is self-driven. It is possible that you could survive almost anything, in life and through afterlife – but only if it’s what your mind wants and determined to achieve.

The self can’t be defined solely though physical attributes or the pumping of a heart but by the memory’s composition, and how this is influenced by past and present social and genetic factors. The present, however, seems to trigger most our autobiographical memories, even more than video recordings and pictures. “Psychological research has shown that our memories are not passive replays of (mental) recordings, but active re-creations, which typically involve a sizeable number of fictional elements.”

DSC_1492I bought this awesome book in Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum Bookshop. It isn’t for the light-minded. Expect to encounter jargon and some uninspiring diagrams. But if you can keep up with Barry’s book and your mind’s interpretations of this information; you will be a step closer to understanding the self and it’s facets like souls and how it all evolves though continuity and streams of life.

BONUS: You might dig my other post on ‘what’s your self without Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram?’ Cyber Space Obsession: when is time to hit delete?

I found a review of Self + other similar books. Read here: “Is there such a thing as the self? Teleportation and LSD trips could help us understand the nature of personal identity”

Intelligent Life Sept/ Oct 2014 writes:  the point of life is to bring about more consciousness.

10621785_10152576265477559_623321037_nNever, at any point of my life, have I ever read a book whose breath and pulse mirrored my own like Eat, Pray, Love—a brutally honest and raw tale about “one woman’s search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia.” It was delightful for the 2006 memoir to have been my companion during a recent trip to Netherlands across Kenya and Turkey.

American author and journalist Elizabeth Gilbert is an ambitious career woman who can’t seem to get her marriage together. So she files for divorce and quickly moves on with a different lover. However, none of her relationships work out. And nothing makes things work – not prescribed drugs, countless nights of crying on her bathroom’s floor or even yoga-for-starters. Sparked by an ambitious plan and an old medicine man’s forecast that she would one day return to Indonesia (where she had visited years back while on an assignment); Elizabeth decides to embark on a 12-month trip across continents, on a journey to scrutinise her inner self – to find the self and discover soul food.

She begins her journey in Italy, the home of world’s best pizzas and pasta makers. A friend, Giulio tells her that Rome’s word is SEX. While trying to find her life’s own “word”, here she submerges herself into the pleasure of food like “airy clouds of ricotta sprinkled with pistachio, bread chunks floating in aromatic oils, tiny plates of sliced meats and olives, a salad of chilled oranges tossed in a dressing of raw onion and parsley.” It’s the first time she encounters the expression: Il bel far niente “the beauty of doing nothing” while learning Italian. While in Sicily, the most third-world section of Italy, she remembers what Goethe said: “Without seeing Sicily one cannot get a clear idea of what Italy is.” This part of the book makes me recall meeting a new friend, Lucia, in Hague. Lucia who hails from Sicily turned out to be the sweetest Italian girl I’ve ever met.

In India, Elizabeth discovers the power of meditation, yoga and silence. After having tasted part of her heart’s desires like forgiving herself and forgiving others, she heads over to Indonesia with an open mind, hoping to find more balance. Here, she ends up buying a Balinese woman a house and finding love, after all. What an intelligently authored book with impressive research on travel and different cultures. In Indonesia, she discovers that the word amok, as in “running amok,” is a Balinese word, describing a battle technique of suddenly going insanely wild against one’s enemies in suicidal and bloody hand-to-hand combat.

The book isn’t as cliché as the sound of its title, or as simple and straightforward as the 2010 film adaptation might have depicted the story. But the ending is. Elizabeth ends up falling in love with an older Brazilian man. But before then, she writes, “I not only have to become my own husband, but I need to be my own father, too.” I really loved that Elizabeth is jaunty and not afraid to share any bit of her personality. She writes like it’s her private diary. From TMI that, sometimes, ends up annoying the reader like mindless chatter would, to the juicy part where she recounts breaking her celibacy – “never have I been so unpeeled, revealed, unfurled and hurled through the event of love-making” – and the dry spell days that drive her to masturbation.

Elizabeth digging into her inner being to identify her weaknesses and how best to overcome them, is my first encounter with the book’s power. Most times, human beings don’t want to be corrected or when corrected – they find it hard accepting their faults. But it is surely something of magnificent power to sit down and analyze your life problems and triumphs; and from that – prescribe yourself a winning life-changing plan. This book has even inspired plans for my next euro-trip :-)

BONUS: She ends up marrying that Brazilian man after the book. They’ve since been together for more than five years. You can also check out my review of another wonderful book Captain Corelli’s Mandolin- Louis de Berniéres Then watch the below video of Elizabeth talking about the film adaptation of Eat, Pray, Love. She’s so funny.


81jdBXzYBTLThis will sound freaky, but the book – Eat, Pray, Love by American author Elizabeth Gilbert has changed my life profoundly. The tale about “one woman’s search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia” took me on a journey this year from Kenya across Turkey and Netherlands. And at every turn of a page, I savoured my trip as I read how Gilbert savoured hers. But what really changed me was discovering Elizabeth’s search for her inner self so as to change her life and relationships, for the better. Her will to connect with God or a higher power and new people also amazed me. Most importantly, learning the essence of yoga, solitude and silence in this book has taught me to keep calm during life’s challenges. I’ve learnt that things will happen, good or bad, there will be storms and deaths and just about anything, while we still exist. So it’s essential to keep calm. It’s an art. Every life difficulty passes, such that even if we die, we should exist. I will stop there and share with you the below quotes that I really loved from the book. Cheers!

1. The classical Indian sages wrote that there are three factors which indicate whether a soul has been blessed with the highest and most auspicious luck in the universe:

  • To have been born a human being, capable of conscious inquiry.
  • To have been born with – or to have developed – a yearning to understand the nature of the universe.
  • To have found a living spiritual master.
  1. A monk said, “The resting place of the mind is the heart. The only thing the mind hears all day is clanging bells and noise and argument, and all it wants is quietude. The only place the mind will ever find peace is inside the silence of the heart. That’s where you need to go.”
  2. Life, if you keep chasing it so hard, will drive you to death. Time – when pursued like a bandit – will behave like one; always remaining one county or one room ahead of you, changing its name and hair colour to elude you, slipping out of the back door of a motel just as you’re banging through the lobby with your newest search warrant …
  3. Questions of love and control all through history are the two things that undo us all, trip us up and cause war, grief and suffering.
  4. We gallop through our lives like circus performers balancing on two speeding side-by-side horses—one foot is on the horse called “fate”, the other on the horse called “free will”. And the question you have to ask everyday is – which horse is which? Which one I need to stop worrying about because it’s not under my control, and which do I need to steer with concentrated effort?
  5. As smoking it to the lungs, so is resentment to the soul; even one puff of it is bad for you.
  6. About fighting your own personality and trying to change your inherent tendencies, the ancient Pythagorian philosopher said, “The wise man is always similar to himself.”
  7. Your treasure – your perfection – is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the busy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into the silence of the heart.
  8. Liz’s guru says, “People universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will maybe descend upon you like fine weather if you’re fortunate enough. But that’s not how happiness works. Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it.”
  9. The yogic sages say that all the pain of a human life is caused by words, as is all the joy. We create words to define our experience and those words bring attendant emotions that jerk us around like dogs on a leash … To stop talking for a while, then, is to attempt to strip away the power of words, to stop choking ourselves with words, to liberate ourselves from our suffocating mantras.

BONUS: My review of Eat, Pray, Love, is coming soon … You might also like 12 Quotes from 100 Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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