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Unchain: Freedom rhythm poem by Aja

The year 2016 is significant for Barbados, as it is the 50th anniversary of the island’s Independence and the 200th anniversary of the Bussa Rebellion. Though 150 years apart, the two events interrelate with respect to the history of the Barbadian populace –– 95 per cent of whom are descendants of Africans who were brought to Barbados bound and chained as slaves.

The 1816 slave revolt, dubbed the Bussa Rebellion, embodied the longing of the Africans for freedom, despite being on the island for over 100 years. Independence in 1966 represented political freedom of their descendants from colonialism –– a journey taking 150 years from the Bussa Rebellion.

Slavery and colonialism essentially embodied the cultural domination of black Barbadians. Adisa AJA Andwele’s offering for the 2016 Crop Over Festival, a rhythm poem entitled UnChain, addresses this socio-historical dynamic.

At the root of UnChain is the culture “dat come back now” –– the African rhythmic elements within the drum; social habits and expressions that went underground in order to survive:

It was licks in de name of de crown;

An’ if from start uh wasn’t smart;

Uh couldn’t come back now.

This however is contrary to what was propagated down through the years: that African culture was dead in Barbados, and that (black) Barbadians had “no culture”.

However, UnChain celebrates the cultural energies reflected through the Crop Over Festival as essentially African in nature with the instructions:

Time to free up,

Time to leh go,

Time to wake up,

Time to unchain Africa.

AJA’s call not only relates to music and the arts, as he recognizes the survival of African in social life and local delicacies:

Den dem ban’ muh from
de conga drum;

But uh drink nuff rum,
an’ show muhself

In de riddum an’ de mood of de tuk drum;

An’ down uh went in cassava pone,

It mek muh remember home;

Down in jug-jug, down in conkie;

Uh change evuh ’t’ing dat dem lick in me.

The lyrics of UnChain are written in Bajan dialect, which too is more than just “broken or bad English”. Poet/historian Kamau Brathwaite explained in his book The History Of The Voice that Barbadian nation language embodies echoes of the African languages that came across the Atlantic.

The structure of UnChain also reflects the retention of African rhythmic patterns that survived as “banja” music in Barbados with a prominent rhythmic base. UnChain features Khiomal on back vocals.

One Response to Unchain: Freedom rhythm poem by Aja

  1. Ryan Bayne
    Ryan Bayne June 23, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    Welcome back, Aja. I can still remember your classic rhythm poetry such as “Poor People Dead”, “Conscious Again”, “Light a Candle” and my favorite, “Woman”.


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