The soul of blues is carried by the women. And you can’t talk about blues music without knowing Black women. Such was the message that was being conveyed on that faithful day when I presented for the World Music class, taught by Dr. Chelsea Green in March 5, 2014.
They had been taught about the blues (this Black American musical aesthetics), through the eyes of Black, male musicians. Yet, they had not known about the soul of blues music. In previous encounters, myself and Dr. Green had met in her office to discuss the nature in her teaching of blues music. Nevertheless, as a womb bearer from that community, I was prepared to present to Egyptian students, the feminine lens of this genre of Black music and culture.
Preparing my presentation, I wanted to expose them to the herstory of Black womanhood in American (U.S.) culture and identity. What it meant to experience your own children being pulled from you, as your breasts were suckled by the offspring of those who saw you as mules, only to be disposed once they have finished with you. I wanted them to know about Sojourner Truth, and her being one of the four founders of the first wave of feminism in the United States.
And of course there was the Spirit of Native Culture, and the ability to see that woman is the one who continues the culture for her people. I used a quote from a Cherokee proverb.
Prior to my turn to present, I was observant of the behavior, and mannerisms of a few students. I carefully watched their talkative nature during Dr. Green’s lecture. Appalled in their audacious behavior to converse, while a professor was speaking, I could only imagine their reaction towards me. I was determined not only capture their attention. Making sure that they would not only hear me, but acknowledge (and respect) a feminine image who birthed a musical form that they were so fond of.
There was a young, Egyptian male student whom I met before. And in my own musical studies at the American University in Cairo, I often heard him playing renditions of blues and jazz tunes. He learned this style from listening to legends, such as B.B. King and other great legends of Black American/African-American culture. He was inspired by them, and it gave me joy to hear them. His willingness to converse with me showed his respect and acknowledgement for the feminine image of the music he was sampling.
Before my presentation, he performed samples of blues music for the class. Though, it was a pleasure to observe them embracing the music, I couldn’t help but notice their recognition of him and his inspiration from the culture; as opposed to honor the people, whose culture he borrowed his improvisation skills from. They praised him without honoring my culture. It was also evident in the professor’s mention of rapper Eminem! Some of the students automatically recognized the name and nodded in agreement. Yet, some of their demeanors indicated that Black, musical art forms should not be connected with Black people (especially Black women). That White and non-Black musicians were more valuable than the Black heritage that it came from. Such was one of a myriad examples that I experienced in, and outside AUC walls and gates.
But I was there. As I watched adamantly, anticipating my turn to present, I geared my eyes to every part of the classroom. It was important that I knew my space. It was also important that I grew comfortable in my space, and that I knew how to engage the energy of my audience. A particular audience, whom I am sure never had that moment of coming into contact with Black women’s authenticity and herstory. And I am also quite sure that they never had a living, feminine image from Black American culture speak on the experience of her existence.
To hear Black femininity speak (to not be spoken about OR spoken for), taking ownership of her existence, her culture was groundbreaking in this region of the world! Physically and oratorically revoking the stigma of Black womanhood being seen, but not heard.
My turn had now come, and I went in fiercely. Particularly, I zoned towards that one area of talkers. It was imperative that I controlled their energy, by placing my first wave of attention on them. Probing questions and making the mystique of Black, female identity as bold and audacious as she could possible be.
In turn, I questioned the logic of Egypt being a nation, without the women. The shock that ran across their faces, an the worry that stamped their faces, rings clear into my mind! An extreme measure, yet one that needed to be taken in order to showcase how disgusting, and ludicrous it is to showcase Black American, cultural identity without Black, female voice and aesthetics.
To have them hear the soul of blues through voice. When showing the beginning of the documentary, “Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues,” it was revolutionary for these students to hear the voices of Black women’s blues language and story. Hearing it from their mouths was important for these Egyptian students to learn and understand the relevance of this music to the lives of Black women and Black American (African-American) culture.
After the showing of the film, I ended the presentation with a picture of the legendary Om Kalthoum, as the legendary Bessie Smith was singing “When Your Gone” in the background! The students were given a certain amount of time to think of any correlation between the career, and legacy of Om Kalthoum. What was her own type of blues story? Especially, being an Egyptian woman in a male-dominated music industry at that time.
Completing the mini-challenge, I asked the students if they found a connection. They stayed silent, where only one girl responded. She mentioned that she saw “no connection.” Having Dr. Green try to emphasize the similarity of Blues women; connecting the similarities between Bessie Smith and Om Kalthoum having to fight hard in a male-dominated industry. A probing question that did not get much of a response.
Nevertheless, the message of Black women and Blues music was proven to be very effective for this crowd of students. It was probably one of the best presentations I have ever done, and one of the most impacting I have ever done. For in teaching of these Blues women, I was restoring the image of Black, feminine identity and ensuring that she, too, is welcome in the blackness of the red and white.