• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Why do the best musicians die young…? (1)

Micheal Jackson -compressed

Ben

When the death of Michael Jackson was announced my friend Egbe Belu was heartbroken.O.J., why do the best musicians die young? he asked me, as if I should know, being neither young nor musician. Still, can’t really say I blame him. When calamity strikes, people will take even the wind to task, asking to know why.
I felt very sad myself, although I didn’t approve of MJ’s funny ways. Egbe Belu is a lot more charitable than I. His grandfather named him with uncanny foresight. His full name is one of the cornerstones of Igbo philosophy and world view: Egbe belu ugo belu, nke si ibe ya ebela nku kpo ya nku [or: nku kwapu ya]. Meaning: May the kite perch and the eagle perch; whichever says to the other Don’t perch may its wings wither [or: break off].
Hardly surprising, then, given the noumatic power of names. From long before you can remember, you respond with a look or a sound when your name is called. You come to consciousness accepting your name as a given, a name bestowed on you by someone else, a name you did not choose but which you will forever assert and defend as though you chose it yourself.
If your name is heroic and elevating, you will celebrate it as the promise and prophecy of a soaring destiny, and will strive hard to achieve that promise and fulfil that destiny.
If your name is ugly, comical or absurd you will live it down as your assigned fate with the resigned stoicism of someone condemned to hard labor, torture or death for a crime he knows he did not commit but which he also knows it is futile to fight.

Read Also: Michael Jackson: Iconic life, mysterious death

Few people ever rebel and change their names, trading a dismal fate for the prospects of a triumphant future. Most people simply live out the meaning of their given names, making the best of a bad situation, as it were making small adjustments along the way to make their lives more palatable.
But we will postpone discussion of the pitfalls of this hands-off philosophy, this live-and-let-live and leave-well-enough-alone approach to life’s circumstances. Suffice it to say that Egbe Belu was liberal, open-minded and tolerant something I sometimes wish I could be. But Egbe had these qualities to an extreme; and as the whole world knows, an extreme in anything carries great risk; and outright too much of anything is definitely evil even if it’s a good thing like sleep, food, ice cream, or even kindness.
Which is why, when I said I loved Michael Jackson’s music and dance but hated his ways, Egbe Belu immediately took me to task.
A man should accept his race, as he accepts his name, I said.
Of course, retorted Egbe Belu. MJ accepted his race: without it he would have been nothing or something very different. His music is quintessential African-American, deep in a tradition rooted across the African continent.
Yes, but the man spent half of his 50 years on earth trying to mutate into a white man.
Well, said Egbe, he did fiddle with his nose, that I admit. But lots of Asian women also had their eyes surgically changed to remove their unique almond shape.
Michael Jackson was not an Asian woman, I said.
For a century or more, millions of African-American women have used bleaching creams to change their skin from black to white.
Bad enough. Too bad, really.
And for fifty years or more, black women all over the world have used hot combs or hair creams to straighten their hair so it looks and feels like the long silky hair of white women.
A bad example doesn’t deserve to be imitated, even if it comes from your parents or your peers.
Well, said Egbe, don’t our people say that when you lay down a baby and you don’t lay it down just right, it turns till it can lay itself down right.
Ah haa! So God and nature didn’t make black people right, eh? And now it’s our responsibility to remake ourselves right?
Right.
And right means white, eh?
I didn’t say so . . . but sometimes it’s just more convenient.
The women always make that excuse: straightened hair, they say, is easier to manage. . . .
These are modern times, remember? Everyone is in a hurry. Women work in offices, not in farms. They have to look good all the time.
Yes, and they are so busy they can’t even teach their children their language.
To do that you first have to speak the language consistently, then you have to insist that your children speak it consistently. You have to supervise them.
And you don’t have the time . . .
Or the energy. I mean, you read and write in English, why not just speak English and get done with it?
The missionaries and colonial official thought so too. Our names were too difficult for them, so they disregarded them and imposed their own. They had the time and energy to insist and supervise our learning of their language and bearing of their names . . . .