Baba Ngoma’s Masterpiece: Lessons from the Book of Osayemi (Chapter 1)
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Back in the summer of 2011, Blue Steel Magazine had the honor and privilege to interview one of the great legendary artists of our time when he was known as Ngoma Hill, the Godfather of Spoken Word. Well, we are happy to announce that the “Godfather” is back in the truest sense of the word! Baba Ngoma has released a new album entitled Lessons from the Book of Osayemi (Chapter 1).
We would first like to extend our congratulations to Baba Ngoma Oayemi Ifatunmise, as a newly initiated Ifa Priest. This is truly a blessing! Personally, I have great deal of respect for anyone who walks this path. In my early years, I was mentored by an Ifa Priest. It is true what they say; “Ifa will mend our broken world.”
Baba Ngoma’s work, while controversial, has always possessed a certain unique spiritual value. Lessons From The Book of Osayemi, his new album, seems to emphasize not only an awareness about today’s issues, but answers and solutions to these problems that plague our community and the world at large.
On a scale from one to ten, this album ranks an easy 9.5. This is the “Godfather’s Masterpiece,” a timeless classic. In the tradition of Ifa “change is the only thing that is constant.” Baba Ngoma has demonstrated this principle to his advantage over the years, as his sense of self-renewal has constantly strengthened the consistency of his art. I am reminded of what we call in Shinto “kotodama,” as the son of the “King of White Cloth” stands between our world and that of our ancestors.
Lessons from the Book of Osayemi (Chapter 1) is a spiritual journey that let’s us look at the world through the eyes of a man who holds a responsibility to his community in this world and the next. Many, who are familiar with Baba Ngoma’s earlier works, will immediately see a difference in this album. While Baba Ngoma is known for controversial content, in Lessons from the Book of Osayemi (Chapter 1) we also see a work of healing and purging of the soul. This doesn’t soften Baba Ngoma’s approach by any means. It actually enhances it! Here is a track by track review of Lessons from the Book of Osayemi:
1. Poem for My Egun
Although this is the first track on the album, it seems to act as a bridge between Ngoma’s prior work and the present album, an initiation into a new spiritual understanding. Baba Ngoma takes his stand and is spoken for in this world and the other. The music is warm, very inviting and compliments Baba Ngoma’s voice perfectly. The musical arrangement of this track is not complex. Actually, it is quite simple with a bit of free-space, but extremely inviting. Poem for My Egun is a perfect album opener and warms up the mind of the listener, preparing them for a journey that Baba Ngoma knows all too well.
2. Mom Believed in Jesus
This is one of my favorite tracks on the album. The hypnotic beat easily calls for the attention of the words that follow. This is poetry in motion in the “literary” sense of the phrase! Mom Believed in Jesus is a fitting title that reflects not only Baba Ngoma’s personal transformation, but the personified experience of thousands of people who no longer follow mainstream religious programming in favor of indigenous spirituality. The poetry in this track is extremely deep and sparked quite a few epiphanies in my own process. Probably the greatest epiphany that came to me while listening to this track is that the worst and most-damaging scar experienced by Black people in America was not the Middle Passage in itself, but their abandonment of the gods of their ancestors and many of the attributes that were cultivated in this process of spiritual veneration. Were Black people forced to abandon their gods as a result of the Middle Passage? Did this process of abandonment occur prior to this time with the Middle Passage being the end result? Lessons from the Book of Osayemi may just have the answer.
3. Palm Sundays Ritual
Palm Sundays Ritual is another album favorite. This track is a break from Baba Ngoma’s traditional formula. It is an avant-garde piece and somewhat experimental in its approach. The track’s unique craftsmanship reminds me of the Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows with a bit more funk. The poetry is visual and it is refreshing to hear Baba Ngoma’s continued call to the Orishas. Overall, Palm Sundays Ritual is a masterpiece.
4. Poem For The Absent Minded
This is a real groovy track. The poem is a reminder that Baba Ngoma has seen and been involved in a lot of Civil Rights history. He is an elder in our community. Spoken-word devotees will find this track delightful along with others who appreciate the art.
5. I Didn’t Want To Write This Poem
I found this to be a wonderfully crafted piece that should be catalogued and preserved as a timeless work of art. The music and poetry are thought-provoking. I Didn’t Want To Write This Poem is a special work that discusses the deaths of so many Black youth in America today. I must say that while listening to this track an epiphany came to me in the form of a question. Would things be different if more youth knew about what happened to Emmett Till?
6. String Scientist
It’s about the music. I miss hearing tracks like this. Remember, when people used to talk about music in their songs? Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke is a very popular example of this. Baba Ngoma blesses us once again. This time with a piece that’s about the music. It’s simply a good time!
7. Vision Quest
This is a very special piece. I love the poetry in this track. “I’m learning to read the wind in braille..” The poetry begins about a minute and a half after the music begins; similar to how Fela Kuti would open many of his tracks. Baba Ngoma speaks honestly and openly about his discovery of Ifa. Although this journey is a personal one, we find a little of bit ourselves in every word that Baba recites. While listening to this track, I had the epiphany that it is much more valuable to have an Ifa Priest in our community than a Black President. Vision Quest is an important reminder of our responsibility to our ancestors and the system that was put in place before planet was formed, Ifa.
8. Oudoo Theme
This track is pure funk and very cinematic at the same time. It’s definitely one of the highlights of the album! The poetry is in the music!
9. Y2K2 Revisited
The last two tracks on the album appear to be what many would call remixes, but I tend to differ. Y2K2 Revisited is has a much different feel on this album. Baba Ngoma breathes new life into a timeless piece. This is one thing about the album that I enjoyed overall. While the mainstream media often uses current events as an opportunity to promote fear, Baba Ngoma is able to discuss these same issues in his art and uses such to promote change for the better on a personal and global basis.
10. Paradigm Shift Revisited
I found this to be a delightful way to conclude the album. Paradigm Shift Revisited features some of Baba Ngoma’s best work. Ironically, when I listen to some of Baba Ngoma’s previous works today, I see that he is what he has always been, the Godfather of Spoken Word!
Blue Steel magazine would personally like to thank Baba Ngoma for all of his artistic contributions and “staying true” to the art we all know and love. Readers can get a copy of Baba Ngoma’s new album, Lessons from the Book of Osayemi on Amazon, CDUniverse, CD Baby, and iTunes.