Hugh Masekela/Asani Charles



2005 (The Boy’s Doing It)

Puffed up, fully committed, and fanned out like a Namibian peacock, 
the boys are doing it-all over the diaspora, just ten over Freedom come.
A bravado work-song-church-call-and-response affirmation, the boy stops
for no one, but toils for himself.

Riffs brassy and sanguine, there are no doubts about limitless soars
through open skies now that passes are no longer required. 
The boys become men and push all envelopes, “What!?!” 
Yes, at the sound of the train horn, the boy is doing it.

Yes, he’s doing it in Hollywood, Miami, Morocco, and in Chicago too, 
where a Hawaiian born Irish-Kenyan positions himself to coolly slide 
into the rose garden, changing the guard and flipping the government’s axis,
leveling the field enough to stand upright. He’s doing something different.

This steam train pushes through, non-stop as the horns sing, floating above its 
voluminous clouds, pronouncing the dawn of a new day and rise of a new South Africa, 
where freedom’s children read about history’s boils in textbooks and mama’s memory 
and Travelin’ Sal nollies in Switzerland, landing on camera 1, each feat a fruit of his father’s 
labor and sacrifice. 

To the boys and girls of 1994, keep pushing. Keep moving, reaching, soaring, 
knowing, sharing, and doing it all because your dreams have come to fruition. 
This time will not come again and will be remarked by what is done with it.




Mahlalela (Lazy Bones)


There is no laziness in those bones.

Music is the symbiotic marriage of math and science

to passion and sound, birthing life, melody and drum

but no work of art is that simple.


Exile a man because he protests with a flugelhorn horn and prod him out at gun’s barrel,

amidst an ebullition of homestead and singeing flesh, and thwart him westward,

much like the fathers before him. He does not respond in kind,

but riffs on his clarion, “Mahlalela,” lazy bones, as Letta rubs their noses in it.


Rob a country of her griots and the callers will muster like Malcolm and MacDuff,

amassing millions, nations even, firing lyric and melody, chanting “Amandla!,[1]”

while Makeba, Masekela, Mbulu and Semenya, turn the studio into the war room

and dismantle the Boer bear from distant waters rallying, “Idlozi livukile! Masibuyel' emakhaya![2]”


No lazy bones in this anthem and victory march song.

Its cadence proud and contagious, its timbre too bright and confident,

fully assured of the perfect, long suffering truth that neither life nor land

has been lost in vain,


and that freedom yet comes.


[1] Power

[2] The spirits of our ancestors have awakened! Let’s return home!




One night on San Carlos


Listen now to the misshapen tall tale about how

my five lettered name came to be. A Zulu horn player

and his chanteuse troubadoured through the streets

of San Fran and came upon our house to jam and graze through the grass.


Mama was fat with me and my rambunctiousness and no gift in hand,

the African horn man looked in his bag for a name. He played her several

melodies and staccatos, some somber and deep, others smooth and

easy, like a drive down Pacific Coast Highway.


They must have rapped and jammed jazz and politics all night.

You know how musician folk are, let alone two trumpeters, playing

ego and sex in every lick like silk running over chords and

dandelions while Mama and Mbulu side eyed and sucked teeth.


Soon the last song faded and fatigue lulled them to slumber, leaving the

man from Johannesburg with one last offering. It was the best he had,

full of Akibulan pride and history. It was green and natural, something

about a flower he probably plucked calling on a memory of a spring afternoon.


Mama breathed it in, smiled graciously, and changed it to suit her best.


And so it is that Asani is rebellious in Swahili.



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