For Ujima, I offer you John Coltrane’s Equinox. This original rendition with over 7 million views/listens on YouTube alone may help us move the principle Ujima which calls for collective work and responsibility into action. The strong percussive piano of McCoy Tyner, the drums of Elvin Jones and the vibrations of Ron Carter’s bass reminds me of how we used rhythm to stimulate Ujima. In Equinox, I hear “Berta, Berta” - the work song: “Be my woman, and I’ll be your man…”
Hear it? Elvin Jones - the drummer - is playing “Let Your Hammer Ring.” Don’t get it twisted, we didn’t just use work songs to help us get through imposed work, we created and used them to help us complete work of our own choosing. It was healing, bonding, spiritual.
There was a caller, but no star. We all responded. The call and response process bound us together while taking us higher in a way that affirmed each other’s worth. This higher, mutually affirming place is the birthplace of trust - the cornerstone of our working and building together.
The rhythm of both Equinox and Berta Berta keeps us in time while letting us get lost in time - individually and together at the same time. The rhythmic trance of such work opens the door for responsibility symbolized by Coltrane’s spiritual saxophone.
Like the caller in Berta Berta, Trane calls to our Afrikan DNA, his sound takes us way back home and calls our ancestors forward. In that great cosmic meeting, Afrikan identity and accountability are reborn. These are the roots of collective responsibility.
Equinox can remind us to take care to organize our work in rhythmic and mutually affirming ways. It reminds us to make sure our work (not just our words or libation) calls the ancestors forward while affirming our Afrikan identity and thus sending us back to meet them.
If this seems too esoteric, try these things while bathing in our spiritually affirming music:
1. Ask for help. Then take it. You deserve it. Yes, this is Ujima. This is the most powerful way to combat the Eurocentric rugged individualism mythology and its deadly silent message that if you need help or ask for help, you’re weak, inadequate, unworthy, etc. Ask for help sometimes even when you can do it alone. We have far to go, so we need each other. This is also the doorway to collective responsibility because it asking and receiving creates an attachment and obligation to each other.
2. Return the favor. Offer and give help (an ear, a hand, a ride, a dollar) where you see us working for what’s good for our families, our community and for Afrikan people - including what’s good for the person or family. Be aware of how you’re lifted by lifting our people. Sing while you give. Don't just join what's already going well, help someone get started and rolling.
3. If you see a good fight where a family or our people are fighting oppression (even if it’s not your preferred way to fight), get in it, or get inspired to fight it your way and ask others to join you.
4. Exercise, eat well and take care of yourself to become physically and emotionally strong. You can't help much if you're sick.
5. Become good at many things, and greatly skilled at a few things. Actually, helping others will help you do this.
Now, make sure you listen to, sing, dance and work to our music together.
Ujima will follow.
Let Your Hammer Ring: