OCTOBER 2019 saw Brooklyn play host to a motley gathering of underground artists, diasporan cool kids, and suavely-dressed sapeurs led on stage by none other than Jidenna, the original Classic Man. In a repurposed industrial warehouse tucked in East Williamsburg, the Wisconsin-born, Nigerian-American artist commemorated the latest leg of his “85 to Africa Tour” in concert with legions of fans.
Far from an inconsequential pit stop, Jidenna’s performance that night in Brooklyn was a deliberate pilgrimage to a city whose diverse patchwork of cultures mirrors the eclecticism inherent in his identity and celebrated in his latest album. More than a trendy body of work in the wake of the West’s post-Black Panther awakening to Africa, “85 to Africa” is a lyrical and spiritual journey through the artist’s roots, poignantly tracing his story - and all of its kinks, joys, and woes - from the hills of Enugu to Uncle Sam’s America.
The night’s stage was vibrant and fecund: strewn with plants, tires, road signs, and other paraphernalia of travel. Looming in the background was a larger-than-life mural of Tupac Shakur and Fela Kuti, two haloed saints of global Afro identity and revolution. The ambience read more altar than concert stage. Afrobeats aficionados, decked in the most expressive and fashionable garb permissible by New York’s unforgiving fall chill, hung around, breathing in air heavy with expectation.
Smooth-rolling favorites like “Vaporiza” , “Sufi Woman”, and “Pretty & Afraid” locked lovers in a cool embrace as they instinctively rocked in-place, sipping glasses of chilled rum, sifting nuggets of meaning through the lyrics amidst shuffling feet. The atmosphere was psychedelic. Boisterous crowd-surfing followed impassioned dance battles. And as the evening stretched on, the sound toggled between southern trap, afrobeats, and motown, before finally settling down for what was undoubtedly the culmination of the night.
In what began in a cool, conversational tone, Jidenna broke into a monologue and drove into the station a necessary thought train on the importance of economic cooperation amongst the global Afro community. Asserting that Afro people the world over were existing on a different dimension from all other communities—a less-resourced and paler reality ensuing from centuries of disenfranchisement, marginalization, and economic exclusion—the artist-cum-activist affirmed that it will forever be the prerogative of each and every one of us to seek and realize our full, unbrittled economic potential.
Were you to have stormed that stage, stood face-to-face with, and asked our Moses of a brother how we’d achieve that vision, Jidenna probably would have coolly responded: “together”. The overhead lights would have spun, setting the stage awash with color and “Sou Sou” would have begun to play, poetically answering your question.
Go go get the money
Get you some
In his song “Sou Sou”, Jidenna taps into the deep knowledge bank of his very own Igbo culture and explores the ingenuity and robustness of their financial systems. Isusu is a rotary peer-lending network in which groups of intimate individuals contribute a fixed sum of cash into a common fund on a regular schedule. Each contribution period coincides with a payout in which the contents of the fund are collected and given to one member. The fund is then rotated to another member the following period and cycled until each participant has received a payout. The steep social repercussions of breaking this trust-based economic framework ensured cooperation. Following the compensation of all participants, the group achieves its aim and is then disbanded.
Put it back in like sou sou
Put it back in like sou sou
Bring it back, bring it back
Bring it back, sou sou
In our people’s yesteryears, Isusu was a vehicle through which social networks were deployed to raise capital and fulfill necessary socio-economic aims such as paying dowries and buying seedlings for the planting season. It was—and today still is—the very monetization of the community: “azu bu ike”, numbers are strength. More than a song to dab to, “Sou Sou” asserts that this age-old Igbo innovation of leaning on one another to collectively get ahead has a necessary place in the global conversation on the progression of all Afro peoples.
As I continued to savor the remainder of the performance that night, I felt eerily transported into another era. Punctuated by sips of my drink, my mind couldn’t help but drift to that old proverb about how people pissing together makes frothy foam.
Official video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIcAXVnrORg