Making Meaningful Music: Inspiration Behind The Oneness Project

I don’t where to begin, but I guess I have to start somewhere. I remember 2 years ago being unsatisfied with music. I was playing with bands, writing music, touring, but it was missing something. I had been playing music for a long time. It’s always held a special place in my heart, and that’s why I was feeling empty. When you know how powerful music can be, when you’ve had the ability to touch people’s hearts in certain ways, even just once, when you fall short of that, no matter how “good” the music may sound, it just can’t feel right.

The Oneness Project is a response to that. I began writing the music a little over a year ago. These songs are dear to me, they represent spiritual growth, overcoming real hardships, and finding love in all things.  It is an understanding that your soul can’t be full, and your music will never reach the highest level, until all aspects of yourself, and your art, are ONE.

It was one year ago when we recorded the first and only video, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Since then, it’s only received great responses. it’s reminded me the power of music, and what purpose it should serve, and who. Now, a year later, I’m realizing I need to finish what I started, and do an entire album.

It’s a huge an undertaking, and I can’t do it alone. I’ve a started a GoFundMe Campaign, and I’m reaching out to all of you–my friends, my family, to people I’ve never met but who have continually supported me over the years–to help make this a reality, to donate, share, and spread the word to the people they know, and even the people they don’t. Here is the link. 

The goal is to raise $1,000, it seems like a lot, but making an album isn’t easy, and that goal will only help with some of the costs, the rest I will carry on my back.

Here’s what the funds will go towards:

1. Studio Time – Studio time is not cheap, especially when you want to make something that does not feel rushed.

2. Musicians – All of the musicians involved are amazingly talented, and deserve to paid their worth. From rehearsals, traveling across the region, and the actual recording, they will be dedicating a lot of time to this project. I want to make sure it is not in vain.

3. Distribution – Purchasing CDs, artwork, and shipping are all critical to getting the music you.

4. Most importantly: Through meeting this goal, I will be able to give away this music for FREE! I don’t believe in selling music, and I want this music to be accessible to everyone. You all can help with that.

Thank you to everyone who has helped, encouraged, and supported me this far. It’s meant a lot, and you all are the reason I am doing this.

Here’s to making good music!

-Mtali Shaka Banda

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The Importance of Black History

Last month, I was invited to speak at Amherst Regional High School as the keynote speaker for their Black History Month Teach-In, here is the full talk.

After Trayvon: Where Do We Go From Here?

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot in things racial, we have always been, and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards…Though race-related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about things racial. This is truly sad. Given all that we as a nation went through during the civil rights struggle, it is hard for me to accept that the result of those efforts was to create an America that is more prosperous, more positively race-conscious, and yet is voluntarily socially segregated.”

pic_giant_071913_SM_Eric-Holder-Racism-Our-Nation-of-Cowards (1)Four years ago, Eric Holder made these remarks only a month after his appointment as the first black Attorney General. I don’t agree with his delivery, because creating a real dialogue on race involves humility and not blame, but his words ring true and his assessment isn’t too far off. For as long as I can remember, a meaningful discussion on race has rarely ever happened, and when it does, it usually doesn’t wield fruitful results. I think most of this has to do with the fact that either many people are tired of talking about race, or they–both black and white–have forced themselves to believe that racism and its effects aren’t present today, in 2013.

But with the murder of Travyon Martin in 2012, a deeper dialogue on race began to take root when Barack Obama, the first black President, addressed race head-on by saying “If i had a son, he’d look like Travon.” With very little ambiguity, Obama attached himself to the issue of racism in America. And then again, in 2013, after the verdict of the Zimmerman trial, Obama reiterated that statement a year-and-a-half prior, saying “When Travyon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying this is that Travon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”

Obama made it clear that not only is racism still as prevalent today as when he was a youth, but he continued to show how commonly it is manifested in the lives of African-Americans:

“I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away. There are very few African-American men in this country who have not had the experience of being followed when they are shopping at a department store. That includes me. There are probably very few African-American men who have not had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me – at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who have not had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had the chance to get off. That happens often.”

1373984549000-trayvon071513-006-1307161023_4_3And it wasn’t just Obama who made the connection to race behind the Zimmerman trial. Through my Twitter and Facebook news-feeds, I saw people being able to realize that racism still existed and persisted in many people’s’ lives. I saw some of my prior posts on the trial being positively received by others. I saw people actively expressing their sorrow with the verdict, and posting other racial injustices that had occurred in the wake of the trial. What I was witnessing was the “cowardice” that Eric Holder mentioned begin to be wiped away as Americans–of all racial backgrounds–started to open their thoughts to some real truths this country had so long avoided acknowledging. I saw a collective consciousness growing. 

All of this is great, but just talking about racism isn’t going to be enough to end it. In the blog, “A Change Is Gonna Come“, Phillipe Copeland discusses what’s needed for an effective race dialogue:

“Simply the fact that we are talking about race does not mean that we are talking about it in a meaningful way. This is why I believe many of us leave such conversations with an intuitive sense that something was missing. Just like social workers and other helping professionals, we are all vulnerable to the delusion that talk alone is evidence of work getting done.”

Just recently, someone shared their reaction to the Zimmerman verdict. “The Trayvon Martin case,” she said, “was the first time that the racism of the people around me was so vividly obvious to me. That and it highlighted just the nature of racism and hatred that people ignore or deny. It mobilized–and inspired–me to make the elimination of racism not just something I believe in, but something I want to actively be a part of.”

We’re not going to find answers today on how to end racism, but the mindset this woman holds needs to be the mindset we all have–that what we need to take from this case isn’t just an acceptance of racism being present, but also an attitude that becomes determined to eradicate it.

Tommie Butler, Sharon JasperSo, the Zimmerman case may be over, but where do we go from here? We had our week of angry posts and tweets, but now is the time to breathe calmly and think clearly on what we all can do–regardless of our race–in creating a future where boys like Trayvon won’t be senselessly murdered, and where men like Zimmerman would have to pay for the crimes they commit.

Tell Me, What Does It Feel Like To [Not] Be A Problem?

TreyvonEarlier this week I posted my thoughts on the results of the Zimmerman Trial, I suggest if you haven’t already, check it out. Since then, I’ve received a  range of responses–either via blog, Facebook, twitter, or even face to face–of people questioning how useful it is to even have a dialogue on the injustices that occurred. With all the other conflicts going on–The Arab Spring, the Newtown Shooting, and the Boston Bombings–it becomes clear that, according to some, the Zimmerman Trial, in its singular moment, may not hold as much urgency as a mass revolution against dictatorial rule, civil wars, or genocides. Yes, to an extent that is true, but that does not mean the events leading up to and after this trial do not hold as much significance or that they don’t produce any dangerous outcomes.

To those who do not see this case as one of significance: Perhaps you forgot it took one court case to reinforce the racialization of American slavery, to establish Jim Crow, and to turn the other cheek on mass incarceration. Each of these injustices took only one case, one case each to establish racial dominance.

In the words of black scholar, W.E.B Du Bois:

“To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.”

In the scholarly work, The Souls Of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois refers to being black to being a problem. One has to realize the history of the African-American was one where they we’re always acknowledged as an inconvenient truth. Even when it was the African American’s equality being discussed, the name others used to label said discourse was “The Negro Problem.” It wasn’t a problem keeping them as slaves, or separated under Jim Crow; the problem was debating whether or not to free them and give them a sense of person-hood. The Trayvon Martin case was just another reminder that blacks are still seen as “The Problem”, only this time, many have given up and the post-Zimmerman trial responses are proof of this betrayal.

If you feel that people should not bring up the injustices of the Zimmerman verdict, you must not know what it means to be a problem. It must be easy being privileged, to conveniently pick what you choose to advocate and to decide what issues you give more importance to than others. I wish I knew what that felt like–to not be a problem, that is. But actually, I also wish you knew what it felt like–to be the problem.

It’s easy for you to tell African-Americans to remain calm. It is not you whose worth is being constantly redefined through different definitions of worthlessness. It is not you who, from birth, had a greater chance of ending in a prison than a college–all because of a trait you had no control over.

If you only see this case, and not its role in the bigger picture of society, than you haven’t opened your eyes. But it’s not your fault, because it is not you who can be hunted down, who is granted no humanity in the court of law, or who can’t wear a hoodie without being attacked based off the decision of one case. Remember: Black America is allowed to be upset. This bleak reality may not be your future, but it is theirs. So remember your privilege and how that alters your perception of what issues matter and which ones don’t–to you. Remember that you’re watching from the sideline, while others are actively living it.

We don’t choose when to bring up race, it already exists. We can’t choose to avoid reality–because it’s already around us.

Sure, you may be progressive. You may care about the issues occurring around the globe, but with your position, your argument values people of color as being just as worthless as the other side does. You see their struggles as something to wipe under the rug, even though their happening in your backyard.

It’s important to know that when you remain complacent, you’re not remaining on the outside, you are one of the main contributors . Through not standing up to the problem, you become the problem.

Remember that.

Trayvon, And Justice, In Ruins

With the verdict of Zimmerman already made, so are questions and answers. Particularly, the value of a black man in a legal system that hails its origins from a history of devaluing people who are black.

We already knew Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, all evidence pointed to that clear fact, but whether or not he killed him was not the point. The point  was to prove that it was justifiable for Zimmerman to go to such lengths–and according to the jury, it was. According to the jury, Zimmerman could racially profile Trayvon, hunt him down, instigate a fight, and when it didn’t go in Zimmerman’s favor, kill the boy. You don’t have to be intelligent, you don’t have to have a moral compass, and you don’t even have to not be a racist to see the contradictions behind this case. Racism permeated every aspect of it, regardless if the judge allowed race to be acknowledged or not.

It’s now legal to kill an unarmed black teenager in the name of self-defense. America has had a long history of systematically oppressing African-Americans through an unjust legal system, and the court has generally always favored against the interests of African-Americans. With the Dread Scott case, slavery and blackness were clearly defined. With Plessy v. Ferguson, the court ruled in favor of Jim Crow, reinforcing an overtly unequal, oppressive, psychologically damaging racial hierarchy–one which we are still recovering from today and seeing its reminiscence clearly outlined in black existence. Then with McCleskey v. Kemp, the Supreme Court reinforced mass incarceration, and we continued to watch millions of blacks being unjustly herded into prisons across the country.

And then, last month, we saw Affirmative Action put on life support, we saw The Voting Rights Act of 1965 slaughtered in front of our faces, and this week we saw a young boy’s legacy put in vain as a senseless murder was supported by the court.

So when I look back on history, yes, I am not surprised by the verdict, but that doesn’t mean I still can’t be heart-broken. I’m heart-broken because it has been made clear my skin–an attribute I had no more a decision over than the weather–has made me a third class citizen even when we have a black president. I am heart-broken because anyone who looks like me is devalued by the standards of the current criminal justice system. I am heart-broken because I am coming to terms with how evident racism is and that maybe true justice, under the current social structures and institutions, can never adequately exist.

This case is bigger than one individual killing another.  It holds more significance than upholding justice, this case held the value of African-Americans in a country that claims to be past racism. Unfortunately, the tides did not move in the direction we had hoped. Justice did not prevail, because blacks–after 400 years and a black president–still are not in the vision of freedom, or included in “and justice for all.”

I’m not mad at Zimmerman, I’m mad at a society that produced the mindset he holds, I’m mad at organizations and media outlets that chose to support the modern-day lynching, I’m mad at a legal system that chose to back racism, and, most of all, I’m mad at country that has continued to allow all of these injustices to happen.

I, Too, Have Been Trayvon Martin…

Treyvon I’ve been following the George Zimmerman trial pretty heavily and it’s horrifying for all the obvious reasons. Regardless of what the verdict is in this case will turn out to be, though, it has me thinking just one thing: I, too, along with so many other black men, have been Trayvon Martin at one point or another.

Being black, I have a small understanding at what it means to be Trayvon Martin. I have been pulled over for no other reason but for being black–once with my father in our own suburban neighborhood while looking at our neighbors Christmas lights. I have been interrogated by the police more times than I can count for no real justifiable reason. I have seen the fear in people’s eyes as we cross paths alone on a sidewalk late at night, and then watching them cross the street to avoid crossing paths with someone who looks like me. I have become used to speeding up as I walk behind people to get in front of them, a small gesture to show that I won’t rob them and they can have the upper hand knowing my back is turned to them. It sounds silly, but its a reality we don’t like to talk about. It’s the reality many black men have been trained to think, and many others don’t have to, because it’s a world they won’t ever have to know–a black world.

We black men know that the color of our skin transcends our actions, our behavior, educational attainment, and economic class–no matter the situation, we are always black first, and any other title comes second. At any moment we could be pulled over, arrested, beaten and even killed. Our examples of “when-being-black-goes-wrong” are not only Travyon Martin, but Oscar Grant, Rodney King, and so many more who have had the unlucky circumstances of being black at the wrong time and place.

In my own neighborhood, a UMass graduate and black male was maced and arrested.

As I sat in a coffee shop discussing the young black man being maced, a stranger happened to join the conversation. He seemed to be indifferent towards it all, almost siding with the police officer. “We don’t know exactly what he was doing or if he was attempting to attack the officer.”

I looked at him and said, “My man, I’m going to pose a hypothetical situation with you. You’re a cop, you have a gun, you’re alone, its 2am, and a large  male approaches you–he’s black. I don’t want you to tell me what you would do–that’s for you to ponder, but  that’s exactly what you should do–ponder.”

This is the reality that is omnipresent but rarely acknowledged. These other instances that I mentioned may not be as dramatized as what happened to Trayvon, but they expose something that too many people think but are ashamed to admit: their fear towards African-American males, and the violence that it can produce. Trayvon wasn’t the first, neither was Oscar Grant nor Rodney King. They were only an ongoing remembrance to black men on how their skin remains their most dangerous attribute, their worst enemy–their kryptoniteTreyvon 17 unarmed

Whether they are aware of it or not, every black man has been the victim to racial profiling on some level. Trayvon Martin was killed because of the color of his skin, every other detail about him came second. A white man with a red hoodie, bag of skittles, and questionable behavior would have been followed, but not murdered. And had George Zimmerman been black, and Treyvon  white, it would not have taken the law 40 days to arrest him over second-degree murder.

I can’t predict what the outcome of this case will be, but regardless of the verdict, this an opportunity to not just point a finger at Zimmerman and demand justice; it’s a time to look to ourselves, acknowledge the prejudices we hold towards others and how far we are willing to go in the sake of our own ignorance.

Racism and “Post-Racial America” part 2: The Racist Legacy That Inspired Affirmative Action

Just yesterday the Supreme Court sent the case Fisher v. University of Texas, No. 11-345 back to the lower courts to be decided once again. In a way, this can be seen as a half-victory for everyone in favor of affirmative action, because it means we haven’t lost. But on the flip side, it can also be seen as an inevitable failure, because the court seemed to be somewhat ambivalent towards racial matters in education. affirmative action

Justice Kennedy stated that institutions of higher learning need to show that “available, workable race-neutral alternatives do not suffice” if race conscious ones are to be used.  He continues to say that schools must create “a careful judicial inquiry into whether a university could achieve sufficient diversity without using racial classifications.”

In a post I wrote last month on Obama’s speech to Morehouse, I wrote:

“It’s the walking contradiction we’ve too often acknowledged and ignored all at the same time. Too often do people realize that the conditions of much of black America are unequal. We realize the schools are inferior, the neighborhoods are crime infested, and that the odds are disproportionately against black youth to succeed. Yet, despite all of these blatant facts, we expect it to be blacks’ responsibility to move around these barriers, the same barriers that were installed to keep them in a hole of oppression–because they were black. When government-funded institutions have functioned with a racial agenda that perpetuated inequality, the solution shouldn’t be individual responsibility by the victims, the solution should be the State making a new racial agenda. An agenda that works on behalf of African-Americans in order to compensate for working against them for so long.” 

Events that marked out 1962 as watershed year This is what were up against: ignorance towards what is around us. If we want to talk about equal opportunities, if we want to talk about race not being a factor in the decision-making processes for schools, if we want to talk about bettering the lives of African-Americans, then lets first talk about reality. Lets talk about the wealth this country was built off through racially defining slavery. Lets talk about the convict lease system which replaced slavery, kept blacks in chains, and corporations profitable. Lets talk about Jim Crow and the unequal institutions it perpetuated. Lets talk about the housing discrimination and the conscious effort by the state to racially segregate major cities  that would place blacks in the poorest, most crime infested areas–aka Ghettos (look up “redlining” and “racially restrictive covenants”).

Lets talk about a country that has a history filled with benefiting from creating new ways of keeping people of color in a hole of oppression.

We want to talk about equal policies and opportunities, well then lets also talk about where most blacks are coming from: a life of inequality, of marginalization, discrimination, and neglect. The schools are blatantly inferior, just ask Chicago, they’ve made it clear black lives are not valued.

We want to talk about race-neutral policies, but only when it’s convenient. This country was founded on a racial agenda where blacks were made third-class citizens. You don’t right past wrongs by just forgetting about it–anyone with functional family dynamics knows that putting problems under the rug and ignoring them never ends well–we right past wrongs by being proactive against them. That means creating a new racial agenda that openly acknowledges this country’s past in its entirety while actively attempting to eliminate all the negative outcomes it produced. little rock nine

If we want to really talk about equality, then lets talk about equality across the board. That means fixing inner city schools so black youth actually have an equal opportunity to begin with.

If we want to have a meaningful discourse over race-neutral policies, well we can’t do that just yet because that would mean eliminating the racial disparities that have been on the stove cooking for nearly 400 years. Problems don’t get fixed by ignoring them, they are fixed through acknowledgement.

So the debate will continue, but when the future of affirmative action is even being questioned while it’s still so obvious inequalities exist and persist, it makes me feel the case has already been lost, because it’s in the hands of people who choose to ignore what’s right in front of them.