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


Kanye’s Remarks Aside, What I Loved Most About Nelson Mandela

Even if it is a joke, and not real, still, the thought of Kanye West having the audacity to self proclaim himself as “the next Nelson Mandela”, it has me wondering in a time when I should be morning one of the world’s most selfless leaders. It’s not out of the realm of possibility in the world of Ye, because he did compare himself to Jesus. So now I’m thinking that If “Yeezus” actually could think of himself to be the next Mandela, than maybe he, along with so many others of our generation, don’t know Mabiba’s real legacy, or even what exactly makes someone a revolutionary figure to begin with.

If Kanye really wanted to say he has the same amount of influence, if not greater, as Mandela, then he would miss the point: Mandela’s actual influence. Mandela’s influence was one of the strongest our generation will see. It extended beyond reinforcing existing cultural norms, making opened statements that are generally ignorance disguised as art–as has been much of the case with Kanye these last couple years. It was his selflessness and dedication to a real movement that took down an entire social order based on race. Men like Mandela, along with so many other ANC revolutionaries didn’t just reinforce a culture, or just make controversial statements to stir the pot, they created a new standard of living. They shook the very foundations and tore down everything their society was built upon:racism. Men like Mandela should be honored because they didn’t work within the walls of an unjust system, they sought to eradicate it completely and create a new paradigm of thinking that was unimaginable before.

I don’t know much about South African politics, or even Mandela’s legacy while in office, but what I do know is that we never saw him dropping drones on innocent individuals, torturing people in the name of a “War on Terror”, denying his citizens of their civil liberties, spying on the people who elected him, or detaining people in prisons without their basic habeas corpus rights–all things that are so common with our leaders today, including our very own first Black President, Barack Obama.

You can criticize Mandela’s political decisions when he went into office, but he was one of the closest heads of state this world has had to being a Messiah. While we live in a country where our leaders in power would rather shut down the government than ensure every citizen with basic health care, Mandela gave up everything–while serving 27 years in prison–because he loved his people, and could not stand to see them subjected to some of the most inhumane treatment this world has seen from a first-world country.

It’s not a sad day for Madiba, because he lived a good life, and he had been suffering for some time now. But it is a sad day for us. Because Mandela was the last of a dying bread. A bread of leaders that loved unconditionally, and it showed not just in his eyes and smile, but also how he spent his life as a selfless servant for his people.

Notes From The Dominican Republic (Day 1 1/2): Building [Black] Bonds

I’m finished watching the sun rise over the Caribbean Sea before I head out for the official program of the ASWAD conference, where I am scheduled to speak on race and politics after the Obama presidency.  So far, every step of the way, my trip has been filled with so many new connections. Beginning with my flight, where I met an older Dominican couple. We talked, laughed, shared snacks and stories. Even though my Spanish is limited, and their English was non-existent, we somehow made it work.

Then, following the flight, I happened by chance to have someone overhear the hotel I was going to as I told the bus driver. This man was also African-American, and was also a presenter at this conference, and he told me he was at the same hotel. On the bus, we discussed where we are from, what were our intellectual interests of study, and what we are presenting on. He, the professor, was shocked that I was an undergrad speaking at an international conference. He offered to mentor me, in addition to introducing me to other conference participants that can offer me good advice on my future. Already in a country that I know nothing about, but I know I’m not alone.

At the hotel, I find out that my University’s credit card did not go through. So I’m in a new country, and technically homeless. This is my low point. But they are kind enough to allow me to spend two nights no charge until my UMass colleague arrives with the money. I then met a Liberian man, living in Haiti and working for a Human Rights organization, but a frequent vacationer in the DR. He’s gracious enough to show us around and give us a good time. This is all happening in less than 12 hours.

I remember growing up, and seeing my father, always opening up to all the black people he met. Even if he didn’t know anything about them, he knew that the color of their skin connected them, and that was enough for him to extend his hand. Now, in a foreign city, but where everyone is as dark as me, and I see how far the connection of skin goes through the hospitality that has been offered to me from complete strangers.

It’s a connection of shared struggles and experiences. It’s a connection that transcends boundaries and languages, and then reaches out and embraces the soul.

Here’s to four more days on the island of Hispaniola.

The Silence of Injustices: The Baha’is of Iran

965_00_rezvaniLast month, Mr. Ataollah Rezvani was murdered. His body was found in his car on the outskirts of Bandar Abass, the Iranian city to which he resided in. Leading up to this moment, Rezvani had been expelled from his University, he had been let go from his job, and the weeks prior to his murder, he had received menacing phone calls.

All of these events–being denied an education, fired from his job, the threatening phone calls–were all because of one reason: Mr. Ataollah Rezvani was a member of the Baha’i Faith.

Members of the Baha’i Faith make up the largest religious minority in Iran. They believe in the equality of men and women, the eradication of all forms of prejudices, the realization of a universal education, and the elimination of extreme disparities between the rich and poor. But because of their religion, the Baha’is in Iran have endured persecution that has extended to torture, imprisonment, the denial of higher education, and for some, even death.

In 2008, The Yaran (“The Friends”), 7 individuals who make up the Baha’i governing body of Iran, were imprisoned for no other reason than the religion they practice. They are each serving up to 20 years of imprisonment. But they are not alone. Currently, 116 Baha’is are imprisoned in Iran for their beliefs, while another 448 are out on bail.

We live in a country that prides itself on two principles: democracy and freedom, and we see it as our duty to protect these principles domestically, as well as abroad. Yet, despite this lofty rhetoric, the Baha’is in Iran still face overt persecution and discrimination because of their beliefs, and the world remains silent while their basic human rights and dignity are being stripped away. Even when then US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, spoke out against the persecution in front of congress, and when it was brought in front of the United Nations by the Secretary General, silent, the world still remained.

This silence is a legacy of inconvenient realities. Realities where we, the privileged, decide which injustices deserve to be noticed, and which ones deserve to be ignored. We see it now more than ever, when after two years of Civil War and brutal dictatorship, the U.S. now sees their obligation to intervene in Syria, without any sense of irony on how they remained silent during Rwanda, Dar Fur, South African Apartheid and so many other injustices  that continue to arise around the globe.

So today, the Bahai’s of Iran continue to endure hardships, but I pray for a day when not just the Persecution of Baha’is, but where all injustices are notably acknowledged and given the sense of urgency they deserve. I pray for a day when justice and human dignity are equally shared throughout humanity, and when the realization of the oneness of humankind becomes universally embraced.

Below are a collection of narratives that tell the plight of Baha’is in Iran.

The story of Roxana Saberi’s time in prison with Mahvash Sabet and Fariba Kamalabadi, two of The Yaran (“the Friends”), sentenced to 20 years in prison simply for helping administer the needs of the Baha’i community in Iran.

A profile of Iranian-Kurdish human rights activist and researcher, Soraya Fallah, with her daughter Cklara Moradian. Soraya was imprisoned four times, and tortured so severely that she miscarried in solitary confinement

A heartbreaking account of Mahmoud Madjzoob, told by his widow Shokooh Madjzoob, and their son Soroush.

Political activist Jafar Yaghoobi’s first-person account of his four and a half years in prison.

The story of Soheilia Afnani and her father Nusratullah Subhani, a local Baha’i leader who was executed March 5th, 1985.

A story of love, courage, and belief in freedom with Reza Fani Yazdi and his wife Soheila Vahdati.

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.

Justice According To “The Chappelle Show”

“Look, we talkin’ about a justice system that has five-hundred people whose cases were overturned by DNA evidence. I’ve seen a tape where five cops beat up a nigga, and that they said they had a reasonable doubt, and I got my reasonable doubts, too, aight?!?! How come they never found Biggie and Tupacs’ murderer but they arrest OJ the next day? Nicole Simpson can’t rap! I want Justice! This whole court is out-of-order!”

dave chappelleThe quality of this video may be poor, but the content is rich and just as prevalent now as when it came out 10 years ago. I remember when I first saw this skit from “The Chappelle Show”. At the time, I agreed 100% with what this video is saying–that we expect justice from a system that doesn’t act in just ways. Now, after the Zimmerman verdict, this video takes on a whole new meaning to me.

We can get mad at the jury, and we can get mad at a whole fraction of this country that stands behind Zimmerman, but then we wouldn’t get anywhere or accomplish anything productive. What makes the case of Zimmerman so tragic was that the defense worked within the law. It wasn’t as clean-cut as Emmett Till–when it was clear the law had been ignored and rules had been openly broken. The law was on Zimmerman’s side. The defense didn’t break the rules, they just knew what the rules were. And in Florida, the rules state that Zimmerman had every right to follow and kill Trayvon Martin under the guise of “stand your ground.”

I’m starting to realize the reality was we were putting too much of our trust–and looking for morality–in a system that built its very foundation on injustice and immoral practices.

The truth: if the laws that govern us were truly just, maybe we wouldn’t need lawyers and high-profile Hollywood cases to manipulate them, because right and wrong would be clearly defined.

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.