Rapping with Fanon


Performers with portraits of Ahmed Sekou-Toure, Leader of the Democratic Party of Guinea, Pan-African Festival, Algiers, 1969

“On Christmas Eve 1959, the revolutionary psychiatrist Frantz Fanon went to a party at the home of his secretary, Marie-Jeanne Manuellan, in Tunis, where he was working as a spokesman for the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN). Fanon had invited himself over, and Manuellan could hardly say no to her boss, but she was dreading his appearance. She had been taking dictation for his study of the Algerian war of independence, A Dying Colonialism, and found him so severe, and so unfriendly, that she nicknamed him ‘The Sadist.’ ‘Dance in front of Fanon?’ Manuellan writes in her recent memoir, Sous la dictée de Fanon. ‘It wasn’t possible… But how could I tell him, ‘Stay home!’ He was going to spoil the evening for us.’ To her ‘great astonishment,’ Fanon was the life of the party. ‘Smiling, truly happy, cracking jokes,’ he picked up a guitar, sang West Indian songs, and chatted till the small hours with her husband about jazz and blues. Music brought out a levity, a warmth, in Fanon that Marie-Jeanne had never before noticed. Fanon was not a musician, but he loved what he called the ‘charge’ of words, their power to move, and not merely persuade, and he was no stranger to improvisation. In her memoir, Manuellan describes taking dictation from him: ‘Fanon didn’t have any paper in hand. He would walk and ‘speak’ his book as if his thought shot smoothly from his steps, from his body’s rhythm, with very rare interruptions or reprises.’ Both A Dying Colonialism and his 1961 anti-colonial manifesto The Wretched of the Earth originated, in effect, as spoken word performances, with Manuellan the sole member of the audience. In his 1959 lecture at a congress of black artists and writers in Rome, Fanon drew upon a musical example to illustrate his vision of a revolutionary culture. ‘On National Culture’—later published as a chapter of The Wretched of the Earth—celebrated the defiant ‘new humanism’ of bebop, which had grown out of ‘the inevitable, though gradual, defeat’ of segregation. Having cast off their role as entertainers for the white man, bebop musicians were shaping their own destiny as artists.  …”
NYBooks

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