The other day, I stumbled upon a memory lane: my YouTube "likes." Far down that lane -- early in my YouTube history -- I found a gem: a low-budget music video for "Postcards from Paradise."
Where did I come across this great song? A hazy recollection suggested that one of my Carnegie Mellon professors, Nico Slate, had asked us to watch the video for a class of his that I took. A short email to Nico confirmed that this was true and his good taste in music. If I had to guess, it was a class called India Today. (An aside: Nico taught my very first class at Carnegie Mellon, a small seminar called Barack Obama and the History of Race in America that met Monday morning. I loved the way Nico taught and asked us questions, so I took every class I could from him. One of them was a class he taught on India, where I found this song. Later, Nico created a service learning study abroad program in India and invited his students to apply. During that trip I fell in love with another person who had also found Nico a bright spot during her time at Carnegie Mellon. We're now engaged. Thanks, Nico.)
The song exemplifies the powerful blend of stark realism ("We deep inside hysteria / outside of history / On the fray"; "Religious riots, firebrands scar a black night") with a resilient hope ("Something like love, something like hope / Something like beautiful, something I wrote"; "Psychological damage, famines, but we managed"). This is the space that I want to live in: that of clear-eyed, deeply human hope.
I was so taken by this gem of the past, listening to it on repeat, that I tried to learn more about the artist, Chee Malabar. I came across this fantastic essay he wrote about how he found hip hop and why he found it such a powerful art form. I was struck by these three sentences:
These days I approach my work in the tradition of the griot. I tell stories. Not only my own, but those of my larger community (Black, Brown, White) who have helped me weave my experience into the American fabric.
A griot is "a West African historian, storyteller, praise singer, poet, or musician." I love the many manifestations of the storytelling traditions across history and cultures. Whenever I want to understand progress or what's broken or painful, I look for stories. It makes sense that I was enthralled by this song; it's deeply rooted in storytelling.
We need more griots. More storytellers. No story is too small. Do your part in sharing "something like love, something like hope."