But, in any case, did not the black people in America, deprived of their own musical instruments, take the trumpet and the trombone and blow them as they had never been blown before, as indeed they were not designed to be blown? And the result, was it not jazz? Is any one going to say that this was a loss to the world or that those first Negro slaves who began to play around with the discarded instruments of their masters should have played waltzes and foxtrots? No! Let every people bring their gifts to the great festival of the world’s cultural harvest and mankind will be all the richer for the variety and distinctiveness of the offerings.
-Chinua Achebe, “Colonialist Critique”
In the above quote, Chinua Achebe uses the example of jazz to articulate his right and necessity to use the Western novel form to express the particular experience of African people. Achebe’s argument, with his cross-cultural and anticolonial positioning, describes how African Americans utilized the instruments they had access to in order to create a music that was uniquely their own: a music contributing to the “world’s cultural harvest,” growing and taking root in a variety of musics, cultures, and soils.
Achebe was a Nigerian novelist/storyteller, poet, professor, critic, and humanitarian. His most well known novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), which many consider his magnum opus, is the most widely read book in modern African literature. His critiques of racism in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness were instrumental to the postcolonial critical movement. Recalling his time as political prisoner, Nelson Mandela referred to Achebe as a writer “in whose company the prison walls fell down.” Last year, on March 21st, 2013, Achebe passed away. He remains an inspiration to people and writers around the world for the liberating potential of his literature and his depictions of life in Africa.
Photo from here.