Just as reading poetry is a poor substitute for a performance, these words cannot convey the warmth of personality, the optimism and energy that came from the person of Ahmed Cheikh. Cheikh was a Pan African activist poet who, best known as a cultural activist, contributed, as part of the Political Economy Study Group, to the first edition of Eurocentrism and the Communist Movement . Even in the cold London streets, his activism reached out as an African citizen of world against injustice. He helped found Black Action for the Liberation of Southern Africa (Balsa) which worked with the Black Consciousness Movement of Azania and the Pan-African Congress to break the stranglehold of Anti-Apartheid Movement’s sole recognition of the ANC, and supported the neglected, less fashionable struggles as in Eritrea.
He was principally known as a poet and founder member of the poetry and music collective African Dawn. They released a couple of LPs – African Dawn and Chimurenga – and were part of the development of a revolutionary solidarity culture throughout the 1980s and 1990s. A regular at the old Africa Centre in Covent Garden and ever present in social evenings to recite poetry accompanied by traditional African instruments played by “African Dawn”. He worked with other artists like the poet Pitika Ntuli – member of Pan African Congress – of Azania (South Africa) and when not at a solidarity evening or promoting art events and exhibitions, he was busy on the Poetry circuit,
Perhaps Cheikh’s best known political statement – calling it a poem does not convey the resonance it produced – always performed with gusto and empathy through his lyrical and sonorous performance, “Please do not call me South Afrika” was produced as a fund-raising poster by the RCLB who had published it in their paper.
Please Do Not Call Me South Afrika
I am Azania land of black folks Grain grown when stones were still as soft as butter. I am Azania land of Zenji Truth made redundant by the tyrant´s gang I am Azania I ran wild and free – I tamed iron long before the steel-ore plunderer came.
I have seen kingdoms rise I have seen kingdoms fall. I once stretched my hands up to the coast of Somalia. Deep deep by the great walls of Zimbabwe. There my name is entombed. I am Azania once land of hospitality.
I flung my arms to captain Diaz en Vasco da Gama for I thought them lost. We sang and ate, danced and laughed. I had plenty to give for I knew nothing of their design. Then one day, one infamous day in 1652, the treacherous seas belched forth. Three drunken ships at table bay Dromedaris, Reiger, Goede Hoep.
As dusk was inching We met We crushed. Their ribs into our Assegais my sons and daughters fell too, in a hail of settlers´ bullets. Battles of yesteryear are engraved in my memory. I praise you sons en daughters of Thaba Bosio, Isandlawane, Sandile´s Kap, Keiskamahoek, Bloodriver I praise you all.
I am Azania – land of Black folk. I bent but not break. My name it self – a platform and programme scattered the white mists over Kliptown. I am Azania Mangaliso Sobukwe heard my call – then there was Sharpeville. I am Azania the name reconcilled with itself in deeds of Bantu ka Biko
The name wrapt up a forest of black fists in Soweto. I am Azania – battered flesh in the Bantustans, Sturdy voices of Robben Island. I am Azania – the mind vintilates back its own breadth, sweat, tears en blood trapped in gold particles. I am Azania – mourn made murmuring murmuring made cry, cry made shriek, shriek drilling in the settlers´ears.
I am Azania – the feared black bull in the tomentors dreams. I am that black dot on the boers white history books. Black consciousness unbound only the pure I take for I have no time I am Azania land of ZENJI – burning truth churns the tyrants- gang truth made the dream and dream made the truth Please do not call me South Africa.
He was not only an exponent of revolutionary culture but also authored a study, David M.Diop: The Aesthetics of Liberation [Ahmed sheikh text], as part of the exploration of the tradition and politics of Orasture, the aesthetic of African creativity and its implications for black artists.
Ahmed Cheikh was born on 26 November 1954 and died 12 September 2009 in his home Town of Dakar, Senegal.
Families and friends of Cheikh Ahmed Tidiane Gueye organized a memorial event in the Institute of Education, University of London on 28 November 2009. It was an event, featuring various artists and poets with traditional African instruments, reflecting his progressive ideas and development in revolutionary thought and spirit.
Petros Tesfagiorgis recalled the internationalism that characterised Chiekh’s solidarity with the plight of the people of Africa including the cause of Eritrea through music and poetry. In 1996, at the Municipality Hall of Asmara, Ahmed was on TV-ERE reciting poems in commemoration of Abdurrahman Babu (1924-1996) a leading African Maoist thinker and statesman from Tanzania.
“What was remarkable was that when Sheik was introduced to the audience, he stood gracefully tall in his long Senegalese robe looking at the audience silently for few seconds. He then opened his mouth by saying, “I am happy to be in liberated Eritrea and among my people”.
“He then looked straight into president Isaias’s eye – an invited guest himself- who was sitting in front row, and expressed his profound concern that African leaders get to power in the name of the people but forget their promise once they assume power; he said it with extreme seriousness as if he was reminding the President not to take that road. That was the beauty of Sheik, he does not compromise when it comes to the rights of the people. “
In his last recorded interview Cheikh talks about the role of Pan Africanism, socialism, and the responsibility of the artist.
He said, “Artists have a responsibility to shake things where they are dormant”. Through his internationalist reach and anti-imperialist consciousness, he lived up to that responsibility.
Posting draws upon:
Petros Tesfagiorgis, Tribute to the late Sheik Ahmed of Senegal, a poet and a friend of Eritrea December 2009