When we examine the role of a musical and cultural ambassador, there are certain criteria we have to address. One of them is how well do you reflect your culture. The other relates to your ability to move throughout different parts of the Earth, all the while teaching the world about your people; about your story-the her/history of people that you come from. You see it is more than just about you, and your desire to show off and capture yourself within a particular spacing. Its more than simply taking pictures of yourself beside different monuments, landscapes, or famous areas. On the contrary, there is the underlying work of engaging with the people of the land, so that they are able to interact with the humanity, associated from the people, you come from. Representing the authenticity of your culture, and allowing that to stand, and stand on its own. If you have to hide, or mix in, the authenticity of your culture with a foreign entity, then a few questions arise from that. Are you really from the culture that you say you are? Have you really intertwined with it in a way, which reflects its richness and natural essence?
One of the things I have come to learn about culture is that you own what you have produced. Even if others imitate it, or try to re-create it, the energy and reflections of that culture is always re-directed back to the feminine and masculine imagery, which have birthed it. The cultivation and production of culture, from a particular group of people is more than simply entertainment for their Being. What culture does is to affirm the existence of a people, and how they have asserted themselves as an important pattern in the overall quilt of human existence. When you have birthed a culture of your own Being, you are demonstrating to the world, and the Universe, that your very existence matters. How you paint yourself in a way that reflects your love of self, and liking, matters. Reflecting yourself in your natural state, and in a way which tells your story, without any outside influences, or projections.
What makes the story of Black America significant is that movement played a vital role in creating, and re-birthing, new cultures. Even if prior memory had been forcibly removed, movement and our story within foreign spacing, would ensure that we created authenticity. We wouldn’t need to go outside to another community for culture. In a terse amount of words, we had everything that was needed in order to paint our own particular stories, and to tell them, right. Our very existence, and movement patterns, gave Black America the necessary ingredients to re-create our imagery, music, culture, fashion, and anything else, which painted our existence within these foreign landscapes. It is more than important for that to be recognized.
One of the beautiful and auspicious delights surrounding Nina Simone, is that she put in the work in teaching, and performing, the cultural gardens of Black America. Simone did not travel with the purposes of escaping her culture, or the stories it conveyed. When needing to travel, she definitely used it to her advantage, in sharing holistic images of Black America. Sporting her Afro’, her natural looks, Simone had no problem singing Negro spirituals, Jazz, Blues, Gospel, Pop, R&B, Folk music, and other perfumes of Black America’s soiling to audiences in France, Liberia, Barbados, Belgium, Switzerland, Netherlands, and North Africa. Again, Simone reflected Black America within our natural existence. She did the work of keeping the naturalness and authenticity of our people, culture, and existence, alive!
“Interesting enough, when others take an interest in Black American culture, and her/history, a number come in with levels of “academic superiority,’ as if their degree (and study of our culture) makes them “better experts” than our own people. Some of those behaviors have included memorizing our her/history, and handing it back to us, as if their words have created a more polished touch. Our stories and her/history is considered, cheap by such individuals. Something they can look up online, and repeat back to us with their racist notions, as if they can articulate, analyze, and contextualize our experiences, better than we can.”Lauren Kaye Clark
Too often you have people and individuals, who do not truly understand the purpose of cultural ambassadorship, when traveling. It requires labors of educating, and protecting the culture, when observing its presence, overseas. Travel and cultural ambassadorship requires that efforts be made to sustain one’s culture, while ensuring that the natural, feminine image of that culture is vigilant and reflected. When traveling the world, culture means that a woman is embracing the authenticity of her culture. Even if it means that she receives scrutiny for doing so, within a particular land, she continues to affirm the naturalness of her culture. True ambassadorship when traveling stands in the authentic culture-in all of its grandeur.
One of the things that we have to address when it comes to Black Americans and travel is this notion that travel gives us culture; as if we are void of already having one. Our travels are presented as giving us “a way out” of our natural, Black American identity. The prevalent notion being addressed is that Black America should “leave ourselves” and dress the part of other cultures, in order to be considered “civilized,’ or taken seriously. Furthermore, what has happened is that Black America’s existence has been depicted as “more valuable” when having a foreign presence, inside of it. This is especially true, as it pertains to womanhood. What is happening right now, and what is happening for quite some time, is that foreign images of womanhood have been projected as “more beautiful,” “more valuable,” or of “greater ranking,” than the actual maidens, mothers, and women of Black America’s gardens. Something is wrong. Something is very wrong!
When Black American women (authentic Black American women, whose foremothers were enslaved in the United States, and coming from that Deep South, Black American Church-based culture) are presented as beautiful, or suitable for the imagery of Black America, a foreign element is attached to it. Whether that be attire, hair styles, or others, for some reason, our own aesthetics is not viewed as being enough. There is also the reality of women who pretend to be Black American, because they understand there is a greater marketability to our culture; as they plan to seek its gains. Again, that is for another piece.
There is an issue happening, where Black Americans are viewed as being “more valuable” when we leave our culture. The world of travel is depicting this. Such is not to say that we, as Black American people, cannot immerse with other cultures, when we travel. I for one can attest in having done that. However, I am still a Black American maiden. The presentation of my culture is still relevant, when I travel overseas. My depicting of it, is just as relevant, and just as aesthetically pleasing, when traveling abroad. In fact, it is something which needs to bring a new discourse. No matter where the likes of James Baldwin, Josephine Baker, and Maya Angelou traveled to, they were always required to come home. That could be physically, culturally, or mentally. At the end of the day, we-the authentic Black American sons and daughters-always have to come home-some time.
“Jazz is not just music, its a way of life, its a way of being, a way of thinking.”Nina Simone
When examining the likes of Nina Simone, Josephine Baker, James Baldwin, and Maya Angelou, one of the things that we cannot deny is that they stayed grounded as Black American people. They stayed grounded in the fact, that they were the “Negros” of Black American soiling. It doesn’t matter if they lived in another place, learned the language, or intermingled into other cultures. At the end of the day, Black American culture is what called them, home. It is what centered them in their travel journeys. Leaving the United States did not remove them from their cultural aesthetics, and who they were. Josephine Baker, James Baldwin, and Nina Simone all passed away in France. Our beloved, Dr. Maya Angelou transitioned back in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Yet, at the end of the day, the only identity, which values them, is that of their own.
Examining Nina Simone, what makes her particular travel journeys unique, is, the music. Her performance of the different genres within Black America’s gardens, throughout the world, made it clear that she had a culture of her own. That’s one of the beauties of our culture and identity. It is the music which affirms us. Furthermore, our music leads us back to the birthing of our identity in the United States of America. For a second time, as it shall be written, Black American culture is rooted in Deep South, Black Church culture. Period. End of discussion. Anything else is foreign. As a woman, what you produce, which is reflective of your people’s existence, stories, and authentic creativity, is what you own. If you did not produce it, you do not own it. It does not matter if you like traces of another culture. It is not yours, and it does not belong to you. That’s a necessary conversation to take place.
On another scale, Nina Simone showcased how Black American music was embraced throughout the world. She performed songs in French. That is fine. She may have worn foreign attire and make-up, during certain times in her career and life. However, what needs to be understood is that Jazz, Blues, Gospel, Negro Spirituals, were her languages for the telling of Black America’s stories-our personal language stories. While Nina Simone, and others, left in order to gain clarity and understanding, re-claiming her humanity, traveling did not make her valuable. It was the performance of her cultural garden, which did. The problem is that Black American people are being depicted as “more valuable” when “leaving” who we are. The fact of the matter is that our cultural gardens, and community aesthetics, should be viewed as beautiful, simply because they exist. It is the fact that they exist, in their natural state, which makes them beautiful.
One of the fantasies concerning travel is how it is allowing us to evaluate the issue of self-hatred, within Black America. We have been framed as “cultureless.” Yet, so many people use and imitate our culture. There are many incidents, occurring, in which Black Americans are portrayed and painted, as not having produced or created anything in the United States of America. Many recently, immigrated communities, adopt such lies. A number of them do it purposefully, in order to feel justified in notions of them having more of a right to the American Dream, than those who actually built the country. Such is a testament to the realities of racism not being a “Western invention.” Interesting enough, when others take an interest in Black American culture, and her/history, a number come in with levels of “academic superiority,’ as if their degree (and study of our culture) makes them “better experts” than our own people. Our stories and her/history is considered cheap by them. Something they can look up online, and repeat back to us with their racist notions, as if they can articulate our experiences, better than we can. Then again, that’s for another piece.
In returning back to the world of travel, there has to be an understanding that, for Black American people, travel must be a way for us to collect knowledge for the betterment of our people. For the current millennial generation, travel should be a way to rejuvenate and refresh ourselves, so that we give back to our communities. Channeling that travel energy back to our people, and communities, so that they, too, reap the benefits from having existed and created, (and even thrived) within US settings. That is very important. Furthermore, the wellness in re-claiming our self-esteem and self love is that we represent our authentic culture and what we have produced and given to the world, when we travel. Many people will never meet, or be exposed, to the people who birth Hip Hop, Jazz, Ragtime, Gospel, Negro Spiritual, Blues, and others. It is important that people match the people with that peculiar culture, which is found all over the world. That is the very true nature of a cultural ambassador. It is not solely about traveling, and capturing yourself as a Black American traveler. No, my Darlings! Being a cultural ambassador of travel, means you are educating, and doing the work of sustaining one’s culture, in all of its authenticity. Presenting it in another form, dressing it in foreign decor, with the intention of making yourself valuable, while removing yourself from your identity is nothing more than participating in self-hatred, and a desire in viewing oneself as “superior” than Black America’s gardens.
One of the beauties of Nina Simone is that she was proud of her roots. She crafted the stories of Black America for international audiences, through her music. Each genre, each song-from our music- conveyed the scenario and situation of our gardens. Through this very act, alone, she didn’t have to “prove” to the world the existence of Black America, or that we have culture. Not at all! She simply, sang it! She played it! That is the very proof that you need. That’s why a woman’s culture is so important. Once it comes from your authentic experience and journey, cultivated from your own Being, no one can take that away from you. Our music is our cultural her/history book Wherever it travels, we are sure to follow. Allow that to be the wellness of our travel experiences. Tales which do not speak of us fleeing from our riches. No. On the other hand, let such stories be reflections that in our travel journeys, our culture found us. Like our legendary Nina Simone, we were “feelin’ good” when we smelled traces of our perfumes, in traveled lands.
For more information on the legendary NINA SIMONE, you can go to the following site: https://www.ninasimone.com/
“Anything human can be felt through music, which means that there is no limit to the creating that can be done with music. You can take the same phrase from any song, and cut it up so many different ways-it’s infinite. It’s like God. . .you know?”Nina Simone