As Western colonial powers pressed their dominance on the world in the last few centuries, one of their crucial tools was a discourse of intellectual and technological superiority over the primitive peoples of the world. Wielding this discourse as a kind of twisted logic, they could justify the inhumane treatment of others, from the institution of slavery to the mass genocide of Native Americans.
Nonetheless, the world has had sophisticated societies from people across the globe. The recent laser-mapping of the vast Mayan civilization in Guatemala reminds us that clever, smart, resilient people of all colors and creeds have made their mark on human history. Therefore, when places are called “third world” countries or their people are referred to as primitive or unsophisticated, histories are being actively erased by the lingering shadow of Western empire. What did any of us learn in school about the empires of Mali, Ethiopia, etc., all flourishing kingdoms as sophisticated as their contemporary neighbors to the north?
Long story short, that’s why I’m excited about the movie Black Panther. Its slick Afro-futurism does not simply depict a fantasy African nation more sophisticated than the Western world can imagine, it suggests that Africans and people of African descent have those possibilities inside of them right this moment. It is aspirational and fictional, but it also creates a rich world that alludes to a historical fact — that African peoples have thrived and flourished, their civilizations rising and falling as they have anywhere else on this planet. Black Panther‘s alternative present featuring a technologically-advanced African nation built on the values, aesthetics, and histories of black peoples is a reminder that they can surely do so again…that perhaps they are already doing it now while we weren’t paying attention. Black excellence indeed.
As for the song, I really dug the cinematic moodiness of “Pray for Me,” which I tried to reproduce in my cover. Kendrick Lamar’s rap section in the middle wasn’t conducive to đàn bầu, so I instead opted to insert a bit of myself into the song, swapping his part out for a “freestyle” improvisation drawing from the “vọng cổ” song in South Vietnamese opera (cải lương). Recording it took only two takes…but re-memorizing it for the video took hours!
Filming was on our little balcony, with me forcing Parul (wife and camera-person extraordinaire) to maneuver around our various flower pots to make the shot darker, grittier, and more emo. Thanks honey.
Hope you all enjoy, and see you at the movies!