Bury My Tamil Heart At Karbala

Bury My Tamil Heart At Karbala by Professor A.L.I.

My hemoglobin fills the chambers of dodo quill pens.

My heart, recycled parchment; my third eye: the lens.

Lifted by thick aroma, Appa’s savory sambar angrily boils!

Just like Tamil tea picking blood when no diamonds or oil–

Distract the mainstream with the genocide of filtered coffee drinkers.

Who cares about an island of demons faced with extinction?

My mother’s grandfather was blessed by a cobra’s boon.

Yet my father’s cousin died by its poison, after five transfusions.

I tried to grasp at Saint Elmo’s fire and hold a stellar fossil.

These old tales linger like scent of mountain jasmine in my nostrils.

Yet like lotus pollen, it explodes forth, carried forcefully by the winds:

British Wind, French Wind, Portuguese Wind and Arab Wind.

Indian Monsoons bring floods that release the shadow’s venom.

Just as the comfort of cotton lungis are exchanged for harsh denim.

The feeling of cold scales gliding across one’s feet is icy concrete.

Lost in asphalt jungles while our umbilical cords recede back into sea.

Once recognized as royalty in the heart of merchant barter.

I roamed as a slave; freed by the second son of the Prophet’s daughter.

From Kerala to Karbala, I travelled with Adam,

And pondered my existence, as I spun like my atoms.

I became a dervish, around the source of my passions.

Vow of silence like Buddhists and tried to speak with my actions.

I trekked to a village in Malabar named after Ali.

Where a girl was born, who’ll one day, birth me.

Could she see, facing west from Malabar shores?

The house in the desert, where Imam Ali was born?

I’ll never know, as Sita is now one with her mother.

Her ashes ripple atop Pacific waves as I shudder,

Torn And Mad In Loss; I was The Angry Man In Limbo

A T.A.M.I.L., empty (M.T.) without Ali (A.L.I.) I ail, slow.

Like a waking dream inscribed on the back of a holy tortoise.

A primary source of an archetype bereft of remorse.

Mercilessly repeating in every land, for everyday since

On Ashura, “Muslims” murdered Fatima’s prince!

I cried when I heard the story, like I cried for the womb that bore me,

For the father that once ignored me, while I was an unborn seed.

I was circumstance’s orphan, bombarded, searching for cover!

So when my Amma died, Fatima Az-Zahra, became my mother.

And I began to see Hussain everywhere, in every innocent soul.

I plunged into sea of my waking dreams, and the son of Ali spoke!

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Class Is Back In Session – DAS KA REBEL

 

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ali@professorali.com

“The Professor is back! A.L.I. has released another album packed with brilliant lyrics and incisive social commentary. Wonderful.” — iTunes

www.professorali.com

SF BAY AREA, CALIFORNIA.  March 13, 2013.  Class is back in session on Professor A.L.I.’s Das Ka Rebel, an album that isn’t an album, but instead its lyrical curriculum.  Following up his work on the star-studded Carbon Cycle Diaries and Emerald Manifesto, Professor A.L.I. has met Hip-Hop at the intersection of education and has merged his lyrical content to match the socio-economics curriculum he teaches.  Das Ka Rebel featuring artists like Dead Prez, Prodigal Sunn and Chino XL; and the album will be a part of an innovative summer lit course taught at U.C. Berkeley by Professor A.L.I. himself.

Professor A.L.I. skillfully uses wordplay to point out the predatory economic systems that take advantage of our youth.  In ‘Wordsmyths’ the Professor critiques religious institutions and how they play off of the faith of their parishioners to gain economic benefits.  On ‘PenmanshipProfessor A.L.I. uses the allusion of the pen, which can refer to both a writing instrument or to the penal institution, to critique society and how both meanings play off of each other; how not utilizing the pen can increase ones chances of ending up in the Pen.

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The album is not without controversy.  The Professor draws inspiration from a chance summer meeting with Basketball Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas for the ‘Book of Isiah’ a song which tells the story of three Bay Area basketball legends, who highlight the problematic and predatory nature of NCAA Basketball, where colleges make money off of players without truly investing in their education.  Isiah loved the track and found it captures the essence of the problems facing inner-city youth within athletics.

The album also features stellar work by West Coast M.C.’s Planet Asia, T-KASH and Kam, who seem due to the heavy lyrical content to be more like guest lecturers than traditional album features.  Planet Asia encourages youth to stay in school, while Kam helps Professor A.L.I. deliver the message of how Hip-Hop has been co-opted by corporate interests and independent artistry is besieged as well.  Das Ka Rebel is a unique album and has already received great critical review by local, alternative and college radio stations.  It will be a part of U.C. summer curriculum and reviewed by independent Hip-Hop magazines as well as regional media.

For more information or to contact Professor A.L.I. for promo requests or to set up an interview, please contact Black Steven at blacksteven@blacksteven.comwww.professorali.com.

 

Native Sun

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Native Sun by Professor A.L.I.

I remember when I first met Carter, five years ago; it was hard to miss him, since he stood out as much as I did amidst our new peers.  I see him in my mind vividly, standing awkwardly in the sunlight upon a beach as part of an in-coming student orientation; and I’m sure he visualizes me in similar fashion.  He a freshman and I the new teacher on campus at a unfamiliar school clearly feeling nervous about the community we were being enveloped in and showing it through our uncomfortable body language.  We clearly felt, then, like outsiders, like shadows cast in the light of the sun.

Four years later as the June sun beamed down upon our heads, Carter would walk across the stage; and in the Athenian School tradition he picked an instructor to give a one-minute graduation speech on his behalf.   Carter chose me and I chose to deliver the speech as a rap, sans beat; it seemed appropriate since Carter’s alter ego was the young, up and coming rapper “Captaincy” and I was, Professor A.L.I.

As Carter was nearing his impending graduation the elephant in the room, was a potential collaboration between the teacher and student, between a Professor and a young Captain.  Carter had joked with me about the possibility in years past, but, I had shook it off with banter for I rarely admitted to anyone on campus that I was ‘Professor A.L.I.’ and knew such a collab would’ve blown my identity out in into the sunlight.  For so long I’d kept my artistry hidden in the shadows of my professional world and seeing the two worlds collide was, at the time, unsettling.

Yet at the same time Carter represented everything I strove to be an educator for.  He was a brilliant young man with deep inner-reflections who also thought out of the box.  He was the laid back freshman who’d emerged from the shadows of obscurity to embrace the lamp of learning.  And to top it off, unlike many young people he possessed both knowledge and reverence for the true pioneers and “teachers” of Hip-Hop like Brand Nubian, Public Enemy & KRS-One.

So motivated by that realization, I showed Carter a song in which I sought to promote Hip-Hop as it once was, the art of expression of social/political issues that were relevant to the community at large.  The song had a natural intersection in the realm of equity and inclusion, a theme that was central to both Captaincy and Professor A.L.I.; it also spoke to our time at Athenian together, to community building and education.  We had embraced the light of our true selves on this campus, let down our guards, and allowed what we do as artists respectively to become a part of the landscape like the sun in the sky. It was the most appropriate intersection for a collab, and Captaincy laid the second verse on the song, and lo and behold, ‘Native Sun’ was born.

The song was born of a reverence for Richard Wright’s seminal work, Native Son, and the language of Hip-Hop with the elevation of self in the speak of the ‘Nation of Gods & Earths’ community; the same NGE community that gave Hip-Hop its slang and cadence.  Imbued with both “science & math”, the track is a metaphor of the passing of a torch; of a Professor taking his own light to elevate another, a student to become a “Sun”, to give off his own light, to embrace the highest expression of self, one that is celestial in nature.

The song’s journey is one that begins in the classroom, through the lecture of a Professor, sparking the imagination of students, and of one student in particular, Carter (Captaincy) who presents his own reality.  This should be the nature of any art, to spark more creativity, and to create more artists.  So like a sun that shines upon all and gives life meaning, by the light of the moon, its warmth and radiation, so too do the lyrics of the song, give life meaning by shedding light upon the importance of equity and point out societal inequities that we live and breath in on a daily basis.

Native Sun is a song off of the Emerald Manifesto album, and the beginning of a new movement for me as an artist.  Up until now, as Carter, my peers and many students will attest to, I’ve kept my artistic life and life as an educator separate.  However I now see the empowering role that Hip-Hop artistry and lyricism can play in education and also vice versa.   Merged together, Hip-Hop & Education shed light on issues that are not touched upon by popular media or given attention because they do not further the status quo.  It is the unexplored realm of voice, the subaltern, and as an educator I see the importance of the voice of the M.C.  After all, as I’ve said in the past, ‘a Professor has knowledge, but an M.C. has the audience.’

To that end, on Emerald Manifesto, I created songs that spoke to issues that didn’t see the light of day.  I spit verses about the social inequities of the Caste system still in practice in South Asia, the movement of permaculture, the genocide in Bahrain, the importance of localized spending and the similarities rather than the difference between people living in the Middle East.  All of these issues are rarely addressed, yet are issues relevant to our world and more importantly the world inherited by our children.  The sun diminishes darkness, vanishes obscurity, and makes all things erudite.  I was seeking to do the same as an artist; in the end I was seeking to become a sun.

At Athenian, both Carter and I had become suns; we found a supportive community, one that encouraged artistic expression and explored ways in which educators and students could be learners outside of the traditional classroom setting.  In four years the icy wall I had created between my artistry and role as educator had slowly melted.  The Google searches that easily reveal the presence of my alter ego and calls to recite spoken word and acapella poetry had blown my carefully constructed cover as a mild mannered educator along with my icy wall to bits.

When this happened I saw an immense swell of support and love from a community that stood by its own.  Carter saw that too, and as he started to take the lyrics from his notepad to the mic, he too found his strongest support coming from the Athenian campus family.  Artistry thrives when it is cultivated with love, and we both found that from our respective peers.  So we too began to shine in our own right.

We also discovered after five years at Athenian, that our initial reaction to being on the other side of the tunnel, in a city (Danville) that was really different from our respective homes of Union City & Oakland, was not what we expected.  In our time on campus we discovered we were not outsiders, but integral parts of the community as if we had always been there.  We felt like we were natives of that Mt. Diablo setting and at communicated in our body language that we had ascended to become part of what makes Athenian shine as a community, that we were “suns” in the NGE sense of the word. We were Native Suns.

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I am currently working on my new project entitled Das Ka Rebel, taking the exploration of Hip-Hop & Education to another level.  I will explore themes that make education truly innovative and experiential—while at the same time discovering all of what Hip-Hop could be.  Hip-Hop after all was born in the West African Griot, so I will seek to imbue the sprit of that oral historian as I weave the tales of our world as a testament to later generations, and like the griot, impart lessons that will help them preserve our values, while avoiding our mistakes.

I seek to shine like the Native Sun and give light to the ‘earths’ and their seeds–so that they flower with knowledge and grow to regenerate this planet and allow it to flourish with love.  In the words of Tupac Shakur, “I’m not saying I’m going to change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.”  I feel the same way, and I will seek to move through this world with Ollin Tonatiuh, with the movement of the Sun, riding the chariot in the sky of life like Apollo, facing its demons like Surya, for I am Ra in Kemet, I am the Native Sun.

Black Skin, White Masks: My Song with Lord Jamar

If any moment validated what I do as a poet and artist, it was speaking with Lord Jamar of Brand Nubian over the phone about the track I’d just sent him and my concept for it.   Anyone who knows me, knows that Brand Nubian, and in particular Lord J, with his lyrical content, voice, and spirituality had a profound influence on me as an artist and as a Muslim.  I remember playing Claimin’ I’m a Criminal on repeat, over and over again as a college student—Lord J’s and also Sadat X’s lyrics spoke to me on both an experiential and existential level.  Here were two black men, who embraced their identity and did not wear masks.

From time to time I’ll ‘check’ for Lord J, and I always appreciated how sincerely he ‘repped’ his faith and identity in all the forms of artistic expression.  It’s something I sought to do in my artistry as well, and found in Lord J a model to emulate.  So for all these reasons, talking to Lord J was a bit surreal for me.  However the conversation surprisingly flowed naturally between the Hip-Hop legend and me, the upcoming poet.  I showed him the respect he deserved which I think he appreciated.  We live in a time where many a young artists neglect the forefathers and forbearers of Hip-Hop, i.e. those who laid down the path that these young artists themselves now walk freely.  Many of these artists are oblivious to who the legends are, and the years these figures spent in the game, at a time where Hip-Hop was given no ethos in popular culture.  I guess I must’ve stood apart from them to Lord J in some way because he also showed me love and agreed to participate in a song which was ironically aimed at the very concept of identity which he’d been speaking up for, for years.

It was almost as if the song was meant to be.

We began and ended the conversation with the word “Peace”, and a week later I had lyrical gold sent to me as an e-mail attachment.  I called up my boy, fellow Brand Nubian fan, Hakim, who always plays the role of the laidback cool kid in the back of the room… but even he was noticeably ‘juiced’ as I leaked the news.  “I just got a feature from Lord J,” I said.

Now I’ve been in the booth with E-40; and on my first solo I worked with Raekwon, Canibus, Sadat X, Hussein Fatal and Killah Priest, and since then other legends, as well as contemporary heavyweights.  However this song and its message along with the person featured on it, held special weight.  It meant and still means something special.

This ‘feature’ meant an almost perfect marriage or Lord J’s appearance to the lyrical content to the custom beat made by Arun Trax which used a vocal sample from the late Khalid Abdul Muhammad; in addition to top it all off, the song itself was titled after the seminal work of Frantz Fanon, White Skin, Black Masks.  The song was meant to be both a history lesson regarding people of dark skin or African descent in the West as well as a wake-up call to many of what Hip-Hop had been and could still be: message driven music.

So for the backdrop for this song, my team shoes an appropriate video, the infamous ‘Black Sambo’ by Warner Brothers; a ‘banned cartoon’ because it depicts in the most heinous of ways a child of black descent in such a negative light.  It spoke to the essence of the song and seemed almost tailor made to convey the  lyrical message which ironically speaking to issues that sadly still exist in society today.  Another layer of irony is that it was images like ‘Back Sambo’ which reinforced in the minds of many black and other children of color growing up a sense of inferiority.  These children then grew up to wear ‘white’ masks to move forward in society.


Hip-Hop
is a way of communication positive messages and it gives voice to the voiceless.  However those that say Hip-Hop is dead say so because it has become a co-opted art form in becoming an almost self-deprecating form of expression especially as it is packaged in its erudite now popular form—I would argue that in this sense while Hip-Hop seams ‘dead’ to its message driven roots, the message does live on.  Hip-Hop is alive overseas; it lives in basements, in backpacks, in taped up headphones worn by street urchins, in cyphers comprised of orphans, and in vocal booth microphones that embrace the spit of authentic stories which are often ignored by popular media.  Hip-Hop lives in large part to the continued investment of those who have laid the path like Lord J.

Lord J, gains nothing from our collaboration—instead he builds and gives back, he allows the spotlight that has embraced his years of work to shine ever so briefly on an up and comer like myself.

PEACE, Lord Jamar, thanks for doing this young up and comer a solid on this joint.  I was honored that you would consider it in the first place.  While the song may not have a mass audience, it speaks to issues that continue to affect the masses. PEACE, Professor A.L.I.

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Keep Hip-Hop Alive watch the video here and support the song and album Carbon Cycle Diaries on iTunes.

Carbon Cycle Diaries ~ A Reflection by Professor A.L.I.

Carbon Cycle Diaries ~ A Reflection

The other day I called up the grandson of one of my penultimate role models: Malcolm X; it was his namesake and only male heir, Malcolm Shabazz , who was on his way to a speech. While on the phone he tells me that a mutual friend of ours was in the car with him. I immediately asked him to deliver the universal Islamic greeting, ‘Asalaamu’Alaykum’ on my behalf.

I heard Malcolm in the background as he said, “Aye Yo, Professor A.L.I. says ‘Asalaamu’Alaykum’.”

This was the moment that ‘it’ hit me; it was like a reality verifying pinch that this journey I’ve been on is in fact real. In many ways the ‘Carbon Cycle Diaries’ project has felt like a dream. I never would’ve believed that I would actually collaborate with artists that I listened to as a hip-hop fiend in the early 90’s. I am still in disbelief that the cypher and spoken word have led me to a digital release. I am humbled by praise for a project from my peers and well-wishers, knowing all of this has been made possible by The Most High solely, of which I have no doubt.

What many people do not know is that both Professor A.L.I. and the ‘Carbon Cycle Diaries’, almost never came to light. In 2002, I gave up on my ‘hoop dreams’ of ever becoming an established artist, one who would demand attention let alone respect. Somehow I never believed it would happen and I walked towards the goal of becoming a professional, even my life in academia was an afterthought.

Then death struck. First my father then my mother… I found myself the oldest person in my family and at the same time with a family of my own to support. Music was in the recesses of my mind. Yet, I had volumes in pads scratched from back in 1987 forward. I had verses that possessed my mind like reoccurring visions. I had images I had catalogued from all over the world, and I had rage and hope. I had venom and I had to spit it out.

The mic beckoned. I heard the voice of my mother telling me to ‘grab the mic’ as she passed from this realm. I realized that my own time is limited, but before death overtakes me, I wanted to have the opportunity to leave my voice, both for myself and for my seed; in death I realized that I would take two journeys, of soul a spiritual awakening, of body the Carbon Cycle.

So I started to speak to the physicality of this realm and the imbalances that exist within it. Ultimately focusing upon the earth which is our matrix, our test, our trust; yet in reality it is a mother betrayed by her children, who’ve severed the umbilical cord, drained their mother of milk, murdered their siblings and then sacrificed Gaia to the idol of self, finally eating away at her corpse like zombies. So I grabbed the mic.

What flowed was the ‘Carbon Cycle Diaries’, an in depth look at the issues that plague our planet. It was a title that meant so much. It spoke to our role in the physical form as well as our relationship with the planet. It spoke to the basic element that defines life and it documented how we are destroying life in so many ways. It was also a play on words, a shout out to Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and his chronicled journey to his self-realization in “Motorcycle Diaries”.

Why not write a book? I am, but music and in particular hip-hop was an important medium. Hip-Hop is alive, it is intelligent movement. It speaks to a group of people who understand coded language, and their role in the shadows. It is my generations smoke signal or message tied to passenger pigeon. It is communicative to a specific audience and it is with music, which touches the soul.

Some would say like the pigeon that hip-hop has gone extinct. However I would disagree. I would argue that hip-hop exists and will continue to exists alongside commercial rap music. The moment the first rap album was played on commercial radio it ceased to be hip-hop, it became erudite, and hence commercially viable. Commercial culture took over and though some artists maintained that communicative nature in music, it became less important, because now it was a product. Yet while this was happening, there were still true hip-hop artists, independents, basement level grassroots cats who still were hip-hop. That hasn’t changed. So hip-hop is not dead, it is alive but you need to have the proper ears to listen to it.

Professor A.L.I. came to be to educate using the microphone, and the fact that he has now entered the shadow consciousness speaks to hip-hop and the fact that a Professor can have knowledge but an M.C. has the audience. From a journey surreal, to a movement so real; I ask all those reading this, listening to ‘Carbon Cycle Diaries’ to stand up to the issues addressed in the album from racial inequality to Islamophobia, from indigenous rights to police brutality, and from corporate hegemony to Global Warming. The music is but a mechanism to deliver a greater larger message that we has human beings need to unite in the face of oppression and educate our brothers and sisters to the work that needs to be done. Each one teach one, spread the word, Professor A.L.I. and the ‘Carbon Cycle Diaries’ have arrived.

Shout out to Remi Bye from Norway on Facebook for his eloquent questions which helped shape this reflection. Stay in touch with Professor A.L.I. at www.facebook.com/professali