Tuesday, January 16, 2007

alice coltrane (1937-2007)

Alice Coltrane's recent passing has reminded me of a subject we've talked about before here at Planet Grenada; the relationship between people of African descent and "Oriental" spiritual traditions. For example, Saul Williams suggests that by turning away from the East we risk being lost and literally dis/oriented. Williams is fond of quoting Paul Robeson on this point:
The man who accepts Western values absolutely finds his creative faculties becoming so warped and stunted that he is almost completely dependent on external satisfactions, and the moment he becomes frustrated in his search for these, he begins to develop neurotic symptoms, to feel that life is not worth living.

In the past we've had glimpses of various creative figures who have "turned to the East" to find fulfillment. In Alice Coltrane's case, she made a full-conversion towards Vedic religion (Hinduism) and became a follower of Sai Baba (who in the United States is probably most identified with the brand of Nag Champa incense manufactured by his "ministry"). Carlos Santana followed Sri Chimnoy for a while but eventually started to follow a more ecclectic individual path. Others, like Williams himself, have sampled from the insights of Eastern religion while remaining rooted elsewhere. We might even place Martin Luther King Jr. in this last category because, even though his non-violent philosophy can obviously be justified and supported by the teachings attributed to Christ in the New Testament, King was also influenced by Gandhi's precedent of using non-violent methods to encourage the end of British rule in India.

john coltrane
carlos santana
saul williams
guess who's comming to dharma
we be broke while other folks' cash registers be like "i ching" "i ching" "i ching"

Some other ideas and connections are comming to mind and I imagine we will revist this topic later. For example, should Islam be seen as "Eastern" or "Western"? and How does Black Orientalism fit into the picture?

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