By Hana Sharif, Project Manager, Artists’ Ambassadors Project
“Come Home. Come. Come Home. To the truth of who we are….”
Some of my earliest memories are sitting at my grandmother’s feet listening to her weave a tapestry of adventures and exploits of her childhood. As she bandaged my knee, she regaled me with stories of medicine women and healers from bygone generations. As we watched the news, she shared the trauma my grandfather and his brothers endured as they helped integrate the city that would be my summer playground. Seamlessly, she cultivated the understanding that I am part of a continuum. There is no veil of separation between the past and the present. The future stands on the shoulders of those epic heroes and rides on the winds of their stories. Through her ringing laugh, bluesy song and lilting voice, I learned the personalities and history of all the women and men I have ever been.
There is a West African tradition that predates the written word. For more than two millennia, the history, heart, culture, dreams, triumphs and trials of a people have been meticulously documented through the body and voice of the Griot. A Griot is modernly recounted as storyteller, musician or historian. But the reality is the tradition, passed from father to son, mother to daughter, requires an artist with exceptional intellect, emotional depth and an epic visionary perspective to accomplish a job which Thomas Hale describes as a “historian, genealogist, advisor, spokesperson, diplomat, mediator, interpreter/translator, musician/ composer, teacher, exhorter, warrior, witness, and praise-singer. The job requires a reading of the past for audiences in the present, an interpretation that reflects a complex blend of both past and present values.” Through the prism of those complex reflections, the Griot uses cultural specificity, illuminating the way forward to universal truth.