Manthia Diawara, We Won't Budge: An African Exile in the World. New York: Basic Civitas Books. 2003. 271 pp.
One of my favorite film scenes is in Salif Keita: citoyen ambassadeur in which Salif Keita, the Mansa of Mali, sits serenely with a youth teaching him a primary song of the Keita clan. The scene speaks to the importance of passing on tradition to the future generations in African culture. It is a beautiful and joyful scene; yet there is an unspoken sadness of the hardships which the albino Mansa has made through his own personal cultural journey to achieve this peaceful state. As Keita plucks the strong, proud, and haunting melody (Sina), my mind travels over the book that I have just finished. Music is integral to the book (all kinds of music, Rock and Roll, R & B, Soul, Reggae, but most notably the Mansas music). The author, Manthia Diawara, titled his book after a protest song of Keita, the energetic and hard hitting tune, "Ne Pas Bouger" ("We Will Not Budge").
As a Ph.D. student and a burgeoning professor of Pan-African Studies I am indebted to my colleague, Wendy Wilson, for recommending this book to me. The text provides invaluable thought on what it means to be a citizen in the modern world. Along with the work of multiple scholars including, but not limited to, Janet Helms, bell hooks, Arjun Appadurai, Mahmood Madmani, Noam Chomsky and Pierre Bourdieu, Diawara's book characterizes both the inability to escape paralysis and the possible opportunities for praxis in the twenty first century.
Essentially an autobiographical essay, We Won't Budge tells the story of Manthia Diawara in the United States, France and Mali. Told through the minds eye of malaria-stricken dreams with a soundtrack of Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin, Rod Stewart, Roberta Flack and Salif Keita, Diawara's book weaves a complex thread of personal stories with current historical events. The work illuminates what it means to be a scholar of African descent in Africa, France and the United States.
The narrative is complicated since Diawara always seems to mold his cultural identity and politics to the audience he perceives. This is made very clear in two of his interactions: one with his nephew (a college student), and the other with a doctor (treating his malaria) in France. In the first instance he is amazed at his nephew's seeming complicity to racism in France, wondering why a more radical stance isn't taken. In the interaction with the doctor, he resists...