A Blues Ecology Gospel of Black American History?–Chapter 9: An Ecology or an Ego?

The title for this chapter, “An Ecology or an Ego” came from my encounter (which I’ve described in a blog entry) with a profoundly traumatized person who seemed to be living out of a shopping cart. I came to feel as if that person’s human ego had been separated from its protective and nurturing home in our larger and shared human ecology. Living in a society whose affluence seems to arise from separating so many people from nurturing and supportive ecologies reminded me of the spiritual “I Got a Home in that Rock.

The duality of modern Western thought might tend to contrast ego and ecology as opposites. But African oral traditions do not seem to do so. So the “home in that rock” might also be understood in terms of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle: It is possible to focus so intently on the position of the rock as to lose track of the rock’s momentum and vice versa.

Might the rock’s position be like an ego and its momentum be like an ecology? Might “a home in that rock” be understood, in the current context, as an ego at home in its ecology? For enslaved Africans in the Americas, might the oral tradition of call-and-response, as in the oscillating rhythm of a clave, have provided a vehicle for recreating or perhaps transplanting the human ecologies of homes from which they had been violently separated?

Is that the real motivation for empire building? Does imperialism arise from human egos that arrogantly ransack the ecology of the earth for power and wealth outwardly, because they are driven inwardly by a desperate craving for a home ecology that they have somehow failed to or forgotten how to steward? Does such ecological stewardship constitute the experiential difference–in actual human religious experience–between the eschatological destinations of heaven and hell in the scriptural texts of modern Western religion?

Is it even possible to address environmental ecology without addressing human ecological issues such as hunger and homelessness first? Are our modern crises in environmental ecology intimately linked to–and perhaps arising from–the ongoing crises in human ecology that tend to get ignored?

If so, how does one go about healing the modern Western ego and recovering or perhaps growing it into a fully shared and embodied ecological consciousness that is not divided and thus also weakened by division into competing rather than complementing religious doctrines–particularly in a modern Western culture where even such combinations of words make little or no sense?

Is the process similar to the expression and sharing of religious experience through musical expressions of ring-shout values? I don’t know. If so, it’s probably already happening. Might the interpretive lens structure in this paper offer a way to better observe, appreciate, participate in, and perhaps even contribute to such a process? I don’t know that either. I’ve been exploring the possibility, however, by configuring a circle of fifths onto an elliptical lens structure as shown in the figure below.

I added song and rhythm through solfège syllables for a diatonic scale that travels the circumference of the ellipse with its own diatonic period of rotation. It turns out that the half-step intervals seem to fall naturally on the long axis of the ellipse. This creates a symmetrical structure for visualizing intervals, along with the building blocks of melodies and harmonies, all upon a clave rhythm. The solfège syllables keep a fixed orientation with respect to the elliptical geometry, while the circle of fifths can be rotated like a circular slide rule to choose any particular note as the Do, or home key.

I took a step further in the figure below by replacing the solfege syllables with meaningful English language words; kind of like the meaningful pitches of a tonal language, but more like meanings that some attribute to sargam syllables in India’s orally transmitted classical tradition of nada Brahma. The actual words in this figure were also chosen for their similarity in sound to traditional solfège syllables. It thus became a structure for a tonal prayer and meditation on our own embodiments of balanced human ecology.

To incorporate the second focal point of the ellipse into the actual musical expression, I added a second long axis to the ellipse by adding a ninth note to the scale at the position of the augmented fourth. This note represents the light that returns at the solstice and creates a second long axis to connect syllables of home and light (balanced human ecologies) that also offset the other long axis between tears and fire (global disposable commodities).

I also drafted a tonal meditation for it that climbs the nine-note diatonic scale shown above with a repeating melodic structure based on the last two couplets of the spiritual “Oh Freedom.” It is played to a fundamental berimbau rhythm of capoeira, the martial art disguised as dance developed amongst enslaved Africans in Bahia. Lyrics and a recording are included below. This whole structural approach is new for me. So I look forward to exploring it some more.

Before we will enslave, 
we'll plant slave-ry in the grave 
and grow home with a soul 
that is free. 

Home all embracing light 
your love shelters, clothes and feeds, 
creates light in our ri- 
vers and seas. 

Song breathes in us your air. 
Drum fires light through heart's desires. 
Dance aspires to fly high, 

Your love sings through our lips, 
through our works of stewardship 
and through tears shed for both 
joys and strife. 

Come fill our day with light. 
Guide us home come dark of night. 
Lead your way. Wield your might. 
Set us free. 

Before we will enslave, 
we'll plant slave-ry in the grave 
and grow home with a soul 
that is free.
A Soul that is Free
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