Guitarist-educator-author-jazz club impressario Pascal Bokar Thiam, who is of Senegalese descent, continues our conversation on the origins of blues & jazz and how that story has been distorted down through history.
What was your ultimate mission in writing the book “From Timbuktu to the Mississippi Delta”?
To share with the African American community that we are all Africans, that we have a history of our own, that we come from a great civilization; that we have settled this land here in the U.S. against all odds; that we have indeed high standards of aesthetics; that these standards of aesthetics gave America a unique sense of identity away from the civilizational canons of Europe; and that God put us on this Earth with a mission and that mission is to improve the daily lives of the whole of humanity. Africans began humanity. Africans started the concept of civilization. All races emanate from the African source and as such we have always had a positive destiny. We have had great challenges and great victories as a people but the struggle against evil is fierce and it comes in all shapes and skin tones, and the most complex issue is to recognize who our allies are in this daily human struggle for a better world, and not to be blindsided by the narrow concepts of race. Race is a trick that God played on humans to see if they had developed the intelligence of the heart, because ultimately moral authority always comes from inclusion.
Writing this book obviously must have taken you on some rewarding travels; talk about some of the things you learned from writing this book.
I was fortunate to have grown up in Senegal and Mali and traveled throughout West Africa to Morocco, etc. But the reflection it took to write the book from my journey as a man of multi-cultural experiences is ultimately what crystallized my convictions. What I have learned is that we are one humanity, living on one planet capable of the greatest achievements and the greatest horrors and that only through education can we collectively make the right decisions so that our people, our nation, our children and the children of all races can reach for a better tomorrow; everyday is a path toward this attainment. Only education is the path to a more just and peaceful world.
The book helped me focus the real priorities of life as I pondered the economic realities and reasons behind the Atlantic slave trade, the deafening silence of the Christian Church, and the abuses of mankind perpetrated and generated by the induced educational silence of an academia enslaved by business interests onto the masses.
The book helped me understand and refocus the mechanisms of societies and the frictions that are inherently born out of greed. Greed and the notions of business led to the Atlantic slave trade. Greed led to the abuses of human beings in the plantations of the South.
Once your book is out there, how do you foresee all of your pursuits intersecting and interacting — teaching, playing, operating a club, and your author responsibilities?
I’m going to need a lot of help and I can see the challenges. I have to learn to pace myself, which I am not very good at, so this will be a learning process. Learning takes time and there is no substitute for time, but it’s ultimately an awful price to pay for learning because time is the only thing that we are all short of.
I am a big fan of the poetic flow, which is why I am amazed daily at the true King of Rock n’ Roll Chuck Berry’s accomplishments. He owns a club. He has left us a legacy so wide and deep that we still cannot appreciate its magnitude. He drove the biggest imperialist nation in the world (i.e. England) to forget about its own music and embrace the Blues of the African American communities of the South (i.e. the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Clapton, the Who, Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, etc.). And so when you talk about an achievement of monumental proportions, there you have it.
Pascal Bokar Thiam is President of Savanna Jazz in San Francisco, CA; he is on the Performing Arts Department faculty at the University of San Francisco, and the French American International School. And he is a working guitarist.