Artist and producer Mazbou Q has been on a roll this year, releasing new tracks every fortnight. Makanaka Tuwe sits down with him to speak about Black New Zealand identity and the power of dreams.
Dreams are often relegated to something that happens when we sleep. Something we aspire to be in the ‘near-distant’ future. At times our dreams are coated in a language that subscribes our worth to how quickly we can turn them into a reality. Other times our dreams are a spring of water that nourishes us as we move from season to season.
Accompanying the release of Mazbou Q’s track ‘Don’t Stop Regardless’ and his new album The Future Was is a documentary by The Umbrella Creative. In the documentary, Mazbou Q plays a time traveller from a future dimension in which the continent of Africa is liberated, united and prosperous. He is tasked with going to the past (our present) and communicating to members of the global diaspora. The dream of a united Africa, which is central to the storyline, reminds me of the dreams that visionaries like revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara, political activist Marcus Garvey, prophet Kimpa Vita and politician Kwame Nkrumah had for the Motherland.
Across Indigenous cultures, notably our Indigenous Australian kin, Dreamtime is a time and space when the land and people were conjured by Spirit. This belief system is rooted in Dreamtime being the beginning that never ends, and as someone who believes that they are their ancestor’s wildest dreams, I resonate. Dreams are a portal. They connect me to past, present and future legacies, woven and connected by relationships and communion.
In a chapter titled ‘Onamata, Anamata: A whakapapa perspective of Māori futurisms’, Hana Burgess and Te Kahuratai Painting share that “Each generation co-exists, like droplets immersed in the ocean of never-ending beginnings”. As part of my journey to return and remember, I have used the stories of other dreamers in my own dreaming. The stories of science-fiction author Octavia Butler, healer and artist Credo Mutwa, and writer Tomi Adeyemi have taken me to places where our stories do not begin with the disruptions of slavery, colonisation and neoliberalism. To connect to the dreams and legacies of our elders is to embody and walk into the futures and infinite possibilities that they had for us.
Makanaka Tuwe: Congratulations on the release of ‘Don’t Stop Regardless’. I found it really beautiful, as you were channelling an idea that many Pan-African leaders and their ancestors had about a free and liberated Africa. By placing that freedom and liberty at the centre of the story, you were able to reconnect those visions with the reality of the time traveller. What’s the story and some of the themes of the documentary?
Mazbou Q: The song itself is written from the perspective of a time traveller who has come from a future dimension where Africa is free, liberated, prosperous and self-determined. The time traveller is tasked with coming back to our current timeline to speak to children of the African diaspora. His intention is to encourage them in their struggles for justice. His main message is: Don’t stop, regardless of the challenges and obstacles you may encounter, because a united future is possible. You have to keep fighting.
That's the perspective from which the song is written. When I went to do the documentary, I wanted to capture a piece of that and visualise what that could look like. We ended up creating the documentary to capture what we consider a slice of the time traveller’s mission. In this particular mission, he comes to Aotearoa and appears to three creatives of African descent to inspire them with visions of his future. As a result of the conversation, the creatives produce outputs that they feel reflect this free future, and we interview them based on what they saw and how they were inspired by it.
There are experiences that we will have as Black people in New Zealand. There will be a Black culture.
MT: It’s awesome to see the relationship between the past, present and future play out in the storyline. As intergenerational conduits of the past and future, what does the idea of Afro-futurism mean to you?
MQ: To me, it's reframing our stories as the African diaspora. As you say, we tend to move in the past or in the future and, as a result, we have stories that need to be told. Stories about our identity, figuring out who we are, our trauma, healing, the quest for unity, the quest for crossing boundaries and figuring out who we are as individuals and a community.
MT: I’m really interested in the idea of reframing our stories, because it ties into our identity as people of African descent living in Aotearoa. As a starting point, how do you identify? I know that’s a loaded question [laughs]!
MQ: I guess I call myself a Nigerian New Zealander, but there are a few layers to that. I like the idea of being a global citizen, and I like the idea of being a Black New Zealander. This is notably different from being a Nigerian New Zealander.
As a Nigerian New Zealander, I am still part of the Nigerian community here; I am interested in gathering with other Nigerians, sharing in our food and Nigerian culture. It’s quite interesting, because what was a severe point of division and dissection between ethnic groups back in Nigeria – due to wars – has become a playful rivalry. It’s cool, because it's almost a way of preserving our history. It’s celebrating our heritage, celebrating the good things about our country, and having this playful rivalry. Even in that playfulness it leads to questions, like why do we even have that rivalry? And when you dig into why, it sort of opens you up to learning about Nigerian history. At the same time, as someone who grew up here, I sort of speak about my Nigerian heritage in New Zealand terms because that’s the lens I’ve connected to it through.
I think the idea of a Black New Zealander is more uniting, an acknowledgement that there is a shared culture that we are going to move forward with and into. In terms of how it’s different being a Black New Zealander, we have experiences here because we are black, for example going to Afrodaze. We go there because we are black and want to hang out with other black people; it’s a part of Black culture. Something like going to Africa Day celebrations, or even going to gigs. Another example would be the Black Lives Matter protests last year; overall, those instances acknowledge our place here in New Zealand as being defined in part by having a shared Black experience.
There are experiences that we will have as Black people in New Zealand. There will be a Black culture. There isn’t one yet, but it’s developing, and I think being able to claim that as my identity is important.
MT: When you speak to our shared experiences as the foundation of creating a Black New Zealand culture, I become curious about where that sits with Black Pacific identity. Blackness has existed in the Pacific, and this isn’t highlighted in the mainstream. I’m always interested when we speak of a Black New Zealand identity. Where does that sit in conjunction with the history of people who are Black in the Pacific? Who have been here far longer than we have?
MQ: A lot of our generation have the residual attitudes and perspectives of our parents, even though we are trying to get rid of some of those. This is in terms of being tribalistic, We are this,and We don’t trust these kinds of people. And not even between countries, necessarily, but within them, too. I know within the Nigerian community, it’s very much a thing of We’re Igbo and we don't really trust the Yoruba people. That’s our parents’ kind of outlook. But our generation, and more so the generation coming up, will definitely get rid of that.
They don’t have memories of the political conflict that led to those divisions. They just see someone else who’s Black, and they’re like, Oh, that person is like me. They will grow up going to unified African events, club nights, hanging out at uni and at school, and communing with other Black people. These will all develop around the notion of being a Black New Zealander, different ways of behaving, different musical tastes and artistic productions.
I think that’s what I mean when I speak about culture creation.
And that’s another thing, the New Zealand curriculum is not going to ever really be like, Here’s Black history.
MT: I like what you said about using the experiences that unify us to fuel what is created and produced. What’s exciting about the technologies we have is that we can archive and keep a record. When I think about what’s missing from the conversation about Black New Zealand identity, it’s around what I said earlier about Black Pacific identity.
It’s also about the stories that we have of our elders and their experiences in Aotearoa. Sometimes I feel like these stories are erased, or intentionally not archived. It fuels this weird rediscovering of Black people that media outlets do. At times, it also feels like we are starting from zero, when there are elders who have done it before and paved a path in their own way. As we continue on this pathway of culture creation, what steps can we take to ensure that we don’t forget the beginnings of our identity on this whenua – the impact our elders had?
MQ: We need to talk to our elders about these things because I think in general we don’t have these conversations with our parents’ generation. I also don’t think they are aware of the significance of their migration to New Zealand and what that means. They’ve moved here to create a better life for the family and the lineage, but I don’t think, for instance, my parents were aware that they would raise someone with an essentially brand-new identity. Someone who’s going to spend their whole life working it out. I don’t think they were conscious of that. Having these conversations with them and capturing these stories is important. For instance, Aaraf Adam’s documentary about Liya Lupala was beautiful, and is a necessary part of archiving these stories.
Capturing these stories will be key to that, and also not forcing our elders but encouraging them to reflect on the significance of their own actions here. Capturing that dialogue and enshrining it into our archives and literature, to teach Black history when our young ones do get older.
And that’s another thing, the New Zealand curriculum is not going to ever really be like, Here’s Black history. That’s on us to teach. If we don’t intentionally collate and aggregate our resources around that and tell our young ones, they will not learn or know. Then, as you say, it’s going to be a continual re-creation process, rather than learning and growth.
I think just creating, teaching and recognising that we are part of Black history in New Zealand, and seeing it as something that needs to be taught and passed on.
MT: I agree with you about capturing that dialogue. I believe that legacies are strengthened when we affirm our understanding that we stand on the shoulders of many. We must have these conversations, because I guess another goal of white supremacy is the disconnection and disruption that happens to us when we migrate. We experience a disconnection between our elders and cultures through erasure, being pushed to the margins, and focusing on day-to-day survival. You speak to some of our elders, and they share what they have achieved, and you think, wow, that’s pretty incredible.
One thing that I noted in the documentary is that you had stories from different parts of the continent and the diaspora. Was that intentional?
MQ: The people who were interviewed were selected intentionally. You have Chichi, who lived in Zimbabwe for the first eight years of her life, then you have Synthia, who moved here when she was very young, so her diaspora experience is very different to Chichi’s. She has to make more of a conscious effort to connect with her Burundian side. Then you have Kevin, whose African ancestry is a few generations removed, and his diaspora experience is different. His experience is more, How am I African, where does my African-ness even come from? So, you’ve got three quite different diaspora experiences, therefore three different ways in which a free and united Africa will change things for these people.
I think, to really move forward, we need to dream, and they need to be wild dreams.
MT: I like how you speak about these three stories and narratives, even in their distinctiveness, leading to a united Africa. The message of this dream connects us to the expansiveness of our identities, and shows that we are holding stories and works that will shape the future of our wildest dreams. From your perspective, what is the importance of dreaming?
MQ: Dreaming is paramount for us to have a direction or an idea of what we want to work towards. I like the specific language of dreaming because we associate dreaming as eccentric, wild, imaginative, and not necessarily making too much sense. I think that language is important because we need to have visions for our future that push boundaries and expand our horizons. One of the very immediate down-to-earth examples of that is between our parents’ generation and ours. It’s something as simple as a career choice. Their dreams for their children were that they would be lawyers, doctors, engineers and accountants; but our generation has been like, what if I want to be a sports person, a poet or a musician?
I’ve previously shared in my music that we need to imagine ourselves doing more, being more and stepping out of the confines placed on us. We need to imagine ourselves doing what previous generations couldn’t do due to the confines placed on them by colonialist violence and the resulting survival mechanisms that developed. We have the luxury of not having experienced a lot of that; our minds are freer to say, Okay, what can tomorrow be like? So I think, to really move forward, we need to dream, and they need to be wild dreams.
Mazbou Q’s album The Future Was is out now.
The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.
The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.