Meta Dia - The Great Bridge
02/01/2017 by Werner Zips
Reggae has been the musical genre designed inna yard - Jamaica - more than half a century ago to cross boundaries of all kinds. Its messengers successfully bridged divisions created by mankind for mankind, between countries, continents, nations, race constructions, historical experiences, social classes, economic strata, age groups, and, to some extent, even gender distinctions. Meta Dia stands firm in this tradition. With his third album Hira, however, he brings additionally one of the rarest dishes available these days to the table: a call for spiritual unity and religious tolerance. Born and grown into the islamic Sufi traditions of his native Senegal he sets out to shoulder one of the biggest tasks in a world increasingly divided by fear and hatred. Hira spreads a message of Peace, particularly in the deteriorating relationship between Islam and other religions/faiths: "Sallam (Peace) is our doctrine our cornerstone" (Zion Stereo).
Meta simply has no respect, acceptance, sensitivity or even understanding for borders. His origins in the great nomadic tradition of the Fulbe or Fulani people who live spread over some 20 or more African countries perhaps installed the inborn concept of a borderless world in his free state of mind. His dreadlocks signify the antennas for a transcending spirituality connecting the Sufi Baye Fall of his place of birth with Rastafari in Jamaica and elsewhere. Following his second album Ancient Power three years ago he took a deep breath, sought deliberate exile in a mental hermitage that he likens to the cave of Hira. In this cave close to Mecca Prophet Mouhammad received the revelation of the Islamic faith based on the idea of peace, togetherness and compassion - against divergent contemporary interpretations of a religion of the sword.
For an artist travelling back and forth between Europe, The United States, Africa and beyond, this exile in a metaphorical cave - hence the album title Hira - tells of Meta's tremendous internal struggle. It must have almost shattered his self-confidence to decide whether the Reggae community (and the world for that matter) would be prepared to listen to tales of an Islamic beauty. Its traditions of hospitality, compassion, charity and peace appar to be forgotten in today's war-talk, although these Islamic values have been embraced by Western orientalist thought, embedded in the myth of 1001 night, for so long. Meta felt an inner urge to remind an international audience of the often concealed and neglected beauties of Islamic traditions faded out by an exclusive media focus on fundamentalist and aggressive (mis-)interpretations of the Qur'an. When he came clear that he wants his African experiences of Sufism to be heard, it raised considerable doubts about the reactions of his listeners, the Reggae massive. Would he be seen just as a Muslim singer? Labelled a Senegalese Reggae artist or branded as some kind of Sufi Rock Reggae representative? Meta wants none of these etiquettes. He refuses to identify himself by any label of nationality, religious affiliation or musical brand. Quite distinct from many of his Jamaican brethren, Meta would not even accept the roles of prophet or messenger easily. His mission in life is clearly not the achievement of political or religious leadership, much less a self-acclaimed status of spiritual power and supreme wisdom.
Listening to these beautiful musical gems of Roots Reggae blasting from his personal Hira, it appears to me that he simply wants to offer a "bridge over troubled water" (to borrow a title from another musical tradition). And the self-fulfilling prophecy of a "clash of civilizations" may be framed as the most troubled waters these days. With its devastating hypothesis that people's cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict, it predicts and almost promotes a world of separation, division and violence. Meta and his multi-cultural band, the Cornerstones, challenge all kinds of such proclaimed divisions head-on. Their appealing musical and lyrical layer builds "a great bridge" for all listeners to cross over - not in the trivial sense of crossover music, but in the spiritual debth of the Oneness philosophy of One Love. Just as Bob Marley - Meta's key inspirational influence - overcame the adamant racialist frontlines in the era of postcolonialism, Meta aims to dissolve the new millennium differences rooted in religion. When asked about the relationship of Rastafari spirituality to Sufism and other Islamic traditions, he has a clear answer:
"For me, there is no difference. It's all one. There is this part, we title it "Rastafari", and this part, let's say we name it "Buddhism", and this part we name it "Islam", this part we name it "Christian", this part we name "Jewish", but these are just the beautiful pieces of the same. If you trace all of these, you will get to the same source. I don’t see A religion, B religion, C religion, D religion, but we, mankind, divide all of this, so again it go back to the message of one. In the album I’m talking about the path of David, the path of Moses, Jesus, Maria, all of that, just to bring everything in one beautiful bubble."
The album Hira reflects these insights by the opening title song Hira, honouring the Prophet Mouhammad, followed by an ode to joy for Addis Abeba, the Mount Zion for Rastafari. It states a simple message of trust in oneself: "Everybody has a mission in life. Know yours! Know your rights! Every page from the book of light! Be wise, see inside! When the road gets rocky, keep faith!" (Addis State of Mind). The lyrics of the album shine with a simplicity that has nothing to do with simpleness, but rather embrace the Baye Fall concept of spiritual clarity. Such ideas of humbleness and modesty are shared by many Rastafari and Reggae tunes from the Jamaican heartland. Perhaps its clearest expression may be found in one of the shortest-titled Reggae songs in history: Do. It seeks to strengthen each and everyone concerned to pursue her or his own way of life. Nevertheless such simple lyrics only unfold their true profoundness after serious and deep meditation: "Do. Do what you have to do. Let nobody take it away from you. Be loyal to what you believe in." The song bears testimony to Meta's philosophy of undivided love, including love for one self as a precondition to all forms of love, ultimately leading to universal love. On the other side of this coin looms a passionate appeal for battle - the battle against fear, as Meta proclaims: "For me the only battle of mankind since the beginning is fear. Fear is enemy number one of the people. In that song (Do) I am battling fear, because fear divides us. Fear is here on earth to create jealousy, pain, difference. But there is no difference. We are all one and each one of us is unique in his own way. So we have to love ourselves and express that uniqueness in order not to absorb any poison in our heart."
Here is an artist who shows no interest to be a Star. Meta Dia supported by his extremely talented and diverse Cornerstones band humbly aspires to serve as a shining light - "gotta find peace of mind see the light we shine" (The fig and olive tree) - for those who seek their way of life. He is well aware that his messages may attract a lot of fierce adversaries into the arena, themselves taking advantage and materially profiting from conflict, division and war: "See the wicked try to hunt I down. Hang I shadow on the rope of hate" (Zion Stereo). But haters will surely lose the battle by "missing out happiness" (as he states in Mind): "Here we stand, we are one. No Ego's. Teach the great mind to love not to war." In a world of competition, negativity and hatred of which the music business is not exempt, silent voices advocating "peace, love, and harmony" - Meta's overall credo - are more often than not overheard. They may be drowned for a while by the hype of fire-burning war songs, even in Reggae. But at least as confident most Reggae lyrics appear in the victory of good over evil, one may be sure that "water will always find its way", as Meta states in the last song of the album (Kingdom). If it still needed any further evidence after the first two albums Forward Music and Ancient Power that this music will find its way just as water does, then Hira is the ultimate proof.
The album Meta & The Cornerstones - Hira will be out February 17th!
Listen to the first single Mind Your Business: