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Jayne H. Baum

Susanna Cole and Erin Donnelly

Elena Filipovic

Ingrid LaFleur

Trong G. Nguyen

Olu Oguibe

Chika Okeke

Sandhini Poddar


Ashkan Sahihi

Marketa Uhlirova

A Lone Voice in the Wilderness
Olu Oguibe

Well, everybody’s crying about the seventh son
But in the whole round world, there is only one
I’m the one. I’m the one.
I’m the one. I’m the one.
I’m the one they call the seventh son.

Well, I can tell the future before it come to pass…
Look in the sky and predict the rain…
I can heal the sick and even raise the dead
I can make your little heart skip a bit
I’m the one. I’m the one.
I’m the one. I’m the one
I’m the one they call the seventh son.

- Willie Dixon, “The Seventh Son”

Boxer and great bluesman Willie Dixon is best known for writing the American standard, Hoochie Coochie Man, made famous by a long line of blues legends from Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters to Etta James and the Rolling Stones. Years later, Dixon wrote another, closely related song, "The Seventh Son," in which the protagonist refers to himself as “the One”. Like the Hoochie Coochie Man, the character at the center of the song is not only gifted with insight and magical powers including the ability to tell the future and raise the dead, his coming is equally preordained and his birth foretold. In fact, upon close reading, there is enough to make believe that the two characters are one and the same. Later, Dixon apprentice Jimi Hendrix would recast the character as the spirit incarnate, the Voodoo Child.

Besides the ribaldry and magic that attach to him in lore, this enigmatic figure is nevertheless firm in real life and central to the survival of every society and civilization. In ancient societies, the Voodoo child was the voice of the gods, the oracle priest; the prophet. He might be the eccentric outcast, but he is also the one who is called, the anointed who is “seized by History”, as Martin Luther King Jr. once put it, and entrusted with foresight and the daring to say it like it is.

He is acutely aware of his mission, his obligation and burden, which is to bring sight where blindness reigns, to cast a ray of light where there is nothing but darkness and murk, to pronounce the Truth when the world is misled and deceived, to speak with courage when others cower with fear, to cry with the voice of one in the wilderness; to bear witness.

Romanticized in poetry but despised in life, the One is saddled with a perilous calling. He is often resented and treated with contempt, as were the prophets of old, because he is different, forthright, inflexible and uncompromising in his strident integrity, and his personal story is one of hardship and sacrifice that almost always ends in grief.

In our time the voice of the oracle comes as a writer, a poet, a folk singer; as Woody and Arlo Guthrie, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Bob Dylan, Noam Chomsky, Christopher Okigbo, Frantz Fanon, Susan Sontag, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Walter Rodney, Bob Marley, Rigoberta Menchu, Edward Said and many others around the world who struggle outside the limelight divining, voicing, sacrificing, never equivocating; proclaiming, as did the ancient seers, that righteousness exalteth a nation while pride and iniquity bringeth it down on its knees.

Some of these voices Emna Zghal calls on in her labyrinthine essay and artist’s book, “Cultures of War”, in which Baldwin, Sontag, Chomsky, Meena Alexander and others address the callousness of a violent age that places millions in peril and will, if unchecked, ultimately and most certainly bring our species to self-destruction.

Zghal herself is a rarity; an artist who speaks with courage and foresight in a time when both are sorely lacking among artists as they struggle and scramble for crumbs from the soiled tables of culture brokers, art racketeers, philistine arbiters of taste, and money changers at the Temple gate. Forthrightness is the mark of the oracle priest, the anointed, and the artist who places truth and courage before commerce and fame certainly walks the narrow, perilous path that is reserved for the chosen, the sacrificial lamb, the One.

Storrs, Connecticut
September 2005