The Life of the Creative


This month I will be a panellist at the Bayimba Music Festival Kampala, invited by the Lantern Meet of Poets a group of young Ugandans who come together to critic and perform each others poetry. I feel honoured to be a sounding board for them as they strive to make poetry more accessible and appreciated.

But I’m frustrated, the discussion will be about the challenges to ones creativity especially when it comes to making a living. I’m talking about getting paid for ones art. It seems that organisers and venues want creativity but don’t want to pay for it, or they pay some artists and not others.

I attend meetings, talks and performances. I have to cater to my needs whether that’s transport, food and time spent, but if I worked in the corporate sector those things would have to be paid for by the client who has invited me to talk. Why is creativity so different? Why do people feel that they can have us for nothing, even though we have put in countless hours and energy in refining our art which is why they invite us their events, we have skills, we are competent and bring an energy to the event.

Why are artists struggling?

The life of the creative is not an easy one. There is never enough money to pay us but we are in demand. Every year the Lantern Meet puts on a recital and the theatre is packed so it seems we are appreciated by our audiences who pay to see us. So where does the fault lie?

Are we not valuing ourselves enough as artists? There is no way that a doctor or engineer would work for free after studying for many years. The time spent on refining our skills and practice is meant to mean something. This is why our parents are always pushing us into professions because we can get paid well.  The life of the creative is not taken seriously. Its just a hobby!

I’m not looking for an easy life, I’ve made personal sacrifices because I believe in the power of art to transform people and I understand how people drop out of creativity because they can’t make a living, but I want to change this format.

This is where creativity comes back into focus, not all remuneration has to be in cold cash, what other things can be offered? I suppose I’m advocating for some barter trade as money seems to be the issue, this would be the beginning of something different.

This is my profession, my divine gift, my purpose and I know I make useful contributions to whatever environment I’m placed in.

I don’t live in a fantasy world, I live in the real world of money, rent, school fees but I’m struggling to find the middle ground, beyond exploitation and good wishes. There are countless great initiatives worthy of support but I’m beginning to feel like if you don’t have the budget to at least give me transport, don’t call me. Its a risk because out of sight is out of mind and there is a need for multiple streams of income as a self employed person but damn I think I may have to change my name from Ife the poet who sings to Ife the ‘poetic engineer’ maybe then people will realise they have to budget for my words, time and energy.





Babylon is all around me

concrete and steel,

right before my eyes.

Babylon is all around me

Confusion, I cannot see.

Extract from Babylon

by Ife Piankhi

I wonder how the freedom fighters; Nelson Mandela, Patrice Lumumba, Walter Rodney, Toussaint L’Overture, Nanny of the Maroons, Paul Bogle, Yaa Asantewa, Nyabingi felt, when they realized they had to break the law in order to liberate their people?

We’re taught to be obedient. It’s a desirable thing. Instilled in us is a respect for authority, hierachy and all things Western.

Rastafari speaks about Babylon but what exactly is it?

In Biblical times Babylon was referred to as the table of nations as it traces the descendants of Noah’s three sons. In the genealogy of Ham, “Cush was the father of Nimrod, who grew to be a mighty warrior on the earth” (Genesis 10:8). Nimrod founded a kingdom that included a place called “Babylon” in Shinar (Genesis 10:10).

In English it is easy enough to make the connection between “Babel” and “Babylon,” but in Hebrew it is the same word. This chapter cements Babylon’s reputation as a city of rebellion against God. From then on, the biblical writers consistently use Babylon as a symbol of evil and defiance.

For me Babylon is not just a place but a mindset which is based on the exploitation of people and resources.

This mindset uses fiscal structures, trade agreements, polices, politricks, business and media to dictate the destiny of the majority of the global population.

According to Noam Chomsky in Profit over People-Neoliberalism and Global Order, Haiti was one of the worlds richest colonial prizes along with Bengal and the source of a good part of France’s wealth. Haiti was the first colony in the Caribbean to gain its independence from colonial rule.

In the 18th century, Saint Dominigue, as Haiti was then known, became France’s wealthiest overseas colony, largely because of its production of sugar, coffee, indigo, and cotton generated by an enslaved labor force.  When the French Revolution broke out in 1789 there were five distinct sets of interest groups in the colony. There were white planters—who owned the plantations and the slaves—and petit blancs, who were artisans, shop keepers and teachers.  Some of them also owned a few slaves.  Together they numbered 40,000 of the colony’s residents.  Many of the whites on Saint Dominigue began to support an independence movement that began when France imposed steep tariffs on the items imported into the colony.  The planters were extremely disenchanted with France because they were forbidden to trade with any other nation.  Furthermore, the white population of Saint-Dominique did not have any representation in France.  Despite their calls for independence, both the planters and petit blancs remained committed to the institution of slavery. The three remaining groups were of African descent: those who were free, those who were slaves, and those who had run away. There were about 30,000 free black people in 1789.  Half of them were mulatto and often they were wealthier than the petit blancs. The slave population was close to 500,000. The runaway slaves were called maroons; they had retreated deep into the mountains of Saint Dominigue and lived off subsistence farming.  Haiti had a history of slave rebellions; the slaves were never willing to submit to their status and with their strength in numbers (10 to 1) colonial officials and planters did all that was possible to control them. Despite the harshness and cruelty of Saint Dominigue slavery, there were slave rebellions before 1791.

Led by former slave Toussaint l’Overture, the enslaved would act first, rebelling against the planters on August 21, 1791. By 1792 they controlled a third of the island.  Despite reinforcements from France, the area of the colony held by the rebels grew as did the violence on both sides.  Before the fighting ended 100,000 of the 500,000 blacks and 24,000 of the 40,000 whites were killed.  Nonetheless the former slaves managed to stave off both the French forces and the British who arrived in 1793 to conquer the colony, and who withdrew in 1798 after a series of defeats by l’Overture’s forces.  By 1801 l’Overture expanded the revolution beyond Haiti, conquering the neighboring Spanish colony of Santo Domingo (present-day Dominican Republic).  He abolished slavery in the Spanish-speaking colony and declared himself Governor-General for life over the entire island of Hispaniola.

Aerial view of La Citadelle Laferriere

It recent times Haiti has been largely under US control and tutelage since Wilson’s marines invaded 80 years ago.

By now the country is in such a catastrophic state that it may uninhabitable in the not too distant future. What was once rich has now been stripped. The people of Haiti live in abject poverty as the natural resources of their country have been taken by private business in collusion with government, under the guise of ‘free trade’ and Globalisation. Most of these workers are women who suffer under a regime which cannot invest in social objectives because it has received loans which prescribe the minimization of services such as employee rights, health and education.

differences in haiti landscape with graphics haiti

Now I know this is not Uganda. The Pearl is lush but steadily we are cutting down our trees to feed an urban population and who knows what is happening behind closed doors and under the table.


Babylon now uses a fiscal system instituted over 100 years ago to monopolize the resources of the planet, which has been sliced, diced and defined by geo-political borders and so called democracy.

I believe in power for the people by the people but what we have now is wealth creation for a Silent Minority.

Babylon chooses profit over people. It doesn’t matter how much blood is shed and how many people are lost to disease, war, malnutrition as long as shareholders get their dividends. Our minds will continue to be filled with propaganda. There is no good news on Aljazeera, it would seem the whole world is at war.

What is going on in our country exactly? I know the electioneering has began in the slums, loud speakers blast partisan messages, people are gathering in local meetings to listen to politicians advocating for themselves.

Democracy is now beyond the people. The real power resides in the IMF, World Bank, UN and corporations.

Do our votes even mean anything? or are they just engineered to make us believe we have a say?

Humans like to feel like they have a choice, this is why God gave us free will.

But most of us are not free. Not mentally anyway.

‘Its a diplomatic procedure. Because see, my songs is hard stuff which politicians don’t want on them radio station because they still want people to live in ignorancy. While all people especially black people are divided, the world will keep on functioning in fantasy and bullshit’. Peter Tosh 1978




Imagine This


Picture this…………..humanity lives in small communities of people who have enough land to feed the whole group. They make their own clothes and shoes. They have a borehole but no electricity.

They use use solar energy to cook with, heat their water and light their homes. They allow no plastic into the community. They meditate everyday, exercise and use herbs to heal their sick.

When conflict arises they meet in a heart circle and hear each others complaints in order to find a solution. They will talk until they reach consensus.

If they are unable to come to a mutually beneficial solution they take the conflict into sleep to see what answers come and try to tackle it again the following day.  Or, they refer it to an honourable

elder to inform the decision.

People can choose to be monogamous or polygamous as long as its beneficial to the children born of that community and for the individuals involved. Violence of any kind is not tolerated.

They create art for healing, make everything they use. Use permaculture principles to maintain the health and productivity of the land.

The women birth naturally in the company of other women, children and fathers. During mensturation women can leave the community to be with themselves and have people prepare food for

them. There is no such thing as the ‘curse of the womb’. Children are raised in community and can move from family to family as they choose.

Children are planned because men know how to retain their seed, ejaculating only when a child is desired.

They eat communally. They deal not with money but skills and barter trade.

They honour nature and always ask permission before taking anything from the earth. They refuse to cut down trees. There are no governments, no borders, no passports, no planes or cars, no

fossil fuels, no corporations , no wars.

How do you feel after reading this?

I realize we are in entropy, because we have been limited by the box. The box represents family, survival, money, sex, power, fear. But we hang onto these things because we believe its who are are.

Instead we can extend the box by:

1. Cultivating a connection to the divine

2. Building our self esteem – our will, choice, self expression

3. Explore our emotions but not become attached to them

4. Develop maturity – through experience come intellect and wisdom

5. Thinking beyond failure. Success is not always necessary. The process is where the growth occurs.


The Queen of Katwe


I’m coaching some of the child actors for a film being shot in Kampala called the Queen of Katwe. Its a success story about a Ugandan girl, Phiona Mutesi who learnt how to play chess and  has since gone on to became  the youngest African chess champion. Its a success story that we definately need because most of the people of the world still see Africa as the ‘dark continent’ full of hunger and disease. It is true we have those challenges but there are so many wonderful stories of people who have risen out of adversity to become highly successful people.

In his book David and Goliath, Martin Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point) explores when, and why, apparent disadvantages – poverty, personal setbacks, military weakness – turn out to be advantages, and when advantages, like wealth or status, aren’t what they seem. “The fact of being an underdog changes people in ways that we often fail to appreciate,” Gladwell writes. “It opens doors and creates opportunities and enlightens and permits things that might otherwise have seemed unthinkable.

Since relocating to Uganda I’ve realized how resilient Ugandans can be. I remember when I first arrived in the country I was travelling to Mubende and the taxi broke down. Nobody blinked an eye or complained about it. They patiently waited for the taxi to be repaired so we could continue on our way. I on the other hand was agitated by the delay, which took over 5 hours to repair. As I looked around me I wondered why others were not displaying the same irritation as me and how people could put up with it.

Its a catch 22 I think. We have become apathetic to for example, the poor quality of our products Chinese accepting it with the phrase ‘ah China’ but not demanding for improvements. At the same time this patience and acceptance of ‘what is’ allows us to accept things as they are and not spend too much time complaining about things we cannot change.

In relation to being the underdog which I think many Africans are because we don’t have access to the opportunities that many living in the West have, we have become more resourceful and creative. Phiona forced through circumstance went looking for food and in the process learnt how to play chess which has now made her an African champion.

Life on the continent is definately not easy. The global economic system deliberately I belief, hold people back from reaching their full potential. Whether its limited access to health or inadequate nutrition the people of Uganda are finding a way to make what they have work for them and when they do get the opportunity can challenge the more advantaged.

Growing up my mother would always remind us that we had to be 3 times better than the English because she knew we would not be ‘given’ the opportunities an English child would. That we would have to fight for everything we have because we were Black.

Its very easy then to perceive oneself as being inferior to other people. A student of mine who I am teaching as part of a leadership programme at In Movement – Art for Social Change, stated that ‘white people were better because they are more organised’. This week I asked her if this was a positive and healthy opinion to have. Her response was ‘no’. So my work is to inspire and build capacity of young people to acknowledge that even though they may not have the opportunities many other young people have they still have the potential to be successful.

The challenge we have is to harness their raw potential but as Gladwell points out in his book, just because you come from difficult circumstances doesn’t mean you can’t have the life you dream about.





Diarie, music

How to be ethical



Since the beginning of the year I’ve been encountering issues of ethics. We talk a lot in Uganda about corruption and how it stops us from developing at a reasonable rate. But my question is what happened to the African Ethic so often spoken about by historians?

When I first started reading African history there were so many accounts of the ethics of Africans. The Ethiopians were seen as the most pious of races bringing religion to Europe with their divine stature. Kemet (now known as Egypt) had the system of Maat as its spiritual foundation and I think it did them well, because their civilization existed for over 10,000 years.

So what happened? Why have we fallen so far from grace?

I try very hard to be none judgmental when it comes to behaviour, its hard enough keeping myself in check without looking for the log in someone else’s eye, but I’m curious as to why we have now become a race of people who don’t stand for much anymore.

The other day I was relating a situation to my children, of course it was in relation to money and work, but when I had finished my daughter told me that I was wrong because ‘we need to eat and the world is not like me’, so I just have to do as others do and get paid. I felt a knot in my stomach honestly, I couldn’t understand how she couldn’t see the importance of what I was saying but i accepted it because in essence the world is so fucked up and that means I should be too.

I can see her point, the saying that ‘one should not throw pearls before swine’ resonates but i just can’t help it. I can’t go against my heart. Maybe this is something that was instilled in me during childhood, transmitted by my mother. So is the problem women? What exactly are we teaching our children? Or maybe its a case of having some life experience against which one can judge or establish a stance on certain things.

I suppose we cannot teach what we do not know or more simply we have forgotten how to be humane. In this rat race of space we call life everyone is battling for their piece of the pie, so its survival of the fittest.

Maybe I’m an Afromantic. The history I read about my origins, or maybe the past lives I have lived means I can’t turn away from injustice or perpetrate it either. Yes I want my life to be easier but who said that life was meant to be easy?I know its hard to stand for something especially when those around you don’t agree with your position.

Its a complex topic and I still don’t have the answer, all I know is I want to be better. More kind, more loving, more just, more compassionate, more patient, more trusting, more forgiving and maybe the adversity I experience is the fire that will refine my character. Only time will tell.



Diamonds can be found in the Ghetto


I don’t believe in coincidences, I think all things happen for a reason, even if at the time we don’t understand why. Everything has a purpose and a reason.

I realized that the other day after my bag got stolen by a boda boda rider that the events in my life are meant to encourage me to reflect on the quality of my relationships.

There is a saying that ” misery likes company”. You have those friends who seem to come around when either you or them have problems. Lamenting on the situation (often negative) but never coming up with solutions.

Then you have the “good time friends”- the ones who want to tag along to be associated with you and share the limelight or your cash.

The friend who is concerned for your welfare, rejoices in your successes without envy. The one who can speak to you with sometimes brutal honesty because of how you allow yourself to be treated. The one who comes looking for you when “you’re lost”, or gives you their last coin because you need it more than they do, are rare gems.

I told my students the other day that diamonds are just dirt, but due to time and pressure they develop into the gems, which are then cut and polished to be sold at high prices.

The year has already started and I’m feeling the pressure. I was looking forward to 2015 and it started so well. I had a wonderful birthday and spent time with people who I care about.

But maybe that’s my immaturity. The middle path is that place where whatever happens good or bad, you remain peaceful and alert because the happiness one feels is not determined by the external events but by your inner contentment.

I cried like a baby when my bag was stolen, shouted at a friend because I blamed him for not escorting me (one of the rare times he didn’t). Threw my hands to heaven to ask what the lesson was.

What keeps coming through is to improve my relationship with myself. Learning to be my own light, to give myself the love and time I so willing give to others. To spend time alone and not see it as something being wrong with me. To learn not to be so “nice” all the time for fear of people not liking me.

Events in life show you where you are at. Life will always be life. Bad things happen to good people and those who do bad things get away with it.

The true success is to modify ones reactions and attitude to the events.  To not smile and say you’re OK when obviously you are not. To accept what you are feeling but not get attached to the emotions because in time they will change.

To become the silent, non- judgemental observer of your own mentality. To find inner stillness through which inspiration and creativity come. To release guilt for not having maintained the image of the strong man or woman and just cry if you need to.  To be none attached to people, places and things.

This is done with the knowledge that “in time, this too will pass”.

To seek the kingdom of heaven within because that is where the riches truly lie.






So now we begin again, I’m not sorry to see the back of 2014, its been a trying year for many not just me.

Resilience is the ability to overcome challenges, to fall, down but get back up again, to keep moving and learning from our mistakes.

I’ve touched and been touched by countless young people, who inspire me to be thankful, to stay strong even when it seems people are against you. I’ve learnt to listen more to my children, to receive their feedback and reflect on how I can be a better parent to them. This is not understood by a lot of people who see the youth as people ‘to be seen but not heard’. I want to hear from the youth more, I want to learn from their energy and perspective because we are living in very different times with challenges that humanity has not faced before.

In the Bible it states ‘that wisdom shall come from the mouth of babes’. I humble myself to the youth because they are the future adults and honestly I want them to be better than we are. Yes, I have experience which I think can contribute to widening their perspectives because youth can be self absorbed, misled and opinionated but ultimately my mission is to assist them in creating their own lives and not project what I think is right for them. This is tough because as a parent I want to be in control. To tell them what to do, to make them obedient to my will. No matter how many times you tell an adolescent not to do something, they do it anyway. They are testing the boundaries and creating their own, because that is how we learn.

2014 has been a lesson for me because I have begun the process of letting go. Of saying what needs to be said but allowing the young person to make the mistake in the hope that I have informed their ability to think and reflect thus, learn from the event.

I’m learning its all about clear non violent communication. If I want the world to be different then I have to speak differently. I have to listen more, judge less, but show them loving kindness and understanding. I think if my mother had done that for me I would not have made the mistakes I made in relationships and the choices I made in my life. but then again maybe not. Maybe the mistakes and the challenges are what have made me who I am today.

As a junior elder I want to reassess my role in community. To not be so concerned with the opinions of others, but to stay true and authentic to myself.

A quote I read the other day said ‘Its not about your name its about what you do with your life that determines whether your name will be remembered’.

Its been a year since my mothers passing and even though she was not famous or rich she left a legacy of listening and laughter,

I too want to laugh more in 2015, and I want my laughter to reach my eyes.









So yesterday I was at home, you may as well say I was idle. I had nothing to do. I didn’t feel like speaking or interacting so I stayed in my room, read, watched DVD’s and basically spaced out. But in that space I realised how undisciplined my mind is, even after many years of meditation my mind can wander erratically. Its such a shame when I realise how much time I spend on these types of thoughts. Its such a waste.

Because I am a poet I try to change my mental vibrations through writing so I wrote the poem Escape, which honestly made me feel better. Creative processes always help me to find my balance. The death I speak about is the death of unproductive thoughts.

So if my mind is like this even with meditation, how is the mind of Joe Public?

According to the Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi- ‘the normal state of the mind is chaos’. Without training and without an object in the external world that demands attention, people are unable to focus thoughts for more than a few minutes at a time……we don’t notice how little control we have over our mind, because habits channel psychic energy so well that thoughts seem to follow each other by themselves without a hitch. But when we are left alone with no demands on attention, the basic disorder of the mind reveals itself. With nothing to do, it begins to follow random patterns, usually stopping to consider something painful or disturbing’.

Oh dear, sounds like I need to go back into training! I hope I can make my mind more productive for 2015. Want to join me?



ife scowling

Drowning in the depth of my mental

Its hard to breathe deeply

I struggle to find my peace of mind.

Its shrouded in anxiety.

I want to die

then I wouldn’t have to straddle the middle,

masquerading as a strong African woman.

How will I ever find the balance I feel at times

When surrounded by trees?

Free from the urban market flows.

Noisy, polluted confusion over takes my mind.

Mystical levels lay beyond the living.

I believe I will find my peace of mind in the darkness

Its calling me,

come home, come now.

But how will I go?

I wish to depart on a peaceful note

but there is a storm inside, I feel it raging.

Swirling and competing for my psychic energy

I’m afraid I will never find my livity.

It seems so far away and there is always a price to pay.

By Ife Piankhi 2014


At Ease in Musicality

I want to act from my strongest self. This is a concept a friend of mine Sheron Wray introduced to me this week.

It means I have safety within, my actions are congruent with my higher values, I’m present rather than living in regret about the past, or anticipation of the future. I focus on what can be done, rather than on self blame for lose or misfortune and I have a connection to the deeper resources of the higher self that results in EASE rather than lonely struggle.

Now this concept has been developed my modern neuroscientist who say  this can be accessed through the breath and a sigh as you exhale, which signals the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system located in the forehead.

One of my mentors Dr Llaila Africa teachers that the parasympathetic system is feminine and the sympathetic masculine. Not in gender but in energy. To be feminine is to be passive and receptive and to be masculine is to be active

I’m learning to balance my masculine and feminine energy. I think I am most at ease whilst teaching and performing.

So here’s one of my Ease moments at the Karibu Music Festival Bagamoyo 2014