I am, will forever be, and always have been, an African man living in the Diaspora. At birth, my parents endowed me with an understanding of my African identity. They raised me to appreciate, embrace, and be proud of my cultural heritage and my essential self. Every day since then I have carried this gift with two hands. For more than 35 years, I have been fully immersed as an African percussionist and have been trained by the world’s best. As a professional musician, I have had the honor and privilege of studying and working with some of the most respected, legendary master percussionists to ever play African music. While that has been its own humbling reward, being installed as a chief in Osogbo, Nigeria is probably my most humbling honor to date. A year ago this month, I was chosen to receive the title Ajibilu Awo because of my life and career as an African percussionist and my commitment to the spiritual philosophy of music-making. Adding to the already rich experience, I received the honor right after my father received his title, at the same ceremony. My father (the legendary African and jazz master percussionist Neil Clarke) and I were both installed by a council of chiefs who are the highest ranking spiritual and cultural leaders in Osogbo.
For many people, the concept of a chieftaincy title might seem archaic. I would say, “You’re right…it is archaic!” The value of this title—and the leadership responsibility that comes along with it—lies in the fact that it comes from a way of life that is old. Old as in classic and honorable. Not old as in stagnant. In the way that New York City is known as a global haven for forward-thinking, inclusive, and progressive culture, Osogbo is largely known as a center for traditional African philosophy, art and culture in West Africa. In fact, it is the place that hosts the annual Osun Festival at the sacred Osun Grove. Because of its centuries-old history, this same grove was designated as an UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage site in 2005. So as Ajibilu Awo of Osogbo, Chief Ayanda Ifadara Clarke, I respectfully embrace the honor and am happy to share the news with my supportive community. In all that I do in the world and in everything that I produce as an artist and healer, I will continue to respect my African heritage.