Universal Harmony: BIRTH OF A SON – D’Angelo’s “Africa,” 2000
Music is the vernacular that can describe all human conditions. There are emotions that every person may come to feel in their lives, despite the barriers of language and environment. There are experiences that nobody is immune from, like…the birth of a son. Whether an unexpected surprise or the product of meticulous planning, when a man becomes a father, it’s an affirmation of life’s meaning, something not easily described in words, but D’Angelo managed to accomplish just that, and more, with “Africa.”
Five years removed from the his lauded 1995 debut album Brown Sugar, Michael “D’Angelo” Archer released Voodoo, a singular work of sweat-soaked funk, sex-stained sentiments and unabashed fearlessness. After 12 songs of pheromone excreting soul that would cause a nun to throw her undergarments, the LP closes with a composition of raw purity.
“Africa” was inspired by the arrival of D’Angelo’s first born man-child. D not only documented his fresh emotions, but also saw an opportunity to be socially reflective. Black men in America are always accused of abandoning their offspring to escape responsibility, so D decided to remind us of our rich, moral sense of tradition that has been taken, distilled from our consciousness, due in part from being swept away from the motherland. “Africa” uses lyrical imagery that rivals the heartfelt poetry of Langston Hughes, mentioning the separation of our heritage from the start: “Africa is my descent, and here, I’m far from home; I dwell within a land that’s meant for many men not my tone.” The gentle building of the cymbals harkens the rustling of leaves from warm breezes deep in the Congo. “Questlove” Thompson’s drums throughout are primal and moving; the rhythm ravishingly compliments D’Angelo’s fragile, saintly Fender Rhodes chords. The performances are incredibly primitive yet virtuous, with D’Angelo’s vocal reaching a vulnerable climax once he proclaims to his boy:
“Every since the day you came, my whole world began to change,
I knew then to dedicate my life for your own;
Every day, I see you grow, and remember what you already know,
I receive the love that radiates from your glow.”
The misty hypnosis of D’Angelo background vocal overdubs personifies the “glow” he speaks of. His song describes the unparalleled connection any father has with his first-born, which derives from a source that goes far beyond our frail, mortal capacity of comprehension; a source that is equally from many places, but really from one. The blessings of God may be scattered all about the planet, but the foundation of those blessings comes from Heaven. And if all men were created in the Lord’s image, then Africa is the Genesis of the conception, gestation and delivery of all things that come from above.
Voodoo will be remembered mostly for its erotic, Grammy winning single “Untitled (How Does It Feel),” but “Africa” will go down as a portrait of two imperfect beings sharing lifes only perfect moment; forever bound…by universal harmony.
Notes From The Author: When I was a younger man, I would listen to this gorgeous song in my headphones, and as I sang along with D’Angelo’s angelic baritone and falsetto, I’d find myself being driven to tears. At the time, I found it inconceivable that I would ever become a father, for a number of reasons, which made this display of emotion curious and confusing. There was no way I could possibly relate to what D is talking about, so what is it that is moving me so? I decided to write this experience down, thinking I may need it for something later. Well, now that I, indeed, have a son of my own, I revisited not only the song, but my words as well. And as I began to re-write and complete this piece, it occurred to me: “It was no accident that tears flowed from my eyes. God knew all along. HE knew before it happened.” This article taught me a great life lesson: We all have plans, but God has a path.