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Tayo  Aluko

Bird song on an old gut string

Tayo Aluko


Bird song on an old gut string by Tayo  Aluko Click image for a larger view

Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford
Accession number: 1938.34.642 .1 - .2

(Yellow bird, up high in banana tree)

African Bard, Lute maker
Had you not been stolen
Or thrown overboard at sea
Had you not been worked to death
Or hung from a poplar tree
You’d be here
To teach me that song
Learned at your mother’s knee
That sings
The names of the birds
That nested in the
Baobab tree
Before flying free
To far off lands
To warble on sycamore branches
Adding their unique voices
To a harmonious world chorus

(But there’s sadness in the notes
That come trilling from their throats)


The chord is broken,
African Bard
The gut did not survive
The theft
The middle passage
Of time
Like all the Creator’s works
It too has gone to dust
In its place is a man-made string
And as I rub the horse hair across the thin nylon
I know that what I hear
Is not right
Can never be right

But wait…
I see the end of the old gut string
Wound expertly around the ebony peg
The coconut, having fed the ancestors
Yearns, with the goat skin, to amplify the right sounds

Teach me, African Bard
How to work that chord
That I might sing again
the old song
in a strange land

I listen … I learn
And I make a new gut string

It stretches unbroken
across the oceans
And the centuries

And with its vibrations
Come the right words and notes
Carrying with them
That new wisdom
That will make us
Once more free


Free as the avian chorus
Free as the myriad birds
In their many bright colours
Singing in the crown
Of the old Iroko tree

(Awọn agbe nwọn ki nrahun aro – Bẹeni
Aluko nwọn ki nrahun osun – Bẹeni
Lekeleke nwọn ki nrahun ẹfun - Bẹeni)

© Tayọ Aluko, September 2019