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A Harriet Tubman Christmas story: an interview with ‘Go Tell It!’ playwright Taiwo Kujichagulia-Seitu

December 5, 2012

by People’s Minister of Information JR

Taiwo Kujichagulia-Seitu took almost half a decade to recreate her debut theatrical piece that centers around the story of Harriet Tubman rescuing her brothers from slavery during Christmas-time, right before they were to be sold, in Maryland. Based on facts, “Go Tell It!” paints a picture of what is was like for men who have lived through slavery their whole lives – and to some extent learned to cope with it – getting word from their runaway sister Black Moses, aka Harriet Tubman, that she was coming to put them on the Underground Railroad to freedom in the North.

Taiwo Kujichagulia-Seitu – Photo: Wanda Sabir
The story is told through coded Spirituals, which were not able to be deciphered by the slave-masters of the time. Finally we have something real to celebrate at this time, from Black liberation history.

Many times we are celebrating Christmas, which many associate with Christianity, but few know that it is a remix of an ancient Roman holiday. I don’t celebrate Kwanzaa on principle, because the founder of it, Ron Karenga, worked with the FBI in assassinating Black Panther leaders Bunchy Carter and Jon Huggins as well as having a history of torturing women in a Rick James kind of fashion.

So “Go Tell It!” is something that we could celebrate without selling out, plus we need a holiday in the Black World for Harriet Tubman anyway. That’s long overdue. Check out “Go Tell It!” on Dec. 21 and 22 at Kids ‘n Dance, 3840 MacArthur Blvd. in East Oakland, and check Taiwo out in her own words.

M.O.I. JR: What is the name of your play, and why is it centered around Christmas?

Taiwo: The show is entitled “Go Tell It!” It is named after the Christmas Spiritual, “Go Tell It on de Mountains.” Out of the many escapes Harriet Tubman made, “Go Tell It!” tells the story of the escape she made when she safely ushered her three brothers to freedom over the Christmas holiday of 1854.

M.O.I. JR: Why did you want to tell a Harriet Tubman Christmas story?

Taiwo: Well, the daughter of a griot, I really feel as though any story worth telling should be educational. So that’s one piece. Additionally, however, I believe that Christmas is a season of inspiration and renewed faith. Looking back at all that Harriet Tubman and other self-liberators of the time period were able to accomplish is amazing.

Under the threat of certain death, they were able to communicate escape plans without modern methods of communication, travel on to freedom sometimes barefoot in the winter with little clothing and start over with little to no resources. The testament to their success is that we, their descendants, are here today. And here’s what I find humbling. Surely, if they could accomplish all of that, armed only with faith and self-determination, surely I can overcome any challenges I may have and achieve any and every goal that I set.

M.O.I. JR: Who are some playwrights that you are inspired by?

Taiwo: I’m inspired by my mother, Phavia Kujichagulia. I’m inspired by griots around the world who use music, song and dance to tell the history of their people, thus educating and inspiring generations.

“Go Tell It!” is playing at Kids n’ Dance, located at 3840 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland, Calif. 94619. Show dates and times are Friday, December 21st at 7pm and Saturday December 22nd at 3pm and 7pm.

M.O.I. JR: What is the importance of us remembering the struggles of our ancestors?

Taiwo: First and foremost, it is important so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. There is always room for improvement. So, looking back at these struggles, when we may be faced with similar circumstances we can make better choices than those who came before us.

M.O.I. JR: Why did you pick to do it in the form of a musical?

Taiwo: Music has the power to convey emotions that words alone do not. This story is very moving. Everyone did not make it to the Promised Land. Some got left behind. The music helps to create the emotional landscape of the realities of the time period. We rejoice for those who made it to the North, while weeping for the babies left behind.

Additionally, the bulk of the music used in the show is Spirituals. Spirituals are the songs that were created during the enslavement holocaust by African Americans to communicate with one another in the presence of plantation owners, overseers and others who were hostile toward enslaved African Americans. So, to present this story as a musical format is only fitting.

M.O.I. JR: Can you talk a little bit about how long it took to write this? What was your creative process like?

Taiwo: This is the culmination of a four-year process. While researching Spirituals for the graduate program in music at CSU East Bay, the inspiration came to me to tell the story of how Spirituals were used functionally. After researching Harriet Tubman specifically, I had the idea to tell this particular story because it was so moving. Then ideas would come to me in spurts: a song arrangement here and some dialogue there. Then I began the process of weaving everything together into one performance piece.

M.O.I. JR: Where will it be showing?

Taiwo: “Go Tell It!” is playing at Kids n’ Dance, located at 3840 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland, Calif. 94619. Show dates and times are Friday, December 21st at 7pm and Saturday December 22nd at 3pm and 7pm.

M.O.I. JR: How do people stay in touch with where the production is being featured? How can people keep up with you?

Taiwo: Visit our website at www.gotellit2012.wix.com/gotellit. We can also be reached by email at gotellit2012@gmail.com. People can purchase and reserve tickets online at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/294057.

The People’s Minister of Information JR is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He also hosts two weekly shows on KPFA 94.1 FM and kpfa.org: The Morning Mix every Wednesday, 8-9 a.m., and The Block Report every Friday night-Saturday morning, midnight-2 a.m. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com.

 

2 thoughts on “A Harriet Tubman Christmas story: an interview with ‘Go Tell It!’ playwright Taiwo Kujichagulia-Seitu

  1. serious2020

    FINALLY there is someone else in the world who has the principles to NOT support Kwanzaa because its founder was ( is?) not only an FBI tool, but is utterly morally depraved and corrupt, has absolutely no concept whatever of true Afrikan principles and / or family values; and craves power so badly that he has targeted Afrikan people for assassination and torture at the behest of a power structure that has tortured and assassinated Afrikan people for over 600 years, and continues to do so.

    Karenga is no maulana or "master teacher." Karenga is a monster. He always has been and always will be. He is all the more so a blight on Afrika as well, because he has insinuated himself and the falsity of his beliefs among us globally where his corruption can and will spread. I'll just bet the FBI and the CIA are rolling with glee that their very own Willie Lynch in black face asset has been so successful. And Willie Lynch himself is probably dancing in his grave at the continued success of his pogrom to corrupt, decimate and destroy Afrikan people, seeing how well some of us have learned to kill ourselves.

    But this in my estimation is why art and culture productions such as GO TELL IT! are so important. They serve to counteract madness from a true historical standpoint and like beacons in the night, they are there to provide the spirit to uplift and empower.

    I can celebrate this play, and celebrate life, liberation, and all of the brilliant Afrikan humanity that I see.

    According to most historical references, Harriet Tubman couldn't read or write. However she knew enough about freedom to liberate hundreds of Afrikan people. She did not lose not one soul as she helped Afrikans shift from one frightful geographical location to others that were less so; and is said to believe that she could have freed more had they but known that they were enslaved.

    That's a critical thought, even today.

    The woman called General Moses is a guiding light that should be celebrated daily so people should GO TELL IT! and see this play.

    Reply

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