Bobby Mcferrin’s  Beyond Words

Bobby Mcferrin’s  Beyond Words


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Now the Christians might say, “That boy [is] talking in tongues,” and they would be right because

essentially that is exactly what he does, transcending not only English but all other languages, for

they have all failed us, yes, even the varieties of our Mother tongue—obviously they failed  . . .



Bobby Mcferrin’s Beyond Words

Reviewed by Marvin X

Bluenote CD: Vocals, Bobby Mcferrin / Piano, Chick Corea  / Drums, Omar Hakim / Percussion, Cyro Baptista / Wooden flute, Keith Rhodes / Bass and Guitar, Richard Bona

Bobby is indeed beyond words. Words cannot describe this bird from heaven singing outside my window as dawn approaches, singing sounds without words, beyond birds, beyond scatting, a world of his own, without peer, conjuring, configuring sounds that take us beyond the beyond, stopping by Brazil, getting off the boat in Africa, passing through America, stepping, prancing, dancing, chanting, floating on top of the piano and drums as they carry him along as he joins Sun Ra on some planet, maybe Jupiter, Mars, who knows where Bobby goes, but we go with him, enjoying a genius at work. What person on earth can be without the heavenly sounds of Bobby Mcferrin’s Beyond Words? We are in childhood, playing in the mud, it tastes so good Mama has to whip us into the house, we don’t care, whip me Mama, I gotta eat this mud. Take me, Bobby, into eternity, twist and turn at the corners of yesterday and tomorrow, never saying a word, just sounds from the Creator who blessed us with this wonder child, Bobby Mcferrin.

His persona changes from lover to friend to trickster: are we hearing the human voice or an instrument, a trumpet, flute, let it go, enjoy, stop trying to figure out the magician, we’ll only get entangled up his sleeve, inside his hat, let the magic soothe, heal, stop trying to figure out what is and ain’t real. Listen to the drummer tell Bobby, “I got ya [you] back, dance on, fly into the sun.” And the piano says, “If you fall I will catch you, so swim, run, jump, do anything-I ain’t goin [going] nowhere [anywhere].”

My overall favorite is “Fertile Field,” beginning with a whistle; a fast-paced, energetic, aggressive, up-tempo piece into Bobby Land, where few can go. Chick is with him neck and neck, along with drummer Omar—traveling the space ways (as Sun Ra would say) with equal energy. Bobby touches down in South Africa for a quick Miriam Makeba click, moves on to silence rappers, stop poets in mid sentence—vocalists, don’t even come on stage; indeed, brother is beyond words, beyond this world. 

Another favorite is “Pat and Joe,” a brief enchanting piece featuring Richard Bona’s guitar, with chorals and Bobby chanting as it glides into the sunset or over the horizon. “Mass” is also an enchanting choral piece with Bobby again chanting throughout? Percussionist Baptista completes the circle. I see the entire album as a choreographer’s dream. It should make excellent music for a chorus of spiritual dancers. Maybe I’ll choreograph it for my Recovery Theatre!  Just thank Jesus, as Bobby does, and thank Chick Corea, piano, Richard Bona, bass and guitar, Omar Hakim, drums, Cyro Baptista, percussion, Keith Rhodes, wooden flutes. Go Bobby, go Bobby.

Now the Christians might say, “That boy [is] talking in tongues,” and they would be right because essentially that is exactly what he does, transcending not only English but all other languages, for they have all failed us, yes, even the varieties of our Mother tongue—obviously they failed to keep us off the ships, which was their primary and ultimate failure—yes, a total, abysmal and horrendous breakdown of communication, reflecting a degeneration of a people’s soul, heart and mind, but most importantly, a collapse of all their social institutions, instigated by the ruling classes who perverted language into a tool of deception for human exploitation, after all, language allowed humans to become chattel, persuaded African armies to capture neighbors and even their own citizens; allowed judges to falsely charge, convict and sentence millions to enslavement; language  guided us to the door of no return, along with the gun and rum.

Bobby has accomplished what many poets attempt after we realize we are captives of English and seek to liberate ourselves with pure sound, grunts, wails, moans, anything but English, the oppressor’s filthy tongue, so vile it is called a bastard language.  Bobby has succeeded with sounds as pure as the driven snow, primal incantations, fresh as a child from the mother’s womb, thus the healing power of his music: we are forced out of this world, the oppressive vowels and consonants that make up the words which are the source of our collective madness, the vehicle for transmission of myths and rituals which compose our daily lives, that allow us to behave like beasts with each other, a constant denial and misrepresentation of our Divine essence. Man in the Mirror, look at yourself lost in the Valley of the Shadow of death, in the matrix of conspicuous consumption, obsessive materiality, to the extent that you would employ wage slaves around the world so you can wear expensive shoes, that you would kill your brother in the hood and steal his shoes.

Only by returning to our aboriginal language can we liberate ourselves from this oppressive social order and begin anew, a new consciousness, a new mind, a new soul. This is precisely why the Christians talk in tongues; talk their holy language, the language of the Ghost, the unseen source from the primal essence of our soul. When the Christians heard me recite Arabic at my son’s funeral, they said, “That boy [is] talking in tongues.” Indeed, Arabic and tongues are the same sound, same vowels and consonants. And we ain’t Arabic, but Arabic derives without doubt from the ancient Himyaritic of Ethiopia, source of the first man, we are told. Why would the first man come from there but not his language, and his religion, for that matter? Ethiopia is the source of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as well: the Kushites or Blacks from Ethiopia were the aboriginal Arabians, who dwelled there before the Semites, inhabiting the land from the Persian Gulf to Yemen, to Jerusalem, where they were known as the Canaanites, brothers of the Egyptians/Ethiopians. Diop, Dr. Ben, Rogers, Du Bois and other have written on this subject.

Bobby shows us how to transcend this world and all therein. As Jesus said, we can be in this world, but not of it. Alas, silence would be better than bitch, ho, and motherfucker. But these words are not nearly as detrimental as the outright abject, obscene, profane defilement of truth used by political leaders such as Bush, Powell, Rice and Rumsfeld, and the hypocritical language of religious leaders who pimp, rob and exploit believers, promising them residue from slavery in the form of a fictionalized, juvenile, fabricated, imaginary heaven in the sky after they die.  You religious swine, how dare you cry about the use of bitch, ho, and motherfucker by me, rappers or anybody, while you have sex with your own children, murder in the name of God, sell drugs in the name of God, Christians and Muslims alike around the world, from Afghanistan to Colombia. If our tongues are vile, imagine what your souls look like! May God have mercy on you vipers. And let us not neglect to mention the deceptive language of the media-pharaoh’s magicians, whose gross sins of commission and omission keep the people deaf, dumb and blind-as the media Mongols confessed after 911-yet they continue in their inordinacy, blindly wandering on, as the Qur’an says. The Qur’an also says, “Will you hide the truth while you know?”

So let us go then, beyond words, beyond the ship, beyond the shore, beyond the forest up the mountain path where the Divine awaits us to come be one and indivisible, to be pure, holy, righteous and free while we live. Bobby is calling us to go there: go Bobby, go Bobby.

May 22, 2002

See Marvin X’s essay, “The Psycholinguistic Crisis of the North American African,” in The Crazy House Called America,, Essays, Black Bird Press, 2002.  Email him at Visit .

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posted 20 February 2010



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