O Daedalus, Fly Away Home
I must thank TJ and Lois Anderson for introducing me to the poetry of Robert Hayden. They gave me a copy of his collected poems in 2004 where I found O Daedalus, fly away home. This poem beautifully discusses the African American folktale of the Flying Africans who flew back to Africa during slavery, the subject of one of my earlier pieces, The People Could Fly for narrator, solo violin and string orchestra. I decided to revisit this story with O Daedalus, fly away home because of Robert Hayden’s poetry and the important cultural issues in the story. The poem makes connections between the magic of flight and the dancing and body movement associated with African American Choral performances. The foot stomping and body slapping intricately linked to performances of Gospel music and traditional spirituals in the African American tradition. The earliest recorded version of the story comes from the Lowcountry, Coastal Carolina and Georgia, where traditional performances of spirituals include very complex clapping, foot stomping patterns, or juba patting, mentioned in the poem. The use of this percussive accompaniment is often connected to music of spiritual transcendence enabled by the physical act of movement or as I like to think about, flying through dance movements. Oppressed and enslaved, African Americans have used this concept of flight and travel in spirituals (“Swing Low Sweet Chariot”), Gospel music (“I’ll fly away”), and more recently in the intergalactic beliefs of Sun Ra and the Mothership connection of George Clinton and P-funk. The use of music and dance to transcend adversity has been a consistent element in African American culture. Without the physical wings to fly away, the music and the dance attempt to transport individuals spiritually from adversity.