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08.04.2022 - META DIA

Werner Zips

Meta Dia

You don't have to suffer from chronic "Reggaemylitis", like Peter Tosh used to, to consider reggae as medicine. But few (Bush-)Doctors currently achieve the magical power of the first universal healers: Gregory Isaacs (heartache), Burning Spear (social suffering) and above all Bob Marley (the musical panacea). With his self-titled album Dia (pronounce like “Jah”) Meta Dia presses on to become a worthy successor to the roots shamans. A reggae gem of rare quality from the spiritual depths of the African heritage.
In times of the rapid advance of Islamist terrorist groups in North-, West- and East Africa, especially in the Sahel, to which Senegal also belongs for its bigger part, a voice of balance and reconciliation – like that of Meta Dia – can hardly be overestimated in importance. In the following autobiographical notes, he refers to his Islamic origins from the cattle herders and equestrian nomads of the Fulani, who contributed decisively to the spread of Islam in Africa. In the later interview, however, he emphasizes his own role as a world ambassador of peace. Under the sign of Reggae.

Meta Dia Prologue – The meaning of Dia
Meta Dia in his own words

Dia is pronounced "Jah" in Senegal. It’s my family name referring to the Kings of Fouta Toro kingdom, named Dia. This dynasty of Dia governed for many centuries and was known as: Dia-ogo, pronounced “Jah-ogo”. I really came from two kingdoms: On my father’s side and also on my mother’s side who is a descendant of King Lebou, with the full name of Lat Dior Ngone Latir Diop, the latter pronounced “Jop”. So both sides of my family line are known as Kings and Queens, the Dia and Diop families. Rastafarians refer to King Haile Selassie as Jah Rastafari, meaning “Jah” according to the Old Testament Jahwe or God.

We Muslims believe that there is only one God and we don’t associate Allah or God with any living man. No deity, no-one is equal to the one and only God, Allah. The unique. The master of the universe. But the real meaning of Dia or “Jah“ in my language is “light”. And we believe that Allah is the light of all lights. The eternal. It was Allah bestowing light to its creation.

I believe each and every one is unique in its own way. There is light in each and everyone. Search within yourself. And you will find yourself and your purpose in life. I am who I am. I carry my own head. Grateful to the most high Allah.

Meta Dia

So, my name Meta Dia, it just ends up that Jamaica is using the same word Jah as well. When I was a child, listening to Reggae music and hearing of Jah, I'm like, yeah, that's my last name! But to us, my family name Dia has a different meaning, which is: the source of light.

My entire family lived together in Dakar, cousins and aunts, uncles, we lived and grew up in a big house and that's when, looking at it back today, that's when I realized that harmony makes sense. Because we used to share every meal together with each other for dinner, lunch, all of that. My father is a Fulani. He comes from a village in Fouta, the Fouta Toro kingdom. We migrated to Dakar, because my grandpa was the Imam. He was brought to Senegal’s capital as the Imam, and he was the Koranic teacher at the same time in the Mosque. My father was also a teacher in the Mosque. It was like this communal neighbourhood. Everybody knowing each other.

My father then travelled to the USA and started to live in the US and to teach the Quran and Islamic history in an American university. So I was pretty much raised by my mother and my grandparents. My father only coming home from time to time. But my childhood was very beautiful. Being able to live in that family with lots of people seeing grandpa, grandma, uncles, aunties, all of that and going to school in Dakar not far from our house.

Meta Dia

The Fulani were all warriors; from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, they formed a belt. They used to call this the Fulani Belt of Africa. They're nomads and they are known for their warrior spirits. They spread all around Africa. So it wasn't the concept of this land and that land belonging to particular groups. They were free. They were nomads. They moved around. But with time, they discovered Islam. This is what put this Fulani spirit to spirituality. Fulani have been dread long time ago. So dreadlocks don’t come only from Rastafari and Jamaica. No, no, dreadlocks come from Africa. Because if you look at today's Cheikh Ibra Fall, for example, the founder of the Baye Fall, he wore dread. Before we know Jamaica has dread.

Moschee in Touba

Ibrahima Fall & Ahmadou Bamba Moschee in Touba

Painting on a wall with Mame Cheikh Ibrahima Fall and his teacher Ahmadou Bamba and the holiest place of the Baye Fall and the whole Senegal - The Grand Mosque in Touba with the mausoleum of Cheikh Ibrahima Fall

Baye Demba

Baye Demba, Ambassador of Cheikh Ndiguel Fall (Serigne Cheikh Ndiguel Fall is the great-grandchildren of Cheikh Ibrahima Fall)

Fulani have problems many times. Always with borders. I don't think a real Fulani believes in borders separating people. They don't. They don't, and I am with that mind-set too, because there is only one Earth. That's what I talk about in the tune Trespass on the latest album Dia: Why can a man not walk freely in this land? Fulani as nomads have always been „trespassing“, because they believe that the land only belongs to the almighty.
Meta Dia

„Forgiveness will make us heal“

As Meta Dia emphasised in his self-introduction above, the frontman, composer and singer of the band Meta & The Cornerstones has an important social experience ahead of his revered ancestors from Jamaica: that of nomads. He considers himself heir to the "Fulani Dread," the true composers of healing music, as he states in Conqueror. This heritage is important for an adequate understanding of Meta Dia's music and lyrics. It dwells at the root of his worldview. Even more: the contempt of his fellow Fulani for borders is identity-forming for him. In the peculiar sense of a nomadic or travelling multi-identity that has no understanding for borders as dominant means to divide people. No matter if it is about social, religious, “racial” or other borders.

It is more than a footnote that Fulani live in more than twenty African countries, but experience pressure and hardships in many of these states. Nomadic people are not only freedom-loving, but also difficult to control – seen from the ruling perspective. Furthermore, their lifestyles are considered outdated by many others, particularly the political and economic elites. The ever-mounting climate crisis in the Sahel zone and beyond appears to harm them even more than others, because farmers put up an armed struggle against the transit of Fulani herdsmen on the desperate search for a few plants feeding their animals and water for themselves.

All this feeds into Meta Dia's music standing as a broad-spectrum antibiotic against exclusion, separatism, tribalism, and old and new apartheid pandemics, as well as xenophobic populisms, and narrow identity politics. All categories that make such separations possible in the first place meet his rejection. Consequently, he eludes any attempt at labelling himself and his music. He does not fit into any pigeonhole. His reggae is “soul music” from the heart. It cannot be assigned to any world region or musical tradition. At least not with the consent of Meta & the Cornerstones. Nor can it be grasped in the usual attributions of the music press, but rather in its effect on the separatist tendency of “the system”. The music and lyrics are "something that overcomes oceans, borders, and language barriers" (as it says on Meta’s homepage).

Live Video: Silence Of The Moon + Tijahni (26.07.2015 - Reggae Jam Bersenbrück)

Senegal as Inspiration

Like the Fulani, known by countless designations (including Fulbe, Fula, Peulh, Bororo, Wodaabe), Meta Dia sees himself as a nomad or free-moving spirit, on a mission of spreading his own interpretation of One Love globally. He further draws on the tradition of those Arabs from Mecca who accompanied Prophet Muhammad into exile. Many Fulani refer to these companions of the prophet of Islam as their myth of origin, despite their diverse conceptions of God, the so-called polytheism. However, it was they who contributed decisively to the spread of Islam in Africa, though often in the inclusive and integrative variants of Sufism that continued to leave room for African beliefs and religious practices.

In many highly metaphorical lyrics, these spiritual ways of thinking and living shimmer through the songs of “Dia”, the album that is. The artist Meta Dia uses these tropes to express his convictions of cultural and religious tolerance beyond any boundaries. You will not hear popular accusations of “white privilege” or hackneyed ideas of suppressive “whiteness”, although this might help his current popularity. His lyrics do not fuel a "Clash of Cultures", but rather a "Mash of Cultures (and Religions)", as long as one understands by mash no uniform hybridization, but a mutual penetration, which the term “transculturation” describes. It is no coincidence that this concept goes back to José Marti, a national hero of the Cuban independence struggle, radical humanist, and poet of freedom. The notion transculturation was then scientifically developed by the Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz. But ideas of transculturation, have many well-known fathers and (often unknown) mothers in Senegal, Africa and worldwide. They encompass reciprocal cultural exchange and cross-fertilization as opposed to "cultural appropriation."

Meta Dia

In Senegal, Meta Dia's birthplace, for example, these include the founders of the country's largest Sufi order: Cheikh Ahmadu Bamba and his first spiritual general, Cheikh Ibrahima Fall, the founder of the dreadlocks wearing Baye Fall (see RIDDIM No 5/2013). Meta pays respect to them as well as to Muslim prophets, Kings like King Mehmed, the Ottoman conqueror of Constantinople, Rastafari or Jesus (Christ). And in some lyrics even in one breath, like in "Riser":

“Tell me why Jesus would carry their cross
And be their sacrifice
Remember when King Mehmed brought the Basilica
Down to the romans
Constantinople fell down to coma …
Dread Natty dread
I say today is the future: Africa
What a man can do to another man …”

Lyrics like these demand quite a bit of historical knowledge from the regular reggae audience. Not everyone knows that the Basilica was a special cannon more than 8 meters long, whose range of almost two Kilometres and firing power (up to 300 kg of heavy stones) reduced the defences of the Byzantine capital Constantinople to rubble, pulverizing the Byzantine Empire and ultimately the 1500-year rule of the Roman Empire.

Constantinople fell down

Constantinople fell down

Constantinople fell down - Mehmed

Mehmed II conquered Constantinople - Excerpts from the Topkapi Panorama in today Istanbul (formerly Constantinople)

Despite the references to Islamic historiography, the core messages of the song remain compatible with Rastafari philosophy. They are based on a double strand: first, the elevation of Africa within the world community – “rise up Mama Africa children, rise and take a stand” (as it says in Breeze) – after 400 years of slavery, colonialism, exploitation, and oppression; and second, the ending of injustice perpetrated by humans on humans. This, in my view, is precisely the core of the Rasta liberation doctrine: the inseparable link between the key imperatives of “Equal Rights and Justice” and “One Love”.

Religions as labels of separatism

This works only by rejecting the intolerance and exclusive claim to uniqueness of the religions of revelation. Meta cannot elicit a religious creed in the narrower sense. When asked whether he is Sufi, Muslim, Rasta or whatever, he answers patiently and consistently: everything together, he does not believe in separations and labels. Similarly, the great Persian poet Hafiz, in words that many spiritual people such as Sufis and Rastas can still subscribe to this day:

"The wrangle of the seventy-two sects, establish excuse for all. When truth they saw, the door of feeble they beat. Thanks to God" (from: Shams-ud-Din Muḥammad Hafiz-i Shirazi, Hamid Eslamian: The Divan of Hafiz: Edition of Complete Poetry. Persian Learning Center, 2021).

Similarly, Meta rejects divisions. He voices an emphatic appeal for unification of all mankind in mutual, all-encompassing love. This call-up forms the heart of the new album DIA. His “chanting down Babylon” aims to tear down walls, rather than erect new ones. The Senegalese in New York invites Kingston and all of Jamaica to sing along. In “Breeze” he hears the desperation of the indigenous populations of Sam (USA), their songs to the spirit of the buffalo ("chanting down Babylon"), as well as the nameless suffering at its borders.

Meta knows the American nightmare from long personal experience. Living in New York for twenty years, he experiences the fatal and often enough lethal racism on his own skin, especially by the so-called “security forces or authorities”. A black skin colour is enough to be exposed to permanent racial profiling: whoever closes the apartment door behind him or her can never know for sure whether he or she will return safely.

Meta Dia

Those who let themselves be lulled by the beautiful “feel-good melodies” played live by his Cornerstones and the optimistic verses about “Peace, Love and Harmony” can easily overlook the references to unwanted, everyday excursions into the world of hate (crimes). Numerous lyrics lead attentive listeners into the dark sides of humanity: unbroken racism, poverty, wars, and environmental destruction. But Meta does not invite listeners to linger there, as many other artists do. Rather, he builds multi-lane highways out of the valley of outrage and retribution for sufferation. He leads his musical followers into the biblical “valley of decision”, where good triumphs over evil. His sense of „goodness” refers to common Fulani/Sufi/Rastafari concepts of global unity. In the lyrics of Breeze it sounds like this:

„Ain’t no wall between earth and sky
Ain’t no war between you and I
We are called to come together and learn from each other (…)
Just like the breeze
Forgiveness will make us heal
I realize, love is the only way”

Ummah als Ummah as unity of all people and living beings

Meta’s ideas of reconciliation culminate in the Islamic concept of an all-encompassing Ummah. This idea of unity expanded into a united humanity, for him imbues a prerequisite for facing the most pressing social and environmental problems, most of which are self-generated by humanity. The Ummah is usually understood as the community of all Muslims. Meta is not satisfied with this. He follows up with Qur'anic Sura 6:38, which recognizes in umam the unification of the community of all people, living beings, and even djinn (spirits or beings created from "smokeless fire"). This is precisely what he sees as the basis for the most important struggle of the present: addressing the planetary extinction, nature conservation and climate crisis.

Meta Dia & Werner Zips Kasumama Afrika Festival

Werner Zips and Meta Dia at KASUMAMA Africa Festival in Austria - July 2015

The following excerpts from a roughly two-hour interview/reasoning give an insight into the thinking of an extraordinary reggae artist. They should help to better fathom the depth of his lyrics, which are as poetic as they are militant. He owes his exceptional position to the seemingly effortless connection between Islamic historical consciousness, Muslim Sufi meditations, African world views, Rastafari, and a universal humanism based on all these “cornerstones”. This gives fresh nourishment to the message of “different colours, one people” that is so widespread in reggae. But may become increasingly challenged by “woke” responses to racism, which tend to re-emphasize the fiction of race as a decisive marker for future relations. Take the time to watch South African reggae artist Lucky Dube’s immortalized version of Different Colours ( His delivery of a key reggae insight, so much more than a mere slogan, is more than remarkable, given that he was continually haunted by Apartheid authorities in an institutionally racist society.

However, many reggae fans are only slowly beginning to grasp what a traumatizing effect the public execution of George Floyd (via cell phone recording) had and still has globally. This also put pressure on the long unquestioned pursuit of “One Love”. Old certainties of reggae as an almost “natural” counter-world to and free space from racism no longer apply unquestioned (as evidenced by several recent articles and letters to the editor of RIDDIM – the German reggae and dancehall journal).

Currently facing the return of war to Europe and thus potentially to the entire world, Meta’s musical campaign offers an important “remedy", in the sense of the healing powers of this musical genre mentioned above. Against autocrats who do not shy away from any form of violence, no matter how unimaginable, this may have little impact, as visible in the physical annihilation of the Ukraine and its civilian population. But on the metaphysical level of a return to universal values, its influence may be much higher. Music has tremendous symbolic power needed for long term change, as proven by the likes of Bob Marley.

At least to some of the most pressing questions Meta gives surprising answers. Responses that resist the populist urge to generalize and buy into readymade templates of painting everything black and white. He rejects doubts about his central motto of “peace, love and harmony” by reaffirming its relevance to humanity's greatest challenges at this point: Protecting the planet from man, who is destroying its very foundations of life. For Meta, this requires that very Ummah, the community of all.

Meta Dia Meta Dia in his own words (interview with Werner Zips)

The One Love ideal of reggae music is increasingly criticized as a cliché. You stand paradigmatically for "peace, love and harmony". In this time of racially motivated police killings, such visions seem wishful thinking to many.

Yeah. Here in the U.S., many people think "One Love" and my mantra of peace, love and harmony is a cliché. But even if it is a cliché, I consider it both a prayer and a hope for the future. I am aware that there is prejudice, war, and racial discrimination. In our world today, One Love seems like a vague idea. But does that mean we should stop hoping for One Love or "peace, love and harmony" at all? If so, we would stop praying and finally surrender. Rather, what is needed is the clear stance of standing up together against racism. If someone writes such crap on the wall, then we should write “Peace, Love and Harmony” or One Love next to it or better above it. We cannot tolerate the destructive brainwashing of our youth. But we undoubtedly live in a state of fear. Police and civilians are both armed in the US. Police know that civilians carry guns, and vice versa. What does that cause? All-encompassing fear.

Meta Dia

Breeze gives a clear but perhaps unpopular answer: forgiveness. Could this “breeze” become a wind of change?

Only forgiveness can heal. Breeze is the heart of the album, is the heart of everything I want to express with the album. As humans, sometimes we tend to hold deep grudges. But anger multiplies, piles up and becomes an unsolvable story. There are many examples that show we are still in the same beds of racism, hatred, and discord. Why? Because we continue to repeat everything negative, because we do not forgive. True forgiveness means forgiving yourself first, forgiving past generations for their mistakes. Past deeds are a burden for the present and the future. If we want a different future, we must learn to forgive.

Official Video: Meta Dia & The Cornerstones - Breeze

I see this as a purification process. Many people consider this to be one of the most difficult tasks. But at the same time, it is one of the easiest things to do. To realize this is a matter of maturity. Our physical existence lasts perhaps 100 years. This period of time allows for many changes, even if it seems short to us. But we are here to learn and experience, even if we are often powerless against injustice. We are all just part of these great echoes that reverberate through our lives. So many things happen against our will: Violence, wars, hate crimes against innocent people. It's hard to realize that we are all one. But when we learn to forgive, it means that we forgive ourselves, that we forgive each other, and that we forgive the world. Forgive to give the future a chance, to give everyone a worthy life. For me, forgiveness is one of the things that is extremely important. It can help everyone to develop and live in peace.

In many places in the world there is war. But when you meet common people, there is no war between them. Wars and conflicts are always ideas spread by a few. It is easy to create hatred, to create a cycle of revenge, all that. But there is no war between people. Only when this idea is spread, then does it become war.

We react reflexively to violence. Because a lot of pain has accumulated in our hearts. It's so easy to activate that pain, to call for revenge, to go to war. Instead of running in this rat race, we all need to learn to consciously remember our past, but always forgive and really mean it. This will enable us to open our hearts. Saying “I forgive” is the only way to open up to One Love. This is what life has taught me over four decades (Metas Earthstrong: 05/29/1981).

Meta Dia Meta Dia

In today's world, there is much talk about the “clash of cultures, civilizations and religions.” As a descendant of Islamic scholars, you sing of the Ummah, the Islamic concept of community and togetherness, but seem to understand it as the ideal of global unity.

Exactly, I think of the Ummah as global unification. Of the visible and the invisible. That includes all life. Every way of God stands for the Ummah. The work of Jesus as well as that of the prophet. Ummah, then, does not refer only to an Islamic unity between Shiites and Sunnis. Rather, it is the way of the Almighty. Its true meaning is to be one, united in peace and tolerance. The Almighty is the Lord and Judge of His creation. All other creatures follow the Ummah. Only mankind is stubborn. The tree follows the Ummah, because the tree follows being, not wanting. Have you ever seen an apple tree or a banana tree that goes to the sea, takes a bath, and returns to its place? No, it stays where it belongs, follows its destiny. All animals and plants are themselves, are in their being. But we, we want to possess. That is why mankind has a problem. As soon as you want to have something, greed and vanity come into play, and soon you want everything for yourself. Ultimately, this is how we destroy planet earth.

Meta Dia

You express concern for nature and the protection of the environment. Something I often miss in reggae. A lot of artists talk about the lion as a symbol for themselves, but they seem to ignore that the lion is being brought to the brink of extinction in our time. In so many African countries, he has already disappeared. In the next three decades, we will probably lose a million species.

It is certainly a devastating truth that this is happening in our lifetime. Sometimes we don't realize until much later what we should be seeing by now. We don't process realities automatically. The biodiversity crisis needs to be addressed much more by reggae as well, because so many species will become extinct if we continue like this. The bottom line is that we need to fight for the preservation of wilderness areas because they all have a right to live. As I said before, according to the Ummah.

But how can we make that happen? Your new album Dia ends with an impassioned call to “protect the bees and trees, the oceans and seas.” The closing song says that “Every little grain of sand is rich, it’s the body of the soul the land of experience, where the living grow.”

We have a lot of work to do, and we need to make fundamental changes. I think it starts with the leadership problem in politics. Take so many ministers in charge of culture, energy, or the environment, for example. They may have many titles, but they are not qualified. They hardly know anything about their subject. So many areas of life suffer as a result. Many only get into leadership positions because they have connections. We keep repeating the same mistakes. This is reflected everywhere in everyday life. There is a lack of reason and competence.

Look at the oceans. A single accumulation of garbage and plastic. You saw it yourself in Dakar, it's madness. And everywhere you see the human behaviour that leads to this. For me, coming from there, it's hard to talk about it, but it's the truth. That's why we need to address these kinds of issues, to include them in our music, to educate when school fails. In Africa, we have a huge problem with plastic. Our Baye Fall stand for the welfare of nature and organic farming. Just like Rastafari stand for natural purity – or ital livity. Reggae needs to reflect that more.

Meta Dia

Can "Ital Livity" solve the problem?

Some have been fighting for sustainability all over the globe for a very long time. We are dealing with some big companies that are not willing to contribute to this fight. As artists, we can only create awareness of the problem, so that more people think about it and take action.

Since my last album four years ago, I've been more and more concerned about the rapid extinction of species. Because this is the time when we will start to understand that everything is connected with everything, we form an inseparable unit. There are many academic and spiritual teachers out there warning about global warming. I say in my musical voice: Listen to them! For they know what they are talking about. Seek the truth, because to me, that is the true meaning of unconditional love, which concerns us all. This is an essential part of the concept: "Each one teach one!" Everyone must do their part!
Meta Dia

Final Praise for Dia

“DIA” - pronounced “Jah” – takes the Reggae mastery of one of its foremost African ambassadors to a new level. It is beautifully crafted and full of passion for music and message, sounding pouncing riddims and sweet harmonies to Jah (Dia) rising sun. Yet, it is much more than just another excellent Reggae album. Meta Dia offers hidden pathways to social healing – or “salvation” – as Rastas, Sufis, and all other spiritual Reggae Aficionados may have it.

Beware, many of DIA tracks take you to the downside of this time and planet. But his lyrical rivers of wisdom give hope. They are fed by many tributaries, the nomadic mystic traditions of his Fulani forebears, the Rastafari I-sights based on the teachings of Ras Tafari and the wise men of the East, so prominent in his beloved Senegal. Yes, Meta sues for justice. Not only for Africans from his mother continent, but for all the “wretched of the earth” (Frantz Fanon). But his bottom line is in line with so many great minds: “Just like the breeze, forgiveness will make us heal.”

This reggae album is yet another wake-up call to come together on the basis of equal rights and justice; for there is no other way of togetherness. With this fundamental mission Meta joins the ranks of the all-time Greats in Reggae. Who could be more predestined for this “mission impossible” than a Muslim Fulani Dread, full of Rasta vibrations. Here comes trouble for the warmongers. With a superb package filled with the finest sounds and ideas from Dakar to Jamaica to New York and the rest of the globe.

Meta & The Cornerstones - Dia - 2021 Meta Dia - Breeze - Single

CD: Meta & the Cornerstones: Dia (Metarize Music, VP 2021).
Single: Meta & The Cornerstones: Breeze (Metarize Music, VP 2021)

About the Author:

Werner Zips is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Vienna/Austria and has published widely on Reggae, Rastafari, Maroons, Baye Fall and conservation in Africa.

For more on Rastafari: see Werner Zips: Rastafari. A Universal Philosophy in the Third Millennium. (Ian Randle Publishers 2006).

For more on Baye Fall: see Werner Zips: Hail di Riddim. Reportagen aus dem Reggaeversum JamaicAfrica (Promedia 2015).

Werner Zips - Rastafari Werner Zips - Hail Di Riddim

Text: Werner Zips
Photos: Meta Dia, Werner Zips, Peter Joachim
Videos: Meta & The Cornerstones + Peter Joachim


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