I was asked about a “nickname” that I have (other than KDaddy) – Khaan and, no, it has nothing to do with the Star Trek character. See, way back in 1969 – 1970 – when the Black Power and “Back to Africa” movements were alive and well – there was this guy who was a self-taught master percussionist and could play bongos and congas with a skill I’ve not seen in classically trained percussionists; he was also an activist in the Movement and at a time when every Black person was being encouraged to embrace their African heritage and even take a trip to the motherland of us all. Part of embracing our heritage was about giving up our “slave names,” i.e., the names our parents gave us at birth and, well, okay, I understood all of this but it didn’t make sense to me since I wasn’t born into slavery to begin with and I’d have to look a long way back into my family’s history to find someone who was. Still, it was the meme of the time and you just kinda went with it lest you be fingered as being an Uncle Tom.
So, as the drummer in a band, my long-time friend, who taught himself to play bongos and congas, and I sought out this guy so we could learn more about playing our respective instruments together, not that we couldn’t kick it – we just wanted to be better. We’d seen him play… and, wow, damn, he was scary good! So we went to him and, hell, yeah, we got schooled (and in ways my classical training kinda skipped over); for a week, the three of us would be in the local park and doing some pretty spectacular drumming (even though I kinda hated dragging my kit out like that) as we both performed for the crowds we drew and he taught us how to be better percussionists… but that wasn’t the only thing he was trying to teach us. In order to be better percussionists, he felt that we had to understand and embrace the origins of drums and how they were used and not just for music… which let to him insisting that we both give up our slave names for a name that was more in line with African heritage and, in this, he meant the entire continent. But, being in a teaching mode, he told us that we would have to earn our “new” names in a final test where the two of us had to do a twenty-minute performance on our respective instruments – and then another twenty-minute performance after switching instruments, which was kinda funny because while I had learned to play bongos and congas, my friend seemed to lack the coordination required to be a drummer. Still, because neither of us wanted to be seen to be against the “cause” – and because he was challenging our ability as musicians, we went along with this “naming day test.”
During our “test,” we drew such a large crowd in the park that the police showed up and, honestly, we were lucky not to get busted for having a public performance of that size without a permit but our teacher had a conversation with the officers and we were allowed to continue (they even stayed to listen). It was already hot outside and we were both sweating like fiends as we kept the beat with each other, taking turns leading the drumming, throwing syncopation into the mix at unexpected moments – man, it was some of the best drumming I’d ever done. Then we switched… and, okay, we were getting it done but my friend’s lack of coordination started to show; it really isn’t easy to get your hands and feet doing different things at the same time while maintaining a consistent and persistent beat and, often, not looking at what you were doing. All the drummers reading this know exactly what I’m talking about; you non-drummers, well, I invite you to give it a try and you’ll see it’s not as easy as it looks. Still, my friend – and with encouraging pointers from me as we played – did pretty good; the crowd didn’t take him to task for his mistakes and, twenty minutes later, we were done and in great need of large quantities of water. Since I never developed the callouses necessary to play conga, man, my hands were killing me; the muscles in my arms, which were used to playing the drums, were pitching a bitch because playing bongos and congas require a different set of muscles and it seemed like my whole body was protesting against dealing with the vibrations it endured doing all that drumming…
But we passed the test and now it was time for us to get our “African” names. Our instructor and a “panel” of movement activists decided, in a somewhat private ceremony, that I should get rid of the slave name I was born with and let the world know that, as of that moment, I was now Raheem Sajid-Khan… and despite the solemnity of the moment, I had to resist the urge to laugh because that didn’t sound African to me in the least bit… but I didn’t laugh; it was a lesson in respecting someone else’s beliefs even if you weren’t on-board with them and, well, shit, pretty much everyone else was doing it, it was really harmless, and I really didn’t want to be singled-out as an Uncle Tom; it was bad enough I got teased about being a really smart guy (earned me the nickname “The Professor”). So, oh, I guess it was like a month later when I ran into someone who had been at the “testing” performance and knew what else was going on about it and they asked me what my new name was and I told them; but then he asked me how to spell “Khan” – and, um, well, I really don’t know why I did this but I spelled it “Khaan” – and, um, it just stuck being spelled like that (and despite the way it is spelled).
Having said all of that, hmm, I never got around to legally dumping my “slave name” for my more Africanized name (unlike some folks I know did)… but I’ve never forgotten my “other” name and what it meant to have it bestowed upon me and, just as important, what I learned in order to be so honored, i.e., the root of percussion instruments and the history of drumming and in a way I wasn’t learning in my formal music training (but got supplemented when I got into high school via music theory and appreciation classes). It made me a better drummer and it showed whenever our band performed and, yeah, it was some big-time ego stroking to have people come up to me and my friend and talk about how smoothly we played together and how our beats would get them off their asses and onto the dance floor.
At some point, my “new” name got to be known by a lot of other people (I wonder who let that out and it wasn’t me?) and instead of those folks calling me “Raheem,” (which I’d never really answer to, to be honest) they’d call me “Khaan” and, that, too, just stuck. Skip ahead a whole lot of years to when the Internet really got going and I was signing up for something online and it asked me for a username and since I didn’t want to use my real name, I used my nickname, Khaan. When Hotmail came along, it just “made sense” for me to use this name instead of making one up because it was just easier for me to remember.
That and it’s a cool nickname…