The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'africa'
The Grauniad has a piece on the heavy metal scene in Botswana, which combines the music and aesthetics of metal as we know it with local influences (cowboy hats, it seems, are big among Kalahari metalheads):
Dressed from head to toe in black leather, sporting cowboy boots, hats and exaggerated props, they draw some curious looks on the dusty streets. "People think that we are rough, evil creatures, but [metal] teaches us to be free with expression, to do things on our own," said Vulture, the vocalist of the band Overthrust. He says there is a long way to go before the genre is considered mainstream, but that audiences have grown steadily in the past decade.
Though attendance at concerts is small in comparison to the west, the scene has slowly built a steady fan base. To date, no western heavy metal act has performed in Botswana, and no Botswana metal act has performed outside the region.And there are photos of some Batswana metal dudes, with sobriquets like Death, Warmaster and Maximum, here. I imagine wearing all that black leather in the Kalahari heat must be an even greater peacock-tail signal of commitment than being a Goth in Brisbane.
A few seasonal links for today and tomorrow:
- The mythological trainwreck that we call "Christmas", with its ill-fitting pieces of Middle Eastern and Nordic folklore, was discussed here last year. Now, some people going by the name of Cannabis Culture (read into that what you will) have another element to add to this; namely, the claim that the legend ot Santa Claus comes from Lappish shamanic rituals involving hallucinogenic mushrooms, with Santa's red and white costume having nothing to do with the Coca-Cola logo and everything to do with the colouring of the amanita muscaria mushroom, which may be found growing under fir trees.
- A Norwegian crafter named Jonas Laberg made a 10kg marzipan pig, as a present for his friends' daughters. The finished product looks horrifyingly detailed:
- The Graun's Zoe Williams has a piece on the supposed Christmas tradition of kissing under the mistletoe, which she contends is one of those things that only happens on TV (much like adults playing with cats, she writes), and does a Twitter survey, confirming this; with one heartbreakingly poignant exception:
In 1973, Helen was 16 and having a relationship with a girl at school, but they hadn't come out for a whole load of reasons, most of them to do with it being 1973. "In those days, we were like outcasts, so nobody knew, it was a great secret. A few of my friends were really homophobic. We went to this New Year's Eve party, where people were all goading each other to kiss. So we did. It was brilliant, everybody was cheering, we were pretending it was a joke. It was probably one of the best kisses I've ever had."
It didn't make it any easier to come out, though. "We never came out, we split up two years later, the pressure became too great. Most of it on her, because her family had mapped out her life for her, she had to get married. And I did what was expected of me, when I was 18. I got married as well. I had three kids."
- Christopher Hitchens may be gone, but an unpublished essay he wrote about Christmas has surfaced: Forced Merriment: The True Spirit of Christmas.
I once tried to write an article, perhaps rather straining for effect, describing the experience as too much like living for four weeks in the atmosphere of a one-party state. "Come on," I hear you say. But by how much would I be exaggerating? The same songs and music played everywhere, all the time. The same uniform slogans and exhortations, endlessly displayed and repeated. The same sentimental stress on the sheer joy of having a Dear Leader to adore. As I pressed on I began almost to persuade myself. The serried ranks of beaming schoolchildren, chanting the same uplifting mush. The cowed parents, in terror of being unmasked by their offspring for insufficient participation in the glorious events…. "Come on," yourself. How wrong am I?
One of my many reasons for not being a Christian is my objection to compulsory love. How much less appealing is the notion of obligatory generosity. To feel pressed to give a present is also to feel oneself passively exerting the equivalent unwelcome pressure upon other people... Don't pretend not to know what I am talking about. It's like the gradual degradation of another annual ritual, whereby all schoolchildren are required to give valentines to everybody in the class. Nobody's feelings are hurt, they tell me, but the entire point of sending a valentine in the first place has been deliberately destroyed. If I feel like giving you a gift I'll try and make sure that (a) it's worth remembering and (b) that it comes as a nice surprise. (I like to think that some of my valentines in the past packed a bit of a punch as well.)
- ‘Yes we know it’s Christmas’ say African musicians as they finally record a response to Band Aid:
“Just because we don’t have Boney M or Christmas advertising in September doesn’t mean we are oblivious to it,” said Gundane who went on to suggest that Africans were a lot like the Irish. “They made it through disasters like the potato blight and the invention of the Protestant church without forgetting Christmas – why did they think we would forget it?”
Gundane said he hoped that his involvement with the song would turn him into an expert on British politics and economics in the same way ‘Do they know it’s Christmas’ had turned Geldof and Bono into the world’s leading experts on Africa.
- After some UK department store apparently used a godawful twee-folk version of a Smiths song in one of its Christmas ad, the inimitable Rhodri Marsden decided to one-up the horror of it with his own Christmas-themed Smiths travesty. Behold: Heaven Knows I'm Christmassy Now, to be a mainstay of Christmas mix tapes in years to come.
The latest bounty from Wikileaks: an exposé of the Saudi royal welfare system, a system of government finely tuned for meeting certain criteria (i.e., keeping an ever-expanding ruling class in caviar and luxury cars, and maximising the number of palaces per capita; they even have palace-building grants). Alas, even the generous stipends bestowed upon Saudi princelings sometimes fall short when it comes to maintaining a lifestyle worthy of one of such stature, but the beauty of living in the top tier of an absolute monarchy is that there's always more for the taking:
Then there was the apparently common practice for royals to borrow money from commercial banks and simply not repay their loans. As a result, the 12 commercial banks in the country were "generally leary of lending to royals."
Another popular money-making scheme saw some "greedy princes" expropriate land from commoners. "Generally, the intent is to resell quickly at huge markup to the government for an upcoming project." By the mid-1990s, a government program to grant land to commoners had dwindled. "Against this backdrop, royal land scams increasingly have become a point of public contention."
The confiscation of land extends to businesses as well, the cable notes. A prominent and wealthy Saudi businessman told the embassy that one reason rich Saudis keep so much money outside the country was to lessen the risk of 'royal expropriation.'"Meanwhile, in Equatorial Guinea, an oil-rich West African country most of whose children don't live to their fifth birthday, it emerges that the son of the President had commissioned the world's second most expensive yacht, costing $380m, or three times the country's combined health and education budgets.
And in Belgium, Prince Laurent has incurred the wrath of the parliament (does Belgium have a parliament now?) for attempting to fly business-class whilst only having an economy-class ticket. The prince and his wife were asked to move back to cattle class, and apparently kicked up a disgraceful tantrum for being treated like commoners, refusing to pay for drinks.
It's somewhat heartening to see that Belgium, whilst nominally being a monarchy, is a Northern European "bicycle monarchy", in which rank hath little if any privilege, and monarchy is tolerated as a constitutional eccentricity and little more; certainly, it doesn't entitle one to demanding free travel benefits from local airlines, and any princeling who thinks otherwise won't get treated any differently than a drunken footballer would. I wonder what would happen in the UK if, say, some minor baronet occupied a first-class seat on a train or aeroplane without the appropriate ticket. Would they be told to move on as Prince Laurent was, or would the (privatised, of course, as per Anglocapitalist values) carrier swallow the cost or invoice the public purse?
For those who missed it the first time around: a Pitchfork piece from a few years ago recapping the history of the various music scenes of Africa over the past few decades. These scenes include the scenes of Anglophone countries like Nigeria and Kenya, in which was born highlife, a fusion of various imported musical styles and local rhythms, which in turn gave rise to the more politically conscious Afrobeat of Fela Kuti. Kuti's home country, Nigeria, had quite a vibrant music scene, with local forms of funk, soul and disco rising and the local subsidiaries of Western record labels pumping money in. Elsewhere, things varied in Ghana, between small shoestring record labels, centrally-planned systems of orchestras in Guinea, and the peculiar situation in Ethiopia where, for a short time between the thaw in of the state monopoly on music distribution around the late 1960s (Haile Selassie doesn't seem to have been a reggae fan; the bands that existed under his imperial imprimatur tended to have names like the Police Band and the Imperial Body Guard Band) and the brutal Soviet-led coup in 1975, the unique "Swinging Addis" scene flourished:
Ethiopian music can probably best be described as dark, psychedelic funk and soul. It's as though a group of highly skilled musicians were told what funk, rock, soul, and jazz sounded like without hearing any examples and then went and played all of those styles at once on whatever instruments were around-- horns, vibes, electric organs, electric guitars, piano, harp; all of it was fair game.The article concludes with a list of labels selling African pop music of this period, and the track listing of a mix of notable tracks (consisting, somewhat uselessly, of links to lala.com, the service Apple bought and are shutting down).
Pitchfork has an interesting roundup of the music scenes in West Africa today; these have little to do with the "Afrobeat" that is a hipster touchstone in the West, which is ancient history over there:
The picture is so selective, actually, that many of my West African acquaintances might not recognize most of the music their country sells on the world stage. To take one example, Ghana's most famous musical export r emains highlife, a calypso- and jazz-influenced concoction birthed in the 50s by big bands like E.T. Mensah and the Tempos. Today, E.T. and his contemporaries are rarely played, performed, or discussed in public in Ghana; highlife tête (old/classic highlife) instead refers to mid-80s drum machine funk stars like Daddy Lumba and Kojo Antwi, artists who crooned like Luther Vandross over ultra-slick productions.Music in West Africa has moved at a rapid pace, fuelled by a baby boom eclipsing that experienced by America and Europe in the 1950s, and the availability of both high-end and low-end music-production technology (apparently Fruity Loops is huge over there). Of course, there's a panoply of scenes there, with different countries having their own scenes, and some scenes owing more to American or Caribbean music than others.
Ivoirian rhythms are so twitchy that crunk would have come like a tranquilizer on this dance-hungry, hyper-rhythmic nation. Some of the planet's best dancehalls and worst roadblocks are here, a testament to two of the country's nighttime priorities: clubbing and government extortion. The capital's CD shops are stocked with charismatic mic-hogs, loudmouths, and humor-mongers belting out tragic stories in the soothing tone of a drill sergeant. Military lockdown no doubt changed the way Ivoirians flow, the way their snare drums patter, the way their dance moves shake like the heebie-jeebies (e.g., the Bird Flu dance of 2006). This is post-traumatic stress rap. The explosive urban strain, the boastful comedy, and the displacement are all familiar. So too is the obsession with wealth and wealthier places that gave the genre its name: "Coupe Decale". In the Ivoirian French, it means to steal and run; to go out and explore the world, swipe a Parisian's pocketbook, then dash back to Abidjan.
And then there's the complex matter of the "Ghana Rap" contingent, the chunk that wants to be accepted as rappers-- members of the Black American experience-- first and Ghanaians second... It's tempting to write these guys off as social misfits-- bright minds in a struggling, post-colonial nation to compete for membership in a contest that doesn't even acknowledge their existence-- when they spend time channeling rap to imagine themselves as part of an American underworld they know little about. But there's plenty in it for their audience, too: There's something invigorating about hearing one's globally devalued local tongue voiced over a hip-hop beat, a real hip-hop beat with unpolished synth squeals, a reverberated handclap.
Perhaps because they don't deal with such a tiny, cash-strapped market, the Nigerian artists tend to be more confident, more refined, and more likely to cross the sea. Although the nation could do without more tired Internet fraud associations, I recommend most heartily Olu Maintain's "Yahooze"-- a single about scamming suckers online and wasting the money on Hennessey. More slick and more serious is Storm Records, whose roster has largely managed the nimble knack of mastering American idioms without being tripped up by the specifics (check out Naeto C, "Kini Big Deal", Ikechukwu, "Shobedobedoo"). These are the sorts of hits that don't demand the same kind of sociological preface that an Asem record calls for, and they could more easily travel.The article includes a lot of embedded audio streams with examples of the songs mentioned.
The world's longest-ruling head of state, Gabon's President Omar Bongo, is dead, after ruling the country for 42 years, i.e., since independence from France.
Other than having had staying power, Omar Bongo seems to have lived up to his bodacious-sounding name, as reported here five years ago.
Some concerned parties have started a new campaign: they are collecting pledges to donate to campaigns against AIDS, TB and malaria in the developing world, as soon as rock'n'roll businessman and public face of charity Bono retires from public life:
The RED campaign has managed to spend $40 million more on marketing that it has raised from RED product sales, while sending consumers a dangerous message. Read more
Many involved in the global fight against AIDS worry that RED will make it harder to raise funds, and that the oversimplified & disempowered image of Africa that Bono perpetuates, as exemplified in these incredibly condescending lyrics from the Band Aid Xmas song Bono helped create, obscures and undermines the assets African nations must focus on to defeat AIDS and poverty.
The grassroots leaders of the global fight against AIDS didn’t ask for Bono to be their frontman. Its time for Bono to step down. We’ll all pledge donations to the Global Fund, but no pledges are collected until Bono retires from public life.So far, US$770 has been pledged.
The Spanish and Moroccan governments are talking about building a high-speed rail tunnel under the Strait of Gibraltar, linking Europe and Africa. If it happens (and that is a big if; the entire endeavour would cost about US$13 billion and cost 20 years to construct), it would make it possible to travel from one continent to another by rail.
How far down through Africa railways could extend is another matter; I imagine a London-Johannesburg rail link would be pushing it.
The latest rebranding of Jesus Christ makes him a black revolutionary in Africa:
Instead of robes and homilies about turning the other cheek, this Jesus wears jeans and T-shirts and urges supporters to resist - peacefully - a tyrannical regime in an unnamed southern African country which resembles Zimbabwe. A collaboration between Spier films and the Dimpho Di Kopane, a theatre and film ensemble, the feature, made in South Africa, was shot in rural Eastern Cape and in Khayelitsha, a township outside Cape Town plagued by poverty and crime.
Son of Man, directed by Mark Dornford-May, depicts Jesus as a divine being who performs miracles. But it may prove contentious for switching the story from Roman-occupied first-century Palestine to misruled 21st-century Africa. "He gathers people around him to fight against poverty and political oppression," said Pauline Malefane, who plays Mary. "It feels a bit like apartheid, people living in fear that soldiers could come into the house at any time and kill children."Compare and contrast with the hip Jesus-as-Che/Mao icons that evangelical groups around the world have been using in recent years.
African DIY electronica; pretty amazing stuff. A band named Konono No. 1 from Congo who play trance music using home-made electric thumb pianos (which have a bleepy, distorted sound) and improvised microphones made from old car parts.
Their repertoire draws largely on Bazombo trance music, but they've had to incorporate the originally-unwanted distorsions of their sound system. This has made them develop a unique style which, from a sonic viewpoint, has accidentally connected them with the aesthetics of the most experimental forms of rock and electronic music, as much through their sounds than through their sheer volume (they play in front of a wall of speakers) and their merciless grooves.
This is fairly interesting, in a global-economy sort of way: impressions of New York as perceived by data entry workers in Ghana who transcribe fines issued by police in New York. (via bOING bOING)