29 January 2006

South Africa - Bad story and good story

After watching a documentary on Finnish TV today about Finns who live in South Africa and their pseudo-tolerant and non-racist views on the country, I was once again angered by the way that media portrays Africa. Yes, they had no complaints about the people who were working in their kitchen or about the “garden boy”, but I doubt that the viewer on the other end walked away with a feeling of equality. And by this I do not mean that they would have been worried whether the different races live in equality or not, but more so about their abilities to do things. Sadly I also doubt, and this obviously is all speculation, that the viewer even critically thought about it. One older woman was even saying that she was not racist when she came but now she is because “the blacks only steal and do nothing else”.

I am ashamed. I do not claim to be the specialist on the topic of South Africa, or anything for that matter, but you need only one fifth of a brain to understand that there is more than that in the situation. The production company behind the documentary failed to find it. How is that kind of rubbish even shown nationally? People interviewed, regardless of which passports they had in their pockets, talked just like too many white South Africans do and that, my friend, is not very good thing at all.

My apologies for my fellow countrymen failing on this one. Unfortunately this seems to be more of a dominant practice than a one-off mistake as I have been writing before.

There are trouble, no doubt, but what if European or North American trouble would be shown in such a blunt and one sided way on the media. Firstly I am relatively sure that it would not, and secondly if that were to happen, it would probably end up with a diplomatic crisis if not never-ending hate and possibly a war.

To sooth my feelings I read a wonderful article by Tsidi Ibrahim, who is better known as a rapper Jean Grae. She had written a story about her trip to Cape Town where she was born before her family exiled to New York, where she has spend most of her life. I usually do not copy things but please read on and understand. Article was found from
All Hip Hop website and although it was directed at the African Americans, this message should be understood by everyone.

Jean Grae's South Africa Vacation
Jean Grae
This winter vacation I went home to visit my family in South Africa. I was born there, but came to civilization when I was really little. There were lots of lions and tigers and monkeys. My great aunt who is a witchdoctor gave me a big spear and a drum to take home. We didnt wear a lot of clothes because it was sooooo hot, especially inside of our hut.<> My mom wasn't used to walking around without a shirt or bra on but she got used to it. I liked all the tribal dances and hunts we went on. They were fun! A lot of times I didn't understand what people were saying cause they were speaking African. I had fun, but am I am glad to be home now cause we have phones and computers and refrigerators.
Yes my ignorant American friends. I suspect, no... I KNOW that this is sadly still the vision that most Americans have of Africa. Might I add, AFRICA referred to as one big lump. No countries, cities, mountains, deserts.. No. Just AFRICA. Where AFRICANS speak a strange language called AFRICAN.
When AHH’s co-chief Jigsaw asked me if I wanted to write about this, I thought it would be an interesting chance to open the sadly closed minds of black Americans. I changed my outlook and have decided to give you a small glimpse of how devastatingly wrong the widespread perception is. I would rather have you do some looking and find out on your own. You're already on the internet. For once, surf to another place besides a hip hop message board, alerts for your 2 way, or big butt porn. This mass ignorance must stopped being blamed on education teaching only from the view of a white Western Civilization. I attended the public school system of America too, but like most schools I'm sure yours had a library as well. I'm sure you went on one of those field trips to the library where you all got cards. No? Well then, I'm sure you've HEARD of a library before. No? Newspaper?
Perhaps not. Assuming that you are reading this without the assistance of psychic powers, I will believe that you are currently on the internet, and as stated before - enough said. Why is there no motivation among us to learn more about our true heritage than we see on the godamned Discovery channel, or PBS...or is it every two years when Shaka Zulu replays on channel 11??? Hip hop knows only of South Africa when an American rapper perhaps references something like gold, diamonds, gas companies, the AIDS epidemic, or we remember Stetasonic doing sanctioning songs in the time of Apartheid. I stopped being a Jamie Foxx fan when I saw his recent HBO stand up show where he relayed his recent trip to Cape Town in the most insulting bullshit 10 minutes I've ever heard.
I can't understand how seemingly intelligent black people with the opportunity to educate the masses about the amazing beauty (and tribulations) of this country in particular, will do more damage than all those hours of "Global History" classes in perpetuating the white taught view of Africa as the spear chucking, foul smelling, technology lacking savage land that it is the exact opposite of. As a friend pointed out to me, even rap groups , i.e. De La Soul, who made a comment on their last album, Bionix somewhat to the effect of "African people smelling", buy into and spread the same view. However it may have been made as a clever of witty side remark with no offense intended, how is that not taken as offensive?
Now, I am definitely not one for censorship in music, hell no, I would have never been able to put out an album if that was the case...but I think even witty clever people know when certain things are just not to be played with. A friend who had help promote a show in Johannesburg 2 years ago emailed me distraught, saying she was really sad that they would say something like this and they lost a great deal of fans in the process. Apparently they don't understand the fact that since mostly white young teenagers are in attendance at their concerts now, they are viewed as intelligent black men to black fans all over the world and a comment like that is a blow to their most loyal listeners.
My friends, I implore you to understand. Africa is not just the place of original beauty and creation. It is the place of the future. Companies are realizing it now. Heavy campaigning, sponsoring and investing from big budget companies such as Levis, Red Bull, Diesel, and even companies such as ADT Home security are diving into this previously untapped yet so obvious market of Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban, all major cities South Africa. Interesting to wonder who this really helps though. It's not as if any kids from the townships are going to be given jobs at Levi's and be coming home with a check any time soon. Yes, there are seriously fucked ways in the government and economic system of South Africa. What makes it even more unbelievable is the fact that this is the place where your diamonds, gold and platinum and wine come from. Such a rich country, with such an oppressed and battered mentality that is going to take years of "unlearning" (thanks Shaheen) and some serious education and healing until its people realize and are able to utilize all of its resources to their full potential. Black Americans are still talking about reparations and the effect of slavery on our society, culture and behavior. Just imagine what it is to just have come out of that in the last decade. It is mindblowing in this day and age with so many liberties that we take for granted.
Now referred to as "The Mother City", Cape Town is quickly becoming an investors and tourists dream. The World Cup travelers flood the streets, along with the masses other foreign backpackers and tourists that mingle with the Cape Townians, sounds and incredible scenery. The backdrop of Table Mountain that you can see from everywhere, the clouds nicknamed the "tablecloth" that seem to drip down the massive rock, the surrounding beachfront neighborhoods of places like Fishoek, Kalk Bay, Muizenberg, SeaPoint and the ultra ritzy, ultra WHITE Camps Bay, to name a few. The incredibly diverse spectrum of color in the population of various African nations, Indian, Chinese, Cape Coloured, Malay, White and gosh... much more. The food reflecting every bit as colorful as the people (and might I add the best damned tasting food in the world, I had to switch to being almost vegetarian while here so I wouldn't get huge)..to the music, from Hip Hop to Jazz, to Kwaito(you need to hear some of this..its crazy hot) to the rhythms of the minstrels in the Carnival on New Years, can't escape drifting into your ears somehow. I wish American artists knew how much they were loved and danced to.
I wish they knew how much these kids, incredibly talented in their own right, would love to have them perform here. But nobody comes. Well sure, maybe an AIDS benefit concert can bring Alicia Keys. Great. What about the kids who can't afford that kind of ticket? What about the incredible amount of hip hop heads like their hip hop Def Juxed instead of Ja Ruled?? What about the hip hop dedicated kids who live in Lavender Hill, Khyalitsha, or Mitchells Plain (America doesn't KNOW what the ghetto is) who have no transportation to get out to these events? The ill workshops that young people have set up to learn how to write to be better emcees and dj's and become more aware of the quickly corrupted politics of the South African government and the ever changing socio-political climate are far more advanced than the American view of hip hop as a way to teach and learn. It's wonderful to hear things that haven't been Americanized and hold the story of the people and their own tradition and culture - - but more on that next time.
To put it bluntly, its fucked up. Oh yes, South Africa - land of the AIDS epidemic - and that’s it, right?. It makes me sick that these random big artists will come out here for something like that and experience nothing of the real South Africa. There' s so much talent here, from Kwaito acts like Mzambiye, to rap groups like Godessa and we aren't seeing the opportunity to give them an opportunity to reach a wider audience. I wish I had money. Any money. I would do so much here. I would try and change the revenue so that they didn't get release three months after we do. So people would know and understand the importance of coming out here. The fact that the young kids are so intelligent about using computer programs that its almost scary, is a preview of what the next generation is going to be like.
I know I'm ranting on, but it can't be helped. I'm trying to cram all of this into your reading but I can't. I'm feeling bad because I've left so much out. So do me a favor. When you have some spare time online, go to a search engine and type in Cape Town, or JoBurg, or damnit, any city or country in Africa.. If you don't know any, go find a map online. Read about languages like Afrikaans and Xhosa, and imagine seeing commercials on television that have beautiful dark skinned black women in them selling products we use all the time in America but are never used to advertise...
Please. It's important, it’s happening right now and you've already missed a ton. I wish I could say more right now, but I'll be back. By the way. Your brothers and sisters said they miss you. Come home and visit.
This winter vacation I went home to South Africa to visit my family. I was born there, but my parents went into exile when I was little. There were lots of Mercedes Benz', dollar vans and braii's(bbq's). My cousin is a really talented young producer who gave me some new software to take home. We didn't bring a lot of clothes cause it's summertime and we wanted to get tan .Especially at the pool in our apartment complex. My mom wasn't used to walking around without living in constant threat of terrorist attacks, but she got used to it. I liked the clubs and all the pretty scenic drives we went on. They were fun! A lot of times my family made fun of me for not speaking 2 languages because I am a New Yorker. I had fun, but I am sad to be home now because I miss my cell phone and internet cafe and full refrigerator.

28 January 2006

Back to square 287.

I haven’t had too much time or inspiration to write here for a while. That while has been exactly the time I have been back from South Africa. I have been busy organising my, yet again, new beginning in Birmingham, UK. Now the flights are booked and generally I have everything that I need to go. Besides everything I need, I also have a new camera which is such a nice one that I am exited about it. This Wednesday 1st of February 2006 will be the time for a change. I have also fixed myself a room which is on a very central location in the second city of UK that one cannot really complain.

It is good to return back to the studies that were interrupted one year ago. I have had a good year filled with many learning experiences including cancer and a community radio. Community radio was a positive experience in every way and cancer merely a learning experience only, but the last check ups prove again that I shall live on.

My train of thought has been wandering on its own rails for a few weeks and I have been thinking about how motivated I am still to move around constantly without ever really making a home anywhere. I suppose I will reconsider these things after my graduation which is still over a year away and I have no idea what that year will be consisted of. I don’t think I would never stop travelling but maybe wished to have a place where I could put my books and records on the bookshelves and give someone a home address where I actually live. Maybe this is just a phase that passes.

For my friends in Birmingham, I will see you soon, for my friends and family in Finland, I hope I get to see you before I go and for my friends globally, I shall see you at some point. Peace.

13 January 2006

Farewell to Cape Town

My departure seems more inevitable than ever. Few more days and I change the southern summer into the northern winter. I must say that Cape Town has treated me well and I am happy about my experiences. I have met wonderful people and learned so much. Work has been fun and station by far the most fascinating I have ever worked for.

I would like thank Sofia and Shedrick, Amkelwa, Shaqir and his family and friends, Zane and the whole Bush Radio crew and all the others who I have met and who have taught me more about this beautiful yet still a bit troubled country.

I am very interested in South African history and politics and I have had great time learning and hearing more about it, regardless of the fact that it is so depressing. We must remember these things so that they cannot happen again. Ever Again.

I am sure that I will return to Cape Town at some point.
Next week I will be in Helsinki, Finland and stay there for ten days before moving back to Birmingham, UK to start over again. I am excited about going back to university so that should be grand. I will keep this space posted as always.

I am also happy about the fact that Welfare State of Mind radio show will continue. I am starting a pilot project with Bush Radio producing my show from overseas (UK) and it is still on every Saturday afternoon.

3 January 2006

Best of 05

It is a bit of a cliché to have these different year ending lists but as this is the first end of the year as I have my own blog I thought why not.

Best album 2005

I am not even sure if this was released last year but This Week by Jean Grae blew me away. There are few songs that I like in particular such as Watch Me and PS but the standard is altogether so high, that I cannot say anything negative about it. If the record industry was not so corrupt she would outsell all these lilkims and fiftycents any day.

Some other albums that have had an impact on me last year are Rotton Club by Blak Twang, Arular by M.I.A., Home Sweet Home by Kano, Rebirth of the Nation by Public Enemy (which is not officially even released yet) and Du & Jag Döden by Kent. I suppose there would be many others as well but these were the main ones.

Best book 2005

If I was not sure about the release year of my favourite record last year I can safely say that the book, that had the greatest impact on me, was written long before last year. It was Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi’s Autobiography. The story is rather remarkable and it covers so many important historical events described by one of the most important historical figures, who never admits being so important. I wish I could be as humble and determined as he was. I am not saying that I want to be like he was or even follow all his values but I hope that I could stand up as proudly as he did.

Other high rankers are Still Grazing, an autobiography of Hugh Masakela and I must say that Beyond the Engeli Mountains, biography of Oliver Tambo, which I am reading at the moment, will rank high on 2006 list. Unfortunately 2005 was not so good book year for me as I was sick most of the time and was not really able to concentrate properly. I must also mention Da Vinci Code which I thought lived up to its hype. I generally do not read much fiction but it was very entertaining summer read.

Best film 2005

I have seen some good films this year but I think the one that had an impact on me was French Moroccan Le Grand Voyage. Film is about a Moslem father who is getting old and wants to fill his duty of pilgrimage to Mecca before he passes away. He orders his youngest son to be the driver all the way from France, as does not want to fly. It is a road film where views are magnificent although some of them are very grey. Story is all about the relationship between father and son and not to say that women could not enjoy this one, I think they might walk out of cinema with different experience. I have often been touched by films as a human being but this film touched me as a man and that was the first time that it happened.

During the year I also enjoyed Sophie Scholl, a German film about second world war student resistance movement. That actually could have been picked as number one as well. South African township film Tsotsi, which I have written about before was fantastic. Hotel Rwanda was great just like Senegalese Mooladé and Whisky from Uruguay, a funniest film ever without anyone smiling.

These are my picks for 2005. Obviously there has been more experiences in my year than films, books and music, but I shall not go into them here. So that much about that. I hope this year will bring at least as good material as I have mentioned here