29 March 2006

Radio Show

Welfare State Of Mind Radio Show every Saturday on Bush Radio. International Hip Hop and Rap from South Africa to Scandinavia and New Zealand to the Americas.
Just a quick reminder that South Africa does not change its clocks so the show airs on Saturdays 1 pm GMT. Listen to the show online at Bush Radio website and check the playlists at the web blog of the show.

27 March 2006

Few Films, Few TV Shows and Receiving Radio Waves

Not too long ago I wrote how I was left impressed by Nick Broomfield documentary, The Leader, The Driver and Driver’s Wife. Film was done in 1991 and it is about Eugene Terre’blance, a white supremacist leader in South Africa and his followers. I also mentioned that Broomfield had gone back and last year a follow-up documentary, His Big White Self, was released. I just saw that film.

Firstly I must mention that I like Broomfield’s determined research style. People like Michael Moore definitely has learned a few tricks from him but unfortunately they cannot quite reach the level of Broomfield who is not trying to add any emotional sections in his work. He knows that he does not have to.

And the subject matter itself. A lot has change in South Africa since 1991 and the same time not that much in the mindset of certain groups. They may tolerate the previously unprivileged groups of society but quite frankly, and call me a cynic, they do not like them or feel that they were equal. It is quite sad. People still seem to think that they deserve a diploma for getting rid of the system that was inherently disgusting and when actually not getting rid of that for all those years, or having it at the first place, deserved them a big slap in the face.

In photograph different sides of urban South Africa

I also went to see the Tsotsi again. It still was a good film and to experience it, and those magnetic Kwaito beats in Birmingham, where people could not sing along to Mdlwembe (hard to believe isn’t it), was definitely something that I was after. Last time when I saw it I was the one in the audience who knew least about the subject and now… well I am confident that I was closer to the other end.

I suppose it is a sign of the times that the applications and demo tapes for the new presenter for T4 on Channel 4 can be send as a text message. My mobile phone does not have a video application which is just fine as this is not a job that I am after but the process definitely caused a lot of excitement in the media department of our university. Quite interesting in a way as the professional equipment would be readily available for free to all of us and two floors full of people who could technically help you to produce a decent show-reel but only when a mobile phone video clip is asked, everyone thinks that the job is accessible to us. The trouble, it appeared to me, was that much like the text messages and emails are written without much consideration for detail or style and with poor standard of language, many people did not put a lot of thought in the clip, that should be evidence of their skills to be in the national television. Press record, say something, send the clip and then wait for the stardom. That is what it is all about now.

The most interesting TV programme in the UK recently has been the Games. It is a kind of celebrity reality TV competition (I know it sounds awful but read on). This show is not about who can sit on their behinds in a luxury house, smoking cigarettes and trying to get along with freakish people for several weeks but it is about real sports and for once you can relate to the athletes because they have not spent whole of their lives practising but are quite clearly challenged by the events. I like the format and for once I even recognised some “celebrities” in British celebrity reality TV show. Good thing also is that this might just be the only sporting event in the television where athletes are not completely pumped up with doping and other illegal substances. At least not with the ones that would improve their performance.

Lastly, and I know this may make me look like a technical geek, which I may or may not be, but on the Eritrean hillside, there is a place which is supposedly the best in the world to both send and receive radio waves. I do not know much about the waves or how they work but apparently due to the altitude, the quietness of the surroundings, location near the equator which makes days almost as long around the whole year and areas electromagnetic uniqueness one can tune into the stations from as far as France, Germany and Saudi Arabia and Eritrean AM stations have been picked up in Australia, Brazil and even back home in Finland. Practically the biggest implication of this strange occurrence of nature has been the American spy centre, which ended up not only playing a part in the second world war, gathering information about German defence lines and helping out planning the Normandy landings, but unfortunately also in the power relations in the African horn region which contributed into a lot of misery in Eritrea and Somalia and although Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia was part of these dealings, surely his country could have been better off in a long run without the “helping hand of the west” during the cold war.

Putting the history and politics aside, somehow I find the idea of listening to different stations from different places on a hillside very romantic. My good friend said that he is quite happy listening these radios from the internet but that is not the same thing. Maybe I am a pervert but I definitely know some other people who would most likely feel the same way. Sometimes the nature offers us such a treats. This place goes onto my long list of places to go, and although unfortunately I may not be able to go through that list on my lifetime, I shall see what I can do.

23 March 2006

Me, Conan O'Brien and MP Galloway.

It seems obvious that electronic gadgets work no more than two years these days. That is if you are really lucky. My computer never worked quite like it was supposed to and its pseudo-warranty was, although very “effective” in theory, merely an insult to injury in practice. It has been working so and so lately but today, just when I am trying to save the final version of a design work it tells me that it will not do it. Great. I will see what I can do but hopefully I can come up with something else than start again before the Friday’s deadline. I have had it for two years and couple of months so I suppose it was about time.

I am sure that I can sort it out.

My sister was here last weekend and we had nice time. Some St Patrick’s celebration and trying to understand the idea behind the funny hats that Irish are so fond of. Those big ones, that are shaped like Guinness pints and things like that. Peculiar things those are but in some way funny. Not “funny and I would wear them in public” –funny, but funny.

She also brought me a tape of Conan O’Brien’s Finland episode
which I was writing about last time. It was quite funny I must admit. I am not sure why anyone else would find it funny and I am not completely sure if I want other people to find it funny. What I mean is that if you see only this programme and do not know anything else then it just seems strange in a way but when you know how it is, it becomes funny because it is so true.

In UK, MP George Galloway, who has had his fair share of media exposure after being in the celebrity Big Brother, was yesterday in the Channel 4’s Last Word programme. Besides other things he was commenting the Eurovision song contest. Why he was asked to do that was beyond my understanding but he said that it is evident that British and American music is superior to
the rest because when he is driving in Europe (here they don’t think that Britain is part of Europe), he hears mainly British or American music in the radio. I do not know much what he stands for politically but this in depth analysis of the global power structures of music industry and corporate decision making which, at least to me, resembles cultural imperialism on an almost global scale, failed to impress me. What an arrogant and ignorant muppet. Surely we also speak English as well because it is superior language and not because England tried to take over as much of the world as they possibly could and then use it in their advantage and to a large extend succeeded in it.

Either this is a strange country or then I am a strange person who just does not understand. Maybe both.

What we lose because Music Industry is Industry and not a Culture

For a while I have found the urban section of a mainstream record shop to be mainly insultingly poor with its options. Surely there are many CDs and they are mostly different records from different artist but alarmingly they are by the same few producers and most of all by the same record companies. That by itself is one of the least surprising things as the big four companies, Universal, Sony BMG, Warner Music and EMI control around ninety per cent of all the music that is being commercially consumed globally. That means that less and less people control what is being released, promoted, played in radio internationally and in effect what is being bought globally. And trust me the motivation is not spreading any cultural values but to make money. Every single commercial sector in the world tries to make money so why not music industry? I just wish that they would never ever mention the word culture because that has got nothing to do with what they are up to.

I am awfully intrigued by the Hip Hop as a global movement. I find it interesting to see a musical concept taken into the different cultures and then produced through all the local influences. I do my radio show with this idea in mind and I wish that the big radio corporations would understand the power of it. It would be awfully ignorant to think that American rap is being played in urban radio in Nairobi or in Stockholm because it was any better than the local one.

In the record shop I realised that besides very few British artist there were only American rap on the urban shelves. I continued to the “world music” department. I find the whole idea funny as it is all the rest of the music that we cannot pigeonhole with any other term, because it is not from our part of the world. So I can find a record of African club house and Peruvian pan-flute right next to each others. From this section I find the only international Hip Hop album in this shop that has thousands of CDs in three different floors. It is the Ceasefire by Emmanuel Jal and Abdel Gadir Salim. I already have that record and I must say it is one of the best in a long time. These two men are from Sudan and the music is very organic. It actually is organic enough to be on the world music department which is definitely its benefit because if it was not, it definitely would not be on the urban section either.

This leads me to a conclusion that if one wants to promote international music it is easier to do through the concept of world music. As I said, the term itself does not really mean anything concrete but it does appeal to the group of red wine-rebels and students of philosophy in the "western" world. Unfortunately very few Hip Hop fans will ever find Emmanuel Jal.
It gives me a feeling that actually in the global sense, this music can only have a novelty value at its best. Music is always a value judgement but how can we know if we like something if we do not get to hear it. It is only a loss in our cultural diversity and understanding. Surely the industry is not losing anything in this one. They just like to talk about losing everything. For their convenience they often work under the same corporations, as the ones who decide what is being talked about in the media.

14 March 2006

Few quick points off of my head

It is freezing cold in England. Not freezing like it is back home but cold enough. I reckon this is mainly because the buildings were built when the whole concept of insulation was not even invented. So the trouble is cold inside. No doubt the energy consumption will not decrease anytime soon if the wind does not even slow down on the windows. Enough of the weather chat.

I went to Manchester last weekend. I have been there once before but only for an afternoon, so this was a first proper visit and even this was very short one. City looks much more vibrant than Birmingham although it is slightly smaller. Maybe it is far enough from London. I do not know but it certainly seemed to have much better infrastructure and many new buildings seemed to be rising all the time. Those were just for normal flats, unlike in Birmingham where the few new buildings seem to be luxury apartments. I do not know why, but all in all Manchester seemed to have more business than Birmingham. I may be wrong but I had a nice weekend.

New African magazine has been my favourite read for some years now. While reading the February issue it struck me that an American lady had sent a letter to the editor saying that the magazine should give more positive image of her country in its articles. In the latest issue (New African March 2006) they have published a three page response to her saying practically that their articles are based on facts and that she should shut up (not with those words) as although Africans are posed as sub-humans by “western” media and even if it is completely based on prejudice they cannot really do anything to stop that as press is always, at least supposedly, free. So she should respect the African media in the same way. I wholeheartedly agree and although she probably just made a mistake and did not mean to make a big deal out of her letter, I hope she learned not to make this mistake again. I just love this magazine.

Last week I was talking about the music I have been listening lately. It was mainly Hip Hop and that kinds of things but I must admit the EP by Swedish guitar band Kent is fantastic and I have been listening to it for a few days now. They are one of my all time favourites anyway so nothing new on that front but this needed to be said.

American talk show host Conan O’Brien has been having his Finland jokes on now for a while and he even ended up going to the location earlier this year and as far as I understood this trip was a bit of a media event. The one hour Finland special aired last Friday in the United States and will be on in Finland this Wednesday (watch the clip from NBC website). I am sure that enough people will be watching as the first, and often the only question, we are interested in, is what do they think of us. It is nothing short of a national obsession but quite frankly I can understand it as I had lived some years abroad now and noticed that hardly anyone knows anything about my country. That may have a fair bit to do with the fact tat British people do not have the best general knowledge but it has been the same story wherever I have been. I am just from one of those countries. No news may be good news but I want to see this episode and I have asked to get that taped so I can see it later. I am so Finnish sometimes but I want to know what they think of us.

Lastly I must mention that I am looking forward to the weekends St Patrick’s Day. That is such a fun night out. In my neighbourhood it seems to be more like a St Patrick’s week though. The funny thing is that when I lived in Ireland I never even got to celebrate this but here in England I would not want to miss it. Maybe I share the same frustration for this place or then I just enjoy having few drinks with the ones from the right side of the Irish Sea, sing their drinking songs and try to avoid the fights.

10 March 2006

The Road to Guantanamo

I am very glad that Channel 4 in Britain has found the business opportunity in showing documentaries that are asking tough questions and telling harsh stories of the sign of our times. Where many media organisations concentrate on not rocking the boat, Channel 4 and its sub channels give a voice and quite a big audience to the documentary makers and topics, that has not been shown traditionally in such a media.

I just finished watching the documentary The Road to Guantanamo by Michael Winterbottom, telling a story of the three British Pakistani boys who ended up in the most infamous detention centre in the world. The fact that they were truly in the wrong place at the very wrong time does not really even start to justify the treatment that they received from the American military forces or their British co-operators. In Guantanamo Bay, with the approval of George W Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, torture has been renamed and it has become a justified method to get to get a confession. Where it may seem obvious to anyone with a one fifth of a brain, that tortured people will say anything to stop their agony, the news has not seemed to reach the US administration.

All the stories, regardless of how factual they are, are told by people. Individuals who look at things from their own angle and these days it is quite media sexy to make Americans look bad. Partly, I suppose because they have ignored the international community and gone against the will of millions, but also because it is so easy. I could not say if this story was hundred percent accurate but even if it was only one tenth true, the image of the prison and the moral of United States, its officials, soldiers and British officials is rather grim. One wonders how we can be at this point when human race should be so highly developed.

If there is such a thing as karma, I would not like to represent the mother of all coalitions. I would not like to be part of them even if karma does not exist. In the end, one of the three boys says, that his life has changed completely and that the world looks very like a bad place. I am not him but it does really, doesn’t it.

image from the Channel 4 website

Documentary as such was quite good. It was done with re-enactments, interviews of the boys in question and news footage. Somehow re-enactment sounds always quite bad to me but these where done well and they went nicely with rest of the material. I was not sure about few clips in the middle which took us back to the life of these boys before all these things happened. I felt that it was slightly unnecessary emotional propaganda, which was not needed because the case was strong enough as it was. But straight after More4’s Nick Broomfield week, Channel 4 continues its great work with documentaries that can grab the attention of people, who would not necessarily watch the more traditional ones.
The documentary can be downloaded from Channel 4 website for fee.

8 March 2006

New and exiting music

I realised I haven’t been writing about the music in a while but now there is no more holding back. Many great albums have either been released recently, or I have just found them lately. British urban music is well represented and one can only ask why the local urban radio is not supporting more of its own talent. I am not saying payola… I am just insinuating that there is some stuff happening between corporate music industry and corporate radio that may or or may not be right.

But the first quarter of 2006 starts to be in its end and I must say that there are some masterpieces out there waiting for you to find them. Or at least me, but then again I found them already.

C-Mone is not a new artist as such but she as just released her first solo album The Butterfly Effect and quite frankly I had never heard of her before. But she is an exiting artist. We are living early March and I feel confident that this one might be on my list in the end of the year. It is hard at times, it is deep most of the time, poetic and generally the lyrics are just spot on. I have not been so exited about many albums this much lately.

Okay I lied. I have been that exited about few other records. Sway is the biggest rap name in UK at the moment. His This Is My Demo and the mixtapes before that are great. It would be impossible to say if he is very funny or very serious, supposedly both depending on the track, but in short, he does what Eminem tries but a thousand times better.

Skinnyman’s album Council Estate of Mind has been released few years ago but I only got it now. This whole article starts getting really boring as I am just praising everything but the truth to be told, it is not very easy to get on this list. I am not saying it is a big deal but I suppose it is the fact that most music out there make me sick to my stomach at the moment so the ones that move me, move me big style… you get the point. Council Estate of Mind is one of those records.

I only recently got Public Enemy’s New Whirl Odor and it is a solid album. The beats are the quality that one would expect from the legends and lyrically album is sharp. It is not as sharp as some of the classics such as It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back but once again, much sharper than anything else out there at the moment. I like this but then again I am a fan so of course I would. The latest album, Paris produced, Rebirth of a Nation is good as well. I got the actual copy this week as soon as it was released, but I am afraid that I have had this album on MP3s since last June or July when it leaked online.

Besides C-Mone, the hardest hitting album for me in recent weeks has been Ceasefire by Emmanuel Jal and Abdel Gadir Salim. This is collaboration between north and south of Sudan which have been in conflict for long enough. Hence the name of the album. This record is fantastic organic rap with a lot of local traditional music influences.

As I am making the Welfare State of Mind show for Bush Radio every week, I have been listening to lot of African rap. That sort of comes with the whole deal which is beautiful thing as the music generally is good, but as I am writing this, I am actually listening to Zola’s Ibutho and besides the language barrier I wonder whether Kwaito could ever become mainstream outside of Southern Africa. I like it quite a lot. It is so rhythmic and the fact that it is in local languages makes it only better. Maybe the recent triumphant success of the film Tsotsi can do that if anything. I think to myself that something beautiful might disappear if everyone starts liking it. I doubt they will.

So these records touch me at the moment. Every now and then new album that I fall in love with is released or I find some older album that I slept on, but I must say that I do not remember when I would have been so exited with so much music. There is indeed plenty of hope left. You just have to find it as it is well hidden .

7 March 2006

Ghetto Scandalous

I would lie if I claimed to be awfully impressed by the Oscars, as I often do not agree with the results. I am not sure if Tsotsi was the best non-English speaking film of the last year, as there were some fantastic films released, but it is truly a great film. Much better than any English speaking film during the year actually. I am sincerely happy for this great achievement.

See the film but most of all support the soundtrack and support Kwaito. That is a proudly South African product where the profits go to the townships. This is a great thing for African cinema and urban music.
Read my experiences from the South African premier night.
Zola in the Oscars. He played the support role in Tsotsi and did most of the music on the soundtrack.
Photo from the Zola 7 website.

6 March 2006

Finally the other side of the story - The Leader, The Driver and Driver’s Wife

I have not been glued to TV for a long time like I was last Saturday watching the Nick Broomfield documentary “The Leader, The Driver and Driver’s Wife” (1991) on More4 in UK. The documentary is about Eugene Terre'Blanche, the leader of AWB (Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging), a South African white supremacy movement. This film is what I have been calling for. For once the other side of the country is uncovered. It is mainly a story about Terre'Blanche’s weirdness but it also shows, how the mindset is within the white population of South Africa. Not all of them think like this, but more people that we would dare to guess. And they are a large part of the South African problem. They are the most eager to see the country to fail. They are racist but racist are always the best spokespeople for anti-racism as they are contradicting themsleves. After decades of subconscious media brainwashing about South Africa and “western tolerance” it was refreshing to see something else.

Of course if all the white South Africans were like this, there could not be an ANC government. AWB is an extremist movement but it exist. It is a movement that was disgusted with the “open-minded” policies of Nationalist Party which created the infamous apartheid. But if we ignore their logo and flag that resemble the Nazi-ones and their uniform and over-the –top parades and meetings, many of the views and opinions that were filmed, reminded me of the
comments I have heard by everyday Afrikaners. Everyone makes their own conclusion but I believe that this kind of thinking was not limited with few lunatics and extremist.

The footage you see is something that without seeing you would not believe. In my overflowing cynicism I am far too naïve to believe that such a prejudice and organised silliness could take place if I did not see it.

I will see if I can get this documentary to South Africa to show to all my friends. They deserve to see what has been going on in the minds of their fellow countrymen. What still is. While being sickened by the content, I am so happy that this is documented and we all should see this. We all should know about it and most of all we should never forget it, because it might just happen again.

Eugene Terre'Blanche speaking in an AWB meeting with the flag of the movement on the background. Nick Broomfield returned to make another documentary on him which has just been released.
Photo from BBC website.

What I learned last week

Most of the times you can learn things without particularly trying to. Sometimes they make you happy, sometimes they anger you but hopefully they will not depress you. Most often they are just small things which may interest you. These are some facts I have learned during this week.

In Britain women earn 87 p for every Pound a man earns. This has many reasons first being that women end up in the jobs that pay less, which is something that needs to change. Second reason is that women are just paid less than men even doing the same jobs. It goes without saying that this is wrong. Estimation is that the country loses £23 billion (€33,5 billion) every year as a wasted talent.

When Americans sang We are the world in the eighties to raise funds for Africa, they may have meant that the world is actually consisted of them alone. British people would not agree with this. They feel that they are part of the world as well but rest… who cares. My American lecturer on Music Industries course, which completely ignores anything that is not from these two countries said to a whole lecture theatre, that “I am sure that no person here talks Spanish..”. I have to admit that I was slightly shocked. I cannot speak Spanish but surely you should not be able to assume that there is no person amongst 30 to 40 who have the skills. Sad part of the story is that she was probably right so I do not know whether the comment was more or less messed up than the situation.

More about that course. We try to understand how the music industries work and to me it has become clear that “we” do not want to waste our time with anything that is not either British or American. One could say that it is rather arrogant to see German, French, Scandinavian, Brazilian or Japanese or any music to have nothing but a novelty value but no real economical potential. If there is 50 million people living in France would it not be great to be star there? It would definitely pay your rent. How about Germany? 80 million people there and then you have Austria and Switzerland and a huge potential in eastern Europe where German is often spoken as a second language. How could that only be a novelty value? Why is the definition of selling records, to sell records in English speaking countries? In my life I have noticed that even concentrating to the dominant, does not mean, that ignoring the other sides of the story would be a wise practise.

I also learned that 24 000 Iraqis have died since the war ended. If that many people die in the circumstances which quite clearly looks like a war then why do we not call it a war? I would at least call it one and even then falling into semantics when people die like flies is cruel and un-necessary. If you do not believe me go and make a poll in Darfur.

Economist magazine, which by the way is not nearly as uptight as it sounds, writes that South African government has failed to deliver. It is not very brave statement without looking at the circumstances, that in short, goes as follows. Although having the democratic equality South Africa is far away from the economical, educational or even social equality. Twelve years is just not enough for that miracle. We all would like to see it but I am sure we all would like to see it rain in Kenya as well. Very small minority, even within the white minority that generally controls the wealth in the country, controls the largest companies which keep the economy stable. They are not going to give anything away to previously unprivileged majority. I could not tell if this is because they do not care but at least they do not care quite enough. If the government decides to take this property away by laws or by force these few families leave the country faster than Tony Blair would condemn Robert Mugabe. Then country would not have much left. White people who own things in South Africa feel that they have earned it and that they are entitled to have the farm that was stolen from a black farmer a hundred of years ago. They see no trouble there. That is how very often were raised. And that right there is a main problem in my eyes. If you were raised up looking down on group of people, twelve years will not change that.

When I talk about white people I wish everyone understands that I talk about culture and way of upbringing and not any genetic evil.

The only way forward to South Africa is to create a middle class and start campaign to educate people more equally. I am not specialist in the matter and most things I write here have been told to me be South Africans themselves but I can safely say that Economist, just like most of the "western" media, fail to find the core problem, while they are pointing their fingers at the things that are easy to condemn. After I have been shown a country that raised from one of the most oppressive legislations to all smiles and happiness in twelve years then we can start, not necessarily criticising, but at least analysing what could have been done better. Of course the government has not been as effective as it could havebeen, and the country needs only the best at this stage, but what would be better than them. Nothing but them working slightly better and getting rid of the corruption and the obvious things. I think South African government could get a bit more support from the opposition and the “west” and our media and little less bashing.

When it comes to African situation I also learned whole lot about the coup that took place in Ghana forty years ago. The Father of Pan-Africanism Kwame Nkrumah had been the president of country, that had gained its independence in 1957 from the Colonial rule of the usual suspect Great Britain, had to leave the most promising nation on the continent so that the western powers could return it back to the stone age. In nine years of independence Ghana had become the example of how Africa can improve its conditions and unite much like Europe now but even to an further extend. United States was not too fond of this idea so under the acceptance of Lyndon B Johnson and in co-operation with British and some rather small local groups they organised a coup while Nkrumah was participating in the peace talks in Vietnam. Johnson had himself promised to stop the bombings so that Nkrumah can safely land in his plane mainly to confirm that he leaves the country and is far enough so that he cannot get back in time. Sounds sick? I think it does. Is it not sad that the “west” always is the first one to say that Africa is filled with corruption when they have learned from the best? Actually when one thinks, if Africa did not have an element of corruption it would be a major miracle considering the history of colonialism, slave trade and the way the media has told that it is what they do. I am not justifying it but I can definitely see its roots.

In the name of common sense (RIP) I must also disagree with the British media attacking Tony Blair for making his decisions on war or in general by following his Christian beliefs. Firstly the show, Parkinson, where these comments were made, is not current affairs but human interest. He did not really say that “God sent me to war” as even BBC leads us to believe but he said that he has struggled a lot with what is right and what is wrong. I do not like him much but there is so many things he has done wrong, in my opinion at least, that why would we even want to crucify him for something that has no factual support.

Looking back what I have written, there are mainly the same things that I have been writing for a long time. Gender equality, poor state of the music industry and “western” governments and media undermining Africa. But these are things that I have been learning and thinking this week. It is rather likely that these are the things I think about next week as well. Next week I try to write about something else though.