25 April 2008

Barking at Dogs

I can’t believe I am thinking about dogs. It’s unbelievable because in my life I haven’t spent too much time to think about the animals in general, but now, I am thinking about dogs in specific. Dogs in South Africa are very different to the ones I grew to know (or I suppose not to know too well) in Finland. These dogs here aren’t cute by anyone’s standard and as they keep me up barking in the middle of the night, I doubt that many people nearby here consider them friends, not to even mention the very best friend.

See, in South Africa dogs serve a purpose. I could say their purpose is to kill and sound really over the top, but I don’t think in reality that is too far from the truth. If I may be a bit more precise then let me rephrase and say that their purpose is to, if not keep away, then seriously wound anyone who is not welcome to the owner’s yard.

Well, say what you say, but dogs aren’t that intelligent that unlike those people at the airport customs they could pretend that there is some kind of randomness in their harassment. Dogs just bark at anything at any time of the day and their owners don’t look too bothered. I suppose the way they see it they have as much reason to be bothered as someone who bought a car that works; their “pets” are doing exactly what they are supposed to. If you are close enough to have a problem from aggressive barking and general threatening attitude of these beasts (even if it’d be behind a fence) then it really is your problem, not the owners one.

I don’t know if all of this qualifies as enough to make any kind of conclusions about anything, but I suppose the thing that is in my mind is that certain problems, like crime for instance, are twofold: first one is obvious, someone steals your belongings or hurts you, and the other, the people who try to counter it by taking liberties and stopping to think about anything else but themselves and their survival. Whether that is the case or not, I must say on the record that as someone who never liked dogs much, I really don’t like them right now and I am increasingly suspicious about their owners as well.

10 April 2008

The End of an Era

I remember back in 2003 I did few radio shows with a friend of mine for the university station. We called our show Welfare Society. It was my idea; my mate thought it was a stupid name, but I insisted. Later on that year, after a verbal warning (for playing music in language other than English; apparentely we should have applied for a special permission) had ended our initiative at the university station another friend suggested that I should call another project Welfare State or even better, Welfare State of Mind. I liked that. It has got musical references and I felt that it explains my approach (which later on proved to be just wishful thinking as I guess not that many got it).
I started this web blog with the same name in 2005 while I was in a hospital drip. My first ever post was talking about the situation in Zimbabwe partly with my own anecdotes and just in general. I guess it’d be pretty current post for now as well as the great country of Zimbabwe is sorting out its politics. Really the point of the blog was an experiment. I wanted to learn how blogging works and what it can achieve, what is RSS technology (at the time it was rather new), and what gets your site some visitors (I guess I never worked that out tremendously well, but I think I still got the idea at least in theory). Of course it’s been beyond an experiment. Blog without posts is like radio with no sound. So this space become a platform for me to let the steam out and just offer my self-righteous and obnoxious opinions for everyone to give a toss about – and why not, isn’t that what the blogs are for. I suppose it’s (just about) better than to do it in a taxi queue after a night out.
Some time after the opening of blog, still in 2005, I arrived to Cape Town. I started my internship at Bush Radio where they were expecting a female and I was expecting to produce radio drama. Neither party got what they expected, but on top of training people to edit sound, I ended up doing a radio show; I certainly wasn’t expecting that, but hey, I like doing radio so I was very flattered. Being in a country like South Africa and being offered a large audience, few hours a week and creative control over the content and the music is a great opportunity.
The first thing that was obvious was that I can’t just do a show about Kwaito, local jazz or any other musical genre that my audience could have done better than me. That me being an outsider and a foreigner I must do something that adds value to the output of the station and is useful for the community in one way or the other. I had been interested in Hip Hop since I was a kid and in 1998 my perspective to it started changing. That’s when I bought few records that changed things: Min Sjätte Sinne by Petter and Vägen Tillbaka by Ken, two Swedish records that were and still are great (regardless of the more recent material from the former, which is a bit too so so for my liking). I realised that American Hip Hop isn’t all there is and those records sounded so Swedish that it just made me wonder how other cultures and countries communicate their lives through the medium of Hip Hop. So yeah, from that on I was on that tip and that was the tip I decided my radio show at Bush would be. I tried few other things with community based interviews and I had few of them. The whole thing was just trying to come together at that point and eventually I dropped the idea of talking about anything else but music and to be just unashamedly a music specialist show with music and interviews and talk around it.
It worked nicely, I thought, and I felt that I could find interesting tracks and in the process of producing this show I found so much exiting music from places I never dreamed about finding music from. Not that I thought that they don’t have it, just that I thought that it wouldn’t be available. Countries like Lebanon, Chile (they have a very strong scene) and Bulgaria. On top of those from over 70 other countries. I interviewed some interesting people and met online many more. I made many very talented friends through the show and it was the best hobby I've ever had. I felt that the show had cool playlist every week and that the music was relevant and catchy. I was also pretty happy about the sound imaging of the programme. I was also particularly proud of the fact that out of my initiative the programme became pilot project for the station as I took its production overseas and we broadcasted it with some help from the internet technology every week for 2 and half years.
Well, maybe you noticed that I am talking about all of these things in a past tense (maybe you read my previous post in which I hinted about this) and indeed it is true that I decided to quit doing the show. So thanks for everyone who helped me out, sent tracks and came to the interviews, to everyone who listened even once and everyone who gave feedback. It all is so much appreciated.
Now it’s time to do other things and I am hoping to write more about my initiative which is more business like than the ones mentioned before. Well, I say more, but what I mean is that it’s purely a business venture and I am very exited about that, but at the moment I am not getting into the details (so you don’t steal them, ey), but the idea is keeping me and my wife very busy and it is very much audio based.
So, the end of an era is a beginning for a new one.

Welfare State of Mind Radio Show on Bush Radio 2005 -2008 : snapshots from the way.

4 April 2008

Being stuck and all that

I am stuck in the countryside. Sounds pretty awkward, I know, but I must clarify that I am not about to be stuck here for very long (this is where I cross my fingers) and that at least I am not stuck alone sitting next to the road or anything. Coming to Graaff-Reinett, sort of western part of the Eastern Cape Province in South Africa we had a minor setback as the tyre exploded (I am not trying to exaggerate as it wasn’t a big explosion; a very small one and no harm was done to anything but the car), and now we’re just waiting for the insurance company to do what they are paid to do and fix things. So yeah, that’s how I got stuck here for few more days than we initially planned to stay. But it’s all alright; I was talking with my wife how in a situation like this it’s good to accept the facts (I don’t even know what else can we do), focus on the positives and enjoy the extra time here.

Graaff-Reinett is a small enough place and due to the current lack of internet access (I’ll post this when I can) I can’t even Google how small. Its got a main road and then another one. I am not really sure which one is the actual main road as they are in a kind of T-shape. If you like Christianity then I definitely recommend you to come here. As so many South African citizens, locals here like to believe and seem to spend a lot of time and money building churches and unlike where I come from actually going into them. This is also a great town if, unlike me, seeing police makes you feel safe. This place is filled with cops, although most of them are just trainees at the police academy. They still get me nervous and I am sure that at some point they’ll stop me at gun point because I drove through the red light. Well, there isn’t really a worry about that as this place doesn’t have any traffic lights but you know what I mean… a stop sign or some such.

I don’t mean to sound hateful when it comes to this place. Sure it’s got many farmers with slave-master-mentality who are yet to learn about the fall of apartheid and there’s nothing nice one can say about that, but it’s got its good sides as well. Ironically enough at this late hour of night I cannot think of any and I end up sounding sarcastic, but I like some things here (besides the company of the good people around me of course, which is obvious but I am talking about the town). I even shook hands with the mayor. Didn’t know it at time, but I was told that it was the case. Well done me - I guess. Enough of this already.

South Africa is a great country. Things piss me off all the time and just when I am furious again after yet another phlegmatic person behind the counter refusing to do anything to help me while I am paying for the so called service (which is pretty universal these days) looking at me like I am from Mars just because I am rocking a different skin complexion than my wife next to me, I remember that this country as it is, is only 14 years old. That after 300 years of dehumanising majority of the citizens things are as well as they are. Forget the crime, racism, lack of redistribution of land and wealth (although let’s not really forget these), this country is heading forward and although the scars of apartheid will characterise everything for years to come the forward movement is, and has been, amazing. 14 years is a short time in country’s history. I feel bad for the people who haven’t benefited from the change yet; I hope that will change soon, but at the same time, regardless of your opinion on the governments efficiency, no government in the world would have pulled it off as the world wanted. There’s no miracles on that scale (if on any).

It’s exiting time in South Africa. While 14 years is not enough to make up for 300 years of hate, it’s enough to see interesting results. Music has always been exiting here, but now the post-struggle literature is stepping to a new level. Young authors write about their experiences, facts and fiction, opinions and anecdotes and it’s priceless. I have had a fondness for South African struggle books and political publications, so I find this new era just brilliant. Let me recommend here few books (not that I have read tons of these books, but at least these I have and I thought they were great).

Ndumiso Ngcobo - Some of my Best Friends Are White
Sihle Khumalo - Dark Continent My Black Arse
Niq Mhlongo - After Tears

On top of those I am currently reading Fred Khumalo’s Touch My Blood. Although he’s more established writer, I like his book so far all the same as the other ones mentioned.

On the other exiting things that has happened to me during the past half a year in Mzansi (South Africa ya dig) is that I met Archbishop Emeritus and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu and started a business, an audio production company with my wife. Also I did my last live radio programme (for the time being) few weeks back, but I address that issue separately in my next post. I am hoping to post some photos which I am still taking, but unfortunately my computer is failing me as it’s getting old, and that combined with unreliable wireless connection creates a deadly mixture of frustration with anything online. But hey, it ain’t all bad cos lot of it is good and I wrote this post so there’s always hope. When we get money, my vote goes for new laptop and good internet service, there’s no doubt about that. Then I’ll be more available with Skype, Gmail talk and other such services as well. But until that – peace and I am out like the lights during the power cuts and there’s enough of them here.