24 March 2010

Show Business News as a Weapon of Mass Distraction

Stop and Think

I have to unload a few thoughts here. Thoughts regarding the rather tragic accident a few weeks ago involving a South African celebrity, drugs, expensive cars, careless driving and far too much death. The media is making sure that we know the character of the accused, especially the more famous one, so it really doesn’t need further assassination, and if you are reading this from another country and are unaware of the specifics; trust me, it’s grim so of course the big picture becomes invisible in that process. This story isn’t about the details, but about the bigger picture so not knowing the gossip isn’t an obstacle that should stop you from reading.

After the accident, if that’s what we want to call it (I am not suggesting that it was planned; it rather was an accident in a way that doing LSD and shooting in the air with a rifle accidentally killing someone is), the children of Soweto, where this all took place, have been incredibly angry to the point that ending up in a jail for a long time might just be the better option for the accused than to have to face the real world.

I haven’t been following every turn of events religiously, but to me it appears that the lack of news analysis has resulted with finding the insignificant, putting it under a microscope and then, with this feast of social pornography of a fallen celebrity, media making a few bucks on the side. That’s what it always comes down to when even the SABC is nearly fully (80%) advert funded, which regardless of its role as a Public Broadcaster undermines its leaning towards anything but generating advertising revenue, which to a large extend depends on the popularity of their programming. The commercial media mantra that is infinitely repeated – the scandal sells – is a truism, but it should be also criticised from the angle that so does crack-cocaine. The fact that it sells, doesn’t mean that it must be on sale – or at the very least, it shouldn’t have to be the main thing available. I am almost definitely sure than even a crack-head would agree.

So instead of dwelling on the details of celebrity show biz news, I’d like to suggest in my opinion a few more important questions and topics. It would be a shame if we missed the opportunity to address them while the topic is hot.

I am probably the most worried about the children. This incident has triggered such a massive reaction out of them and while it is, of course, incredibly tragic and their peers lost their lives, it is possible that they are not just reacting to this, but every other thing around them as well. Every abusive or absent parent or teacher, the lack of resources in the class room, the uncle whose hands are wandering when giving hugs, the anger of inequality and the lack of hope. I don’t know if this is the case, and I may really be out of order speculating here, but it seems to me that the kids aren’t alright. The scenes appear to be resonating the 70’s and 80’s rioting and without being dramatic, if I was the accused released on bail, I’d consider being necklaced a real potential threat.

I am not blaming the government – if anything, I blame apartheid. In South Africa, for a long time to come, the extreme inequality will always has its roots in apartheid regardless of who is the president or the governing party, so even if I would blame the government, I’d blame the apartheid and Western fiddling for it. I am also not criticising the people, but the media that forgot us as citizens and only value us a consumers. I find that very problematic. Just like I find it problematic that the South African media culture lacks analysis, which I attribute to the apartheid regime discouraging any critical engagement with their hateful policies which wouldn’t have survived much questioning anyway, I assume, even by the most brain washed victims of propaganda.

But these children are the future of this country and it’s alarming that there’s so much hurt going around.

You should also be able to talk about celebrities without it being a show business news. Have the VIP tickets and open bar parties made these guys feel indestructible? We must remember that we, as the public, have put these people on the platform, and we should demand more from them. Except that in real terms maybe the PR and media companies have done it and the only thing that sells more than the rise of a star is his fall. It’s a game we all participate whether we know it or not.

I sometimes wonder am I the only one who worries about South African traffic safety? I think that what has happened in this incident must be seen in the context of soccer mums texting while driving their 4x4’s and people going out to get trashed as their own drivers. The general expectation from the traffic behaviour is so incredibly low that what these guys were doing, racing on the public road, isn’t as far from the standard practice as one would like to wish. I am not comparing these things directly, and definitely I am not saying that they are the same thing, but what I am saying is that when the consensus is that you can select the rules that apply to you, some people will take it much too far without seeing the otherwise immediately clear problems.

With the personification of the hatred towards someone who quite clearly ruined his own life together with his collaborator by doing something incredibly idiotic and irresponsible, we disassociate ourselves from any responsibility regarding to the way we drive – I am talking about myself as well – the way we feast on the lives of rich and shameless and most importantly, we reduce the youth into an over-reacting mob that resorts into violence as if there weren’t any better things to do. Even the human tragedy that this story should have been about has been forgotten already. It seems to be a very human condition to find the soothing breeze of one’s own innocence from the thundering guilt someone else.

19 March 2010

Humbling Experience

Chuck D, me and Shaqir

You should never meet your heroes; you’ll only be disappointed.


Or maybe, instead of any of the broadly generalising statements, I should just take the usual route and say, well, it depends. Of course, mainly it depends on who your heroes are, and also to some extend I’d imagine are they actively your heroes or is it just extended sympathy for a childhood hero.

Outside of my immediate circumstances there’s few people alive that really have had an impact on who I am. One of them is a bit clichéd –Nelson Mandela – and I didn’t meet him, but I did meet the man who told me that Nelson Mandela exists. And that there’s a country called South Africa and it’s got very oppressive system where majority of people are treated as subhuman.

He’s a man who taught me many values and to larger extend that you’d probably be able to imagine, the language of English. He’s responsible for my most memorable live music experiences (three times and always improving).

He guided the little boy from small suburban town in Finland to see the world as it is – big, complicated and not always nice.

It was to him that I wrote my first ever fan letter, which months later came back without having found its destination. I wonder what I wrote, and did I even speak English much. It was his art and message that I held on to while all of my peers where identifying with hard rock, heavy metal and other such genres; political rap was not the popular choice where I come from. Regardless, I held on to what I didn’t choose, but what I felt, and still feel, had chosen me. Later on in my early twenties I took my first tattoo; the famous logo of his band that he has designed.

When I worked for a commercial radio station playing hit music, after the hours walking home, I had recorded his online radio shows Beats, Rhymes and Life on MiniDisc and listened them to forget the format of my work place. I thought that one day…

I’ve grown up with him. I’ve been twice close enough to him to shake hands and get an autograph, even a set list in 2006 in Wolverhampton, but this week, as if from out of nowhere, my friend Shaqir rang me – he’s in the country and we will meet him. Carlton Ridenhour. Chuck D of Public Enemy.


As you can imagine, I was nervous. What to say? On one hand there’s no escaping that I am a fan, but I wouldn’t want to waste such an opportunity to be all fan-like, because what I am really interested in is to listen and learn and contribute; just to have a conversation. How do you combine the emotional and the intellectual with something that is a small social gathering?

It so happened that all my worries were actually misguided, because instead of the god-figure that I may have imagined in my head (an idea strongly supported by the presence of his voice) he is just a man. Someone who created an immediate comfortable mood amongst us and who was as interested in us and our knowledge than we were of his. And he’s got loads of knowledge.

All of this was an added bonus to an already great week that I’ve had, but on top of it all, we also shared our dinner with his wife who made such an impression on me as well. Dr Gaye Theresa Johnson is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Black Studies in the University of California, Santa Barbara, and it was her work commitments that have brought them to South Africa.

Most of the time I like to play it cool but then sometimes I can’t. A truly humbling experience. I have never been more impressed by the man who I have always been impressed by. I felt so much respect around me. As the man that I became from the child I was, I could only smile and feel so much that I cannot even express yet – just to know I am a lucky man in more ways that I can count.

10.10.2006 Public Enemy Live in Wolverhampton, UK tracklist with Chuck D autograph

The set list: previous time when met - only very shortly.

11 March 2010

Industry vs. Culture

There’s a great moment in the Extras, comedy by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, where Andy Millman’s new high profile manager asks the actor and writer that do you want to make a lot of money or do you want to make credible critically acclaimed comedy – and how few manage to achieve both. It’s a key question for anyone who exists even anywhere near industries such as entertainment, media, music or cinema. What it is that you are after?

I am not here (at least in this post) to pass judgement on what’s better, but since I feel increasingly dissatisfied by the notion of measuring the value of art or culture, whatever it might mean, by the money it is able to generate, and that value to be further defined by the media, which itself seems to function on this exact principle as well. I think it’s worth to stop for a moment, breathe, take a step back and think about the dichotomy of industry and culture.

To me this is something that helps to make sense out of the industries I mentioned.

Think of music. Basically any music will do, but I will think about Hip-Hop. There are people across the world who have made a good life for themselves and become celebrated superstars whose life is owned by a corporation. A few became corporations themselves and many would love to. Other people want to communicate messages of hope and hopelessness, the happiness and struggle. But what’s important here, is that there’s a very clear and distinct aspect of business(wo)manhood as much as a strong emphasis on culture when it comes to this beloved artform.

These two different aspects are not mutually exclusive or even very common occurrences in their purest form, but they are the extreme ends of the spectrum leaving most things as shades of grey somewhere in the middle.

Most Hip-Hop practitioners are not famous or even living out of the art, but use it for other means such as expression. It prohably is more of an investment than a cash cow, at least for many years, and out of the ones who see the process through, a few makes P. Diddy money. In that way it's much like many sports; for instance football has many more kids playing in the parks than your Christian Ronaldos, David Beckhams or Didier Drogbas, so does the hip-hop culture have more non-profit making or nominal income (regardless of trying to earn more) practitioners than super stars that often are talked about in the media. Viewing culture purely economically tends to overlook the fact that mostly Hip-Hop is driven by something else. Even most of the established artists have a strong presence of both culture and industry in their function.

So what are you? An uncompromising artist or unf*ckgiving business person?

And does it matter?

I think it does matter, because you might not, as much as you may want to, be able to do both (or neither). Rarely are you able to sell something uncompromised to the masses. And like said, it really is not about being one or the other, but rather being somewhere on that spectrum that is between these extreme ends. For an artists it’s a simple question really – what is your motivation to do what you do? I don’t necessarily expect the answer to be short or simple.

Another thing I wouldn't imagine it to be is never changing. I am sure that even many who has started as asrtists from the heart have had to re-think; we all need to pay the bills so there definitely in this regard is no judgement from my side. For instance, the only way that I can do and write whatever I want here is that I have no expectation for that to cover my rent. But our stance with regards to our motives is ever changing and therefore should be subjected to constant questioning and analysis; what do I want today, rather than to assume that surely it's the same thing as ten years ago. Or even last week.

And there's nothing wrong with wanting to make money, just to know what it often entails.
It's not a question you have to answer publicly or print a T-shirt, with your statement - It's enough that you know yourself. When you are being true to yourself in what it is that you wish to achieve, you are on a more realistic ground to do so. As far as I can see, this is one of the core questions of what some refer to as an artistic integrity. And I don’t have an answer – only this question.

Beautiful Music

There has been few songs that have hit me like this one. Mammas Gatan (Mum’s street) by Promoe, Timbuktu, Promoe’s fellow Looptroop Rocker Supreme and Andreas Grega. The last one I had never heard of before this track; in all honesty I thought it was Timbuktu on the chorus, but that’s not so important. I have linked the video before and I have certainly talked about these guys, but there’s something about this that just demands my attention. Over and over again.

Rarely do I come across songs that talk to me like this. The lyrics, in Swedish, are talking about youth and growing up. A topic that has been on my mind a lot ever since fathering my own son, so the content of the lyrics – check – it’s on point. But even if you can’t understand these lyrics; and I myself listen to a lot of music in languages I can’t understand, it can offer a fair bit. Every one of the artists, with their own distinctly unique flow of delivery bring a completely different aspect to this track. It’s taken from Promoe’s first solo album in Swedish, Kråksången, which must have been a transition for him – I’d imagine at least – after so many English efforts which I categorically recommend as well. But I don’t know; him rapping in his native language about his youth. Maybe it’s me doing my own post-thirtieth birthday accounting of life, but I can’t lie, this is emotional. Like music so often is.And something is calling me somewhere.

So the fact that the video is so out there creatively, that it’s beyond two fingers to rap clichés, only crowns this song. It must be one of those ones that would fit into a compilation album that would be the soundtrack of my life.

Here’s a video and I keep on giving this link, but it’s a lot of great free music from these guys in English and in Swedish.

More music? Okay, download remix of Nguwe by Rattex and with him Siya. Another really a great song is Push produced by Instro and featuring Reason, Proverb and Bongi Mbelu. This is Johannesburg rap, although Proverb is from Kimberley, and I think it’s got its own feel. Well, this song does certainly and I like it. Lesson to be learned from this is though that if you give music for free online - which is a good idea really - you must tag the files properly. It's important to make those files bullet proof in that whoever gets them into their hands can find all about the song and contact the artists as well - remember that you never know who is listening. Especially when the song is this good.

reason 5
Reason himself a few years ago in the most legendary backstage of Finland.

I was reading earlier that one of UK’s top DJ’s, DJ Semtex is working on a mixtape project to celebrate Nelson Mandela. He has done a track with Sway, which you can listen here (not download). I hope, nudge nudge wink wink, that there’s space for some music from South Africa as well.

Another song I can only link you to video for is Lowkey’s Something Wonderful. By now you should know that he’s the lyricist extraordinaire – the one to always look out for.

10 March 2010

Rather reluctant writing is done now - let's write.

Bad handwriting and mild storm in my brain
In all honesty it didn't feel too stormy in my brain when the sun was at its hottest last week.

Let’s do this. I’ve been writing, writing and writing for the past week and it’s been hot as well. Damn, it's been too hot - how am I supposed to have my best thinking cap on in this weather? I didn’t particularly feel like writing the essay that now is handed in, but you know how it is – one’s gotta do and so forth. Still, I am glad it’s all behind me.

Note to self though: if in the post-graduate level I want to take studies even in a slightly different field that the one I've specialised in, I must remember that people don’t do their BA:s and Honours in these things for nothing – there’s been a lot of catching up taking place. And also, just because I am kind of interested in politics is a bit misguided confidence that should not necessarily inform embarking on studies in politics. But I don’t mind. I am glad I am learning something new. Mostly, at the very moment, I am glad that it’s done.

Many things are happening and generally I am feeling good. There’s much bigger things in the horizon when the year passes its midway mark. I am sure I'll get into that one day soon.

Now I just breath easy for a day. Then it’s all about marking the under-graduate assignments. The university life has sucked me in and I am preparing for the day it’ll spit me out into the real world.

1 March 2010

Being Tourist Here

Hout Bay Seal Island

Having visitors over is a nice thing for many reasons. Well, if there visitors are nice people as one hopes they are, then that’s the biggest and the best bit, but also, you get to do the tourist things as well. Not that anyone stops you on other days, but it’s easier to get out and about when you’re with someone who’s got a week.

On Sunday we went to one of the seal cruises that depart from Hout Bay harbour. You know those ones? I didn’t. It was our guests who had heard of them. It’s a good deal; those boat rides are quite cheap (R40 for adult and R10 for a child) and they go for about 45 minutes stopping at a seal island – a few  massive rocks with quite many seals. It was such a nice surprise because I had never heard of the whole thing but enjoyed the ride tremendously.

The other thing we did today, as had been planned by me and my wife for some time but we saved it for our guests was Iziko Slave Lodge’s Nelson Mandela exhibition. Another bargain experience (R5 with South African student card – really? Yes, really – and I think R20 for rest).

It was nice enough exhibition – I do recommend you to check it, but the space seemed far too small for the amount of things on display. One felt a bit hurried and constantly on someone’s way. That’s not good, considering that these exhibitions are emotional walks as well; you’d rather feel detached from the crowds a bit. Not that there were any actual crowds, but even few people made it busy.

I also felt that there was some things that were a bit understated, but I guess that’s because the struggle history has been effortfully made into the one of hope and reconciliation. Of course, it has given and gave much hope, but if that’s all there was, they would have probably called it something other than the struggle. Also there were some minor things that were downplaying the pre-apartheid colonial rule that made me feel a bit awkward. A bit patronising it was.

I would also like to see these kind of exhibitions to look into the meanings of some of the key ideas of Mandela’s lineage, and even to explain the significance of the name Madiba, that now is known across the world. Since it is not, contrary to what one of the two Cape Town newspapers said on its front page, a nickname. I may have a special interest in this, but it would be worth saying a word or two about these ideas. I am not going to get into it, but you can listen to a lot of audio on this and related topics from our Inkokhelo.com blog (although not specifically on his clans, but generally the ones of amaXhosa).

But these are probably just my opinions and I am not presenting them as the truth; only that they are true to me. I am not the authority with these matters, but I do recommend you to see this one. And take that boat ride as well.