31 December 2010

For the better next one

Sunset and me.
This photo was taken this year although it feels like lifetime ago.

One of the songs that most played on my mp3 player and computer this year starts with lyrics ”f*** for this year, let's soldier it out.” I have felt a bit like that – varying degrees depending on days – but today, finally, there's very little soldiering left.

A new year is of course mainly symbolic landmark. I am still me; the same person with the same mind and body, but somehow any change, even only symbolic is a start of something new, which feels like it it might have infinite opportunities. Not necessarily, but potentially. Not every day holds that sense as strongly as the new years eve.

I am very happy with most of the achievements of 2010. I wrote an e-book and finished another one. I produced an audio documentary mini-series which I am immensely proud of. I attempted to combine music industry talk, with human interest story with the style of fictional literature while sticking to facts and wrote an article that came out well in my opinion. I moved a country – actually a continent – with the family and of course did a few other things professionally. Producing news, small documentaries, lectured for university students and finished my masters degree and yet I have this feeling that nowhere near enough things happened. That I underperformed. Well, year is a long time and human mind is potentially the best and worst thing about a person, but the year is done.

Lastly it must be said that my goal for the year was to write more on this blog than what I have in some past years. This is the post number 87 which makes it one more than in 2006 and therefore makes it the most productive – at least quantitatively – here as well.

Have a good 2011 – a year for which I make no resolutions, but only a plan to have less stress and more joy. To be a bit better father and husband, a person and professional. Sounds naive, I know, but what else is there.

26 December 2010

Give me hope



I have been quite ready to let go of the 2010. It was a year that was long awaited - in South Africa where I lived until June it was of course the year of football. Now that the new one is about to start - whatever its signifigance is - I feel good about music. Something new again. Two out of my three favourite UK artists, considering how I really enjoy the UK sounds, colloaborated and here's Blood, Sweat and Tears by Lowkey and Klashnekoff. They go hard.

2010 in songs


Rattex is definitely on this year's playlist. In this photo he is recording the track Let's Move.

I don't want to make a list of the best songs of the year – what is best is always very relative anyway, but here is a small Spotify playlist of the songs I really was influenced by in 2010. Forgive me for having such a difficulty to remember what I listened to earlier this year – the emphasis is on the end half of the year, but there are many songs from earlier as well. Of course, also another minor problem is that not all the songs are on Spotify. So let's just say this is an indication. Now let's have the 2011 already.

Vusi Mahalasela – When you come back
R;Zatz – No Words - Feat. Ben Sharpa
Curtis Mayfield – The Other Side Of Town
Akala – Find No Enemy
Oliver Mtukudzi – Todii
Lowkey – Something Wonderful
Promoe, Timbuktu, Supreme & Andreas Grega – Mammas gata
Klashnekoff – Paper Up
Wiley – Treddin’ On Thin Ice
Rattex – Ewe Nje
Fela Kuti – Shuffering & Shmiling (Part 2)
Klashnekoff – Back To Da Sagas - Intro
Hugh Masekela – Grazing In The Grass
Rattex – Let's Move
Klashnekoff – Soon Come
Brenda Fassie – Vuli Ndlela - (Original Album Version)
Soprano – Halla Halla
Wiley – Take That
Pure Solid – Riding This
Akala – Yours And My Children
Mistachuck – Tear Down That Wall
Timbuktu – Stirra Ner

25 December 2010

A few memories

Cape Town

Train to town

This year has been pretty productive year regardless of what anyone says. The results aren't always so clear cut and many times they aren't really the only objective to do anything anyway. I have certainly been writing and reading more this year than ever before. I consider this year to have been a good one for my blog as well. I am very proud of how it has become – it has been five and half years in the making and think what you want, but five years ago there were nowhere near as many blogs as there are these days.

Perhaps 2010 wasn't the year I peaked with my photographs. Not that I am not happy with a handful of them – I very much am – but it wasn't the photos of this year that ended up on our wall this week when we framed several new ones. These two black and white images did and they are there to remind us of the life we had Cape Town. The one that came to its end earlier this year.  

On being a person and a parent in Christmas time

HAND IN SNOW

I have often half-jokingly considered myself as the youngest grumpy old man out there. While I have no evidence that there aren’t anyone younger than me – and I am sure there is – I am of the opinion that my assessment doesn’t quite capture me as a person either way. So I thought, why not, to use some of my precious Christmas time to elaborate why do I so dislike the Christmas time (even the word processing software insists on starting the bleeding thing with capital letter as if to further validate its significance – no need, people and markets do pretty good job at highlighting it already).

Christmas is like annual wedding which has to go right and therefore never really will. So much pressure has been attached to it and we are all regardless of our beliefs expected to participate in the effortful fun which follows the seasonal etiquette that smells a bit more than a hint of as if it was designed by the people who are trying to sell us something. It’s sponsored by Coca Cola much like Football World Cup and apartheid was and much like weddings where your love is measured by the menu on the day, size of the church in which teachings you may or may not subscribe to and which role in history you have chosen to either ignore or view very selectively and of course – the ring. Oh how I dislike the idea of wedding ring. My sentiments to my wife cannot be expressed through any mineral stolen from the African land – I don’t think she would like the idea either – just like my feelings towards my son cannot be measured by the size of a tree in the corner of our living room. Still, while there aren't any rings and my wife wore a beautiful red dress instead of white, there is a small tree at ours this year.

It's not really a question of purposefully going against anything. It's not a protest, but rather I feel that it'd be somewhat unlikely that how person feels and is, is exactly like something else out there already existing. It is not a criticism towards anyone who likes Christmases and weddings – it is about not necessarily having to if that is how one feels.

My son is agnostic. He is just under four so I can’t really imagine him having any meaningful personal thoughts on religions or spirituality. Just like he doesn’t have a membership card to a communist party, rifle association or any organisation me and my wife don’t belong to. Or, to any of the ones that we do belong to (although I don’t think we belong to any organised group). He doesn’t have a favourite football team either. He just likes to watch it from telly sometimes. So he is very much undecided as far as most things go. Not everything though. He is very particular about his favourite children’s programmes and games he likes to play. Since he is nearly four that is the kind of stuff he is into. So when it comes to religion he is aware of it a bit – he went to Moslem school for a while although never participated to the religious classes and many of his relatives are Christians. I tell him sometimes when there is talk of Jesus or something like that, that some people believe in this kind of thing and when it comes to monsters I just tell him that they don’t exist – no need to be afraid. But with Father Christmas it’s a whole another thing. The story, as outrageously as it has been put together, is seemingly very elaborate and specific. I keep on getting all these additional questions about it which I can’t really answer and I wonder if I am expected to lie. Just come up with something. Isn’t that a bit confusing? I know it’s the convention, but I am talking about confusing. Or is it? Surely the child is more important than fizzy-drink sponsored globetrotter?

When our son was very young my wife and I thought that the difference between Santa and Jesus is that any sensible parent expects their child to snap out of Santa belief at some age and I guess unlike with Jesus one gets rather worried if your twenty-something still expects some coke-red well-eaten beardy fellow to travel the world once a year towards the end of it. So we thought that let’s let that fable live – after all, that is what it is. But now I am finding myself wondering that isn’t it enough for my child to have a nice time with a family and a some presents and things like that. You know – as a part of culture or just for no particular reason. Wouldn’t it be okay? Of course it would. I don’t think it would compromise his childhood or innocence. Or even if the story of Father Christmas would be told just as a story like any other and not like “and here he is now” kind of seasonal extravaganza. So yes, definitely it would be fine to just have a good old time in December listening to good music (music generally attached to this time rarely is that to me) and eating nice food that we like (I and my wife are vegetarians – not our son who doesn’t have an opinion on such thing yet). It’s all just fine, but I must admit that the pressure of the dominant culture in its uncompromising pseudo-harmony is overwhelming even to a self-proclaimed individual human being this time of year. It goes to show that man’s got a long way to go.

19 December 2010

Winter

Winter 2010

There certainly is a lot of snow here this year. Nearly a new record I hear and on top of it all Helsinki where we live has the most snow in the whole country. It being a city on the south coast that is rare if not unheard of. Will that suffice as the weather talk? Just wanted to post a photo really.

18 December 2010

Cape Town Stand Up!

I am a few days late when it comes to this video, but I have been a few days on and offline. But it's here now - Driemanskap featuring Macho, who is ex-Ill-Skills and Kanyi: S'phum'eGugs from the all around brilliant Igqabhukil' Inyongo.

13 December 2010

Experimenting with experiences

experimenting with experience

What this is not, is a new year’s resolution. Let me make that very clear. It is, however something that I intend to try out in 2011; a year for which I am more than ready.

I want to start experiencing great albums again. These days it’s mainly about playlists, Spotify, a new video on Youtube, download a mixtape and so on. Some new albums I listen to as albums and not just as a bunch of songs one after another, but it happens less and less, I find.

So in 2011 I will revisit some classic albums – classic meaning, the ones that mean something to me – and attempt to enjoy them from the beginning to the end and all songs in order they were intended. I don’t know how many times, how often and how long I will be doing this, but I guess I’ll do it as much as feels right. I haven’t yet started, but have a good few ideas for some early records I wish to revisit. It’s been ages since I took time to listen to some music that I find so meaningful in my life.

11 December 2010

Theorising the practice of theory: the ‘at least three layered system’

London

If there is one thing that upsets me, it’s when people pretend that the theory is the practice. When people, for instance, assume that the practice of a radio station is as it is described in their licence (in countries where the system is based on them). Or if we refuse to acknowledge that country’s immigration policies in practice are not exactly as they are drawn out to be in the law books. Or when the red wine sipping alternative thinkers philosophise about saving the world from their corner table, but then, in the real world, are just babbling on semi-insightful and at best borderline meaningful phrases that sound good only if you have said them yourself, and which have no apparent action connected to them. These are just a few examples, of course, and I must say that I quite like red wine and I am no stranger to pseudo-intellectualism – this blog post is fast turning into exhibit A – but I try not to claim action where action isn’t.

Publishing one old paper this week here on the blog I started thinking about how I have always been interested in how things actually work. Not in theory unless the theory is an extension of the practice. As it should be and I am no authority when it comes to the terminology and definitions of these words, but I have noticed a great confusion around these concepts. That’s why, if only for the purposes of my own world view, I put together my ‘At Least Three Layered Way Of Understanding’ (ALTLWOU if you will). I say at least as because in actual fact it is a description of one cycle of the process of understanding and that cycle will probably repeat itself a good few times, before the best practices are understood only to be replaced with new and improved ideas soon after. That’s the way that it works, and if it doesn’t work like that, I suspect there is a great danger of stagnation and an unhelpful delusion of understanding with nothing to back it up in the real world; a futile argument of confusion. This is not all encompassing system; perhaps ignoring most things, but fits the bill to most things I ever ponder and here’s how it works.

First layer of theory is how things are supposed to work. It is mostly informed by some common practices, but its purpose is to guide rather than understand. Like a law or any regulation. Company policies and varies written and unwritten moral codes. It’s a bit perfect world version of it all and important to understand because it’s part of the process, but on its own it’s a shallow victory – the world we live in is not perfect, see.

Then the second layer; the practice. What is it that we actually do. I have been looking into some radio practices and how they relate to the theory of the style of broadcasting they claim to directly relate to. The answer was, well, they do relate to these ideas loosely, or at least attempt to, but in actual fact there are other things – namely money – that will determine what really happens.

Then the third layer. It is the important one. The second layer of theory which allows us to understand the relationship between the first two layers; why and how do they relate to each others. What does that then leave us with and what next? We are left with a much more holistic idea of our subject.

Then this is repeated as many times as it takes to satisfy one’s thirst to grasp, knowing that even then, there aren’t any absolute truths, but rather, in the end, we just think of something else instead.

I would like to think that what I have written here is a result of this process. It’s not the last cycle if not quite the first either. Practically speaking, what I am trying to say is that when we talk about anything, we must never feel that what things are in theory is enough. One good example of this all is for instance the immigration law, like I noted earlier. Just because there are many types of assistance for the newcomers in theory, doesn’t mean that there are any in practice. At the very least probably not all of those things promised. They are there only in theory. That is why the whole debate that seems so heated in Europe is completely misguided. An ordinary citizen has no idea what people go through to get into country – they perhaps just think that it is what the politicians tell them. The ones in charge say how great the system is and the ones opposing claim it’s too easy to migrate. No one has taken the time to go and have a look at how it actually is. Incidentally one triggering experience for me to write these ideas was to spend some time at the waiting area of the employment office’s immigration department in Helsinki. We take it for granted that things are the way they are explained to us.

So this is also my gift to politicians – although I don’t think there are many of them reading my blog: think again. Unless you are realistic about things you are wasting your time.

8 December 2010

Contextualising music

“the most enlightened country or you say so
but how modern is it to be racial


Well it looks to me
like our history's
running on repeat
over and over again”

What makes an artist or a crew of artists what they are? A very general question, obviously requiring as many answers as there are artists and crews. Perhaps the real question with art and any aesthetic is that do I like it. If yes, then let’s have it, but otherwise let it be – what more really is necessary? Nothing. Such is art. No matter how on point it is supposed to be, if you think it’s rubbish then that’s that.

But just because it isn’t necessary doesn’t mean that I am not allowed to look into it. An interesting example is soon again album releasing European independent sonic giant Looptroop Rockers from Sweden. Recently they made a song and video available online to build momentum for the forthcoming album and at the time, I didn’t even have the frame of mind to link it here, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t moved by it.

I am moved by the song as on top of focusing on a national problem of right wing populist party getting into the Swedish Riksdagen – the parliament – it draws the comparisons and reflects on a European standard. It is a song by a group that generally does this. A European conscience. This is not very common occurrence to be honest with you. I am no absolute authority on the topic, far from it, but I haven’t really come across another group that would act as regional commentators realistically saying that this is Europe – a continent that instead of being an underdog has gone around creating underdog’s globally, and rap has traditionally, even if it wouldn’t look like that on the surface anymore, been an expression of the counter culture. It’s not very fashionable to make Euro rap – rather artists on the continent identify with their cities and neighbourhoods. But Looptroop makes its observations from the frontiers of the society, representing the counter-culture, but doing so realistically, not pretending to be something they aren't.

Without much evidence I’m saying that Looptroop speaks out because they are Swedish and speak without borders because they are not from a major city. It’s a guess, but not completely uneducated. It is a terrible generalisation and of course there are tons more reasons – more personal and individualistic by nature – I am sure, but none of this takes place in a vacuum; it is part of broader culture which has been encouraged.

A lot can be said about the Swedish post-war (which they officially didn’t particpate in, but obviosuly were influenced by) society and the birth of the Scandinavian welfare society. While for decades the state was ran by the Social Democratic Party with no apparent threat from the opposition, the culture that was introduced was the one of solidarity, relative openness and healthy public discourse. The most important individual of the century, at least arguably, Olof Palme who many criticised for pushing through his decisions even forcefully, was still always available for discussion and to give a speech. Palme, later assassinated and whose assassin wasn’t found after the shooting, and of which Looptroop ‘took the responsibility’ was not afraid to distance himself from both major players of the cold war, Soviet Union – he was dedicated anti-communist – and United States, who he criticised for the imperial wars in Vietnam and beyond. This wasn’t very convenient strategy, but what can you do when you have to stand up for what you believe in. Under his command the nation stood firm by the side of the African and Asian countries in their battle for decolonising their lands. It’s no accident. And it isn’t an accident either that for the first time in my life I heard someone who isn’t forced to do so, to take responsibility of the benefits of colonial and post-colonial relationships between Europe and Africa. We all gained financially regardless of the actions of our nations. It isn’t an accident that it should be a Swedish group that acts as our mirror to ourselves and have the decency and understanding to start from the premise that avoiding the responsibility focuses on the counter arguments instead of solutions. Of this, the best example is their brilliant album Fort Europa which really dwells on some really important issues and which was somewhat prophetic and ahead of its time as many questions raised there later became the key ones in attempting to understand the continent.

It is interesting how Looptroop is talking about the politics of the far right to be repeating themselves from the history books – and it seems to very much be the case on some level, but for Looptroop to make this point is another side of the history equally repeating itself. Perhaps there can’t be one without another, but needless to say, and for some reason I still say it, I much prefer the tradition of responsibility over the petty finger pointing.

I like Swedish rap – I have since 1998 when I first was introduced to it – but as far as Stockholm goes, perhaps it is the identity of the biggish city that is too strong to allow the broader continental commentary with the same impact than the guys from smaller places. The city itself of course is also a home to many stories and material to write and rap about. Fair play, but together with the Nordic sensitivity that many insiders find difficult to express and outsiders impossible to understand Looptroop does something quite special with its art. I think it’s distinctly Swedish.

I may have presented a very idealised image of the country, its people and culture. That hasn’t been my aim; they have got bigots and shallow fools like anyone and on top of that they’ve also got king and queen. It also is clear that Looptroop isn’t really representing anything officially Swedish; they are not part of the elites at all. But the whole point is, that being Swedish is not about being perfect – far from it – nor is it to be innocent. To me it seems that what makes Swedish appear to be more mature than many of us rest is the exact ability to deal with imperfections.

We could all learn from that.

********

Here is the video and download the song free and completely legally here. Looptroop in Twitter @LooptroopDVSG

Copyright, Hip-Hop and Sampling - in theory and in practice.

Sampling

This is an old paper, but as I was going through the vault, I thought let’s have it out there. You know, in the real world. It focuses on the copyright laws and specifically how they apply to Hip-Hop in theory and in practice through sampling. It also explores the division between culture and industry of Hip-Hop attempting to create a realistic image of what actually takes place when the artform is practiced. I was very lucky to interview some cool people also so read on.

Sampling

A bit about me

Mahala

Here's a link to an article that is based on an interview I gave to Core Wreckah of the Nemesis Inc. or Ts’eliso Monaheng as he is known in the government database, and the writing I did about Rattex earlier this year. It's a nice write up so thanks very much.


I must say that I am pretty proud of my piece Labour of love and hard entertainment and think there's a few noteworthy points made there so why not embed it here again for good measure. 


To me it was a highlight of a very productive year (two e-books, audio documentary series and the the stuff I actually do) and I am very glad it has reached over thousand reads in Scribd. To be honest with you I don't know what constitutes a read in that service, but regardless it is pretty good going especially as it had a few hundred before I changed the file after fixing a few typos. 
RATTEX: Labour of love & hard entertainment

Wise words on rap, race and reality

Rap, race and reality - together with technology has been what Chuck D of Public Enemy has been lecturing about for years. I know he's been mentioned many times here on WSOM blog - it's no secret that he's my hero - but I'm not alone in that. He's a hero to these guys as well.

A lot of wisdom here, in this video clip, about politics, rap and life by some very clever people. They also happen to be great asrtists and this comes as no surprise to anyone who has ever read this blog. Akala and Lowkey talking in the British Library together with Saul Williams and M K Asante.

7 December 2010

On being a people person on paper

A few books

I have been doing extra lot of reading recently. Of course, surely many read much more  than me standardly, I say as a disclaimer not to sound pompously arrogant; of which I am obsessively afraid of for some reason. Perhaps because I am pompously arrogant by nature, but I digress. I have read a fair bit recently. People books.

I have read about broad selection of individuals of all sorts. A few of them wrote about themselves and many were written about. People like Kierkegaard, Russel Brand, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Olof Palme, Bill Hicks, Haile Selassie and so on. The list actually does continue. I am not listing all of the books and then saying and so on (I am doing the disclaimer thing again).

People of all kinds – their stories are addictive. Of course, it is important to remember that these are just case studies. I have always felt that when reading a book about David Beckham, which I haven’t by the way, it is important to keep in mind that while it may be somewhat realistic account, it tends to ignore the thousands of kids dropping out of school to play footie only to not achieve their proverbial goal, now delivering milk or so. But of course there would be no point in focusing on that when writing about someone to whom it doesn’t apply. Fair play.

But I have so little interest for Becks Spice that I leave him be. The people that I have read about are magnificent. Well, most of them really are. Not because they never made mistakes, but because they did and still were great. Probably a few reggae people would not appreciate my cynicism towards Ras Tafari, who I don't find particularly admirable, and a few others from the list also have  made so many mistakes that your Professor of Mathematics would lose count. But I have learned that no one worth my admiration has had it easy. Perhaps the statement isn’t all true – and here only for an effect – but it is indicative of how I feel. I may wish I was clever like Walter Sisulu, but I don’t want to have spent decades in prison; I may wish I was brave like Steve Biko, but I don’t wish I had already died at my age; I wish I was funny like Russel Brand, but I don’t wish I  had  a decade of addiction to booze, drugs such as heroin, and enough sexual over-appetite to  land me in rehabilitation. It is not necessarily that greatness comes with a price, but that struggle makes us strong. That of course only is if doesn’t destroy us. Life is like that. Keep reading.

Pay attention

Chuck

I don’t usually do this is what one usually says when one does things they usually do. Be it a question of overindulging with the old drink, convincing a relative stranger to undress or buying a gossip magazine. Things like that.

But I actually don’t usually do this

I don’t usually post things I didn’t scribble and photos I didn’t capture. But since this matter is very close to my heart I’d like to extensively quote Damian ‘Dplanet’ Stephens from Pioneer Unit paraphrasing Chuck D's message. Damian was one participant at the Public Enemy workshop yesterday in Cape Town. These workshops are part of the tour the crew is currently on. These are the new ten commandments - manifesto if you will – for the South African, and African, independent music scene. Or ‘10 Gems’ as he calls them.


01. Don’t be an ‘Afrimerican’ – don’t copy the US. Be proudly African

02. SA needs an infrastructure that supports local hip hop (DJs / radio / media / blogs)

03. Don’t let corporations (like MTV or Metro FM) dictate your musical / cultural agenda

04. Be accountable for the music you make – words are powerful and have consequences

05. Africa can be a global hip hop powerhouse if it chooses to be. Believe!

06. Embrace indigenous languages – that’s what makes us unique in the world

07. Focus on your live performance – your live show must kick your video’s ass

08. Groups or movements are more powerful than a single person. Be a team. Up your game!

09. Build strong networks in SA, and throughout Africa. Connect the continent

10. Confront difficult issues of race and inequality in South Africa – these are stories people need to hear


Original post from the Pioneer Unit site


Dplanet
Damian interviewed during the recording of Rattex EP Steets, Raps and Us.

6 December 2010

Just a simple song








Occasionally I come across artists that I sort of instantly like. Well, yesterday I realised this to be the case with Tor Cesay. I had previously been aware of her, but not as much of her music. Not in a proper sense of the word. She sounds very cool though and if I may say this, has a similar energy to Klashnekoff - the most power played artist in my headphones - who incidentally is featured on that track above. It's all good material my friend so give it a listen.