Monday, February 26, 2007

In which the six-year-old me comes to the fore again

Wow, I really need to catch up on blogging my recent activities. But first, YAY, it snowed again. The snow is much lighter and more powdery than before, and is so pretty, I can barely contain myself. I walked home in it last night, and it was too beautiful for words! And I got to throw a snowball last night. The recipient was a good sport, but wouldn't be drawn into an all-out snowball fight, so I'm still on the lookout for willing participants. The one person who is most enthusiastic (and who just happens to be one of my professors) had a class when I had a break, so that hasn't worked out yet, but I am determined that we'll make it work. I want to see a music department snow man, and a lot of undignified-looking, pink-faced music scholars in Washington Square before the spring.
Now I promise the next post will be about music.

Friday, February 23, 2007

More about the NYU Afrocolombian ensemble

I really hate going more than a week without a posting, especially when there is so much really great stuff happening. But I guess when the most interesting things are happening, I am also the most busy, so that is part of the problem.

Until I have time to write more about my own activities, I thought I might recommend this post to you. Michael Birenbaum Quintero is a fellow Ethnomusicology Grad Student at NYU, and is teaching the Afrocolombian ensemble I am taking this semester. He blogs about Colombia in Spanish and English (alternating paragraphs, so just scroll down if you don't see your prefered language), and has posted and written about some of the music we are learning in the ensemble.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Good News All Round

Yippee, T and I just got proposals accepted for the MACSEM conference in Williamsburg, Virginia, at the end of March. Congratulations, T, and thank you for turning me on to this one. I wouldn't have even known about it if you hadn't made the suggestion, and followed up with me.

And on top of that bit of good news, I am delighted to report that the Union Square farmers' market is up and running again. It isn't quite full force yet, but I managed to get some gorgeous seasonal vegetables (I am just finishing the stir fry I made for dinner, with said wonderful seasonal veggies. Yum), fresh baked multi-grain bread of the sort you just can't get in the supermarket, and a delicious cup of hot perry (or pear cider). It is so wonderfully fragrant, and just right for this weather. Today was significantly warmer than the rest of the week has been, and beautifully sunny, and so despite the grey slush on the sidewalks, and the blocks of frozen, dirty snow that make the streets look like a war zone where the plows have been, it was a really great day to be out of doors.

Drakensberg Boys' Choir

The Drakensberg Boys' Choir will be touring the USA in March. Unfortunately they won't actually be in NYC, but they are performing in New Jersey, and Long Beach, so I will try to make on of those concerts. The choir recently underwent a change of directors, and I haven't seen them perform live since that time, so I am interested to see how they are doing. Their televised Christmas show was good, but it was also mostly dubbed, and it is impossible to really judge from that how the choir and directors are working together.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Serious snow.

Last night, it was snowing as I walked home. This morning, I awoke to a white world. Seriously white. The snow has gathered in drifts on the sidewalks and in the streets, and the parks are a wonderland. And it's still coming down. This is what I have been waiting for. The flakes are different from what we've had before, too. They are finer and icier than before, and the resulting snow is really slippery, particularly where it has been turned into a pale brown sludge by the passage of cars and feet. I am really grateful for my big boots. The weather report is predicting more of the same all the rest of this week.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


The front page of the Mail and Guardia online today reveals a striking irony. The first story is this one, about luring South African expats back to South Africa, and immediately beneath it is this one, about land reform, and more specifically, South Africa's first expropriation of a white-owned farm. If it is in fact a deliberate layout, then it is a very poetic way of making a critical point.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Happy about South African music

The Mail and Guardian has a wonderful report on various government-level statements on the Soweto Gospel Choir's grammy success yesterday. It is lovely to read such affirming statements about South African music, and choral music in particular. Well done, again, to the choir. You gave me a whole lot to smile about today!

More on De La Rey

Yet another link relating to the De La Rey story. Thanks to my parents for forwarding this one to me. It is in Afrikaans, but I will look for a translation this evening, after class.

And while I was writing that, my parents forwarded me a second link, this time from an English newspaper, reporting on the same concert. The two reports are markedly different, though, so if I can't find a translation of the first, I think I will have to translate it myself.

I couldn't find a translation, so my own translation follows. I just must state categorically, however, how important it is to read this report along side the report from the Citizen. I am obviously dependent on these reports for my assessment of events, but I can't help but suspect that the sensationalism of the Beeld report is deliberately overstated, and I must say that I consider it very irresponsible journalism. My hope is that what could be a positive phenomenon is not turned into a problem. It's all in the interpretation, after all.

‘Everyone is a general’

By Retha

General Kees de la Rey was called loudly again yesterday to lead the boers. About 3000 people attended a Bok van Blerk concert at the Hillfox center in Weltevredenpark on the West rand in order to hear his song “de la Rey”.

“I’m here for De la Rey. I really like the words. It’s our culture that is standing up again,” said Ms. Bianca Bredenkamp (19).

“Bok awakens everything in me. He sings about things that we have forgotten, and he brings us together again,” said Mr. Kobus Laurens (37).

Ms. Nina Mouton (48) claims that the song proves that Afrikaans is still important for many people. “I am certainly a part of the De la Rey generation. It’s where our roots are,” she said.
At least ten old national flags were carried by audience members during the
performance. This came after Van Blerk told Beeld earlier that he doesn’t have a personal attachment to the old national flag.

“I don’t identify myself with the old national flag. We’re moving on” he said.

Mr. Herman Webster (35) was one of the people carrying the old flag.

“I am here to support my people. He sings about things that were taken from us, and that we want to take back,” said Webster, who was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the old flag.

When van Blerk sang “De la Rey”, his fans stood as one man. People sang along in full voice, with their fists raised in the air, as the old flag was waved.

“You are all generals” said Van Blerk at the end of the song.
When he thereafter sang about South African sporting hero, the Springbok rugby player Bryan Habana, the fans stood up and left.

According to Mozi Records, the agent for van Blerk’s album, De la Rey, the album had sold 106 983 copies by the 6th of February.

Soweto Gospel Grammy

Congratulations to the Soweto Gospel Choir for winning the grammy for Best Traditional World Music Album! You guys are great. They are also due to perform at Carnegie Hall on the 23rd of this month.

Quick question: Can someone explain to me the difference between the "Traditional World Music" category, and the "Contemporary World Music" category, and why the Soweto Gospel Choir were under the former, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo were under the latter?

Follow-up on the De La Rey story

Tim Du Plessis has a much more hopeful take on the De La Rey saga than I have hitherto read. The suggestion that living "in gated suburbs and fortified houses" is tantamount to "inward emigration" is a little annoying. It is difficult to feel engaged in the country when you are constantly on high alert for your basic safety. But I guess I would have to go back to the original source of that idea to really take it up (how I wish journalism followed the same strict referencing standards as academia). In the interim, though, I am prepared to take that as no more than a gesture in the direction of other theorists on the white South African condition, and accept the article as a whole as a useful and positive contribution to a fascinating debate.

Also, here is Jetstreaker's comment on the story, as well as a link, from Jetstreaker, to Bok van Blerk's official website.

Reading some of the information on Bok's website alongside the news articles I have linked to already, I guess the concerns that the department raised were really more about potentially problematic uses of the song by extremists, rather than the song itself, and I have been a bit sidetracked by the latter. The song, as we have been reminded over and over, is not problematic in and of itself. But neither, I rush to add, is a basic Afrikaner solidarity generated around it. The reinvigoration of Afrikaner identity is critical to the future of diversity in South Africa. Claiming South African-ness, South African identity, is how young Afrikaners are going to develop a sense of investment in South Africa and its future. You have to feel proud of your place in South Africa's history in order to build on that for the future, and a sense of pride in a pre-Apartheid South Africa seems like a pretty good starting point, to me.

On the other hand, I do struggle with the whole idea of diversity in the first place, because creating groups, as Henri Tajfel and John Turner have showed, almost inevitably leads to conflict, and the idea of diversity, at least as a political ideology, is premised around the demarcation of difference. Being away from home, and working with people with a whole variety of different experiences from my own is invariably an enriching, and I am beginning to think absolutely necessary part of developing an independent intellectual life and the ability to think creatively and originally. That is very directly tied to notions of diversity. I suspect, though, that the problem resides in the creation of exclusivity, the idea that a culture is only "pure" or authentic when it is performed by what I will refer to as 'original culture bearers'. It is a half-formed idea for me at present, but it responds to my experience of what gets promoted by organizations like UNESCO as Intangible herritage, or by institutions like Carnegie Hall as South African culture (cf. my post on Jeremy Taylor's New York performances. Ag Pleeze Deddy was banned by the Apartheid Government for "mixing languages". Why then was the Graceland collaboration celebrated? (see Louise Meintjes wonderful 1990 article for more info. You need access to Jstor to get it via that link, but if anyone knows of an open-access version, I would be delighted.) Was it just a different historical moment?), or by the whole World Music industry, or even, historically, by the discipline of Ethnomusicology (though this is changing, or has changed, to some degree, at least).
Ok, so that is really just be thinking aloud, and doesn't read particularly easily, but as I intend to work on all of this much more over the next few years, it isn't totally irrelevant.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Sense of Humour

Just when I'm beginning to take it all too seriously, someone comes along and makes me laugh.
Thank you, Eugene Eckard, for this great post!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

De La Rey, and the construction of African-ness

When I came across the this article on News24 yesterday, I wasn't sure whether to interpret it as some sort of joke, or to give it more serious consideration. I am still inclined toward the former, but the FAK's statement on the matter suggests otherwise. As I can't find a permanent link, I have quoted the entire statement at the end of this post. Note the separation, in the statement, of Afrikaners and Africans. Part of the problem is right there, I would suggest. The Mail and Guardian report here on the Democratic Alliance's assertion that this is not the most subversive song to come out of South Africa in recent days, while this article, again from News24, despite being pretty poorly written, makes a different point. Note the final line:

"Who are we, where do we come from and where do we fit in?" is the question the music asks.

This music video is available on YouTube, while Hannes has blogged the lyrics of De la Rey with an English translation here, and commented on the situation here.

The Star's Monday editorial on the issue makes ridiculous assumptions that verge on the inflamatory, but I don't expect much better from them. They do, however, quote Steve Biko on cultural identity and multi-culturalism. A useful reference, I think.

Just a thought, though: my advisor has suggested that identity studies are not a successful way of dealing with difference, as the construct reifies identifying experiences, and can become divisive. I am beginning to see her point, though I am not certain what the alternative is.

More on this situation as it develops, I'm sure. Here follows the FAK statement:

(For immediate release 2007/2/7)
The Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Associations, the FAK, has warned the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) against a malicious, patronising misinterpretation of the Afrikaans artist Bok van Blerk's hit song "De la Rey". According to the FAK it is outrageous to suggest like the DAC that this song is at all connected with so-called "armed resistance" or "hi-jacking by rightwingers". It is equally unfounded to claim like the DAC that the Anglo-Boer War hero and peacemaker, General Koos De la Rey, is seen as a war hero "by a minority of rightwingers" while De la Rey is widely considered to be one of the wisest Afrikaner leaders ever and as one of Africa's first anti-colonial freedom fighters.
The DAC should take notice that the song "De la Rey"'s huge popularity runs wide amongst Afrikaners of all persuasions. This popularity doubtlessly is related to the dignified, positive way in which the song recognizes Afrikaner identity. It also relates to the need for imaginative, democratic leadership amongst Afrikaners, as well as to the often heavy-handed way in which government deals with questions of symbolic importance for Afrikaners. The DAC's negation of the pressure on Afrikaans culture and the Afrikaans language - under which all indigenous languages currently suffer - as "nonsense" is a dangerous denial of facts like the dramatic anglicisation of Afrikaans universities and schools. This sort of denial is reminiscent of the way in which the legitimate grievances of black South Africans were talked away under the previous political dispensation. To on top of all this bring the Treason Act and the Boeremag trial into the De la Rey-debate, as the DAC does, is irresponsible and testifies to a tendency to suspect all Afrikaners of smouldering racism and anti-patriotism.
These unfortunate statements of the DAC show how big the chasm between government and Afrikaners has become. It is in nobody's interest that this state of affairs persists, and the FAK therefore calls on the DAC to verify the facts and rather establish a sustainable partnership with Afrikaners. South Africa's most important precondition for success remains the friendship between Afrikaners and Africans and this goal should be chased energetically rather than to cast suspicion on one
CONTACT: Johann Rossouw, spokesperson, FAK, +27(0)83-459-6364

Monday, February 05, 2007

Singing a different South African-ness

I have had two of the most amazing days. Thank you, Jeremy.

On Sunday afternoon, I bundled up warmly (it is very cold here right now, and very windy, which makes it feel even more cold), and caught a train to Brooklyn. The ride was only mildly eventful (I got onto the train going in the wrong direction, and had to ride up to Grand Central to change without paying twice), and I walked up to Madibas. The restaurant was buzzing, and I was worried I was too late to find a table, even though I was about an hour early. I needn't have worried. People began finishing lunch, and heading home to watch the Superbowl. The crowd diminished. I was disappointed. It bothers me that Ladysmith Black Mambazo fill Carnegie Hall, and Jeremy doesn't. I want to write about that more at some point, but my quest to read more theory before then continues. Jeremy, however, said it all far more pithily that I could, by reciting a poem about smashing the television.

One of the benefits of a small audience is that we were all able to speak to Jeremy personally. What a thrill! He shook my hand, and asked my name, and we chatted a bit about St Martin's school, and living in South Africa. I asked Jeremy whether he might ever move back to South Africa. His answer was that at this point in his life, being able to take a walk in the evening without carrying a gun was more important. "If you are prepared to live behind high walls and electric fences, then it is a wonderful place," he said.

Our conversation ended there, and Jeremy picked up his guitar and moved to the microphone. The concert was an emotional rolercoaster in all the right ways. I laughed over Black and White Calypso, cried over Somewhere in Africa, and smiled with great pride when Jeremy introduced me by name as a St Martin's student before he sang Ag Pleez Deddy, which was written while he was teaching English at St Martin's. I sang along most of the way, and felt home. This is the music I grew up with.

After the performance, I got a hug and kiss from Jeremy (I felt like such a groupie), and headed back to Manhattan for church. After the service, and dinner, a group of us watched Amandla!. I recognized some of the music. I have been studying it for a while after all. But I was, to say the least, surprised to realize how completely different my reaction to that is from my reaction to Jeremy. I don't think it is just a matter of having grown up white that made the South Africa of Amandla! unfamiliar. Part of the point of the South African folk movement, of which Jeremy was a particularly important part, after all, was anti-Apartheid activism. But the sight of South African children in Soweto singing about warfare and killing in the 21st century, has quite the opposite effect on me of Jeremy's promotion of mixed-race marriage.

Part the second

This evening, after a particularly good class, I walked down town to the Shebeen. I was an hour early, and to my chagrin, was informed that the venue would only open at 18:00. Ordinarily, no problem. Park benches were made for moments like those, and I always carry course reading with me now for just such occasions. With the temperature flirting with -16 degrees centigrade, though, the thought was not appealing. I went in search of a coffee shop, and found a rice pudding shop instead. Ever tasted chocolate chip rice pudding? It wasn't hot (which in the present weather was disappointing), but it was good, and rich, and very sweet. I stretched my helping out until just before 18:00, and then bundled up to cross the street.

Shock and horror!

There was a notice on the Shebeen's door announcing that it was closed for a private function.

I was about to knock when someone opened the door, and ushered me inside.
"You here for Jeremy Taylor?" she asked
"How did you know?"
She pointed to the beaded South African flag hanging off the zipper of my coat, took the cover charge from me, and handed me a complimentary drinks token. Jeremy was talking to someone behind her, and smiled at me as I made my way inside. I settled on a bar stool, ordered my drink, and shook hands with half a dozen South Africans who were only too eager to treat me like long lost family. Their manicured nails, perfect hair and lashings of blood-red-black lipstick suggested that I would have received a somewhat different reception were we in Sandton, and not all equally displaced in New York. It occurred to me that I was experiencing first hand the diaspora effect I have read about in theory texts.
The venue was really just a longish, narrowish room, dimly lit by yellow painted florescent tubes, and candles, with a bar down the one side, and couches and coffee tables scattered around the rest of the room. It was warm and cozy, but simple, in a happy way.

Jeremy reappeared behind me, and to my delight remembered my name from the day before, and even offered another kiss. I couldn't stop grinning. I felt like I had just joined some sort of inner circle.

The performance started shortly, and once again, Jeremy was breathtaking. He had me in stiches, and fewer tears tonight as I was more prepared for the inevitable effect of certain songs on me. This time, I wasn't the only person singing along, and when he ran out of songs, we sang Sarie Marais, and If I Had A Hammer, and joked and laughed together for nearly four hours. At some point during the evening, I bought a copy of a CD based on a record my parents own, and that I remember from my childhood. Jeremy autographed it for me by the dim light of a candle, and I wondered whether to keep it with me in New York, or take it home.

By the end of the evening, I had made several new friends (among them, a folk singer, originally from Malawi, now living in New York, but formerly part of the Johannesburg folk scene), been invited to join several mailing lists for South Africans in New York (there really is something to be said for the anthropological obsession with being there. There is no other way to find out about these sorts of things), and received more hugs and kisses from Jeremy as we said good night.

Of course it has all been a lot about nostalgia. It is about an odd type of nostalgia for an experience of South Africa that I have only accessed tangentially through this music. And so it is also about a mutual imagining, and a mutual passion for a country we share a belief in, and a philosophy for its future that makes more sense to me than the white guilt model I have been negotiating for so long. My first awareness of the South African political situation happened around the 1992 referendum. I didn't know what people were voting for, but I was aware that some people were angry, and some were scared, and lots were very happy with the outcome. My awareness developed after it was practically over, and so the South Africa I know is the South Africa after. I can't yet figure out how to free it all from the hopelessly inacurate black/white dichotomy, but I guess learning to reclaim a different musical South African-ness from the one most New Yorkers see and expect, is a worthwhile step in the right direction. I sang a different type of South African-ness tonight, from the one I conceptualized when I started this blog. And I knew the words to this one.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Happy day

Did I mention that we have had a faculty search in our department? This time last week, we had just heard the last candidate give his job talk. And today, we have a new ethnomusicologist in our department. I will wait for the official announcement to go up on the department page before I give a name, just in case, but I am really delighted. This lovely happy place is growing, and in a direction that makes me very excited about the next few years here.
And just because it makes me happy, I must mention that I just had a meeting with a professor that I expect to work with very closely in the next few years, and it was really a productive time. Our work has some interesting intersections, and it felt really good to talk through some of them today. And just to put the cherry on top, he invited me to participate in a potentially very exciting bit of research that is in the early stages of development right now, and that I will post more on when I have more info. I wish I didn't have to be so cryptic, but I am constantly aware of how publishing things that are not fully-formed yet can go horribly wrong.
Still I am having a happy day.
So now to channel some of that happy energy into some serious work. I'm reading Encountering Development at the moment, and preparing a short paper on some of the issues raised. Very interesting book so far, though I am still only on the introduction.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Jeremy Taylor in New York

On Sunday afternoon, 15:00, Jeremy Taylor is performing at Madibas in Brooklyn, and on Monday night, 18:00, he is performing at the Shebeen in Manhattan.
I am thrilled to have the chance to see him live. I grew up listening to his music, and finished up my school career at St Martin's school, where he taught (I was there a while after he left, though).