Thursday, March 29, 2007

Williamsburg, here I come

Tomorrow morning, bright and early, T and I are flying to Richmond, and then driving to Williamsburg for the MACSEM conference. Or rather, T is driving, and I'm passengering. So no blogging this weekend. But wish us luck. We're both giving papers.

The joys (I think) of grant writing

This is a new experience for me, but trying to convince someone to spend money on something I think is a good idea certainly forces me to clarify my ideas. I'm not too sure about the extent that it may also be shaping my ideas in a direction that could be suitable for the grant, but not necessarily entirely in line with the original idea, but perhaps that will force me to be relevant, or something. And hey, if someone wants to put money out there, it should at least be going to something relevant. No?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Spring and music are in the air

New York is so beautiful at the moment that it is an absolute tragedy that I had to spend the whole day in front of my computer. The weather has warmed up just enough that I don't need to wear a coat, or even a jersey (a thin little jacket is enough), but it hasn't become so hot that walking is uncomfortable. The sun is shining, and the spring bulbs are pushing through the soil in parks, pots and window boxes all over the city. In no time at all, the trees will be blooming, and I will be blogging my first encounter with cherry blossoms in Washington Square. In the mean time, though, the conference T and I are attending in Williamsburg this weekend beckons, and I must keep my nose to the grindstone. With one little exception. I walked down to church a little after eight this evening to sing the last compline service of the season. All this lent Gus (our organist) and I, and a mixture of other people (different ones most weeks) have been singing a compline service in a candle-lit church on fifth avenue. The service is really short (less thank 15 minutes), but the music and the atmosphere are beautiful, and just the thing to make me feel that all is right with the world. Lent is coming to and end this week, with holy week starting on Sunday (palm sunday), and then we are into easter, and the end of semester maddness. I hope we will be able to sing more of these services, though. Singing really makes me happy, and in such a beautiful, peaceful setting, all the more so.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Congratulations Steph!

When I started this Blog in 2004 (is it really that long ago), I had recently returned from my first ever academic conference, which was held in Helsinki, Finland. My stay there, and my first ever academic publication were the result of my having won the first SIDA essay competition. In 2005, the prize was won by a young woman from Rhodes University, and now I have just heard that my dear friend Steph, who completed her BMus at Wits at the end of last year, has won the 2006 competition!

Congratulations, Steph! that is such good news. You really deserve this. I remember how hard she worked on this paper, so I can say that with every confidence.

And just because that little detail makes me happy, too, I must add...

Girls Rock!

Meet my class mate

Ben Tausig is my colleague in the first year ethnomusicology class at NYU. He is great to work with, and a lovely friend, and I thought this article on him in the Brooklyn Record was a good opportunity to introduce him to you. When he isn't being an ethnomusicology grad student, he sets crossword puzzles for a whole list of newspapers. And he has a book of puzzles coming out in May. I saw the proofs the other day, and it looks wonderful!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Destruction in Durban

My parents have been in Durban this past week, during some insanely high tides that did some serious damage. They, thankfully, are alright, but they sent me a link to this photo essay on News24 with some incredible pictures of the damage.
Kevin also posted these amazing pictures of the lightning storm in the area, and these pictures of the high tide and damage in Ballito and Brighton Beach (both north of where my parents are), and Toti (right where my parents are). In fact, he has so many pictures, I can't link to all of them, so just visit his site if you want to see more.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Post Spring Break

After a really amazing week in SA, I am back in a surprisingly warm, wet New York. Working and living in Ikageng was really special, not least because it gave me an opportunity to watch the development of the attitudes of a group of people, many of whom had thought little, or not at all, about South Africa, before this trip. I did, I will admit, find myself bristling on occasion, as I listened to certain observations and oppinions that were informed either by lack of information, or outright misinformation, and once or twice I let my annoyance get the better of me, but by and large, I think this was a productive and information-rich experience for everyone.
We arrived in Johannesburg on the night of the 10th of March (Saturday), and drove the two and a half hours straight out to Ikageng in a convoy of mini-busses and cars. It was generally uneventful, but I did get quite a kick from pointing out the Johannesburg sky line, silhouetted against a colourful highveld sunset, and framed by the mountains and mine-dumps of the South and East rand. And the warm weather (which persisted throughout our visit) was wonderful, and very welcome after the rather chilly aeroplane cabin. In Ikageng, we were greeted with good old South African singing, and plenty of food, including many South African specialities that were unfamiliar to the majority of the travellers in our group. I love watching people encounter good things like local food and music for the first time.
On Sunday, we attended two church services, and it was lovely comparing the energetic, musically rich, and very long service, to the somewhat more demure New York services. The second service was at an outpost in a very poor, rural area, and it was something of a light-bulb moment for me to see just how important the church ritual, which I consider something of a luxury, is for people in a community in which I would have expected the function of the church to be more instrumentalist. It is very easy to fall into assumptions about what people should need when confronted by circumstances in which many of the things that I consider necessary are not present. While I consider my need to sing and to worship in church as essential parts of my identity, I dismiss those needs among people who don't have some of the things that I take for granted in my daily life. Under different circumstances, I would have felt guilty accepting luch from people who have so much less than what I do, but on this occasion, sharing a meal was an extension of the Eucharistic meal we had previously shared, and it felt absolutely essential to honour that.
After that service, we spend some time at the very smart house of one our hosts, and while the contrast with the place we had just been was rather startling, I think it was important for some of the people I was travelling with to see that the unequal distribution of wealth in South Africa is not purely along race lines. The circumstances in South Africa are more complex than that.
In the evening, we had a wonderful dinner at Potchefstroom hospital, followed by a tour of the hospital, during which I was reminded of the universal appeal of new born babies, before we all headed home to our respective hosts for the night.
The next few days were spend working at the building site that was the focus of our visit (we had come to build a rectory for a church in a poorer township), before the bulk of our group visited Pilanesberg game reserve and a mine in the area, and I spent some time with my parents. It was, as always, really good to see them.
I rejoined the group over the weekend at the Apartheid museum in Johannesburg, and we headed back to Potchefstroom for our last weekend. Our last church service in Ikageng was in the church at the building site where we had been working all week, and that was followed by a lovely braai (barbecue, to my non-South African readers) at a dam in Potchefstroom, and an emotional farewell to our hosts.
New York was surprisingly warm when we landed on Tuesday morning, and I was busy folding my coat as I sat on the shuttle that was to take me to my apartment, when the cotton holding the beaded South African flag I have been wearing on my coat, broke, spilling little black beads into my hand. I stored them carefully in my purse, and considered the significance of the incident in a way only possible after seventeen hours of in-air sleep deprivation. New York city rose up around my as I followed the now familiar route traversed by the airport shuttle, and was plunged back into the mid-semester chaos of grad school.
Was it only a week ago that I was sleeping in my own bed with my clingly little cat cuddled up beside me? It feels like so much longer. I can't be too home sick, though, as I spent the last two days with my dear friend Thembela (who has been visiting me in New York) reminding me just how South African I really am, despite my delight at being able to navigate Manhattan with only very occasional references to my trusty map book. It feels good to live in two places.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Spring Break

I am just finishing up my packing for spring break. I cannot believe it is that time already. My first year is nearly over.
I don't think I have blogged this before, but I am spending spring break in SA with a group of NYU students. We will be doing home stays in Ikageng, a township between Klerksdorp and Potchefstroom, and building a rectory for a church. I am very excited to see people's reactions to one another, and to the different lifestyles of the students and their hosts. There have been some protests in the area recently, over the proposed name-change for Potchefstroom, and some of the students and their families are a little nervous about the crime situation (thanks mainly to the BBC's comparison of Johannesburg and Iraq. Is it even necessary to point out what an exageration that is?). I will try to blog on both when I get back, because the reporting is interesting, if disturbing. But I really don't think this group needs to worry.
I am taking this opportunity to do some sound-scape recordings I need for another project, and so have a really exciting digital recorder with me for the week. I really am a techno junkie.
I am not going to have much time at home, as this trip is too short, and I will be working most of the time, but I am planning to spend one night in my own bed next weekend, so at least I will get to see my parents. The timing of all this is perfect, as my mom's birthday is tomorrow (Happy birthday mom!) and my parent's wedding anniversary is on the day I leave. Is it 32 years, mom and dad? Congratulations. I can't wait to see you both.
So I am going to be out of the blog-o-sphere for a little over a week. I should have lots to post when I get back, though

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

From the (not so) sublime to the ridiculous, and beyond!

It had to happen eventually.

And just to put this all into perspective, read the responses of the children interviewed for this report, and then read David Moseley's column. Unfortunately the comments facility is already closed, but I really think Jeremy Taylor's "Ag Pleez Deddy" (or for that matter, anything by Jeremy. What about "Mommy I'd Like To Be"? That one always makes me smile) should be the 'English South African song' he is searching for.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

De La Rey in the Blog-o-sphere

My daily blog search on the De La Rey issue was getting so unwieldy that I thought it might be useful to post blog links here as I find them.
This posting by Don on The Muso received a lot of comments. They make for interesting reading. Thanks to my parents for passing this link on. A later posting on the same site about the NYTimes article generated fewer comments.
Cobus has this long post , and this slightly shorter one with many more comments, and now a third one with some thoughtful commentary, on his blog, Emerging South Africa. Pete at My everyday walk with the creator has responded to the first two here.
Kiefpiet has also received quite a number of comments on his post, and Mhambi has posted on this topic here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. (and I thought I had posted a lot!)
Vincent Maher, on his blog Media in Transition posted this, Mike posted this at Inside South Africa, Rudi Groenewald posted this, and Attie Heunis posted this, which pointed me in the direction of yet another article on the topic. Thanks Attie.
Rouvanne at Peak People posted this, and SilentCoder posted a good translation here.
Here, too, is the Thought Menagerie post, Paul's post on Wired Gecko, a post on Maggsbunny, another by Guy McLaren and bb's post at Smarter than the Average Bearnot. This seems to be more of a forum than a blog, but I thought I'd post the link anyway.
I couldn't resist adding my two cents worth to this post at Musings of a Post-Millenium Mystic, and this post on Cherryflava, though slightly OT, made me laugh.

And of course, following the NYTimes article, there had to be US bloggers picking up the story. NYMary posted this on PowerPop. It is interesting to read her perspective alongside that of the various SA bloggers, and in relation to the comments to her post. This later post is also worth a read. Compare that with Michael's post at Western World Politics. This post at Vox ex Machina mentions the song only briefly at the bottom of the post.
I haven't yet figured out whether this blog is American or from elsewhere, but nonetheless, here is Michael H. Cognato's post. And Christo De Klerk calls himself a "Canadian Afrikaner in America, so I'm not too sure whether to put this link with the South African or the US responses.

Finally, I have been very careful not to pass judgement on the blogs I have linked to (though I have been pretty oppinionated in relation to the news articles), but I can't post this link without a disclaimer. Tom's Big Picture posts the first really frighteningly extreme right-wing response I have yet read. I link to it simply because I really do want to document as vast an array of responses as I can, and not because I in any way endorse his oppinion. So if you visit the blog, be forewarned. Fascism is not dead.
This post is more neutral, but many of the comments aren't, and the same disclaimer as above applies.

It seems there are a frighteningly large number of extreme right-wing responses out there. I am really torn about whether or not I should link to them, because I don't endorse their perspective, and don't want to publicise them, but on the other hand, it does suggest a bit of a retake on the perspective I have hitherto dismissed: that the song is being hijacked by right-wing extremists. Interestingly, as far as I can determine, all of these bloggers are from the USA, rather than South Africa. It doesn't mitigate their responsibility, but it does suggest to me that the problem does not lie predominantly in South Africa, and that, at least, makes me breath a little easier.
So in addition to the two links above, right-wing blog posts on De La Rey are here, here, and here.

I also wanted a space to link to other writing of relevance to this issue:
One World Cyber Music Store posted this article on the controversy surrounding the song.
An article in the Sunday times on a sense of Alienation among Afrikaans South Africans.
A Business day article on the Rainbow Nation.
The Saturday Star article on tribalism in South Africa.
A Mail and Guardian column by John Matshikiza.
A Sunday Times article by Achille Mbembe on reconciliation in South Africa (Thank you, Thembela).
A Mail and Guardian article based on a paper by Antjie Krog on De La Rey (Thank you, again, Thembela).
A News24 report on posters mentioning Bok Van Blerk at the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (Thank you, Mom and Dad).
And another report, again on News24, about Bok at the KKNK, this one more about his performance.
News24 again, this time on De La Rey at Loftus.
The Mail and Guardian has an article about street signs in Potchefstroom, one of which was defaced so that rather than Nelson Mandela Rylaan, it now reads dela Rylaan. This is also relevant to my post on Name Changes in South Africa.
In May 2007, the Mail and Guardian Thinking Forum held a debate with De La Rey as the topic. Afrikaansnet comment on it, or you can hear a podcast of the actual debate.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

In which the New York Times features

De La Rey made it onto the front page of the New York Times on Tuesday. I have been having a really hard time writing about it (partly because blogger refused to post and then lost the first draft I put together, though I think that that one didn't make it online is probably a good thing). I find it so hard to strike a balance between self-righteousness and utter naïveté on this issue. My advisor really knows what she is talking about when she says I need to read to develop the vocabulary I need to write. But quite honestly, why is it so difficult to write about Afrikaans culture? While I wouldn't put the song up there among my favourites, I quite like it. As enough people have said before, it is a catchy tune. And I do like the strategy of reclaiming a pre-apartheid history for Afrikaans. I do not align myself with a right-wing perspective, though, and recognize the capacity within this piece of music for alignment with causes I think are fundamentally flawed. But how to find the middle-ground....

It seems to me the pivot point is somewhere around the issue of the old South African flag, and most specifically the colour orange. When the new South African flag was chosen, it was stated specifically that the colours had no specific symbolism, aside from their use in some of the many previous flags that had been associated with South Africa. In general, the red, white and blue reference the Union Jack and the old SA flag, while green black and yellow recall various struggle organizations flags, including that of the ANC. The one colour that was excluded was the orange that had formed the lower bar on the old flag. The word "Orange" was also left off the new name for the province formerly known as the "Orange Free State". It was, however, adopted by the residents of Orania, a Northern Cape Afrikaner town with aspirations of independence. And I have vague (and I suspect unconfirmable) memories of orange being associated with a "no" vote during the 1992 referendum that led to the end of Apartheid. Is that too much symbolic weight to put on a single colour? I also have a remembered association between a horrendously violent act filmed and broadcast by the South African media in the 1980s, and the green, yellow and black flags that hid the faces of the perpetrators. What types of violence get demonized or justified by the state, and under what circumstances? The way that colours and flags get handled here, in the US, is very different from the way they are considered in SA, but in experiencing the American consideration of their flag, I think I am beginning to understand not why, but at least how, a flag can become such a contentious issue.

To return to the music, though, I must point out that none of the reports I have linked to yet note that the original statement by the Department of Arts and Culture, which seemed to ignite the already smoldering controversy, was not in fact a spontaneous effusion, but was issued at the request of the Afrikaans magazine Huisgenoot. The issue was then picked up by the FAK (which is where I first encountered it), and then by the national press, including the newspapers I have already linked to. The Blue Bulls Company then allegedly censored the song during rugby matches at Loftus Versveld, and then revoked that decision in the face of public outrage, though the company deny that any official decision along those lines was ever made, and claim that the song was played at last weekend’s match at Loftus.
Now is it just me, or does it begin to look like the controversy is really being fomented among white (I might even go as far as to suggest primarily Afrikaans) commentators? The DAC statement is pretty nonchalant in comparison to the FAK reaction, while the report in the Afrikaans newspaper Beeld, that I translated previously is significantly more agitated and even potentially inflammatory than that issued by the Citizen, or any of the other newspapers I have linked to. The New York Times buys into the ominous pessimism of the Beeld article somewhat more than the equivalent English South African press, but the assumptions made by that article about connections between Afrikaans culture and apartheid (no, they are not the same thing), and the direct connection, almost equation, drawn between De La Rey and Hendrik Verwoerd (most notably by the fronting of the article with a photograph of the diminutive statue of Verwoerd that overlooks Orania) which indicates the lack of subtlety concerning Afrikaans history that is precisely what this song and its popularity seem to be responding to, somewhat undermines the credibility of that report. I would suggest, though, that the noisy enthusiasm with which the Afrikaans community has opened this debate, indicates a strong desire to be heard. Michael Wines, the New York Times journalist, did make at least one strong point when he suggested that Afrikaners are afraid of their culture being “tossed into history's dustbin” (pg. 2) (this may have been an idea culled from the Sunday Independent, but as their articles are only available for perusal by subscribers, I am unable to confirm this). Certainly Afrikaans culture is rarely promoted along with post-apartheid South African culture in a broader sense: it is not exotic enough for either the world music or the international cultural tourism markets and too strongly negatively inflected by international opinion to fit into either pan-African or revisionist, Rainbow Nation rhetoric. And yet, the Afrikaans music industry, in particular, is big in South Africa. However it may look from the outside, contemporary Afrikaans musical culture did not spring spontaneously to life around this song alone. While I can't find stats for Afrikaans music sales right at present (I'm sure they must be out there), I can assure you that the Afrikaans music industry has a significant market, not least because the generational gap that is so evident among many audiences, is negligible among audiences for Afrikaans music. Musicians like Bok, Dozi, Karen Zoid, Chris Chamelion, Steve Hofmeyr, and the list goes no, play to audiences that span age-groups, while Afrikaans music crosses market-defined genre lines like classical, folk, pop, rock, and to a lesser degree, hip hop and jazz. There is no correspondingly strong white English South African industry, not because the music is not out there, but because, I would argue, assimilationist politics, coupled with post-apartheid white guilt and/or exodus created a self-conscious rupture in English South African music, as composers and performers attempted to navigate the opposing boulders of ‘paternalism’ and ‘eurocentrism’ that litter the rivers of postcolonial creativity. Afrikaans culture, from the Voëlvry movement, and beyond, has taken up the challenge, and is encountering the accusations and pitfalls that have kept me fearfully mute.
But New York heard this one. Free speech is a treacherous and ethereal idea, in situations like these.