Articles on this Page
- 04/28/11--07:11: _In which Lauren Beu...
- 05/01/11--00:28: _In which Malangatan...
- 05/01/11--21:16: _The TWAG quote of t...
- 05/01/11--23:21: _Two songs in one vi...
- 05/11/11--10:07: _Don't adjust your e...
- 07/16/11--13:20: _What I have been do...
- 07/17/11--14:25: _The greatest trick ...
- 07/18/11--11:07: _From Zimbabwe, In I...
- 07/26/11--13:28: _One of the best boo...
- 07/27/11--02:27: _A pictorial guide t...
- 07/28/11--13:53: _In which I fall dee...
- 07/29/11--01:17: _Young, gifted and N...
- 08/02/11--05:40: _Oh well, whatever, ...
- 08/03/11--02:20: _In Harare in August...
- 08/04/11--12:42: _When the trumpet bl...
- 08/05/11--08:13: _How to Run a Banana...
- 08/12/11--12:37: _Jeepers, creepers, ...
- 08/13/11--05:21: _On David Starkey, w...
- 08/25/11--01:38: _Ozymandias in Tripoli.
- 10/27/11--01:49: _The TWAG Quote of t...
- 05/01/11--23:21: Two songs in one video from Winky D
- 05/11/11--10:07: Don't adjust your eyes, this blog has a new look
- 07/16/11--13:20: What I have been doing when I have not been here.
- 07/18/11--11:07: From Zimbabwe, In Images, An Education
- 07/26/11--13:28: One of the best book jackets I have ever seen ... ever
- 07/27/11--02:27: A pictorial guide to understanding terrorism.
- 07/29/11--01:17: Young, gifted and Nigerian: Meet Chibundu Onuzo
- 08/02/11--05:40: Oh well, whatever, nevermind: the Nirvana baby is now all grown up
- 08/04/11--12:42: When the trumpet blows, won't you call me please, call my name.
- 08/13/11--05:21: On David Starkey, whites becoming black and blacks becoming white.
- 08/25/11--01:38: Ozymandias in Tripoli.
"Fly, thought, on wings of gold. Go and settle upon the slopes and the hills, Where, soft and mild, the sweet airs of our native land smell fragrant." - The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves
On Wednesday night, I felt goose bumps as the heart-wrenching strains of Va Pensiero rang out into the Harare night. It was Israel that Verdi was thinking of when he wrote Nabucco, but it was our own Zim that many of us must have had in mind as we listened to the London Festival Opera sing in our own Zim, the land so beautiful and lost.
I have had to pinch myself at many such moments during HIFA. That this immense achievement, this towering accomplishment could come into being in spite of everything is what gives me hope for Zim. Because if HIFA is possible in Zim, then so is anything. HIFA is nothing like you have ever seen. I will write more on HIFA, but for now, consider the day I had yesterday.
In the morning, I watched a performance by the National Ballet and the Dance Trust of Zimbabwe. Come to the Party, they called it, and performed different parties, a dinner party, an engagement party, a slumber party, a street party and so on. It was a hit and miss affair, some of it was exceptional, but some just cringe worthy.
Then I went on to the National Gallery, and got there just in time for a street performance o Julius Nyerere Way by the stilt walkers of the New York based Slavic Soul Party. They partied with onlookers to the beat of a massed brass band. And the police were actually doing some real live policing and directing traffic! I tell you!
Into the gallery I went, and what a feast there was. The brilliant Raphael Chikukwa, the man at whose feet I gladly worship, the power behind Zimbabwe’s invitation to the Venice Biennale has curated an incredible exhibition called “Beyond Borders”. It features Berry Bickle, who is headed for Venice; I was drawn immediately to one of my top men and favourite artists, Malangatana. I have a bit of a fetish for him: when I edited the Nigerian magazine Farafina in 2009, I commissioned an essay on him. You can imagine my delight when I went to Maputo a few years ago ad saw the most amazing murals by him. And here he is in Harare, in the National Gallery.
I also saw a stunning photo exhibition featuring the talents of Nancy Mteki and Preston Rolls and met Kevin Hansen, who, with Chipo Chung (of Dr Who fame), Lucian Msamati (of the No. I Ladies Detective TV series) and others formed the groundbreaking theatre troupe Over the Edge back in the 90s in Harare. He is now with an outfit called Jump Productions, and has written a book on the theatre, which he was about to launch when I met him.
I then met up with my gang for Winky D at the main stage. Now, Winky D is an absolute phenomenon. He is the most interesting musician in Zim today, engaging with the contemporary, and particularly, the township experience, in a way that no other artist has done, apart from maybe visual artists like Kanongevere and Lovemore Kambudzi. He is a dazzling performer, with charisma coming out of every pore. And he "mythobiographises" himself in similar ways to Eminem and other US rappers. The result is a sound and oevre that is distinctly Winky D. I hope to do a longer article on him soon.
My son and his cousins and my sister and her hubby all loved the show, as did the many fans that sang every song with him.
Fifteen minutes later, I was sitting with Kush in my parents’ church. (My parents attend the African Reformed Church in Zimbabwe which split from South Africa’s Dutch reformed Church in the 1930s, I believe). Their church in town is a protected building that sits in the middle of the commercial district on Samora Machel Avenue. It was a lovely setting for a chamber music recital. We listened to moving and unusual selections from Poulenc, Ravi Shankar and Beethoven. The goose-bump moment for me was a performance of four songs on texts by Toni Morrison set to music by Andre Previn, the classical composer (who is unfortunately better known as the man Mia Farrow left for Woody Allen.)
In the evening, I went to hear the Nigerian-German singer Nneka, Warrior Princess. She gave a sensational performance before a dancing, cheering crowd. When she asked if there were any Naijas in the audience, there was a loud and answering shout. She gave an impassioned speech about corruption in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and the West, and followed it with a stirring performance of the Fela-inspired “V.I.P. -Vagabonds in Power”. At that point, the Mayor of Harare, who was seated a few seats from me, whispered to his neighbour that he never wanted to be called a V.I.P ever again. Heh heh.
I finished the night with drinks and Mozambican chicken in the Green Room, and went home to dream about Malangatana.
Now, remember: this was just one day of my six HIFA days. The remarkable thing is that I missed out on at least 12 other events on just this day. Today, I am most looking forward to the Malawian stand up comic Daliso Chaponda, and to the closing show featuring the Dutch band Moke and my girl, the luminous Chiwoniso Maraire.
And tomorrow, I write about it for your pleasure.
I am having a lively debate with friends on Facebook over the Harare musician Winky D who rocked HIFA on Saturday. I do not normally like the music known as dancehall, but I have taken to Winky D. He calls himself the "poor people's devotee" and indeed, he has brought stories of contemporary urban township life to the fore in a way that no other recent musician has done. He sings about violence of all kinds, about love and drugs, about money and township characters. He references popular culture - McGyver and Flash Gordon are as important to him as the township locales he sings about. He also does interesting and witty things with language, twisting both Shona and English to suit his ends and he puts himself in his music, creating multiple personas in a way that is reminiscent of Eminem. Here are two short videos, he still has a way to go to get his videos more polished, but the music is already there. And note the knife taken from the plate of oranges - it is clever reference to one of Harare's most notorious domestic violence cases, the killing of Rutendo Jongwe by her husband Learnmore, who was the MDC's spokesperson at the time.
I have fallen in love with Blogger all over again - the templates have been jazzed up no end since the last time I redesigned my blog. I hope you enjoy the new look. Orange and purple are my favourite colours. I have tried a purple background before, now I am on orange. So do not adjust your eyes, this blog has a new look.
Where to begin? I am writing this from Amsterdam, one of my absolutely favourite places in the world. I am here as a Writer-in-residence - I am researching a book on trade and the art of the Dutch Golden Age which will also feed into my current novel. It sounds all horribly vague, doesn't it, but I am afraid that if I talk on and on about it, I will loose the steam necessary to propel me. But I will write more about Amsterdam, and my residency, in coming days.
I do not know where this comes from, but it expresses better than a 1000 word article what is so twisted about much of the commentary, particularly from places like the Daily Mail and Fox TV, around the motives of the killer who took so many lives in Norway. Thanks to the brilliant Sunny Hundal for the link.
After an interview I gave to the Guardian in 2009 in which I stated what I thought was an uncontroversial proposition, namely that I really dislike the term "African writer" as I see myself as just me, I received some rather frightening emails. Let’s just say there are a LOT of people out there who seem to derive their sense of worth from how people completely unrelated to them see themselves. A friend told me that quite a few posters on the Nigerian literary list-serve Krazitivity were up in arms because they thought that I was rejecting by black African Nubianess. And all the while I have been queuing before the "African Passports" counters at Oliver Tambo airport and getting my hair braided in Stall 90 at Kenyatta market in Nairobi! I even, as a declaration of my deep-felt Nubiosity, named my son Kush - if I had a daughter, she would be called Egypt then I could proudly say my children are named after the old African kingdom of Egypt and Kush. Or not.
Anyway, after the initial emails, I tuned out of the whole thing and privately swore that the next time anyone asked me about this, I would respond by quoting all of Jabberwocky.
But that was then. As part of an application for a fellowship that is hugely important to me, I have in the last two days been compiling a huge dossier of my reviews and published profiles and have been gasp, googling myself. By the way, I am not one of those writers who claims they do not read reviews - I read them, I love them, and I respect people who take time to read and write honestly and with sincerity. I have, however, for the last 12 months or so, stopped reading anything to do with Easterly. And as I did not read much around the whole African Writer thing, today was the first time that I read the short comment below from Nigerian philosopher and writer Chielozona Eze, which I found on Pambazuka.
I am deeply grateful to Chielo. He has very simply, but eloquently, captured exactly what it is that I meant. If I accept his division of writers on the continent into Achebeans and Soyinkans, I would definitely agree with him that I write in the Soyinkan tradition. I am honestly not interested in writing for the edification and education of the West. Nor do I write to correct historical wrongs. Just as there are stereotypes about Africans, there are stereotypes about Asians, about South Americans, heck, about any group if you come to think of it. To stereotype is human. If I set up my ambition as the correcting of what Chimamanda Adichie calls the "single story", I would go demented.
There are writers who have chosen to take on this burden. I read them, I cheer them on, I celebrate them. But that is not how I see myself or my writing. I do not want always to be writing back or answering back. It would mean that I am forever responding to agendas set by others. Instead of telling others what plants they should not grow in their gardens, I want to cultivate my own little plot, plant the things I love, and watch them grow. I want to write stories that mean something to me, and hang the West. Hang Zimbabwe too. Hang tyranny, including the tyranny of the loudest voiced ones. Hang censorship, hang any kind of silencing. I want to write about anything that takes my interest, with no agenda other than to write it well.
Before I became a writer, I was a roving, curious Afropolitan (I so love that term), rooted in my continent but inspired by the world. I love people, I love travel, I love ideas, I love discovering inspiration in the most unexpected places. This was my life before I became a writer, and it is still my life today. So I write the way I live: taking in everything that inspires, discarding everything that does not. My name is Petina Gappah. I am a Soyinkan. And a million other things besides.
In her first interview after winning the Guardian First Book Prize, Petina Gappah vehemently objected to her being labelled the voice of Zimbabwe. Rightly, so, one would say, for she is a voice, a very confident one for that. She is a voice that, like others before her such as Yvonne Vera, Marechera, Tsitsi Dangarembga, addressed the human condition from a given position, Zimbabwe. All literature is local. Since her interview, various internet discussion groups have devoted considerable attention to what is perceived by some as a betrayal of her African roots.
The title of her interview, ‘Petina Gappah: “I don't see myself as an African writer”’, is provocative enough to make one ask whether she had contracted Michael Jackson’s ‘yellow’ fever. Is it possible to create art that is not rooted in some place? Is she merely a copycat to her famous dead compatriot, Dambudzo Marechera? Not so fast, friends. To start with, it is abundantly peculiar even to a troubling degree, that only African writers appear to be burdened with the seemingly annoying issue of identity, whether they are writers from and of the continent. As one writer, coming to Gappah’s defense, said, you don’t ask water whether it is wet, do you? Yet, the writer rightly pointed out the tricky issue of identity. Thank God, identity is not as settled as the wetness of water.
And now, a musical interlude from Peter, Paul and Mary with Early In The Morning, a song so hauntingly beautiful that it is almost unbearable.
The man in brown in the middle there is a policeman. The man in the suit is the President. The young man in blue is a Zimbabwean commercial pilot who was recently in a reality TV show. His name is Wendall Parsons. And yes, he is white. There are lots of white people still in Zimbabwe. They sometimes, if they are lucky like Wendall, get to shake the President's hand and receive money from him. In the white envelope is $50 000 for lucky, lucky Wendall. See Wendall smile. See the President smile. See the policeman look. Look look look. Oh look look.
Michele Bachmann, it is true, is nuttier than squirrel poo and fruitier than an orchard full of apricots, pears, plums and quinces. (That is a little shout out to my trade law friends, whom I miss madly, together with trade disputes about apricots, pears, plums and quinces. I weep when I read the Japan - Varietals case, I simply weep.) Back to the topic - Mrs Bachmann appears to be more than a little estranged from that thing you and I rather familiarly call reality, but this? Really, Tina Brown? Why not have her wield an axe splattered with the blood of a googly-eyed poodle and have done with it? As John Stewart said, you want to show that Mrs Bachmann is a nut? Use her own words. There are enough of them.
When I was at Cambridge, some of my fellow students, and some dons, used to say this thing that first amused me, but became increasingly irritating. I would be at a party, talking nineteen to dozen in my usual way, and then I would find someone staring at me with a look of wonder. The inevitable remark would then come. “You speak such good English.” And this at Cambridge, one of the most competitive universities in the world. To be at Cambridge was surely to be among the best: it is why I had applied in the first place. Why would anyone be surprised that a student at Cambridge spoke good English? Isn’t it a condition of admission? Wouldn’t you imagine that we all spoke good English?
But the subtext was clear: you are a black person and, therefore, you are not supposed to speak such good English. I was the first black African student at my college, and no, this was not as long ago as you think. My special status was stressed to me a number of times, particularly by one don who beamed at me and said, as soon as he met me, that I was the second Rhodesian at Sidney Sussex! And are you going back to Rhodesia after you finish, he asked, to which I responded that that was an impossibility as the country no longer existed.
I eventually developed an effective response to the you speak such good English comment. Anytime I heard this, I said, why so do you, in a tone of happy camaraderie.
These memories came back as I listened in wonder to the historian David Starkey on Newsnight. He said three things: that Enoch Powell was partly correct in his Rivers of Blood speech and that the white kids who looted all over England were victims of black culture, and, finally, that if you heard the Oxbridge-educated Tory MP David Lammy speak without seeing him, you would think that he was white.
He speaks such good English, you see.
That a historian would bandy about such imprecise terms as white culture and black culture is frankly baffling. What is white culture? Going to the opera? Divorce? Or having a nuclear family? Atheism? Or the creationism that is becoming rampant in the American south? Scientology? The gay pride parade of Amsterdam? Or the gay curing programmes of the kind advocated by Michele Bachmann's husband? The binge drinking of London? Football hooliganism?
And don’t get me started on black culture, which seems to be reduced by Starkey, to a very specific sub-culture influenced by hip hop and rap music and street gangs.
But gangs, of course, are not part of white culture, because the Teddy Boys, back in the 50s were not white at all, oh no. And those Victorian street gangs, the Sloggers, the Scuttlers? When Dickens wrote about Fagin’s gang of pickpockets, about murderous gang member Bill Sykes, why he must have had some sort of Jamaican influence because Bill Sykes? He was acting black.
Missing in David Starkey’s analysis is any awareness of class. Because this is the essence of Starkey’s reasoning: any white person who is not how you imagine a white person to be has become black, and any black person who is not how you imagine a black person to be has become white. To be black is to be poor, it is to be uneducated, to be inarticulate. A middle class black man like David Lammy becomes, not middle class, but white. And the working class hooligans who were looting trainers are acting black.
I very much fear that England is going to get this spectacularly wrong. All the commentators, like Starkey, are responding reflexively from within the narrow framework of their entrenched positions.
But that is another subject for another day. Listening to Starkey took me back to Cambridge, where my fellow students actually thought to express surprise that a fellow Cambridge student spoke English well. And why? Because I was black.
From the wonderful Nick Hayes at the Guardian.
Last week, the Swiss denied visas to members of President Mugabe’s entourage who wanted to go to Geneva for an ITU meeting. Among those denied visas was the President’s wife, Grace Mugabe. The President rarely misses an opportunity to attend the ITU annual meeting - he was to have been on a panel with Swiss and Rwandan Presidents Micheline Calmy-Rey and Paul Kagame.
Paul Kagame was to speak by video-phone from Kigali.
Our President, never one to turn away from a lectern if he can lambast Western powers from it, was to be there in person … along with a 62-member entourage.
The Swiss issued visas to the President and a significant number of the entourage, but felt, reasonably enough in my view, that not all 62 were on UN business, and that some were in fact using the UN mission to avoid the sanctions that have been imposed on their travel to Switzerland.
This seems entirely reasonable to me, but then I am not entirely unbiased: my view is grounded in the fact that the last time the President went on a UN mission, he is said to have spent more than 5 million dollars – his entourage on that occasion included his young children who undoubtedly had pressing UN business in New York. My view is also influenced by the fact that government owes the City of Harare about 80 million dollars, which explains the smell of rubbish that is piling uncollected outside my apartment complex and the nasty pothole on Arden Drive that I almost drove into last week. Most of all, I am exercised by the fact that the Harare City Library, whose board I chair, and which is the biggest and most popular library in Zimbabwe, has a leaking roof. If you knocked off about 20 intelligence agents and associated aides from the 62, that would be enough money for a new roof.
But back to the Swiss. They refused to issue all the requested visas. Cue vociferous objections from all sorts of people including the African Union. The Swiss eventually issued all the visas, including the First Lady’s, but by then, the President had had something of a hissy fit and decided not to go.
This is the context in which I introduce to you our TWAG quote of the week, from the always entertaining, Shakespeare and Bible quoting presidential spokesman George Charamba.
"By denying the First Lady the visa, the Swiss were trying to put apart what God had tied," Charamba told AFP.
Let's have that again:
"By denying the First Lady the visa, the Swiss were trying to put apart what God had tied."
There you have it. Mrs Grace Mugabe has nothing on Ruth, whose beautiful words of loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi you all know so well: where you go, I will go also, your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God.
Where the President goes, the First Lady goes. And the Godless Swiss tried to break them up for the whole three days that the President would have been away! As it is so clear that the First Couple cannot bear to be apart even for a few days, I want, at this point to dedicate to the First Couple the famous song by The Police that is meant to be a love song but that, because of the menacing obsession that it implies, is more suited to be the anthem of all stalkers everywhere:
Every breath you take,
Every move you make,
Every bond you break,
Every step you make,
I’ll be watching you.
Mr. Charamba, let's have it once more, loud and clear for the cheap seats:
"By denying the First Lady the visa, the Swiss were trying to put apart what God had tied."
Yes people, the blog is back!!