part-time musings

Tag: Africa

Music to watch revolutions go by…

A journo currently working in exciting times in Mali introduced me to this epically cool Amazigh (Berber) music. It’s from Brian Shimkovitz’s brilliant site Awesome Tapes from Africa. Right now the situation in Mali and the repercussions of the Arab Spring are very much on my mind. Not least because they constitute almost half my work currently, one way or another – a year is apparently how long it takes for dramatic events in the real world to find their way onto scholarly pages.


KK goes shopping

Yes, I know, TWO supermarket posts in a row. But in my defense, this isn’t so much a post as a photograph which will serve as a placeholder until I get back to my old ways and have something important to say about Tanqueray. I stumbled across this photo on the interwebs while looking up something on Zambia. It’s a classic representation of a genre of photography that was prevalent in 1960s and 1970s Africa and intended to calm the nerves of foreign investors by showing how ‘normal’ Africa is. Featuring prominently in this genre of photography are pictures of African leaders doing ‘normal things’. Here, for example, is Kenneth Kaunda, shopping in a supermarket. The normality is admirable, non?

*Actually I wish I knew who took the photo and why; if you know, please drop me a message.

Premeditated drinking…

On a recent visit to South Africa, I was struck, not for the first time, by the ubiquitous presence of alcohol in South African life. I mused on this particularly when I was cheerfully offered ‘bubbly, beer, or wine’ on an early morning flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town. Ryszard Kapuscinski – that archetypal hardened, hard-drinking journalist – wrote this about drinking in Africa which I share with you if only to help you prepare your liver for your next trip to the continent:

“In the tropics, drinking is obligatory. In Europe, the first thing two people say when they meet is ‘Hello. What’s new?’ When people greet each other in the tropics, they say ‘What would you like to drink?’ They frequently drink during the daytime, but in the evening the drinking is mandatory; the drinking is premeditated. After all, it is the evening that shades into night, and it is the night that lies in wait for anyone reckless enough to have spurned alcohol. The tropical night is a hardened ally of all of the world’s makers of whiskey, cognac, liqueurs, schnapps and beers, and the person who denies them their sales is assailed by the night’s ultimate weapon: sleeplessness. Insomnia is always wearing, but in the tropics it is killing. A person punished all day by the sun, by a thirst that can’t be satisfied, maltreated and weakened, has to sleep.”

A diasporic tale about a song and being far from home…

A few years ago I was at a large, rambling party on a hot summer’s night in Cape Town. It was not unusual in being populated by unconnected global drifters at varying stages in their lives and futures. Cape Town is a city that has always been at ease with people just passing through.  What was unusual was that there was a small brass band in the garden playing old-fashioned dance tunes. As the night wore on I got chatting to some of the members of the band.  It turned out that they were all French-speaking and, stretching my French to its very limits, I discovered they were helicopter pilots from the DRC who had come to South Africa for training and been left stranded when Mobutu’s rule came to its sudden end in 1997.  While they waited to discover if they would have a place in the new dispensation, they made some extra cash by performing music.

The party ebbed and flowed and was still limping on at about 6 am the next morning when the band struck up a final set.  By now they’d been joined by a couple of tired and emotional Mauritians who embraced them like long-lost brothers while they sang tearfully together in French.  Their homesickness was palpable and it struck me that this suburban garden at the tip of Africa seemed like the loneliest place on earth to those guys.  The flip-side of Cape Town’s easy cosmopolitanism is that it’s full of people who are missing home.

A particular song from that morning has always stuck in my mind because it seemed both so beautiful and incongruous as it spoke longingly of the Champs- Elysées.   Over the years I’ve often thought about that morning and I’ve wondered how I might track the song down.  A little while ago I was in a supermarket queue in Brussels – a long way from Cape Town – and the elderly guy ahead of me was humming the tune.  I asked him what it was and it turns out it’s ‘Les Champs-Elysées’ by Joe Dassin.  So here it is – a song about Paris, that I first heard in Cape Town being sung by homesick Congolese and Mauritians, and which I lost, and found again in Brussels.