kagablog

May 27, 2015

decolonising wits : a film about the making of an epoch

Filed under: 2015 - Decolonising WITS — ABRAXAS @ 12:29 pm

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usa court imposes genital mutilation on four year old

Filed under: circumcision,niklas zimmer — ABRAXAS @ 11:03 am

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keep reading this article here: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/may/22/florida-mom-agrees-sons-circumcision-jail

24 may 2015

Filed under: Andrew White,corpses — ABRAXAS @ 10:22 am

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helgé janssen reviews the cedric nunn exhibition

Filed under: helgé janssen,photography,reviews — ABRAXAS @ 10:07 am

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first published here: http://www.artlink.co.za/news_article.htm?contentID=38053

michael flek interviews aryan kaganof

Filed under: kaganof — ABRAXAS @ 9:57 am

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keep reading this interview here: http://sexfashionmusicart.com/2015/05/23/aryan-kaganof/

May 24, 2015

braxi and cow, 17 may 2015

Filed under: Andrew White,caelan — ABRAXAS @ 2:10 pm

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home

Filed under: gustao zea — ABRAXAS @ 2:03 pm

ipp

Agnes Martin on the artist’s pride

Filed under: art,philosophy — ABRAXAS @ 2:01 pm

You think it would be easy to discover what is blinding you, but it isn’t so easy. It’s pride and fear that covers the mind. Pride blinds you. It destroys everything on the way in. Pride is completely destructive. It never leaves anything untouched. First it takes one way … telling you that you’re all right … boosting up your ego, making all kinds of excuses for you… It takes a long time for us to turn against pride and get rid of it entirely. And, of course, with every little downfall of pride, we feel a tremendous step up in freedom and in joy. Of course, most people don’t really have to come to grips with pride and fear. But artists do, because as soon as they’re alone and solitary, they feel fear. Most people don’t believe they have pride and fear, because they’ve been conditioned on pride and fear. But all of us have it. If we don’t think we have it, then that’s a deceit of pride. Pride practices all kinds of deceits. It’s very, very tricky. To recognize and overcome fear and pride, in order to have freedom of mind, is a long process.

more here: http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/03/31/agnes-martin-john-gruen-interview/

May 23, 2015

costica bradatan reviews marius hentea’s life of tristan tzara

Filed under: art,literature,philosophy,poetry,reviews,unga dada — ABRAXAS @ 3:02 pm

Marius Hentea
TATA DADA
The real life and celestial adventures of Tristan Tzara
360pp. MIT Press. Paperback, £24.95 (US $34.95).
978 0 262 02754 0

It is . . . foolish and self-destructive to lead a Dada life”, the poet Andrei Codrescu has written, because a Dada life will “include by definition pranks, buffoonery . . . intoxication, sabotage, taboo-breaking, playing childish and/or dangerous games, waking up dead gods, and not taking education seriously.” Dada is all these things and, beyond them, a constant practice of self-creation, an orgy of self-fashioning. That much is clear from the life of one of its founders, Tristan Tzara, as recounted by Marius Hentea.

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Tristan Tzara was born Samuel Rosenstock in Moineşti (a small town in Romania, some 200 miles north of Bucharest) on April 16, 1896. At the time, Romania was still using the Julian calendar. By the modern calendar, his birthday would be April 28, which, as Hentea points out, happens to be the day when the Romanian Orthodox Church celebrates the martyr Dada. (This is not a Dadaist joke.) Although he was born into an affluent middle-class milieu, Samuel lacked something important: a country. Until the end of the First World War, Jews in Romania were rarely citizens, even when they were born there, even after several generations. Those who did gain Romanian citizenship – for example, decorated war veterans or influential financiers – were naturalized on an individual basis, through a complicated legal procedure. Young Samuel must have found that unbearable, because around 1915 he decided he should have in his name what he didn’t have in real life: Tzara (“country”).

Most ironic of all, however, is the fact that the word is slightly misspelled: it should in fact beŢara (which Samuel also considered). To simplify pronunciation and spelling, it might make sense to use “Tzara” abroad, but not inside Romania, where it looks unusual and foreign. That must have been precisely Samuel’s point. Alienation became his second nature, and foreignness his artistic method. When he adopted French as his main language, he made sure he didn’t sound too native in it. As Hentea aptly points out, “the foreignness of French contributed to his distinctive poetry, which could be destructive and bric-à-brac in the way that a native poet could not be”.

Once Samuel Rosenstock became Tristan Tzara, he was perhaps bound to leave his native country; indeed, another way of reading “Tristan Tzara” in Romanian is Trist înțarǎ: “[it is] sad in the country”. His feelings about Romania, though, would have been more complex than that, for his young country was in the throes of a “rushed modernity”, as Hentea puts it. Barely independent from the Ottoman Empire, Romania was furiously refashioning itself as a European country, adopting everything Western. Bucharest, once a sleepy Eastern town, dreamed of being “a little Paris”, and was undergoing the most dramatic changes. As the French author Frédéric Damé noticed in 1906: “Everything which today makes up the capital’s beauty, everything which gives it the air of a modern city only dates from yesterday”. So the notion of radical reinvention, of re-creation from scratch, was something Tzara must have breathed along with Bucharest’s dusty air. And he smuggled it out with him when he left for Zurich.

Officially, Tzara went to Zurich to complete his studies, but he spent much of his time in the city’s literary cafés and cabarets. In February 1916, having nothing to lose, he decided to perform in one of these cabarets with a handful of friends. Nothing in these youths’ exotic, awkward appearance suggested the earthquake they were about to produce. Hugo Ball, the cabaret’s founder, recalled their arrival at his first performance: “an Oriental-looking deputation of four little men arrived, with portfolios and pictures under their arms: repeatedly they bowed politely. They introduced themselves: Marcel Janco the painter, Tristan Tzara, Georges Janco, and a fourth gentleman whose name I did not quite catch”. The birth of Dada, orchestrated by these “little men”, can be traced to that performance. Other future Dadaists were already there or on their way: Ball, Emmy Hennings, Hans Arp and Richard Huelsenbeck, to name just a few. From Zurich, Dada would spread like fire on a dry night.

When Tzara mockingly whispered, “Adieu ma mère, adieu mon père”, on the cabaret’s stage, his farewell had little to do with his family. Rather, it must have been addressed to a whole civilization and the order on which it was based – political, economic, military, cultural and intellectual. That order itself was an odd thing. Firmly rooted in the “Age of Reason”, it evolved into something that was anything but rational; what had started out, innocently enough, in the literary salons of the Enlightenment, with writers singing praises to “man in a state of nature” and philosophers dreaming of “perpetual peace”, ended up with one of the bloodiest wars the world had ever seen. The civilization of Europe came to exhibit the wildest contradictions: it mostly did away with transcendence, yet it worshipped science; it gleefully proclaimed that “God is dead”, yet embraced reason with a boundless faith. The latest discoveries in chemistry were used to gas the other side’s soldiers; barely invented, the aeroplane was deployed to bomb their cities more thoroughly. The First World Ward showed just how easy it was for a civilization built on a faith in “infinite progress” to regress to barbarism.

What Tzara – and, with him, the whole Dadaist movement – did was, in a sense, disarmingly simple: they placed a mirror before a civilization that seemed to be committing suicide. They just sat to one side, amusing themselves to death. As Tzara put it, Dada remained within the “framework of European weaknesses, it’s still shit, but from now on we want to shit in different colours so as to adorn the zoo of art with all the flags of all the consulates”. And the place where all this started – referred to by Tzara as a “cosmopolitan mix of God and brothel” – was called, quite fittingly, “Cabaret Voltaire”.

Hentea traces Tzara’s every step from Moineşti to Zurich to Paris, and discusses everything he published, every magazine he edited, every hoax he performed, almost every letter he wrote. The Tzara that emerges is Dada’s leading figure: a gifted poet, performer and editor, a tireless manager, promoter and public relations expert. As Hentea points out, the overwhelming importance of modern mass media for the dissemination of avant-garde ideas was something that Tzara understood like few writers before him.

Tzara’s unforgettable manifestos, with their combination of literary, artistic, typographical and even commercial elements, created the social awareness needed for Dada to make an impact. In no time he became a virtuoso of “l’arte di far manifesti”, as the Futurist Marinetti put it. His voice was clear and poignant, his gestures precise, self-assured, light-handed, his writing razor-sharp. Take this fragment from the “Dada Manifesto” (1918):

“abolition of logic, which is the dance of those impotent to create: Dada; abolition of memory: Dada; abolition of archaeology: Dada; abolition of prophets: Dada; abolition of the future: Dada; absolute and unquestionable faith in every god that is the immediate product of spontaneity: Dada;”

Such statements did not make Tzara a militant or activist. In line with Dada’s absurdist philosophy, his manifestos are manifestly against everything and nothing, which makes them nonsensical, which is precisely his point. “I write a manifesto and I want nothing”, he said. “In principle I am against manifestos, as I am against principles . . . . I write this manifesto to show that people can perform contrary actions together while taking one fresh gulp of air.” Eugène Ionesco and Samuel Beckett would take the absurd from where Tzara left off, and turn it into a new art form altogether.

Importantly, Tzara’s manifestos are not sermons; he is in no position to sermonize. This, for instance, is from the “Manifesto of Mr. Aa the anti-philosopher”:

“Take a good look at me!
I am an idiot, I am a clown, I am a faker.
Take a good look at me!
I am ugly, my face has no expression, I am little.
I am like all of you!”

Proclamations such as these touch on something deeper than the sheer “entertainment” some Dada performances, happenings and hoaxes might suggest: they reveal the philosophical vision in which all of them were rooted and which is not reconstructed in Hentea’s book as fully as it might have been. Tzara the philosopher is an intriguing figure, as complex as he is unexplored. Throughout his work the former philosophy student engaged – unsystematically and eclectically, but passionately – with Nietzsche, Wilhelm Wundt, Henri Bergson, and perhaps even, as Andrei Codrescu and others have shown, with elements of Hasidic and Kabbalistic philosophy. On the one hand, Tzara’s thought is a philosophy of crisis – an “anti-philosophy” – that responded to the manmade catastrophes of his time. On the other, there is something trans-historical and metaphysical about Tzara’s vision. His universe is one where chance, spontaneity and indeterminacy rule. “Logic is always false”, he said. “It draws the superficial fibres of concepts and words towards illusory conclusions and centres.” For Tzara, as for Dostoevsky’s underground man, one can find liberation only in sticking one’s tongue out. Life in such a universe, he once suggested, boils down to “a game of words”; yet still a game worth playing.

On his deathbed, Tzara told a journalist: “Everyone is a poet in one way or another, in a more or less conscious way”. He may have started out as a “faker” and a “clown”, playing the “idiot” out of media savviness or just a desire to provoke; yet he came to take his own masks seriously. If as a young rebel he made a career out of poking fun at the literary establishment, late in life he fought tooth and nail to ensure that his position in the canon was properly recognized, and his legacy taken care of. More seriously, he ended up entangled in some of the contradictions of the world he had always laughed at, finding himself mocked, as it were, by the object of his own mockery. Early on he had rejected political activism and thought Communism a “bourgeois form of revolution”, but after the Second World War he joined the French Communist Party, and took an active role in it. He was, as Hentea puts it, “fully committed to PCF cultural initiatives” and represented the Party abroad. Tzara even went so far as to sing the praises of the Soviet Union for having “guaranteed freedom of expression”. What kind of freedom Soviet Russia guaranteed was revealed in 1956, when the Red Army put a bloody end to the Budapest Uprising. Tzara promptly left the PCF.

Marius Hentea has given us what will probably be the book in English on Tristan Tzara for some time: splendidly written, thoroughly researched, balanced and sophisticated, and infected by his subject’s creative energy. With its eye-catching design and generous illustrations, there is also something distinctly Dada about TaTa Dada, for which the publishers deserve their fair share of praise.

Costica Bradatan is Associate Professor of Humanities at the Texas Tech University and Honorary Research Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Queensland. His most recent book, Dying for Ideas: The dangerous lives of the philosophers, was published earlier this year.

first published here: http://www.the-tls.co.uk/tls/public/article1558393.ece

May 22, 2015

vuyani pambo in decolonising wits

Filed under: 2015 - Decolonising WITS,kagaportraits — ABRAXAS @ 9:48 pm

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84min33sec
2015

Filed under: Greyton 7233 — ABRAXAS @ 9:43 pm

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Adrian van Wyk on decolonising Wits

Filed under: 2015 - Decolonising WITS — ABRAXAS @ 11:24 am

Once again you have successfully vocalized through film what is going on in our tertiary institutions. The EFF Vuyani Pambo is a strong character and an amazing orator. i imagine him being at the leadership of our country when his time arises. The unity and solidarity that these fighters show is admirable and we here in Cape Town still need to get to this point (we pray someday in the near future).

One line that has been resonating with me is when the young lady says that the gentleman in the wheelchair is “not a wounded soldier but a fighter!” when asked if he can’t be carried.

Amazing work Aryan, you are using the platform of film to illustrate where we are going!

I always believe film makers have a super power of seeing into the future: like when Spike Lee predicted gentrification and the killing of Eric Garner in “do the right thing”. You are giving us insight!

Respekt.
Adrian Van Wyk

May 21, 2015

pierre de vos on willem boshoff’s proudly racist

Filed under: art,politics,reviews — ABRAXAS @ 3:27 pm

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keep reading this review here: http://constitutionallyspeaking.co.za/at-the-venice-biennale-an-ugly-condescending-scream-on-the-wall/

a portrait of dina kuijers

Filed under: art,caelan — ABRAXAS @ 3:10 pm

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sartre on hatred that is good

Filed under: literature,philosophy — ABRAXAS @ 12:25 pm

One can imagine a good novel being written by an American Negro even if hatred of the whites were spread all over it, because it is the freedom of his race that he demands through this hatred. And, as he invites me to assume the attitutde of generosity, the moment I feel myself a pure freedom I can not bear to identify myself with a race of oppressors. Thus, I require of all freedoms that they demand the liberation of colored people against the white race and against myself insofar as I am part of it.

Jean-Paul Sartre
What Is Literature?

a path closes, another path opens

Filed under: kaganof — ABRAXAS @ 11:46 am

might become a buy and sell hawker like my grandfather Jacov
he used to walk around doornfontein with a donkey and a cart, buying and selling stuff
then he deserted his family, all four kids and wife dora
just up and left them one day
my father met him many years later in joburg on the street
Jacov was in his nineties when they met
my dad asked him how he felt about leaving his family
Jacov smiled broadly and said “It was the best thing I ever did in my life, I never regretted it for a moment. From the day I deserted your mother I became a happy man.”
My dad embraced Jacov and they never saw each other again. My dad did not go to his funeral.
But my dad said to me “I could not bear him any ill will, I saw the look in his eye when he told me how happy he was to leave us all and it was the look of truth. I respected that.”
the story made a great impact on me when my dad told it to me
i understood that people are much more complex than the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of our lives
people really do exist outside of the “moulds”

aryan kaganof photographed by andrew white

Filed under: Andrew White,kaganof — ABRAXAS @ 11:43 am

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conflating yoruba and sesotho literature – by omoseye bolaji

Filed under: free state black literature,literature — ABRAXAS @ 11:08 am

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keep reading this article here: http://letterfromsouthafrica-eric.blogspot.com/2013/08/conflating-yoruba-and-sesotho-literature.html

rappers, yeoville, 2004

Filed under: kagaportraits — ABRAXAS @ 11:02 am

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May 20, 2015

“Mattera called it a weapon”: THE MEMORY OF MUSIC

Filed under: maakomele r manaka,music,politics — ABRAXAS @ 9:33 pm

By Maakomele R. Manaka (the title is a line borrowed from Lesego Rampolokeng’s poem.)

“One good thing about music when it hits, you feel no pain.” Bob Marley’s statement summarizes the epitome of ‘Nyilo Nyilo: A vocal museum’, Masello Motana’s ingenious live performanceor rather a call to the redefinition of memory through music, at one of Johannesburg’s foregrounds for culture, the Afrikan Freedom Station.

Growing up in the township, music was an integral part of our lives. And because we lived so close to each other, every Sunday morning, music from every home would find its way through the congestion, filling the street with a kaleidoscope of sounds, from gospel,jazz, RnB, kwaito, to the loud Zionist church choir in a school across the street from my house, all at the same time. And even in the games we played as children, the presence of music was consistent. In many ways those rhythms from our homes, shops, tavens and our games, created a strong sense of belonging, feeling like you were part of something bigger than yourself, part of a community.

Through coming from the past and looking back at the future, the present is indeed ‘a dangerous place to live’.

And with all the PS4’s, DSTV‘s, MP3’s, the influx of drugs and the reckless public drinking, the congested spaces have become even more congested. The music in our languages seem to lose their flavors because many of us have forgotten how to listen, and have become spoiled couch potatoes and self-absorbed iPod junkies.

I suppose protecting oneself from this unpleasant present, ‘memory is the weapon’.

And just when I thought this decomposing present was becoming defenseless, a non-conforming radical voice of a hummingbird, Masello Motana restored the primary colors of our memory through melody.

MASELLO MOTANA in AFROGALACTIC DREAM FACTORY from African Noise Foundation on Vimeo.

Before the songbird led us through a musical journey, she began to unchain our minds from today’s socioeconomic political debris, exposing the importance of music in the shaping of a people’s culture and the fragility of its memory. She called one of her friends up to make a very poignant point about how interwoven music has always been by playing a game, many of us sang along, “By so, by love you baby….”. At that moment, our culture church, the Afrikan Freedom Station had been transformed into a playground and as the hummingbird stripped off all our adult tensions and masks, we all became children. Singing along to familiar tunes we used to play to.

And just after introducing the instruments of melody, like a rapid rattle of a rifle, she and the wielders of rhythm shot through time and space with their first song, “Ntyilo Ntyilo” Written by Aalan Silinga, and popularized by Mariam Makeba. Over the years there have been many different versions, though for me personally, Johnny Dyani’s version takes the prize. A Xhosa song about a little bird singing a beautiful melody of wanting to break free, Motana could not have been more in tune with the times in choosing the song to kick start the prayer because in a way many of us feel like that “Nyitlo ntyilo” longing to be free from the present and its lies. She delivered the song with a strong upright voice, driven by an emotional trombone over a melancholic baseline. The marriage between her and the music evoked those little birds inside each of us that are dying to be heard.

True to her name, Masello mothered our cries of longing to be reconnected to our long lost forgotten true history of our cultures. Her vocal museum is more than just a singer with a band in front of an audience she is an historian with a band of librarians telling our untold story of this land through music.

“When music hits you feel no pain”. What happens when music is painful?

When she began to sing “Thina sizwe”, it started to drizzle almost as if the ancient ones of this soil were in agreement with her, and us all. The pianist with a soft yet angry underlining tone in his keys carried with it a people’s plight that stretches over a century. Her ability to control the high and low pitches of her voiceover a wailing piano, accentuated the cry: “Mabayeke umhlaba wethu”.

On a table that fills with white supremacy and inequality, the message in “Thina Sizwe” could not be more relevant.

The vanguard hummingbird kept flying backwards, singing us through her thesis of the country’s historic musical landscape. Articulating the present’s condition through a dub version of Winston Mankunku’s “Yakhalinkomo”. The bewitching trombone and the rhythmguitar together with the drums along side a very punchy baseline uplifted the passion in her voice when she bellowed, “khaba le nja”. And as if she was not in the rhythm of relevance already, she and her band of librarians took us through an almost forgotten chapter of Strike Vilakazi’s “Meadowlands” reminding us of the forced removals that took place around the area where the Afrikan Freedom Station is situated.

We moved through the pages of music, and creating a nostalgic time capsule. Journeying through the spirit from Brenda Fassie to Lebo Mathosa and to the distinctive sound of Durban’s house music. Though the genius was in the taste of a very eclectic pudding, as she fused John Coltrane’s ‘Love Supreme’ baseline with lyrics from Professor’s popular song “Jezebel”, and bluesing up one of Boom Shaka’s hit tracks of the 90’s “FREE”.

The lyrics of “FREE”, written by Thembi Seete, express what many of us along with Masello still feel like today 20 years into the new South Africa, “I wanna be free from the chains that are binding me”.

After her last song, we all screamed for ‘one more’, and like fertile soil she humbly gave us one last song. Then she walked off stage like a slender sa ma catalogue on the runway, as we cheeredand stood up to honor her vocal museum meanwhile the band continued to play. We sat outside in the presence of memory covered in cigarette smoke and a cloud of nostalgia, recalling our childhood days and the music that shaped many of us.

Though amidst all the the exciting nostalgia in the presence of memory, the poet in me could not help but feel a hint of sadness creeping from the pavements, that even after such a memorable journey of the spirit we remain a dispossessed and a disconnected people.

And as the poetic statesman once said when restoring the archives of ancient scrolls in Timbuktu, “A people without a knowledge of self, is a people without a sense of direction”.

Masello Motana is without doubt, one of the strongest most candid voices of our generation, and it is with great faith that I pray we not only dance shout and marvel at her genius though rather we actualize her cause: To equip ourselves with the necessary tool that Mattera calls a weapon so we can begin to reclaim the land and rewrit eour true story. Because, many of the congested spaces we call home are overflooding with substances, institutions and systems that teach our children how to forget.

And so it is through memory that we can begin the struggle of reconnecting with the music in our indigenous languages, and Masello’s “vocal museum” is one of the true testaments to that possibility.

“Our true history is before us, for we have yet to build, to create, to achieve. Our very oppression is the flower of opportunity”- Can Themba

loser wins

Filed under: literature,philosophy,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 9:25 pm

Poetry is a case of the loser winning. And the genuine poet chooses to lose, even if he has to go so far as to die, in order to win. I repeat that I am talking of contemporary poetry. History presents other forms of poetry. It is not my concern to show their connections with ours. Thus, if one absolutely wishes to speak of the engagement of the poet, let us say that he is the man who engages himself to lose. This is the deeper meaning of that tough-luck, of that malediction with which he always claims kinship and which he always attributes to an intervention from without; whereas it is his deepest choice, the source, and not the consequence of his poetry. He is certain of the total defeat of the human enterprise and arranges to fail in his own life in order to bear witness, by his individual defeat, to human defeat in general. Thus, he contests, which is what the prose-writer does too. But the contesting of prose is carried on in the name of a greater success; and that of poetry, in the name of the hidden defeat which every victory conceals.

Jean-Paul Sartre
What is Literature?

zim ngqawana – zimology

Filed under: 2010 - the exhibition of vandalizim — ABRAXAS @ 7:53 pm

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this article first published here: http://jazz-jazz.ru/?category=download&altname=zim_ngqawana__zimology_1997

a way

Filed under: literature — ABRAXAS @ 4:27 pm

One is not a writer for having chosen to say certain things, but for having chosen to say them in a certain way.
Jean-Paul Sartre
What is Literature?

May 18, 2015

mareli stolp on Decolonizing music studies at South African universities.

Filed under: music,politics — ABRAXAS @ 11:25 am

For these reasons, the emerging consensus is that our institutions must undergo a process of decolonization both of knowledge and of the university as an institution. The task before us is to give content to this call – which requires that we be clear about what we are talking about.

Achille Mbembe

(This post is informed by two documents: the paper delivered by Achille Mbembe at Stellenbosch University on 30 April 2015, and a ‘work in progress’ article by George King, as well as discussion of these documents at a meeting of the MusicSymposiumSA on 14 May 2015. Both documents are available on request).

Something is brewing at our universities. Students are defacing statues; they are staging silent protests; they are staging loud protests; they are handing over memorandums. The students are raising their voices. And it is high time.

One might ask, why now? Have learners at our institutions of higher learning suddenly become disenchanted with the status quo, or have these discontents been simmering for the past twenty-one years? Is there something particular about the present historical moment that facilitates or enables these instances of dissent?

I don’t have an answer to these questions, nor do I want to try to engage with them in general. This blog deals specifically with music in South Africa, and this post with music education at South African tertiary institutions. And what is true, I believe, is that the present historical moment presents us with an opportunity: to answer the appeal articulated so well by Achille Mbembe, to ‘give content’ to the call for transformation and change at our institutions of higher learning.

DECOLONISING WITS from African Noise Foundation on Vimeo.

It is perhaps inevitable that the first post on this blog will be a contentious one, dealing as it does with issues of music teaching practice at South African universities. We are, however, admittedly living in interesting times, and these issues need exploring. The ideas put forward here are ‘unfinished’, and this post does not attempt to present a single thesis or viewpoint. I welcome engagement with all the points made here.

Three assumptions inform this post. One: curricula, approaches to teaching and course content at music departments in our universities are in serious need of transformation. Two: such transformation is being actively resisted by members of music departments at our universities. Three: there are ideological reasons for this protection of the status quo.

Dissenting voices from within South African music academe have been present for a while. George King mentions that, already in 1983, Chris Ballantine from the University of KwaZulu Natal (University of Natal back then) raised a number of issues relating to what he saw as the future for music studies in South Africa. In a paper presentation at the Fourth Symposium on Ethnomusicology, Ballantine proposed that music departments in South Africa respond to the radical and progressive restructuring of South African society by asking the question: ‘how could we orientate ourselves academically, how would we find our bearing, if we should decide to align ourselves with the progressive movements for social change in the 80s?’

More than twenty years on, Ballantine’s call for academic re-orientation, for a shift in paradigm at South African music departments, does not appear to have resulted in the kind of debate, transformation or change he had envisioned. His own department was one of the very few to implement significant curriculum changes before the 1990s; during the past twenty or thirty years, most music departments have been resistant to curriculum changes that would shift the focus from Western Art Music to include popular and indigenous musics within their BMus offerings. Although most departments now do include jazz, indigenous and popular music in their courses, the emphasis remains in most cases on Western Art Music. Traditional Western music theory based on the so-called ‘common practice’ period dominates music theory curricula, with little or no space for alternative approaches (and in spite of the fact that this kind of common practice theory has little or no bearing on composition, performance and music-making practices carried out by most South Africans today). ‘Music history’ deals, in most cases, with the history of Western art music, and few attempts are made to discover and include alternative ‘histories’ of music, particularly histories from our own continent and country, in the curriculum. Africa is not a-historical, nor is its music history something which should be relegated to the realm of ‘ethnomusicology’ or ‘cultural studies’ alone – it has a history that simply has not yet been actively researched and articulated.

Why is there such active resistance to transformation and change in our music departments? Why is there such active investment in the protection of a monoculture that favours Western art music above all other musics? Different scholars have suggested possible answers to this question; it is certainly too big a question to attempt to answer in this space. My doctoral dissertation offers some possibilities; it can be viewed here http://scholar.sun.ac.za/handle/10019.1/71885

Mbembe argues that universities tend to view knowledge as separated from the knower: the idea that knowledge can not only be taught from the top down, but generated by those actively involved in the knowledge project, seems anathema to many university lecturers. If we could manage to make a paradigm shift in this regard, and search for ways to provide students with tools for learning rather than just information, we might go a long way towards evening out the power imbalances that exist at our institutions.

How could this be done? In music, a holistic approach where academic and practical work is seen as integrated, mutually informative and equally significant parts of the education process could yield much. This could mean that, for example, a piano student would learn about composition techniques by interrogating the techniques present in the works she is performing: Messaien’s approach to rhythm ceases to be an abstract concept, and becomes something the pianist is intimately acquainted with. Or: the same piano student, after being exposed to Zimbabwean mbira music in an ethnomusicology seminar, experiments with improvisations on the piano incorporating similar scales and rhythmic patterns. Same pianist searches for ways to use performance to interrogate social issues such as accessibility to concert performances, by staging performances outside of the traditional concert hall. There are many possibilities; what these three examples have in common is the notion that learning can happen ‘from the ground up’, through discovery and experimentation, and that knowledge does not necessarily have to be delivered ‘from the top down’.

Such holism could further enable also a bridging of the typical juxtaposition of ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ approaches to music, allowing music students to be (in the words of Sol Plaatje) both ‘global actors and local citizens’. The hierarchy between ‘Western art music’ and ‘the rest’s music’ must be broken down – on a level playing field, engagement with all musics becomes possible. It is time to move out of the strictures of inherited practices and approaches, and into a space of experimentation: is it more important for a music student to know the correct way to notate a chord progression on a music stave? Or perhaps rather to be enabled to compose a piece of music, using improvisation, electronic resources, found objects or (and) musical instruments? An experimental space allows for new ideas, new ways of knowing to be constructed, rather than existing knowledges to be simply transferred or delivered, ready-made.

Students at South African universities are insisting on change. As role-players in music academe and the music world at large, we have the opportunity to take up this call for transformation and change, for their sake as well as ours. We cannot afford to miss such an opportunity again.

(Mareli Stolp, 15 May 2015).

first published here: https://musicsymposiumsa.wordpress.com/2015/05/15/decolonizing-music-studies-at-south-african-universities/

elliot ziwira reviews “we are…”

Filed under: literature,natalia molebatsi,poetry,reviews — ABRAXAS @ 10:27 am

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first published here: http://www.herald.co.zw/when-the-dream-comes-unstuck/

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