July 19, 2015
July 18, 2015
Regarding fame, fortune and Oregon I do wish I had more money. As for fame, it can go to your head and you can become full of yourself. This I was always afraid of and so it didn’t happen to me. It began to happen to me once, way back around 1969. Fortunately I noticed it before anybody else did and I cut it out. So what I do is this –when I go to the venue, I become the entertainer John Fahey. But when I come off stage, I do not want adulation, I do not want to be worshipped. I just want to be treated like an average guy. So I refer to records by me as “Fahey records”, “Fahey music”, and so forth. So I don’t have to speak of MY, ME, I, etc. and keep talking about myself all the time, which bores me and everybody else.
While I recognize in the back of my mind that I am an occasionally brilliant guitar composer and arranger, innovator and player. I also know that I am not a great technician.
Perhaps that is why I manage to keep some humility.
So when people ask me how good I am, I usually cop to being brilliant, even better than that, but short of genius. But I say these things in an objective dispassionate manner because, you know, and I can’t explain why, but being one of the greatest guitarists in the world simply is not very important to me. Oh, but if you took it away somehow I would be very unhappy.
But not suicidal.
I know many inferior guitarists who are very proud of the fact that they are as good as they are, when in fact they are only moderately good. They parade around in their egotism with their groupies and fans and lord it over their worshippers. I do not even laugh at this like others do because the relationship between entertainers and groupies is pathological. As soon as the groupie finds out that you make errors in everyday life like everybody else does and that you are human, they turn on you and hate you.
This has happened to me.
It can hurt a lot especially in the case of girls. As you know, I am very fond of these creatures. Once upon a time I fell in love with a groupie, a Chicago girl, not knowing she was a groupie. The usual thing happened and it was very painful to me.
From a social perspective, I am looking for friends, not acolytes. Being worshipped is a horrible experience.
As for the source of the music, I believe it comes from the unconscious; that there is no such thing as talent. There is simply a lot of hard work and more hard work and after that, more hard work. I believe Thomas Edison said that.
The other thing in composition is opening up the unconscious. I am especially good at the latter because, as I told you, I was in psychoanalysis for eight or nine years. Most musicians I know cannot open up. They are too focused on the audience rather than on their own emotions, or they are too focused on technique or perhaps on both.
When I play, I very quickly put myself into a light hypnotic trance and compose while playing, drawing directly from the emotions.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that I am playing emotions and expressing them in a coherent public language called music. If you don’t do that you sound stiff and uninspiring.
first published here: http://www.johnfahey.com/roncowanletter.htm
July 17, 2015
July 12, 2015
June 19, 2015
Harmolodic = Highest Instinct
Something to Think About
When I speak of rhythm I’m speaking about the oxygen for the notes. The beat or the time is the constant format. It’s the mechanical part of motion. Rhythm is the freest part of that motion. The beat is the cement for the road. It’s the road that you’re traveling on; the road doesn’t necessarily ever change. Rhythm can be harmonic or melodic. Most listeners and players think of rhythm as the drums and think of non-rhythm as sound or words. To me they’re the same. You can be moved rhythmically or non-rhythmically.
I mprovising is a word used to express music that is not being written and calculated at the moment. Once I heard Eubie Blake say that when he was playing in black bands for white audiences, during the time when segregation was strong, that the musicians had to go on stage without any written music. The musicians would go backstage, look at the music, then leave the music there and go out and play it. He was saying that they had a more saleable appeal if they pretended to not know what they were doing. The white audience felt safer. If they had music in front of them, the audience would think that they were trying to be white. So that’s what I think about the word improvising. It’s outdated. The term doesn’t describe the musician’s individual struggle for expression. Usually the person improvising has to use some sort of vehicle to let you know he’s doing that. It’s a limited term. Memory has a lot to do with improvisation. People enjoy the music they’ve heard before, much more than the music they haven’t heard. To me that’s like memory. The same sensations that made them enjoy what they liked in the past, when it was the present, wasn’t memory. That was an experience.
from Free Spirits: Annals of the Insurgent Imagination (1982).
June 18, 2015
ornette was the first jazz artist i got to really know, to really fall in love with. lonely woman was the track that did it. i was seventeen. it was weird you know, i used to get these compilation tapes from donald mcrae
he writes for the guardian now and books about sport. we used to send each other compilation casettes, he lived in boksburg and i lived in durban. we were both fanzine editors. and there on one of these tapes, in between the fall and suicide and tom waits, was lonely woman and i did not know where that sound came from. it did not come from the register of sounds that i was compatible with. and i used to roller skate around durban sweating profusely with my sony walkman plugged into my head listening to lonely woman. rewinding that track again and again until it breathed through my pores as naturally as the punk stuff i was brought up on. ornette’s sax became part of my fundamental essence, an essential sound. i carried that sound with me all those years in exile and even got to see him play live in rotterdam once with his son denardo on drums. oh my god denardo was such a terrible drummer. his terribleness was quite awesome. i mean he just flailed about hopelessly like he was one of the the raincoats or the shaggs. but every note that ornette played was from the outer reaches of the galaxy, always expanding.
June 11, 2015
June 8, 2015
Les Rallizes Dénudés (裸のラリーズ, Hadaka no Rallizes) were an influential, yet reclusive Japanese avant-garde band. They originally began in 1962 as a musical theatre troupe, however the formation of the band was not until 1967 at Kyoto University. They are known for their ties to avant-garde theater groups (as typified by Shuji Terayama’s troupe) and leftist political groups, as well as for their feedback heavy live shows. The band’s style is typified by simple, repetitious instrumental passages similar to that of krautrock, shrieking, cacophonous guitar feedback, extensive improvisation and folk arrangement. Their discography is made up almost exclusively of live bootlegs, as they have never officially released any of their own material.
In 1970, the original bass player Moriaki Wakabayashi assisted in the hijacking of Japan Airlines Flight 351 orchestrated by the Japanese Red Army. Wakabayashi has been living in North Korea since the hijacking. Singer and lead guitarist Takashi Mizutani was allegedly offered a role in the hijacking, but turned it down. After this event, however, a paranoid Mizutani kept a low profile due to his ties with the Red Army.
June 7, 2015
Artist : J.A. Caesar
Album : Kokkyou Junreika
Year : 1973
Track : 04
June 5, 2015
June 4, 2015
May 28, 2015
Had we invented the phonograph and the radio, how much more faithfully they would reproduce the special character of our voices and our music. Japanese music is above all a music of reticence, of atmosphere. When recorded, or amplified by a loudspeaker, the greater part of its charm is lost. In conversation, too, we prefer the soft voice, the understatement. Most important of all are the pauses. Yet the phonograph and radio render these moments of silence utterly lifeless.
In Praise of Shadows
May 20, 2015
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.
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
May 18, 2015
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.
(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.
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).
May 17, 2015
May 14, 2015
“It stands to reason that the music business, famous for its ceaseless attempt to locate a formula for success, has simply reached its natural conclusion in the Age of Pastiche Pop. Indeed, creating a culture of pastiche is simply the search for a successful blueprint, boiled down to its essence: Direct replicas of hits from the past, endlessly replicating.”
ghosts of my life
May 13, 2015
May 4, 2015
The artists that came to be labelled hauntological were suffused with an overwhelming melancholy; and they were preoccupied with the way in which technology materialised memory.
Ghosts of my Life
May 1, 2015
April 17, 2015
April 13, 2015
“I think you have to play with form and content, like in the blues. The blues is limited in certain ways, there’s a certain formula to it, it’s almost like haiku: the challenge is to create a whole world, and to be inventive, within a very limited structure.”