March 24, 2017
March 17, 2017
March 15, 2017
He’s always laconically late. But he always arrives.
Most of what he’s achieved in life is based on this fact
in combination with the ace up his sleeve: He never disa
grees. Not even when he was getting tortured. Not even then.
His torturers in fact became quite fond of him. He screamed
a few times, but that was understandable under the circum
stances. He gave nothing away. They respected that.
They always lost respect for anyone that spoke.
That ratted. What they never found out was
that the reason he never said anything
was because he knew nothing. He
was entirely unconnected to the
rebels. The hipster guerilla
outfit he wore was a fa
He was always
ahead of the pack
like that. When the torturers
staged their own tactical defeat
and placed the guerillas centre stage
they legitimized the staging by allowing
the people to vote. The foregone conclusion
was fistuck. You could vote, yes, but the choice
was between the best of the worst, and the worst,
and, indeed, the worst of the worst and those even more
worser than the worst of the worse. The torturers called him
up after the elections and offered him a post at the top echelon
of state. They felt they could trust him. He was someone who
kept his mouth shut, someone who did not break. He said
he would think it over, asked them to call him back the
next day. He fingered the finely stitched hemp cloth
of his guerilla jacket. Walked into the kitchen wh
ere his mother was preparing his dinner. He
smiled at her, kissed her on the top of her
head and said, softly, “I’ve arrived.”
March 14, 2017
There were five concentration camps in Namibia, then called German South West Africa, between 1904 and 1908. In January 1904 war broke out between the Herero nation and the German colonial admnistration in Namibia. After the Battle of Waterberg the Herero nation either succumbed to the desert or were picked up by German patrols and put in concentration camps. The official mortality rate in all five camps was 45%. Thousands of people were crammed in small areas. Rations were minimal, consisting of a daily allowance of a handful of uncooked rice, some salt and water. Disease was uncontrolled. Beatings and maltreatment were part of life in the camps. The concentration camp on Shark Island, off the coastal town of Luderitz, was the worst of the five Namibian camps. Luderitz lies in Southern Namibia, flanked by desert and ocean. In the harbour lies Shark Island, which was then connected to the mainland only by a small causeway. The island is barren and characterised by solid rock carved into surreal formations by the hard ocean winds. The camp was placed on the far tip of the small ….. the gale-force winds that sweep Luderitz for most of the year. By April 1907 1700 prisoners had died. Missionary reports put the death rate at between 12 and 18 a day. As much as 80% of the prisoners sent to the Shark Island concentration camp never left the island. Cold, hunger, thirst, exposure, disease and madness claimed scores of victims, and cartloads of their bodies were carted every day over to the back beach, buried in a few inches of sand at low tide, and as the tide came in, the bodies went out, food for the sharks.
March 13, 2017
My novel “The Vuvuzela Murders” is structured like a dismembered human body.
March 12, 2017
March 8, 2017
Who needs art when one can do with a cellphone?
Over Kaganof’s SMS SUGARMAN
en de Beeldenstorm van het Derde Oog.
De eerste keer dat ik SMS Sugarman bekeek had ik allerlei ideeën over de keuze van de beelden, het acteren, de wijze van vertelling, en nog zo wat zaken. Toen ik de film een dag later nog eens bekeek, waren al mijn eigen ideeën verdwenen en kon ik bij alle lassen, kaders en bewegingen alleen maar knikken: juist, zo moet het.
Plotseling keek ik naar een foutloze film.
De eerste keer dat ik naar de film keek, deed ik dat als het ware door een klassieke lens. Ik wilde cinema zien, maar zag iets anders en dacht dat het niet klopte.
De tweede keer dat ik naar de film keek, zag ik de vertelling door de lens van de mobiele telefoon. En plotseling klopte alles.
De mobiele telefoon, in haar uitgebreide hedendaagse uitvoering, is een instrument dat met niets in de menselijke geschiedenis is te vergelijken. De ruimte die zij beslaat is eindeloos. De hoeveelheid beelden en geluiden die zij ziet, hoort en transporteert is eindeloos. En al dat eindeloze is even waar. Stylering, altijd het gevolg van schaarste, verdwijnt. Er zijn geen wetten in deze wereld. Het derde oog oordeelt niet. Het derde oog laat zien.
Het centrale verhaal in Sugarman, een protagonist die zonder het te weten opdracht geeft zichzelf te vermoorden, symboliseert op een prachtige manier de technische thematiek van de film. De mobiele camera vermoord, zonder dat zij zich daarvan bewust lijkt te zijn, de werkelijkheid die ze filmt. Anders dan de klassieke film, die in haar complexiteit en logistiek het best te vergekijken is met de bouw van Kathedralen, voegt de mobile camera niets toe aan de bestaande wereld, maar leidt integendeel een strikt parasitair leven. Als een zwam, een bloedzuiger of een teek zuigt zij het leven uit dat wat door haar oog valt.
Het is een wonderlijk proces dat nog het meest op duivelsuitdrijving en bezwering lijkt. Sinds haar de vonk van bewustzijn werd geschonken is de werkelijkheid geen beste vriend van de mensheid. Het is het verschil in zielerust tussen zij die weten dat ze onwetend zijn, en zij die niet door die, strikt gezien totaal overbodige, kennis worden gekweld.
SMS Sugarman is niet alleen een hedendaagse, grootsteedse burleske comedy of errors qua vertelling. In de beeldkeuze, de montage en de soundtrack is de film bovenal een essay over werkelijkheid en projectie. Enerzijds lijkt Kaganof de jongste digitale ontwikkelingen te omhelzen. Hij gaat niet de strijd aan met de technische beperkingen, maar gebruikt ze en toont ze als een mediumspecifieke textuur, zoals een pianiste het hout van de piano laat kreunen en de schilder zijn penseel sporen laat trekken. Maar Kaganofs omhelzing is er een van het melancholieke soort. Af en toe zien we, in kadrering en verstilling, een echo van de klassieke cinema. Maar het klassieke, monumentale beeld wordt op de mobiele telefoon slechts bij toeval gevangen, en betekent er niets meer of minder dan alle andere beelden. Voorwaarde is enkel dat de beelden doorgaan. Elkaar opvolgen. Nooit stoppen. De klassieke film kende nooit een loop-functie. Het verhaal was af en klaar en rond op een bepaald moment. Direct herhalen was en is in zeker zin zinloos. Dat is nu anders.
A Happy Ending is Never Easy (when you’re in a loop)
Men heeft het wel eens over de grammatica van het beeld. Alsof het beeld een taal is. Die men kan leren en ontleden. Maar het beeld is geen taal omdat haar alfabet niet zonder moraal is, en omdat wij de beeldtaal wel kunnen horen, maar niet actief machtig zijn. Beeldtaal dat is als het geluid van een waterval. Probeer daar maar eens iets op terug te zeggen. Alles wat wij hedentendage kennen als beeld is in oorsprong heiligs en beladen. Eenzame rotsen in een zee van beeldloosheid. Beelden waarover wij fantaseerden meester te zijn, maar die in de werkelijkheid onze meesters waren. Soms bekeken, maar zelf altijd kijkend. Soms toegesproken, maar nooit zonder de eigen constante monoloog ook maar een moment te onderbreken. Hoe antwoord je de Pieta van Michelangelo? Wat zeg je terug op die spraakwaterval van indrukken? Aan woorden heb je niets.
Dit verklaart de klassieke status van de kunstenaar. Iets tussen een magiers een charlatan en en een priester in. De bedwinger van het beeld, maar pas op: het bedrog ligt op de loer! Want wat hij kan, kunnen de meesten niet. Met de mobiele camera is die verhouding anders komen te liggen. Wie terug wil praten maakt een foto of film. En iedereen kan het. D’r is helemaal niks aan.
Een parasiet kent geen moraal. En zo is het beeld dat de mobiele telefoon laat zien, zonder moraal. Daarin is zij niet uniek. Ook de letters van het alfabet vertegenwoordigen in zichzelf geen morele waarde. De revolutie van de derde oog er niet een van communicatie, maar van ex-communicatie. Een nieuwe beeldenstorm. Een massale, collectieve ontheiliging van het beeld. Een schuimende volksbeweging die de muren tussen mooi en lelijk, tussen prive en openbaar, interieur en exterieur neerhaalt, en als een kudde jonge veulens de grenzenloze weide van de openbare ruimte inrent. Het derde oog breekt de werkelijkheid op in een weliswaar veelvorming en complex, maar in der aard moraalloos alfabet en eindelijk, eindelijk kunnen wij terugpraten!
Het enige waarover wij ons wellicht zorgen kunnen maken is het gegeven dat het moraalloze beeld van het derde oog wel verdacht veel lijkt op de werkelijkheid. Anderszijds: wie durft te beweren dat die werkelijkheid nog bestaat?
Er is heel goed een toekomst voorstelbaar waarin wij enkel nog met beelden zullen communiceren. Allen bionisch uitgerust met een zeer bewegelijke lens, een zender en een ontvanger, tovert men beelden in elkaars hoofd. De altijd bewegende visuele werkelijkheid die voorheen gevangen moest worden in omschrijving en stylering is nu zelf taal geworden.
De klassieke verhaalstructuren waarmee de mensheid sinds haar oorsprong met elkaar communiceerde zijn door het derde oog in toenemende mate obsoleet geworden. Geboren uit stylering die weer het gevolg was van beperkte middelen, is zij met het onvruchtbaarder worden van haar biologische ouders razendsnel aan het uitsterven.
Na tienduizenden jaren streven naar een Happy End zijn de rollen nu opgedraaid. Welkom in het tijdperk van de Happy Beginning. Opnieuw en opnieuw en opnieuw.
Who needs art when one can do with a cellphone?
On Kaganof’s SMS Sugar Man and the iconoclasm of the Third Eye.
The first time that I watched SMS Sugar Man I had all sorts of ideas about the choice of images, the acting, the manner of story telling, and many other matters. When I looked at the film for a second time, the next day, all my own ideas vanished and at every cut, ever frame and every movement I could only nod my head: exactly, that’s how it should be. Suddenly I was watching a film without faults. The first time that I watched the film, I did it as if through a classic lens. I wanted to see cinema, but I saw something else and thought that this was a problem.
The second time that I saw the film, I watched the narrative through the lens of a mobile phone. Suddenly everything made sense.
The mobile phone, in its expanded contemporary version, is an instrument that is incomparable with any in human history. The space it takes up is infinite. The amount of images and sounds that it sees, hears and transport is infinite. And all that infinite media is equally true. Stylering, altijd het gevolg van schaarste, verdwijnt. Stylisation, always the result of sacristie, disappears. There are no laws in this world. The third eye doesn’t judge. The third eye sees and lets see.
The central story in SMS Sugar Man, a protagonist who unwittingly hires contract killers to kill hemzelf, symbolizes in a beautiful way the technical thematic of the film itself. The mobile phone camera, without being aware of it, murders the reality that it films. Other than in the classical narratieve film, that in its complexity and logistics is best comparable to the building of cathedrals, the mobile phone camera adds nothing to the existing world, but on the contrary leads a strictly parasitic life. As a zwam, a vampire bat, or a tick it sucks the life out of everything that it sees.
Het is een wonderlijk proces dat nog het meest op duivelsuitdrijving en bezwering lijkt. It is a wonderful proces that is most feministen of exorcism and bezwering. Sinds haar de vonk van bewustzijn werd geschonken is de werkelijkheid geen beste vriend van de mensheid. Since it first gained the spark of consciousness reality has not been the best friend of humanity. Het is het verschil in zielerust tussen zij die weten dat ze onwetend zijn, en zij die niet door die, strikt gezien totaal overbodige, kennis worden gekweld. It is the difference in zielrust between those who know they are ignorant and those who are not disturbed by this strictly spekking totally useless information.
SMS Sugarman is niet alleen een hedendaagse, grootsteedse burleske comedy of errors qua vertelling. SMS Sugar Man is not only a contemporary urban burleske comedy of errors in terms of narratieve. In de beeldkeuze, de montage en de soundtrack is de film bovenal een essay over werkelijkheid en projectie. In the choice of imagery, the editing and the soundtrack the film is above all an essay about reality and projector. Enerzijds lijkt Kaganof de jongste digitale ontwikkelingen te omhelzen. On the one hand it seems as if Kaganof has embraced the latest digital developments. Hij gaat niet de strijd aan met de technische beperkingen, maar gebruikt ze en toont ze als een mediumspecifieke textuur, zoals een pianiste het hout van de piano laat kreunen en de schilder zijn penseel sporen laat trekken. He does not try to disfigure or camouflage the mechanica imitators of the mobile phone medium, but uses them and exhibita them as a medium specific texture, like a pianist allows the wood of the piano to sigh or the painter who allows the individuele hairs of each brush stroke to be visible. Maar Kaganofs omhelzing is er een van het melancholieke soort. But Kaganof’s embrace is of the melancholy sort. Af en toe zien we, in kadrering en verstilling, een echo van de klassieke cinema. Every now and then we see, in raming and stylisation, an echo of the classical cinema of the thirties and forties. Maar het klassieke, monumentale beeld wordt op de mobiele telefoon slechts bij toeval gevangen, en betekent er niets meer of minder dan alle andere beelden. But this classical, monumental cinema image is captured by the mobile phone camera only in passing, at a glance as it were, and means no more or less than all the other images in the film. Voorwaarde is enkel dat de beelden doorgaan. The only conditiën is that the images keep moving. Elkaar opvolgen. Follow each other.Nooit stoppen. Never stop. De klassieke film kende nooit een loop-functie. The classical cinema never had a loop function- Het verhaal was af en klaar en rond op een bepaald moment. The story was ended and over at a particular moment. Direct herhalen was en is in zeker zin zinloos. Repetition was and is in that context menigtes, senseless. Dat is nu anders. That is now different.
A Happy Ending is Never Easy (when you’re in a loop)
Men heeft het wel eens over de grammatica van het beeld. There is often talk about the grammar of the image, of cinema. Alsof het beeld een taal is. As if the cinema is a langzame, as if images were a language. Die men kan leren en ontleden. That could be learned and analyzed. Maar het beeld is geen taal omdat haar alfabet niet zonder moraal is, en omdat wij de beeldtaal wel kunnen horen, maar niet actief machtig zijn. But the cinema of images is not a language because its alfabet is not without morality, and because we can hear the image language but not tactiel power can be (?) Beeldtaal dat is als het geluid van een waterval. An image language that is like the sound of a waterfall. Probeer daar maar eens iets op terug te zeggen. Try talking back at that. Alles wat wij hedentendage kennen als beeld is in oorsprong heiligs en beladen. Everything that we know today as image is in its origine sacred and loaded with meanikng. Eenzame rotsen in een zee van beeldloosheid. Lonely rocks in the see of imagelessness. Beelden waarover wij fantaseerden meester te zijn, maar die in de werkelijkheid onze meesters waren. Images that we fantasie about being the masters of but which were in reality our masters. Soms bekeken, maar zelf altijd kijkend. Sometimes looked at, but always themselves looking. Soms toegesproken, maar nooit zonder de eigen constante monoloog ook maar een moment te onderbreken. Sometimes spoken to (adressed) , but never without breaking their own contstant monologue for even a moment. Hoe antwoord je de Pieta van Michelangelo? How do you speak back to the Pieta by Michelangelo? Wat zeg je terug op die spraakwaterval van indrukken? What do you say back to the linguïstiek waterfall of impressions? Aan woorden heb je niets. Words alone are nothing.
Dit verklaart de klassieke status van de kunstenaar. This explains the calssic status of the artist. Iets tussen een magiers een charlatan en en een priester in. Somewhere inbetween a magician, a charlatan and a priest. De bedwinger van het beeld, maar pas op: het bedrog ligt op de loer! The bedwinger of the image, but beware: the cheating is in sight! Want wat hij kan, kunnen de meesten niet. Because the arttist can what most peole cannot. Met de mobiele camera is die verhouding anders komen te liggen. With the mobile camera this relationship has now come to change. Wie terug wil praten maakt een foto of film. Who wants to talk back makes a photo or a film. En iedereen kan het. And verbod can do it. D’r is helemaal niks aan. It’s absolutely possible.
Een parasiet kent geen moraal. A parasite does not know any morality. En zo is het beeld dat de mobiele telefoon laat zien, zonder moraal. And thus it is that the image that the mobile phone camera show is without morality. Daarin is zij niet uniek. That is in itself not unique. Ook de letters van het alfabet vertegenwoordigen in zichzelf geen morele waarde. The letters of the alfabet represent in theeservies no moral values. De revolutie van de derde oog er niet een van communicatie, maar van ex-communicatie. The revolution of the third eye is not one of communication, but of ex-communication. Een nieuwe beeldenstorm. A new iconoclasm. Een massale, collectieve ontheiliging van het beeld. A massive, collective de-sacralization of the image. Een schuimende volksbeweging die de muren tussen mooi en lelijk, tussen prive en openbaar, interieur en exterieur neerhaalt, en als een kudde jonge veulens de grenzenloze weide van de openbare ruimte inrent. A foaming people’s movement that the walls between beautiful and ugly, between private and public, interior and eksteroog, completely demonische, and like a herd of young foals the broderies weide of the public space runs inside. Het derde oog breekt de werkelijkheid op in een weliswaar veelvorming en complex, maar in der aard moraalloos alfabet en eindelijk, eindelijk kunnen wij terugpraten! The third eye breaks reality up in an apparently complex and multiformal, but in its essence amoral alfabet and finally, finally we can talk back!
Het enige waarover wij ons wellicht zorgen kunnen maken is het gegeven dat het moraalloze beeld van het derde oog wel verdacht veel lijkt op de werkelijkheid. The only thing that we should have to worry about is the fact that the amoral image of the third eye looks suspiciously like reality. Anderszijds: wie durft te beweren dat die werkelijkheid nog bestaat? On the other hand: who dares to suggest that this reality still exists?
Er is heel goed een toekomst voorstelbaar waarin wij enkel nog met beelden zullen communiceren. It is possible to imagine a future wherein we will only communicate with images. Allen bionisch uitgerust met een zeer bewegelijke lens, een zender en een ontvanger, tovert men beelden in elkaars hoofd. All of us bionically kitted out with an extremely mobile lens, a transmitter and a receiver, and magically appearing in and out of each other’s heads. De altijd bewegende visuele werkelijkheid die voorheen gevangen moest worden in omschrijving en stylering is nu zelf taal geworden. The always moving Visual reality that previously neede to be captured in elaborate descriptieons and stylization has now become language itself.
De klassieke verhaalstructuren waarmee de mensheid sinds haar oorsprong met elkaar communiceerde zijn door het derde oog in toenemende mate obsoleet geworden. The classical storytelling structures with which humanity since its originas has communicated have been by this third eye in increasing degrees made obsolete.Geboren uit stylering die weer het gevolg was van beperkte middelen, is zij met het onvruchtbaarder worden van haar biologische ouders razendsnel aan het uitsterven. Born out of stylization that itself was the result of limited means, she has become with the infertility of her biologica parents very quickly in danger of extinction.
Na tienduizenden jaren streven naar een Happy End zijn de rollen nu opgedraaid. After ten thousand years of stories doing their best to find the Happy Ending the roles have now reversed. Welkom in het tijdperk van de Happy Beginning. Opnieuw en opnieuw en opnieuw. Welcome to the era of the Happy Beginning, again and again.
Aryan Kaganof, previously known as filmmaker Ian Kerkhof, offered his debut Hectic! to various established publishing houses – in vain. ‘We can’t publish this book, they said, because we’re not sophisticated enough to read it, because we’ll think you’re an AWB-writer. I couldn’t believe it’, says Kaganof. He then ended up publishing it himself, followed by a Dutch translation.
With Hectic! Kaganof further penetrated the literary space that Coetzee had opened up. He wrote an anti-moralistic novel that is set in Cape Town, and deals with the subculture of young people who hang out in pool halls. That’s where Kaganof found the essence of the white South African. ‘The whites in this country are all white trash. No European who was on any level a worthwhile human being came into this country. The shit, the detritus and the dirt came here and invented the Negro, the kaffer, because then they could feel better about themselves. So if you want to find those things out you have to go to the lower classes, because that’s the history of the country, all the rest is affectation. Culture is very skin-deep with the white South Africans, all ersatz culture. Real South African culture is fighting and drinking and sports.’
He wanted to get to the heart of a subculture he was part of. ‘There was no other mission. To show people as they really are, not these people talking political things of change and all this rubbish. And nothing about guilt from the past. Most of the people I know live their life and don’t give a fuck about anything. They’re pissed off with all that shit.’
Despite this unwelcoming literary climate, there has been a steady stream of young post-apartheid writers, even though it’s too early to talk of a movement. ‘I could come up with a beautiful, coherent story’, says author Etienne van Heerden, who teaches creative writing at the University of Cape Town. ‘But the truth of the matter is that everything is still in a ferment, everything is very complex, and everything has a counterargument. This is the first literary generation that doesn’t write in opposition, a generation that has to search for subject matter and that is very cynical about involvement. A generation that, contrary to us, the Tachtigers, isn’t issue driven.’
“They say the darkest hour comes right before the dawn,” Bob Dylan once sang, quoting an old proverb.
“THE EXHIBITION OF VANDALIziM” is a film documenting a healing ceremony performed by Zim Ngqawana and his former pupil Kyle Shepherd in the ravaged body of The Zimology Institute for Higher Learning in January 2009.
The film was directed, shot and edited by Aryan Kaganof of African Noise Foundation, as a springboard to a further improvisation, VANDALIZM, that took place live in Johannesburg’s Gallery MOMO on March 7, 2009. The event was a fundraising effort towards rebuilding the Zimology Institute, desecrated by vandals earlier that month.
With Kaganof’s film, the live duet of Kyle Shepherd (on piano and violin) and Zim Ngqawana (on woodwinds) was mediated into a unique quartet, playing impossible combinations backwards and forwards through space and time. As a standalone document the film remains powerful.
The Zimology Institute of Higher Learning is located on Zim Ngqawana’s farm, half an hour outside Johannesburg. It’s a project that the internationally renowned flute, tenor and soprano saxophone improviser established in 2001 to nurture younger musicians, inspired by his own mentoring in similar environments by such luminaries as Yusef Lateef and Archie Shepp. Their enduring influence is evident in Ngqawana’s profoundly spiritual, yet politically conscious approach to pedagogy.
The Institute aims “to produce leaders within the jazz community – not just musicians, but thinkers, who will be able to sustain this art form. We have to go back to the mentorship system, and expose students to the spiritual aspects of music … And we have to go beyond music itself and talk about all aspects of life.” The Zimology Institute has many notable alumni, including pianist/violinist Kyle Shepherd, recently nominated for two SAMA awards for Best Newcomer and Best Traditional Jazz Album, the youngest jazz musician ever to be recognised in these categories.
The vandals’ attack on Zim’s Institute left two grand pianos in ruins. Furniture was smashed to pieces and the building was stripped of all electrical connections and plumbing. However, despite the vicious physical damage, the unknown perpetrators could not destroy the core of Ngqawana’s work: in fact, the incident is propelling him to broaden Zimology’s vision. “We are turning something negative into something positive, doing something creative in order to raise funds and rebuild.”
Ngqawana speaks of how this destructive act has brought him misery, but also a great opportunity to further the cause of the Institute. He says he is grateful to the vandals for providing the inspiration to do the impossible, quoting Sun Ra: “The possible has been tried and failed. Now it’s time to try the impossible.”
“Jazz is all about moving into the unknown. This is a wonderful opportunity to improvise and go beyond the beyond, to expand our vocabulary with instruments that are not known…” He jokes wryly, speaking in the third person of himself and Shepherd in the run-up to this performance, “Don’t worry, whatever is there, they will play it.” In the film, the two pianos are played as they were found in their broken condition on the scene. Other items, including a violin and pieces of the headstock of a double bass damaged during the vandalism are also incorporated into the performance.
Kaganof’s lens captures the healing ceremony with rhythmic empathy, the chaotic intensity of the camera work and profound darkness of much of the film emphasizing the disorder, the dark violence of the crime, the sparkling pain in Zim’s eyes, the seeming senselessness of what has happened… as well as the inextinguishable light of creativity and compassion that banishes the darkness as the film progresses.
Ngqawana’s breath is a vacuum puncturing the dusty silence, pierced again by his solitary saxophone, squeals and yelps of acute, frenzied pain, an exorcism which gradually finds a more measured groove, continuing in a smoky tango with Shepherd, sombre on the overturned grand piano.
Kaganof’s camera leads a tour though the devastated premises, blurred in places, as if through tears, now jerking and whipping around in disbelief, now staring in wonder as the artists move through the building, reinhabiting each room, exploring the sounds they can coax from the wreckage.
A three stringed violin keens in the kitchen, Ngqawana and his horn reflected in the oven door by light filtering through jagged glass and violated burglar guards… A flute graces the denuded bathroom, the acoustics of the room unperturbed by any contents… The buzz and twang of snapped, raw wires, the harsh grating of what looks like a double bass headstock as Shepherd scrapes it across the floor… The two musicians, with intense focus and feeling, are gradually working these broken pieces back into coherence. A ripped out orange plastic plumbing part becomes a multi-tonal vuvuzela with zim’s lips to it, a cracked toilet cistern holds his chanting voice, gleams back his thrumming hands in the oblique rays of sun as he warms it into a new role as the rhythmic backdrop for a new music… an exquisite, jarring cacophony that carves out strange, alien planes of expression, gradually taming their emotive chaos into musical shapes that hold. The sound fills the gutted space defiantly.
Zim speaks of improvisation as total freedom from fear, spontaneity, and a willingness to go beyond the self to selflessness. Performing this music here is thus therapeutic: it recuperates the violated space and those connected to it spiritually, allowing them to move beyond fear, anger and blame. In his understanding of the incident, Ngqawana demonstrates a great well of compassion and a sense of urgency to take this healing beyond the walls of the Institute and out into wider society.
Ngqawana maintains that the full meaning of freedom, which includes freedom for humanitarian and artistic reasons, has not been realized up until now, neither globally nor, palpably, in the specific context of South Africa. He contends that superficial “independence” has confused people into believing they are free, when in reality they are still living under a “barbaric system of ignorance and prejudice” that vandalizes their hearts, souls and minds.
Zim understands the destruction wreaked on the Zimology Institute by the vandals as being the result of multiple levels of systematic impoverishment. The perpetrators’ actions are the immediate socio-economic effect of living in a unequal society dominated by materialism and money: local unemployed people are desperate to generate income by any means, which has led to the ripping out of all electrical connections, plumbing and other items saleable for scrap. However, Zim argues that the gratuitous destruction of the musical instruments hints at a deeper dimension to the malaise on a psycho-spiritual plane: the moral and spiritual bereavement of the perpetrators.
Society’s focus on discussing petty crime should be shifted to a consideration of the bigger structures at work in producing the circumstances that lead to incidents like this, Zim believes. He holds that the particularly violent nature of the crime prevalent in South Africa is the result of the sick systems of education, religion and politics that govern our lives, and that the havoc wreaked on his farm and the Institute is just one manifestation of how this dysfunctional culture breeds illness, crime and insanity. Vandalism of the soul is the most serious crime of all, he declares.
The revival of the spirit has always been central to the mandate of the Zimology Institute. “We will recover. We will be back… I sing with a sword in my hand… I sing with a sword in my hand.” Zim intones these blues by the light of a small paraffin lamp. As the words repeat, the flame is enlarging in Kaganof’s lens until it’s burning up the entire screen.
The film draws to a quietly contemplative close out in the veld, with the soft rhythm of Kyle’s traditional uhadi symbolically resuturing spirit to natural order as the morning sun creeps up toward the horizon.
It was a wintry, gray London morning when Stanley fetched me at Waterloo station to take me to his home in Weigall Road. I had written to him, sending him the introduction of my thesis on South African music and asking for an interview. He consented at the 11th hour, a week before I was due to return to South Africa. Even before we arrived at his home, it became clear that he had much to talk about. Asking questions was not going to be easy.
SG: When I read your writing, it’s almost an Afrikaner writing as opposed to a South African.
SM: Yes it is. Very much so.
SG: And maybe that is what you want to do. Yours is a concern that I understand very well. But Afrikaner intellectuals are inclined to be elitist, even to their own Afrikaans people. They are so disciplined and conscious and intelligent and they work and they take a problem and they sort it out and their writing is very good. But how many of them have got black friends? Have you got any black friends?
SG: You see, here you are talking about things and you don’t even know one black guy you can discuss your ideas with. That is a problem. I am a very strong nationalist, but my nationalism is entirely inclusive. I am proud of the rich mix that you get in South Africa, which gives a certain character and strength. I feel that in many ways South Africans are more characterful than Australians, or New Zealanders or Canadians. Culturally I regard ourselves, potentially at least, as richer than these countries. We’ve got a lot to be proud of with the South African set-up.
SM: Can you expand on this idea of an inclusive nationalism?
SG: Nationalism is very important to a people. One of the big musics of the world is jazz. How many bloody American composers have infused jazz into their classical works? A few Europeans played around with it. There was Milhaud. And then there is Bernstein and perhaps one or two other examples, but jazz is full of the most fascinating things. If you take folk music and transmute it as Bartók did or perhaps some of the Russians have done, it enriches classical music. The Americans haven’t done anything like it for decades. You get a guy like Copland and they make a big fuss of him. Billy the Kid and Rodeo and the Mexican this and that. It’s skimming the surface. Folk music always enriches classical music, and in this regard twentieth-century music has failed. Composers in the twentieth-century have tried to show that they are technically and intellectually competent like their counterparts in the natural sciences. So you get guys taking up twelve tone writing and they throw a whole lot of things belonging to music out of the window. ‘Cesspool music’, that’s what one critic called it. I have tried to show that serial technique could go beyond what the practitioners of the Second Viennese School devised. I took a little six note African scale, got a friend of mine to write light little verses and I treated that six note scale very strictly according to serial rules. And they were light pieces! I am saying that technique doesn’t necessarily have to serve the purpose it had when it was developed. And now I come back to culture and inclusive nationalism. There are all sorts of infusions into a culture. Take Byrd, Palestrina and Victoria. All Catholics, all beholden to their faith. But when you listen to their music: Victoria is Spanish, Palestrina is Italian, Byrd is English. They’re using the same devices, the same words of the mass. But they haven’t lost their culture. There is always an element around which is essentially culture specific. That is what I think we could do in South Africa. There could be cross-fertilization. In the case of art music we could produce some wonderful works in the future, feeding new things into West-European classical music, refreshing it. The ethno-classical element in South Africa is full of promise, because you have the opportunity to produce a transmutation that can ultimately produce a new sound. In my music I often use a major third, E-C, let’s say, to a major fourth, D-A. Now that’s especially to be found in Nguni source music. And it is sunshine to me. Now let us go back to Afrikaans composers. What Afrikaans composers have taken ‘vastrap’ and worked that into their classical music? You see, it’s below them. Vastrap is not classical music. Bartók, who ranged all around the North-African perimeter and the Balkans was an Hungarian composer. It’s what he did with his stuff that counts. The Americans are in the best position to transmute jazz elements into classical music and they have not done so sufficiently. I feel we can do that in South Africa. That is what I’ve tried to do. I have a sense of private superiority about South Africa over dozens of other countries. When I am up in heaven playing my mbira, looking down, I want to sea Southern Africa like a European Union. We can become one of the power houses of the world.
SM: Do you thing there is down-side to writing ethno-classical stuff?
SG: Yes, of course. An example. Hans Roosenschoon is a very good composer. When he was doing a year or two at the RAM we performed a brass quintet of his at Goldsmiths. Excellent! Excellent! It had Zulu sounds in it, overtones, which even I can’t grasp. Excellent piece of music. The audience of lecturers and students didn’t know Zulu music from Adam, but they thought it a terrific piece of music. Momentarily, I feel, Hans let his hair down. It is one of his most original pieces. But when Hans wants to show himself, understandably, to be on a level with the leading composing schools whether it is in France or England or Europe or America, he is writing European music for South Africa, instead of writing South African music for Europe.
SM: Now that is interesting, I …
SG: Wait, I’m coming to the down-side of writing ethno-classical stuff. It is a question of attitude. He did another work some years later for a chamber orchestra and chopi record, recorded by Hugh Tracey in Mozambique, and he timed his music so that you put on the tape of the original chopi stuff to fit in and out with the chamber orchestra. Ingenious. But it was superficial. Technically very good, but superficial. So once when he came over to London we had coffee together and I asked him why he didn’t go and do some research. He answered that one didn’t need research, as everything had been recorded. Now you can’t just listen to records, that’s not the way to get to know music. You’ve got to be at the coal face and you’ve got to see what goes on. There are all sorts of things that you pick up.
SM: So do you think that ‘writing South African music for Europe’ will only happen when you do research?
SG: Yes …
SM: Composers have got to search for ethnic stuff?
SG: Yes, but you’re doing it out of desire as opposed to a duty. If you have no desire you mustn’t do it. I will do it, but you [Afrikaners] must do it as well. Go to a vastrap evening in Nelspruit or wherever and see what you can do with it. And see what it means, the dancing, the life, it’s all part of the music. If there’s a dance in Nelspruit on a Saturday night and all the farmers are coming in and the locals are coming in and there is a Boereorkes. Where are you guys? Do you ever roll up to that sort of thing? No.
SM: So you are advocating a flattening of the stubborn boundaries between musicologist, ethnomusicologist, composer? Is that what we are talking about?
SG: Look, composers in the previous century became too intellectual. When Schoenberg was heard to remark that he would like the butcher boy to whistle the main theme from his violin concerto – what utter tosh! What utter rubbish! Perhaps he meant that sincerely, but he was living in cloud cuckoo land! I mean, what happened to melody and rhythm, which is an essential part of music, during a lot of twentieth-century composition? If you take Schoenberg, Hindemith, Stravinsky and Bartók: who are the composers who are alive? It’s the less sophisticated ones: Stravinsky and Bartók. The more intellectualized composers are fodder for musicologists. Why don’t we ‘analyze’ Rachmaninoff rather than Tchaikovsky? Because the teachers find it difficult to pigeon-hole what Rachmaninoff does. In Schoenberg you’ve got note row, you’ve models on the Baroque Suite and this and that. Teachers can teach that, it’s easy. But can you teach something that is more spread-eagled and can’t be explained entirely? The academic world is to blame a lot for certain attitudes that their charges develop.
SM: So were the conceits of serialism a myth?
SG: Serialism had a very good function. Every piece of music has a role to play. The importance of serial technique was to put an end to outdated functional harmony. Important harmonists like Chopin began to expand and by the time you got to Wagner, you could go anywhere you like with regard to tonality! You could go from C to C flat, you could go from C to F sharp with a bit of chromatic twisting. That’s why I can’t stand Wagnerian music, because it’s a twilight, it goes on and on and on. But the Twelve-Tonalists spiked this bloody chromaticism, which just wafts off into orbit. And then, happily, the Minimalists came along and spiked the Twelve-Tonalists! And that’s wonderful! They did a very good job and a very good service to music. Today we are listening to musics, whether you like it or not. We are in a great mix, which is confusing and nevertheless also very gratifying, because it means all the more that we South Africans can pursue our own thing.
SM: I want to return to this thing about the ‘correct’ or the ‘wrong’ way to appropriate ethnic material …
SG: Look, South Africa is my love. I love it. I love the vastrap, I love a Zulu dance team, I love the topography of my country, I love all the different people. That’s what makes me do it.
SM: So if you get a composer living in white suburbia somewhere in Constantia or Bishopscourt and he does not write music with ‘African’ flavours. Is that a legitimate activity?
SG: Yes, it is. For him. It hurts me that he’s doing it, but he must write what he wants to write. He decides what he wants to write because of his history. My history is different from the composer who only wants to write West-European music modeled on Boulez, Stockhausen, Lutoslawski or Ligeti. If he wants to do that he must do that. In the end, if there is a composer from South Africa who becomes an outstanding ‘European composer’, that’s fine. But he would be unique. What about all of us, what about all the students, all the performers, the lesser composers – they’ve got to come from somewhere. And their cultural background determines what they will do. The chap who only writes European music feels that his surround is unimportant to him and that what is to be desired is what is ‘over there’.
SM: Well, if you look at white suburban South Africa your immediate surround still is very white, it is more American than African. Don’t you think, given our history of racial segregation, that you will find most composers writing with that sense of West-European orientation?
SG: Look, let us take Stefans. Stefans Grové is the most human of what I call the ‘five’ South African composers: four Capies and one Transvaler. The Transvaler is me and the other four are Arnold van Wyk, John Joubert, Hubert du Plessis and Stefans Grové. They were all Cape orientated and they didn’t have as much to do with black culture because of their environment. There have been attempts to do something with Cape Coloured stuff. But there’s been very little effort. Now suddenly, Stefans, who is the most humanistic and has the best sense of humour – a delightful chap with a lovely sarcastic twist in his humour – he is suddenly coming out with African stuff! Why didn’t he do that before? What has caused him to do that now? Because around him it has changed. It’s always getting onto the bandwagon. It’s the same with European composers. They’re now beginning to use folk music. Why weren’t they doing this twenty or thirty years ago? So it’s coming from outside, not from the inside. That’s the point.
SM: That’s the point then where politics intrudes into music, isn’t it?
SG: Yes, it is. But what I am also saying is that the composer today is looking over the wall outside classical music. I think that’s good thing. You’ve got to write music that people will like. I don’t want to use the word ‘responsibility’, because as soon as you use the word ‘responsibility’ it means it is a decision of the mind rather than a decision of feeling. It would not be to a composer’s advantage to say: ‘I’m now going to study black music’.
SM: What happens if there is black sensitivity about the appropriation of ethnic material by white composers for their own ends?
SG: I get your point. Well, I suppose what I am proposing is that one has to take that resentment on board, and fight it. I know that every time I have gone back to South Africa things have changed more and more. A lot of what I’ve been saying is a wish, an idealism. Now you’ve got to try to put that into practice and very often you might fail. I’ve never felt when I deal with Blacks or Coloureds that they resent what I’m doing. That might be because of what I say or what my history is or the way I deal with things. What you’ve underlined is very important and it is a difficult problem. I cannot give a well-defined solution or method of dealing with it. All I can say is one’s got to go for it, all the time. It has to do with projects, to my mind. There have got to be projects that everybody agrees to work on. What I call the ‘togetherness’. I can see that there are huge problems and of course I’ve have been out of the country in terms of living there for quite a few decades now. When I go back I am returning to my home as a visitor, so to speak, but on the other hand, no one will take away my attachment. If a Black or Coloured resents what I do, too bloody bad. My conscience is clear, you see, I have no guilt feelings. My temperament, my nature, believes in the mix.
I remember that moment well,
looking down the barrel of a 9mm
pointed at my face. In those nano-sec
onds of the encounter taking place I was
thinking to myself “Is he going to have the balls
to shoot a white man, is he bluffing?” and then calculating,
literally calculating, very quickly, I am talking QUICKLY here,
that although my whiteness might protect me in many situations it
would be unlikely to protect me here with that 9mm barrell so close
to my head and my head so full of ideas about what I would like to do
in the future, and my wife at home with her belly full of my baby, and so
instead of saying “Fuck you and your mother” I put my hands up and said
“The money’s in my left pocket, my cell phone’s in the right.” I did
not mention the 9mm in my left ankle holster…
As he masticated his cereal with added vitamins, he thought about the Faustian nature of sexual pursuit, its vampirism. For example, thought Bruno, people are wrong to talk about homosexuals. He had never – or very rarely – met a homosexual; on the other hand, he knew a great many pederasts. Some pederasts – thankfully, very few – prefer little boys; they wind up in prison for a long stretch and no one ever talks about them again. Most pederasts, however, are attracted to youths of between 15 and 25. Anyone older than that is, to them, simply an old, dried-up arsehole. Watch two old queens together, Bruno liked to say, watch them closely: they may be fond of one another; they may be affectionate, but do they really want each other? No. As soon as some tight 15-25-year-old arse walks past, they will tear each other apart like panthers; they will rip each other to pieces just for that tight little arse; that is what Bruno thought.
In this, as in many things, so-called homosexuals had led the way for society as a whole, thought Bruno. Take him, for example – he was 42 years old. Did he want women his own age? Absolutely not. On the other hand, for young pussy wrapped in a mini-skirt he was prepared to go to the ends of the earth.
The great thing about doing poetry with a bag over your head is that the audience does not become emotionally swayed by the poet’s eyes. Eyes are lubricants, they perform a kind of foreplay to the poem, allowing the words to get into the audience’s erotic centres too quickly. With a paper bag this becomes more difficult and one is allowed to focus exclusively on the words.
No one knows how you feel inside when you are hired to pretend you are a traitor and you end up believing your own betrayal.
A job which consists of forgetting day after day.
Being expected to feign dishonour.
My mirror no longer reflects a face which can even be called my own.
Either I am an agent or this is truly betrayal.
They want me occupied and distracted, by whatever means.
For with my wandering thoughts and solemn foolishness I might impede what is happening inside me.
March 6, 2017
first published here: http://www.culturenet.hr/default.aspx?id=75287