an open letter to barack obama

go away mat

… On the occasion of his 2013 visit to South Africa

From Andile Lungisa, president of the Panafrican Youth Union

Dear Mr Obama,

Your election as the first President of the United States of America of African ancestry aroused immeasurable passions among the great multitude in our continent and around the world. The forlorn hope was premised on the retrospectively foolish idea that because your forebears were of those who had been dehumanized, hunted, captured, brutalized and ‘civilized’ throughout history, your leadership of the sole hyper-power on the planet would usher a period of decency, respect of human life, justice and peace.

Listening to your ‘Hopey’ enunciations, our people believed that the God of the dispossessed, tyrannized and abandoned had at last heard their raw and enduring prayers and had raised a son of their seed to redeem their humanity and medicate their future. On the 27th of November 2008, the day of your election, we cried and danced in the slums of Nairobi, the barrios of Caracas, ghettos of Detroit, gutters of Khayelitsha, hell zones of Cite Soleil, the brutally occupied territories of Palestine, in Manshiet Nasser of Cairo, in the shanty towns of Mumbai, the Al Qaryahs of Bayda, and in the many wastelands around the globe. Your election, which was energized by the young people of the United States, we were convinced, was a repudiation of the callousness, force, contempt and criminality with which the powerful from the industrialized West treated the majority of men. More importantly we hoped your victory signalled the beginning of the end of the 500 year war that the West has waged against the rest of humankind.

The oratory subterfuge notwithstanding, your presidency, Mr Obama, has been a geyser of gunk, incessant deceit and vacuity. Not only have you inherited the boorish and fantastical logic of imperial grandiosity, but you have embellished it to frightening heights. In an attempt to arrest the terminal historic decline of the US’ global hegemony and retain its position as the gendarme of capital accumulation, you have cultivated and harnessed an infrastructure of control, domination, death and destruction and thus ensuring a brutal future for the majority of humanity. In a delicious irony, tragic-comic in proportion, Lady History has elected you Mr Obama, a lawman by trade of African descent, to preside over the systematic defiling of the rule of law, and in turn magnify the death of a democratic consciousness and ascendance of thuggery among the ruling elites in the West.

Your administration has overseen a historic transfer of wealth from the public to the rapacious banksters to whom you are beholden. You have exhibited cold indifference, save for the empty rhetorical platitudes, to the most serious job crisis since the Great Depression, which has devastated especially African American communities, and left millions in destitution. You have intensified the hunting of the Black liberation revolutionary, Assata Shakur, who sought refuge in Cuba in 1979, escaping from the racist American industrial gulag that disproportionately incarcerates Black and Hispanic youths.

In your sanctimonious lecturing, please tell the young people at the University of Johannesburg why you ordered the murder of the 16 year old, Abdulrahman al Alawaki. Better yet, advise them on the rationale for a former teacher of law to grant himself the right to secretly kill his own citizens and anyone else the corporate-industrial police state deems a ‘terrorist’. Mr Obama, exhibit some moral probity, not your strong suit I know, in front of the young, impressionable minds you will be addressing and express some remorse for the thousands of women and children that you have killed and injured in your ‘signature’ drone strikes.

Tell the young people why Bradley Manning, a real American hero, who exposed the true and ugly face of American militarism and criminality, has been arrested and treated in a ‘cruel and inhumane’ manner according to the United Nations, whilst those whom he exposed continue to live in impunity. The ‘humanitarian’ industrial violence you discharged on the then sovereign state of Libya, which you don’t consider to have been a war, because no American soldier died, has unleashed a racist pogrom against Black Africans by your ‘freedom fighters’. Any word for the victims of your liberators, Mr Obama?

Under your presidency, and largely because of the unforgivable stupidity of African leadership in this generation, the American empire is building the infrastructure for AFRICOM military command – a feat that your buffoonish predecessor could not achieve. You’ve continued aiding and abetting the Zionist criminal enterprise against the Palestinians. The apartheid state of Israel, which Archbishop Tutu deemed more egregious than apartheid South Africa, kills Palestinian children with weapons supplied by your administration.

You, Mr Obama, son of a Kenyan father, are no different from the Bantustan leaders that we had in this country, and no amount of lyrical gymnastics will change the facts of your presidency.

jane elliot’s brown eyes/blue eyes racism experiment

It all seemed like a game at first… Watch this brilliant teacher recreate segregation in her 3rd grade classroom at the end of the 1960s, to demonstrate the arbitrary violence and effects of discrimination. A profound object lesson, and one the world still hasn’t been able to grasp; this is essential viewing. More about Jane Elliot’s work can be found HERE.


dixie kwankwa – when you walk alone (c 1959)

This song gives me utter goosebumps.

Courtesy of the most incredible African music blog in existence, Electric Jive:

‘This is the first LP in South Africa on the Troubadour label and is presented as “Sadness and Joy – Dixie Kwankwa in an Evening of African Cabaret”. In a strange way Dixie reminds me of Simphiwe Dana with an assured but quiet and confident delivery and none of the urgency or forcefullness of her peers. In listening to the LP today you can almost visualise this slotting in next to the Harry Belafonte, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra records that the white middle classes were enjoying at the the time. Record players that could play 33rpm records were rare and expensive and until at least the mid-sixties the predominant format in South Africa was the 78 single play.

‘There is not a lot more information on Dixie apart from what can be gleaned from the sleeve notes which are written in the quaint and mostly patronising manner of the times. Dixie did win the Miss South Africa title in 1957 and in the following year as part of the show African Bandwagon got her first singing job before being signed to Troubadour Records.’

blind willie johnson – dark was the night, cold was the ground

“Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” is a gospel-blues song written and performed by Blind Willie Johnson, probably recorded in 1927. The song is primarily an instrumental, featuring Johnson’s self-taught bottleneck slide guitar and picking style accompanied by humming and moaning.

For more about this haunting record, check out the fascinating Wikipedia page.


hate and love

If only a change of heart could magically repair the concrete effects of centuries of evil and dispossession overnight… It can’t, but thank you, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, for holding on to hope; for leading by example. If we all started living from an unselfish basis of love and respect, things WOULD shift.

luce irigaray – women on the market

Chapter Eight from This Sex Which Is Not One, 1985. This text was originally published as “Le marche des femmes,” in Sessualita e politica, (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1978).

hands on experience

The society we know, our own culture, is based upon the exchange of women. Without the exchange of women, we are told, we would fall back into the anarchy (?) of the natural world, the randomness (?) of the animal kingdom. The passage into the social order, into the symbolic order, into order as such, is assured by the fact that men, or groups of men, circulate women among themselves, according to a rule known as the incest taboo.

Whatever familial form this prohibition may take in a given state of society, its signification has a much broader impact. It assures the foundation of the economic, social, and cultural order that has been ours for centuries.

Why exchange women? Because they are “scarce [commodities] . . . essential to the life of the group,” the anthropologist tells us.1 Why this characteristic of scarcity, given the biological equilibrium between male and female births? Because the “deep polygamous tendency, which exists among all men, always makes the number of available women seem insufficient. Let us add that even if there were as many women as men, these women would not be equally desirable … and that, by definition. . ., the most desirable women must form a minority. “2

Are men all equally desirable? Do women have no tendency toward polygamy? The good anthropologist does not raise such questions. A fortiori: why are men not objects of exchange among women? It is because women’s bodies – through their use, consumption, and circulation – provide for the condition making social life and culture possible, although they remain an unknown “infrastructure” of the elaboration of that social life and culture. The exploitation of the matter that has been sexualized female is so integral a part of our sociocultural horizon that there is no way to interpret it except within this horizon.

In still other words: all the systems of exchange that organize patriarchal societies and all the modalities of productive work that are recognized, valued, and rewarded in these societies are men’s business. The production of women, signs, and commodities is always referred back to men (when a man buys a girl, he “pays” the father or the brother, not the mother … ), and they always pass from one man to another, from one group of men to another. The work force is thus always assumed to be masculine, and “products” are objects to be used, objects of transaction among men alone.

Which means that the possibility of our social life, of our culture, depends upon a ho(m)mo-sexual monopoly? The law that orders our society is the exclusive valorization of men’s needs/desires, of exchanges among men. What the anthropologist calls the passage from nature to culture thus amounts to the institution of the reign of hom(m)o-sexuality. Not in an “immediate” practice, but in its “social” mediation. From this point on, patriarchal societies might be interpreted as societies functioning in the mode of “semblance.” The value of symbolic and imaginary productions is superimposed upon, and even substituted for, the value of relations of material, natural, and corporal (re)production.

sensualist gif

From “The Sensualist”, Kōshoku Ichidai Otoko’s animated interpretation of the 17th century novel by Ihara Seikaku

In this new matrix of History, in which man begets man as his own likeness, wives, daughters, and sisters have value only in that they serve as the possibility of, and potential benefit in, relations among men. The use of and traffic in women subtend and uphold the reign of masculine hom(m)o-sexuality, even while they maintain that hom(m)o-sexuality in speculations, mirror games, identifications, and more or less rivalrous appropriations, which defer its real practice. Reigning everywhere, although prohibited in practice, hom(m)o-sexuality is played out through the bodies of women, matter, or sign, and heterosexuality has been up to now just an alibi for the smooth workings of man’s relations with himself, of relations among men.

Whose “sociocultural endogamy” excludes the participation of that other, so foreign to the social order: woman. Exogamy doubtless requires that one leave one’s family, tribe, or clan, in order to make alliances. All the same, it does not tolerate marriage with populations that are too far away, too far removed from the prevailing cultural rules. A sociocultural endogamy would thus forbid commerce with women. Men make commerce of them, but they do not enter into any exchanges with them. Is this perhaps all the more true because exogamy is an economic issue, perhaps even subtends economy as such? The exchange of women as goods accompanies and stimulates exchanges of other “wealth” among groups of men. The economy in both the narrow and the broad sense-that is in place in our societies thus requires that women lend themselves to alienation in consumption, and to exchanges in which they do not participate, and that men be exempt from being used and circulated like commodities.


Marx’s analysis of commodities as the elementary form of capitalist wealth can thus be understood as an interpretation of the status of woman in so-called partriarchal societies. The organization of such societies, and the operation of the symbolic system on which this organization is based-a symbolic system whose instrument and representative is the proper name: the name of the father, the name of God-contain in a nuclear form the developments that Marx defines as characteristic of a capitalist regime: the submission of “nature” to a “labor” on the part of men who thus constitute “nature” as use value and exchange value; the division of labor among private producer-owners who exchange their women-commodities among themselves, but also among producers and exploiters or exploitees of the social order; the standardization of women according to proper names that determine their equivalences; a tendency to accumulate wealth, that is, a tendency for the representatives of the most “proper” names-the leaders-to capitalize more women than the others; a progression of the social work of the symbolic toward greater and greater abstraction; and so forth.

To be sure, the means of production have evolved, new techniques have been developed, but it does seem that as soon as the father-man was assured of his reproductive power and had marked his products with his name, that is, from the very origin of private property and the patriarchal family, social exploitation occurred. In other words, all the social regimes of “History” are based upon the exploitation of one “class” of producers, namely, women. Whose reproductive use value (reproductive of children and of the labor force) and whose constitution as exchange value underwrite the symbolic order as such, without any compensation in kind going to them for that “work.” For such compensation would imply a double system of exchange, that is, a shattering of the monopolization of the proper name (and of what it signifies as appropriative power) by father-men.

Thus the social body would be redistributed into producer-subjects no longer functioning as commodities because they provided the standard of value for commodities, and into commodity objects that ensured the circulation of exchange without participating in it as subjects.


Let us now reconsider a few points (3) in Marx’s analysis of value that seem to describe the social status of women.

Wealth amounts to a subordination of the use of things to their accumulation. Then would the way women are used matter less than their number? The possession of a woman is certainly indispensable to man for the reproductive use value that she represents; but what he desires is to have them all. To “accumulate” them, to be able to count off his conquests, seductions, possessions, both sequentially and cumulatively, as measure or standard(s).

All but one? For if the series could be closed, value might well lie, as Marx says, in the relation among them rather than in the relation to a standard that remains external to them – whether gold or phallus.

The use made of women is thus of less value than their appropriation one by one. And their “usefulness” is not what counts the most. Woman’s price is not determined by the “properties” of her body-although her body constitutes the material support of that price.

But when women are exchanged, woman’s body must be treated as an abstraction. The exchange operation cannot take place in terms of some intrinsic, immanent value of the commodity.

It can only come about when two objects-two women are in a relation of equality with a third term that is neither the one nor the other. It is thus not as “women” that they are exchanged, but as women reduced to some common feature-their current price in gold, or phalluses-and of which they would represent a plus or minus quantity. Not a plus or a minus of feminine qualities, obviously. Since these qualities are abandoned in the long run to the needs of the consumer, woman has value on the market by virtue of one single quality: that of being a product of man’s “labor.”

On this basis, each one looks exactly like every other. They all have the same phantom-like reality. Metamorphosed in identical sublimations, samples of the same indistinguishable work, all these objects now manifest just one thing, namely, that in their production a force of human labor has been expended, that labor has accumulated in them. In their role as crystals of that common social substance, they are deemed to have value.

Liu Jianhua - ceramic

Liu Jianhua – ceramic

As commodities, women are thus two things at once: utilitarian objects and bearers of value. “They manifest themselves therefore as commodities, or have the form of commodities, only in so far as they have two forms, a physical or natural form, and a value form” (p. 55).

But “the reality of the value of commodities differs in respect from Dame Quickly, that we don’t know ‘where to have it”’ (ibid.). Woman, object of exchange, differs from woman, use value, in that one doesn’t know how to take (hold of) her, for since “the value of commodities is the very opposite of the coarse materiality of their substance, not an atom of matter enters into its composition. Turn and examine a single commodity, by itself, as we will. Yet in so far as it remains an object of value, it seems impossible to grasp it” (ibid.). The value of a woman always escapes: black continent, hole in the symbolic, breach in discourse . . . It is only in the operation of exchange among women that something of this-something enigmatic, to be sure-can be felt. Woman thus has value only in that she can be exchanged. In the passage from one to the other, something else finally exists beside the possible utility of the “coarseness” of her body. But this value is not found, is not recaptured, in her. It is only her measurement against a third term that remains external to her, and that makes it possible to compare her with another woman, that permits her to have a relation to another commodity in terms of an equivalence that remains foreign to both.

Women-as-commodities are thus subject to a schism that divides them into the categories of usefulness and exchange value; into matter-body and an envelope that is precious but impenetrable, ungraspable, and not susceptible to appropriation by women themselves; into private use and social use.

In order to have a relative value, a commodity has to be confronted with another commodity that serves as its equivalent.

Its value is never found to lie within itself And the fact that it is worth more or less is not its own doing but comes from that to which it may be equivalent. Its value is transcendent to itself, super-natural, ek-static.

In other words, for the commodity, there is no mirror that copies it so that it may be at once itself and its “own” reflection. One commodity cannot be mirrored in another, as man is mirrored in his fellow man. For when we are dealing with commodities the self-same, mirrored, is not “its” own likeness, contains nothing of its properties, its qualities, its “skin and hair.” The likeness here is only a measure expressing the fabricated character of the commodity, its trans-formation by man’s (social, symbolic) “labor.” The mirror that envelops and paralyzes the commodity specularizes, speculates (on) man’s “labor.” Commodities, women, are a mirror of value of and for man. In order to serve as such, they give up their bodies to men as the supporting material of specularization, of speculation. They yield to him their natural and social value as a locus of imprints, marks, and mirage of his activity.

Commodities among themselves are thus not equal, nor alike, nor different. They only become so when they are compared by and for man. And the prosopopoeia of the relation of commodities among themselves is a projection through which producers exchangers make them reenact before their eyes their operations of specula(riza)tion. Forgetting that in order to reflect (oneself), to speculate (oneself), it is necessary to be a “subject,” and that matter can serve as a support for speculation but cannot itself speculate in any way.

Thus, starting with the simplest relation of equivalence between commodities, starting with the possible exchange of women, the entire enigma of the money form-of the phallic function-is implied. That is, the appropriation-disappropriation by man, for man, of nature and its productive forces, insofar as a certain mirror now divides and travesties both nature and labor. Man endows the commodities he produces with a narcissism that blurs the seriousness of utility, of use.

Desire, as soon as there is exchange, “perverts” need. But that perversion will be attributed to commodities and to their alleged relations. Whereas they can have no relationships except from the perspective of speculating third parties.

The economy of exchange-of desire-is man’s business. For two reasons: the exchange takes place between masculine subjects, and it requires a plus-value added to the body of the commodity, a supplement which gives it a valuable form. That supplement will be found, Marx writes, in another commodity, whose use value becomes, from that point on, a standard of value.

But that surplus-value enjoyed by one of the commodities might vary: ‘Just as many a man strutting about in a gorgeous uniform counts for more than when in mufti” (p. 60). Or just as “A, for instance, cannot be ‘your majesty’ to B, unless at the same time majesty in B’s eyes assume the bodily form of A, and, what is more, with every new father of the people, changes its features, hair, and many other things besides” (ibid.).

Commodities – “things” produced – would thus have the respect due the uniform, majesty, paternal authority. And even God. “The fact that it is value, is made manifest by its equality with the coat, just as the sheep’s nature of a Christian is shown in his resemblance to the Lamb of God” (ibid.).

Commodities thus share in the cult of the father, and never stop striving to resemble, to copy, the one who is his representative. It is from that resemblance, from that imitation of what represents paternal authority, that commodities draw their value – for men. But it is upon commodities that the producers-exchangers bring to bear this power play. “We see, then, all that our analysis of the value of commodities has already told us, is told us by the linen itself, so soon as it comes into communication with another commodity, the coat. Only it betrays its thoughts in that language with which alone it is familiar, the language of commodities. In order to tell us that its own value is created by labour in its abstract character of human labour, it says that the coat, in so far as it is worth as much as the linen, and therefore is value, consists of the same labour as the linen. In order to inform us that its sublime reality as value is not the same as its buckram body, it says that value has the appearance of a coat, and consequently that so far as the linen is value, it and the coat are as like as two peas. We may here remark, that the language of commodities has, besides Hebrew, many other more or less correct dialects. The German ‘werthsein,’ to be worth, for instance, expresses in a less striking manner than the Romance verbs ‘valere,’ ‘valer,’ ‘valoir,’ that the equating of commodity B to commodity A, is commodity A’s own mode of expressing its value. Paris vaut bien une messe” (pp. 60-61).

So commodities speak. To be sure, mostly dialects and patois, languages hard for “subjects” to understand. The important thing is that they be preoccupied with their respective values, that their remarks confirm the exchangers’ plans for them. Continue reading

oh sister where art thou? – la vie en rose

From The Lost Phone Recordings. This was recorded on a Nokia 95 phone by my sister Erica and me, playing around in my lounge a couple of years ago, inspired by a music box I picked up in Montmartre in 2007…  Our little music project, Oh Sister Where Art Thou?, was about trying to position ourselves playfully in relation to the performance of nostalgic pop classics. While the music may sound simple and cutesy, it was pretty complicated to negotiate. Issues of identity, history, place, privilege, voice, language, racial politics, respect, pastiche, authenticity, memory, erasure, iteration all intertwined… More to be written about this another day when I have time!


“Kuulumia is an archaic Finnish word that refers to the aural quality of a landscape. Kuuluma denotes how a space, a clearing, or a site sounds. We have reintroduced this old expression because we feel that the term ‘soundscape’ is slightly problematic. The notion of “soundscape” has a tendency to objectify sonic landscapes and often seems to overlook the listener.”

— Tuike and Simo Alitalo

Read more about the pair’s acoustemological explorations HERE.

erik bünger’s schizophonia

I watched two incredible films tonightSchizophonia and The Third Man, courtesy of Anette Hoffmann and the Archive & Public Culture Platform at UCT, with the kind permission of musician, composer and performance artist, Erik Bünger, who made the films.

In each film, Bünger both analyses and plays with the uncanny, magical potency of sound as recorded medium. Everything he does is underpinned by formidable quantities of research, a fondness for outrageously rhizomatic linkages and a wicked sense of humour. Definitely my new art crush of the month! ;)

Here’s a video of Bünger giving a lecture/performance which utilises much of the material presented in the standalone film, Schizophonia. This was recorded at MEDEA, Malmo University, in March 2011, as part of the K3 courses “Music in the Digital Media Landscape” and “Illustrating with Music”.

I really WISH I could find more of The Third Man to share here –  it was tremendously entertaining, and, even off on its most questionable, occult-paranoid tangents, bizarrely pertinent to so much of the stuff about performance, recording and playback of music that I’ve been posting and thinking about in the past few years; even down to an hilarious discussion of the “entraining” (his word) power of The Sound Of Music (my post this afternoon prefigured this too, eerily!).

Anyway, you can watch the lecture:

And here’s a bio:

The Swedish artist, composer, musician and writer Erik Bünger (1976) works with re-contextualising existing media in performances, installations and web projects. In ‘Gospels’, sections of Hollywood interviews are removed from their original contexts, interacting to form a new, seemingly coherent whole. Yet these pre-existing works frequently conflict; Bünger explores the disjunction between replaying and experiencing in his ‘Lecture on Schizophonia’. This simultaneously analytical and performative work highlights the relationship between sound and perceived reality, using popular references and familiar footage including Barak Obama and Woody Allen. Similar tensions are exposed in ‘God Moves on the Water’, in which two songs about the sinking of the Titanic are combined to form a third narrative. In ‘The Third Man’, the negative power of music is explored. Displacing and recombining familiar material, Bünger challenges the separation between authentic and simulated experiences.

Bünger may have followed a traditional education in composition at the Stockholm Royal College of Music, but he is hardly a run-of-the-mill composer. His works have increasingly come to approach contemporary conceptual art, but his combination of sound and visual is also linked to literary storytelling. In his performances, installations and web projects, different timelines are superposed, past worlds and present understandings. The most important thing about Bünger’s work is not the art or literature context but the transformation that takes place in the specific works. What may seem trivial and inconsequential suddenly becomes the stuff of dreams. He is attracted to moments when recorded sound and image bridge a space between absolutes, between death and life and between gods and humankind. –

This info comes from


Francis Barraud – “Dog Looking At and Listening to a Phonograph”(1898)

climb every mountain

Self portrait in the Cederberg, 2012

Self portrait in the Cederberg, 2012

“My heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds that rise from the lake to the trees
My heart wants to sigh like a chime that flies from a church on a breeze
To laugh like a brook when it trips and falls over stones on its way
To sing through the night like a lark who is learning to pray
I go to the hills when my heart is lonely
I know I will hear what I’ve heard before
My heart will be blessed with the sound of music
And I’ll sing once more…”

marimba memories


In the year 2000 I stopped my beat-up old car to help two guys who were carrying marimbas and gave them a lift up to Melville. On the way we got to chatting, discovered we were all musos, and I decided to come and jam with them while they busked, which I did, a few nights later.

This pair used to come all the way in from Orange Farm township in the Vaal, almost 40km out of Joburg, to busk until midnight outside Melville’s clubs and restaurants, then take a taxi or train home again. So whatever they earned, which was often a pittance, had to cover considerable transport costs – one of apartheid’s architectural legacies, which will take generations to change.

I kept playing with these two guys on the streets, for a couple of years, through winter and summer, on my djembe, cos it was quite something to experience. We were all from Zim, so we had something in common. It wasn’t the first time I had played with so-called black musicians, having played djembe with a maskande outfit called Abafana Bakwa Zulu a couple of years previous to this, but busking was new to me.

Busking is quite a cool way to get really fit on your instrument, and tight as a band. It’s kind of halfway between practicing and performing … sometimes you have an audience, and you have to step it up, and sometimes you don’t, and you can experiment with new songs and licks. If a crowd gathers you can hit on a song for like, 10 or 15 minutes, as long as they are getting into it, which can create some pretty deep calluses if you happen to be a drummer.

In winter, it got so cold that I used to play with a T-shirt, long-sleeve shirt, jersey and leather biker jacket on, plus a hat, even though I was drumming full-tilt. The crap thing about playing a djembe drum outside in the cold is that your hands are moving, creating wind, so even though they are hitting the goatskin hard, on the way up and down they are cooling off, and never really warm up.

Time passed and our little group, which we called Chapungu – meaning ‘whirlwind’ in Shona – apparently it has other, mystical connotations – became fairly good. The dudes found a place to store their instruments, or they would store them at my place, making getting to and from our favourite busking place on the corner of 7th and 4th in Melville much easier. We started getting better tips – we even got a R200 note from a tourist once – and we made a free one-day recording dubbed Sons of the Sun with a guy called Adrian Ziller, bless his heart. My friends helped to design the album cover and print it.

I started visiting the dudes in Orange Farm, which was a full-on jol. Many so-called whites think townships are miserable places, full of suffering and hardship. I’m sure they can be, especially at night in winter, or when the wind howls through Orange Farm, whipping up the dust.

But on my visits, I found a tangible sense of community; neighbours would wander in while we played and get into the vibe. Gangs of kids and dogs would pass by; fences were few and far between. I was uplifted by the music, which was, I guess, our common language, and started playing at events with the dudes, at schools, cultural gatherings, sports meetings, weddings.

There were quite a few kids who used to come and play with the adults; generally the girls would dance and the boys would drum or play on the marimbas, which were all handmade. We started making uniforms for them, with cloth supplied by my friends, or gathered from here and there in the township. The singer’s partner was carving out dance routines for the girls. Things were gathering momentum.

There was a couple in Joburg who were also keen to help our band; they had access to a trust fund, and donated some money which was used to buy tools, which were to be used for making marimbas. We also tried making drums, but it’s not an easy thing to make a good drum.

This couple took us on a trip to visit the Khomani San, who had been granted land by the SA government – but not the means to make a living from it. This couple, they were trying to set things up for some of the Bushmen, a camp which tourists could sleep at, a place to grow indigenous plants, that kind of thing. We met Dawid Kruiper, who was quite famous for his role in getting the land, and a couple of San sangomas. We slept in the camp, which was full of large, black scorpions, and read Tarot cards on the roof of the Landrover, while high on Sceletium, which gives you loads of energy, a natural speed. We dropped our pants and gave brown-eye to the bottle store. It was quite a trip.

Then the couple organised a group of musicians and performers to go on a country-wide tour to advertise a new MTN product. It was called the Multi-Talented Nomad tour, but I didn’t go on it, cos I was working full-time and couldn’t get two weeks’ leave. The guys went on the tour, made a couple of thousand bucks, and decided to go and visit the same Bushmen again, but this return trip didn’t go too well. They apparently shagged some of the Bushmen prostitutes and at least one of them caught AIDS. The singer, a short, fiery character with only one eye – died a few years later. He didn’t make it to the era of ARVs, when having AIDS is no longer a death sentence.

Things had started falling apart even before he died. As soon as we got funding, he and the bassist started arguing about who owned what, and the tools bought with the funding were kept at the singer’s place, and the whole positive vibe started crumbling.

Sometimes they would bitch at me about each other and I just hated being the middle. Fuck that. I really didn’t want to take sides. I was trying to help, not because I thought I should, but because I had just ended up getting involved in the music with these guys and I often had the means to help – the access to transport, to money, to the media. It was unavoidable, but sometimes it had unforeseen consequences.

Eventually, Chapungu broke up, and shortly afterward I was invited to take part in a musical play at the Aardklop festival in Potchefstroom, with the bassist and a group of performers from Orange Farm. We had a teacher who had toured Germany and he knocked our performance into shape, around the idea of a Magic Marimba Tree, from which music came, and provided nourishment to a parched land. I was the white priest, and wore a dog-collar for the role.

When we drove down to Potch I was the only so-called white in the cast of about 14 people. We played on the fringe of the festival and did workshops in the townships. I ate and slept in a room full of blacks, who seldom spoke English … my fault for not knowing Zulu, I guess. The best part was between gigs, as we jammed all day at the backpackers we were staying in, often with outsiders from the festival, who heard us and joined in.

Our mentor came to watch our final performance, hated it, and crapped all over us. We were totally dispirited. Then he wanted to ride back to Joburg in my car, not the overloaded minibus the rest of the crew were to travel in. I split before he could get in, pissed off with his attitude. We had tried our hardest to do a good show. Then we couldn’t get our money out of him. We only got paid after I threatened to put a debt collector on his ass.

The most vivid memory from the whole show, which went on for about a week, was when a beautiful young woman in the cast, who I had been eyeing from the start, stood behind me on the stage and softly put her hands on my shoulders, during the encore. Nothing more happened, but it was an intimate acknowledgment. I see you.

After Aardklop, some of the performers started congregating round the bassist’s place, practicing on the marimbas, and continuing with coaching kids, who would come in after school to play. They were also playing at a nearby school, the kids were winning prizes for their performances, it was all very organic and grassroots. I set up a website for the group. We started playing gigs at cultural events like the Green Africa Party, and then got onto the books of booking agencies, and began playing at corporate events like year-end parties. We made business cards, bought bright uniforms, and started playing quite regularly. This was before the recession, which killed the golden goose of regular corporate gigs, for us and loads of other musicians, including my drum teacher.

I was still doing a day-job, and was asked to write a piece on jazz experimental maestro Zim Ngqawana by the Daily Sun. I met his agent at the Zimology Institute, which he had set up for his jazz students, ironically right next to Orange Farm township. I got to know his agent better, and she helped us to set up an NGO for the musical training of the township kids. After some applications – again, with the help of a friend – we obtained funding, enough to provide the adults with salaries for a couple of years, and to buy some better musical instruments.

This era was our peak. Both the kids and the adults were getting lots of gigs. The kids took part in the FNB Dance Festival a couple of times and won prizes at the National Marimba Competition. They appeared on TV shows and in newspapers; soon we had an entire album of photos and clippings.

The adult group was traveling all over Gauteng and beyond, playing at weddings and parties and openings. A really good (so-called white) guitarist joined the crew, adding an extra car and skilled licks. I evolved a new style of playing the drums, with the djembe where the snare usually stands, and the snare off to the left. I could switch fast between snare and djembe, and play hi-hat and bass foot with both.

We had a huge repertoire of songs, way over 50 songs; some were covers, but many were originals, which had evolved over years of playing. We were playing gospel songs, African jazz, traditional African songs, including some Chimurenga stuff (Zim protest music) and some more bluesy and reggae stuff.

We got a trailer to put the marimbas in; slept over in posh places and demanded, and got, proper meals and treatment from clients, via the contracts with our agencies. Achimota also brought out a CD, recorded free of charge by Brendan Jury, called Ukuxolelana (Forgiveness).

But, after a time, cracks began to show. A key member of the group left to pursue his own musical career. His replacement had less energy and the group, already low on vibrancy, started losing impetus. The recession provided less jobs … the funding for the NGO dried up. The problem of getting to practices, when the guys were 40km out of town, was a thorn in our flesh from the start, but it didn’t matter when we were all into the whole thing – we basically practiced when we played at gigs. Now it was just this massive divide. We weren’t learning new songs, and things were getting stale.

I started standing back, trying to get the other members of the band involved in setting up gigs, obtaining funding, running things themselves. But no-one seemed willing, or able, to keep the ball rolling. I became tired of putting in time and effort, to make things happen: organising gigs, drawing money, sorting paperwork, dealing with clients, auditors and agents.

There were two final straws which made me pull out after twelve years of playing with my marimba mates. On both occasions, we were booked to play for corporate clients, and the guys didn’t pitch on time. I was left carrying the can, got crapped out by the agent and client both times, and, on the last gig, we lost our one remaining agent in the process. That was it.

I had so many experiences with these guys. We travelled thousands of kilometres together, listening to reggae and world music, dreaming of the day when Mugabe would finally die and we could visit Zim to dance on his grave. We often slept in the same room en route to gigs, and I even shared the same bed with them a couple of times.

We played to ecstatic, wildly dancing audiences, and totally bored executives, who would have likely preferred wallflowers to our presence… the catering staff at events was usually our best audience! We fixed broken trailers, cars, instruments, egos and homes together. We busked in Newtown for the whole of the Fifa World Cup. I even did sweat lodges and took psychedelics with some of the dudes.

But there was always that line, that divide, between black and white, between middle-class and poor, between living in town and living in township. It was crossed at times, but it always returned. I count myself lucky that I caught a glimpse of a totally different type of lifestyle and culture to that of white urban Johannesburg.

The door to Orange Farm is still slightly open. I still see the bassist now and then; he is teaching marimbas at a school in Joburg, and is now playing with his uncle, from Zim, who taught him how to play. That sounds innarestin. Me and the guitarist are going to go check it out one of these days. Because there is something utterly organic and magical about playing marimba music. No getting round that.

There were times when I grew frustrated, because things didn’t pan out the way I hoped they would, but overall I don’t regret the experience. Things are born and then they die. I read, in an article on South African NGOs, that you never know what effect you are going to have when you set up structures in poor communities. You have an idea of things going one way; they end up going in another. There might be one or two kids who become brilliant performers after having played with Achimota or Chapungu, or perhaps it changed their lives in some other way, a way which I couldn’t possibly have predicted. That would be enough. For me,  my life and music were sure as hell enriched.

Having reread what I just wrote, I realise how much my friends and partners helped me, every step along the way with this crazy adventure, and if they ever read this, thanks a ton guys. We couldn’t have done it without you. At base, at heart, people want to help each other; often, they just don’t know how, but there channels, if you look, or if they find you. This whole dog-eat-dog system that’s been forced down our throats, it’s a load of balls. A lot of us are learning to see past that now. I hope it keeps spreading.

howard zinn: “you can’t be neutral on a moving train”

“Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience… Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.”

Watch this documentary:

turkish protest music

The rhythm of outrage…

“What do a park in Istanbul, a baby in Sarajevo, a security chief in Sofia, a TV station in Athens and bus tickets in Sao Paulo have in common? However random the sequence may seem at first, a common theme runs through and connects all of them. Each reveals, in its own particular way, the deepening crisis of representative democracy at the heart of the modern nation state. And each has, as a result, given rise to popular protests that have in turn sparked nationwide demonstrations, occupations and confrontations between the people and the state.” Read more HERE.

Brazilian solidarity poster

Brazilian solidarity poster