Let Robeson Sing

Manic Street Preachers pay homage to the greatest American of the first half of the twentieth century, Paul Robeson. The music video by Nigerian Andrew Dosunmu is a tribute too.

Paul Robeson (Wiki Commons).

I walk past the Paul Robeson Theater regularly. It’s a few blocks from my house. Situated on Greene Avenue in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, the theater named for the greatest American of the first half of the twentieth century, Paul Robeson (1898-1976), has had better days. Which is why I am reminded of this 2001 music video of a Manic Street Preachers song, “Let Robeson Sing.” The music video is directed by Nigerian filmmaker, Andrew Dosunmu, who I know from his work directing some episodes of the South African TV series, “Yizo Yizo.” The video for “Let Robeson Sing” was filmed at the Paul Robeson Theater. In the 1950s, the US government revoked Robeson’s passport over his criticism of capitalism and racism in the United States. Robeson was quite vocal in supporting African political independence, using his celebrity as an actor and singer to remind Americans of colonialism on the African continent.  (He first encountered African activists as a student at SOAS in London in the mid-1930s).

This performance by Baaba Maal was recorded live last month on Los Angeles station, KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic” (musicians come to perform live on air for about one hour). Maal is a genius. Listen here. For those that don’t have the time to watch the whole KCRW thing, here’s a clip of Baaba Maal performing one of the songs he performs in the KCRW set, “Dakar Moon,” for the New York public radio program, Soundcheck.

Guardian journalist Gary Younge (he is a friend and neighbor) reminded me recently of an interview he did in 1999 with FW de Klerk, the last Apartheid President of South Africa, in 1999 while De Klerk was promoting his self-serving autobiography, “The Last Trek, A New Beginning.”It’s worth repeating Gary’s right-on take on De Klerk’s view of the end of the Cold War and Apartheid, now that De Klerk is traveling around the world picking up cheques to tell people how he liberated black South Africans (on Monday next week he’ll speak at London’s National Liberal Club on “”The Impact of the Fall of the Berlin Wall on South Africa and the World”). Here’s Gary: ” …The recent history of South Africa according to FW de Klerk goes something like this: a white minority government, ruled by a series of benevolent dictators, was keen to devolve power to the black majority as equal partners. Some white extremists meted out a degree of racial injustice and neither the blacks nor the rest of the international community were interested in the deal. So the white rulers decided the most reasonable and fair thing to do was give up their power and hand it over to people they had previously seen fit to put in prison. They were led by Nelson Something-or-other – a nice chap, although he could get uppity on occasions and proved something of a disappointment to those keen on establishing a democratic, non-racial country … ”  Archived on The Guardian’s page..

I chanced upon the artist Victor Ehikhamenor’s work last week. Here is a video interview with him and here are some links (including a video interview) to his art, his journalism and him talking about his work.

Last week the children’s TV program, Sesame Street, celebrated its 40 year on air (in the United States where it was first broadcast). My daughter, four, now favors Nick Jnr. but one and a half out of the first three years of her life was all about Sesame Street. (You can only lie for so long that there’s only one channel on TV.) Sesame is also a franchise so the program’s brand of liberal politics (hey what’s wrong with a little multiculturalism now and then?) that my daughter has been exposed to can also be seen in 125 countries. Like in South Africa where a local version (of course with stringent guidelines from New York City, of course) with its HIV-positive puppet (which has had the American right in a twist) as well as anti-pollution songs, like this one in the link (which mimics a local hit). Happy Birthday to Sesame Street!

The best rap music video I’ve seen in a while (I don’t care much for much new rap music anymore; I’ve settled into the soft belly of middle age). “l’effet papillon” (the butterfly effect) by the French-Congolese-Senegalese rapper, Youssoupha. I like the way the video combines bling, African history, the connections between Kinshasa and Paris, etc. Youssoupha has music in his genes (if there is such a thing). He is the son of Tabu Ley Rochereau (if you don’t who that is, I am sorry) and a Senegalese mother. He is well qualified to be a poet: he has a degree in literature from the Sorbonne.

I always have time for Abdullah Ibrahim. Here, from Youtube, is a video of him playing with long-time band member Carlos Ward in 1984 in communist Poland. A 10 minute long clip of “Water from an Ancient Well” and “The Wedding.”

I like the sound of Brooklyn band, Burkina Electric. Here they perform with composer Lukas Ligeti on “Soundcheck,” a music program on WNYC, the New York City public radio station.

This is a headline from South Africa’s Times newspaper: “Black madams suck, say maids.” Basically research by a University of Witwatersrand sociology master’s student Xoliswa Dilata, who investigated the relationship between black employers and domestic workers in Soweto, finds that black maids would rather work for white people.  Black madams exhibit the worst behaviors that used to be associated with white madams under apartheid. I am not surprised. The black madams are behaving like madams.

Further Reading

Goodbye, Piassa

The demolition of an historic district in Addis Ababa shows a central contradiction of modernization: the desire to improve the country while devaluing its people and culture.