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First Impression: Kenrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterlfy”

pimp

‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ album cover.

Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore album ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ was released a week early a couple days ago. I finally managed to give it a listen for the first time last night. I started listening to it at around 10pm. I was still listening to it when I fell asleep sometime after 2am. A whole 4 hours later. I listened to a couple more times when I got up in the morning and have been listening to it most of today. That I gave it a couple of spins on first contact is testament of how immersive the listening experience has been so far. So is the fact that I have voraciously read up on anything related to the album in between listens. That I am sitting here writing about it also speaks to how much the album has hijacked my attention and titillated my curiosity. However, this is not a review per se. But more an attempt to unpack and process some of the initial feelings I had listening to the album in the last 24 hours.

This is one is going to be a doozy.

Even after the repeated rotation I can’t seem to make up my mind (yet) how I feel about this album. I know it is special and I really appreciate its musicality. I just can’t figure out if I love it. But I do know I want to love it, badly. I am also sure that is it a great piece of art. It’s cinematic in its scope and shares the same unfathomable complexity of some of the books I have felt compelled to re-read. ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ is a demanding and at times challenging listen. And I can’t stop listening to it. And therein lays its genius and appeal for me. With each listen I find myself trying to dig deeper so I can catch every reference, idea and emotion. I’m still hearing new stuff and I’m sure I’ll continue to discover new things weeks from now. ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ is an album to contemplate and examine as much as it is a groovy album with beautiful musicality. And for me that was as intriguing as it was contradictory. Which I suspect is what Kendrick was trying to go for, especially when you consider the album title itself.

‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ is a really evocative title. Not just for an album, but any work of art. Period. The writer in me loves the contradictory nature of that statement. There is so much imagery packed into it. The title seems more literary than anything, and the album seems to fall into this discussion of life and the ills of both success and blackness. Kendrick himself has alluded to it being a play on ‘To Kill A Mocking Bird’ a novel by Harper Lee that deals with racial inequality and is considered a modern American classic. Kendrick himself has stated that he believes ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ will be taught in university course in the future. No pressure there, I guess.

‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ is an album that is as multi-layered as it is richly textured. Musically, contextually and lyrically. It is as colourful as it is monochromatic. It hijacks your attention 80 minutes at a time. Sonically I love the direction that Kendrick went on this album. I found the jazzy and funk influences refreshing. Although from the get go I did pick a sombre and at times melancholic vibe which is an interesting juxtaposition to the funky beats. There are also parts of the album where Hip Hop meets neo soul. And even some spoken word. Admittedly these parts can feel a bit pretentious, if not cheesy. And I can see that putting of those who want that hip-hip, it don’t stop.  But in the bigger picture of the album, it works. T

Contextually and lyrically ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ is a lot to process. Even as a black person I found the ‘politics of blackness’ of it confrontational and overwhelming in parts. Although I suspect that might have to do with different nuances of my personal African experience and the wider African-American experience. Kendrick though makes a strong case for the universality of the broader black experience with his comparisons of the Xhosa-Zulu conflict with that of the Blood and Crips gangs of LA in the fantastically belligerent ‘The Blacker The Berry’ which had been released as a single prior to the album release. The ‘politics of blackness” is not the entire focus of the album though. Throughout the album you are can pick up more universal themes like dealing with societal pressure, being lost  and consumed by the situation you’ve been put into, finding yourself and achieving self-fulfilment. Like I said before, this is a layered album. And I am looking forwarding to peeling back those layers over the next couple of weeks.

The highlights so far….

‘Alright’ is the early stand out track for me. Mostly because it has such a positive vibe to it. ‘How Much Does A Dollar Cost?’ is also such an introspective song and resonates the most of all the songs on the album. Finally the interview with Tupac and the explanation of the title knocked me off my feet.

Consider this butterfly pimped.

One more thing ….

‘This dick ain’t freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee …..’

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2015 in Culture Vulture

 

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Dambudzo Marechera – His Life and Work (In His Own Words)

Dambudzo

There’s an intimacy, a familiarity with writers and their readers unlike any other relationship. They allow us access to their lives. And not just their peripheral existences, but their deepest fears, their most uncomfortable memories, their subconscious motivations, their haven’t-yet-showered morning mirror reflections. They allow us to know them without us actually knowing them. They give us their lives. We give them our attention.

And, when a writer dies, they leave behind a dichotomous legacy that’s equal parts surreal and…tender. You mourn their death while appreciating the fact that their work — the thing that made them so vibrant, so kinetic, so alive — is immortal.

One of Zimbabwe’s and Africa’s greatest literary minds Dambudzo Marechera would have been 62 today. Dambudzo Marechera might have died years ago. But Dambudzo Marechera will always be here. He will continue to teach. He will continue to challenge. He will continue to inspire. He will continue to be. His legacy lives on.

Dambudzo Marechera, Cemetery of Mind. (In his own writing here.)

Dambudzo Marechera, Cemetery of Mind. (In his own writing here.)

 

According to information gathered from a series of audio interviews conducted in Marechera’s flat at 8 Sloane Court, Harare, Zimbabwe, by Alle Lansu in February 1986:

‘Dambudzo Marechera was born on June 4 1952 in Rusape, Zimbabwe and baptised Charles William Marechera. His father, Isaac, was a trucker and mortuary attendant, and his mother, Masvotwa Venezia was a nanny. However, Dambudzo won scholarships to St Augustine’s Secondary School, to the University of Zimbabwe and to New College, Oxford. He has the distinction of having been expelled from all three.

After his expulsion from Oxford, Marechera hitchhiked to London, and claimed to have lived in a riverside tent there while he wrote ‘The House of Hunger’ – a novella and some short stories. With a theme that questioned what had happened to his generation–that of the first politically conscious, educated Africans–the book caused a literary stir and won several impressive reviews when it was published by the esteemed Heinemann publishing house in 1978. It was championed by well-known writers, and earned the Guardian newspaper’s prize for debut fiction the following year.

House of Hunger was followed by four other novels, ‘Black Sunlight’ (1980),’The Black Insider’ (1990) and ‘Mindblast’ (1884). His poetry, collected together in ‘Cemetery of Mind’, was published posthumously in 1992.

After his departure from Oxford, he lived and wrote in London until his return to Zimbabwe in 1982. Dambudzo died an untimely and tragic death on August 18 1987, in Harare.

Marechera’s work, his ideas and his defiance, live on in Zimbabwe, particularly amongst the youth, who find inspiration in his willingness to be the lone outsider, challenging conventional and authoritarian views.’

Dambudzo Marechera; His Life and Work an Interview by Alle Lansu

Childhood

Here he offers some insight into what it was like growing up in Vengere Township in Rusape , in the then Rhodesia ( now Zimbabwe). He talks about how he got his first books from a rubbish dump in the white part of town.

You can listen to this part of the interview below

 

Escaping the House of Hunger

‘Getting out of the House of Hunger is easy if you know that there is a way out. It’s about education and ignoring the poverty around you. It’s very selfish. Reading is what taught me that there was another world out there and I wanted to break into it’.

He goes on to speak on how he became the first black African student to score 20 points (Straight A’s) for his A’ Level exams and that is how he won a full scholarship to study any university in the world. He chose the University of Zimbabwe because he ‘wanted to experience what it was like going at our highest education institution. I wanted to become part of our national struggle’. He was expelled from the University of Zimbabwe in 1973 and went on to attend Oxford University in the UK.

You can listen to this part of the interview below

 

Oxford and London

He talks about his bookish knowledge of the UK which he had picked from the authors he read and how the reality of being on British soil was so disappointing. He points out that by being a scholar at Oxford he became a member of the aristocracy by default. He couldn’t drink with other black people because they considered him other and he didn’t really fit in the student pubs either. ‘All the time I was in Oxford I didn’t belong anywhere. So I just read and drank and listened to my classical music. This showed him the ‘irrelevancy of being part of Oxford University.’ He goes on to say this experience ‘radicalized my mind in an international way’

You can listen to this part of the interview below

Back In Zimbabwe 

 

Here discusses his homelessness and run ins with the authorities upon his return to his homeland after his return to Zimbabwe in 1982. He also discusses his relationship with a German expatriate teacher who taught in Mutoko who would feed him and book a hotel room for both them when she was in Harare for weekends. During the week he would sleep in the streets. This was the period in which he wrote Mindblast. In is own words ‘I was having a normal life by installments. Each Sunday morning I would wake up and we would know that she is going back to school to teach and I am going back to the streets.’

 

On the Future of Zimbabwean Literature

‘If every writer is actually helped to not only discover his vision and talent but also to fashion it out in such a way that he re-evaluates himself and at the same time achieves both national and international recognition then there is a tremendous future for Zimbabwean literature.’

You can listen to this part of the interview below

 

His Vision for African Literature

In this part of the interview he shares his thoughts on traditional and modern African Literature as well as his views on the works of Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka , Ngugi wa Thiong’o etc as well as the concept of negritude. His speaks of Wole Soyinka and Ngugi wa Thiong’o as the African writers who had the biggest influence on him as a writer. Ngugi wa Thiong’o ‘Weep Not Child’ was the first book by an African writer that he read. Up to this point he had never thought that blacks could be writers. In his own words he thought to himself ‘If another African can do it then I am going to do it.’

You can listen to this part of the interview below

 

Let Me Write and Drink My Beer

‘There is a disconnection between my profession as a writer and the needs of a developing country like Zimbabwe. People considered my writing as an indulgence. There is no tradition in Zimbabwe of writing as a profession. People thought of me as unemployed and merely as a vagabond who refusing to do any constructive … Just live me alone to write and drink my beer.’

You can listen to this part of the interview below

 

Thank you Dambduzo. For the words. And the inspiration.

 
 

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Sam Smith: A Really Soulful Dude. I’m A Fan.

Unrequited love is a hell of a muse.

Just ask Adele. And Frank Ocean. And Sam Smith. Who? Sam Smith. Sam Smith is one of the latest in an impressive production line of soul singers that have come out of the UK in the last couple of years. Could it be all that tea and crumpets? Oh the fish and chips perhaps? Whatever it is I am just glad they are putting the soul back into our radios. Shouts to Emeli Sandé.

Personally I think Sam Smith owned the Queen of R&B herself Mary J Blige on ‘Stay With Me’ duet. I actually prefer his solo version to be honest.

 

Sam Smith’s voice is sublime. You feel it before you hear it. And that’s just about as soulful as it gets. When I found out he was a 22 year old white guy I was even more impressed by the soulful inflections in his voice because traditionally the most soulful singers have tended to be black. And Sam Smith is just as soulful as any other cats out there. Fact. His voice speaks for itself. Admittedly I only caught onto his music a few weeks ago. But as soon as I heard his beautifully soulful voice on the radio I fell in love with his music. At the time I had no idea who the artist was. Where is Shazam when you need it? Sigh. It would be a few days before I would finally found out that the man behind the voice was none other Sam Smith. And the song that had initially piqued my interest? His latest single ‘Leave Your Lover’ of his debut album the ‘‘In The Lonely Hour’.

 

Since then I have made it my mission to listen to this young soul impresario’s music. And as I embarked on this journey I become more and more of a fan. Songs like ‘Money On Mind’, ‘Stay With Me’ and ‘Nirvana’ reminded of how of an old soul I actually am. That even in this increasingly digital world I am an analogue at heart. There is a certain warmth and humanity in Sam Smith’s voice that is so refreshing especially when juxtaposed against most of the mainstream vapid ‘music’. This is something that he addressed in a recent interview with The Fader magazine when he said;

‘I want to make the music that’s not there anymore. I’m so passionate about the singing voice. I genuinely feel like there’s a snobbery in the industry where people feel like playing an instrument makes you a better songwriter or musician. What I’m trying to do actually with my album is show that it’s my voice that’s leading. It’s my voice that’s the instrument. It’s hard, it’s difficult—I watch artists around me that have 200 fans waiting outside of hotels and venues for them and they can’t sing.’

Outside of his music I also dug a little into the story of the man behind the voice. And the first thing I picked up on was the parallels between some aspects of his story and that of Frank Ocean, another soulful singer whose music I absolutely adore. Like Frank Ocean before him the inspiration for Sam Smith’s Album ‘In The Lonely Hour’ was drawn from love gone wrong. Unrequited love to be specific. And for both artists the person who they loved was a man. It seems men are quite the muses when it comes to this thing called unrequited love. Shouts to Adele.

In some instances both Sam Smith and Frank Ocean’s music is confessional and serves as a platform for them to ‘come out’ per se. ‘Leave Your Lover’ is to Sam Smith what ‘Bad Religion’ was to Frank Ocean. As a listener whilst I have never been in love with a man, I have experienced unrequited love. I think everyone who has ever opened themselves up to love has at some point. It doesn’t matter how beautiful or charming you are. It doesn’t matter if you are gay or straight. At some point we have all loved someone who hasn’t necessarily loved us back. Life.

And that’s the beauty of art. Our experiences don’t have to be identical. They just have to resonate. Therein lays the magic in Sam Smith’s music. It resonates. It tugs at your heartstrings. It moves you. And if you are lucky enough it makes you more appreciative of the love that you currently have in your life. In the same cover story for The Fader magazine Sam Smith had this to say about the inspiration behind his album.

‘In the Lonely Hour’ is about a guy that I fell in love with last year, and he didn’t love me back. I think I’m over it now, but I was in a very dark place. I kept feeling lonely in the fact that I hadn’t felt love before. I’ve felt the bad things. And what’s a more powerful emotion: pain or happiness?

What’s a more powerful emotion; pain or happiness? That is a very good question. One that I will leave you to marinate on whilst I continue marinating on Sam Smith’s music.

 

You can read the full The Fader cover story on Sam Smith in which he opens up about his life and love here.

 
 

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Switching off HIFA 2014 week: The BIG Write Up

 

All is well with my soul. HIFA week has come and gone and what a week it was. Six days of art, theatre, poetry, live music, laughter, drinking (shout out to the Pump Price Boys), joy, friendship and … one memorable night of unbelievable ratios. There are levels to this whole culture vulture shindig and the past week is right up there in the upper echelons of this culture vultures greatest hits. So much so that writing this I feel a quite sensation of satisfaction at the week that was the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA). It was definitely worth the wait and it was full of pleasant surprises. Over 1600 artists from Indonesia, Ireland, Cote D’ivoire, Germany, USA, China, Malawi, Netherlands, Greece, South Africa, UK and DRC just to mention a few descended upon the Harare Gardens and the surrounding areas and served a gourmet feast of arts and culture for the thousands of revelers to gorge on. By the end of the week even the most gluttonous of culture vultures were satisfied.

Acrobats perform during HIFA opening ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Zimbo Jam)

Acrobats perform during HIFA opening ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Zimbo Jam)

 

Acrobats perform during HIFA opening ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Zimbo Jam)

Acrobats perform during HIFA opening ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Zimbo Jam)

Zimbabwean music legend Oliver 'Tuku' Mtukudzi performs during the HIFA opening ceremony with Ammara Brown Nad Cynthia Mare ( Photo courtesy of ZImbo Jam)

Zimbabwean music legend Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi performs during the HIFA opening ceremony with Ammara Brown Nad Cynthia Mare ( Photo courtesy of ZImbo Jam)

My first HIFA experience last year was limited to taking in a handful of live performances over the course of weekend. This year I made a concerted effort to turn my HIFA experience into a weeklong event. And now armed with the benefit of hindsight I realize how much I shortchanged myself last year. This year I took in more of the theatre program than I did live music. I stepped out of the luscious green confines of the Harare Gardens and into the intimate spaces of the Reps, Standard and 7 Arts theatres, as well as The National Art Gallery Of Zimbabwe. My HIFA experience was so much richer for it.

 

'The Drinking Hole' The Pariah State bar  stand on the Coca Cola Green

‘The Watering Hole’ The Pariah State bar stand on the Coca Cola Green

Revelers having a jolly good time at HIFA ( Photo courtesy of HIFA)

Revelers having a jolly good time at HIFA ( Photo courtesy of HIFA)

Fesival goers enjoy the HIFA entertainment on the Coca Cola Green ( Photo courtesy of HIFA)

Festival goers enjoy the HIFA entertainment on the Coca Cola Green ( Photo courtesy of HIFA)

 

The highlight of the week for me was a play entitled ‘The Gods They Have Built For Us.’ It stands as probably the best, most engaging, thought provoking, enthralling and enlightening live theatre experiences I have had in the last couple of years. It reminded me of how much I loved and missed theatre. Other highlights included the opening ceremony which featured acrobats, b boy dancers, the legendary Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi, The Cool Crooners and Steve Dyer. As the week progressed I was pleasantly surprised by Zimababwean Hip Hop artist Synik live set, UK based Malawian Standup comedian Daliso Chiponda, Belarusian solo guitarist Maneli Jamal, South African musician Toya Delazy and German reggae /jazz fusion band Jamarama. The week was not without its controversies as protesters and some parts of the media tried to get the play ‘Lovers in Time’ which re-imagines the spirit mediums trajectory if they had not been executed during the First Chimurenga struggle.

 

Mbuya Nehanda in the play "Lovers In Time". Photo credit: Fungai Tichawangana

Mbuya Nehanda in the play “Lovers In Time”. Photo credit: Fungai Tichawangana

 

Ivorian musician Dobet Gnahore leaps during her live performance at HIFA  Photo credit: Fungai Tichawangana

Ivorian musician Dobet Gnahore leaps during her live performance at HIFA Photo credit: Fungai Tichawangana

Belarusian Solo Guitarist Maneli Jamal performs on The Lays Global stage

Belarusian Solo Guitarist Maneli Jamal performs on The Lays Global stage

 

The controversy was focused on the portrayal of Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi as transgender as well as white Zimbabweans in their reincarnations. Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi were stalwarts of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle and they inspired the generation of Zimbabweans who finally freed Zimbabwe from the shackles of colonialism. As such some sections of Zimbabwean society did not take to kindly or appreciate the artistic merit of the play. It did get the directors great publicity and it was only because of the controversy that I ended up attending the play.

One of my favourite spots during HIFA that I only discovered much later in the week was the Craft and Design Centre which was supported by the Royal Norwegian Embassy. The Craft and Design Centre provided a space for local artist and designers to showcase their work to HIFA goers. The Craft and Design Centre had some interesting events including live graffiti and painting. Environmentally sensitive artists who use recycled material including bottles, cans, plastics and even bottle tops were busy with their displays.

The Design and Craft Centre displays a ceiling made from discarded plastic bottles. (Photo credit :Farai Dauramanzi)

The Design and Craft Centre displays a ceiling made from discarded plastic bottles. (Photo credit: Farai Dauramazi)

he HIFA grafitti wall in the Desing and Craft Centre gives space for the expression of what is traditionally street art

he HIFA grafitti wall in the Design and Craft Centre gives space for the expression of what is traditionally street art Photo credit: Farai Dauramanzi

Mbira, Drums, Hosho and various other crafts on sale in Design and Craft Centre ( Photo courtesy of HIFA)

Mbira, Drums, Hosho and various other crafts on sale in Design and Craft Centre ( Photo courtesy of HIFA)

 

My only regret from this year’s HIFA experience is that aside from the opening ceremony I didn’t get a chance to take in some of the dance acts but that will be on the top of the agenda come HIFA next year.

The only blemish from this years festival was that the South African Afro-fusion musical group Freshlyground denied entry into Zimbabwe. HIFA organisers allegedly left it to the 11th hour to apply for work permits for the group. Subsequently the group was turned away at the Harare international airport when they arrived without the necessary documentation.

Overall though it was still a great week, and HIFA definitely stands among the best festivals I have been privileged to attend.

Below I have written reviews for some of the shows that moved me.

Show Reviews
Opening Ceremony: Lighting Up the Darkness – Telecel Main Stage
For the opening ceremony the stage was set against the iconic backdrop of the Cityscape and the leafy bamboo walls with the natural glow of flaming torches, lighting up the darkness. The opening ceremony provided a highlight reel of the performances that would take place during the week. It involved poetry reading, live music from legends such as Steve Dyer, Tuku & The Cool Crooners. The musical curation was matched by the dance that followed from acrobatics to b-boying intensity. And to end of the night the beautiful Harare skyline reflected the colour, passion and light that came from the Opening show: Light Up The Darkness as fireworks light up the Harare skyline.

HIFA 2014 Opening Ceremony : he show, titled ‘Light up the Darkness’ followed the story of two dung beetles fighting hard to get their precious cargo up a rock.

HIFA 2014 Opening Ceremony : The show, titled ‘Light up the Darkness’ followed the story of two dung beetles fighting hard to get their precious cargo up a rock. Photo credit :Verity Norman

The Gods You’ve Built – Reps Theatre

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This play was based on three unlikely characters, the founder of an anonymous online community (for people who question religion and the meaning of life) who happens to be a bored accountant pretending to be a policeman for most of the play, a pregnant nun and her philosophy professor lover who has lost faith in his own philosophies. The drama unfolds out in a dilapidated public toilet that is decorated with graffiti and used condoms on the floor. To quote one of the lines by the actors “It is classic in a sanitary kind of way.” The play explores the complexity of existence. It seeks to understand the purpose of life and poses questions such as whether there is a perfect way out of misery. It served up a theatrical journey that left me mulling on play long after I had left the theatre. I found the play full of witty, insightful dialogue and musings. Some of the memorable quotes from the play are “We are all trying to find order in randomness’, “We were all Catholic at one time” and “Prayer is like insurance. People take out insurance not because they think their house is going to burn down. They take out insurance just in case their house burns down.” One of the more thought provoking questions the play posed to the audience and deals succinctly with the thrust of the play was this: Imagine if one morning you woke up and God was standing at your door and he said to you, ‘There is no heaven and there is no hell. No reward for the good you have done. And no punishment for the evil you have done. But I am God. Love me and worship me.” Would you do it?

 

 The Reps Theatre - A scene from the play 'They God's You've Built For Us' ( Photo credit Ron Senderayi)

A scene from the play ‘They God’s You’ve Built For Us’ (Photo credit: Ron Senderayi)

This play was undoubtedly one of the top highlights of my HIFA experience.

Synik (Award winning Zimbo Hip Hop artist) – Coca Cola Green

Zimbabwean Hip Hop artist'Outspoken & Synik do a final soundcheck before Synik's Live set on The Coca Cola Green (Phot credit: Ron Senderai)

Zimbabwean Hip Hop artist’Outspoken & Synik do a final soundcheck before Synik’s Live set on The Coca Cola Green (Photo credit: Ron Senderayi)

 

Zimbabwean rapper Synik has a confident flow that immediately commands your attention from the get go. His energy was as infectious as it was organic with the audience vibing along to his crystal clear and at times poignant rhymes. For his live performance he was accompanied by a flawless live band that was reminiscent of American live Hip Hop band ‘The Roots’. Prior to his set I was not very familiar with most of his catalogue. I had only heard whispers on the Twitters streets but even that could not have prepared me for the musical vortex Synik sucked me into. I have not listened to a more authentic and talented Hip Hop musician live in a long time. Despite this being basically my first listen his cooly delivered lyrics resonated viscerally with m. His subject matter appealed both to the patriotic Zimbabwean in me as well the man still desperately trying to find my place in the world. His raps took me on a journey that transfixed me into a reflection of my past and future struggles to feeling like an outsider in my own country. In his own way Synik gave the soundtrack to my homecoming that I never had. A soundtrack I didn’t know I needed. Did I mention how organic his energy was on stage? There was a very Rock feel to his performance. And his interaction with the crowd revealed a humble and grounded young man. A rarity in Hip Hop circles. I am a fan. Over the course of this coming week I will be definitely marinating on his album with an eye on penning a full review at the end of the week.

Daliso Chiponda : Barely Legal (UK based Malawian Standup comedian)- 7 Arts Theatre

Daliso performs his stand up routine 'Barely Legal' at the & Arts Theatre ( Photo courtesy Of Zimbo Jam)

Daliso performs his stand up routine ‘Barely Legal’ at the & Arts Theatre ( Photo courtesy Of Zimbo Jam)

Daliso Chiponda’s stand up routine ‘Barely Legal’ had me and the rest of the audience laughing at our own collective idiosycransies. I have always admired how socially intelligent most comedians are and Daliso was no exception. During his set he made fun of Zimbabwe having a raunchy pole dancer/stripper Beverly Sibanda as a ‘celebrity’. He expressed shock on how Bev is considered a superstar in Zimbabwe saying in other parts of the world a stripper is on the lowest of the social ladder. Daliso also joked about Bev’s use of a beer bottle during her dancing routines by quizzing the audience how she discovered the “trick.”“Is it that Bev tripped and fell on a bottle that she discovered she could dance on top of it?.” “How does one discover such a talent of dancing on a bottle,” he quizzed.

He also went after Prophet Eubert Angel musing on whether he and his prophetess wife have arguments about things that haven’t happened yet. He alsojoked about the upcoming South African election featuring Julius Malema, the time he was almost arrested for ridiculing the government of Malawi, corrupt African leaders as well as bizarre sex laws in Europe. All in all he served up laughs galore.

Lovers In Time – The Standard Theatre 

The Standard Theatre - The Cast of the controversial play "Lovers In TIme" which was based on the reimaninging of the Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi story

The Standard Theatre – The Cast of the controversial play “Lovers In TIme” which was based on the reimaninging of the Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi story (Photo credit : Ron Senderayi)

This was one of the more controversial performances of this years HIFA week.I will admit I was only drawn to watch it after the catching wind of the inevitable publicity the controversy stirred. Conceptually I loved the premise of the play. The play aimed to retell the story of the spirit mediums Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi, two of the most iconic figures in Zimbabwe’s fight for freedom. The play imagines what would have happened had they not be captured and hanged by the colonial regime.

How different would our history have been? How would they feel about the current state of affairs in a free Zimbabawe, that they died for? Those are some of the questions the play attempts to answer. To achieve this the writer’s and director of the play reincarnated Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi and switched their bodies. The spirit of Mbuya Nehanda came back as a man and that of Sekuru Kaguvi as a transgender woman. Both spirits are reincarnated at different stages of Zimbabwe’s history including Zimbabawe’s independence in which they were in the form of the two Bob’s , Marley and Mugabe. at one stage the spirit mediums come back as two white Zimbabwean and it is this that seems to have been the trigger for all the controversy surrounding the play. Those protesting against it argued that it mocked the legacy of the two spirit mediums. Personally I loved the idea of having the opportunity to imagine the beautiful possibility of what their lives could have been like had they not been captured. What I did not like was the execution of that idea.  The acting and the dialogue itself left me underwhelmed. And despite the noble efforts of the directors to promote racial harmony I felt they missed the mark as some of the scenes especially towards the end felt contrived. Also leaving the play I felt the play itself had lacked a focus as well as a clear message.

 

That’s all for this years show folks.

Look at these two struggling culture vultures a.k.a. The 'Pump Price'boys a.k.a "The Usual Suspects' a.k.a "What you know about pi?" ...  We turnt all the way up this past HIFA week though.

Look at these two struggling culture vultures a.k.a. The ‘Pump Priceboys’ a.k.a “The Usual Suspects’ a.k.a “What you know about pi?” … We turnt all the way up this past HIFA week though.

 

Written by Tafadzwa Tichawangana

 
2 Comments

Posted by on May 5, 2014 in Culture Vulture

 

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I’m The Man (You Can Tell Everybody)

I think it was the late great Bob Marley that once said that “the thing about music is that when it hits you, you feel no pain”. I don’t think there has ever been a more eloquent observation in regards to the power of music and its impact on the human spirit. The very best of music lifts your spirit. As a long time lover of words some of my favourite songs bear great lyrics as their hallmark. That being said if there is one thing that moves me more than words it’s when those words are sung beautifully over a soulful beat. The very best of music pulls at my heart strings. It tells a story. Sometimes it’s my story. And other times it just allows me to live vicariously through the experiences of others. The very best of songs feel like they were sung by that one person who gets you. That person you don’t have to explain or justify yourself to. They just get you. It inspires you to be better, to love and accept yourself and your story not matter how ugly that story is.

 

All this rings true when I listen to Aloe Blacc’s (famous for the ‘I Need A Dollar’ theme song to the short lived How To Make It In America TV series) breakthrough single ‘The Man’ of his Lift Your Spirit Album. Some music aficionado’s might also recognise his vocals on another more recent track, Avicii’s hit dance song ‘Wake Me Up” which (unfortunately) he wasn’t credited for.

 

I know that a song is good when I wish that I had written it and find myself doing renditions of it every other morning during my showers. In those moments I imagine myself on stage belting out the lyrics and the crowd loving every bit of it … Allow. What I love most about ‘The Man is that it reminds of the person that I am. On the song “The Man” Aloe Blacc radiates unflappable self-assurance and the song’s lyrics sound powerful without drowning in conceit. It moves me viscerally and it makes me fall in love with myself and my story all over again. It’s a beautiful reminder of where I have been and where I am going. It resonates with the dreamer, believer and achiever in me.

 

Over the Easter break I have deliberately made an effort to spend time doing things that I love that I haven’t really got to do because you know…life. I have tried to just be still in the moment. I have avoided retreating to nostalgia or fretting about tomorrow. I have just embraced the present. The now. I have had more time to just sit and do nothing but listen to the radio most of the day without any distractions. And to read a book. Something that I haven’t done so far this year. Over the last couple of days I started and finished reading “Samarkand” by Amin Maalouf. It such a captivating story that is grand in scope, piercing in its insights and poetic in its tragedy. It left me ticking and tense and wanting to tell someone else to read it, so there you go I highly recommend it. ( You can thank me later). During the last few days I haven’t run or written. I have just sat, listened to and watched the world around me, offline.

I have remembered how much I love music and how influential it has been in shaping into the person that I am today. For better or worse. For me the music that resonates is the music that triggers my excitable cells and endocrine systems. Music that makes me happy, introspective and can be a quick relief to all my worries and stresses. Music that lifts my spirits. And that is what Aloe Blacc’s “The Man” is doing for me this morning.

Whilst reading a profile Of Aloe Blacc earlier I came across this quote from him that I absolutely love that I want to share today.

Blacc who was a straight-A student who won a scholarship to the University of Southern California to study communications and linguistic psychology. “It’s kind of a nerdy interest,” he says. “It helps me to continue whetting my blade as a thinker.I don’t play the new app of the week on my phone, I play with words. I put them together in little puzzles and see how they make me feel and then do this projection puzzle to the rest of the world and ask how they will make other people feel – Aloe Blacc

I still haven’t gotten around to listening to the full album Lift Your Spirit yet but I am sure I will get around to it soon enough.
If you are interested you can read the full profile of the man of the moment in this The Guardian (UK) article in which he drops quite a few quotable gems. Aloe Blacc: The Man of the moment here

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2014 in Culture Vulture

 

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The Great Circumcision Debate

In the last couple of months Zimbabwean men have been inundated left, right and centre with calls to undergo voluntary medical circumcision. Every time you turn on the TV/radio your ears assaulted by the pro circumcision jingles that are reminiscent of the ‘Hondo yeminda’/ ‘Our land is our prosperity’ jingles that were the soundtrack to the early days of the Zimbabwean land reform in early 2000’s. Every time you but the papers you are confronted by full spread ads encouraging men to become “smart champions” by getting circumcised. According to statistics currently only 10% of Zimbabweans get circumcised at birth. This particular circumcision drive however is directed at adult men.

It is an unusually direct and candid campaign for a country with a culture that has always leaned to the conservative side when discussing issues of sex and sexual health. Kudos to them for that. It is about time we exercised some liberalism when it comes to discussing sexual health. We have been silent for too long. We choose to pretend that we are not getting our freak on between the sheets, or as the shona term for sexual issues will have you believe, (Nyaya dezepabonde) on our mats. Since last year, more than 200,000 Zimbabwean males have been circumcised. Officials are hopeful their goal of 1.3 million circumcised men can be achieved.

Popular musicians such as Winky D, Jah Prayzah, Suluman Chimbetu and Albert Nyathi have all been recruited as brand ambassadors for this circumcision drive. (They are all being paid to be brand ambassadors)The drive is being spearheaded by Population Services International (PSI) and the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare. These ‘smart champions’ as the brand ambassadors are known all recently got circumcised in the last few months including Albert Nyathi who is at the very least is in his late forties. They are clearly not targeting just young men but even our fathers. The point is all these guys mostly in their all got circumcised as adults. This, when taken with the statistic that only 10% of Zimbabweans are circumcised serves to only highlight that circumcision has never been a big part of either traditional or contemporary Zimbabwean culture. So why the sudden drive to get Zimbabweans men to get circumcised all of a sudden? What is the motivation behind the drive?

Before I continue and in the interest of full disclosure let me state for the record that I am not circumcised. It is not something that has really been on my radar before and therefore I have never thought about it twice. Before this intensive media campaign as far as I knew neither my culture nor my religion encouraged this. As an adult in university I learned that nearly all my Muslim friends had been circumcised at birth on religious grounds. They also didn’t drink alcohol. Each to their own. That was my attitude. I was never inclined to investigate the process or form an opinion. I was happy being uncircumcised.

When I lived in Cape Town I also learned that most of my Xhosa friends where circumcised as teenagers. It was part of their initiation ceremony in which they went from boys to men. The whole process lasted a few weeks in which they retreated to the mountains as boys and came down as men. Their circumcision was on cultural and traditional grounds. You are not considered a man amongst the Xhosa until you get circumcised. This I admired and respected but I wasn’t Xhosa and neither did I want to be so again I never gave it much thought. I quietly envied the cultural significance of the process and not the actual process itself.

Fast forward to the present day.

I am finding it harder and harder to not give the whole idea of circumcision a second thought. The campaign has clearly got my attention. I find myself wanting to take an informed stand on the whole idea of voluntary medical male circumcision. From some of the things I have picked up from the debates in the local media it is a controversial and polarising issue. People in either the pro or anti circumcision camp often seem to show nothing but contempt for the other. There hardly seems to be any middle ground. The issue of circumcision is as controversial as it ever has been. But why now? From what I have picked up from the media campaign, one of the main arguments being put forward is that circumcision reduces the risk of HIV infection by 60%. Another is also reduces the chances of other sexually transmitted diseases as well also reduce the risk of your partner getting cervical cancer. It is also supposedly more hygienic, hence the “smart champions” moniker.

Whilst there are well-known religious, social, and medical reasons to recommend circumcision; however, most major medical societies have taken an “impartial” view of the procedure, neither recommending nor renouncing the practice. On a personal level I don’t find myself compelled by the pros of circumcision. And no it’s not because I am not afraid of getting cut. I just like my penis the way it is. I have also done my own reading on the subject and I haven’t been swayed either way.The issue of cervical cancer was probably the most compelling but I failed to find literature that actually backs up this argument convincingly so the jury is still out on that one. A 60% reduced risk of HIV is not even a motivator. 40% is still huge and they are more efficient ways of reducing the risk of HIV in my opinion.

I remember reading some time ago that most circumcised Zimbabwean soldiers are now reportedly having more and more unprotected sex because of the belief that you won’t get HIV if you are circumcised. It’s a gross and worrying misinterpretation of the facts if you ask me.
And then there is the hygiene angle. As an owner of an intact penis, I can confidently say that my cleaning habits are as good as anyone else and are more than sufficient to get the apparatus as clean as a whistle. If the goal is to remove people’s folds of protective, functional skin to prevent the possible accumulation of secretions then we should also go after the girls with a scalpel. I didn’t think so.

After doing my own research I am choosing to stay uncircumcised. I don’t judge those who chose, in the same way I don’t expect them to judge me for having an intact penis, which is the default. I am choosing to be pro choice when it comes to this debate. I think every man has the right to choose whether to be circumcised or not without being pressurised by anyone.

Below is some of the information available on the “Internets” on circumcision that I found helpful.

Circumcision: medical pros and cons facts

• Inability to retract the foreskin fully at birth is not a medical reason for acircumcision.
• Circumcision prevents phimosis (the inability to retract the foreskin at an age when it should normally be retractable), paraphimosis (the painful inability to return the foreskin to its original location), and balanoposthitis (inflammation of the glans and foreskin).
• Circumcision increases the chance of meatitis (inflammation of the opening of the penis).
• Circumcision may result in a decreased incidence of urinary tract infections (UTI’s)
• Circumcision may result in a lower incidence of sexually transmitted disease and may reduce HIVtransmission.
• Circumcision may lower the risk for cancer of the cervix in sexual partners.
• Circumcision may decrease the risk for cancer of the penis
• There is still no absolute medical indication for routine circumcision of the newborn.

There are some caveats though
“Touch sensitivity tests have identified the most sensitive regions of the male genitalia; in intact participants, these are all on the foreskin. Circumcision removes approximately 50% of the nerve endings on the penis, among these, fine touch nerve receptors called the Meissner Corpuscles. We all have Meissner Corpuscles in our fingertips; in the penis, they are only present on the foreskin. These are unique nerve endings which provide very nuanced feedback. Partners of intact men report that they have a better ability to pace themselves and greater control than do circumcised men, and this is almost certainly due in part to the presence of Meissner Corpuscles.”

There is a reduction in the likelihood of UTIs and penile cancer such that your risk drops from already-infinitesimal to slightly-less-than-infinitesimal. If we’re going to employ that line of reasoning, then there are a number of body parts that we must preemptively strike down before we rid ourselves of foreskins. Risk of penile cancer: 1 in 1000. Risk of breast cancer: 1 in 8. And yet I hear no one advocating for the forced removal of breast buds in children who have the abnormal genes that indicate a very high risk of breast cancer.”

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2014 in Culture Vulture

 

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Cultural Catholic

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I was raised in a very conservative Roman Catholic and African family. Catholicism has been a significant part of my family’s culture alongside my indigenous Shona culture. My family’s culture lies somewhere on the intersection of Shona culture and Catholicism. The Shona, like most Africans are very spiritual people. This I believe is the reason that even in the present day many of us have taken to religion and adopted Christianity in particular with such aplomb. Being naturally spiritual people we need to feed our souls. And Christianity has been the table we have chosen to sit at and feed our souls from. It is all most of us know when it comes to spirituality. Our colonisers made sure of that.

Our forefathers after being made to feel inferior were coerced into abandoning their own spirituality. Focusing on bad spirits and witchcraft they were told that their own traditional African religions were evil. They ignored the presence of good spirits that the Shona believed inspired individual talents associated with healing, music, or artistic ability. Christianity was all good and the practice of traditional religions was evil. Those were the only two options they were presented with in the newly introduced formal education system which was closely linked to the new Christian religion. The more people converted to Christianity often in pursuit of a formal education the more they neglected their own traditional religions.

My late great grandfather was one of the early African converts to Christianity from his clan. He eagerly took to Christianity playing a big role in building the first Catholic Church in our rural village. In honour of his role in building that church it has since been named after him and is known as St Edmund’s Parish. This church also happens to be one of the oldest Catholic churches in Zimbabwe. My great grandfather’s conversion to Christianity marked the first significant shift in our family culture into what is today, a fusion of both Catholicism and elements of traditional Shona culture such as Hunhu. It is under the influence of that hybrid culture that I was raised. Although if I am being entirely honest Catholicism played a much bigger part in my upbringing to the extent that until only recently I not in tune with most elements of my Shona culture.

As a child all the way into my early teens I was an Altar boy. Every Sunday I helped the Priest to serve Mass. For my high school I attended an all boys Catholic boarding school. Catholicism was further indoctrinated into me and all the while no conscious efforts were made by myself or anyone else to educate or enlighten me on Shona culture. When it came to my Shona heritage I was an ignoramus. By the time I left for university and began the quest to define myself for myself the influence of the Catholic Church on my individual culture fizzled. For a period of five years in my twenties I did not see the inside of a catholic church or any church for that matter. Like with anything that you inherit or grow up when you gain some independence you start question its role and influence in your life. And when I asked myself those questions I struggled to accept or agree with the doctrines I was supposed to follow.

During that period you would think that I would have made a greater effort to reconnect and educate myself on my Shona culture and try to see if it was more in line with the individual culture I was subconsciously building, but I didn’t. Instead I took to assimilating many other different cultures. It was the period in which my inner culture vulture was born. In fairness though for the majority of my twenties I was living an environment that I wasn’t exposed to Shona culture or even Catholicism. So it might be understandable that either’s influence faded quickly. Still, I considered myself a cultural Catholic if not a practising one. I understood and was familiar with catholic dogma and routine even though it didn’t influence my life as much. It was however a big part of my childhood and provided some cultural conectivedness with my family.

Catholicism for better or worse is ingrained in my culture. I can’t say the same for my own Shona culture. Unfortunately I was never indoctrinated in the ways of the Shona as much as I was the ways of the Roman Catholics. And that is what this part of my life is about. To indoctrinate myself in the ways of my ancestors so that I can also proudly call myself ‘Mwana wevhu” ,a son of the soil. The whole idea of being a son of the soil is something I will explore in my next post, in which I will look at how the land is so deeply associated with Shona spirituality. At the end of the day I am trying to decolonise my own individual culture and be true to the culture vulture in me. In the same way I don’t agree with all aspects of Catholic doctrine I am sure I might not agree with all aspects of Shona Culture. What I want to have though is a better understanding of it. In that way I will be able to incorporate it more consciously into my own life.

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2014 in Culture Vulture

 

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