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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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Totems And The Art of Shona Praise Poetry – The Lost Language Of Our Ancestors

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Monkeys are amazing creatures, swinging our way with messages of intelligence, intensity and involvement. They are as playful as they are entertaining. Monkeys also have a strong capacity for compassion, understanding and bonding. Monkeys are also one of the many totem animals among the Shona people of Zimbabwe.

A bit of background…

In Shona culture, totems (mutupo) are usually names of animals which the individual is likened to in terms of character and personality. A totem originates from one individual (the ancestor) and is passed on to the descendants of the individual. Totems are often used to praise a person for their good deeds, to seek the favour from someone who is at higher position or to address kings and chiefs.

According to Alec J.C. Pongweni author of Shona Praise Poetry As Role Negotiation:

Shona praise poetry has its origins in the totemic system. In the totemic system a clan associates itself with an animal, for example, Shumba – Lion, Soko – Monkey, Mhofu – Beast, etc. This animal is chosen because of certain admirable characteristics of appearance, demeanour and hunting tactics or the manner in which it feeds.

The members of the clan are supposed to emulate these traits.

The praise poem (detembo) is derived from the characteristics of the totem animal as well as those presented by the clan. These could be their famous victories, failures which cast them to the ground, their struggles for recognition, their idiosyncrasies, favourite food, and many other traits.

The praise poem (detembo) is basically a song of flattery recited as a reward for socially commendable acts. Praise poems (detembo) serve to build confidence and self esteem for the individuals being praised, creating a sense of worth and identity in a person.

Totems and praise poems are two different things. A totem (mutupo)  is used to address its bearer. A praise poem (detembo) is used to thank the bearer of the totem. According to Pongweni, young children are not supposed to be thanked by their praise poems; they are thanked by their totems only. Praise poems are for grownups, especially those who are married. Girls are never thanked by their fathers praise poems; they are thanked only by their totems. If they grow up they will be thanked by their husbands praise poems, if they are married. The boys also will be thanked by their praise poems if they marry a wife.

Learning the praise poetry for my totem…

For the better part of this year I have been trying to get members of my extended family to teach me how to recite the Shona praise poetry (detembo) for my totem Soko, the monkey. Finding someone to teach me this detembo proved to be more difficult than I had initially anticipated.  For starters many members of my family are spread not only across Zimbabwe, but across the world. And despite the ubiquity of technology in our lives which has made it easier to stay in touch with my aunts and uncles both in the rural areas and in Diaspora I was still unable to make any headway. No one seemed to know the proper detembo for our totem Soko.

When I had initially taken my parents to task as part of the research for my book they confessed to only having a vague idea on how to recite the praise poetry for my totem Soko (the monkey). My parents and everyone else I asked kept referring to my late great aunt (my paternal grandfather’s sister) who from all accounts was a renowned reciter of the praise poetry of our clan. However, in a complete betray of the oral traditions that are deeply ingrained in our Shona culture no one I had access to had learned this most fascinating form of verbal artistry from her. This didn’t sit well with me. And the more I thought about this the more obsessed I became with learning the detembo for Soko, if only for posterity’s sake.  Surely someone in our clan who I might not be immediately related to would know. They had to.

To be fair, I did learn a thing or two that I hadn’t known before. One uncle shared with me an anecdote about how our totem, the monkey taught the white men how to sit on chairs. The white men he said to me, learned how to sit on chairs by watching and copying how the monkeys sat on branches. Because of this people who had the monkey as their totem were revered for their ingenuity amongst other traits. However, he couldn’t quite remember whether this anecdote was actually part of the detembo or if it was just a story he had been told when he was younger.

 

All this happened at the top of the year and between then and as recently as this past weekend I hardly made any further progress in my quest. In fact I had put the whole thing at the back of my mind.

That was until I finally caught a break from the most unlikely of sources, the ordination ceremony of a Catholic priest. My mother, a staunch catholic attended the ordination ceremony of a priest from our local parish. To those unfamiliar with ordination ceremonies (like I was), they are basically the Priesthoods equivalent of a marriage ceremony. In this case the priest is marrying the ‘church’. Anyway as part of the celebrations the parish women decided to recite the detembo for the priest in question. And as luck would have it this particular priest was a Soko.

Things got even better when the Priests father, in effort to make sure that the detembo was recited accurately gave each the women (my mother included) printed copies of the detembo to recite. And that is how I came to be in possession of a written copy of the detembo for my totem Soko.

But wait, it gets better …

There is more…

According to Shona oral traditions, the adoption of totemism is associated with the earliest known ancestor of the Shona people, Mambiri . He chose the Soko (Monkey) totem to guard against incestuous behaviour and also for the social identity of his followers. This took place in a mythical place called Guruuswa, which was located somewhere north of the Zambezi River in southern Tanganyika. As the early Shona grew in number and marriage became difficulty, due to the fact that they practiced the custom of exogamy (marrying only outside one’s clan), there was need to adopt a second totem. The Shava/Mhofu (Eland) totem was therefore adopted so as to enable intermarriage between members of the two totems to take place. In contemporary Shona society there are at least 25 identifiable totems (mitupo).

By that account, that actually makes my totem Soko, the monkey one of the originals.

This is also something that is detailed in the praise poetry for my totem which I have  shared below in both its original Shona form as well as an accompanying English version.

 

Soko

Ewoi Soko,

Vhudzijena, Mukanya

Hekanhi Mbereka

Makwiramiti, mahomu-homu

Vanopona nekuba

Vanamushamba negore

Makumbo mana muswe weshanu

Hekani Soko yangu yiyi

Vakaera mutupo umwe nashe

Vana VaPfumojena

Vakabva Guruuswa

Soko Mbire yaSvosve

Vanobva Hwedza

Vapfuri vemhangura

VekuMatonjeni vanaisi vemvura

Zvaitwa matarira vari mumabwe

Mhanimani tonodya, svosve tichobovera

Maita zvenyu rudzi rukuru

Matangakugara

Vakawana ushe neuchenjeri

Vakufamba hujeukidza kwandabva

Pagerwe rinongova jemedzanwa

Kugara hukwenya-kwenya

Vari mawere maramba kurimba

Vamazvikongonyadza kufamba hukanyaira

Zvibwezvitedza, zvinotedzera vari kure

Asi vari padyo vachitamba nazvo

Zvaitwa mukanya rudzi rusina chiramwa

Maita vari Makoromokwa, Mugarandaguta

Aiwa zvaonekwa Vhudzijena

 

Translated into English

Thank you Soko

White-hair, The Pompous one

Thank you Bearer of Children

The Tree-climber, one-who-always-barks

Those who survive by stealing

Those who bath only once in a year

Those who have four legs, the tail being the fifth

Thank you very much my dear Soko

Those who have the same totem as the chief

The descendants of Pfumojena

Those who came from Guruuswa

Soko Mbire of Svosve

Those who come from Hwedza

The iron-smelters

The rain-makers of Matojeni

A good service has been done the alert one, those in the rocks

We eat centipedes, we throw ants into our mouths

Thank you for the good service, great lineage

The original inhabitants

Those who obtained chieftainship through shrewdness and diplomacy

The one who constantly looks back when moving

Wherever they settle there is quarreling and crying

When seated you are constantly scratching your body

Those always on the cliffs, who refused to till the land

The pompous one who walks proudly

The Slippery-rocks that are slippery to those come from afar

But is friendly to those in the vicinity

It has been done, a lineage that does not refuse to perform a task no matter how it is treated

Those on the steep rocks and cliffs, one-who-rests-only-when-he-is-full

Indeed your kindness has been seen, White-hair

 

From the English version of the poem, the praises “White hair”, “Bearer of children”, “Those who have four legs, the tail being the fifth”, for instance, makes reference to the behaviour of the animal totem. However, praises like “Those who have the same totem as the chief”, “Those who come from Guruuswa”, “The descendants of Pfumojena”, “The rain-makers of Matonjeni”, “Those who come from Hwedza”, “The Iron-smelters”, refer to the history and the professions of the long departed ancestors of the clan.

And there you have it, I finally know the praise poetry for my totem. In the process I have learned a little bit more about the history of my ancestors. Something I am sure was always part of the motivation behind the use of praise poetry.

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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5 Essential FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 Reads

Today marks the beginning of the second week of the World Cup. And what a week it has been. Even though it’s only seven days into this tournament it’s already shaping up to be one of the most entertaining tournaments in recent memory.

Goals, red cards, penalties, upset, weird sprays, goal line technology and even more goals. That’s been The World Cup 2014 story so far.

APTOPIX Brazil Soccer WCup Croatia

 

Speaking of goals, during this World cup we have been spoilt rotten so far. They have been all kinds of goals. As of day 7 of this World Cup at least 50 goals had been scored. 5 of those coming in one thrilling encounter in which the defending champions Spain were totally annihilated by Spain. *chuckles*. The highlight of which was Robin Van Persie brilliant interpretation of The Flying Dutchman. I am pretty sure Robin Van Persie did it for the vine.

My other early contender for goal of the tournament is Tim Cahill’s sublime volley 70s after the Dutch had scored. The timing amnd the technique was perfect and it is a goal that is no doubt going straight into his career highlights reel. Tim Cahill, he from the land down under who has played in three world cups, the same as Ronaldo, Rooney and Messi and who has now got more World Cup goals than all three combined. Marinate on that.

But, the biggest story so far has to be the elimination of the once invincible La Roja, the Spanish national team. Who after only two matches of the World Cup are booking their flight home and leaving the World Cup trophy behind. It’s the end of an era. Come July 13th we will have a new World champion. Since circa 2008 the tika taka style of football synonymous with Spanish teams has reigned supreme. Many have tried and failed to combat it but it seems six years later the rest of the game has finally figured out how to neutralise its influence on the final result of games.

As an avid follower of the beautiful game I am not at all surprised at this. One thing I have learned is that the game is always evolving. There is no one way of winning football games. Spain have often been criticised for not having a plan B and they paid for it in the most humiliating of ways during this World Cup. Although I must hasten to add that I was completely blindsided by the manner in which things fell apart for the Spaniards. But hey, the game must go on.

Sidebar: My two dark horses for the tournament Chile and Belgium have impressed so far. Brazil my favourites are still on track and Ghana my African team despite being impressive in their game against USA are still to get going. So not not a bad tournament for me so far regarding my picks.

During the tournament I have hardly had time to get any writing done. If I am not watching the games I am voraciously reading any World Cup related articles I come across on the ‘internets’. And they are quite a few gems out there. I would like to share some of them today. The articles range from dealing with the racial complexities in Brazil to why some countries call it soccer and others football. The articles have helped me appreciate the world outside of the football pitch. In the process I have learned quite a few things I wouldn’t have otherwise. I hope by sharing these articles you too can also learn something new.

1. Neymar and The Disappearing Donkey – Africa is A Country

This is a fascinating and enlightening read on the complexities of race in Brazil. The article focuses on Neymar who like many Brazilians is mixed race and how issues of race in Brazil differ from the rest of the world. Make sure to read the comments section as well as they are even more insightful additions to this illuminating article.

You can read the full article here

2. The Burden of Being Messi – The New York Times

This articles looks at how despite dominating Eurpoean football and winning every club trophy and also being named World Player of the year a record four tImes, Lionel Messi arguably of the greatest players the world has ever seen is still not appreciated by his fellow Argentinians. The articles tries to answer the question Why? And the answers is summarised by this quote from a an Argentinian Taxi driver
“We’ve always liked how Messi plays,” the driver, Dario Torrisi, told me, “but we don’t know who he is.” Everybody throughout the Americas loves Diego Maradona, Torrisi said, but “it’s not the same for Messi.”

You can read the full article here

3. The Little Countries That Could – Foreign Policy

This article by Musa Okwonga looks at two countries regarded as dark horses for this World Cup in Belgium and Uruguay. Despite their relative small size and their history as geopolitical doormats they remain competitive on the footballing global stage. The author attributes much of their success not just to a passion for football but also to the inclusiveness of its culture. Uruguay for example had one a black player as their captain as far back in 1950.

You can read the full article here

4. Why Americans Call Soccer “Soccer”- The Atlantic

Looks at why different countries refer to the beautiful game as Soccer or Football respectively and the history the game was started.

You can read the full article here

5. Drogba Shows His Clout On and Off The Field – Al Jazeera

This articles looks at the role of athletes such Drogba and the legendary Brazilian Socrates as activists.

You can read the full article here

Bonus read: Soccer Fan’s Dream Job Has A Catch : No Peeking – The New York Times 

You can read the full article here

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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So You Think You Are Maradona? My Brazil World Cup 2014 Preview

Feel it. It’s here.

Football and arguably the world’s biggest sporting jamboree is finally upon us. The football World Cup starts in Sao Paulo, Brazil tonight. This marks the return of the World Cup to one of football’s grand sentimental heartlands. Brazil, the greatest footballing nation on the planet takes on Croatia at the spiritual home of Brazilian football, the imposing Maracana stadium. 64 years after Brazil lost the World Cup final at the same venue to Uruguay their quest for a record breaking 6th World Cup title begins. This will be the first of 64 games involving 32 countries over a month long period. For football aficionados everywhere this is as hedonistic as it gets.

This World Cup in Brazil is going to be the eighth World Cup to take place in my lifetime. The first was Mexico World Cup ’86. I wasa toddler. Whilst Diego’EL Diego’ Maradona was dribbling his way into football folklore on the pitches of Mexico in 1986, first with the infamous ‘hand of god’ and then with the most brilliant individual goal ever scored at a World Cup tournament, halfway across the world I was kicking my first ever football. My father a lifelong football fan had begun sowing the seeds of what was to grow into a lifelong passion and love for the beautiful game. Maradona went on to single handily win that World Cup for Argentina.

So You Think You Are Maradona? Your truly  learning to kick a football in 1986. I was two years old.

So You Think You Are Maradona? Your truly learning to kick a football in 1986. I was two years old.

Despite getting this early start I wasn’t exceptionally talented when it came to dancing with the ball around the ankles of other kids. I was no Maradona. Not by a long shot. But I loved the game. I followed the careers of my favourite players religiously. The fact that I wasn’t the most gifted kid on the playground did not diminish my appetite for the game. On the contrary it fuelled it. Mine became more and more of a vociferous involvement, albeit at a televisual distance. My limited talent gave me an even greater appreciation for all those great players who used the football pitch as the canvas on which they painted their masterpieces.

My second World Cup, Italia ’90 is one I vaguely remember. It is the World Cup in which a 38 year old Cameroonian, Roger Miller announced the arrival of African football on the World Cup stage by flamboyantly dancing around the corner flag every time he scored on his way to leading Cameroon to the Quarter finals, the furthest any African team had gone. Cameroon had also opened that tournament with a win against the defending champion’s Argentina. They would bow out controversially to England in the last eight. FIFA subsequently went on to offer African teams an extra place at the next World Cup. Italia ’90 was won by West Germany.

By the time USA ’94 came around I was 10 years old and had become psychotically absorbed by the beautiful game. I had fallen truly, madly and deeply in love with a certain Manchester United. This would become the vehicle which would drive my passion for the game for years to come. The ’94 World Cup is the first World Cup that I remember clearly. This is the tournament in which I was first captivated by the flare and free flowing Samba style of Brazilian football. I remember watching the likes of Captain Dunga and Romario as they dazzled in the butter yellow and royal blue colours of Brazil. I had never seen anything like it. It was like watching poetry in motion. It was love at first sight.

Brazil went on to win that World Cup. The first and only World Cup to date to be decided by penalties. A certain pony tailed Italian Roberto Baggio face down, arms akimbo; possibly reflecting on a glorious but doomed soliloquy as the Brazilian players celebrated wildly in the background is one of the lasting images of that World Cup. Despair and disbelief poignantly juxtaposed against unbridled joy and celebration.

When the France ’98 World Cup rolled around I was now a pimple faced teenager in my second year of high school. I was in boarding school at the time and the atmosphere in the TV room during the games is one of the most electrifying and intoxicating atmospheres I have ever experienced during a World Cup. It was as rowdy as it was jovial. Hundreds of teenage boys huddled around the TV, shouting, singing and dancing as they urged their heroes towards World Cup glory. It was like being in a stadium. Unfortunately for me the Brazilians lost that World Cup final to the mercurial Frenchman Zenidine Zidane’s Les Blues, the host nation. That final was also notable for the dismal performance of one Ronaldo who had in he build up to the final been Brazil’s star player. It is widely reported that the striker had suffered a seizure earlier in the day and this no doubt affected his performance in the final.

Ronaldo would however get a chance to redeem himself and cement his legacy at the next World Cup co-hosted by Japan and South Korea in 2002. In the final against the Germans he would score both goals in helping Brazil win their fifth World Cup title. The most by any nation. And Brazil’s last World Cup win.The was also the last World Cup I would watch in boarding school.

Fast forward to the World Cup hosted by Germany in 2006. I am now in my early twenties and studying down under, my love for the beautiful game as strong as ever. My memories of that tournament are of having to get up between 2am and 4am just to watch the games. My Singaporean housemate and I would make our way to our Italian football coach’s houses in the wee hours of the morning and watch the games with some of our other teammates. It wasn’t quite the same atmosphere as the two World Cups during my high school days but we did just share the same passion for the beautiful game. Italy went on to win that tournament. Our coach made sure we never forgot that.

When the World Cup came to the Motherland for the first time in 2010 I had since graduated and was by now working in Melbourne. Unfortunately because of circumstances outside my control I would not make it to South Africa 2010 as had been the plan all along. I consoled myself with the purchase of a big flat plasma screen HD TV and a state of the art home theatre system. This was the first World Cup I watched in high definition. It was only the loneliest World Cup experience Ihave had to date. For most of the games which again were in wee hours of the morning it was just me and my TV. My saving grace was Facebook which provided a platform for me to engage in some banter with my football loving friends. But it just wasn’t the same. And that is why South Africa 2010 is not high up on my list of the most memorable World Cup tournaments. Spain went on to win that tournament whilst the Brazilians unfortunately were a pale shadow of their former glorious selves.

This brings me to Brazil 2014 World Cup, my eighth world cup. I have since left my twenties behind, earlier this year. This is my first World Cup as an adult that I will get to experience with my father, the man who fostered the love of the beautiful game in me. In many ways it feels like I have come full circle and I intend on Indulging myself to fullest on this year’s football fiesta in Brazil.

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My World Cup Picks for Brazil 2014

Brazil are my favourites to lift the World Cup trophy come the 13th of July. They play the beautiful game just the way I like it. With panache. They are also playing in their own backyard which I believe will give an added advantage, not that they really need it. This Brazilian squad is a young but experienced one but with Neymar Jnr a thrillingly nimble footed inside forward with gossamer touch, a conjurer’s skills to beat a man and, best of all, an air of being entirely unfazed by the rapt attention of the Brazilian populace as their talisman they have a good a chance as anyone to go all the way. Defending Champions Spain on paper are the best team at the tournament and on their best day there are virtually unplayable. The usual suspects, Germany, Italy and Holland should also be in with a chance. If both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have decent tournaments for their respective teams then expect Portugal and Argentina to also be in with a shout.

A mural depicting Brazil's Neymar, Fred and Hulk near São Paulo, where the World Cup begins on Thursday. Photograph: Shuji Kajiyama/AP

A mural depicting Brazil’s Neymar, Fred and Hulk near São Paulo, where the World Cup begins on Thursday. Photograph: Shuji Kajiyama/AP

The team that my heart wants to win the tournament is Ghana. Ghana, under Kwame Nkrumah was one of the first African countries to gain independence in the early sixties. Their first president Kwame Nkrumah was one of the early pioneers of Pan Africanism. It would make a for a beautiful story if Ghana went on to become the first African country to win the World Cup. The odds though are heavily stacked against the ‘Black Stars’ after being drawn in the ‘Group of Death’ alongside European powerhouse Germany, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and the USA. But hey, if you want to be the best you have got to beat the best. Also after coming a penalty kick away from reaching the semi finals in South Africa four years ago I believe they are due more than just a date with Lady Luck this time around.

Belgium are my dark horse to win the tournament. They had undefeated run to this year’s World Cup finals and boast one of the most talented albeit inexperienced squads at the World Cup. This is definitely Belgium’s golden generation.The neutral in me would to see them win the World Cup. Chile if things go their way are another dark horse. They play a free flowing and dynamic style of football that is a pure joy to watch. A win for Chile would be a win for beautiful football.

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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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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Wise Words From A Decent Man: ‘Africa Rising: Africa telling her story’

Earlier this week Zimbabwean media mogul, the Chairman of Alpha Media Holdings, Trevor Ncube gave a speech at the launch of the company’s new media venture The Mail and Guardian Africa in Nairobi, Kenya. In his speech he discussed Africa’s economic growth and development prospects, the role and importance of Africans in dictating the African narrative and the myriad of challenges that the continent faces. He also shared his views on the ‘Africa Rising’ mantra. He encouraged us (Africans) to look back at Africa’s history particularly the wave of optimism (Uhuru) that was omnipresent in newly independent African countries in the 60’s as he said this would be instructive as to how the Africa Rising narrative might pan out. In drawing parallels between Uhuru and Africa Rising he was highlighting the fact this is not the first time that Africa has been engulfed by a collective sense of optimism about its future.

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As a young African, who is deeply passionate about the continent this particular speech resonated. In his speech Trevor Ncube made quite a few salient points which I would like to highlight below.

• The danger of talking about Africa as it if were one uniform entity, with the same risks and rewards. There will never be a single African story, just like there will never be a single European story. But when the African continent is aligned in the same way that Europe is aligned in terms of economic integration, seamless borders and having a connected infrastructure it is possible for it to speak with one voice.

• Entrepreneurs across the continent are laying the foundation for a truly irreversible economic turnaround for the continent particularly in the fields of telecoms, technology,agriculture,infrastructure, tourism, media, education and healthcare.( Africa’s growth and it’s prosperity is not limited to it exploiting its abundant natural resources)

• The importance of Africans telling the African story to the rest of the world. By telling our own stories we will bring dynamism to the African narrative so that it is not reduced to binaries, torn between those who truly believe that Africa indeed is rising and those who perceive this as fanciful thinking.

You can read the full transcript of speech below

Africa Rising: Africa telling her story

Colleagues and dear friends, I think you’ll all agree with me that there is a palpable excitement about Africa, about the economic opportunities the continent presents, perhaps more than at any other time.No wonder the catch-all phrase — Africa Rising — has struck such a deep chord. But perhaps it is important to glance back on Africa’s history and realise that in the early 1960s there was similar optimism.Then it was about the arrival of freedom, Uhuru, heralding the birth of the world’s newest nations. And it is instructive to look at what became of that wave of optimism. Because it has important lessons for how the “Africa Rising” narrative may pan out.

I think even the most hardened Uhuru optimist would agree that for most Africans, the returns on political optimism in the 60s was dismal. Even as new flags were gracing the renamed capitals, wars, coups and dictatorship quickly became the norm.The freedom dividend went to a tiny political elite and for the vast majority of the continent’s citizens, life was unbearably hard. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that total despair was replaced by flickering hope with the first defeat of liberation parties in elections starting with Zambia.The lesson for us from how quickly hope turned to despair is that it was the behaviour of Africa’s new rulers that dashed the hopes of millions.

Similarly, those of us who are genuinely excited about the opportunities that we see across a number of economic and social fronts must realise that it is how we respond and act on these opportunities that will determine the outcome.But I think that given the emergence of private sector investors who are independent of political leaders, there is a sense that Africa is going to seize the new opportunities and translate them into tangible returns for millions of its citizens.

Which brings me back to Africa Rising. Clearly, there are those who believe that Africa Rising is just one new sexy phrase about the continent, and that it bears little resemblance to reality. While I disagree with them, I think they do raise an important point, and one that is particularly important for organisations like ours. I think their main point is that it is dangerous to talk about Africa as if it is one uniform entity, with the same risks and the same rewards. And looking at the heartbreaking scenes playing out in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and other places, it is impossible to ignore their cautionary note.

But it is also true that there is a significant shift in economic fundamentals that goes beyond mere rhetoric. As I have travelled across the continent, from South Africa to Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya, Ghana and Zimbabwe, I have realised first hand that entrepreneurs are laying the foundation for a truly irreversible economic turn-around for our continent.
Jobs are being created in new sectors, and innovation and hard-nosed business acumen are combining to give credence to the overwhelming sense of optimism.
It is, of course, also interesting that this time around, the excitement about the economic prospects of our continent is not limited to natural resources, important as these still are.

Telecoms, technology, agriculture, infrastructure, tourism, media, fashion, education and healthcare are some of the sectors that are receiving attention.
Let me go through some of the most compelling indicators; these numbers underline the fact that ours is indeed a continent on the rise.

The sheer growth in the number of verifiably super rich Africans, Africa’s dollar billionaires who now number close to 60 far more than previously thought.

The incredible number of African professionals who have returned home from places like New York, London or Paris with key skills and capital in their pockets underlines the new opportunities back home.

Over the past decade, China has been the world’s economic powerhouse, but as its economic growth slows down, it is no accident that China’s key focus has been Africa. This surely says something about the economic prospects of our continent.

Given dismal growth elsewhere in the world, the International Monetary Fund and other bodies have identified sub-Saharan Africa’s growth at nearly 5% over the last six years — by comparison, the growth rate in the developed nations has been at a paltry 0,5% per year.

Investors are setting up offices across the continent and foreign investment is flowing into infrastructure projects, private equity players are rushing to stake their claim.
Africa’s richest entrepreneur, Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote — with a fortune of over $20,2 billion — is now one of the world’s richest individuals and the source of all his wealth is from Africa.

Urbanisation in Africa has resulted in huge opportunities in the retail and infrastructure sectors. Sadly, transport still lags behind, but I have no doubt entrepreneurs will seize these opportunities as well.

There has been a significant growth in philanthropy by wealthy Africans, with Dangote, donating more than $100m in one year to education, health and disaster relief in Nigeria.
Other entrepreneurs are South Africa’s Patrice Motsepe who donated a significant portion of his wealth to charity and Zimbabwe’s Strive Masiyiwa who donates significantly towards education and training.

Given all the optimism, the rosy indicators, and the widespread euphoria about the continent’s prospects, what then are some of the things that need to happen to make this sustainable?

Well, I strongly believe that the new generation of African leaders, be they entrepreneurs, technocrats, civil society or politicians have an important role to play.
Each of us has a responsibility to act boldly, but in ways that do not ignore the key social issues such as joblessness, poverty, poor education and neglected infrastructure.
I know it’s a big ask, but unless we think seriously about these problems, the vast majority of Africans will watch from the sidelines, condemned to poverty and despair. I think there is a greater chance of accountability right now because we live in a significantly more transparent world.

Where in the past the elite could act with impunity knowing they were accountable only to themselves, I think the new generation of Africans have little patience for leaders who are a law unto themselves.

But above all, I do think that a new breed of African leaders is rising to the challenge of redefining this continent that has for so long remained inexplicably poor and underdeveloped.
There is a rise in public sector and private sector partnerships, telecoms innovation has lowered the costs of banking, and Africa’s entrepreneurs are increasingly venturing beyond political borders to establish a new economic frontier. This can only bode well for government to government co-operation, showing that business and politics need not be at loggerheads.

But perhaps most importantly, as Africans we have to tell our own story.
I think nothing is more emblematic of how little influence Africa has wielded in world affairs than the fact that even Africans themselves rely on non-African media to know what is going on in their own backyard.

Even the Africa Rising Narrative is usually referenced using two cover stories by the Economist, one in 2003 and the other one in 2013. If you go to the lobbies of Africa’s best hotels, chances are the TV is tuned to CNN, the BBC or Sky. This is clearly untenable for a continent with serious ambitions.

So I do think that as we become masters of our own destiny as a continent, we have to invest in media that is independent, credible, visible and globally influential. In the past, government media was simply a mouthpiece for incumbent politicians, with little credibility.
Now we all know that there are, of course, significant investments required to operate at the level of Al Jazeera, but without it, Africa will continue to consume rather than produce the narrative that defines it.

I am encouraged to see the emergence of globally respected Africans across so many fronts, such as architect David Adjaye, novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, entrepreneurs like Dangote who can all become the backbone of a compelling narrative about the new Africa.

Many of the continent’s best stories are still told by foreigners and overseas and I think it is time that Africa became the home of its best stories.
This is vitally important also because it will lead to a much more dynamic telling of Africa’s story, so that it is not reduced to binaries, torn between those who believe that this continent is set for an irreversible boom, and those who think this is pie-in-the-sky.

There will never be a single Africa, just like there is no single Europe, but when the continent is aligned in the way that Europe is
aligned, with economic integration, seamless borders and a connected infrastructure, it is possible to speak with one voice. I would like to leave you with two thoughts on the power of framing. Instead of us Africans proving how smart we are by talking about Africa’s Narrative, the real test perhaps lies in how we grab the opportunities the new optimism presents us.

The real measure of how Africa has risen won’t be found in conference halls, but will be reflected in hard socio-economic achievements bedded down during this period.

We are launching M&GAfrica.com because we have faith in the continent’s future and we believe we have a role to play in Africa telling her own story.
Second, we believe that nobody, but us as Africans can tell our story better. Expecting foreigners to tell the African story is expecting too much as it has clearly not happened over the past 100 years.

Foreign media tell the African story with one agenda in mind mainly — to satisfy the prejudices and curiosities of their audiences in London, New York, New Delhi, Beijing etc.
We don’t change the African narrative by pleading with the Western media to stop the African stereotypes, but by behaving differently and telling our own stories. These are stories of how we live and not how we die. These are stories of how we triumph against all odds. These are stories that share the good and bad in Africa. Stories of hope and despair and stories that celebrate the tremendous strides that we are making as a people.

Thank you
Trevor Ncube’s speech in Nairobi at the launch of M&G Africa on Tuesday May 20 2014

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Other Side Of Rape (Part 2)

The Other Side Of Rape (Part 1)

At this point a million thoughts are racing through my mind.

What just happened?

What did I do?

Did I hurt her in some way perhaps?

And the tears, what the f*ck?

This is not good. This is bad, real bad.

My own confusion and fear threatens to overwhelm me. This was definitely not how I had imagined things turning out. Remembering the way her body suddenly tensed sends shivers down my spine. There was something ominous about But despite the chaos in my head I somehow manage to keep a calm demeanor and I ask again.

‘Are you OK?’

No response.

She just averts her tear filled eyes from my inquisitive gaze. The tension in the air threatens to suffocate both of us but before it does she quickly wraps a towel around her torso and heads for the sanctuary of the bathroom. First she pushes me off her mid coitus and now runs off to bathroom. I get the message loud and clear. She doesn’t want to be anywhere in my vicinity, but why? Her rejection stings but that feeling is immediately overtaken by guilt for feeling that way in this situation. This is not about you. Or is it? There are only two people in this room and she is clearly traumatized by something. I have no idea what it is though.

F*ck!

All of sudden I become hyper conscious of my own nakedness. My eyes scan the room for my jocks. And as I put them back on fear and confusion writes itself all over my face. She isn’t gone for long and when she returns from the bathroom she sits upright on the bed with her knees pulled back towards her chest and her arms wrapped around her knees. I am still desperately trying to make sense of what is happening. I slowly take a sit on the edge of the bed, making a deliberate effort to keep some space between us. Even though I am not entirely sure what is going on yet, my instincts tell me that I need to make her feel safe and considering she pushed me off her mid coitus, I’ll be wise to keep my distance for now.

I still have no idea what is going on. One moment we were both lost in throes of passion and in the next she tensed up and just pushed me off from on top of her without saying a single word and then burst into tears. I had no idea why. I don’t know what to do now. I try to search for the answers behind her tears but all I see are the letters that anxiousness, shame and hurt have scribbled all over face. She seems just as confused and scared as I am. I want to tell her that everything will be OK, but I am not sure I even believe that. I want to console her, but I have no idea what I am consoling her on. Given the sudden turn of events it’s highly likely that I am the problem. The monster she needs to get away from. But that doesn’t make sense. Nothing about this whole scenario makes any sense at all.

‘Talk to me, please, I don’t understand what just happened and you are freaking me out right now’

At that she starts crying again. This is bad, real bad.

After what felt like forever she finally said something. In between her sobs all I managed to pick up ‘… raped’. The rest was pretty much incoherent. My heart stops. That word ‘raped’ sends chills down my spine and my head collapses into my hands. Is she saying that I ….Before I can finish that though she continues ‘I was 15 when my uncle raped me and just before when you were on top of me I had flashbacks of that horrific experience. I haven’t had an episode like this in a long time so it really caught me off guard and it’s just brought up a lot of emotions’ I was speechless. I didn’t know what to say. I also felt a temporary relief that it was not me (directly) that had hurt her.
‘Did I … rape you?’, I asked hesitantly still trying to come to terms with what was going on. (And maybe selfishly seeking some reassurance that I wasn’t at fault) ‘No, you stopped when I needed you to … Thank you. It just that sometimes certain things trigger flashbacks and I become overwhelmed’ As she said this shame and guilt weighed down on her voice and it trembled.

Regardless my mind still couldn’t wrap itself around how anyone could commit such a barbaric act on what I imagine was at the time a beautiful young Nubian Princess. And a close trusted family member at that! This upsets me and I find myself consumed by anger for her rapist. For the rest of the night we just sat across the bed from each other as she narrated her ordeal and how it still affected her. This she explained was what she always felt the need to be in control. She explained to me that when her uncle had violated her it wasn’t the sexual act itself that left the deepest scars. It was the power and control he had over her during the rape still that affected her the most. Since then she had issue with letting anyone else be in control especially during sex. And when it comes to others aspects of her life being in independent for her gives her some semblance of power and control over her life.

And as she continued sharing her ordeal my confusion and anger morphed into empathy for and her story. She went on to tell how to this day she resents her family for ‘allowing’ her uncle to violet her in such a heinous manner. How when her friends talked about how they lost their virginity she had to make up a story about how she lost hers because she was too embarrassed to tell them she was raped. She said because of this she found it difficult to bond emotionally with anyone. Even though she still enjoyed sex it was only when she was in total control. She didn’t always want to be in control but every time she did let go the memories (almost always) came flooding back.

Listening to her narrate her story I sense that this whole process is more about her dealing with her demons in this moment and not necessarily about reassuring me or playing the victim in any way. The more of her story she shares with the more I realize that even though her uncle had stolen the innocence of a beautiful young Nubian princess she had still grown into the beautiful Queen of Sheba. Even though in some moments like this she might feel lost and vulnerable, she was still and would always be a Queen. And it is that vivacious, confident beautiful woman that I will always remember. The beautiful young Nubian Princess who grew up to become the Queen of Sheba.

Since that episode I have tried to as learned as much as I can about how men can help victims of sexual assault. I remembered my own panic and confusion in a time when she needed support and this has stayed with since. If I ever I found myself in a similar situation again I wanted to be in a better position to offer more support. With that in mind I have shared some of the things I have learned about the role than men in particular can play in helping rape victims heal below. If you as man ever find yourself in a situation where a rape victim turns to you for support hopefully some of this information will help.

A Man’s Guide to helping a Woman who has been raped

According to Matt Atkinson of the organization Resurrection after rape ‘ Males can have some of the greatest effects on a woman’s recovery. Depending on how we approach our role as helpers, we can either make her experience worse or better; we can either react badly or devastate her, or we can be one “key” in her recovery and healing. Since half of raped women turn to a male as their first source of help and advice, we play a crucial role in both the short-term and long-term experiences she has after the assault.
Although we men often want to help the survivor, we are often unprepared to be effective. We might think of rape as a “woman’s problem,” or assume that it’s something they can just “get over.” Or we may assume they’ll never “get over” it; that she will always be impure or “dirty” because of what someone else did. Maybe we realize we’re even angry at her, being critical of her decisions (“you put yourself in that situation!”) or wanting violent revenge against her attacker. As a result, a lot of poor decisions are made by well-meaning helpers.

Rape myths that men can help end

• Rape is a power crime, not a sex crime. Sex is the method of rape, not the goal.

• The victim is not responsible–even slightly–for what a rapist has chosen to do. Even if we
disagree with some of her decisions during the incident, some of her responses are instincts
(not choices), and even when she does choose some of her actions, no choices make rape
deserved, natural, or even likely. Only a rapist’s choice to attack makes a rape happen.

• All humans–men and women–have three instincts when we feel out life is threatened: Fight,
flight, or freeze. None of these choices is “better” than the other, so we should resist judging
a victim who did something other than “what I would have done in that situation…”

• Nearly all rape survivors will blame themselves or feel guilty after the rape. This is an
unhealthy but natural way for her to psychologically protect herself by trying to figure out
what she “did wrong,” so she’ll be able to “fix it” and keep it from happening again. It is
Important that you not go along with it, and even disagree and insist that none of it was her
fault.

You can help her by:
• Knowing the myths, and not falling for them

• Understanding what she is going through and why she blames herself

• Listening without asking prying questions, but also reminding her that she is not to blame

• Allowing her to make decisions to regain control (except the decision to blame herself; you
will gently but solidly teach her that she is not at fault)

You can access the full guide HERE

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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