Monday, June 23, 2008

Sometimes We're Not Prepared for Adversity

Some nights, this incredible mist creeps in over the ocean and fills Cape Town with such thick fog that you can barely see six feet in front of you. It clears a bit when you climb a hill, but you are immediately plunged back into it as soon as you head for lower ground. This was the situation as I was driving home from seeing Mark Fransman's band Strait and Narrow play at the Green Dolphin. The show was great; Mark laid down his soul-styled vocals and socially-conscious raps, and the horns filled in with vintage hard bop lines, harmonized to maximum cool. This week, they are playing at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival - a ten-day extravaganza of progressive, risk-taking music, theater, film, and dance. I am going, to play, to conduct interviews, and to keep my ears wide open.

In other news, I had a large amount of cash disappear from my room last week. After searching the whole place several times, emptying shelves, replacing things, and emptying them again, I have decided that it is not there. Robbed? Again? The house has not been broken into, and I live with only two other people, a Xhosa woman and her 14-year-old son. They offer no information. Thoughts of going home early preoccupied me until recently. No, not now. Yes, now! But in the end, to leave is to lose more than to stay, and there has been quite enough loss already. It is nice to know that I don't have to stay here, but I can choose to stay here - to make of it what I will. And I will make something of it. I am poised to enter a phase of fast-moving festivity, ending the period of hibernation which has preceded it.

What else? I hang out in the UCT music library on any of our frequent rainy days. A gem: That music is tied up with identity should not surprise us. Identity is, in every context, a performative activity. So music, through "performative identifying," can allow us to express a politics, which is essentially an identification with one given group or another. I hang out with church people and talk about the problems and contradictions in the Bible. I teach brass lessons to teenagers at the Athlone Academy of Music. Athalie and I are starting to rearrange some of Bertold Brecht's work with an eye to Capetonian culture. Mac and I are putting together an album, bit by bit.

I like the way laundry looks when it hangs on the line. It has nothing to prove. Not trying to be anything it isn't.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Such a long time to be gone and a short time to be here

Somebody told me today, "Ah, but you only have a month left," as a way of saying, regretfully, that this was not enough time to accomplish a certain task. This stopped me in my tracks. Someone, somewhere, thinks that the time I have left is short? Not long enough? Besides, I don't have a month left, I have 47 days left.

I have been spending more time with Vincent. His is tired and easily irritated but seems to enjoy my company so we get on all right. He has referred me to a number of articles on Cape Town music and the creolization of culture that have spurred me on (see previous post). Sometimes Athalie (a lovely singer-friend) and I go over to his house in the morning and play some music and take him to church and maybe go out to lunch. Vincent is full of stories. He says we are all Atlanticos, which is a word he invented to mean a kind of seafaring creole that travels the ocean without a home, picking up some things at one port, carrying them to the next, leaving some parts of himself behind. We played a concert at the hospice where Vincent is a patient and each went home with flowers and olive plants in return.

Mac has found us a recording studio. I don't know how, but it is in Muizenberg in a neighborhood very close to the beach with little, tiny, winding streets that remind me of St. Louis in Senegal. There are a lot of immigrants in this neighborhood, so the whole place has a kind of charged feel about it. Mac has been encouraging me to compose more and more. This is so hard, but I really enjoy it when I can just sit and do it. Today we recorded his "Tango" and my "They Stare Because You're Beautiful" with a string section. It was so incredible to hear these harmonies that I wrote played so beautifully and so strangely. I sat with my mouth open, hardly believing it. I wrote another tune yesterday which I think I will call "Djeligoema."

Most days I struggle to be present here at all. I want the next thing - a job, a schedule, a trajectory; I want to know what it is and that everything's going to work out and there's a shape and an arc and a meaning to it all. And if not a destination I would at least like to have somewhere to point on the horizon or an interim landmark of some kind, not as proof really but just as a small kindness that will get me through today and tomorrow and the day after that.

This is the longest I've stayed anywhere. It's been good for precisely two reasons. First, I have built up a community of friends and musicians and contacts and feel relatively well taken care of. Second, I have had a chance to see what loneliness does without the escape of indulged restlessness. Before, when I started to feel too empty in a place, I would move on. I planned it this way, but in a certain sense, I've got nowhere else to go; I've run to the edge of the map. Now all that's left to do is turn around and go back.

Friday, June 6, 2008


The conception of creolization proposed by Glissant, and developed by other West Indian thinkers, converges with Paul Gilroy's contention that identity is more a process of movement and mediation than a question of roots and rootedness.
From Denis-Constant Martin: Africa, Brazil, and the Construction of Trans-Atlantic Black Identities