From the archive: So many questions, so few answers

27 January 2012, 7:44 am

So many questions, so few answers (published in Art South Africa, August 2010)

Fronted by Watkin Tudor Jones of Max Normal fame, Die Antwoord has caused ripples locally and internationally (just google it) and have signed with Interscope (Lady Gaga, Blackeyed Peas, 50Cent), or are on the verge of signing with them. One can’t be sure: it’s the internet, Die Antwoord, and there are conflicting reports.

Jones’s present incarnation is Ninja, a hardegat, working-class white Afrikaans man who either has truck, or wishes he had truck, with hardegat ‘coloured’ gangsters. Ninja sports gold caps and tattoos in prison fonts, some of them icons of number gangs (but no actual number) and some of them phrases from gang lexicons, like “Pretty Wise”.

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Derek Walcott cribbed

6 December 2010, 11:20 am

Volcano – Derek Walcott

Joyce was afraid of thunder
but lions roared at his funeral
from the Zurich zoo.
Was it Trieste or Zurich?
No matter. These are legends, as much
as the death of Joyce is a legend,
or the strong rumour that Conrad
is dead, and that Victory is ironic.
On the edge of the night-horizon
from this beach house on the cliffs
there are now, till dawn,
two glares from the miles-out-
at-sea derricks; they are like
the glow of the cigar
and the glow of the volcano
at Victory‘s end.
One could abandon writing
for the slow-burning signals
of the great, to be, instead,
their ideal reader, ruminative,
voracious, making the love of masterpieces
superior to attempting
to repeat or outdo them,
and be the greatest reader in the world.
At least it requires awe,
which has been lost to our time;
so many people have seen everything,
so many people can predict,
so many refuse to enter the silence
of victory, the indolence
that burns at the core,
so many are no more than
erect ash, like the cigar,
so many take thunder for granted.
How common is the lightning,
how lost the leviathans
we no longer look for!
There were giants in those days.
In those days they made good cigars.
I must read more carefully.

(from Sea Grapes, 1976)


My crib, “Lighthouse”

Mingus feared driving over dogs
and died beneath the underdog
in was it New York or L.A.?
Doesn’t matter. Legends,
as he dead now is a legend
or the vicious one Hendrix
he dead, and that the ‘Star-spangled
was distorted, and they American.
Here in Cape Town, city confused
between summer and cloud,
it’ll be me and Mingus, till dawn
but only him glaring
like a lighthouse
whose rhythm is come and gone
like ‘Fables of Faubus’.
One wishes to fuck this ill
urge, this crippling, crippled writing
for the slow ache and rage
of these the great, to be forever
the ideal listener, seduced,
consuming and being consumed,
taken by the swirl of rage,
understanding that rage
rather than trying to repeat
and express and exceed that rage,
and be the greatest comrade in the world.
At least it requires fucking awe,
which has been lost to our time;
so many people have heard everything,
so many can predict and dance
to the jingles of the nation
and refuse to enter the silence
of racial rage, the slow ache
that burns at the core,
so many are no more than
ad copy for beer.
So many take driving for granted.
How common is death.
How lost is Mudjaji
whom we no longer look for!
Yes, there were giants in those days.
In those days, in those days.
I must listen to more Mingus.

(ca. 2005)

The Talented Mr. Poplak

25 March 2010, 9:12 am

“Ag nee, man, fok” – Sven Eick

(for Sven)

Despite the length and eloquence of Mr. Poplak’s response, it should be clear to anyone willing to resubmit to reading his original piece and my long comment on it, that he has not read my original comment with the required perspicacity, such as one would rightly expect of someone who writes with such an eloquent and bravura mixture of discourse that flits quite comfortably from informal ‘street’ rhetoric to high art to arch-postmodern anthropology, even if the latter appears in “lite” aphoristic reference. The to and fro of such long and eloquent disquisition says at least one thing: Die Antwoord is a cultural product of some worth. Had it been otherwise, individuals would not be investing so much time in spilling ink, real or virtual.

But it seems that saying something like “a cultural product of some worth” – in this style of archaic charm that I adopt here, for I am easily charmed – may not be evidence enough of a critic’s viewpoint, or his or her likes and dislikes. Mr. Poplak, it seems, would prefer that one either celebrate something in absolute carnivalesque abandon or not raise one critical squeak.

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Still living in a B-movie

15 February 2010, 4:56 pm

…We just call it a blockbuster now.

“B-movie” (1981, off Reflections) has always been my favourite Gil Scott-Heron track, far more so than his most well-known “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” (1971, off Pieces of a Man), which now has lost it’s spark in any case through far too many ironic, counter-ironic and mangled quotations and misinterpretations. Obama’s election to presidency of the USA, for instance, led to many people saying that, finally, the revolution was being televised, trying to show they are hip to Gil Scott-Heron but taking a dig at him – his song  had finally lost its ostensible analytical edge. Few paused to think that the famous line really means that if it is televised, it is not a revolution. Which is really what the song, as analysis of the entertainment industry, is saying.

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The mighty poet, I-Roy, was on de wire…*

8 February 2009, 12:05 pm

LOOKING FOR clips of Jerome Taylor’s five-for against England yesterday, I happened onto two golden oldies, toaster supreme, I-Roy, in a “Tribute to Michael Holding“: “Michael Holdin’, doun in Londontown is golden…” (from the album, Musical Shark Attack, 1976)

So, if you are of a certain age, pickling in collapso nostalgia, tun up de soun’ (No moving pictures):

*Linton Kwesi Johnson, “Street 66”

Alex van Heerden

9 January 2009, 10:03 am

23 November 1974 – 7 January 2009

Frontier Rogue.

Tribute page at WhatsOnSA.

Sissie my kind‘, ‘Vrou van Samaria‘, courtesy of Derek Gripper.

Walcott on Omeros

10 December 2008, 9:35 pm

Via Rethabile at Poéfrika from Lesotho-France, from Geoffrey Philps all the way in Jamdown, an audio file of Derek Walcott reading from and talking about Omeros for BBC World Book Club.

While Walcott sometimes misses the point of a question or his humour falls flat, it is still a pleasure listening to him, where the crack of age adds another dimension to his voice as he insists that Omeros is not a re-writing or a re-framing of Homer in the Caribbean. For me the power of Walcott’s poetry has always been its associative abilities, drawing connections through association, insinuation, rather than any direct line. To him the relationship between Omeros and Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey is one of association, allusion, as it should be with literary ancestors.

My favourite bit is when Walcott mentions his morning ritual when writing:

I live near the sea… on the edge of the beach. And I would get up in the morning – in those days I smoked, thank god – I would get up, and I knew I was getting up not really to work, but to smoke and have a coffee…

You can find the audio file here, where Geoffrey Philps also has links to an extended section on Walcott, one a piece on why Philps would trust Walcott more than his pastor.

Miriam Makeba

10 November 2008, 12:09 pm

4 March 1932 – 10 November 2008

Mail & Guardian.


Billy Bragg glasnosting around the USSR, 1987

3 November 2008, 5:00 pm

“Help save the youth of America”


Billy Bragg.

Hadron Hip Hop

14 August 2008, 1:59 pm

Justin of Urban Renewal and Best Kept Secret (wait for summer) sent me this link to Will Barras’s rap video about the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Check it:

CERN Rap from Will Barras on Vimeo.

The Guardian has a section on CERN, which includes a gallery of photographs of the new Large Hadron Collider, as well as an introduction by Stephen Hawking.

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