Friday, 26 June 2009

Pop goes the King of Pop: A Tribute to Michael Jackson

by Samuel Gary Dawa

Death has visited the musical scene once again and this time it takes one of the greatest. Michael Jackson, love him hate him but you gotta give it to him, 'brother' had talent. He opened the way for musical videos and dance strokes that called for physics professors seeking prime time TV appearances to comment on.
He was one of the 3Ms in the Notorious BIG hit (Jackson, Jordan, Tyson)

My encounter with the man through the music was one of those strange ones. Way back in '83 or was it '84 one of my brothers brought a music tape that had these hot dance tracks. We would listen again and again to this tape and loved the music. Later in '85 or was it '86, some girl I used to sit next to in class had this exercise book that she had penned down the lyrics of the hits of the day, among them was Thriller, Human Nature and The Girl is Mine. By that time, I had seen the posters, watched a silent video of him hitting the dance floor hard with back slides and moon walks, read the Time magazine article about his being a vegetarian and losing up to 4 stones per concert and that being very dangerous for his health. Then one day in '87 just before enrolling for Senior One, I am at a friend's home and he is racking through his older brother's music collection while asking what to play and I asked for Michael Jackson. As the songs rolled off, was I embarrased or what. All along Jacko had been a resident of our old Akai casette player. Soon as I left my buddy's house, I went on home, locked the door to the sitting room pumped up the volume on that Akai player and tried my legs at MJ strokes (no I didn't have the red jacket or white socks and short pants). But for a man who is dance-challenged like I am that was the kind of inspiration MJ's music and videos could evoke.

MJ as the media has made it known to us was a flawed character like all geniuses that history has been brave enough to chronicle. His decision to switch skin colour and facial features up today haunts all of us black folks (singing 'Black or white' was an apology I guess). He was a sweet-looking kid (singing 'ABC' and 'I Want You Back' with the Jackson 5). Well, he explained it to being deprived of his childhood and carrying the mantle of golden child from his early years. The most troubling allegations against Jacko were, of course, the child molestation charges (and his appearance in court wearing pyjamas, now that was the limit). Despite having been acquitted of all charges, it just didn't feel right that such a champion of children could get caught up in such a fracas.

MJ though wasn't only about drama in his life, we have to credit his business acumen. Releasing Thriller on the MJJ Productions label, buying the Beatles master tapes, owning all his master tapes, being at the time the only artist earning in excess of $1 per CD sold and, of course, marrying the daughter of the other King, Elvis Presley.

As the years have gone by, being a Michael Jackson fan has been a dicy thing with several people out there ready to laugh at your hero. Recently, as I watched Chris Rock's 'Kill the Messenger' I realised how much of a fan of Jacko I was, because as CR pilloried him with joke after joke, the temptation to reach for the forward button increased. Last year, while in Indiana, I asked one of my hosts what Indiana could boast of apart from being home of the Colts, arena of the Reggie Miller Pacers show and the burial place of the only US president who died immediately after swearing in because of a lenghty speech in freezing conditions. One guy with a smile of pride said, out east in Gary, Indiana, is the birth place of Michael Jackson. Nonetheless, during my travels, I have gotten myself a Thriller CD that I have hardly listened to in years. Now this CD will join my Luther Vandross, Gerald Levert and Marvin Gaye CD rack.

This morning a day after my 4th wedding anniversary, MJ was certainly way out of my mind till I saw the CNN headline "Michael Jackson is Dead". I quickly altered my dress code to include my black cotton shirt (despite the sauna-like conditions in this tropical part of the world) and rummaged through my CD collection to locate that Thriller CD. On the ride to office, my wife Rebecca gave me food for thought when she said somehow people seem to love the music more than the man. I wonder, can you separate the man from the music? I almost got misty eyed as the hits rolled but the up tempo 'Baby Be Mine' surely got me drumming my fingers on the steering wheel and my mind back sliding, I was at once Michael Jackson and Richard Temperton (the writer of the song). Unfortunate for MJ (or is it for me), I don't have a song like Pavarotti's rendition of Pucinni's Nessun Dorma that I can seek closure with one more play.

Michael Jackson King of Pop, tortured genius, we will miss you.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

The Africa That Never Was

Book Review

This is one of the most interesting books I have read, so far, this year. There was several quotes I extracted and pasted on my Facebook page. Upon finishing it, this was not I wrote this review to share what I learnt with the world [in particular, my African brothers and sisters]. But I sincerely hope you get a chance to read the whole book, then you will know what I am talking about and your eyes will be opened.

Title: The Africa That Never Was: Four Centuries of the British Writing About Africa
Authors: Dorothy Hammond and Alta Jablow
Publisher: Waveland Press Inc
ISBN 0-88133-690-4
Reviewer: Mwesigye Gumisiriza

What did the British think about Africa? Is it the Dark Continent, forbidding and mysterious? A Labyrinth in which one would lose his way? Or like a Strange Woman that is attractive and dangerous at the same time? This is the question that this book sets out to answer and give insight into how these opinions and conceptions were formed and the reasons behind them. The authors go to a great length to get as much material as possible spanning the period from the beginnings of British Empire’s contact with Africa in the 16th century up to the late 1960s when many African countries had got or were in the process of getting independence.

Over 400 publications written during the selected period were examined, ranging from scholarly works, fiction and non-fiction. Over the centuries, these were influenced by the events and movements of a particular era, for instance, colonialism, slave trade, abolition or agitation for independence. At the start, the focus tended to be more on exploration and seeking more information on the land, history and the people. This drove misconceptions such as Africans being cannibals and savages; it also gave impetus to the push for the spread of Christianity and Western civilisation. If there was any doubt about the link between the spread of Christianity in Africa and the eventual colonialism, some of these writings make it clear. Such as this one: "Let us enter upon a new and nobler career of conquest. Let us subdue Savage Africa by justice, by kindness, by the talisman of Christian truth. Let us go forth, in the name and under the blessing of God gradually to extend the moral influence...the territorial boundary of our colony, until it shall become an Empire..."

Some of the misconceptions were simply ridiculous and outrageous that reading this, ages later, would infuriate any black-skinned person. A case in point is this: "...the concentration of their thoughts on sexual the negro's greatest weakness. Nature has probably endowed him with more than the usual generic faculty. After all, to these people almost without arts and sciences and the refined pleasures of the senses, the only acute enjoyment offered them by nature is sexual intercourse."

A theme that runs through the literature written over such a long period is the British feeling of superiority towards the peoples in their colonies and even, to some extent, to other Europeans like the Boers in South Africa. But this disdain was particularly reserved for blacks, among others, as shown by this observation ..."the black man accepts the superiority of the white as part of the order of nature. He is too low down, too completely severed from the white, to feel indignant. Even the few educated natives are too well aware of the gulf that divides their own people from the European to resent...the attitude of the latter".

With time, there was the advent of colonialism which ushered in a period that perhaps left the greatest imprint of the British Empire’s involvement in the Dark Continent. Even today, the systems of government, methods of law and order, commerce, to mention but a few, in many parts of Africa are derived from this era. In the book, a comment by Sir Charles Dundas, who was Governor of Uganda, is cited: “Certainly more was done for backward mankind in the era of British colonial rule than in any previous age, and if colonialism is now discredited I believe that its passing will nevertheless be mourned…as the end of a Golden Age”.

But, as the authors labour to point out, the assumption was that the history of Africa began with contact with Europeans. This is disputed by the evidence of the presence of Arabs even before they (Europeans) discovered Africa. In addition, without these outsiders, there was enormous progress, prosperity and development by the inhabitants themselves. Otherwise what can explain the sophistication of the Great Zimbabwe or rise and spread of empires like Ashanti, Dahomey, Songhai?

In all, the authors help to open our eyes to the origins and explanation of the stereotypes, deep-seated misconceptions and bias against Africans and other dark-skinned races, many of which persist up to this day. It is a highly recommended read for any African with a desire to know more about this.

Submitted to The Monitor newspaper for publication, it can be accessed here.