Tuesday, 17 November 2009

After 50 Years, It's on the Way Home

Ugandan traditional music to be repatriated

by Mwesigye Gumisiriza

After more than 50 years in the British Library Sound Archive, recordings of the traditional music of 28 ethnic groups are to be brought back to Uganda, later this month. The music was recorded by the late Prof. Klaus Wachsmann, who was the first curator of the Uganda Museum, in the 1940s and 1950s.

This is one of the highlights of the first International Symposium on Ethnomusicology that will be held from 23-25 November at Makerere University. It is organised by the Music, Dance and Drama (MDD) Department under the theme, “Ethnomusicology in Uganda: Education, Research and Preservation of Cultural Heritage for Development”.

The event is supported through collaboration between Makerere and University of Bergen in Norway and funded by the Norwegian government agencies, NORAD and NUFU. “The symposium will mark the achievements of the projects on ethnomusicology in Uganda”, said Dr. Sylvia Nannyonga-Tamusuza, co-ordinator of the programme.

On his part, Prof. Thomas Solomon, from University of Bergen, remarked that funding of projects on cultural heritage complement others on physical infrastructure, environment and economic activities. “The health of a community is tied to their cultural identity”, he said.

The activities will include a launch of the Klaus Wachmann Music Archive, where the repatriated music, will be stored, presentation of papers and celebration of the successes of MDD. Among the presenters will be Phillip Wachmann, son of Prof. Wachmann, Sylver Kyagulanyi, a renown Ugandan musician, and Dr. Patrick Mangeni, Head of MDD. Six students, who are on PhD and Masters scholarships at Makerere and Bergen, will also present their research results.

According to Dr. Mangeni, the Department will showcase their achievements and unveil their future plans. These are plans to expand physical infrastructure, review of curricula and introduction of short training courses that are tailor made for interested parties.

Other support in this area has come from the US Embassy in form of computers to facilitate access to the music collection, books on archiving music and an expert from the University of Pennsylvania to conduct trainings and workshops.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Bob's Story: Started Out Cryin'

Title: Bob Marley: The Biography
Author: Stephen Davis
Pages: 248
Publisher: Arthur Baker Limited London
Reviewer: Mwesigye Gumisiriza

Much has been written about Robert Nesta Marley, mostly known as Bob Marley, whose name and music is synonymous with the breaking out of reggae music from the confines of Jamaica to a worldwide phenomenon and a movement of millions of people on all continents. But there is something uniquely appealing about Stephen Davis’ book; the simple story-telling format, the way he weaves the historical, political and socio-economic backdrop that formed the rise of reggae and its enduring icon plus the frankness and balance with which he addresses the virtues and flaws of the characters.

There is a poem by Chinua Achebe and the quotation from Genesis 49 at the beginning; a technique that Davis applies consistently throughout. At the start of each chapter, there is an excerpt from an interview or from one of the Wailers’ songs that encapsulates the theme of a particular chapter. For instance, the first chapter, it is “Started out Cryin’”, in which the authors paints a milieu that helps us understand the country in which Marley was born and bred: the cultural mix of different peoples, slavery, rebellion, colonisation, struggles for freedom and independence, wealth of a few versus the poverty of many plus the influence of persons like Marcus Garvey.

Bob Marley was born in Nine Miles, St. Ann’s Parish; his mother, Cedella, was still in her teens while his father, Norval Marley, was an aging white man. He was rejected by the white side of the family tree and as such raised at the homestead of his maternal grandfather, Omeriah Malcolm. Years later, his mother moved to the capital, Kingston, to seek better opportunities and this is where her son joined her. While living in the Trenchtown ghetto, Marley linked up with other youths like Bunny Livingston and Peter McIntosh to form the base of the group—The Wailin’ Wailers, later Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Davis deftly chronicles the struggle to achieve recognition, amidst exploitation, in the music industry and the impact of record producers or mentors like Coxsone Dodd, Lee Perry, Leslie Kong and Joe Higgs on their careers earlier on. Significant among these is Chris Blackwell, a wealthy owner of Island Records, under whose guidance, Bob Marley and the Wailers became world famous, touring US, UK, Europe and other parts of the world. We also get the stories behind the albums like Catch a Fire, Uprising, Survival, Exodus and Rastaman Vibration and the songs like War, Natural Mystic, Zimbabwe, One Drop, and Redemption Song.

There are significant events that helped define Marley’s outlook and the themes covered in his music. His conversion to Rastafarianism, marriage to Rita Anderson as well as liaisons with women who were the mothers of his other children, an assassination attempt, his identification with the anti-colonial struggle in Africa, and battling cancer. Though he was in the States when Haile Selassie visited Jamaica in 1966, Marley regularly talked and sung about the special position of the Emperor and the Ethiopian nation in Rastafarianism. This association earned him the name Berhane Selassie and the ring that was the Emperor’s. Those who have wondered about why Haile Selassie is thus revered, Davis reveals it comes from Garvey’s prophecy about a black king who would deliver the Negro race and a quote from Revelation 5: “Weep not; behold the Lion of Judah, the root of David hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof”.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Do Starving Africans a Favour. Don’t Feed Them

I got this article via WHYS, it was first posted on http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article6886167.ece#. I have to say, I mostly agree with the writer of the article especially against the backdrop of the recently released reports from IFRPI and other international organisations that monitor such issues. Read on and see why.

Do starving Africans a favour. Don’t feed them

There is famine in Kenya and Ethiopia again. Sending food and emergency relief will make things worse in the long term

Sam Kiley

The Horn of Africa is in the grip of the worst drought for 47 years! Some 23 million people are threatened with starvation! When you see children on TV with distended bellies keening over their dying parents, it would be inhuman not to be moved to tears. But do them a favour. Sit on your hands.

The situation is ghastly to be sure. But, as Christmas approaches, the most intelligent response to this latest disaster is to quote Ebenezer Scrooge and cry “bah, humbug”.

African aid organisations have been in the grip of an hysterical number inflation game since the hideous images of the Ethiopian famine were brought to our screens 25 years ago today by the BBC’s Michael Buerk. For every year that has passed the scale of Africa’s problems seem to have grown.

Aid organisations and the media have inflated the scale of subsequent horror, regardless of the truth. This year the International Rescue Committee released data from its Democratic Republic of the Congo mortality survey. “Congo’s war and aftermath have killed 5.4 million,” The Washington Post yelled, quoting the IRC. Humbug.

The IRC isn’t deliberately lying, neither was the Post. But the idea that 5.4 million people have died as a result of war in Congo is nonsense. It needs to be peddled to help to generate funds to relieve the real and hideous suffering of Congo’s population, but nonsense it remains. As the IRC admits: “Less than 10 per cent of all deaths were due to violence, with most attributed to easily preventable and treatable conditions such as malaria, diarrhoea, pneumonia and malnutrition.”

The IRC is saying, really, that the Congolese are dying because they are poor. Recent work by AndrĂ© Lambert and Louis LohlĂ©-Tart shows that the rising mortality rate predates the wars there. But combine “war’’ with “millions dead’’ and you have a donation-winning headline We all do it. We use statistics to highlight the horrors in Africa to drive home the unbelievable scale of the continent’s problems. But that’s the problem: the scale has become unbelievable. Twenty-three million? From my experience of two decades’ reporting from Africa, I can say with absolute confidence that this is humbug. Did anyone count them? No.

Oxfam says that 3.8 million Kenyans, more than 3.8 million Somalis, and 13.7 million Ethiopians “need aid”. Implicit in this is that they could perish through lack of food. In Kenya it might be possible to make this guess. But in Somalia, which has been in a post-apocalyptic state of anarchy since 1991?

There is a drought. Just as there is every ten years. This is the worst in a generation. But even if 23 million people do face starvation, please don’t reach for your cheque book. Foreign aid is the principal reason for Africa’s accumulated agony.

According to Oxfam: “Food aid saves lives, but it crowds out other ... initiatives that support communities’ strategies to prevent the next drought from becoming a disaster.” Exactly. If we send help now, we’ll be killing more people later because more people will be bred and no one will think to save any crops to feed them.

Kenya is having a terrible time. But it would not be doing so if the breadbasket in the west of the country had not been torn apart by ethnic violence. If the agricultural outreach programmes, which helped farmers to improve productivity through the 1960s and 1970s, had not collapsed, if the Government’s milk and beef marketing system was not ruined by corruption, and if people had not been settled on marginal land that can never sustain them, then Kenya would be able to feed itself even in times of drought.

When the rains do come to Kenya there are not enough seed stocks. Kenya’s politicians have stolen much of the aid that we have sent them, and now we are expected to feed their constituents. Every time Kenya, or for that matter Ethiopia, has faced a food shortage the wealthy nations have come to the rescue.

Oxfam reveals in its latest paper, Band Aids and Beyond, that between 70 and 92 per cent of US aid to Ethiopia has been food aid — and almost all of that was the surplus product of American farms. So Ethiopia has had no need to feed itself. Worse still, Ethiopia and Eritrea spent billions that should have been used to develop self-sufficiency between 1998 and 2000 on a border war over a mess of barren rocks. They could do this because we in the wealthy North fed the populations of both countries.

So, what to do? For an answer I turn to Birham Woldu, who survived the (man-made) 1984 famine in Ethiopia.

“Constantly shipping food from places like the US is costly, uneconomic, and can encourage dependency,” she writes in the Oxfam report. “We are a big country and when there is famine in one part of the country, there is plenty in another. So we need better infrastructure and communications to move food around to where it is needed. Above all we need education.”

If they want to badly enough, the Ethiopians can sort out their own roads. So that leaves education. We can help Africans to help themselves by donating to charities that ring-fence funding for education. If they don’t do it, don’t give. Mark all cheques “not for food” if you have to.

With education Africans can and will rid themselves of the incompetent and corrupt leaders that we have kept in power through foreign aid for decades. Educated Africans will bring an end to a dangerous cycle of humbug.

Sam Kiley is a former Africa bureau chief of The Times