by E.A. Ritter
Man, South African history is really interesting. Interesting, and complicated. Shaka Zulu was born, an illegitimate child, in the late 1700s. His rise to power resulted in the emergence of the Zulu Nation in the early 1800s. The Zulu Nation dominated the affairs of the Eastern half of South Africa into the 20th century. The Zulu were defeated by the British, but they were never conquered. The Inkatha Freedom Party, the primary vehicle of political expression for the Zulus today, played an important role through the liberation movement and it remains active today.
That being said, this book is hardly the last word on Shaka or the Zulus. It's written by a guy descended from white settlers who was actually in the army that defeated the Zulu army in the late 19th century. He obviously admires Shaka, repeatedly referring to him as an African Napoleon, and he goes out of his way to discuss the ways in which Shaka rationalized Zulu society, specifically by standing up against the witch doctors. On the other hand, Shaka comes out as a ridiculously bloody thirsty guy- ordering people clubbed to death at the drop of a hat.
But if you treat Ritter's Shaka Zulu with a cautious eye there is narrative detail aplenty. Ritter is a fine writer, and even if he has a somewhat dated and unprofessional view of African's, his bias is balanced by a genuine affection for the discipline and courage of the Zulu warrior. I have to say, I've read a lot about Native Peoples are their struggles with encroaching European cultures in a variety of contexts. The Zulu are almost unique in that they weren't really disturbed until AFTER they had created their own nation. True, they didn't have guns, and they didn't beat the british, but they didn't go away, and they continue to exist today, being led by the same families that led them two hundred years ago.
It's quite an achievement, almost equivalent to the feats of resistance by the Ethiopian Kingdom into the 20th century. It's a story worth knowing, and something worth considering during this year's World Cup in South Africa.
Dedicated to classics and hits.
Friday, May 28, 2010
I was having a conversation the other day about the merits of the Casbah as a venue. Both people in the conversation agree that the Casbah is a fantastic live music venue, but one participant was describing the opinion of an artist that "didn't like" the Casbah. And we were both like.... "Well, maybe if there is nobody there, it would suck, but... the Casbah is amazing."
All you get, as an artist, is a setting where an audience exists. For a band playing a first (or second, or third) show at the Casbah, it's not the size of the crowd but the intensity of the reception. Whoever is there should be coming up to you and saying "Wow, that was amazing." Because if you can't get that from the first 10 people that see you, you aren't going to get it from the millions who don't care that much about music under any circumstances. Popular music has lost the respect of the public, so as an artist trying to make popular music, you need to be aware of the fact that people really, really, really do not give a shit.
D/Wolves is the third local band I've written about this year. The other two are Jeans Wilder (playing tonight at Soda Bar) and Nude Boy, although Neon Dick and the Watsuis need to be added to that list for completeness sake. But here's the thing about D/Wolves, someone in the band reads the site, they leave comments, and that makes me want to see them perform. There are rules about how that works, and if you, as an artist, can figure out those rules, you will be in a better place then those who can't figure it out.
D/Wolves is a five piece, with trad rock instruments (bass, guitar, drums) and a couple of keyboards. They are all super young. They look like kids from the suburbs, not emo scene kids, just guys. The bassist was wearing an Air Jordan t-shirt. Really, the only thing I cared about last night is "Do they write songs?" You see, there are a lot of things that a band can improve on over time, but if I go see a band for the first time, and they don't have songs, it's hard for me to really give a shit. Even bad/mediocre songs are fine. On the other hand, if I see a band for the first time and the singer can't sing, and the band doesn't care about playing songs (as suppose to "jamming" or "making noise") then 100 times out of 100, I'm not going to care about them ever.
D/Wolves definitely had songs. Since they read this blog, I'm assuming they aren't stupid. The singer had a voice that you might compare to a Ben Gibbard- no insults intended there, please. I think that's a sign of some kind of viability. The quality of songs varied within the set, but I heard a set that was filled with honest to god songwriting.
In terms of the performance itself, D/Wolves is obviously young, so they had best get out on the southern california diy circuit and start working on that live show. It baffles me to see local bands that have records out but don't play at least once a month. I'm no advocate of the Monday night show opening for a touring band with no draw, but it's not a bad idea for an act that is actually serious about being good.
One of the main benefits of having a local scene is so that bands can improve. There is nothing sadder to me then local bands with potential for viability who simply stagnate from year to year. I guess that's fine if you are just looking to get your dick sucked after the show, but being a local hero is no way to live- if you ask me, anyway- I'm sure plenty of local musicians would disagree.
D/Wolves have an album on band camp, but it doesn't really sound like what I heard last night, so I'm not going to link to it. (I' liked the live show more then the band camp songs) I would recommend that my readers check out D/Wolves if they get a chance, particularly if they are into the more trad indie sound that is quite popular right now. I'm not saying that is what D/Wolves is about (being a trad indie band) but they are not a bunch of guys screaming discordantly and mashing keyboards. Based on what I know about my hard core readers, I think they would be interested.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
The Rhetorics of Popular Culture:
Advertising, Advocacy, and Entertainment
Contributions to the Study of Popular Culture, Volume 16
by Robert L. Root, Jr.
The great thing about writing a blog is that you are promoting ideas, and ideas are easy to promote. The success of an idea put forth on a blog, like any other idea, is judged by it's ability to attract adopters and then by the ability of the adopters to make the idea a reality. Ideas can't succeed on their own. If you write the most brilliant book about science in the world, and publish it in your own language that you invented (which is also the best language in the world) it won't matter, because no one will read it, an no one will care. However, an idea doesn't need to be popular to succeed. It only takes one really successful adherent to turn an idea from a failure to a success.
Rhetoric is useful because it is an method that is equally useful for any kind of discourse. A discourse is a conversation using a specific technical vocabulary. Using rhetoric involves two steps
1) Identifying a specific discourse Example: television advertisements, album reviews, political speeches, legal argument.
2) Applying rules of rhetoric to examine the message of the Speaker, the the message received by the audience and the truth of the reality being discussed.
That's all that rhetoric can do, but it's a lot, and further more, rhetorical analysis works and is accurate. Rhetoric works because it assumes that discourse can't exist without a conversation between a speaker and an audience.
The Rhetorics of Popular Culture give two examples that are relevant to the subject matter of this blog:
The Rhetoric of Reviewing: Advocacy, Art, and Judgment: Only six pages long, this chapter does more to clarify the discourse of Reviewing specific works then any other source I've ever read:
'Reviewing is a rhetorical act. Whether its subject is a book, a film, a television program, a recordings, a concert, a play, an art exhibit or a dance performance, the critical review always involves a recommendation, whether implicit or explicit, and an attempt to convince readers of the reliability of that recommendation.'
'Description, substantiation, evaluation and recommendation are essential content elements in any good review.'
'As a rhetorical act, criticism attempts to persuade the reader of the validity of the reviewer's opinion; it advocates a specific position on art or ideas. The measure of a good critic may be both flexibility and consistency, that is, the ability to avoid a narrow, dogmatic position at the same time that he establishes a clear continually applied set of values.'
The other example is for writers of popular songs, but I'm going to save that for another post. Suffice it to conclude with the observation that the proliferation of information requires more effective techniques for processing that information. Those techniques are equally applicable to individuals as machines. Use of rhetorical principles is a technique that is useful for individuals seeking to be more effective communicators and filters of information.
Posted by catdirt at 8:20 AM
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
I think there is rather tepid interest in the area of ancient fertility rituals among my audience, but I'm going to make a pitch for their relevance. Praying for either the birth of a new child or the success of your crops every year is a tradition at the very center of what makes us all human. A sterile humanity is a non-existent humanity, so it makes intuitive sense that the culture built up to ensuring fertility would dominate early history as well as pre-history.
Like it or not, a primary method of ensuring fertility was human sacrifice. Human sacrifice has some audience. Your darker cultural groups, goths, fans of metal, romantics- they all have a penchant for more or less literal human sacrifice references.
I don't think it's hard to imagine the kind of emotional response that this ritual would have generated among participants. For more modern examples of this feeling you can think of a crowd reaction at a fight between Roman Gladiators or at a contemporary boxing match. Or UFC fight, I suppose. The fertility ritual is tied to blood, and lust.
The primary aspect that drops out of modern discussions of the All Mother and Fertility Rituals is how terrible the mother was. She demanded sacrifice. This can be seen in the story of Adonis in Greek mythology, which is itself adopted third hand from the Babylonian story of Tammuz. All of those stories involve a beautiful young man being basically eaten by his mother/lover in order to ensure the harvest.
Those kind of feelings are an example of what Carl Jung was talking about when he theorized about the role of the subconscious in human personality. The relationship between the conscious and subconscious parts of human behavior is a subject as old as the Upanishads, and a subject that has been the primary focus of areas as diverse as religion, philosophy, science and art. And while the analytic discussion shifts between difference disciplines over time, the exploration of the unconscious is largely limited to religion and art. Mostly, it's the role of the artist to explore the areas of the subconscious. The Artist should acquire all tools possible to understand that role, mostly thought- tools of inquiry and frameworks of reference.
Posted by catdirt at 8:42 AM
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Monday, May 24, 2010
The History of South Africa
2nd Edition (now in 3d edition)
Yale University Press
We got the World Cup 2010 coming up: in South Africa! Say what you will about the decision to have the world cup in South Africa, I'd like to know a little bit more about the place itself.
For me the European experience in Africa will always be encapsulated by Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." To talk about Africa is to talk about colonialism and imperialism. When discussing topics like colonialism and imperialism, it is important to distinguish two types of European colonies. The first, European majority colonies, where native inhabitants were either sparse to begin with or killed off entirely and whites constituted the majority. The second, Native majority colonies where the Europeans were a small portion of the total number of inhabitants. South Africa is interesting because it is a combination of both, and that led to conflict.
South Africa is an extraordinarily complex place, historically speaking. The complexity is a result of multiple conflicts which have taken place over the last five hundred years. Initially you have the Dutch settlers enslaving the hunter/gather types on the coast: CONFLICT! Then you have the British arriving and getting into it with the Dutch. Then you have the Dutch fighting with the Bantu speaking Africans. Then you have the British intervening in the fight between the Dutch and the Bantu speaking Africans. Then you have the Dutch fighting the British. Then you have a democracy which excluded 80 percent of the population. Finally, you have majority rule by the Africans and the 2010 World Cup.
It is fair to say that there is only so much of this history the reader has to know to understand that South Africa is a) super complex b) not as hugely fucked up as it used to be, but still kind of fucked up.
Teasing out the whys and where-fors of South African history strikes me as an extraordinarily complex task, and one that also implicates of interesting historiographical issues. The Author, a South African expatriate who taught at Yale University, is obviously aware of the difficulties and does an excellent job of describing the facts, noting the controversies and generally staying clear of the great imponderables of South African history.
I think that's a good place to be for all of us. If you only know one "fact" about South Africa before the World Cup starts it should be that South Africa defies any easy assessment.
The single most interesting chapter for this reader was the description of the hand-over of power from Whites to Blacks. In support of their apartheid regime, Whites created an elaborate species of governmentus bureautracticalias, to the point where the costs to administer apartheid threatened to overwhelm the entire economy. For example, during apartheid the state maintained parallel government departments in all social services area for Whites, Blacks and Coloured. At the same time, demographic trends ensured an ever diminishing white portion of the over-all population. Having seen the writing on the wall, the White government decided to negotiate from a position of strength, and that began an internal process that resulted in a more-or-less peaceful handover of power to the ANC.
This involved things like letting Nelson Mandela out of prison after 20 years and then commencing negotiations with him a week later that made him largely responsible for the government of South Africa. Can you imagine? It's as amazing a story as I think exists in 20th century history.
- ► 2013 (139)
- ► 2012 (401)
- ► 2011 (298)
05/23 - 05/30
- Book Review: Shaka Zulu by E.A. Ritter
- Show Review: D/Wolves @ the Casbah
- Wavves *King of the Beach* Cover Art
- Book Review: The Rhetorics of Popular Culture by R...
- Artists, Human Sacrifice & Fertility Rituals
- Book Review: The Origins and History of Consciousn...
- Book Review: The History of South Africa by Leonar...
- ▼ 05/23 - 05/30 (7)
- ► 2009 (100)
- ► 2008 (67)
- ► 2007 (158)
- ► 2006 (85)