Tuesday, 28 April 2009

"Africa" doesn’t have to be the victim, it can be the rapper too!

The other night I was at a dinner party, enjoying the company of friends and the superior strength of their advanced air conditioning unit (these were engineers!). VH1 was on in the background and strawberries and cream was for desert. Things were looking good… Then a certain music video came on the television.

Fall Out Boy: I'm Like a Lawyer with the Way I'm Always Trying to Get You Off (Me + You)

Not exactly the most obvious name for a music video about Ugandan war children but there you go. I did a bit of research and this is how the Ugandan newspaper, The Monitor accounts for this strange mix of romance and tragedy:

Originally, the plan was for Fall Out Boy to come to Uganda, see how their money given to the charity was being used and shoot a documentary to raise awareness about the plight of thousands of children displaced by the country's ongoing war, but they later decided that the best medium through which to portray the suffering in the north was through song (The Monitor, Dorene Namanya, 11 October 2007).

It goes on to say:

“The challenge thus, according to the Fall Out Boy official website was for the director Alan Ferguson and Invisible Children, the nonprofit children's aid group that sponsored the trip to "make a video that encapsulates two decades of war for a song that's chiefly about the ins and outs of a relationship gone awry." The solution was to make a video about a love story between two Ugandan teenagers.”

Well I am not entirely convinced to be honest…two decades of war in a six minute music video with very little narrative and explanation? A very fair treatment of a complicated conflict.

Anyhow, I want to represent an idea for my next music video (you didn’t know I had a music career? You obviously haven’t heard about the Khartoum’s theoretical jazz band):


A curious landscape filled with the victims of poverty, war and political corruption, waiting for you to save her.


The eternal location of our collective guilt, the place that needs our help, the place where the ultimate victim dwells.

“Save me VH1, Save me!” She calls out… 

OK, enough silliness. I know I am being silly.

Now let us compare this video with another musical endeavor that I came across this past week.

Fanfare if you please...


Last Saturday, the Goethe Institute and the French cultural centre organized a free hip-hop concert in the park of the National Museum in downtown Khartoum. Horay for free concerts outside! Horay for the chance to dance! Horay for funny German rappers (sorry Germans, I have just never heard rap in German before and it made me smile)!

The concert was the culmination of a workshop for young and aspiring Sudanese rappers and hip-hoppers to improve and showcase their talent with professionals from Germany and France: Sepalot Cajus of Blumentopf, 2 Bal from France. I don’t know the exact number of participants but there were probably about fifteen Sudanese performers on the night, including “Joyce” (yes, a lady rapper- a rare commodity and probably my favourite, and not just for the sake of the sisterhood; she was fantabulous!) Here is a picture of her performance:

The concert was followed by a three day UNESCO symposium on “Intellectual Property Righs in the Arts and Music” (slightly less exciting than a free concert, but nevertheless a useful pursuit).

To steal the Goethe institute’s words (and the fabulous translating skills of Google Language Tools) the conference was organized to “discuss Sudanese representative artist and musician associations, policy makers and recognized experts from Germany and France, legal frameworks for the development of cultural industry of Sudan. It focuses on issues of dissemination of copyrighted works over the Internet and the creation of an institution for collective management of rights, similar to the German GEMA or the French SACEM.” (Goethe institute: http://www.goethe.de/ins/su/kha/de4476989.htm)I know that the translation isn’t great but neither is my German. Thank you Google Language Tools, you’re my only hope.

ANYWAYS, I got to wondering…

Isn’t this the sort of thing that famous musicians and artists ought to be doing with their extra time? Engaging with local artists and helping them get ahead in the tumultuous world of music production. It certainly beats presenting the whole of the African continent as a land of starving babies, scary dudes with guns and the occasional maniacal genocidal president wandering past with a funny hat on his head. 

The concert was great. I haven't had that much fun in a long long while and it just went to show that musicians and artists can be found everywhere in the world. Africa is not just a place of tears, but a place of hip-hop too.

So I shall say this to any passing musicians or otherwise: if you want to change Africa for the better, you should stick to what you do best: music!! Come and share your talent and social capital with some musicians who want to get ahead. And actors and movie-makers: why not also share your skills (and oh-so-important connections) with young Africans. You don't have to adopt them to help them. 

Rant over. Peace out. Horay for multicultural hip-hop*!

 *side note: I must have spent twenty minutes figuring out the root of the Arabic word “HoB” before I realized it was the hop after the hip. Malish.

Me and Aymen trying to look cool and gangsta. 

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Pray before you die.

When you get one idea for a blog, you get two... they are like night buses in that respect. 

Hello again. My battery is slightly lower and I still haven't gone to that cafe, but I wanted to share some bizarre commercials being shown on MBC (Kuwaiti channel).

I was reading David Mitchell's blog the other day. It was all about how a beer company in Britain has been prohibited from using the words "Take Courage" in its advertisements. The ad in question is a little bizarre. It features a woman in a tight dress (with a fairly ample posterior) and a man sitting on a couch drinking "Courage" beer. Apparently (and I am with David Mitchell here, WTF?) this is a "Does my bum look big in this" moment.

The advert was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority because beer companies are not allowed to suggest that beer give you courage. Huh?

This news troubled me deeply. I believe adverts say a lot about a society. In Australia, beer companies get away with having beer bottles with labels featuring a girl in a bikini, whose bikini disappears as the drinker consumes his beer. It just goes to show how depraved the Australians are. They can get away it female nudity, but we can't even have a little joke?!! And lest we forget: BEER DOES MAKE YOU CONFIDENT! I have two friends in Cairo who wouldn’t be married today if it wasn't for the sweet elixir of courageous beer.

I think we have to take a long look in the mirror (as Britons) and ask ourselves what we want our advertising to say about us. 

Do we want to be the kind of nation that bans the truth to comfort our pseudo puritanical underbelly or do we want to be a fun-loving nation (but not quite as fun-loving as the Australians, who let's face it have an unhealthy attachment to fun) and say yes, beer does in fact boost confidence and that sometimes this enhanced confidence leads to successful marriages among more timorous individuals who might otherwise die alone (I am not talking about my friends here)? And what do our adverts say about us? And who owns our commercial space?

Recently on the Kuwaiti channel, MBC several adverts have come to my attention. Some of them are quite beautiful, some are thought-provoking and some are damn right shocking. They all encourage viewers to pray...... before it's too late.

They are slightly reminiscent of drink-driving commercials in Britain. The gruesome, "that's why you should have worn your bloody seatbelt" or the "no, you didn't see that sweet little girl standing in the middle of the road because you were too bloody pissed, you stupid ****" ones. I guess you know the ones I am talking about?

Well these ones are different because they are about spiritual health- not warning you against death per se, but about life after death, and about your final destination, heaven or hell, paradise or… well, Khartoum on a hot day without electricity.

I am not a big believer in heaven and hell (as my good friend Taha now knows!!) but these commercials got me thinking... Yes, Kuwaitis and I have very different opinions on what constitutes a good society, at least they are striving and fighting for their commercial space. I don’t know who the hell (or heaven) pays for them, but the fact that valuable air time has been bought to encourage people to live better (from the Muslim* perspective) lives. 

*I guess I should add "Muslim from the Kuwaiti Muslim perspective".

I believe it is time for fun-loving, joke-telling secular Britain to do the same. We must fight for our commercial space! Who is with me?


Um, no-one else cares?

Right then, I’ll pipe down.

Nevertheless, take a look at these commercials; they are FASCINATING

Pray Before you Die (less traumatic)

The Devil as a Telecommunications Promoter

(I especially like the cupid-devil one- surely the devil is too busy to encourage text-messaging among teenagers. Unless he works for the telecommunication industry, which given my recent experience with the company, “Zain” isn’t necessarily implausible). Anyhow enjoy!

Now, I will now go do some work (Sara)...

The winds of change...

I know I am long due for a blog.

I could blame it on Mongy’s wedding in Cairo. I could blame it on the fact that I have been getting down to business with my PhD despite the fact that my department's library burnt down last Thursday (ah!).  I could blame it on the South African election and all the interesting BBC coverage. But no, I am going to blame it on the energy industry for a change. My days of environmental lobbying are well and truly behind me and I haven’t had a good old rant against them in a while.

I can remember going door to door in Los Angeles as a teenager. Ringing the bell, holding my clipboard tightly between my fists, pulling out my best American smile and bracing myself for the inevitable rejection. You can see it written on their faces, “How do I get rid of this child without giving her any money?” 

The weaker ones will fall, I know which ones they are.

“Hello, my name is Laura and I am from CALPIRG, California’s leading Public Interest Research Group. As you probably know California is experiencing a massive energy crisis this summer.” (quick breath of air) “The big energy companies are trying to cut back on our environmental protection policies by switching on old and dirty gas powered plants. We are lobbying to change that. Are you with me on the issue?”

Door slam in face.

Angry internal grumbling: “I bet they wouldn’t like it if there was a gas power plant outside their bloody house.”

Flash forward eight years, same Laura, same hippie leaping inside of me:

“I wish that fucking gas generator outside my bloody house had some bloody gas in it so we have some fucking electricity for a change!!!!!”

50 degree heat and 12 hour power cuts have recently pruned my principles. That hippie has well and truly been crushed. Ya salem!

But I ask you this, how is a girl supposed to get anything done when power cuts follow her like pesky English clouds, waiting to block her every move with 50 degree heat and expired battery power? Mustaheeel!! (Arabic word of the day: impossible).

What about Meroe dam you ask? Didn’t the president just cut the ribbon on a brand new dam that is supposed turn Sudan into an energy exporting country? Didn’t he make that damn speech the day before the ICC announcement? Didn’t he dance on stage to the roar of adoring fans? Well yes he did. The man likes his cha cha. Ocampo may take his freedom, but he'll never take his cha cha. 

There is a rumour going round town that the French water engineers working on Meroe left early because of the ICC announcement and so they never finished the damn dam. I don’t know if this is true. It is a rumour after all. 

All I know is that at eight every morning, when I am just settling down in front of my computer, I hear the fan slowly whirl on its hinges, I hear the sound of generators clawing the peace outside and I hear the gentle shriek of a neighbour yelling at the bowab downstairs. There seems to be some disagreement about who is supposed to pay for the gas in our generator. I have now (after much shouting) paid my share. My "exuberant" neighbour refuses to pay for anything. She almost called the police on the rubbish lady. Apparently no-one in Khartoum has paid for rubbish collection in three years. No-one but me… the damn stupid foreigner.

I hope our power generator comes back online. I do miss electricity. I am sick of living in the café down the road. It’s hard to work on your computer when fifty medical students are crowded around the television watching “Herbie, the animate car win NASCAR races against Matt Dillon” and taking turns to come to my table and shyly whisper “Hello, what is your name?” before scurrying timidly back to their seats.

And hopefully they will fix whatever is wrong with the dam. Then Omar Bashir will come back and inaugurate it a second time. Double the PR points.

And maybe the ICC can make another announcement and Bashir can inaugurate another half finished infrastructural facility? Perhaps a water treatment plant? I would so enjoy having water cuts to go with the power cuts.

My only hope is for global warming to substantially change the world’s climate so that Sudan becomes slightly less steaming and more amenable to the opening of windows (I am sorry CALPIRG, you have lost me on the issue- lost me, that is, until I return to a country with a dependable electricity supply and can once again reclaim my trampled hippie).

Ma’salama, I got to get out of here and go back to that dear old cafe... Maybe they will have another adventure for the run-away car.

For my next blog, I am going to take a tour of Khartoum’s new bus station, which apparently doubles as a shrine to Bashir. I can’t wait!