About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

11 October 2016

Karl Jenkins' The Armed Man

Karl Jenkins' The Armed Man is one of my favourite classical music pieces. It is a powerful anti-war statement, influenced by religious texts from a variety of religions (including Christianity, Islam and Hinduism) and secular anti-war poetry; underpinned by a stunning orchestral score. 

I have listened to it numerous times, but Sunday's performance was my first experience of hearing it live. The performance was augmented with a visual projection - which was quite impressive in how well it aligned with the themes of the music and verse; but it is the music and choral performances that really stand out. The packed Linder Auditorium clearly appreciated it; and gave a deserved standing ovation. I don't know if there are tickets left in Cape Town, but if you have the opportunity - go.

08 October 2016

Kamasi Washington's The Epic

While I love listening to music, I am not much of a music geek, and cannot identify the various subtleties across musical genres. These days I usually listen to Beats1 in the evenings, but not much more in terms of radio - as I am usually listening to podcasts. And when I do come across interesting bands and performers, quite often through WTF with Marc Maron, I end up exploring the artist on YouTube.

Kamasi Washington's debut album, The Epic, was the exception. There are quite a few performances on YouTube, and the performance scope just drew me it. Eventually, I did the rare thing - just went and bought the digital copy of the album - and I haven't stopped listening to it. The album has an amazing scale - about 3 hours worth of music that explores a fusion of choral, orchestral and off course more recognisable forms of jazz. I can't recommend it enough.

01 October 2016

Generous Orthodoxy: #FeesMustFall requires academic disruption

As per my last few posts, I have been really enjoying Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History podcast series. For me, the penultimate episode, Generous Orthodoxy, really resonated with the discussions around #FeesMustFall and for that matter some of the wider discussions in South Africa around land, BEE, and wider discussions around the world regarding refugees and #BlackLivesMatter.

Similar to the #RhodesMustFall movement, there has been a lesser reported movement in the US across a number of universities regarding buildings named after racist benefactors and slave owners. But unlike the success at University of Cape Town, and much like the discussions at Oxford, these movements have had very little success.

In Generous Orthodoxy, Malcolm Gladwell, argues that it is incredibly difficult to make arguments around just cause, when the balance of power and years of ingrained orthodoxy commits to keeping the status quo. The key argument Gladwell postulates is - that the arguments made for the just cause, despite being logical, coherent and articulate; are made to people who are ingrained in their orthodoxy; and arguments from the protesters do not take a position to actually acknowledge the orthodox institution's position's power and place in the world. And in that positioning, Gladwell argues the protesters come across as over bearing and entitled; and thus their arguments are not heard. Instead Gladwell argues the key success criteria for any such movement to proceed would be to show that, yes the prestige of the institution does matter and to save the very prestige of the institution, the courageous and right act is to actually to abandon the institution instead of arguing with the powers directly on logical choices.

In the podcast, Gladwell contrasts the effectiveness of two protesters - to remove the name of US President Wilson from Princeton's School of Governance (because he instituted racist policies that enforced segregation) and another by a highly decorated clergyman who decides to leave the clergy after 60 years because of his church's position on gay marriage. Gladwell argues, that the Princeton movement didn't get the results it warranted because it came across as over bearing and entitled; while the protest over gay marriage, while not yet resolved, has resulted in far more dialogue and changing in internal positions.

There are two direct parallels in South Africa today. In #FeesMustFall, many universities have proposed that academic activities should carry on instead of actually addressing the very real issues surrounding the affordability of higher education. Burying the head in the sand, stating that protests cannot disrupt academic activities; fundamentally does not acknowledge the very real problems highlighted by #FeesMustFall. This does not mean that I support destruction of property - but I very much support the notion that university education must be accessible to all that academically qualify for it.

The second parallel is off course in the ANC. I recall Gov. Mboweni talking about changing the organisation from the inside rather than the outside a number of years ago; but I think it is now very clear that it is actually external forces such as the EFF, that seem to be pushing change. But I would rather not get more into the machinations.

Of all the podcasts in the series, Generous Orthodoxy, gave me the most food for thought. As Galdwell states in the last episode, ultimately change requires courage and sacrifice.

24 September 2016

Free Sunday Times

For the past few weekends, there has been a pile of free Sunday Times by the gate of the complex. It seems that it was part of a promotion, which has now sadly ended. But despite the generous offer for a discounted subscription, I am unlikely to take it up.

Although I enjoyed reading the newspaper, and it's wide variety of articles - I was not really reading the paper for news. That is because, most of the articles were not new, and already well covered in other outlets. The cover stories and opinion pieces were excellent however.

Ultimately, I may consider getting a digital only subscription. The cost of R80 a month is actually not that high considering the general high quality of the articles. But I am probably too lazy to actually get one.

13 September 2016

Challenges in Education

I discovered Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History Podcast accidentally - not because it was difficult to find; but rather because I wasn't even looking for new podcasts. The series (or season 1) is over; and I am only halfway through - but the middle episodes on education has been fascinating.

So far, the podcasts have all been very US centric - but the US does have quite a few similarities with South Africa: historic racial inequality, history of segregation, high inequality and high disparity in education levels. Education in South Africa, specifically higher education, has been a hot topic in South Africa - and the three podcasts on education leave a lot of food for thought.

Episode 4, Carlos Doesn't Remember, traces the wider impact of inequality and social problems associated with inequality on the "smart kids". The compelling argument is not that the distribution of clever people is bound to race or wealth - that is obvious; but rather that they do not have the actual tools at hand to really take advantage of their talents. It is not just a matter of do well in school; and the world will open up - the wider support structure is an inherent part of making it happen. In the context of transformation targets in South Africa; this is an important point - it will be difficult to change the face of sport and business without the wider socio-economic support; not just waiting for talent to rise to the top.

Episode 5, Food Fight, traces the decisions of two different private colleges in the US to funding poorer students; and makes the case that there is a moral issue at stake when a college decides to focus on better food or on better facilities rather than funding poorer students for education. In the context of #feesmustfall, I wonder how many South African institutions have made these type of calls. 

Finally, episode 6, My Little Hundred Million, traces the huge endowments of US universities; and the absurdity of philanthropic donations of education institutions that already have endowments bigger than some countries' GDP. And for that matter, the fact that most of these elite universities remain closed to many underprivileged students; despite the fact that they can actually afford to financially support many more such students. There is however a take way for South African universities - ultimately, the success of institutions such as Harvard, Princeton and the like is due to their endowments. South African universities, and universities in general across the developing world, will need to build similar endowment funds to be able to compete and thrive.

I have really enjoyed the series so far, and would highly recommend the podcast to all.

04 September 2016

Buskaid 2016

M is away this weekend, and for various other reasons; I only got round to buying Buskaid tickets yesterday morning. While it was not a full house, there were very few seats left. And once again Buskaid put on a stunning show - with quite a lot of variances from previous years in its pop/kwela arrangements. As is almost traditional, the concert began with Chaconne from Rameau's opera Dardanus. I am not much of a fan of Rameau, so I will move along. 

I recall in my first Buskaid concert, a young boy whose violin seemed to be bigger than him. Mzwandile Twala has now grown up; and was the first featured soloist playing Angela Morley's Reverie. It's a peaceful, contemplative piece for the violin; and a great introduction to Ralph Vaughn Williams' stunning "The Lark Ascending" performed with great virtuosity by Kabelo Monnathebe. It is certainly one of the great Buskaid performances; and my favourite performance of the evening. It's a piece I have heard before on radio; and clearly showcased how much more in depth a live performance can be. Due to some rather loud coughing in the audience, some parts of it was replayed after the interval - and I wished that it was performed in its entirity! Before the interval though, harpist Jude van der Wat made a reappearance with the Buskaid, this time performing Debussy's Danse sacrée et danse profane - a great showcase for both the harp and the orchestra. 

After the interval, Buskaid performed the full Holberg Suite. I like the fact that Buskaid has, in the recent past, performed full pieces instead of just excerpts. After the re-recording of a few excerpts for The Lark Ascending, the rest of the concert featured more contemporary music including the kwela arrangements. This part of the concert has been revitalised with newer arrangements - and as always led me to think, that the Buskaid could easily partner with contemporary South African musicians and singers to widen their appeal (and resulting financial well being).

15 August 2016

Sophiatown: The Mix

Together with District Six, the forced removal and relocation of Sophiatown during Apartheid is well known. Sophiatown's cultural legacy remains highly influential, especially in music with stars such as Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela tracing their roots to Sophiatown. 

Given the rich history, it is sad that the museum celebrating Sophiatown is not as well known; and is actually a fairly recent addition. The Mix combines one of the few undemolished houses during 1955 and a new building to serve as a space for music and conferences.

The house belonged to Dr Alfred Xuma, an ex-President of the ANC and a medical doctor for the community; and traces the political and social forces of Sophiatown through photographs and artefacts (mainly belonging to Dr Xuma).

This is a simple museum that manages to effectively chronicle Sophiatown and the wider impact on South Africa. It is effectively hidden away in the suburbs of Johannesburg without the spotlight of Lilliesleaf or Apartheid Museum and lacks many of the draw cards of modern museums - the multimedia showcases; immersive and interactive displays and stunning architectural features. Sophiatown has an important place in South Africa's narative - and The Mix is an important part of telling that narrative. It is a must visit for that reason alone.