Deciphering Culture

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Music & the Struggle to be Human — Patrice Lumumba (@History is Made at Night)

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From History is Made at Night: The politics of dancing and musicking, a post asserting the primary place of music in the struggle to be human.

O Music, it was you permitted us to lift our face and peer into the eyes of future liberty

Patrice Lumumba (1925-1961) was a leading figure in the struggle for the independence of Congo from the Belgian Empire. He briefly became first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1960 before being overthrown and later murdered by Belgian/CIA backed forces. The following extract is from his poem May our People Triumph (full poem here). In it Lumumba puts music and dance (and specifically jazz) at the centre of the struggle to be human in conditions of slavery and colonialism:

‘Twas then the tomtom rolled from village unto village,
And told the people that another foreign slave ship
Had put off on its way to far-off shores
Where God is cotton, where the dollar reigns as King.
There, sentenced to unending, wracking labour,
Toiling from dawn to dusk in the relentless sun,
They taught you in your psalms to glorify
Their Lord, while you yourself were crucified to hymns
That promised bliss in the world of Hereafter,
While you—you begged of them a single boon:
That they should let you live—to live, aye—simplylive.
And by a fire your dim, fantastic dreams
Poured out aloud in melancholy strains,
As elemental and as wordless as your anguish.
It happened you would even play, be merry
And dance, in sheer exuberance of spirit:
And then would all the splendour of your manhood,
The sweet desires of youth sound, wild with power,
On strings of brass, in burning tambourines.
And from that mighty music the beginning
Of jazz arose, tempestuous, capricious,
Declaring to the whites in accents loud
That not entirely was the planet theirs.
O Music, it was you permitted us
To lift our face and peer into the eyes
Of future liberty, that would one day be ours.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

May 8, 2010 at 10:16 am

Cultural Exchange vs. Cultural Tourism (@Community Arts Network)

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Interesting essay by James Bau Graves, director of the Old Town School of Folk Music (Chicago) on the slippery distinction between cultural exchange and cultural tourism.

Cultural Exchange vs. Cultural Tourism

“Cultural exchange” is often cited as one of the few tools for dismantling tensions with other countries that doesn’t involve force or coercion. The arts can bridge misunderstanding where military adventures and the flood of consumer goods usually just make matters worse. It is assumed that the power of art is attached to universal human values, and that the sharing of these distillations of meaning from disparate communities will reveal our commonalities. It’s a small world after all, and all you’ve gotta do to join is sing it the next time it comes around on the guitar.

Musicians
Musicians from Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music performing in Finland

Anybody who has traveled abroad will find this assertion self-evidently valid. When you encounter another culture, even on a very cursory level, abstract foreign-ness becomes human and personal. Distant, amorphous categories — the Chinese; Africans; Arabs — suddenly have an individual face, the man whose home you visited, the woman who made a special effort to accommodate you in her country. Direct, personal encounters inevitably color our impressions of entire nationalities. The more intensive the interaction, the more aware we become of the nuances of another community’s modes of life and thought, the more secure we feel in our comparative assessments of the Other, and the less prone we are to inaccurate generalizations and stereotype. (Continued here...)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

March 25, 2010 at 10:21 am

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