WEEDWORKS letters from the road

radio continental drift LETTERS FROM THE ROAD:


September 2010

Greetings dear friends & fellow listeners,

I hope all’s well on your ends…?! Demands of the road & roadside work-shopping have kept my correspondence yet again to a minimum over the past four months; some audio excerpts of recordings though have already made there way out on www.archive.org, slow broadcasting. I hope you can tune in & lend your ear to those voices sometimes. They are out there in the archives as signposts & resonance markers for future listening bridges that can join people of common interests in audio correspondence & collective productions – as it happened earlier in the No-Go-Zones project & currently with Durban Sings. www.nogozones.wordpress.com & www.durbansings.wordpress.com

Now, here I am holding preliminary review of a continuing journey in south London… possibly the only place up north I’d manage to do so without being overcome by restlessness (give thanks for the Trunkstore home base & Terry Mac’s hospitality!) & I’m looking forward to some more direct ways of exchange with you in the near future!

Quite unexpectedly, my journey became a round-trip, back to Jozi – mother of all my African journey-ing… last week, I was teaching again audio media (& listening!) to photographers at the Market Photo Workshop (& more of it will follow, it seems, next year). Retracing almost the steps of my travel, Jozi – Nairobi – Kampala – Gulu, allowed for some re-assessing of the work & ideas we had developed in conversations, workshops & interviews earlier; and together with artists and producers at each site talk through ideas of how to possibly take things further some steps in the next year.

Roughly, a project for 2011, shaping itself already along-side the recent ‘safari’ (Swaheli for travel & traffic), seems to be a series of about one-month workshops, to train small groups of women trainers (artists/ activists) at each site in audio media (ICTs) & oral culture; the idea being that with their own future training initiatives, such work would continue & develop in ‘site-specific’ ways and variants, and with the women’s own professional work filter step by step into local & wider networks of creative production and education… t.b.c.

Returning via Nairobi in August, I met, for example, with Lydia, aka L-ness, a hiphop poet & woman MC, one of the few around (audio clips still to be uploaded). She got to it fostered by elder brothers, who are ‘in the industry’ & run a studio. Now, she walks her own ways with their teachings, gathers girls around her, trains them in the arts, works with them and other women MCs, some of them in neighbouring countries like Tanzania, towards joined compilations. Beyond the ‘girl power’ initiative, she tells me that she also volunteers in a local health centre in Kitengela, training women trainers in family health issues. She knows what I’m talking about when I say I’d like to train women trainers… I’d hope to work with her & other women like her I met on the way in Uganda & also recently in Jozi.

I can well imagine & would love to see (hear!) in action a little audio media centre, run by local women & artists, based at Kitengela health centre, recording interviews with mothers & grandmothers on site, perhaps producing songs about the do-s & don’t-s of breastfeeding, or ‘safe sex’, or traditional ways of health care in pregnancy & marriage customs, & the like.

So the idea is, that around Nairobi, Lydia & her initiatives in Kitengela would be one of perhaps 5 -7 of such super-local hubs of audio/oral production & archiving; another could be in Kibera with & through one or more of the sisters working at Pamoja fm; another perhaps in Dandora through sisters round the UkooflaniMauMau camp, etc. (if you’d like to hear more, let me know, there’s more detailed writing about the plans)

The contacts and local infrastructure for such plans to take off are at hand; the women participants would be representatives of artist’s collectives, local broadcasters & national libraries; the tricky part of the plan will be – as ever… – to source the means realising it… Experience tells me that funders don’t tend to appreciate conceptual ideas & plans drawn by long-term vision; they’d rather go for those little thematic productions, a CD of songs addressing AIDS issues here, a picture book on immigration and sex-workers there, etc. etc. (if anyone out there has clever suggestions & advice how to go by in this case…? Or whom to approach… all much appreciated…!)

With those immerging ideas for future involvements, the mode of my travel seemed to change & gain speed – though it doesn’t quite ‘look’ or feel like that when audio-editing for a couple of nights on a hostel bed… When I arrived by bus from Nairobi in Kampala (I don’t recommend that travel when you have spine issues… some of the worst road conditions I came across!), I had very little clue of the local scenes & with whom I could connect. I settled in a tiny room @ City Annex Hotel just across the National Theatre (aka, UNCC, Uganda National Cultural Centre), & very quickly the grounds of the theatre became my daily hang-out & ‘workshop’.

I found a beautiful mix of artists & cultural producers, regular live events & open-mic platforms as well as programmed events. I zoomed in, opened my mic & engaged in conversation, formal & informal work-shopping. During my stay, I never missed turning up on Wednesday nights for ‘Bonfire Nite’, an open platform for live performance frequented by hiphop artists of all walks, featuring word arts & acrobatics from proverbs & riddles too poems, songs & raps, and movement acrobats from jugglers & magicians to breakdancers… the ‘Kampala jingles’ that are on-line so far are mainly dedicated to voices & stories of ‘Bonfire artists’. More fire!

With some contacts at hand, I then also zipped out on Boda-bodas (motor cycle taxis) to local scenes of action, the home & studio of a musician like Albert Sempeke (traditional court music) in Karamoya, or the studios of Mama fm & Uganda Media Women Association in Ntinda, or the Bavubuka All Stars (hiphop artist’s) home in Makindye, or the Break-dance Project Uganda at the Sharing Youth Centre in Nsambya, continuing conversations & recordings on site…

My travel became as much a listing journey on the ground to audio, radio & oral culture producers of many kinds as a research into the organisms of organisation and how they function or don’t function. Give thanks to all I was fortunate to witness & learned from so much! (I only wish I could fast forward the slow walk of editing through the winded corridors of my travel archives… dozens of GB still to go…).

I was enchanted when ever I encountered generosity, foresight and organisational skills (and/ or vision), and esp. if such mix appeared to be nurtured through roots in traditional & contemporary learning. This is what I thought I heard when visiting the Breakdance Project Uganda. Each and every member would welcome me, the newcomer, with the same pride and care for the whole of the organisation.

Look out for a film about them, apparently out on you-tube, called ‘bouncing cats’. I didn’t yet had the chance searching or watching it myself but hope to do so soon. (my recordings with Abramz, the founder of the project, are still on the editing table, but some clips from dancers in Gulu are in the playlist)

A little research on the side took off through my curiosity in the story of the Indian people in Uganda; and, more generally, taking the pulse of this country’s “struggle of the people”. On my frequent morning walks to Nakasero fruit & vegetable market (vegetarians paradise!), I enjoyed the habit visiting the Hindu temple on the way. So in the mix of my recordings, you’ll also hear the beautiful ambiance of the temple during morning chants & offerings, and an interview with Chetam, the priest, who could always be found there. He’d be busy keeping the offerings flowing, or attending to small groups of people crouching on the floor round his low-level writing desk, giving advice & blessings…

During my stay in Kampala, the UNCC re-staged a play of the now 80 years old Ugandan playwright Kiyiinyi. “Muduuma kwe Kwaffe” also has those stories of the Indians & Africans as its subject. Thus, among my recordings are also, an interview with Kiyiinyi himself (some clips are on-line), with Kaya Kagimu Mukasa, the director of the play, & with some members of the audience who came to watch.

The breakdance project became also one of the roads that led me to Gulu, northern Uganda; another being e.g. a division of the country in north and south, which I had already sensed in my Kampala conversations. The breakdance project has established a branch in Gulu. Some of my first interviews were with dancers related to the project. And after hearing in interviews with some elder MC’s, that/ how the local hiphop poetry & music scene appears to be locked in more commercial short-circuits for the moment, I tuned in even more on the dancers.

An interesting mix will come into play – once I get round to more nights of editing – through the voice of a young British/ Walsh brother, Josh Jones, who became the coordinator of the project up north. He got to Gulu through those NGO networks (up there being also known as “NGO country”!) & also runs a show on a local radio station. Josh is now preparing to settle & marry into the area & Acholi culture…! I was happy when I was able to make myself useful locally in quite immediate ways by mediating a link of Josh & the breakdancers to another local cultural initiative I enjoyed finding there.

The Takscentre currently already works in support of local arts & crafts people but is preparing for more. Joyce & David established the place on their own initiative in the former colonial golf-club – the residential quarters of the country’s president (if he happens to visit the north) is a stone throw away – an interesting historical current to work with & against! If, what is now plan, the young breakdancers take office and rehearsal ground @ the Takscentre, the efforts of rooting the place with the people and for local culture might begin to flow with more ease & in wider circles; fusion & con-fusion becoming productive…

David, a potter by training & practice, has build two (or one double) traditional Acholi mud-hut on top (!!) of the colonial building – though not quiet traditional, as he tells & shows me, but re-mixed through on octagonal rather than round ground plan & contemporary more than traditional fittings. Images of the Takscentre – and those huts, i.a. – are on ‘flickr’ in a playlist of pics to accompany the audio on archive.org  http://www.flickr.com/photos/radiocontinentaldrift/sets/72157624833609793/detail/

Nowadays, Joyce & David travel the surrounding villages, visiting and “road-workshopping” with local arts & crafts people out there whom they show-case and promote in/ through the centre. In the mix of my recordings, you can also find Joyce talking beautiful & wise words under a Mango Tree & an amazing starry sky (try to hear that one!) about her country, “land of farmers & artists” & their histories…


There’d be so much more to tell, consider & converse… but I’d rather you finding your own way by listening to the producers as they speak it… I’ll be happy responding to questions or mediating links for you to the brothers & sisters themselves. Currently there’s a playlist of jingle-like mini clips from Gulu & from Kampala out on- line to introduce at least some (by far not all!) of the voices. There’s also a page called ‘radio communities’ on my little switch-board blog meant to assist in tracing people & organisation (though it’s currently still incomplete & on the editing table). Playlists of mini-clips & some complete interviews from Nairobi are also uploaded. I’ll hope you’ll enjoy tuning in. Give thanks for listening! Warmest greetings from a cold country…,


ps. Attached photo by Carl Odera in Nairobi; the dress was made in the workshop of Acan Jennifer by the women tailors you can also listen to in the playlist from Gulu

May/ June 2010

Dear friends, north, south, west, east… Greetings!

I hope the little circular from a drifter on African soil finds you well… It’s been a year or so, since I attempted my last summary radio continental drift news. I’ve been in a tunnel of sorts, it seems, ever since I wrote last; underground; or rather, developing radio ground-work in the province. Now I’ve left the tunnel & the province; moved up to more equatorial, mountainous regions… taking a deep breath in the street, seeking to look back & ahead from somewhere, learning new languages & histories, zooming in here and there with the mindset of an explorer, rather than a developer…

Right now, you can find me in central Nairobi; or more precisely, in Nairobi South B, in a room of a shared flat, apartment block in residential quarters just south of the centre, an industrial area south of “Railways” (the station), mixed working class/ middleclass, slums somewhere across Mombassa Rd., never far away (though I’ve yet to encounter those zones… I arrived, as ‘tourists’ do, in the centre…). The GoDown Arts Centre is 10 minutes walk up dusty Dunga (earth!) Road from my place; the artist Jimmy Oganga (Nairobi Arts Trust/ CCAEA) was my first point of contact over here.

My work in the province came to some abrupt ending. Attempting to summarise a long complex story seems still quite inadequate…. One day we will talk, re-tell and remix those stories… right now, it’s all a bit close and raw…  only so much for now, that some institutional (i.e. ‘private’ rather than collective & project driven) issues have hampered the work in Durban since about beginning of this year; whilst at the same time, recognition of the work from all-over and signs of development & success locally were arriving as well; new funding agreed since December, but slow in arriving on the ground. The mounting ‘private’ issues eventually found an unexpected valve at the end of March (with the full moon… sorry, to sound ‘bloomy’ but I think in these images…).

The resulting moves and developments undermined the bases of trust on which a collective & creative development work like the Durban Sings project must rest. I decided, that I cannot continue my work in place, I’d better pack my bag and hit the road again… not before sorting my mind, my desk and interrupted work as best I could which took me about 3 week: writing a response to the events & ‘bequest’ (of sorts) for the project, at least outlining how the changed situation could be managed, whilst it was no longer in my hands to act it, securing at least some institutional clarifications & agreements. My main concern being, that the work achieved so far has to continue, fulfil what it promises, especially for the people in Durban, and establish itself in confident productions on the ground. The Durban Sings project will continue. Do tune in…! www.durbansings.wordpress.com

As it happens to be with this kind of work, certainly for the facilitators, nothing drops out-side of the project, everything’s part of the story & the work. It’s good that way; and causes a lot of work… head & soul work; questions and productive reassessment are beckoning. In my case, the course of events sends me out on the road with a quest, which I feel, I’ll have to pursue on the streets of this continent… impossible to, at least right now, sit in a little room in London or wherever, and ‘think it all over’…

Radio Continental continues drifting & listening…; even while still in Durban, I started to talk to people, made little interviews; seeking to listen to those life-archives, stories as life & work over here write them… I talked to the artist Musa Zulu, a day after he celebrated (!as he says) ten years in his wheelchair; to Trevor Ngwane, long-life activist, Soweto electricity crisis committee, about his ‘becoming a political animal’…; in Jozi, to Jos Martins, agrarian specialist, about his organisational & development work (farmers union) in rural Zim during the 80s, and his recent re-visit (Jos is now deputy head Rosa Luxemburg Foundation SA in Jozi, who are funding Durban Sings); to Buyaphi Mdledle, a photographer and activist in Pimville/ Soweto who seeks to include people& voices into his work; now, here in Nairobi, we recorded a conversation with Jimmy Ogonga, a day after and triggered by the arrest of the performance artists Ato during her performance ‘Freedumb’ outside the Kenya National Archives, and a long conversation with two young rappers and hip-hop artists/activists (www.rhymfm.webs.com ) in the garden of Alliance Française, smoking… (possibly the only place in central Nairobi where you can do so without having to pay for a drink… be aware! the inner city of Nairobi is a ‘corruption free zone’…). Editing the Nairobi conversations is in process, and I hope to upload them soon, so you could also tune in… www.radiocontinentaldrift.wordpress.com

I’m experiencing Kenyan urban society as strangely uprooted, having lost touch with the ground, the earth, its history & future, young middle class youth quite without perspective, vision & drive (resembling Europe…). I’m missing the politicised air and heads, which still (just about… ) characterise South African society. So much colonial inheritance hold up high, unquestioned. But in those conversations we recorded, you can hear the concerns of productive heads. In the conversation with Gas & Kevin we identify it as a globally looming ‘climate change’ due to a mindset geared for consumption, an issue we all share, north & south, and should attempt to tackle & overcome together… a fresh breeze, open minds & a stream of new creative initiative comes, as so often from the very ground of our societies, those slums… talking to artists over here, I get the impression that Kibera (and some of those other slums) are the cradle of creative Nairobi.

Through a presentation & workshops @ Kuona Trust, artist studios connected to the Bagfactory in Jozi, i.e. Triangle Trust, I got to work more with Sydney (young visual artist) and Carl (freelance journalist). We hope to put up some of our workshop recordings & edits next week (enlightening words about “2007 post-elction” and Kenyan society). On Saturday @ Wapi (words & pictures) & Sawa sawa festival, we hooked up with Gas and Kevin, and are now aiming to produce a radio show together which could bring out on air the fire of some of those creative initiatives we have been kindling in all our conversations.

In the workshops @ kuona, we had to make do with what’s at hand in un-planned ways. The radio continental drift recorder made its own way into Kenyan society from the “matatu” (combi taxi) I boarded from “Railways” to Hurlingham, an affluent north-western suburb with many new offices where Kuona is situated… perhaps, so my house mate Victor tells me, I could still ‘buy it back’… he is enquiring with guys running shops on River Rd…  if it doesn’t find on some strange routes back into my bag, I’d hope, that it will assist some good creative work somewhere over here… I wish I could track its ways and stories… In the meantime, we did our workshop recordings with mobile phones, my laptop and the bin-aural mic (thankfully still part of the assembly in my bag!).

On the “other side of the road” to Hurlingham is Kibera, one of the largest slums of the continent, and apparently, as people told me, a ‘very bad Gikuyu slum’ at the end of the Matatu line… when I insisted that the tribal thing is complete non-sense (just as much as a ‘very bad Ostfriesen estate’ or the likes would be) and simply propaganda for the political manoeuvres of a few guys they might not even wish to support, surprisingly, people re-considered quite quickly; then even telling me that, yes, they knew that during “2007 post-election”, leading parliamentary politicians actually paid youth in their ancestral areas to run riot…

The work & projects I got involved in now might keep me in Nairobi till about mid June perhaps (I’ll go with the change of the moon…). I’m thinking of turning towards Uganda next, perhaps Kampala to start with and then somewhere up country. I came across a project on-line I might try to connect with. If anyone happens to have contacts in Uganda or Kampala, or knows of relevant projects for me to seek out, please write to me.

For now, warmest greetings from the dusty roads around Nairobi (give thanks, the torrential rains stopped…)


ps. Many thanks for any mail you might have sent me in the meantime! I hope to attend to all of it and respond soon… please bear with me; it’s one’s again those public internet cafs I have to rely on…

pps.  ORF/ Kunstradio in Austria recently re-broadcast the LONG WALK radio play: http://kunstradio.at/2010A/23_05_10.html; the piece is not on-line; but I’ve up-loaded clips on archive.org: www.archive.org/download/Listen_Babylon/

ppps. A beautiful radio-phonic remix of radio continental drift and Durban Sings is on Silakka Radio shows produced by DJ Shinji Kanki 100.3 MHz Laehradio in Helsinki  http://silakkaradio.fi/sound-art/march-7-2010-africa/

December 2008/ January 2009

Dear friends! where ever you are…! Greetings!

I hope you’ll bear with me and my odd news letter from the drifting listener down south; at best, it can keep our conversations and listening exchange going till the next time round when we get a chance face to face… and/or, what would be wonderful and could happen soon, some on-air, on-line or skyp-ed encounters with you, and between groups of people we both happen to be working with at the time…?!

December 2008

I’ve by now drifted west across the hot continent and a couple of borders to the other side and the other ocean. While in Durban, I didn’t manage to set food into the Indian ocean once; too entangled in the listening work, I guess (and, yet another proposal-writing marathon); all transport (on top of the one I have to do any way) is extra hazard, expense and/or rather time-consuming. I prefer sticking it out at home with long over-night listening (editing) sessions in my ‘granny-flat’. now, for a couple of days with my auntie in Swakopmund, I’m enjoying the unbelievable luxury of listening daily to Atlantic waves… (I’ve made a 17 mins recording – ‘sunset at swakop’ – of their wonderfully slow, never-ending up and down… I’m gonna upload some clips from my travels soon) from Durban to Joburg, Molefi and I travelled by plane, on ‘mission’ for our “Durban Sings and RASA lives!” -proposal and ‘oiled’ by (what-ever) CCS funds – me, muttering about a waste of resources, Molefi rejoicing in the chance to fly and to join the set-setting tribes (+mounting racist abuse towards me and my questions).

I’m listening… (quietly suspending those hidden inner scales that are so difficult to know and control… and yet so quick to issue judgements… with a question-mark… until, another opportune moment to, perhaps, pick the issue up again in another guise… Is it surprising when intelligent and ambitious young heads are insisting that NOW, it MUST be their time round to waste and enjoy resources, and for those OTHERS to cut back? surprising on the basis of what scale? whose scale?)

from Joburg, I continue drifting west on my own, slower and closer to the ground. I got on a bus to Gaborone and spent a very short night with the aunt of an artist friend of a friend – me on the floor between a large TV, and a larger freezer, she above on her bed. the auntie opens the door without leaving her bed and screams a ‘shut-up’ of sorts across the kitchen towards the other bedroom housing 4-5 men from Zim. two had come home late and drunk (and that was the time when i escaped to my mat in auntie’s bedroom). earlier, I had talked to Adam about Zim, his dagga plantation and how you get the best crop, and if it’s worth getting nicked by the cops every now and then,… certainly better then driving a huge truck ‘for peanuts’ across the too hot, too straight roads of the Kalahari… we made some recordings of him talking about Zim (not about the dagga plantations) and two songs. I gave him a CD at sun-rise the next morning, when he helped me and my luggage to the nearby bus station.

I boarded a trans-Kalahari bus towards Ghanzi. The bus was full when we left Gaborone. each stop we took as many passengers as could stand up in the steaming vehicle. I was sitting, legs propped up on luggage, for most of the journey, occasionally chewing on ginger, fighting nausea. queuing for a pit-latrine, I got talking to 3 girls who were also heading for Swakop. The bus dropped us (and about 15 others) at mid-day somewhere in mid-Kalahari… “Mamuno-Junction”. We dragged our luggage up to a police road-block on the ‘high way’. the cops got unpleasant enough for us to move on along the boiling asphalt another mile or two till the next tree. We had begun talking about lions and a night in the dessert when finally a guy stopped his car to take us to Windhoek. He wanted two-hundred per head… but anyway, we were moving… he had the decency to drop us ‘home’. i had a rather restful night in the empty apartment of the neighbour of my auntie’s friend; and a pleasant 4 hours combi-taxi ride from Windhoek to Swakopmund in the afternoon the next day (merely interrupted by 3 police road-blocks, one of them, immigration-police, inspecting the interiors of our entire luggage…)


here, my auntie had been interrupting me, telling me about the Kavango concept and customs of ‘likoro’ (umbilical cord). she says ‘bei uns’ (‘for us’, at the Kavango). she was based as a doctor, then as an ethnologist for about 20 years in that region, northern Namibia close to the border with Angola. she’s 84 now, still working, writing, and a fighter, going for a swim every morning in the sea. she looks rather youthful, even without teeth after her lunch time nap, running around in her panties and un-groomed white hair… last night, I had her listen to a conversation with Tunde Adegbola (that I was clipping) about the Yuroba tradition of the ‘oriki’ (a person’s ancestral history that is frequently recounted, for example by the mother calling upon the child, and on many private and public occasions, then very often ‘spoken’! by drums). she has been thinking about this, and responds… (and I manage to record some parts of our conversation).

it’s been difficult to catch her for some recordings. she doesn’t really like it. but now, I was able to establish to let the recorder run when we are working on the computer. I help her archiving her photographs. her eyes are not very good, and any screen work (+ other reading and writing) is painfully slow. I hope to clip the little stories that come up between one image and the next sometimes towards something like ‘audio windows into the picture archives of Dr. Fisch’…

I spent my time in Swakopmund exclusively with listening to my aunt, the sea, recorded voices and a couple of books. all chance encounters in the street are invariably predetermined by ‘the season’, the tourist- and consumer industries (so I prefer avoiding them all together). here, I’m invariably just another German, yet another tourist etc.; it’s a waste of time and energy to run amok against it. I rather withdraw till the time and frame for my next moves and interaction is more favourable to my tasks and questions out here…  but it’s quite an amusingly radical change of sets. after spending my time in Durban mainly among young people and African languages, and a couple of days among ‘arty’ circles in Joburg; my conversations in Swakop and Windhoek are mainly in German and with people in their 70s and above…

January 2009

but, since I choose to travel ‘close to the ground’, there are also, during the month of my travels, about 6 days (3 west + 3 back east) I spent out there, on the road, with all my luggage, and all the others roaming about in the hot and dusty streets of the continent. I’ve to relay on my body-recording capacities out there, and rather leave my listening aids in the bag. but the air of conversations I can breath on the road are inspiring – and very necessary to tune my next more structured interventions.

in Windhoek, I made recordings with Joe Murangi, a helper of Maria Hoffmann (my auntie’s friend and chair-person of a ‘Studienstiftung” for young Namibians – rather than sitting quietly on her German pension). Joe’s a traveller, and a restless soul, who tells me ‘bits and pieces’ about the long struggles in African history, his own, and his people (the Hereoes in particular). The clips that are up on line now, we edited together and linked them to blog for his organisation, the Volunteers Association Namibia (http://www.archive.org/details/VolunteersNamibia);

and I hope, the long nights in my Durban ‘granny flat’ will soon turn out some more clips from our long conversations. about the life in Katutura for example, the former black township of Windhoek. I had suggested to him to record an audio walk together in Katutura, but he maintained reservations, which could not be overcome… (for the very reasons of un-easy predeterminations I summarised above); so we just talked about it while sitting in Zoo-Park in the centre of Windhoek, eating German Cheesecake…

apparently, Windhoek municipality bull-dozzed down an area of shacks in Katutura just a day before Christmas (just another one of those urban regeneration lies that mushroom everywhere in the vanguard of global capitalism, drive up the (housing) market, devastating the local communities and culture…). I was interested to learn more, but that would have required more time than I had at hand… a quick visit would have been most likely pre-determined by suspicion and hostility, in part seeded in/by Apartheid, flourishing in aggression as the blessings of consumerism brutalise the daily struggle for survival…

(…i just read, that acc. to a 2002 survey, the poorest in SA suffered the highest annual rise (17.1%) in their basic living costs in the past 30 years!) if there’s no time for the ‘long walk’ at hand, it’s advisable, I think, to sit and wait near the borderlines of no-go-zones and have tea with the people from the other side in the meantime and in the shade of good conversations…!

and, hopefully, assist the once we encounter to become out-spoken agents of their own stories, lives and histories. this, eventually, given sufficient patience, will allow us to see and share and understand each others lives better. if this stubborn believe already underlies any of my street conversations, with our ‘Durban Sings’ project, we are attempting to ‘dig-in’ locally and in (hopefully) well-structured, almost ‘strategic’ ways. over the next week, I’ll have to churn-out a programme for an inspiring and informative one-week full-time audio radio training course for community co-ordinators of 10-15 groups, which we’ll run with the help of CCS research money; so it seems, I could find myself amazingly busy very soon…

we are pressing ahead with our plans, almost following an idea of creating facts before security, and, hopefully, charming a vacuum-suction which will irresistibly draw-in the necessary further funding money… with this on the horizon, I’m also keen to see this little second instalment of my reports flying out – although much more on my mind, which could be told… but if you mange to listen-in a bit via the on-line audio instalments on www.archive.org , you’ll catch many more delightful shades and tones then these lines can transmit…

it would be wonderful, if you’ll find a moment to tune-in to DURBAN SINGS and talk back – in whatever way comfortable and appealing to you, from wherever you happen to be in your live and work and thoughts… perhaps writing a little response, review or comment for our young Durbanites, or making use of the Durban-Sings-archive for re-mixes…?! all this could be water of life for the little spouts of North/South community/ artivist communication…

warm greetings from steamy Durban

sala kahle, stay well!


November 2008

GREETINGS!  friends of this and the other hemisphere!

some news from subtropical province quarters

my life is somewhat speeding up ahead of me and my body. while we insist walking, patient like a slug, African pace, up and down 45% streets, shopping or lap-top on the back, a quite familiar life’s rushing its way under a new set of rules. advancing my body-clock two hours was one of the easier adjustments. now my days begin between 5 and 6…

the local rules and limits are not ‘new’ though; many are of rotten colonial roots with recent consumer-glitter mask, such as the whole ‘armed response’ security madness. inheritance from apartheid and colonial policing of social division, now a desired status symbol, cultivated paranoia and a booming industry.

i’ve settled in what people here call a ‘granny-flat’ and what is in fact a former maid’s chamber, usually some form of cottage tacked away in the garden of one of those houses that have all that’s deemed necessary: remote control gate, alarm, guards in the street, high walls and wire, swimming pool and palm trees and veranda, two white cars, a black maid and a black gardener. (you could settle about 5 families in the front garden, 4-5 in the house and 4 in the back garden… given ‘informal settlement’ standard, that is).

the ‘granny flat’ is where you’d find someone like me round here… (not rich enough, not poor enough). mine is a bit like a train: bed, desk, fridge, cooker, shower, loo, lined up; just enough space for some yoga between the bed, the fridge and the sink. so  I’m set. and no one seems to bother about the strange sounds and voices I’m broadcasting from my ‘train’ into suburban silence (that belongs to the maids, birds and gardeners in the day…).

I walk down one hill and up the next to the university, Howard college, memorial tower towers like the palace of a Saddam or Sam Nujoma over the city. there, life’s running pretty much like anywhere, or so it appears sometimes…

certainly, my sighs of ‘too much of my days and nights on-line’ must have been heard… yes, I’m in front of a screen, but not connected for most of the time. and when I’m finally sitting in front of a ‘live’ one, I’m often too tired to remember, what I had been meant doing there…

the CCS (centre for civil society) tribe are great people and a warm family for the newcomer. I’m downloading hard and continuously from everyone all (and more than) I ever imagined wanting to know about civil society in SA today, and (KwaZulu-Natal) KZN in particular. from knowledge-castle heights, we are on a steep dive by public combi-taxi, together with Molefi (student, research fellow and RASA radio collective founder member), audio radio tools in two bags, deep into base regions of ‘locations’ far far out, beyond even the zone of the super-disney-cristal-palace-shopping malls like ‘pavillion’.

history certainly matters. and if you want it, you can see it. everywhere. to the right side of the highway ‘coloured’ settlements, a bit further up, ‘indian’, to the left side, down there, African. all neatly divided by the motorway. if you go to the villages and small towns a bit further rural, what are the central buildings in a settlement? a church, you think? well, a church might be somewhere, perhaps. but in the centre, for no-one to miss or forget, a police station and/or a prison!

if you want it, you can see it, everywhere. no efforts have been spared to divide people from people, and to thoroughly destroy and disrupt human bonds at all level. perhaps the tags of the systematic powers driving divide and destruction matter little on the ground? colonialism, apartheid, capitalism…

yes, there is often no or little electricity, no or little proper sanitation, and all that… but even more devastating can it be to encounter a subtle reservation and guarded suspicion among people carefully mediated by layers of formal conduct (say, in a first meeting with a youth group preparing the grounds for audio workshops to come). it’s gonna be another LONG WALK!

so far, i had little occasion among the cosmopolitan crowds of the people of joburg to encounter and interpret these masks and gather mediating tools and translation skills…

my CCS people are a good base to learn reading the signs and for sharing experiences of working with and across scars and screens… but man! arty brothers and sisters up north! behind my mask, you can sometimes find me sighing and praying for some arty allies! people with clear heads to bounce off off-the-wall ideas…

people around me putting their minds and hopes into the courts of legal battles. mainly. and to some extend, they are wise doing so, and they are winning battles. some can see and some can feel the benefits of the tools I carry in my bag. and I can hear the hunger! it’s gonna be a long walk!

for all their good work, the CCS is a thorn in the flesh of  ‘neo-liberal capital’, or however you name it. the centre is suffering constant malicious sabotage from university HQs. it’s days are numbered. everyone can see that.

it’s a bit of a cultural dessert out here in KZN. for sure, there are oasis, and I’ll find them, or they’ll find me. but that has yet to come. in the meantime, gathering strength in my ‘granny-flat-train’, I’m feeding from Molefi’s music collection, like Abdullah Ibrahim… and now, Linton Kwesi Johnson… ! independent intavenshan! what a nice surprise to find, that after a year of ‘attictransmissions’ from my Brixton hide-out, LKJ’s voice, above much inspiration, comes with another sweet tone: ‘home’…

if you want to hear Durban voices, search for ‘Durban Sings’ at www.archive.org. there are a couple of pages. and much more to come!

over the first weeks, I mainly worked with a small group of refugees from DRC ‘stranded’ under plastic cover in a public park downtown. aftermath of the May xenophobic attacks. the work became a bit (too much) of a frontline mission when the group suffered yet another attack by metro police sent in from a municipality busy preparing for 2010, forthcoming election and the tourists of the ‘festive season’. I was learning it all the hard way. never ending state of emergency.

the group is dispersed now. some escaped over the border to Botswana. others vanished in the city. we made many phone-calls. but they where leading nowhere.

up north, I was sweating and swearing in the grip of institutional networks that are guarding ‘the poor’ and the ‘disadvantaged’. from the other side of the world, I can see that the institutional strings around my neck can -also – harbour some useful safe-net for our work as ‘artivists’ out in the field. here, I found myself working with a group of desperate young people driven by the fair desire to live a life with their children, abandoned by all institutional nets-and-works, in need of so much we could not provide. we called on all organisations around to come to a ‘last’ meeting in the park to find a ‘way out’. but the group dispersed before the meeting happened. in their desperation, they only saw one way out: to leave south Africa.

now, I’m back ‘home’ in the institutional jungle.

the OSI ditched my ‘RASA radio’ proposal… but never mind. all that work shall not be in vain. with the brigs and mortar of the old proposal, I built a new one in two days. and in a third day, we got it into shape with Molefi and Helen, the CCS’ suburb administrator, and out it went blessed ( so we hope…) in favourable institutional channels. it’s called ‘Durban Sings’ and the rubble of the work with the DRC refugees will be the foundation. this time, the audio workshops will travel in all-institutional networks with established township groups. it harbours plenty of challenges of its own kind as I mentioned above. delicate leg-work of a dance on the high-wire to a dissonant mix of tunes from competing ‘authorities’ and ‘identities’.

I’ve seen well-planned workshops failing to happen, because some township internal power divisions don’t want it to happen etc.

I’m setting up a couple of blogs as switchboards for uploaded audio: I’ve set up a blog to host the new sound links from KZN to archive.org (www.radiocontinentaldrift.wordpress.com ) and we’ll soon set up a designated blog for DURBAN SINGS to house the recordings of the youth, women and refugee groups we will hopefully soon be working with. and another one for the ‘RASA radio’ initiative. project and proposal are also to be resurrected from the building-blocks of the x-OSI proposal.

once the projects are rolling and clips are going up on-line, I’d love to get going on inter-hemispheral listening exchanges…!

please tune in!

lets make a start knitting links!

… its gonna be a long ting!

sala kahle, stay well!


radio continental drift

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