Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Talking Drums on Apartheid in South Africa

Let's have a feature:

Talking Drums's coverage of the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Head on over to read it from the source. As usual, I have some commentary.

Talking Drums may have been billed as the West African news magazine but it covered the entire continent. Indeed there was something about South Africa in almost every issue. And not merely talk of boycotts, sanctions, or ritual denunciations. It reflected African opinions on the matter.

The two issues on which all African states agreed in the eighties were the resistance to the apartheid regime in South Africa and the demand for independence in Namibia. While some states favored opening up dialog, all were in favor of sanctions, and many actively supported the liberation movements even with arms.

(Western Sahara caused rifts - Morocco would leave the OAU over the matter; and most other issues were contested, after all, this was the height of the cold war and great games were playing out. African countries were highly fraught terrain - grass, elephants, pick your metaphors)

On the ground, there was a quite visceral reaction to the continued support of the South African regime by the US, West Germany and the UK (and Israel to some extent). Throughout those years, there was continued and increasing pressure for boycott, sanctions and an end to the apartheid policies of Pretoria

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher's disgraceful legacies speak for themselves, standing as they did on the wrong side of history propping up institutionalised racial discrimination. Not for nothing would Fela immortalize them as Beasts of no Nation when he got out of jail.

True, the die had been cast earlier by Henry Kissinger, but the rebrand of US policy (courtesy of Chester Crocker) as constructive engagement fooled no one. The commentary in the magazine was uniformly scathing.

There were the daily atrocities of apartheid in everyday life and then the lowlights, say the Langa massacre at Uitenhage in 1985. The National Party would undertake cross border raids bombing of its neighbors ostensibly to harrass the African National Congress whose local leaders were mostly in jails.

Cubans would commit troops to the fight in Angola and Mozambique. Cuito Cuanavale (1987-1988) would be the eventual tipping point but the early 80s were a hard slog. Especially since the US was actively involved propping up South Africa.

Bishop Desmond Tutu would receive the Nobel Prize, piling on the international pressure from the moral high ground albeit, some readers urged him to reject the prize. The apartheid regime, however, was long used to being a pariah.

talking drums 1984-11-05 Desmond Tutu Nobel Peace Prize - who is a Ghanaian - Amnesty report on west africa

(The Pope expressed "deep sadness" over South Africa, and who could blame him; the regime was unrepentant and bloody minded)

The efficacy of sanctions was debated at length - some called for military action in its stead. But inaction was intolerable. In the hundreds of references in the archive, I couldn't find any non-commital opinion.

Whenever there are sanctions, there are also attempts to evade them. Cue the Salem, the Liberian registered tanker affair: "scuttling the 214,000 ton Liberian tanker... after embezzling its oil cargo, owned by Shell, and selling it secretly to South Africa for $45 million." South Africa tried everything in this respect in its sanction-avoidance efforts.

But the pressure was felt and applied on many fronts. Campus activism urged divestment and boycotts. Sample headlines: President Abdou Diouf of Senegal was an eloquent advocate of sanctions and embargos, holding western governments to their stated values.
President Abdou Diouf for his part issued an appeal to Western countries to strengthen their economic sanctions against the Pretoria regime. He said, "with the system of apartheid one cannot even speak of violations of human rights, it is a question of their being purely and simply negated. This is the reason that African public opinion is less and less able to understand the passivity of certain Western governments, who are normally so sensitive to human rights' issues, in the face of what has become a real genocide of the black South African people today."
Beyond the grocery store boycotts of produce, there was real teeth to the resistance. The frontline states paid a price but persisted. It is easily to criticize the authoritarian tendencies and domestic policies of Kaunda and Nyerere but on South Africa they actively fought the good fight.

The boycotts of cultural exchange added to the isolation. It wasn't just music and arts, South Africa post-1994 would race to see what they were missing. Sports mattered a lot to the country's psyche. A few countries boycotted the 1984 Olympic games citing South Africa. Generally the boycotts hurt.

(Think of Israel currently facing worldwide opprobrium but proceeding without heed. Would Fifa, UEFA or similar organizations weigh in denying the Israelis their own creature comforts?)

When Thomas Sankara proclaimed Jamahiriyah(!) in Burkina Faso, following Gaddafi's lead, it also came with a pledge "to make 1986 a year of the final attack against apartheid, and of the proclamation of a democratic, free and independent state in South Africa."

Talking Drums would cover it all (even a bloodthirsty Mengistu of Ethiopia taking a break from killing at home to roundly denouce the South Africans when he assumed chairmanship of the OAU!!). The magazine would highlight the ironies and the twists and turns of the liberation struggle.

I compiled 70 or so pieces from the archive for this feature but there's much more. Read for yourself...

Apartheid years, a playlist

For good measures here's a soundtrack for this note.

Some Fela, Dudu Pukwana, Mahotella Queens, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Soweto street jive that was reviewed in the magazine. Five hours of listening. Enjoy...

See previously: Talking Drums

File under: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writing log: April 25, 2024

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Change of Tune

First comes shame, that old friend, ever reminding of inadequacy
It's never enough, however, for it merely highlights the unspoken
Then comes fear, primal, with its forcing function
Fear prompts action, a movement to self preservation

The moral pivot requires fleetness of execution
The Friday night news dump is a long established tradition
To bury consequential events, bad news and policy shifts
Not everyone can erase history but you can attempt a face lift

For grifters are highly attuned to the attitudes of their marks
Their sixth sense is in identifying a losing play, a bad hand of cards
Almost as if on autopilot, they make course adjustments
The idea is to stay in the game, the shell game that is

Public relation consultants advise a short apology
The content doesn't matter as much as its visibility
After all, you never know, that's the thing about human beliefs
You might still be able to salvage some unearned cash from the deal

For sure, some appreciate a serious expression of contrition
But don't mistake buyer's remorse for actual misdirection
Self-criticism is a bridge too far in the rectification of errors
More preferable is the prompt application of the reverse ferret

chameleon at San Antonio zoo

Chameleon, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note (spotify version)

After observing the NFL owners' Come to Jesus moment in light of the George Floyd protests, my long gestating series on Shell Games gained a very au courant hook. As an example of a course adjustment, it was a clarifying case study. Indeed, the headlines were revelatory

In the same vein, an older more classical take on the malleability of opinion and policy is The Vicar of Bray.


This fit of buyer's remorse is part of the Shell Games suite.

Previous notes considered Shame Cultures, The Skeptic's Credo, and posited A Taxonomy of Useful Idiots.

File under: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writing log. April 18, 2022

Friday, May 10, 2024

Porch Wedding

The bride still wore white, standing there on the porch
Over the fence, we made sure she got a round of applause
The sole entertainment we'd had in this era of lockdowns
A porch wedding, how thrilling, over there in the backyard

It had been rare, months even, to see so many people gathering
More than fifteen would seem to run counter to the restrictions
In a circle on the porch, paying lip service to social distancing
The pandemic improvised a new kind of destination wedding

Earlier, it was the sound of highlife and afrobeat
  That attracted our attention. Really? How could it be?
First Alhaji K. Frimpong's grooves, then Fela Kuti's
Not what you'd expect to hear on Austin Texas streets

We'd seen something like an advance party the previous day
Must have been a sister or bridesmaid trying to spruce things up
Putting up a few sparkly decorations, some balloons on display
Frankly, however, it seemed that their very presence was enough

In such times, you find out what is truly essential
And love finds its way even during times of turmoil
Life goes on, we all seek some semblance of normalcy
Even when stuck at home, bound together in close proximity

A stripped down affair: bride, groom and a few friends
A zoom feed set up, a live stream for their parents
Touching, the exchange of vows in this intimate setting
Still, a leap of faith, over the fence, this porch wedding

The happy couple happily posed for the sole guest, the photographer
A few speeches, then confetti and, (what's that?) face masks tossed up
As they beamed, we whooped and cheered and filled the air with laughter
"Congratulations. You saved a lot of money. Enjoy your life together"

Porch wedding in a covidious time

Porch Wedding, a playlist

The soundtrack that announced the wedding was what first drove notice. It was rather unexpected to hear the sound of highlife and afrobeat in our backyard. We took a closer look at these neighbors that we hadn't spoken to since they'd moved in six months earlier. Great taste all around. (spotify version) Bonus beats: White wedding by Billy Idol

A covidious home wedding

[Update 2024]

Four years later, they have a one year old. Life goes on.

Porch wedding in a covidious time

(Have been revisiting notes I scribbled during the early days of the pandemic. Lockdown really felt like another world)

This note is part of a series: In a covidious time

File under: , , , , , , ,

Writing log: Concept: May 16, 2020; February 9, 2024

Tuesday, May 07, 2024


Sensualist by avocation
Every touch is significant
Leading, probing, teasing, lingering
Every look weighted with flirtation
Promises of escape and fulfillment
A prelude to restless joy

Paying close attention to the sounds
The sound of names, repeated
Names, again and again
Effortless this mantra
Then a high note punctuates the trance
So good, so good, repetition

Together, surrounded by pleasure
Together, covered by a blanket of soul
Singing softly, we compose a new song
Look, listen, feel, dream
Breathless, the sensations
A momentary taste of paradise
All that remains is the heat

kbaka waterfall

Sensualist, a playlist

A soundrack for this note (spotify version) File under: , , , , , , ,

Writing log. April 16, 2022

Saturday, May 04, 2024

Ebony 1978

Serendipity. I'd been listening to José James's new album, 1978, on repeat all week and came across all the issues of Ebony magazine from that year at the library. Let's take a look at the year through that lens

Ebony 1978, an album
Starting at the middle of the year, June 1978 was the music issue.

Ebony June 1978 hottest of hot groups Chaka Khan Maurice White Bootsy Collins

On the cover, The Hottest of the Hot Groups in all their glory:
  • Rufus & Chaka Khan
  • Maurice White, Earth Wind & Fire
  • Bootsy Collins, Bootsy's Rubber Band
The lead article actually focuses on five of the top groups then making waves

Ebony June 1978 hottest of the hot groups Chaka Khan Maurice White Bootsy Collins

Would have thought The Commodores would be sure to feature, what with Lionel Richie and their origin story (meeting as freshmen at Tuskegee University). Ebony bait if there ever was such a thing. (they do get an inside photo)

Ebony June 1978 hottest of hot groups the commodores lionel richie and company

Bootsy Collins was stretching out the funk with his Rubber Band. They had a great live reputation

Note the assertion in the ad: "Jamaica is more than a beach. It's a country". When you market yourself to black Americans, there's less of an emphasis on Jamaica as bacchanalia.

Ebony June 1978 hottest of hot groups bootsy collins

I note the interesting editorial decision that the body of the text discusses Parliament/Funkadelic and quotes George Clinton extensively, but they doesn't print any photos of them. Methinks P-Funk were too edgy for the straightlaced Johnson publishers.

Maurice White and Earth Wind & Fire were more wholesome and perhaps at their artistic peak. They released The Best Of Earth, Wind & Fire during the year. Mics were dropped.

This is Ebony so they only cover mainstream groups - no mention of say Cameo, Ohio Players, Brass Construction, Con Funk Shun, Bar-Kays, War, Mandrill or even Kool & The Gang even though all of them were in the mix in 1978.

The specter of disco is not mentioned here, the focus is on the bands with a reputation for their live shows and instrumentation. Albeit, Donna Summer had her Ebony cover the previous year. In 1978, she was working on Bad Girls. Hot Stuff and all that.

Ebony October 1977 Donna Summer

Earlier in 1978, the January cover was Richard Pryor. Sidenote: the more interesting feature is about "Black women - white men, the 'other' mixed marriage". Loving v. Virginia was only a decade in the past.

ebony january 1978 richard pryor

Hey! Cars of 1978 (disclaimer I now work at a car company so I've started to pay more attention to such things)

ebony january 1978 cars of 1978

One of the pleasures of reading Ebony in those years was just how big the magazine was. The full tactile sensation turning those pages was unmatched. Typical issues were 160 pages, packed with advertisements, the style, the hair products etc. Call it the bourgeois id of black America.

ebony february 1978 what i love about my beautiful black man

Hey a Chevy, now that's more like it

the new chevrolet

March 1978 asked: Who is the greatest heavyweight champion of all time? Muhammad Ali or Jack Johnson? Ali was an evergreen topic for all media outlets throughout his life; any mentions boosted circulation.

ebony march 1978 Muhammad ali

The US Army was a big advertiser (after the final draft in 1972 as the Vietnam war wound down), the black community was heavily recruited by the military. All branches of the military placed enticing ads. (opposite The Pips)

ebony march 1978 army recruiting maybe you can be one of us

March 1978 - readers respond to the Ebony class and style poll

The usual suspects win: Lena Horne, Sidney Poitier, Count Basie, Bill Cosby and Harry Belafonte. Black royalty.

ebony march 1978 readers respond to class and style poll

Winners of the style poll: Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Richard Pryor, O.J. Simpson, Redd Foxx, Aretha Franklin, Billy Dee Williams, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Eartha Kitt and Ben Vereen (of Jesus Christ Superstar fame).

ebony march 1978 style poll

Ebony April 1978 black colleges choose campus queens. Ebony was a society magazine.

Note: the special report on "Detroit - Motor City makes a comeback" seemed a bit premature. How many comebacks has Detroit made?

ebony april 1978 black colleges choose campus queens

Andrew Young had been made UN Ambassador under Jimmy Carter's administration. Great in prestige but still a servant to power. I wonder how say Linda Thomas-Greenfield's reputation will fare after the display of the past year shielding Israeli warmongering.

ebony april 1978 a close encounter with andrew young

Natalie Cole was luminous as ever (May 1978 cover). Not quite sure that the feature about Older women - young men applied to her. Interesting juxtaposition though.

ebony may 1978 natalie cole talks about her career, marriage and child

June 1978 focues on What's Happening!! the teenage comedy that was a big tv success, drawing on Cooley High

ebony june 1978 what's happening teenage comedy is tv success

The fashion fair issue includes a spread: dress up for summer evenings. I can see my mother's flowing robes

ebony june 1978 dressing up for summer evenings

Ebony July 1978 considers the new generation. I do wonder, did they leave a mark?

Ebony July 1978 the new generation

Ebony July 1978 sports a feature on Soul Train, The Outrageous Waack Dancers, Kirt Washington, Tyrone Procter, Cleveland Moses Jr, Jeffrey Daniel, Jody Watley, and others. The latter two spawned Shalamar

Ebony July 1978 soul train the outrageous waack dansers

Ebony September 1978 again wondered Can old man Ali accomplish the impossible?

Ebony september 1978 can old man ali accomplish the impossible?

Muhammad Ali prepares for the rematch with Leon Spinks to regain his heavyweight title at the Superdome in New Orleans.

Ebony september 1978 can old man ali accomplish the impossible?

Note: Lou Rawls' Budweiser ad was doing numbers

Ebony september 1978 can old man ali accomplish the impossible?

Sidenote the second: the ads for mentol cigarettes and liquor are some of the more inventive

Ebony October 1978. Hollywood - how to survive between gigs. The feast and famine of creative types endures. It's the same old story

Ebony october 1978 hollywood how to survive between gigs

Ebony November 1978 Diana Ross debuts The Wiz (no mention of Michael Jackson who would steal the show). All I remember of her album of that year was the cigarette cover and, I guess, Reach out I'll be there. Nothing else stuck

Ebony november 1978 diana ross the wiz

Finally, Ebony December 1978 asked: is it true what they say about twins? Inquiring minds want to know

Ebony december 1978 is it true what they say about twins

Going back to the first image, Ebony did hit on some touchstones in 1978:
  • Earth, Wind & Fire released their greatest hits album and unleashed September. There were showing off by this stage
  • Chaka Khan released her debut album although she wasn't done with Rufus by any means. She said it all with her anthem: I'm every Woman
  • Bootsy Collins continued to made hay, touring on the strength of Ahh...The Name Is Bootsy, Baby!
  • The Commodores came out with Natural High, Lionel Richie gifted us Three Times a Lady
  • Parliament released Motor-Booty Affair and their live shows were the stuff of legend
I did mention the specter of disco that would decimate the funk bands in short order. Some adapted, but many didn't. e.g. Boogie Wonderland was a success, but James Brown didn't handle the transition. Indeed 1978 was the first time that JB didn't have a response to the music that was in the mix.

Not to be too reflective, but I should note that 1978 would mark a high-water mark for blacks and much of the working class in the US for a generation. They might have been grooving to Good Times by Chic or Y.M.C.A. by The Village People but the Reagan retrenchment was just around the corner. Eyes wide open.

The relative leveling of society and the real economic and civil rights gains would take a back seat. The gains that accrued over the next 40 years were unevenly distributed to say the least. It was Baby Huey's Hard Times or Gil Scott-Heron's Winter in America that ensued. But I digress.

On the brighter side, I had no agenda here other than to soak in those images and read up about those times. You had to be there I guess. Kudos to José James for the revival of music that mattered.

And for good measure, here's a massive playlist - the music of 1978. My own albums of the year were Golden Time of Day by Maze, Cool Ruler by Gregory Isaacs and Social Living by Burning Spear. Your mileage may vary...

File under: , , , , , , , , , ,

Writing log: April 26, 2024