I have just finished Kofi Annan’s fascinating memoir Interventions. Annan is clearly a man of great stature and influence, who strained every sinew to bring about peace and dialogue during his 10 years as UN Secretary-General but tragically often failed. For all kinds of reasons. But as one might expect (and indeed hope), he has great wisdom to share, even if he cannot claim a string of personal triumphs.
Sabbaticals bring many benefits. One is obviously time for reflection: on the past, present and future; on what matters; on what has made us who we are. And I can say without hesitation that, for good and sometimes perhaps for ill, our Uganda years made a far greater impact on me than any other four-year period as an adult. Of course, one never realises it at the time. Life goes on, you blithely persevere from one thing to the next, you never stop to think. Read more
Nearly 10 years ago, a dear friend of mine was addressing a gathering of Ugandan MPs in the Parliament building in Kampala (around the 40th anniversary of independence). It included those from all shades on the political spectrum, including not a few post-colonial firebrands. My friend is certainly no great apologist for imperialism, but he posed two simple questions.
- “Which Ugandan regions (of those that the British failed to develop) have we since developed?”
- “What aspects of public life, government and rule of law have we improved on or done better in than the colonial regime?”
- The dilemma for Iraqi Christians
- Charts showing the difference between NIV2011 and previous versions, and here. (HT Antony Billington)
- Full schedule of Lausanne III at Cape Town to see videos of main talks etc
- Bring Advent to life by following Natwivity on Twitter
- David Instone-Brewer at Tyndale House has very helpfully reviewed a variety of computer resources for the bible scholar – check them out at Tyndale Tech
- If you know anything about recent Balkan history, this news is an encouraging sign.
- Books vs eBooks – an interesting Newsweek chart
- Very interesting article about what Americans feel about their ex-Presidents.
- Scary infographic about internet porn. (HT Simple Pastor)
- The problem of contemporary parental discipline:
- Ever been on an overnight flight? Well this sums up the experience perfectly.
- I love tilt-shift photos – clever focus manipulation that makes real life scenes look like models. Check these out.
- Some rather fun and quirky photographs from everyday London.
- I rather like these Ukrainian designs for playing cards
- 50 office jargon phrases we just totally hate
- Some fascinating cartographic futurology from the ever reliable Strange Maps
- People are awesome (not dumb… mostly) …!
- Rather fun reflection by Kevin Connolly on James Bond, America and post-war austerity
I’d never heard about The Arrows until I noticed a tiny, one para review of their debut album Make Believe in CT. I don’t think I’ve ever got hooked on an album as the result of reading a CT review before – I actually listen to very little specifically CCM (contemp Christian music). But the review somehow stood out enough to intrigue. So I had a listen and was immediately won over.
Here is energy, creativity, passion – and most refreshingly, a near total avoidance of Christian musical cliché. This innovative South African duo is made up of Pamela De Menezes (on vocals and keyboards and she also gets song-writing credits) and Christie Desfontaine (on drums). And I detected all kinds of different musical influences – even more than the CT reviewer had space to mention. Not only is there techno and electronic dance stuff in there, but cabaret, big band, jazz, gospel, stylish 60s Italian movies and prog rock get thrown into the mix! At moments I could hear the likes of Sade, Seal, Annie Lennox and even the Kings of Leon and the gloriously iconoclastic Neil Hanlon’s The Divine Comedy (which I simply adore despite myself).
This is not of course to disparage by comparison. Far from it. The history of popular music is all about which giant’s shoulders new generations are standing on. But what I just loved more than anything else is that it doesn’t sound all soppy and Christian too often characterised by anodyne lyrics and easy musical resolutions (I know that’s pretty generalised but it’s how I feel about a lot of it). This just sounds like great, well-crafted music. With provocative and challenging lyrics. Which is as it should be.
There is a driving energy behind their questioning faith – the album is about trusting God in the midst of an unpredictable and bewildering fallen world – and that of course resonates strongly with me (as the Quaerentia agenda makes clear). This is a faith that gets angry when it should and yet always stays the right side of trusting. But there are also moments of great tenderness and empathy (like in the title track Make Believe or Ode to a Patient God). I didn’t always agree 100% with the theology: the intro track No Robot’s is an arresting song but rather too influenced by Open Theism for my tastes; and I raised an eyebrow at the thought of human beings existing for only 6000 years in Ode to a Patient God! (Incidentally, those unfamiliar with South Africa probably don’t realise that robots are what South Africans call traffic lights!) But I just loved the passion, sincerity and grappling with big issues of truth and contemporary culture. It’s far better to stab at that than avoid it altogether (again as too much Christian music seems to do). To top it all, their lyrics are almost like poetic assault on the senses, full of challenging ideas and images.
My standouts are:
- Their passionate plea for people to wake up from their complacency and Chardonnay to see what is really going on in Africa and indeed the world – from mass abortions to carjackings and phone thefts in SA, scary scientific advances like cloning and nuclear technology. The songs that most powerfully convey this are Entropy and World Interrupted.
- Their articulation of bewildering faith but a determination to cling on – in Walking on Water.
- An appeal for a non-believing friends at least to give God a second thought – in One for the Brothers.
So check it out – a fantastic album. It’s available on Amazon as an mp3 download.
To give a bit of a flavour, and because their lyrics don’t seem to have been recorded online anywhere yet, I typed up World Interrupted though am pretty sure I didn’t get everything very accurately (I’ve left a couple of blanks where i couldn’t quite get it).
Sorry, please, excuse me.
Has anyone else noticed that the world’s gone crazy?
I mean it’s bad, but it’s a fact,
they’re cloning babies with animals to see what we can get
if we mess with natural law
Oh so super smart, but really who is it for?
So, while they’re cloning and sending rockets into space
Millions of children, well they’ll be trafficked, they’ll be slaves,
and we’ll be sipping our semi-chilled Chardonnay and say
‘Oh it’s such a shame, exactly who are we supposed to blame?’
Well what do we gain if we gain it all,
just more and more, till we lose our soul?
So how much more can the soul can it take, groaning underneath our selfish ways?
After all, after all, it’s … to say for ourselves
between all the nothing and all of the world
Between all the love, the loss and the stealth
Everyone needs some kind of help.
Yesterday the news said, ‘a pregnant man was giving birth’,
and maybe tomorrow there’ll be no oil for us to burn
But for today they say they’re testing nuclear missiles in case
Well just in case, in case of what?
In case all your fighting doesn’t stop?
So while you’re talking, and shaking hands and launching your missiles
Somewhere a rich man is popping pills to stay alive
He just lost everything just in an instant,
in a flash, just crashed, oh the markets screamed,
quick sell the house, hurry, mortgage our dreams
And just down the road a teenage tragedy
And a pregnant brownie brought to you by MTV
So how much more can the soul can it take, groaning underneath our selfish ways?
After all, after all, it’s … say for ourselves
How much more can this soul take, groaning underneath our selfish ways?
After all, after all it’s … to say for ourselves
Between all the progress and all of the hell,
Between all the slums and all the hotels
Everyone needs some kind of help
Out of the dust surely dawn will arise
out of the ground our hope will ignite
Out of the night the truth will endure
Calling the end until the office appear
- If you’re a fan of J C Ryle’s classic Holiness (or if you’re not yet, you should be!), then you will be very pleased that someone has produced a study guide to the book (HT JCRyle Quotes)
- Pete Sanlon on Steve Jobs’ principled attitude to porn (HT Tim Chester)
- I wanted to post a link to this last month as soon there was an official page from BBC History magazine, but they don’t seem to have put it up. So here is Faith Central’s precis of Natalie Mears’ fascinating article on 10 moments when Britain held National Days of Prayer.
- The Web of Debt: amazing infographic from the New York Times:
- Fascinating – how department websites had to change as soon as the government changed
- This is serious: before it started trying to deal with the problem, here’s a timeline showing Facebook’s eroding privacy commitments since it began. And here is a graphic illustration of this shift:
- Who’d a thought it? Bearskins in Moscow’s Red Square for VE day
- Oops: Time magazine’s LEAST Influential of 2010.
- Fantastic time-saver/waster:crib sheet for bluffing knowledge about movies.
- What is your country best at? Every country is top at something, according to this infographic.
- Some amazing posters for the Football World Cup. Click the one below for the others:
I’m not normally in the habit of contributing to advertisers viral campaigns – in fact that goes completely against my grain. But I just love this ad for the world cup run up. Captures so many things that I love about Africa:
This has ended up being a bit of a bumper one too! Hey ho. Enjoy.
- Some wise words on Haiti from Graham Tomlin
- BibleArcs is a really helpful study tool from John Piper. It doesn’t take too long to pick up, and while it may initially look weird and unwieldy, it provides a significant means to getting under the skin of texts.
- It speaks volumes for the difference between British Islam and British Christianity that Newsbiscuit can make these sorts of gags: Banning the Salvation Army and The Radicalising dangers of Victoria Sponge at Church fetes.
- Mapping sin by nation: Australia is apparently the worst! As if you could measure such things…
- In case you missed it in all the hubbub of snow and politicking, here is Anne Atkins honest account of vicarage life and joining unions from the Times.
- Rian Malan wrote one of the most searingly powerful books I’ve ever read: My Traitor’s Heart – reflections on his white liberal experiences in Apartheid South Africa. Which made me sit up and notice when I saw he’d written reflections on Clint Eastwood’s Mandela film, Invictus. Thought-provoking stuff.
- An example of Google censorship and fear of Islam’s power? You decide…
- How the iPhone saved a life in Haiti – literally (c/o Wired mag)
- No idea how this got into the public domain but here is the letter supposedly written by George Bush Snr to his family on the eve of the first Iraq War.
- Mr Plimpton’s Revenge: I just love it - who’d have thought you could tell a story through Google Maps? But you really can. (HT John Naughton)
- BACHTRACK is a truly EPIC resource for Classical music nuts (and comes with a cool free iPhone app) – find concerts and other performances near you, best recordings of different works and some excellent suggestions for children and teens. This sort of thing is what the internet is FOR!
- While we’re on webby things, make sure you subscribe (while it’s free) to Radio 4′s fantastic new series from Neil McGregor at the British Museum: A History of the World in 100 Objects.
- Britain under snow from space on Jan 7th 2010 – eerily beautiful
- This surely has to be one of the most satisfying newspaper headlines ever devised (oh to have been the one to think of it).
- Some sage advice from an international reporter on avoiding silly errors when travelling abroad.
- I love this update of the old classic advertising for the Mini
- An wonderfully quirky, but nevertheless excellent, guide to how to use the needlessly feared semicolon (HT Tony Watkins)
- This is pretty cool: Stargate Studios have produced a compilation of their virtual backlots:
I posted about World AIDS Day a year ago (and yesterday got 100s of hits as a result). But I came across this graphic representation of the current stats for 2009, representing %increases and decreases. Chilling. The 5 biggest rises are way off most people’s mental maps… Click on it to be able to interact in more depth.
Another list. Just felt the urge I suppose. In no particular order, here are some African musicians whose stuff I can’t get enough of (in no particular order). Not exhaustive, not exclusive, not definitive. Just for a laugh.
- Miriam Makeba (1932-2008) – South African – Mama Africa, lived much of her working life in enforced exile from apartheid era SA. Was, for many, one of the voices of protest outside. Her voice has soul, soul, sweet soul. Somehow evokes a whole generation and era. Nuff said.
- Ayub Ogada (?- )- Kenyan – was given his epic En Mana Kuoyo some time before we moved to Uganda by bro-in-law Jez – but it is now firmly embedded in my mind as the soundtrack of Kampala evenings. Mellow and yet completely compelling, this is trad Luo music given a western mix. Just wonderful. You’ll recognise some of it if you’ve seen the film The Constant Gardener.
- Vusi Mahlasela (1965- ) – South African – has a unique and extraordinary voice and is wonderful guitarist in South African folk style. His voice just has it all – pierces the heart and captures the agony, fury, life, hope, joy and reality of Africa. Just listen to Song for Thandi, or the raw Africa is Dying; or more positive, Everytime. Also, check out his cover (with Josh Groban) of Weeping, and of U2′s Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own.
- Johnny Clegg (1953- ) – South African & Zimbabwean (originally English, born in Rochdale bizarrely enough, but moved to Africa as a child) – he is known as the White Zulu, and formed the first racially mixed South African band in the late 70s. Often sings in Zulu, English and even French. Some great stuff – esp the popular Asimbonanga, and one of my favourites The Crossing.
- Youssou N’Dour (1959- ) – Senegalese – draws on all kinds of different musical heritages, but clearly rooted in trad Senegal folk music (called mbalax). Hugely popular globally, and justly so… He played key abolitionist Olaudah Equiano in the 2006 film Amazing Grace. Sometimes, his voice sometimes evokes Imam’s call to prayer, piercing and resounding above the band. Many will know his duet with Neneh Cherry, 7 Seconds – but check out Chimes of Freedom or the joy of Set and you’re transported to an African minibus taxi.
- Abdullah Ibrahim (1935- ) – South African – a jazz pianist, originally called Adolph Johannes Brand. Does big band stuff, and close-up stuff, all in all, a great and unique sound. As a random pick, I just love his District Six, evoking apartheid’s infamous clearing of Cape Town’s most vibrant community (see previous post) or the exuberance of African Marketplace.
Honourable Mentions: Soweto String Quartet (aka SSQ – exactly what it says on the tin, a string quartet formed by 3 brothers and a mate from Soweto – doing classical-pop-african crossover stuff) and Oumou Sangare (from Mali).
I’ve had the joy of seeing 4 out of these 8 acts live – true joy. But all of these folks have stuff on SPOTIFY (which you must use if you don’t already) – so check them out.
Here is something a little more light-hearted. I’ve uploaded to my Flickr page a number of classic signs and sights that I’ve spotted on my african travels. Some I’ve shown before (mainly from Uganda), but I’ve added a few from the South Africa trip. Check them out the whole set after this little excerpt:
We wanted to give the children a sense of what has happened in South Africa. And so after failing to get to Robben Island (because it was booked up until after the New Year), we plumped for the District 6 Museum. And I’m really glad we went there. It had a profound affect on all of us.
Visit the official District 6 Museum website here. But it’s an extraordinary place so, of course, a virtual visit doesn’t convey the power of this building: a converted church in the heart of what was an incredibly rich, vibrant, and above all multi-racial community right in the heart of Cape Town. Consequently, District 6 was anathema to the apartheid ethos of separation, and therefore had to go. Under the infamous 1950 Group Areas Act, the place was razed, cleared and recreated as a whites only area, the job being only completed as recently as 1984. I can remember 1984 well – it’s not that long ago.
This museum is a testimony and a memorial to those who suffered under such irrational and cruel injustice. It is heartbreaking to look up close at the huge floor map of the district, now on the main museum floor. And all over it, former residents have written in by hand where they used to live, where they had their hair cut, where they went to church etc etc (see below).
Particularly powerful is this poem, presented as one of the first things you see on entry. I’ve transcribed it here:
South End, East Bank
Sophiatown, Makuleke, Cato Manor.
Remember District Six.
Remember the racism
which took away our homes
and our livelihood
and which sought
to steal away our humanity.
Remember also our will to live,
to hold fast to that
which marks us as human beings:
our generosity, our love of justice
and our care for each other.
Remember Tramway Road,
In remembering we do not want
to recreate District Six
but to work with its memory:
of hurts inflicted and received
of loss, achievements and of shames.
We wish to remember
so that we can all ,
together and by ourselves,
rebuild a city
which belongs to all of us,
in which all of us can live,
not as races but as people.
The lurking question after seeing this is how would we have felt if it had happened to us. I asked one of the children, and he saw the point – “I would have wanted to kill the people who did this”. But this is one of the enduring miracles of South Africa despite all its profound problems and challenges. It did not become a bloodbath of retribution – instead there was magnanimity, as evoked up by the second verse of this poem. As powerful reflection of gospel forgiveness as any from recent history…
But of course, this sort of thing is not ancient history. It is not even recent history. It is in fact CURRENT AFFAIRS. Look at this image from Zimbabwe and a town called Murambatsvina, near Harare:
Having just returned from South Africa, my heart was stirred afresh by that great continent of life. So I thought that this week I’d celebrate with our very own QUAERENTIA AFRICA week. The Southeaster will lure us back in time I suspect…
Johnny Clegg has been called the White Zulu. And his is certainly an extraordinary life. Born outside Manchester in the UK, an early childhood in Israel briefly before moving to southern Africa where he has been ever since. And his music reflects all these different influences – singing fluently in English and Zulu, as well as occasionally in French and other South African languages. Having seen a poster for his outdoor gig at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on the very day we arrived, we jumped at the chance of getting tickets (having heard him back in the UK summer at Mandela’s 90th concert). We had a right laugh going - a few pix on our Flickr page here.
Here are 2 of Johnny’s protest songs which seem particularly poignant when placed side by side. The first, written in 1987 years before a multi-racial government seemed possible, is perhaps one of his most well-known in the UK: ASIMBONANGA. It is Zulu, meaning ‘we have not seen him’ and is all about Mandela’s imprisonment across Cape Town’s bay on Robben Island. But watch this clip – and see who appears! From Frankfurt in 1998, at Mandela’s 80th.
This one is more recent. Recorded in Jo’burg in 2006, this song is about another African president who was heralded at the start in terms not unlike those used of Mandela 10 years later. But how differently the tyrant of Zimbabwe is now regarded. This is: THE REVOLUTION WILL EAT ITS CHILDREN (ANTHEM FOR UNCLE BOB).
Great having a brother-in-law, Jem, who’s in the same line of business. Except unlike Nestle South Africa, we don’t simply offer celestial short-stays – the deal we hold out includes the whole of eternity as part of our package.
A Very Happy New Year to all our readers!
Well, on cue to celebrate Quaerentia breaking through the 100,000 surfing hits barrier, my son Joshua has achieved a first for our family: a surfer who actually stands up.
We’re in Cape Town for Christmas, staying with Rachel’s sister Lucy and her family – and Josh achieved the not so much impossible as unexpected by this little triumph.
Having crossed this virtual Rubicon, regular readers can look forward to some very exciting things coming to this space in 2009:
- a brand new look to Quaerentia!!
- lots more random posts!!
- the start of an irregular Quaerentia Podcast!!
And this is not to forget U2′s new album - NO LINE ON THE HORIZON - coming out on 2nd March 2009.
WHAT A GREAT YEAR IT WILL BE…