Ten years ago, I attended Sziget, one of the biggest music festivals together with a friend. We pitched our tent after the downpour left the campsite in ankle-deep mud and puddles, which evaporated the next morning in the 35+°C that would heat up the scene for the next six days. Sziget, located on an island in the Danube river in the heart of the Hungarian capital Budapest, is huge: 6 days, one main stage, a few big ones, and all in all 60+ venues, more than 1000 acts, and some 400,000 visitors. The one in 2011 was voted “best festival” in Europe. The opening act was meant to be Amy Winehouse, yet she decided to move on two weeks ahead of the festival. Guess who jumped in: Prince! I never thought I’d see that legend of my teenie years live ever – not that I bothered, but hey, here he was, all inclusive. Amongst my favourite performances: Pulp, Chemical Brothers, Flogging Molly, Skunk Anansie, Gogol Bordello, Goran Bregović, and some less well-known acts in the Roma tent where I loved to hang out till dawn.
Plus sides: it does have something for everyone, including food (strong Balkan presence!), and it’s a celebration of diversity, a European kind of diversity. Hence the attempted attack by a Jobbik mob, a Hungarian racist-nazi group, that’s now happily represented in parliament.
Downsides: prices and policies (e.g. limits on bottles of water, packs of cigarettes, etc. to bring to the camping – and on site sales of, for instance, Marlboro only. That sort of monopolized capitalism). The prices make the festival almost unavailable for most locals.
Mbira is indeed a very “tangible” instrument. Only if you connect with it will it help you to produce the most enticing sound, a phenomenon in which beat mixes with harmony. As of this week, UNESCO recognizes mbira crafting and playing as intangible heritage in Zimbabwe – and also, with the variant name sansi – in Malawi. I’ve written about my experience with mbira elsewhere, so here’s the UNESCO summary video:
While mbira/sansi is less iconic in Malawi, where it is played in the south, it is an iconic instrument amongst the MaShona people that dominate Zimbabwe. Hence the move by UNESCO was met with applause, and Hope Masike – a young and accomplished mbira player and musician featured in some of the media coverage.
This goes back to a Facebook nomination chain post, which I shall simply replicate here. Now, since I’m somewhat unruly, I did provide commentaries (contrary to the request), but refrained from nominating anyone – I’m actually not a big fan of these requests and I usually opt out from them.
So, if you like, see ten of my favourite travel pics. It’s not a top ten or anything, just a start in roughly chronological order. In this recap, I made it up to 1994. Now that’s a few months ago, so to say, and I reckon I’ll do this “10 choice pics” thing more often.
1988, Kaluga – then Soviet Union, now Russia. As the East German schoolkid that I still was, I had sucked up the slogans about our “big brother”, the Soviet Union. “To learn from the Soviet Union is to win” (Von der Sowjetunion lernen heißt Siegen lernen). When I went there at the end of the eighties for a one-week school exchange trip, I saw actual poverty for the first time, and even the family I visited, who was not poor, lived way below the standards I was used to. I saw beggars for the first time of my life, in Moscow. And yet, there was the Perestroika going on, Michael Gorbachev’s reform movement. For us East German teenagers it was almost shocking to see, and as the relationships between the East German government under Honecker and Gorbachev started to sour, they were refreshing. The slogan in the picture calls upon on Kalugans to put all their strengths into the Perestroika, more Democracy and economical reforms.
I have been given the privilege To hold my breath To make this choice: I cannot watch that video I will not watch that video To see How George Floyd is being killed To hear How George Floyd is being killed To hear His breath failing as he tells the whole world so And Derek Chauvin On duty To see Derek Chauvin killing George Floyd On duty
The other day, as I was passing by the small flower shop on the way back from the bakery, one of the differences between my life in Africa and my life here in Europe came to mind: Shop keepers everywhere I’d been in Africa would send me off saying “Thanks for supporting me!” Initially I found it surprising. Here in Europe, buying something is a business transaction, object-centred, usually. You’re not meant to bond with the shop keeper, usually. If there’s emotions involved, they’re yours, only to be shared with friends & family. Usually. Shopping in Africa, on the other hand, seemed more people-centred: you chat, connect in various ways – like actual people. As a customer, you wouldn’t just buy a thing, instead in doing so you quite consciously supported somebody who’s earning a living with that business.
You may have noticed that I added “usually” a few times in the previous paragraph. You’ll probably agree that whatever “usually” usually refers to has seen a severe rupture these past few weeks during which we’ve been struggling with a virus that is invisible to the naked eye while it is leaving a trail of mortality, vulnerability, anxiety and polarization behind. Whereas the virus is only visible with the help of the strongest microscopes (or so I think), its impact works like a microscope popped onto society, under which various structures, our pre-existing conditions, become more magnified, and hence better visible. Pre-existing conditions, they say, make you more vulnerable to it. I find that quite rich.
October and kingdoms rise And kingdoms fall But you go on And on. (U2 – October, 1982)
I have two beginnings for this blog post. I’m not sure I have a suitable ending.
Opening one: I’m just back from a discussion, with Naika Foroutan, about East-German migration analogies and prejudices against East-Germans, here at the local Literarisches Zentrum. “Here” means: Göttingen, West-Germany, for me, an East German by origin, my home of seven years now. Diaspora as well as home. “Here” also means: amongst an audience of, primarily, West-Germans. Naika Foroutan and host Robert Pausch are West Germans, too. They (“they”) speak about East Germans (“us”). Some of “us” are in the room. Their safeguard is the “objectivity” of the (social) sciences. “Objectivity” implies an object. An object implies a subject. Who’s who? I can feel I am one of the objects here, regardless whether I want to or not, and someone else assumes the role of the subject-agent. I observe.
Only one of the seeds of African Giant Calabash actually grew big enough so I could plant it in the garden. Now with a few of the fruit grown pleasantly big, it looks like I can go all industrial next year, producing truckloads of shekeres 😉
This is my second trip to Malawi this year. I arrive in a time of political unrest following the elections in May. Leaders of the opposition parties have alleged that there were massive irregularities and that Mutharika is the “tipp-ex president”. Lilongwe, Blantyre and other places have been the scenes of massive demonstrations which sometimes turned violent, including lootings and mob violence, and as of late the police and army forces are using live ammunition. Driving through town wasn’t always easy therefore, since you better avoid the demonstrations as the protestors do not always clearly discriminate between who to attack. Or would the police? Anyway, we stayed clear of them as best as we could.
Besides big events like the Würzburg Africafestival, the biggest Africa festival in Europe, lots of smaller events devoted to African themes happen across Germany. Just in case you were asking yourself: yes, mostly in the summer months, for fairly obvious reasons. Mind you, this summer of 2019 has been so hot occasionally, we may have to reconsider the timing, or else our African guests will be climatically intimidated! Anyway, two events put Africa on the local map in Göttingen these past few days: the Afrikanisches Sommerfest at Uslar, and the Hit the Beat concert at the local Freie Waldorfschule.