Waka Waka– Shakira’s and Zangaléwa’s

I’ve listened to Shakira’s “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” at least 30-40 times in the past week.

Celie and Iris play it over and over and my response to it has passed through various phases.

My reaction:

  • Listens 1-5:  This song is sort of dreck.
  • 6-10: But very catchy.
  • 11-15: Now I’m really getting sick of it.
  • 16-20: Oh god, please no, not this again.
  • 21-25: [eyeing sharp instruments to gouge out my ears]
  • 26-30  Weirdly coming out the other side and starting to kind of enjoy it again.
  • 31-40  The song feels natural, inevitable, beyond judgment, part of the environment

They are doing some kind of school dance to the song tomorrow morning, so this may end soon.

The backstory to the song is kind of fascinating.  It’s basically a cover/rip-off of this absolutely great, beautiful Cameroonian song:

Wikipedia explains that

Tsamina or Zangaléwa is a 1986 hit song, originally sung by a makossa group from Cameroon called Golden Sounds who were beloved throughout the continent for the dances and costumes. The song was such a hit for Golden Sounds that they eventually changed their name to Zangaléwa, too. The song pays tribute to African skirmishers (a.k.a tirailleurs) during WW II. Most of the band members were in the Cameroonian Army themselves[1] and used make up, fake bellies, and fake butts for comic relief.  The song was used extensively in the frontlines by the Nigerian Army during the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970). It was also popular in some Nigeria schools as a marching song in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The Nigerian Army Band, The Mercuries, based in Kaduna also did cover this song in the 1970’s on live Television appearances.  The song is still used today almost everywhere in Africa by soldiers, policemen, boy scouts, sportsmen, and their supporters, usually during training or for rallying[1]. It is also widely used in schools throughout the continent especially in Cameroon as a marching song and almost everyone in the country knows the chorus of the song by heart.

What gets fascinating is that the song is apparently — or is sometimes turned into — an anti-militaristic anthem:

The men in the group often dressed in military uniforms, wearing pith helmets and stuffing their clothes with pillows to appear like they had swollen butts from riding the train and fat stomachs from eating too much. The song, music historians say, is a criticism of black military officers who were in league with whites to oppress their own people. The rest is Cameroonian slang and jargon from the soldiers during the war.

According to Jean Paul Zé Bella, the lead singer of Golden Sounds, the chorus came from Cameroonian “sharpshooters who had created a slang for better communication between them during the Second World War”. They copied this fast pace in the first arrangements of the song. They sang the song together for freedom in Africa.

So… it kind of makes sense, a little bit, as an African World Cup anthem — with the literal opening lines, “you’re a soldier, choosing your battles,” turned into a metaphor for football.   To re-deploy it in this way, though, sung by a blonde from Columbia, scrubs it all of its cultural specificity, history, and pointed political significance.

The comments thread on Youtube is interesting; I’ll cite a few:

beautiful. so much better then shakira’s version. shakira is someone i can’t really relate to africa.. but this.. this is perfect.

This song isn’t about ‘singing good’. It’s a chant, a protest song, a empowering tune, a cheer for your cause. You want to hear this from ‘the people’, and not from a individual artist. Shakira’s song is nice, but in a stadium, you just want to scream it.

shakira didn’t do anything wrong – it’s actually even admirable. It’s just that we hate her ignorant fans – but lets get it straight – it’s not her fault who listens to her.

I dislike how Shakira lied, and said that she made up this song. However, I do think that she’s gotten the ORIGINAL song a lot of good recognition. People who actually give a crap about Africa and their culture will definitely pass by here.

Celie and Iris have stayed out of the controversy.  They just listen to Shakira’s version 24/7 and work on their dance.

Now, if only I can convince the girls to dress up for the performance “in military uniforms, wearing pith helmets and stuffing their clothes with pillows to appear like they had swollen butts from riding the train and fat stomachs from eating too much.”   If I do, I’ll be sure to get a photo…

Recent movies: Bird & Magic, Redford and Dunaway, etc.

Our t.v. died a month or so ago — just stopped working.  Sarah’s dad had bought it for us at Best Buy for $500 in 2002 or so.  It was a 27″ and/but seemed huge — very bulky and room-dominating.  After some research on the Consumer Reports site I bought this 32″ flatscreen for $380 — it showed up in the mail, a lithe rectangle weighing maybe 20% of what our last one did, and basically just needed to be plugged in.

See?  Things may seem pretty messed up in the world, but at least t.v.s have improved.  We can watch the oil plume in brilliantly H.D. flat-screen detail.

Some of the movies we’ve watched recently:

Three Days of the Condor.  We’ve been using Netflix on-demand a bit lately.  Sarah wanted to see some sort of fun/ not too challenging thriller (no subtitles) and this is what we came up with.  She’d seen it years ago but it turned out literally only remembered the romance scenes between Redford and Faye Dunaway in her apartment — which have a somewhat creepy Stockholm Syndrome enjoying-your-abduction element, by the way.  (Redford carjacks Dunaway and makes her take him to her Brooklyn apartment, ties her up, and they sleep together shortly thereafter).  As the plot developed it started feeling more predictable, but I really enjoyed the first half, especially the depiction of 1975 NYC.  The movie has a funny Bovaryism theme with Redford as a C.I.A operative analyzing mystery novels, in a phony publishing-house front, for clues of international espionage.

The movie ends in front of the New York Times building with Redford telling the baddie that he’s given the whole story to the Times and so it should be in the next day’s paper.  The basic faith in the power of the mainstream press as a force for transparency and reform felt very foreign.

Mulholland Drive. I watched this a while ago but just had to mention how much it blew me away.  I’d seen it back when it came out but did not altogether remember how strange, scary, and amazing it is.  It topped some best of the decade lists — somewhat telling, maybe, that the most critically acclaimed film of the 21st century started out as a rejected t.v. network pilot.  (After the pilot was turned down, Lynch went back and added a second hour, which turns the movie into a kind of Mobius strip, folding back on itself.)

The Borrowers.  Am reading the Borrowers series to the girls (we’re into The Borrowers Afield now).  I’m trying to work out an argument that it’s an allegory of the mid-20th-century British welfare state.  Fascinating on class, with this miniature family of working-class Cockney types living in the floorboards of the grand house.  Anyway, I picked up the 1973 American t.v. version, a Hallmark Hall of Fame t.v. special, at the library.  I just watched a bit of this with the girls while reading the paper, but it seemed kind of creepy/spooky to me — the music reminded me of Rosemary’s Baby.

Very excited to learn, btw, that a Studio Ghibli anime version of the Borrowers is due out later this year!!

Step-Brothers.  Part of the Judd Apatow empire (he produced), with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly as the 40 year old children of newlyweds Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen (both excellent).  This movie is surprisingly funny, possibly underrated.  It’s kind of one-joke but a good joke: Ferrell and Reilly both act exactly like 4th grade boys; you get the feeling they did some real research for these roles.  A sequel to the 40-Year-old Virgin in spirit — more male arrested development.  (Btw, I just checked and Steenburgen is 56 years old, which makes her kind of a stretch as a 40 y.o. Will Ferrell’s mother.)

Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals (HBO).  Loved this!  I was an avid Celtics fan in the 80s — went to a couple games every year in the years when the Celtics never, ever lost at home.  Bird was a poor working-class kid living next to the railroad tracks in a small nowhere town in Southern Indiana.  I’d forgotten that he actually enrolled at I.U. — left after a month or two, alienated and freaked out — went back home to French Lick to work in a grocery store.  His dad committed suicide soon after.  Larry obviously was/is a pretty weird individual.  Very private, prickly and socially awkward, the Hick from French Lick for real, unbelievably gifted and competitive.  Magic grew up in Lansing MI — incredible smile and charisma, a star from a young age.  He radiates happiness & pleasure in life whereas Bird seems to be trying to hold everything at arms’ length away from him.  When they met for the NCAA finals, Magic tried to seek him out to say hello and Bird totally snubbed him, refused to shake his hand.  “I probably did snub him,” Bird says now.  “I’m not into that lovey-dovey stuff.  I was there to win” (something like that).

The movie makes a good case that they became doppelgangers, rivals and enemies and eventually friends.   Bird says that the day he heard about Magic’ H.I.V. diagnosis was the worst day since his father’s suicide.  There’s an eerie shot of Bird playing the next day — he does a behind-the-back pass that the movie suggests was a secret homage to Magic.

The racial politics of the rivalry are complex and sad.  Bird does seem genuinely race-blind.  But as a Celtics player in racist Boston and the Great White Hope of the NBA trying to attract white fans, he’s enlisted in a racial drama not of his own making.  Cedric Maxwell comments of black basketball fans in Boston who’d root for L.A. — it was very hard to be a black Celtics fan in those days.

Bird mowed his own suburban Boston lawn every weekend: fans showed up to watch (he ignores them).  He eventually messes up his back installing his mother’s driveway in Indiana and suffers through in the final years of his career in agony.  Now he’s President of Basketball Operations for the Indiana Pacers and an NBA elder statesmen; I kind of enjoyed the recent ad in which he steals LeBron and Dwight Howard’s hamburgers and they have no idea who he is (extending the longtime meme of Bird as a white star in a black man’s game).  [*btw how can professional athletes live with themselves for promoting McDonalds???]

It’s been nice to see Magic’s halftime commentary during the NBA playoffs this month — good to see his enormous smile and that he seems to be doing well.

We Live in Public. Interesting documentary about a semi-forgotten internet pioneer of the 1990s, Josh Harris, who became a symbol of the excesses of the tech bubble of the era.  His hubris culminated in a couple of different Truman Show-esque experiments in living under total surveillance — first with dozens of volunteers in a giant loft in NYC, then just with his girlfriend.  He eventually loses everything and more or less disappears.  I found him to be a very creepy guy and was somewhat under-impressed by his supposed prescient innovations (as Sarah commented, what’s here that Philip K. Dick didn’t come up with years ago?) but it’s an compelling movie.

Food Inc. Finally got around to watching this last night (again, Netflix on demand).  Excellent doc.  Very well done, turns the rise of industrial food into a kind of thriller/horror movie with scary music.  Most infuriating part involves Monsanto’s copyrighted soybeans.  The beans are copyrighted intellectual property of Monsanto; our corrupt government, entirely in the pocket of Big Food, allows the transnational behemoth to behave like Disney with Mickey Mouse — no farmer is too small to be sued for doing what farmers have done for thousands of years with their crops.  If you are still in the habit of eating industrial meat regularly, watch this movie (although it does not rely much on total gross-out images of slaughterhouses and the like; it’s more about building a sustained argument).  [Btw this 2009 NYT article about “pink slime” in hamburger meat is what convinced me to never, ever eat another McDonald’s burger.]

Live-blogging IU women’s basketball vs. Florida State

Tuesday.  Girls come home all excited about a visit to their school from Sasha, a player on the IU women’s basketball team.  Aka “Big Sash.”  There was a special promotion going on in which each kid was sent home with an adult ticket for the game on Thursday night (kids are free anyway I think).  Mom was going to be busy at the studio helping set up the holiday show, but I agreed to take them.

Thursday, 5 pm.  Last minute work on Go IU/ Go Sasha flags taped onto chopsticks:

I guess that’s Big Sash at the bottom right.  The rainbows, hearts and butterfly really push the go-team spirit to the next level, I think.

6:30.  In the parking lot, we see Calley and her dad and Olivia and her mom.  Joyful, hopping-up-and-down excited group hugs.  It has been a whole three hours since the kids have seen one another.

6:35.  In the arena!  Game has started, you can see all the kids from school at one end with their red t-shirts on!  Big Sash is on the court!

6:40.  For the next 2 hours it’s like some hopped-up 5-8 year-old cocktail party with continual changing of seats, conferrals about snacks, walking up and down the stadium stairs, new groupings of kids, weird games involving cheers, waving signs and a pom-pom someone brought.  The parents exchange occasional amused chit-chat over the din and try to prevent things from getting too inappropriate or dangerous.  The kids pay only fleeting attention to the actual game.

For much of the game we’re down in the 3rd row or so with the cheerleaders right in front of us.  The role of cheerleader normally seems so gendered, a performance of exaggerated femininity in structural, Manichean opposition to the exaggerated masculinity of the male jocks on the court.  But here it’s two very different models of female identity, bodies, behavior, gesture, etc., which seems to destabilize or call into question the original opposition.  (For ex. the center on Florida State must be 6’5″ and built to bust through any pick.)  I was rooting for C&I to be more impressed by the players.

7:30 At halftime all kids are invited to come on court and form two masses through which the players run through, high-fiving (if you can call it that at 3 1/2 feet from the ground).  Pandemonium as 100-odd 5-8 year-olds rush the court.  It’s a slightly dangerous situation when they all return in a thundering herd, rushing right through the IU team’s layup drills.

7:45 Iris finally makes it onto the Jumbotron!  C&I and their friends end up getting filmed a couple times doing their little cheers and dances.

8:00  Celie cajoles one of the cheerleaders to throw her a t-shirt!  Size extra-large men’s.

8:30  It’s a close game for much of it, but finally ends with Florida State winning by 8.  (One silver lining: Big Sash got a double-double with ten rebounds.)  I drag the girls out.  They have a despondent manner which initially I think is just fatigue, but then they start saying: “I can’t believe IU lost!”  Sobbing, a little bit.

“Why did they have to lose?”

I offer various sententious commentary about the nature of sports, winning and losing, etc.  They basically ignore me.

“I HATE Florida State!”

“I feel so bad for Sasha, I really wanted her to win!”

And, poignantly: “It’s OUR FAULT!  We were playing with Faith and Gabe and we didn’t cheer hard enough!”  When I try to deny this: “No, daddy!  Cheering really helps you play better!”  It’s pathetic, but I also have to stifle a chuckle from the front seat.

This continues until they’re in bed.  They seemed truly astonished and appalled that IU, notwithstanding the whole crowd rooting for them, had lost.

The sting of defeat seemed to have faded a bit by the next morning.  But I’m still not sure they possess the emotional armor to handle team spectator sports.

“If you can’t play nice, play Rollerderby”

We finally made it to a Rollerderby match (or “jam” “bout,” to use the technical term).  Our local league is the Bleeding Heartland Rollergirls.  As the website explains,

Gone are the golden days of the 1940s and ’50s, when roller derby was more like a grueling test of endurance than a sport. Gone are the cheesy pro-wrestling-style derby bouts of the ’60s and ’70s, when the MANY fights were staged, scoring seemed like an afterthought, and oh my, that huge hair!   Today’s roller derby is a rough, tough, athletic competition, but with enough trash-talkin’ attitude, wipeouts and injuries, and short skirts and fishnets to keep audiences of all ages on the edge of their seats.

This turned out to be a match between two home teams, the Farm Fatales (who have really cool t-shirts — were out of Sarah’s size, unfortunately) and the Slaughter Scouts.  RG advised us that the atmosphere was a bit less heated than would normally be the case, since both teams were local and so there was no one obvious to root against.

The atmosphere was a bit more wholesome than I’d expected.  The players all have sort of pro-wrestling style names, often with a campy, Russ Meyer or John Waters twist, e.g. Boogie Tights, Lotta Trouble, Violet Outburst. (We were actually proud to realize that we know Boogie Tights, the mother of a kid who used to be in the girls’ preschool class.)  And many of them wear fishnet tights, leopard-skin short shorts, and other stripperish gear.  Yet, the matches take place in a brightly lit gymnasium with an eager crowd perched on bleacher seats munching on cheese sticks, and the players are all really focused on the game.

Here’s a good summary of the rules of play from a NY Times article about the resurgence of the sport:

Reduced to its basics, roller derby is a simple game. There are two 30-minute halves, during which each team fields five women at a time in shifts (called jams) that last up to two minutes. They skate counterclockwise around an oval track, slightly smaller in circumference than a basketball court. There’s one jammer per shift, who scores a point each time she laps an opposing skater. After her first, nonscoring pass through the opposing team, the leading jammer also has the strategic option of ending the jam prematurely by tapping her hands to her hips [this is called “Calling off the Jam”]. The other eight players skate in a pack and make judicious use of their hips and arms to clear space for their jammer and stymie her opposite number.

Here’s a few shots from last night.  The woman with the star on her helmet is the jammer.

IMG_0436IMG_0434

By the way, here’s a fascinating article from 2008 about Daniel Eduardo Policarpo, aka “Devil Dan,” the guy who created the first modern rollerderby league in Austin.  As the article explains,

under disputed circumstances, the man known as Devil Dan eventually sneaked out of Austin, or was chased out, leaving his weird brainchild to the women he had recruited as team captains. Widely acknowledged, perhaps reluctantly, as the progenitor of the modern roller derby, Daniel Eduardo Policarpo, now 39, settled here in Tulsa to watch the sport spread across the country, though not exactly in the form he had intended.

He explains that he “envisioned low lighting, quick flashes of red, blue and green, glow sticks, drummers, a cramped track, violence and microphones everywhere.”  He wanted women “with tattoos, Bettie Page haircuts and guts.”

Roller derby, he said, “exceeded my vision, actually; I had my vision of what things could have been, but it was so fanciful it wouldn’t reach that.”  (His original vision involved “a crazy circus with these clowns unfortunately stabbing each other, these bears on fire on these unicycles.”)

We’re hoping to take the girls to the next bout.  Seems like it can’t be a bad thing for them to see women (including the mothers of classmates) violently body-checking one another on wheels at high speed in the pursuit of athletic victory.

Perfect Game Paintings

In all the to-do about Mark Buehle of the White Sox’s perfect game (assisted by Dewayne Wise’s amazing 9th-inning catch), I was amused by one detail.  It’s apparently traditional for the pitcher of a perfect game to treat or honor his teammates in some way:

Buehrle is ordering special wine bottles for all of the White Sox, but [Dewayne] Wise and the catcher, Ramon Castro, will get something extra. Both will receive an original painting of their roles in the game, a work of art to commemorate the masterpiece Wise made possible.

Nice to see fine art painting playing a prominent role in this kind of story.

May I make one suggestion as to the painter — how about Juliana Hatfield?

I’d be curious to learn what painter gets this gig in the end.

Reflections on the NBA Finals/ live-blogging Game 4

pau-gasol

I’m digging the globalism/cosmopolitanism of the NBA.  In these finals, on Orlando there’s Mickael Peteus (French-African, a big joker apparently, seems charming), Hedo Terkoglu (Turkish; fantastic, 6′ 10″ but can pass like a guard; the Prime Minister of Turkey called him to wish him a good game), Marcin Gortat (7′ Polish monster – a real badass; I would not want to meet him in a medieval Polish alley in the middle of the night); on the Lakers, Kobe (raised in Italy where he played soccer; fluent in Italian); Pau Gasol (sort of the counterpart of Turkoglu: 7′ Spanish star with a scruffy beard and mane of hair; seems mildly bohemian); Trevor Ariza (of Dominican descent, is planning to play for Dominican national team); Sasha Vujacic (Slovenian pretty-boy 3-point shooter; seems annoying); a Chinese guy who never plays named Sun Yue, and a Congolese player, Didier Ilunga-Mbenga.

And then of course there are the more traditional native N.B.A. types like the wonderful Rafer Alston, an Orlando guard, a former NYC playground/streetball legend formerly known as Skip to My Lou because of his habit of skipping while dribbling (!), the Duke shooter J.J. Redick; the larger than life, ridiculously muscled devout Christian Dwight Howard, a.k.a. “Superman,” etc.

They’re all playing N.B.A. basketball, and trained to death in standardizing ways, but you can really sense the different cultures on the court, which come out in gestures, ways of holding the body, expressions, and so on: Pau Gasol’s diffident shrug, Rafer Alston’s hyper blaze to the basket, Gortat’s lurching power.  It’s not that all of these players express some national or ethnic essence, but it’s neat the way you can suss out these different styles of playing and moving that can seem culturally expressive in one way or another.  Basketball used to be so black and white, Midwestern gym vs. inner-city playground; it seems so much culturally and symbolically richer and less predictable now.

And then, just the names alone: Kobe, Pau, Hedo, Rafer, Gortat, Skip to My Lou.

One other thought: I have to admit that I find the Kobe/LeBron puppet ads to be pretty amusing, even if they kind of fell flat when the Cavaliers were eliminated. OTOH the Charles Barkley/ Dwayne Wade ads are fairly lame.  I think the lesson is, when it comes to pro athletes, use puppets — don’t make them try to act.

Also, I miss the Birdman (Denver Nuggets’ Chris Anderson).  He makes it seem that if you’re just a white guy from Texas in the NBA, you really have to work hard to make an impression these days.

Go Magic!  (I grew up watching Larry Bird and the Celtics and so must root against the Lakers; mildly dislike Kobe; the Magic are a fun team anyway, or at least they seem that way when they’re shooting well)

Netherland

So, about 4/5 of the way through The Savage Detectives I dropped it (do plan to go back to finish) for Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, which is kind of the polar opposite of Bolano: where The Savage Detectives is sprawling, wild, passionately raw, and multi-voiced, every small chapter introducing a brand new speaker, sometimes, with his or her own worldview, cadence, & set of references — reminding me of On the Road more than anything — Netherland is a classically realist novel with everything focalized through the precise lens of its almost fussy central consciousness.  O’Neill’s protagonist, Hans van der Broek, is a Dutch banker living in NYC with his British wife and son.  After 9/11 the marriage founders and his wife takes the son back to London on a trial separation, and Hans in his loneliness and disorientation gets involved in a cricket-playing outer-boroughs subculture in which he is usually the only white man.

The novel revolves around Hans’s friendship with Chuck Ramkissoon, a Trinidadian cricket enthusiast and would-be entrepreneur who adds a jolt of ethnic striver/hustler energy to Hans’s rarefied life.  (When Hans drives around Brooklyn with Chuck, who is supposedly assisting him in getting his U.S. driver’s license, I thought of the car service in Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn).  Hans’s comment about his wife — “She has accused me of exoticizing Chuck Ramkissoon,… of perpetuating a white man’s infantilizing elevation of a black man” — serves as a tacit admission that the novel could almost be accused of (a very subtle version of) the same thing, in that Chuck brings a kind of “life” and vitality to an otherwise pallid elite white world.  (The novel made me think of Louis Begley, too, in the glimpse it offers into the higher reaches of NYC professional life.)  But cricket functions in this 9/11 novel as a hopeful model of polyglot globalization.  Cricket is loaded with colonialist legacies, but for both Hans and Chuck, the sport is all about form, ritual, skill, memory, and beauty:

the white-clad ring of infielders, swanning figures on the vast oval, again and again converse in unison toward the batsman and again and again scatter back to their starting points, a repetition of pulmonary rhythm, as if the field breathed through its luminous visitors.

Netherland made me want to go back to CLR James’s Beyond a Boundary.  I still really do not understand how cricket works.