Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Causing A Collision

Thinking more about this idea of 'Africa' as a metaphor for randomness and self-expressive physicality within technology and art, I was reminded of my first response to jazz as a teenager. I was intrigued by its virtuosity and linear complexity, especially within the cool, modal riffs of Miles Davis or John Coltrane and when I encountered the unbridled, almost feral rawness of Albert Ayler's 'free' improvisations I really got into it. However, it wasn't until I heard an African, the late Dudu Pukwana, building wild improvisations on changes that were an amalgam of late be-bop harmonies, atonal 'free jazz' and traditional Zulu folk rhythms – his last album, In The Townships, is a rarely listened-to jazz masterpiece – that I caught a glimpse of what I would love to achieve in my art, and of what it meant, literally, to get more 'Africa' into it.
So much great African (as opposed to African-American) jazz evolved not as a reaction to purely African environments but to constrictive, rather grey, European ones. Many South Africans of Pukwana's generation – Mongezi Feza, Nikele Moyake, Johnny Dyani and Louis Moholo, as well as the white South African pianist and bandleader, Chris McGregor – fled the oppressive restrictions of apartheid and ended up being part of the social, political and style upheaval that was Sixties' London (where people were also just becoming aware of African 'highlife' dance music).
In the Wired article I mentioned a couple of days ago, Eno observed, "What is tremendously exciting to me is the collision of vernacular Western music with African music. So much that I love about music comes from that collision. African music underlies practically everything I do - even ambient, since it arose directly out of wanting to see what happened if you 'unlocked' the sounds in a piece of music, gave them their freedom, and didn't tie them all to the same clock. That kind of free float - these peculiar mixtures of independence and interdependence, and the oscillation between them - is a characteristic of West African drumming patterns."
How exciting it is when this happens with what you see – and how you see it and how you actually make it – in art. Basquiat got close as did, maybe, Picasso and Pollock before him. But who else?

7 comments:

sarahelizabeth said...

I like your reference to Basquiat in all this...very interesting thoughts, thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you introduced Jean Michel Basquiat's work into the conversation. As much as I enjoyed reading the Eno interview you mentioned, I couldn't help but be annoyed by the continual white invocation of "Africa" as freedom. "Africa" should not be seen as something that negates "Europe," but rather as something that is just as much in Europe as it is in the continent Africa (and all human beings for that matter). Basquiat, as an American who was always reminded that he was African, understood he was both African and European (as well as American). On his canvases, he let both worlds coexist - that's why they're fucking awesome. I think your watercolors are Africa (sensual, alive) and your career girls are Europe (philosophical, afraid). Integrate baby. That would be something.

Tim said...

How wonderful to see mention of Dudu Puckwana in yr blog I was lucky enough to be in London in the 70's when all the Brotherhood of Breath crew were around and saw them regularly. There was an all girl big band riposte called The Sisterhood of Spit at the time too! My band also took our name from an Albert Ayler album. Dudu was a particularly entertaining performer to say the least.

Anonymous said...

interesting post. and interesting comments...
i understand Africa/n as a 'metaphor'-re: comments: Basquiat was 'american'- yes, born in Brooklyn. His mother was Puerto Rican and his father was Haitian origin. to me his work (also) seemed highly inspired by voodoo and the likes... this may also be why i really appreciated and enjoyed hazel's 'venus in hell series', for me, my favourite of all the dooney works.
S

lovelyn said...

Thanks for the great post. I've never heard of Dudu Pukwana before. I just got through listening to some of his stuff and it sounds great. I'll have to include him on my music blog.

Jean K said...

I found your blog searching for material on Dudu and the South African jazz musicians. I was lucky enough to see them and promote concerts by Dudu with B of B and Louis Moholo's band Spirits Rejoice on a couple of occasions. I also had an Albert Ayler when I was a teenager...

Thanks for your blog and from the examples on your site I really like your work.

Mona said...

Should you be interested a very early album Dudu has just gone up on the net for a very short time, you can get it here:
PW = dudu
It was recorded when he first came to London and has Richard thompson on gtr.
The blogpost is here.
Strange seeing my real name on this page!
Regards/