issue 234 - August 1992
by Yothu Yindi (Mushroom)
Yothu Yindi (a kinship term meaning child and mother), is a 10-piece band predominantly of Yolgnu people from Arnhem Land in Australia's far north. Their music represents a fusion of cultures and provides a strong and often hypnotic beat, the reason for their rising popularity in European dance clubs.
Their latest album, Tribal Voice, contains two substantial Australian hit singles, Treaty and Djapana. Treaty deals with the basic justice of gaining a document of reconciliation between Aboriginal and other Australians, while the latter makes a simple plea for a more equitable future between blacks and non-blacks. Both are sung mainly in Gumatj, a language of north-eastern Arnhem Land - and they are the first hit songs to feature an indigenous Australian language.
Yothu Yindi also scooped the pool at this year's Australian Recording Industry Awards, winning best Australian record of the year, best single, best indigenous record and best cover artwork. This is a heartening, if somewhat belated, sign that the profile of Aboriginal music is rising throughout Australia - in the field of improvised jazz, for example. But with the opportunity comes the danger that the cultural brilliance which sometimes jars the ears of Westerners might be subsumed beneath a meaningless wash of dance rhythms or melodic clichés.
Behind the medium at the moment is an intentional message. Yothu Yindi's lead singer Mandawuy Yunupingu, who is principal of the Yirrakal community school 600 kilometres east of Darwin, says: 'Through our songs we hope to raise issues that are important not only for Aboriginal people but for Australia as a whole. Our music is a story for the future, a story for all Australians.' Yunupingu speaks of the ability to meld and share cultural values.
by Black Umfolosi (World Circuit)
Most music to come out of Zimbabwe (including Thomas Mapfumo and Stella Chiweshe) is from the Shona tradition and uses the mbira or thumb piano as the basis of its rhythms and sounds. The unaccompanied vocal group Black Umfolosi, whose debut this is, are Ndebele people and their music has an entirely different feel as a result.
In this part of Zimbabwe many of the older generation spent time in South African schools or mines. This is why the famous gumboot dance of South African miners is an integral part of any Black Umfolosi performance and why their sound has similarities to that of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Even the name is redolent of South Africa - the Black Umfolosi Regiment were crack Zulu troops who moved to Zimbabwe in the middle of the last century. The music borrows heavily from Ndebele warrior songs with their accompaniment of drums, ululation, trills and whoops - and the group's performances feature neo-traditional dances in Zulu warrior costumes.
Yet the political stress is on unity: the multilingual title-track was a big hit in Zimbabwe and tackles an emotive subject for this land with many cultures and a war-torn colonial history. Lucky Moyo's 10th Anniversary has the same theme. Commissioned to mark 10 years of independence, it revitalizes the trite melody of Happy Birthday with Zulu harmonies.
The two most interesting songs appear only on CD, and even with them the album lacks something: Black Umfolosi are at heart a performance group and too many of these songs drag when heard in isolation. Maybe their next release should be a video.
Night On Earth
directed by Jim Jarmusch
After Wim Wenders' sprawling Until the End of the World (reviewed in NI 231), here's around-the-world movie of a very different kind. Jim Jarmusch has been one of the few directors working in the US to at least acknowledge other cultures, as when Stranger Than Paradise framed America through the eyes of a laconic Hungarian visitor. If Jarmusch has till now concentrated on bringing the world to America, Night On Earth sees him taking his vision around the world, to mixed effect.
The film presents us with one moment on the planet, as experienced simultaneously in different taxis in LA, New York, Paris, Rome and Helsinki. In the Rome story demented taxi driver Roberto Benigni talks a priest to death. The lugubrious Helsinki scene, meanwhile, is a homage to Finland's master of boozy gloom, Aki Kaurismaki. Several Kaurismaki regulars compete in out-grumping each other and the result is a courageously downbeat way to end a film.
It's in America that Jarmusch falls flat. In LA a sassy kid (Winona Ryder) gives a ride to a casting agent (Gena Rowlands), while in New York a black customer (Giancarlo Esposito) finds himself changing roles with cabbie Armin Mueller-Stahl, who has recently arrived from what was East Germany. Both are uneventful excuses for bravura performances and lack any new insight into the over-familiar settings.
In Paris, however, Jarmusch really hits on a sense of place. The appeal of this section is not so much the play-off between African cabbie Isaach de Bankolé and a blind Béatrice Dalle, but in what goes before: a beautifully played scene in which de Bankolé is taunted by two boisterous African clients, who pun mercilessly when they find out he's from Côte d'Ivoire: Ivoirien! II voit rien! (he can't see a thing!). Here, not only does the humour ring true but Jarmusch has managed to get a grip on Paris as an African city, an aspect of it that French directors have consistently ignored.
It's a flash of inspiration in an otherwise directionless film. It's a shame Jarmusch couldn't cast his geographic net wider. But the film at least suggests that it's possible to make American cinema without remaining trapped in America.
A Green History of the World
by Clive Ponting (Penguin)
There have been histories of the world before, like those by HG Wells and Jawaharlal Nehru (written in prison). But never one quite like this. Politics, war, diplomacy and culture figure hardly at all here. Instead this is the story, as far back as our knowledge goes, of how humankind has treated and mistreated the planet.
Few of the great names of history rate a mention. Buddha; Jesus Christ; Muhammad; Julius Caesar; George Washington; none of them are here. Queen Victoria gets menioned twice - but only when she complains in 1837 that there are no bathrooms in Buckingham Palace and in 1875 that another of her homes is being made uninhabitable by ammonia fumes from a nearby cement works. The Spanish Armada is mentioned once but you'll never guess why.
'This book does not attempt to propose solutions,' the author says. Maybe not, but it adduces plenty of lessons and warnings which have a bearing on our present and future problems. Here is just one: 4,000 years ago the civilizations of the Indus Valley collapsed because they cut down the forests to fuel the ovens to bake the bricks to build their magnificent temples and palaces.
Good history is not just an account of the past; it also has relevance to the present and the possible future. By that test, this book is good history. Dare we hope that the great and wise placed in authority over us studied it as they sped through the air towards the Earth Summit in Rio? We know the answer - but it remains to us to pour the message into their resistant ears.
Reviews editor: Chris Brazier
'When we read a self-help book and underline all the passages we think would help him... we are loving too much.'
I first approached Robin Norwood's best-selling pop psychology book, Women Who Love Too Much with the scepticism I always reserve for self-help material that appears to offer an easy answer to complex psychological distress. However, I was soon completely hooked on this analysis of relationships for women (and sometimes men) as an addictive process - a strategy of focussing on the short-comings and excesses of someone else in order to avoid confronting internal problems. Robin Norwood defines women 'who love too much' as being 'attracted not to what a man is but to his potential'; they fall into 'a pattern of picking men whom they see as needing their help'.
Ironically, in traditional 'loving too much' fashion, before I started to read the book properly for myself I gave away two copies to women friends whom I judged to be in worse straits than me. Soon, however, the book became my bible. Its clear and straightforward prose was as comforting as its analyses were painfully honest. I cannot say that it singlehandedly solved my problems but it was certainly a turning-point in my approach to relationships, sexual or otherwise. And it has played the same role for many other women.
Robin Norwood runs through a collection of sad case histories of women (and some men) who have been or are still 'loving too much' and she includes herself among them. These women are stuck in relationships that are clearly bad for them, and range from the proverbial battered wife who keeps going back for more to the woman who allows her self-confidence to be gradually annihilated by an insidious verbal cruelty.
Norwood draws from her experience as a therapist in the US to observe that women 'who love too much' have invariably grown up in disfunctional families: families where there is a shared denial of reality; where for one reason or another the children are forced to draw on their own resources far too young, before they are really ready for such a responsibility. She observes that under these conditions women tend to become overly dependent on a person or relationship, whereas men are more often drawn to addictive substances or workaholism.
In either case they are unable to realize fully their own potential as human beings and develop in adulthood an unhealthy dependency which in some way mirrors the conditions present in their childhood. Placed in a more healthy situation or relationship they feel uncomfortable, threatened, bored or restless and will inevitably return to the less beneficial relationships or addictions when the opportunity occurs. The book contains a stringent programme for rehabilitation of a woman who loves too much' in which her symptoms are paralleled with those of an alcoholic. Achieving the main objective of the programme - raising the woman's self-esteem - is a mammoth task as it entails confrontation with feelings that stem from deeply buried childhood experiences.
The book's focus leaves no room for analysis of gay, lesbian or bisexual experiences. Also, perhaps inevitably, bulimia, anorexia and alcoholism are portrayed as secondary addictions to that of 'loving too much'. But this concentrated approach does allow the author to unveil the incredibly powerful myth of romantic love that permeates our culture, whether it be in women's magazines, soap operas, advertisements, music, film or social expectations - and to set out squarely and clearly the damage that this myth has done.
Her reading of the Beauty and the Beast folk tale is particularly telling. In the story Beauty agrees to live with the Beast, a terrifying monster, in order to save her father from his wrath. At first she finds the Beast abhorrent but when she gets to know him she grows to love him. At this point the Beast is magically transformed into a handsome prince with whom she lives happily ever after.
Our cultural bias leads us to interpret this story as showing that a woman can change a man if she loves him enough. But, as the book shows again and again, this does not happen in reality. Robin Norwood believes the tale shows something more positive. Beauty has no need for the beast to change. She loves him as he is, and because of this he is freed to become his best self.
In many ways Women Who Love Too Much is everywoman's story. It is a modern classic because it shows, in everyday rather than 'feminist' language, the devious sexist nature of contemporary Western culture with which all women - however healthy their family background - have to contend.
Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood (Arrow/Random Century).