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Friday, March 16, 2018

Apartheid Swing: The Jazz Epistles’ Short-Lived Success

Superstar pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, a revered figure in jazz for over six decades, comes to BAM for two nights only to commemorate the short-lived, near-mythical South African group the Jazz Epistles. Below, learn more about the history of his group in the context of apartheid–and why the government elected to shut it down.

A teenage Hugh Masekela admires the shine of his trumpet, 1956
By Robert Jackson Wood

A “popular, sex-stimulating music” that gratifies “the baser impulses” and “penetrates the soul quicker than more advanced forms.” That was jazz in 1955, at least as described by Dr. Yvonne Huskisson, one of the main gatekeepers of culture in apartheid-era South Africa. She didn’t mean it as a good thing. For a government intent on repressing black unity to preserve white minority rule, any music with such a capacity to rouse—particularly one that symbolized racial integration—was considered a threat. Apartheid meant “separateness,” and it was only four years later, in 1959, that the government would begin forcibly segregating black South Africans by ethnic group, relocating them to the townships or to one of 10 different Bantustans, or “homelands,” far from their actual homes. Encourage allegiance to tribe and not nation, the thinking went, and dissent could be minimized. Jazz was out; the indigenous music of the tribes, disseminated by state-controlled radio stations, was in.

Yet there were the Jazz Epistles, breaking attendance records in Cape Town and Sophiatown, playing to mixed audiences, and making them swoon. Composed of Abdullah Ibrahim a.k.a. Dollar Brand (piano), Hugh Masekela (trumpet), Kippie Moeketsi (alto saxophone), Jonas Gwangwa (trombone), Johnny Gertze (bass), Early Mabuza (drums), and Makaya Ntshoko (drums), the group had formed as an offshoot of two other pioneering all-black South African groups that had somehow managed to thrive: the popular vocal outfit Manhattan Brothers, which featured a young Miriam Makeba, and the pit band for the jazz musical King Kong, about the life of boxer Ezekiel Dlamini.

Friday, March 9, 2018

In Context: Cellular Songs

Context is everything, so get even closer to the production with this curated selection of related articles and videos. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought by posting in the comments below and on social media using #CellularSongs.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

BAMcinématek's Beyond the Canon—Les Saignantes + A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange and Les Saignantes. Photos courtesy Warner Bros. / Quartier Mozart Films
It is no secret that the cinema canon has historically skewed toward lionizing the white, male auteur. This monthly series seeks to question that history and broaden horizons by pairing one much-loved, highly regarded, canonized classic (A Clockwork Orangewith a thematically or stylistically-related—and equally brilliant—work (Les Saignantesby a filmmaker traditionally excluded from that discussion.

By Violet Lucca

There’s youthful indiscretion, and then there’s the darkly comic delinquency on display in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s Les Saignantes (The Bloodettes), which has the ability to turn the world upside down. With titles that associate their young protagonists with a subversive juiciness, both films comment upon the present through fiction set in the future. In these artful visions of “the same but worse,” ineffectual, corrupt governments have overstretched themselves to the point of controlling the brains and bodies of their citizens—solutions that solve nothing at all. Although one openly lampoons the failed utopianism of Welfare State Behaviorism and the other covertly carves out dissent inside a post-colonial kleptocracy, it’s the violence, sexiness, quick-wittedness, and wildness of youth that breaks down these zombified orders.

Monday, March 5, 2018

In Context: RadioLoveFest

Context is everything, so get even closer to this year's RadioLoveFest with a curated selection of related articles and videos. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought by posting in the comments below and on social media using #RadioLoveFest.