Gondar’s Child – Recordings

Gondar's Child - cover

28 recordings accompanying my book Gondar’s Child until recently could be accessed from Africa World Press/Red Sea Press’s website. At the moment the link from their website is not working. So instead the recordings can be accessed here:




Swing Abeba

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 03.47.29My first love from early childhood was music: classical piano-playing, and singing (especially folk), accompanying myself on my beloved guitar.

However, it was social anthropology that I took to doctoral level, and as a way of not letting go of music, I specialised in the anthropology of music.

During my doctoral fieldwork, I performed with an Ethiopian-Jewish band called “The Band of Blossoming Hope” for 9 months.  (See my book:  Gondar’s Child.)  I also had lessons with the famous Ethiopian Christian singer Aklilu Seyoum, who coached the Band, in the Ethiopian intervallic mood-mode systems known as “keñetoch”.

Prior to this, I conducted research on Jewish society and music in Yemen, and wrote a substantial thesis on this subject.  Very many hours were spent listening to, analysing, and even painstakingly and painfully transcribing their music, and other kinds of Yemenite music.

Perhaps it was Ethiopian music, and also the American blues singers who frequented the folk clubs in Israel, which opened me up to jazz. Upon returning from my fieldwork to the UK, for years to follow, jazz became my passion. I studied with established jazz vocalists, performing at jazz jams, working hard on my vocal improvisation and learning the standard repertoire. Among the early tasks I was set was to sing along with recordings of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet-playing: a great training!  In my quest for jazz, I went to Manhattan where I attended lessons and vocal masterclasses, went to all the jazz jams and performances I could manage, and generally infused myself with jazz.

I am glad to say I finally returned to “my own” music and first love. I resumed my classical piano playing, and took it to another level – the most meaningful thing I feel I could have done with my life!

Years ago, I told a jazz musician about my background in music – all these diverse intensely-studied and deeply-internalised influences – and he said: “It will be dynamite when it all comes together!”.

Swing Abeba, a work for solo bassoon, is an example of some of these influences coming together.  Whether or not it is “dynamite” – even a small quantity of dynamite – even a teaspoonful, is for the listener, or player, to determine!

“Abeba”, means “flower” – part of the name of the Ethiopian capital city where modern Ethiopian music took root. “Abeba” is also a common refrain in their vocal music. True to its title, this work is influenced by Ethiopian popular music, which in turn was strongly influenced by swing rhythm in American big band jazz transmitted from an army radio station in Kagnew, in neighbouring Eritrea in the 1950s.

Ethiopian music – essentially song-based – consists of pentatonic melodies which tend to be deeply embedded in copious melismata, progressing in an improvisatory manner, similarly to jazz.

Accordingly, Swing Abeba begins with an Ethiopian, pentatonically melismatic treatment of an un-Ethiopian theme.  The music then breaks into a jazz-swing scherzo. The call-response nature of this scherzo recalls this feature of Ethiopian music. The second section begins with a slow, heavily melismatic ad lib passage marked “molto espressivo e pensivo”, which leads into a second swing scherzo, the opening themes reappearing in a different guise in the closing section.

In the recording here, it is played beautifully by John McDougall.  An earlier version of Swing Abeba was performed, equally beautifully, by Glyn Williams at the 17th New Winds Festival at Regent Hall in London, 2014.



Ah! But is it racism?

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

The recent poll claiming to reveal “what Muslims in Britain really think”:  claiming to have identified “a community within a community”, and a proliferation of attitudes unpalatable to what we assume to be predominantly liberal Britain.  On the one hand, I am sceptical that a poll conducted on 1081 adults can really tell us what 2.71 million Muslims in England, and 80,800 in Scotland and Northern Ireland (2011 census), all think.  Among these adults, we have different ethnicities, different generations, different countries of origin, different degrees of religiosity/secularity.  If we break up the 1081 “polled” adults equally into different generations alone, we have approximately 360.33 young adults, 360.33 middle aged adults, and 360.33 elderly adults.  Is it valid to treat these “polled” Muslims as representative of their generations of co-religionists in Britain, let alone their entirety?

On the other hand, this news item drew me back to a certain memory.  We may assume that some more unpalatable, unliberal and violent views may be held by those who dress differently from liberal Brits, segregate the sexes more; attend their place of worship more regularly; etc.  In other words, those who look less acculturated.  So, my memory….

At some point while I was completing my thesis in Oxford, a photo competition was organized in my college, and winning photos were blown up, mounted and displayed in the college common room. I shortlisted a few photos from my doctoral fieldwork in Israel, and from a subsequent visit to Ethiopia, to submit, and asked my neighbour to help me choose from among them.

Above, is one of the photos I chose (which also appears in my book, Gondar’s Child). The period of my fieldwork in Israel included the first Gulf War, and these children are in a shopping mall with their gas masks. Saddam Hussein was threatening to use mustard and nerve gas in attacks on Israel – a prospect which terrified me, as there was a precedent: he had already murdered whole villages of Iraqi Kurds using these chemicals. Everyone was issued with a gas mask, which we had to take with us everywhere at all times, and children had all decorated the boxes containing their gas masks at school.

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Back in Oxford, I was living in postgrad student accommodation, and my neighbour, in the next room, was a science doctoral student of Iranian descent (“Y”). We were in and out of each other’s rooms most days, and I considered her to be a warm and supportive friend. When she saw this photo, she thought I shouldn’t submit it for the competition because she considered it to be “controversial”, because “there are people who think that Israel shouldn’t exist!” Why is it controversial that Saddam Hussein wanted to gas these children? – I asked her. But she just repeated her assertion as if it were self-evident. This caused a lot of tension between us. A few days later, I brought up the subject and gave her the chance to take back what she had said, but she just repeated it again, and I let her know in no uncertain terms that it was an anti-Semitic view. After this, I did not feel that we could continue being friends, but of course, how could she ever have been a friend if she considered it “controversial” that Saddam Hussein had wanted to gas me?!  Having an enemy, once considered a “friend” who is still a neighbour, living in the next room in the same house is not something to be recommended!

Perhaps if I had told her these children were not Jewish, she might not have thought it controversial? After all, these lovely children who let me take their photo might have been Muslim or Christian. Would she then have minded that they too were threatened by Saddam’s chemical weapons, which he had incidentally used against Iran?!

It was such a mindless assertion by a British-born entirely secular Muslim of Iranian descent! So we can’t necessarily judge people’s views and values – for example, the extent to which they may justify extreme violence and evil against a certain religious, ethnic or national group – according to whether or not they are wearing the religious gear!  Other Iranians who have come into my life – Iranian-born secular Muslims – do not appear to hold such views! One only has to look at the Israel Loves Iran and Iran Loves Israel Facebook pages to see that there are plenty of people living in Iran who do not hold such views! I have read that there are a number of Iranians who are supportive of Israel especially in defiance of their own government.

To return to Oxford, two former housemates, one a Jewish doctoral student from Germany (whom I characterised as having a mouth like a sledge hammer, before Y showed me a true sledge-hammer mouth!), another a Norwegian PhD (“K”), (yes – we were a diverse lot! – probably unlike most of the undergrads!)  both commented that Y “isn’t political”, but, K wrote to me from Norway, she should know what she’s saying and who she’s talking to!  Surely she should have known what she was saying whoever she was talking to!  So:  “not political”, highly educated (in science), but expressing the view that the threat or use of chemical weapons on a group of human beings is “controversial” – i.e. “open to debate”, and having obviously come down on the side of the “controversy” that would state that this might be valid in the case of Jews in Israel, since there are people who don’t recognize Israel’s right to exist!  (So if we apply such a conclusion to the aforementioned poll, could it be that there are some “non-political” Muslims who  nevertheless find the threats and actions of Islamic extremists to be “controversial”, possibly justifiable?!)

Shortly after this incident, another housemate and friend, a British doctoral student of Nigerian descent, “L”, came into the kitchen one day, agitated and perturbed.  A stranger had stopped and asked directions, addressing her query to L’s “white” friend. L helpfully gave directions, but the stranger refused to acknowledge her, and asked further questions, continuing to address them to L’s friend, and to ignore L and her further attempts to be helpful. (It could not have been that she could not see or hear L, blessed with a resonant voice and a tall stature.)  This was offensive enough, but what troubled L perhaps even more was that her own friend had unconsciously cooperated with this, and then questioned and doubted whether the stranger’s behaviour had in fact been racist.

L was in a grumbling mood for which she apologised. I said it was OK – she was angry, and she was right to be, and this acceptance of the validity of her anger, and acknowledgement that she had in fact been subjected to racism, seemed to lift some of the burden away from her.

I then told her that Y and I were not speaking because she had said something anti-Semitic, and related the incident to her. “Ah!  But is that anti-Semitism?” L asked.  My expression must have been full of indignation and outrage.  As I opened my mouth to respond, she quickly answered her own question: “Of course it is, because it can never be right to use chemical weapons against anyone!”

I submitted the photo of the children with gas masks to the competition, and it was not selected to be displayed in my college common room!  These two photos were, however, displayed:

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Ethiopian Jewish boy who had just arrived in Israel in Operation Solomon in 1991, posing for me when he saw me with my camera!

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Shoeshine boy, Addis Abeba, 1992.  The colours in this photo are not right – when I had jpeg files created from the 21 year old negatives, I was told this is because the negatives had become “magenta” with age, but I don’t think that’s true!  I have the original photo somewhere…


Where the virulent anti-Semites lurk

My mother was born in Palestine in 1938. As a Jew born in Palestine, her birth certificate states that she was Palestinian, like all the Jews living in Palestine.  When she was a child, the medical establishment was “treating” ringworm (gazezet in Hebrew) with very strong doses of radiation to the head, and my mother was subjected to this “treatment”. It seems they were doing this as a preventative measure, as well as a “treatment”, and that this same method of dealing with ringworm was being used in some other countries, including the United States.

A documentary: The Ringworm Children, was made on this subject in which it is imputed that in the 1950s, this method of treating/preventing ringworm was routinely administered to Sephardi Jewish children who were migrating with their families mainly from North Africa – especially from Morocco. In adulthood, those subjected to this treatment developed brain tumours and many died before their time. It is presented in the video as something that only Sephardi children were subjected to, and as belonging to some sinister eugenics programme on the part of the Ashkenazi leaders against the Sephardi population.

And here on the internet, under the Youtube video, in the comments section, congregate some of the most virulent anti-Semites, spitting out and unleashing their toxic hatred, their venomous vitriol, towards Israel and Ashkenazi Jews.  Referring to a “Zionist”-perpetrated “holocaust” against the Sephardi population.  (Of course, the North African Jews who came to Israel were also Zionist.)   Google the term “radiation for ringworm” and a plethora of horribly extreme anti-Semitic posts appear for pages and pages.  I cannot believe for a second that these virulent racists, with their “reverse-speak” and projection – their predilection for labeling Jews as “Nazis” – have even the tiniest particle of concern about the Sephardi Jews in the video, any more than they have concern for Palestinian Arabs who are their main excuse for being overtly anti-Semitic in the guise of anti-Zionism.

I added a comment explaining that my mother had been subjected to this “treatment” by the Israeli medical establishment as a young child, and that she was Ashkenazi. That she developed recurring brain tumours in adulthood (the first one was diagnosed when she was about 34), and died at the age of 44.

It is very unlikely that she could have been mistaken for a Moroccan Jew, or for a newcomer – Sephardi or otherwise. Her parents migrated to Palestine some time in the second decade of the 1900s from Russia and Poland. While many Ashkenzi Jews can be  dark with black hair, my mother was so fair that her skin went pink in the sun. Her eyes were lightish blue. Her parents were well entrenched in Palestinian – then Israeli – society, and her mother drove trucks for the British during WWII. They would not have allowed her to receive any treatment they considered to be discriminatory or harmful. I have not yet found out the numbers of Ashkenazi children treated in this way for ringworm in Palestine/Israel in the 1940s/1950s, but I don’t see how it is possible that my mother should have been the only Ashkenazi child to have been subjected to this “treatment”.  However, I have come across numbers of Ashkenazi children who were irradiated for ringworm in the USA by an American Jewish insurance company, OSE, who:

“…radiated the heads of 27,000 Ashkenazi Jewish children who arrived in New York from Eastern Europe during the 1920s and 1930s. In the 1940s, about 4,500 Ashkenazi children who arrived were found to have ringworm, and about 2,500 were treated with radiation by OSE.”


My words in the comments section under the YouTube video explaining that my Ashkenazi mother had been subjected to the same treatment as a child, seemed to cause some consternation amongst the virulently anti-Semitic internet community who had attached themselves to this video, and who upheld it as “evidence” of Israeli “apartheid”.  On the internet, words such as “genocide” and “Nazi” are attached to “Ashkenazi” in relation to the gazezet affair.  But the information about my mother had put a spanner in the works, it seems, and my comment seemed to stem the flow of vitriol somewhat.  I received a couple of responses. One seemed quite innocent. He wanted some clarification on the circumstances surrounding my mother’s subjection to this “treatment”, and I responded.  But something did not feel right.  You could almost feel the hatred pulsating from that internet page.  I performed an internet search on “Gunther” – one of the people who had responded to my comment. He was a member of a group which looked shockingly anti-Semitic – hard-core Nazi in fact. I deleted my response to his comment and reported it to the CST, which deals with anti-Semitism in the UK.  After a while, I decided to delete my comment altogether. Why would I place myself right in the cauldron where virulent anti-Semites congregate? Anti-Semitism is something I would travel far to get away from!

Yet, it seems that wherever you have Jews criticising Jews, Jewish Israelis or diaspora Jews criticising Israel, Jews or Israeli Jews expounding theories which can be taken as challenging Zionism, Jews who are inverted anti-Semites (for wherever there is racism, there is also inverted racism), there you will find the virulent anti-Semites, or even the non-virulent anti-Semites, congregating!  Anti-Semites love a self-hating Jew; they love a Jew who will criticise other Jews, or Israel.  (Did they love Otto Weininger, the Austrian philosopher (1880-1903) who, being Jewish, as a consequence of his own anti-Semitic philosophy, committed suicide?)  Israelis who criticize Israel feel entitled to express as much anger, outrage, discontent, opposition to their government’s policies and actions as any citizen of any country may feel entitled to do about her/his country. They don’t necessarily realise they are providing fodder to fatten the collective hatred of these virulent anti-Semites. Or that their words are being used to substantiate a claim that their country is illegitimate and not entitled to even exist!  A claim which I do not believe is made about any other country in the world, no matter what the circumstances under which it was founded.

I’m not aware of any other kind of racism working in this way. Do racist bigots love people of colour who will speak against other people of colour? Do they congregate around people of colour who are inverted racists? I don’t think so. Anti-Semitic hatred shares much with other racisms, but also takes on forms which seem not to apply to other racisms, such as the desecration of Jewish cemeteries.

I think this wish of anti-Semites to “align” themselves with Jews who criticise Jews/Israel, along with expressing Jew-hatred in the guise of anti-Zionism, is a post-holocaust phenomenon.  In the aftermath of the holocaust, it is not PC to openly express anti-Semitism.  Therefore anti-Semites – who exist even in places where there are no Jews! – have some very crude tactics for unblocking the path to their urge to express their powerful and irrational hatred. For example:
(i) Holocaust denial. If the memory of the Holocaust is blocking the path to openly anti-Semitic expression, then by denying it, minimising it, or trying to erase it from history, one can then hope to open up the path to, and validate such expression.
(ii) Alignment with a Jew who, as above, criticises other Jews or Israel, again in the hope to validate their hatred.

It appears, then, that what anti-Semites feel the need to do, which they don’t apparently feel the need of in respect to other racisms, is to validate their racism, to avoid being labeled as the anti-Semites that they are; to avoid being labeled as the Nazis some of them are – a label they wish to project on Jews – perhaps in some cases in a wish to cancel out the Nazi guilt.

That is not to say that everyone who adopts a position of anti-Zionism is therefore necessarily anti-Semitic. But that is a subject for another blog.

What the Israeli medical establishment did to my mother and other children subjected to these massive doses of radiation to the head, and the consequences to these people and their families, were terrible. It was not known what the consequences would ultimately be. Radiation was not understood at that time as it is today.  Nevertheless, it was terrible.  As was its negligent and criminal use without the understanding of the long-term consequences; without deep research into what had already been discovered, but not disseminated into a wider awareness, about radiation’s destructive potential – therefore the experimental nature of its use on children.  The ruined lives…. dreams turned into nightmares.



Someone commented on this post, utterly flabbergasted that I was “defending” Israel and thus manifesting “unconditional love” for Israel, after what “it had done” to my mother.  I was quite taken aback by such a response, which missed the entire point of my article.   For this reason, and and also because I did not want to attract virulent anti-Semites eager to find out where their ilk were congregating, I made this post private until I felt inclined to address this point, and long after.

So there are 3 main issues here:  firstly:  who exactly “did this” to my mother?  I do not think it was Israel that “did this” to my mother.  It was not the land of Israel.  It was not the general population of Israel – she, after all, was part of Israel – a “sabra” – the term in use for an Israeli-born Jew.  And my mother certainly loved Israel, belonged there, and always longed to return.  She was quintessentially Israeli.  It was part of the medical establishment, and certain government ministers at the time that irradiated and damaged her previously perfectly healthy brain when she was a young child.  Was the USA implicated as is strongly implied in the film?  I am not sure of the extent to which my mother may have made an association between the “treatment” she was subjected to and her brain tumours, and it was something she experienced solitarily – unaware that others who had undergone the same “treatment” were suffering similar fates.

The second issue relating to the reaction to my post is:  would the same question be asked of other countries whose children received the same treatment?  The 30,000 children treated in the early 1950s in Portugal?  The 50,000 children treated in Serbia?  The 27,000 children treated in Eastern Europe?  Would someone be amazed that a Portuguese person, or a Serbian could love their countries?  That it was these countries that “irradiated” their children?

Would the same reaction be evoked in relation to other toxic “medical” experimental treatments?  In Britain, for example, I have enormous gratitude towards my mother that while she was pregnant with me, she refused to take any medication whatsoever for any pain or discomfort – not even an aspirin.  This was the time when the Thalidomide drug was being routinely administered to pregnant women for morning sickness, with subsequent devastating consequences.  In the States and in Britain, pharmaceutical companies cooperate with the psychiatric profession, motivated entirely by the maximization of profits, in creating an artificial ever-increasing market for powerful mind-altering, mind-disabling drugs which are zealously administered to millions of adults and children which can and often do have fatal consequences.

Would it be said that Britain “did this” to children born with Thalidomide-induced deformities?  Would it be said that the United States, Britain, the Netherlands, or any other country, “did this” to those children and adults whose lives are ruined or ended from psychiatric drugs?

The third issue relates to Buddhist ethics;  practising Buddhists try to cultivate equal loving kindness for all of humanity, whether towards our immediate family, whether it is towards someone we have very little to do with, or whether the person is our worst enemy.  Someone who is enlightened will be understood to have achieved this, while others will ideally aspire to achieve this (or perhaps aspire to this aspiration!)  According to this ideal – it is irrelevant whether or not the person who has suffered such damaging treatment is one’s mother or not;  one’s concern would be just as great whoever the sufferer may be.


My final word is directed towards any virulent anti-Semites, who found their way to this post in a quest to discover where others of your kind lurk.  What I have to say to you is:  “Shove orf!  Or else I’ll butt you with my horns!”