Shadows – projecting our dark sides – or not!

People shadows on sunny city street

Sometimes we may perceive things in people that we react to.  Our reaction may be positive or negative. Is is about us? Is it about them?  As my dear late friend said: “If you don’t like cucumbers, it’s about you, and it’s also about cucumbers.”

We all have different constitutions, and different sensitivities. Some people take in more information than others – they may be psychically more open, because they have inherited a genetic state of being so, because they have been on the receiving end of some tremendous shock, or because they are tired, ill, hungry or in a state of fear, or their energy field has been severely depleted by being poisoned by chemotherapy or other toxic “treatment”.

I can’t remember in which book it was that D M Thomas or one of his characters comments that everyone becomes psychic in a wartime – no doubt because of being in a greater state of fear, and in a state of fine attunement to danger.

Then there is the theory of our shadows, promulgated by Jung, but embraced by many including Deepak Chopra. According to this theory, our shadows – rather than being insubstantial as real shadows are – contain all our self-rejected inclinations and emotions, all our denied negative characteristics: our dark sides! These we project on everything we don’t like.

There are people who take this rather far: everything we dislike, fear, or are repelled by, represents something we have rejected in ourselves that we are projecting on others. We are in a state of flight from our own shadows, and will try anything to suppress, tackle, subdue manifestations from the dark corners of our minds – including or especially self-medication! In order to dissociate ourselves from such shadow components, we may attribute them to others. Such subdued emotions may then, according to such a theory, leap out of their bonds in all manner of forms, including mental illness.

A lot of judgement and assumption is involved in applying such a theory – which is  just one more way of trying to make sense of phenomena by labeling them and fitting them neatly into compartments.

It is an interesting exercise to apply this theory to ourselves. If I feel aversion towards a stranger, is it something in myself that I am projecting on that poor unsuspecting person? Observing myself, I have noticed that when I have felt aversion towards a complete stranger, it may be because this person physically resembles someone who may have harmed me in some way.  (This of course is another kind of projection.). I will then have to tell myself that this is not the same person! That my reaction is unfair.

Generally, in cases of aversion, there are very many sources, and in each case, more than one source may be at work. Very often it is jealousy. Sometimes a person is emanating an energy redolent of a negative emotion which may repel us: one does not have to be extraordinarily psychic to sense anger or aggression emanating from a person, which will cause us to wish to keep a distance. The person may have a valid reason for feeling such a way – it does not have to mean she/he is a bad person – and that energy which may repel us may be very temporary.

These are all cases where projection of our own dark side is not an explanatory factor in why we may feel aversion towards a stranger.

People often reveal elements of their personalities, mind states and intentions in so many ways:   through the way they hold themselves, and they way they move, more obviously facial expressions, their aura…..if we react with aversion – this again does not represent projection of our own dark side.

Thich Nhat Hanh describes the Tibetan Buddhist idea of all the emotions being present in each one of us but as seeds; any one can arise, but through meditation we can learn to recognize when a thought generating an emotion (or vice versa) arises, and allow both the thought and the emotion to subside again. There is no shadow – no dark side; there are simply seeds which we may feed, and allow to grow, or which we may allow to dissolve back to seed-state.

Much as there is a great deal of projection going around, this simplistic idea of projection of our dark side onto anyone we don’t like simply doesn’t hold water as an explanatory factor for all, or even most, cases of aversion. We human beings are far more complex than that! And in some cases, far more straightforward!

Mac said not

                                           20170213_114040View from unglazed window of beach hut when I threw open the shutter each morning – Mac Bay Resort 1989

(Doo dun doo dun doo dee)                  I left Bangkok

(Doo dun doo dun doo dee doo)                    I thought I could rot

                    (Doo dun doo dun doo dee)                          & no-one would know

(Doo dun doo dun doo dee doo)                But Mac said not

 

I was once invited to tell a story about someone’s kindness, and this is the story I told:

My father died of cancer a long time ago now.

Not long afterwards, at a dinner where my siblings and I were of silent and flat mood, so it was difficult to know what to say to us, my cousin’s wife suddenly had an idea: “I know! You could go to Thailand!”

So I went to Thailand.  Though I thought: “I could rot there, and no-one would know.”  This is how my father’s death left me feeling.

On the plane to Bangkok, again, I thought:   “I could rot, and no-one would know.”  But I was distracted from thinking that for long.  The woman next to me on the plane was travelling there for her nephew’s ordainment as a monk in Bangkok, and invited me.

I spent a week in Bangkok. Then I took the sleeper train down south – through the day, through the night, and in the morning I took the boat to Koh (Island) Samui, and from there, another boat to Koh Phanang. (This was in the days before the Full Moon Parties, when travellers wore local clothes and ate local food! When there was just one tiny shop where you could buy toilet paper, water and mosquito coils.)

On the boat, resort owners from Koh Phanang were wooing travellers – showing pictures of their resorts. Mac wooed me and won my custom. I got behind him on his motorbike holding my guitar in one hand, holding onto Mac with my other arm, my excruciatingly uncomfortable rucksack on my back.  Over rough & bumpy terrain – no road that I can remember – we arrived at Mac Bay Resort.  Just a handful of huts on the beach which he’d built himself.  He was never going to have more than 10 huts, he told me.  (This was in the days before there was hot water there, and when we had to flush the toilets by pouring down bowlsful of water scooped from a bucket.  We did however have showers, while the locals would walk to the local pump in the privacy of dusk, and soap and sluice themselves with bowlsful of water in their sarongs.)

And I thought: “I could rot, and no-one would know.”

Since the journey to Koh Phanang with the overnight train-ride had been exhausting, I went straight to bed and slept for a long time.  When I finally got up and went to the restaurant of Mac’s resort to get something to eat, Mac commented: “You slept for a long time!  I was worried!  I thought that you were sick.”

I went for a swim. The sea was very shallow on that beach, so I had to go out far to reach water deep enough to swim in.  There were sharks, I was told, but they were “friendly sharks”!  I wasn’t very reassured, but I needed my swim!  When I got out of the sea, Mac observed: “You were swimming for a long time, and you went very far out!”

It seemed that Mac was looking out for me, and I stopped thinking that I could rot and no-one would know!

Mac brought out some photos of his brother’s funeral.  Mac had been studying Tourism at a university in Australia (where his wife was at the moment, introducing their baby – “a very beautiful baby” – to her family), when his brother was killed in a car accident in Bangkok.  His parents didn’t let Mac know while he was in Australia, because they didn’t want him to abandon his studies.  If he’d come to Thailand for the funeral, he wouldn’t have been able to afford to return to Australia.  So for a year, Mac wondered why his brother never answered his letters.  “He was a very good person…a very good person”, Mac told me, as we looked through the photos.

At this point, I started to cry.  I then told Mac that my father had died just 4 months previously.  Mac took me on his motorbike to a monastery on the island, and said it might help me to stay there for a while.  But I said I couldn’t meditate in front of a statue of Buddha!  (Little did I know that I would spend many years meditating in front of statues of Buddha in the future!)

* * *

When I told this story about Mac’s kindness, some people came up to me and said they’d done that journey from Bangkok to Koh Phanang!  The overnight train…the boats…

14 years later, I returned to Koh Phanang.  By this time, there was an airport on Koh Samui so I could just fly straight there, and then take a boat the next day to Koh Phanang.  Mac Bay Resort was still there, but the original 10 wooden huts had been pulled down, and there was instead a multitude of stone huts with hot water and flushing toilets!

His brother remembered me even though I had only stayed there for a week 14 years previously.  He showed me his guitar, which he said he had bought because of the guitar I had brought with me 14 years before, and because of my singing and playing on the verandah of my hut!   This time, I didn’t have a guitar with me, but there was a music shop where I was able to hire one for my stay.

There was now a parade of shops in the neighbourhood – competing CD/DVD shops, supermarkets, gift shops…  Travellers were wearing special travellers’ clothes and eating burgers and chips, and would go to Full Moon Parties on a beach which fortunately was on the other side of the island!  But which was surreal – like a city for 21-year-olds – like something out of a science fiction movie!

14 years previously everyone on  the island smiled at you as normal etiquette.  The locals smiled at you, so then the travellers smiled back and at each other, and then you struck up a conversation, and spent the day or a few days together, until it was time to move on to the next place.  Now the locals didn’t smile at us, and I was told that in fact they weren’t local.  The original resort owners had moved out and on, and unsmiling outsiders had moved in to take over their prospering businesses.  But Mac stayed!

 

20170213_113911I actually think this is Mac’s brother.  If Mac’s brother sees this, maybe he’ll confirm?

* * *

hill-tribe-boy

hill-tribe-girlHill tribe children (above) probably in Chang Mai

Well, I felt like writing a blog article.  The next one I was planning still requires research.  It’s a serious blog!  So I wondered what else to write about just now, and this is it!  As for the little verse at the top – that was part of another song I wrote but never got round to singing in public!

Rachel Rozsa *************************** In memory of my grandmother on Holocaust Memorial Day

 

silver-leaf-rose

My grandmother, Rachel* Rozsa, was born in Nagy (pronounced “Noj”) Szolos in Hungary (now Vinogradiv in the Ukraine).  An idyllic spa town nestling in the Carpathian Mountains, whose name means “Large grapes” – indicative of its wine production.  (Also famous because the composer Bartok moved there with his mother.)

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Her father was Rav (Rabbi) Itzhak Braun, who was renowned for being a miracle-worker.  At the end of WWI, mothers would come to him to find out where their sons were.  It was described to me that he would close his eyes and grab hold of the mother’s arm, then after a while, he said:  “He is crossing the border NOW!” banging his cane on the ground at the precise moment at which the returning soldier was crossing the border, and it would turn out to be accurate.  It was also described to me that he would take children who were sick in their spirit into his home and they would heal in his atmosphere.

I was the first family member to visit Nagy Szolos in 70 years.  The previous visit was by Rachel Rozsa, who went to her father’s funeral taking my father when he was just a baby.

When I visited Nagy Szolos, I tried to find Rav Itzhak Braun’s grave in the Jewish cemetery.  The Mukaceve Rabbi’s driver took me there, and we stopped at a house on the way to pick up the key to the cemetery from the lady who lived there, returning it on our way back.  I spent 2 or 3 hours in the cemetery searching, but couldn’t find the tombstone.  Half of the cemetery was overgrown with weeds, so it was hard to access those stones.  Even where the weeds had been cut or trampled down, I was getting grazed and scraped by weeds, and burnt in the hot sun, trying to find it.  Many of the stones were eroded by the elements, so it was difficult or impossible to read the script.

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Overgrown with weeds:

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Rachel Rozsa’s marriage was arranged by a matchmaker.  So after her marriage, she made the journey – a whole day by ox and cart (now an hour by car) from Nagy Szolos across the border into Mukacevo in Czechoslovakia, to live with a man she had met once or twice.  This is the view along the way:

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My aunt told me she was not happily married.  Her mother-in-law would come into the kitchen, lift the lids off her pots on the stove, and exclaim:  “What?  Is this what you give my son to eat?!!!”  So one can imagine this did not go down very well with Rachel Rozsa!  Being Hungarian, she made goulash.  She also made dumplings and pancakes.  When food became scarcer – probably after they were closed inside the ghetto – she was able to make a chicken last for 3 meals for 6 people.

My father couldn’t remember the colour of her hair.  Probably she kept her head covered most of the time.  I think it must have been brown – her daughter had brown hair, and her sons  had almost jet-black hair.  She loved reading and was well-read, took pride in her appearance, and one of the very few things I know about her is that she used to sing a song with the chorus:

Van London, van Nápoly,
van Konstantinápoly,
Van Róma, Barcselona,
Madrid, Csikágó

There’s London, there’s Naples,
There’s Constantinople,
There’s Rome, Barcelona,
Madrid, Chicago

…. and that she used to dream of going to these places.  If she had known that two of her sons would end up living in London and the other son in the States……said my aunt (who lived in Israel)!  (And of course …. if she had known that she would have 24 great-grandchildren, plus one brand new great-great-grandson…so far….)

When I was in Budapest (the nearest airport to Mukacevo & then a 7-hour train journey) I tried to find this song, and asked in a number of shops and museums.  Eventually someone told me it came from a film called Kek Balvany (“The Blue Idol”), and it was quite a feat to access a DVD copy of this film from the National Film Archive in Budapest, with the indispensable help of a Hungarian friend who also watched the film with me, patiently translating it!  I think my grandmother must have seen this film at the cinema in Mukacevo.  The family was religious, like all the Jews of the region.  But they sent one of their sons to the Zionist school (which the Mukaceve rebbe referred to as “that goyishe (colloquial & derogatory term meaning non-Jewish) school”, which indicates that they were not ultra-ultra religious.  And therefore I imagine she would have gone to the cinema.  Although my grandfather would consult the Mukaceve rabbi if he had any concerns about anything.  The song must also have been broadcast on the radio.

My father felt that his mother knew what was happening to Jews during WWII.

In 1944, Rachel Rozsa was transported to Auschwitz with her family.  They were forced off the train by barking SS with whips, and lunging alsations.  She was forced to separate from her sons and husband.  Someone, or some people, had decided that she should be exterminated, and had plotted, planned and collaborated to achieve this.  Someone made her strip.  Someone made her enter the gas chamber.  Someone had designed the gas chamber to accommodate her and others like and unlike her.  Someone released the gas into the chamber.  Zyklon B.  She would have been in her early 40s.

Before she was taken to the gas chamber, she told her 15-year old daughter, Miriam:  “I have lived.  Just that you should survive.”

A silver leaf in her memory was affixed to the silver tree installed by Tony Curtis outside the Great Synagogue in Budapest, each leaf commemorating a Hungarian Jew who was murdered in the holocaust.

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Apparently Rachel Rozsa did go to Budapest once with her father (and sister – I’m not sure how many sisters she had), although it is so far away from Nagy Szolos.

* * *

* Rachel is pronounced with the “a” sounding like the “u” in “up“, the “ch” sounding like the same letters in the Scottish word “loch“, & the “e” sounding like the “e” in “bell“.

You walk down the River Road

river-road

You walk down the River Road…..in Mukacevo (Munkacs) – Czechoslovakia between the wars, Hungary before that,  occupied by Hungary during WWII, now in the Ukraine, nestling in the Carpathian Mountains……

Where my father came from, and where he lived in this house with his family:

house

 

You walk down the River Road, which leads to the River Latorska, where my father and his brothers would jump off the bridge and swim….

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From the town centre ….

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…… from the municipality …..

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municipality

 

….the Town Centre

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Where there’s a fabulous art deco cinema  (some of the earliest talkies were Hungarian)….

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…and a theatre…

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So you walk down the River Road….

river-road

….and there on the left, on a pink wall is a Memorial Plaque. In Ukrainian & Hebrew, the following is written:

“In the year 1944 thousands of Jews were led from here on their last journey to death.”

memorial-plaque

 

 

Thought Forms and Green Tara

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In Buddhism, the characterisation of harmful acts which we repent and resolve to avoid, includes harmful acts of the mind. There is the idea that thoughts can actually cause harm per se, rather than just being a precursor to the possibility of physical harmful acts. Such harmful acts – whether of the mind or otherwise – are characterised as stemming from ignorance, but are “evil” nevertheless.

The idea of acts of the mind being harmful is actually widespread in the world. In the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and parts of Africa, protection is required against the “evil eye”. This refers to jealousy which is seen as exerting a harmful force.

In the West, there is much interest in psychic phenomena. The College of Psychic Studies in London, and other institutions, offer courses in energy healing, developing psychic intuition, mediumship, etc. Among the “psychic community”, there is also the idea of harmful acts of the mind, referred to as “psychic attack”. Through intentions to heal, we can affect healing in people, and conversely, through negative thoughts or intentions, we can connect with and produce negative energy which may be harmful not only towards the person such thoughts are directed towards, but may also cause collateral damage in adversely affecting those physically or psychically close to the target. Harm may occur even if the negative thoughts are unconscious and if harm is not specifically intended.

In Buddhism, the purpose of meditation is primarily to avoid the main “evil” and source of suffering – that of clinging. We aim to train our minds to recognize that we are thinking, and then to let go of the thought, no matter whether it is a positive or negative thought. The idea is not to push thoughts away if they are negative, or to hold on to them if they are positive, since by doing either, we are practising attachment, and feeding the thought. By trying to resist an unwanted thought…. perhaps a traumatic or disturbing memory – for example –  we are actually giving it energy. If we cling to a positive thought, it will cause some degree of suffering when this thought ends, and we are practising and strengthening our habit of clinging.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there is the idea that when we feed thoughts they solidify. By allowing thoughts to pass like clouds through the sky, we do not allow them to become solid and to exert a force over our minds.

So all these factors relate to the potential of thought to become solid; to exert a force; to take a shape. “Thought forms” – a term which comes up often in psychic literature. Eckhart Tolle, in the Power of Now and his other books, refers to “pain bodies”. These are, essentially, solidified energetic entities created by our own negative thoughts and pain, which we may constantly tap into, tune into, connect with, and feed with further pain, and which seem to exert a life of their own!  They may, it seems, commune with “pain bodies” generated by other people’s minds.

French sociologist Durkheim refers in his work to the “collective consciousness” – which appears to refer to a giant thought form which may engulf a collectivity of people, from a family, to an entire society.  This would consist in a collection of values, ideas, prejudices.  There is the implication that while one person or group of people may be predominant in generating and solidifying the cluster of thoughts and ideas which make up the form,  each person is tapping into, contributing to and strengthening this “cloud” of thought.  (Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa come to mind as among the most extreme malevolent examples.)  For those who get a feeling that this “collective consciousness” conflicts with their true individual consciousness, it must take a great deal of strength of mind to break out.  This notion of the “collective consciousness” implies the impact of external forces on the individual mind.

A psychiatrist once told me that there is a view in the field of psychiatry of the healthy mind being “sealed”. That if people feel that their minds are being controlled, or invaded, or permeated from external sources, this is a measure of mental illness. That a healthy mind is an impermeable one, essentially.  One can imagine someone in Nazi Germany going to a psychiatrist, complaining of a conspiracy by the Reich to act on his mind and control his actions…. and being diagnosed as having a mental illness for reporting such experiences!

Much of the world in fact operates on the basis of the permeability of the mind: the advertising industry; the brainwashing of commercialism – to name a couple of the more benign (although often far from benign) examples.

Then there is toxic exploitation of the belief in the permeability of the mind. There are voodoo practitioners who – if they are unethical – may employ ritual procedures to solidify thought forms to harm their targets. A Western couple who lived in Ghana related how they witnessed for themselves a schoolteacher being the target of voodoo (or juju as it is called there) and instantly becoming mad from that point on. In another case, a young woman made a suicide attempt, and her West African mother believed that someone had “worked” on her. I’ve heard it said a number of times that voodoo cannot work on someone who does not believe in it. It is fear that lets it in. Similar ideas exist among the “psychic community” – through fear, one becomes more open and susceptible to psychic attack. But this does not explain why a psychic or voodoo attack might also fall onto those who are physically or psychically close to the victim – who may have no knowledge of the attack, and no fear.

To continue on the subject of the problem with proposing the impermeability of the human mind, those who rape the minds of entire generations of entire nations to the purpose of evil seem to know differently, and it has been demonstrated to work. At the Institute of Propaganda Studies in Israel, we were shown techniques used to brainwash the German people before and during WWII into believing the Jews and other races were subhuman; techniques which were first honed in relation to the Namibian peoples – the first victims of genocide perpetrated by Germany in the 20th Century. Then there is Hamas and Isis – infiltrating the minds of their human instruments of mass murder – “grooming” them for this task from infancy.

A summary internet search offers many techniques designed to get rid of negative thought forms and the harm they may exert on people.

Tibetan Buddhism offers a very powerful antidote. For while there is an emphasis on letting go of thoughts, there is, at the same time, the ritualised solidifying of thoughts in a controlled way in order to cultivate such qualities as fearlessness, compassion. In the Green Tara Practice, for example, we visualise this deity, who has formidable superhuman qualities: she is very swift, appearing in an instant to anyone who calls upon her; her face is like 100 full moons in a Tibetan autumn. If just one full moon can light up a night sky, think how bright the night would be with 100 full moons! Her body is like a multitude of stars. Well – taking the sun as one star, a multitude would be blindingly bright! With her frown, she can destroy all adverse machinations. She whirls around surrounded by a garland of blazing fire. And these are just a few of her attributes! During the practice, we invite Green Tara into the space before us; then in an instant we are in her body, and finally, the visualisation melts into light and merges with us.

Ultimately, when we are ready to transcend notions of dualism, we see that there is no real separation between Tara and ourselves.

A practice that takes much time and commitment, but perhaps it can be a lifesaver!

Dewa Che – Tara Mantra

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:

 

 

 

At One

stunning night view

The Holy Isle – stupas, pier, view of Arran

At One

For string quartet and trumpet.

This work was written by me, with the idea of bestowing healing and calmness – a feeling of being at one with the world.  It is strongly influenced by jazz, in style, and also in method of composition.  I started this composition by setting out chords on the strings, and improvising over them for the trumpet part – this provides the opening of the piece.

In the very last section, the trumpeter has the option of either playing the pre-written part, or of improvising within specified parameters over the strings, which play the same chords as in the opening of the piece. In this performance, the trumpeter has chosen to improvise.  You can hear the abrupt change in melodic style at this point!  Until the final bar which was pre-written.

Performed here by the Impromptu Quartet and Clare Thorne on trumpet, at Lauderdale House, London, 2012. 

 

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.

 

 

Thin’s a child to the adult sex

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Artist-Yehuda Bacon-mixed media

Following on from my previous post:  “Bell, or Pas Belle”…..

A while back, I read an article about a composer who found some old cassettes of his which had decayed over time, and he wrote a composition using these decayed tapes. 

This caused me not a little concern.  I have boxes and boxes of cassettes with irreplaceable data and recordings.  So I am in the process of having my most precious recordings digitalized, although apparently my cassettes are, on the whole, in quite good nick – having been safely stored.

One of the recordings I’ve just had digitalized is of a song which I called Positive at the time, because it was about trying to think positively.  Here, I’ve decided, instead, to use the beginning of the song as a title.  It starts:

See it thus

Thin’s a child to the adult sex

I want none of that….none of that

This was when Susie Orbach’s book:  Fat is a Feminist Issue, had made a big impression on me.  The idea that the idealised thin (and devoid of body hair) aesthetic imposed on, and adopted by, women in the West, belongs to the concept of women as the child-like sex.

I was also influenced by an album by This Mortal Coil.  In one of the songs on this album, you cannot make out any of the words which the singer is singing – intentionally.  It is part of the style and atmosphere of the song.

This seemed like a great idea!  In this song that I had written, I felt quite exposed by the words after the initial lines.  So I decided to sing it disguising the words in a way that they were almost impossible to make out:  the voice would be more like an instrument providing melody, atmosphere and emotion, without fully-decipherable words.  After the opening lines, the words are not positive at all, but give expression to the way in which, in certain life (and death) situations, your pain can spill over, and other people’s pain can spill over onto you, in a way which can sap your confidence completely, and make it impossible to act on feelings of love, or of being in love.  I had recently passed through such a time, writing songs which gave vent to some intense emotions.  (“It’s slash your wrists time!” would be uttered –  it was later revealed to me – when I got up to sing in my local folk club!)

I met up with a guy who I have to credit with producing this recording:  Sal Paradise.  He got me to work properly on the guitar part until it was perfect before he agreed to record it.  He then doubled the guitar part with a delay inbetween the doublings, and added chorus, and a tabla sample on a loop.  (On his travels, he had recorded musicians, but I omitted to ask who the tabla player was behind this sample.)  He said he would make the vocal part “sweet”, but I think it is pretty much how I sounded back then, in the late 1980s. 

He then made us both a curry.

Unfortunately, he never let me have a decent copy of the recording.

So here it is:  Thin’s a child to the adult sex….

 

 

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.

Israeli Passport_20160502_0001

Family Defence Manual_20160502_0001

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…