[The following is the lead article from the October Rock & Rap
Confidential (firstname.lastname@example.org ). The entire October issue focuses on
music's relationship to war and terrorism. We would be happy to send
you a copy. Just email us at email@example.com with your name and a
postal address. If you think what we've written here is important,
please forward it along to others. Thanks and peace--The editors of
Rock & Rap Confidential]
IMAGINE THERE'S NO UNITY.. "United We Stand," America's ever-present
new slogan, does have a ring of truth. Tom Morello of Rage Against the
Machine put it best four days after the September 11 attacks. "Our
deepest sympathy and condolences go out to all the people and their
families affected by the attacks on Tuesday," Morello said. "The loss
of innocent life is just terrible..The pain felt across the country
demonstrates the lesson of Tuesday's events: that the taking of
innocent life is devastating to a society and terribly wrong."
In the wake of the terror, a spirit of togetherness emerged from New
York City and captured the imagination of the country. "We, the gruff
New Yorkers who reputedly step over street people indistinguishably
drunk or dead, are doing heroic, selfless things," said a September 13
email from Sub Verse, a hip-hop label with offices a few blocks from
the World Trade Center.
But the unity built around sympathy, fear, or even anger only goes so
far, definitely not as far as unity around giving the government a
blank check for the bombing of Afghanistan or for anything else. Steve
Harvey, TV star and the top-rated DJ in Los Angeles on KKBT-FM, has
repeatedly told his listeners that we cannot trust our government to
take us into war, that he will not allow his own son to be sacrificed,
and that we need to focus on our own problems, such as homelessness.
How can we unite with a government that gave out $15 billion in aid to
airlines that had refused to give severance pay to laid-off workers?
The same airlines were silent when the Massachusetts governor's
chauffeur was made head of security at Boston's Logan Airport last year
and they still refuse to reinforce cockpit doors because it's "too
expensive" (what's that $15 billion for?). For Chrissakes, the
Department of Energy proposes that we allow our food to be canned with
radioactive steel, while the Treasury Secretary calls for an end to
Medicare and Social Security. Who can unite with that?
The restless whispers over such facts might become a scream if the
American people knew how deeply their government has been involved in
the rise of the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden, how hard the CIA worked to
promote a distorted Islamic fundamentalism at hundreds of Pakistan-
based religious schools attended by guerillas, and how deeply our
government has been involved in international drug dealing (60% of US
heroin now comes from the Afghanistan/Pakistan border area and the
CIA's Charles Cogan admitted guilt in 1995: "There was fallout in terms
of drugs, yes. But the..Soviets left Afghanistan.")
The world is most certainly divided but not between Americans and
Arabs. The fundamental division is between wealth and poverty.
According to the UN, 35,615 children worldwide died of hunger and
hunger-related diseases on September 11 and on each day since. 447
billionaires now have more wealth than the poorest 2.75 billion people
on the planet put together. And it's not only everywhere else. In
America, this is reflected in millions of homeless people, tens of
millions of people with no health insurance, and a shift in spending
from education to prisons.
In other words, the average American has a lot more in common with the
average Arab than with the people who run the U.S. government. The
average Arab has a lot more in common with the average American than
with the likes of Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi construction tycoon who is
one of those 447 billionaires. If Americans and Arabs could both divide
from the governments, corporations, and organizations that offer us
only war and poverty, then we could unite to imagine a peaceful and
The first step in that process is communication, both among ourselves
and with the rest of the world. Our primary means of communication is
music. So it's no coincidence that there has been a great increase in
music censorship. It began right after September 11, when the 1200-
station broadcast behemoth Clear Channel Communications banned all
music by Rage Against the Machine and issued a don't-play list of 150
songs, ranging from Nena's anti-nuke "99 Luft Balloons" to John
Lennon's sublime "Imagine," with its lyric "I hope someday you'll join
us/And the world will live as one."
Clear Channel protested that it wasn't really a ban but its true colors
were revealed October 1 when the company fired Davey D from his post as
Community Affairs Director at KMEL/San Francisco. For over a decade,
Davey D, the world's foremost hip-hop journalist, has put controversial
issues and personalities on the air at KMEL. Will Steve Harvey at Clear
Channel-owned KKBT be the next victim of the chain's sleazy quid pro
quo with the government? (On September 13, just before the Clear
Channel censors went into action, the FCC declared its intent to lift
all ownership restrictions on broadcast chains).
On September 14, the Secret Service closed down Rage Against the
Machine's website. Other musicians who voiced opinions not approved by
the government came under pressure to retract them. Kevin Richardson of
the Backstreet Boys apologized (kind of) because he asked during a
Toronto interview: "What has our government done to provoke this action
that we don't know about?" Moby apologized (definitely) for saying that
the people of New York had been "failed" by the FBI and CIA who "exist
solely to protect us from this sort of atrocity."
There was also censorship by omission. On September 11 the highly
political metal band System of a Down had the most popular album in the
world. But while right-wing talking heads you've never heard of got
unlimited face time, System of a Down was ignored. Perhaps that was
because frontman Serj Tankian was insisting that we try to actually
understand world events: "No one in the media seems to ask why did
these people do this horrific act of violence and destruction?"
As for hip-hop, it was invisible despite the fact that rap stars
donated millions of dollars to relief efforts, while others organized
concerts or town hall meetings. As Davey D put it in his FNV newsletter
(http://www.daveyd.com), "Because of the narrowcasting in news
coverage, the average person has no idea what Mos Def, Common, Talib
Kweli, or KRS-One is thinking."
Now we are officially at war. Music, which is fundamentally for peace,
will come into increasing conflict with the government. That's all to
the good, but if we don't find effective ways to support musicians, the
sound of silence will become deafening.
Rock & Rap Confidential Box 341305 Los Angeles CA 90034 www.rockrap.com
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Great wonders from the wild heart of Africa
The Times of London
(Copyright Times Newspapers Ltd, 2002)
Rosemary Righter traces the complex civilisation that produced the fabulous Benin Bronzes
NIGERIA'S demand for the return of the British Museum's Benin Bronzes -a misnomer as they are
mainly brass -caps a century of cultural, artistic and political controversy. From the moment that
crateloads of them arrived in the West, brought by the 1897 British Punitive Expedition that
destroyed the West African kingdom's ancestral capital and deposed its ruler, the sculptures were a
Sinuously naturalistic, yet highly sophisticated, the graceful heads, animal figurines and intricate
metal plaques bore no resemblance to the fetishes and wooden masks that had come to be thought
of as "African art". The great Renaissance sculptor Benvenuto Cellini "could not have cast them
better", one awed Austrian scholar wrote, "and nobody else either, before or since". Evidently they
were the product of a complex civilisation.
Racist theories soon abounded to explain how such wonders could have come out of the wild heart
of Africa. This was, after all, a continent of famously little historical continuity whose other great old
civilisations -Nubian Cush, Punt, land of frankincense on the Horn, or the stone-built citadel of
Zimbabwe -had foundered leaving barely a trace of what might be called "high art" behind. This must,
then, have been the site of Atlantis; or home to the lost tribe of Israel; or some far-flung and forgotten
outpost of Ancient Egyptian empire.
When more became known about this mainly Edo-speaking realm on a sandy plain west of the Niger
River, another "solution" was advanced: the sculptors and casters must have been heavily influenced
by the Portuguese mariners who established trade with Benin in 1485 -and to whom the skilled
artisans of Benin in fact sold weird caricatures of their art as "export ware".
Only after the Second World War, mainly through the scholarly efforts of two British Museum
scholars, William Fagg and Charles Hercules Read, was this art of kings recognised, together with
the equally glorious treasures of nearby Ife, as purely African in inspiration and execution.
Although Benin was reinstated by the British as a kingdom incorporated into Nigeria, and still
exists today, it has taken years of sifting its oral histories to gain a clearer picture of the complex
political organisation, dominated by the symbolism and power of divine kingship, whose history as
well as ritual is so vividly evoked in its art.
Benin has the most delightful of creation myths. Osanobua, the Ruler of the Sky, sent his sons to
live on Earth. Each took things that would serve them well there, but the youngest, counselled by a
bird, took only a snail shell. When they got there they found to their horror nothing but water. "Now
turn over the snail shell," sang the bird, and when the youngest son did so sand flowed out of it until
a land mass was formed. All kings of Benin thus came to be recognised as Ogiso, Rulers of the
That divine status has been central to Benin's culture throughout its history, which is more
prosaically thought to have begun with an influx of migrants from the northeast in the 8th century; its
first royal dynasty was founded around 900 when a council of elders selected King Igodo. His son,
Ere, was a remarkable institution- builder who made the Uzama, or Kingmakers, a top tier of what
was to evolve into a complex governing hierarchy, and introduced emblems and ceremonies to
underpin the majesty of the throne and royal oral historians to cement the dynasty's deeds into the
collective memory. He also created royal guilds of weavers, carvers and potters who worked, in
those days, mainly in clay, wood or leather.
It was the next dynasty, which appears to have surfaced in the 13th century and which in etiolated
state survives to this day, that made Benin a vast military and commercial power. From its minutely
organised capital city, larger and better laid out within six-mile- long perimeter walls than many
European cities of the day, and compared by 16th-century Dutch travellers to Amsterdam, it held
sway over a swath of fiefdoms administered by Town Chiefs who were also responsible for raising
The myth, again, is a delight. For lack of a successor, the Kingmakers turned at that time to the Oni
of Ife, the land which to the neighbouring Yoruba is the origin of life, asking him to send them a son.
That ruler, doubting their good faith, sent them instead seven lice to look after. Only when the lice
were, after three years, returned to him in radiant health, did he send his beloved son Oranmiyan.
The son fared less well than the lice and left after fathering his own son. In truth the foreigners -who
brought brasscasting with them from Ife -had a bloody struggle to establish, with the title of Oba,
their new dynasty. Finally, in the 14th century, the Kingmakers were subdued and the kingdom
stabilised. In the two following centuries, the golden Age of the Warrior Kings, Benin reached its
imperial zenith, holding sway over much of what is now Nigeria from the west of Lagos east to the
The Oba, fearfully invoked by his people as "Child of the Sky whom we pray not to fall and cover us,
Child of the Earth whom we implore not to swallow us up", was thought to be a divinity needing
neither food nor rest. He exercised unlimited spiritual and vast temporal power, with a royal
monopoly on Benin's rich trade in ivory, pepper, slaves and cloth. But the kingdom's complexity
forced him also to be a clever politician. Benin's elaborate royal rituals, in the courts of a vast palace
with galleries, pillars clad with storytelling brass plaques and soaring towers whose pinnacled roofs
were topped with great metal birds, were vital tools of control.
The ritual and ornamental art belonging to the Oba was unlike most African art in being intimately
linked to history and dynastic politics. No single piece is more eloquent, or politically revealing, than
the exquisite head of Idia, Benin's first Queen Mother.
Idia is the pride of the British Museum collection. She was also more than fortunate in the pride -and
awe -she inspired in her son, Oba Esigie (1504-50), third of the five great warrior kings. Before the
lovely Idia, being the birth mother of an Oba was no joy. They were banished the moment that their
sons were crowned. But Esigie broke with tradition. He created for her the rank of Iyoba, built her a
palace on the city outskirts where she held court, and stayed in close touch through intermediaries
-they never met after his coronation.
This formidable and beautiful woman, a skilled healer and charm- maker, so vigorously defended her
son's interests that she raised an army to help to defeat his enemies. To this day she is known in
Benin as "the only woman who went to war".
The lifesize portrait suggests neither ferocity nor cares of state. Here is a woman in her prime,
lovingly and sensitively modelled, a wonderful example of the realism allied to grace that
distinguishes Benin's best art. Idia knew the importance of standing out from the crowd. She
invented her "parrot's beak" coiffure, a great cone of hair covered with coral beads that cascade to
her neck and play about her ears. All queen mothers after her dressed their hair that way.
Benin was no feminist paradise, however. A mere tenth of its thousands of treasures depict women.
Yet of Idia there are at least five portraits, including one by the same sculptor in the National
Museum in Lagos.
Ceremonial heads such as this, cast by the lost wax method, were kept on royal memorial altars,
flanked by brass animals and tableaux. Many are still reverently guarded today.
History was every bit as important as ritual in Benin. The palace's brass plaques show heroes and
battles of six centuries of imperium. This was a history, and an art, whose continuity was unbroken
until the notorious massacre of unarmed British colonial envoys who would not take the royal "no" for
an answer; and the no less notorious punishment which that other, mightier Empire exacted in 1897.
Caption: Idia, the Queen Mother, known as "the only woman who went to war";A Benin ivory, iron
and copper mask;Plaques shown at the British Museum
Copyright © 2000 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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