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Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LOS BITCHOS-“Trapdoor” (2018).

trapThe first time I played this song I thought it sounded vaguely familiar.  I don’t know that I ever would have guessed that it was a cover.  But upon reading that it is a King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard song, it absolutely makes sense.

They get the opening guitar sounds perfectly right and the lead guitar even sounds vaguely flute-like.

Of course, since the original is jam packed with words, it’s easy to not realize it’s the same song, but the melody is so great it works perfectly as an instrumental as well.

Los Bitchos keep the psychedelic feel of the song and just slow it down a bit (until the end) to make it even more dreamy.

Incidentally, I found out about Los Bitchos because their song came on right after King Gizzard’s new song on YouTube.  Good programming, there!

[READ: July 14, 2020] “My Madeleine”

This issue of the New Yorker has a series of essays called Influences.  Since I have read most of these authors and since I like to hear the story behind the story, I figured I’d read these pieces as well.

These later pieces are all about one page long.

Spark starts by saying that Marcel Proust is well-known for his Madeleine fetish.  He put the cookie to his lips and is memories flooded back.

Spark’s “Madeleine” is an empty notebook–as soon as she sees one she wants to fill it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-“Honey” (2020).

honeyA new King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard song is never a surprise (few bands are as prolific) but it is always a delight.

After the seriously heavy metal of their last album and accompanying live records (I do wish they’d release a live show that’s not so heavy metal-dominated since they have such a wonderfully diverse catalog), this song drifts back to their more psychedelic sound.

Stu Mackenzie says he wrote it a few years ago.  It starts out with a middle eastern microtonal acoustic guitar (I’ve never seen an acoustic microtonal guitar).  It’s lovely melody, fluid and open.  After about a minute, the bass comes in and rumbles the song along adding a complex texture to this mostly mellow song.

Stu’s guitar is simple but has some tasty bending notes.  But since nothing is simple, there some wild drum fills and unexpected falsetto vocals.

The third part shifts gears a little with what I think is a (processed?) flute solo.  and because no KGATLW can be traditional, there’s another part in the middle that’s almost  a bass solo with a few sitar-like strummings.

It’s always exciting to get more music from KGATLW and this promises some great new stuff in the near future.

[READ: July 10, 2020] “The Constant Muse”

This issue of the New Yorker has a series of essays called Influences.  Since I have read most of these authors and since I like to hear the story behind the story, I figured I’d read these pieces as well.

Although I have never read anything by John Le Carré.  I don’t even really know what he writes–spy novels?

Anyhow, as I started this I recognized the name of his novel The Constant Gardener, although as I say I don’t know anything about it.  He says the novel follows a British diplomat as he searches for the people who killed his wife, Tessa.  The story opens with Tessa dying on the shores of Lake Tukana in northern Kenya.

When he finishes a novel, John asks where the ideas came from–a stupid question, but one he likes to ask himself.  He says he got the initial idea for this story twenty years earlier when he saw a man come into the restaurant where he was eating and begin handing out flowers to everyone–refusing to accept any money.  The proprietress gave him a glass of wine and a kiss. She told John that they call him the mad gardener.  He had suffered a great loss and he felt better handing out the flowers from his large garden. (more…)

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25938055SOUNDTRACK: MALAWI MOUSE BOYS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #42 (July 1, 2020).

mouseThis Tiny Desk (Home) Concert is from Malawi in Southeastern Africa.  The performer is Nelson Mulligo of the Malawi Mouse Boys.

He only plays one song, but it’s really cool.  Bob Boilen tells us some very important details about the song, the singer and the band.

We see his two-room home in the opening shot where he and his family live without plumbing or electricity. Then we see Nelson, standing below the power lines, holding his homemade guitar singing, “I’m So Tired of You.” It’s a song that sings out the evils of poverty, a life of hard physical work, of making money scavenging for mice amongst boars and snakes so they can sell them as roasted mice shish kabobs along the roadside. We only get one song, and even that cuts off abruptly, but I was deeply moved when producer Ian Brennan (Tinariwen, The Good Ones) sent it my way. He and his wife Marilena Umuhoza Delli met and recorded the Malawi Mouse Boys in 2011. You can hear Ian Brennan tell his story on NPR’s Weekend Edition. If you fall in love with what you hear, give a listen to the entire band harmonize. You can find their music on Bandcamp here. Even though the group played Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD festival in 2015, they still live in poverty. Support what you love.

The song is simple and very catchy with Mulligo’s voice sounding strong and really lovely and his homemade guitar sounding great.

[READ: July 2, 2020] Nichijou 1

This book was recommended to me based on some other manga that I had read.  I didn’t know Keiichi Arawi [あらゐけいいち] or anything about Nichijou, but the cover picture of a classroom full of kids with a deer on one of the desks looked promisingly funny.  As did the comments about the series being delightfully surreal.

It is very surreal.  So much so that I finished the book with a massive question mark hanging over my head.  I literally had no idea what was going on.

When I looked up some information about the series (there are dozens of books and a TV show), I learned some details about what I was reading.  When I re-read it, it made a lot more sense, but was still really bizarre and not easy to follow. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: M. WARD-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #39 (June 25, 2020).

I don’t really know all that much about M. Ward. I was supposed to see him live on many occasions that never panned out (I think at least three shows were either cancelled or I couldn’t go).  But then I did get to see him live at the She & Him Christmas show.  I was really impressed with his guitar playing in that set.  And I’m even more impressed in this set.

He opens here with two beautiful finger-picked songs.  The first is “just” an “Instrumental Intro.”  I don’t know if it’s an actual song or just an improv, but it’s terrific (with nice harmonics).  It segues seamlessly into “Duet for Guitars #3.”  I’m not sure how you play a duet with just one guitar but it, too, sounds wonderful.

His tuning is nonstandard for all of these songs, which somehow makes them more chill and pretty.  His playing is effortless and really fun to watch.

For me, M. Ward would be the perfect artist to sit next to while he played his songs, perhaps on a couch in a small room. And that’s pretty much what you get with this Tiny Desk (home) concert. We see M. Ward in the lounge of BOCCE, a recording studio in Vancouver, Wash.

I didn’t really know his singing voice, but the blurb sums it up nicely:

That tender wispy-rasp in his voice and flowing acoustic guitar make M. Ward a musician I’d want to hear up close.

He explains that he took requests from various social media for this set.  He plays four requests and one new song.

Ward’s delivery reminds me of Sandro Perri, although a little more conventional.  “Chinese Translation” and “Requiem” are softly strummed songs and his vocals are mostly deeper with an occasional high note added in.

In between the requests he plays a new song.

Those songs fit so well with music on his new record, Migration Stories, from which he plays “Coyote Mary’s Traveling Show.”

This song sounds a little different in style–a more traditional bluesy style, I guess.  Then it’s on to

 comforting and memorable older tunes like “Poison Cup” (2006)

for which he switches to a different guitar–this one smaller (and presumably tuned differently).

Then it’s back to the first guitar for “Voice at the End of the Line” (2003). There’s some really lovely guitar work in this song.  I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to see him live but maybe one of these opening gigs will actually happen someday.

[READ: June 22, 2020] “Grief”

This story is about genocide and how to cope with it–especially if you are far away from when it happened to your family.

The narrator found it worse that no one would say the word genocide, just wry observations like “weird stuff goes on in your country.”  She had not given up hope that he mother, father, brother, sisters, her whole family back in Rwanda might still be alive.

In her homeland, the word was

gutsembatsemba, a verb, used when talking about parasites or mad dogs, things that had to be eradicated, and about Tutsis, also known as inyenzi—cockroaches—something else to be wiped out.

A Hutu classmate once told her he  had asked his mother who those Tutsi people were that he’d heard about and his mother said, they were nothing–just stories.

The narrator tried to get in touch with her family but heard nothing.

Finally, she called her older brother in Canada.  He told her that he was now the head of the family.  She received a formal letter in June confirming the deaths.  Why didn’t she have a photo of any of them? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: A-Hi-Fi Serious (2002).

Many bands are hard to search for online.  A may have topped the roster of most unsearchable bands (they were named in 1993 way before Google was even a thought and when they would be at the front of record store racks).  A are also the alphabetically first CD I own.  So my collection literally goes from A to Z

A are a band from Suffolk England.   They formed in 1993, broke up in 2005 and have been sort of reuniting off and on every since.

Their second album A vs. Monkey Kong was well received and this, their third album had a solid single in “Nothing.”  I’m not sure how I heard of them (probably well reviewed in Q magazine back in 2002) so I grabbed this album.  This album comes with a Quicktime video!  When I learned about this band back in 2002, scads of information were not available about them.  So as I was looking them up I learned all kinds of things about them (like that they cite Rush as an influence).  And that this album name comes from the name of the hi-fi electronics store Alan Partridge buys a stereo from in the last episode of I’m Alan Partridge series 1.

This album is pretty punky/grungy.  Lead singer Jason Perry has a distinctive voice with some good power.

There are all kinds of hit-making elements in here.  Big crunching guitars coupled with soaring vocals dominate most of the songs, like “Nothing” and “Pacific Ocean.”   “The Distance” also revels in the grunge punk guitar sound with a totally metal guitar solo

Songs like “Something’s Going On” have a distinctly pop-punk bratty sound.  So does “Starbucks” with the line: “don’t wanna get a job at Starbucks”  The title track also works in this snarky, funny, catchy vein.

“Six O’Clock” mixes some cool electronics in the verses while the chorus is, once again, big and catchy.  “Going Down” has a much smoother sound with anything distinctive coming from his vocal delivery.

“Took It Away” does the quiet/loud verse thing very well.  Some deliberate glitching is a fun surprise too.  While “The Springs” introduces acoustic guitar and lots of oohs–a real flick-your-lighters kind of song.  “W.D.Y.C.A.I.” is also catchy with a sing along (woah oh) bridge and a super poppy chorus.

“Shut Yer Face” sounds like the quintessential grunge song–snarky lyrics, big grungy guitars, and a soaring chorus.  It even has vulgarish lyrics, record scratching and other samples!  And man is it catchy.  If this didn’t crack the States for them, nothing would.

[READ: April 15, 2019] “Djinn”

I was shocked to see that Esquire had published a story by Russell Banks in both March and June of 2000.  I was also shocked to see that a man gets shot in this one as well (that’s four of the first five stories in Esquire in 2000 in which someone is shot).

This is a story of a man who works in Hopewell, New Jersey.  They manufacture and sell women’s and children’s high end rubberized sandals.  The sandals were manufactured in Gbandeh, the second-largest city in the Democratic Republic of Katonga, a recently desocialized West African nation.

One of his jobs was to travel to Gbandeh and make the acquaintance of the local managers with hopes of facilitating communication.  And of course to make sure the Katongans could adapt the the fast paced technology in place. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STELLA DONNELLY-Tiny Desk Concert #819 (January 22, 2019).

Stella Donnelly has been generating some buzz lately, but I wasn’t familiar with her.  I didn’t even realize she was Australian.

She is adorable with her hair in two little nubs at the back of her head and a big smile most of the time.

She immediately won the office over with her broad smile, warmth and good-natured sense of humor. It’s the kind of easy-going, open-hearted spirit that makes her one of the most affable live performers you’ll see. While there’s no doubting her sincerity, she’s also got a disarming way of making her often dark and brutal songs a little easier to take in.

And indeed, she does not mince words when she sings.

“Beware of the Dogs” is a delicate song with Stella strumming her guitar with no pick and singing in a beautiful but soft voice.  There’s such a gorgeous melody for the chorus.

It turns out that this song and the other two are new.  Because she doesn’t even have an album out yet!

For this set, she performed entirely new — and, as of this writing, unreleased — songs from her upcoming full-length debut, Beware of the Dogs. Opening with the title cut, Donnelly smiled cheerfully through the entire performance while reflecting on the horrors that often lurk beneath the surface of seemingly idyllic lives. “This street is haunted like a beast that doesn’t know its face is frightening to behold,” she sings. “All the painted little gnomes, smiling in a line, trying to get your vote.”

As the song builds she gets more pointed:  “There’s no Parliament / Worthy of this country’s side / All these pious fucks / taking from the 99.”

She follows with “U Owe Me” which is “about my old boss at  a pub I used to work at back home.”

This song has a gentle guitar melody and some surprisingly soft vocals (including some vibrato at the end of each verse).   But the lyrics are straightforward and pointed (all sung with that disarming smile)

you put your great ideas up your nose /
and then try to tell me where the fuck to go /
you’re jerking off to the cctv /
while I’m pouring plastic pints of flat VB [or Foster’s or whatever].

At the end of the song she says, “He actually paid me a week after.  I was on the wrong week of my payroll.  It was very dramatic back then.”

She says “Allergies” is a run-of-the-mill breakup song.   “I’ve only got two of them and this is one of them.”  It’s a delicate, quiet song (capo on the tenth fret!) and once again, her voice is just lovely.

How can this Concert be only ten minutes long? I could listen to her all day.

Surprisingly, Donnelly chose not to play any of the songs that have gotten her to where she is in her young career — songs like 2017’s “Boys Will Be Boys” or last year’s “Talking,” two savagely frank examinations of misogyny and violence that earned her the reputation for being a fearless and uncompromising songwriter. But the new material demonstrates that her unflinching perspective and potent voice is only getting stronger.

I’m bummed that I am busy the night she’s playing a small club in Philly, as it might just be the last time she plays such a small venue.

[READ: January 26, 2019] Brazen

This is an awesome collection of short biographies of kick-ass women.  Bagieu has written [translated by Montana Kane] and drawn in her wonderful style, brief, sometimes funny (occasionally there’s nothing funny), always inspiring stories about women who spoke up for themselves and for others.  Some of the women were familiar to me, some were not.  A few were from a long time ago, but many are still alive and fighting.  And what was most cool is that the stories of the women I knew about had details and fascinating elements that I was not previously aware of.

What a great, great book.  It’s perfect for Middle School students all the way to adults.  I actually thought it might be perfect for fourth and fifth grade girls to read and be inspired by.  However, it skews a little bit older.  There’s a few mentions of sex, abortion, rape and domestic violence.  These are all real and important issues, but may be too much for younger kids.

Bagieu’s art for most of the pages is very simple–perfectly befitting a kind of documentary style but after each story she creates a two page spread that is just a breathtaking wash of colors which summarizes the previews story in one glorious image.  Its terrific. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SAUTI SOL-“Love or Leave” (Field Recordings, May 30, 2012).

Here is another Field Recording [A Morning Walk With Sauti Sol] filmed at SXSW.  But this one is on a bridge. The four members of Sauti Sol are up at dawn (one even sings “good morning.”  As a guy runs past them, they realize “We didn’t have our morning job, today” so two of them run around the other two, to much laughter.

Their happy mood is clearly reflected in their wonderfully colorful jackets (and amazing harmonies.

“Love or Leave” is terrific, with a great riff.   There’s only the one acoustic guitar and their voices fill in everything else.

I don’t know anything about Sauti Sol.  So the blurb says:

In spite of the early hour and chilly air, Sauti Sol arrived at the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge in Austin, Texas, in good spirits — not to mention colorful jackets that provided a welcome contrast to the cloudy sky. There, the Afro-fusion quartet from Nairobi greeted the morning birds and joggers with a version of its recent single, “Love or Leave.” The song amply demonstrates the group’s signature acoustic sound, which is anchored by the guitar of Polycarp Otieno and vocal harmonies of Bien-Aime Baraza, Willis Chimano and Delvin Mudigi.

There’s some pop elements including a kind of choreographed dance but the way the minor key hits in the chorus is outstanding.

It’s great that bands from Nairobi come to SXSW, and it’s even cooler that we get to hear them.

[READ: January 31, 2018] “On Not Growing Up”

I don’t really understand what this is supposed to be.  It is listed as fiction according to Harper’s.  It is written as an interview but neither party is introduced.

The first question is “How long have you been a child?”   The answer is “seventy-one years.”

The second question puzzles me even more and I think I’m thrown off from there.  “Who did you work with?”

Meyerowits for the first phase: colic, teething, walking, talking. He taught me how to produce false prodigy markers and developmental reversals, to test the power in the room without speaking.  I was encouraged to look beyond the tantrum and drastic mood migrations that depended on the environment, and if you know my work you have an idea what resulted. The rest is a hodgepodge

The interviewee says that the term adult is problematic.  It’s too easy to say that his childwork is directly divisive to Matures. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DRY THE RIVER-“Bible Belt” (Field Recordings, March 27, 2012).

The Field Recordings project was such a neat idea.  Kind of like the Tiny Desk, but not.  Many of them were planned ahead of time and some of t hem seem surreptitious.  It’s a wonder they didn’t do more or aren’t still doing them.

Since the whole NPR crew goes to SXSW, it just seems like these little songs would be easy to score.  I realize that they now do the South by Lullaby, but this is different (sort of).

This Field Recording [Dry The River: An Oasis Of Calm Amid The Feedback] is from a band I don’t know.  They were playing at SXSW and NPR got them to play on the secluded patio of Joe’s Crab Shack’s  overlooking the Colorado River (which is one thing that makes this cooler than a Tiny Desk).

“Bible Belt” is a gentle acoustic song with delightful harmonies–not unlike Fleet Foxes or Band of Horses.  Dry the River includes a violin which adds a slightly different quality.  But like those other bands, the song looks to soar:

Dry the River typically writes music with big, cathartic climaxes in mind: Songs on the band’s first full-length album, Shallow Bed, tend to start with miniaturized melodies that eventually burst into thunderous rock anthems.

You can feel like this song wants to be bigger, but they handle a quieter version nicely.

On this particular morning, Dry the River arrived in a more intimate formation, swapping electric guitars for acoustics and its full drum set for a single snare. While this performance of the gorgeous “Bible Belt” eases back on the loudness of the original, the band by no means lacks power. The result is a hushed, stirring performance that highlights the band’s many strengths.

My favorite part is the moment the band grows really quiet and you can hear some birds singing.  I’m very curious to hear just how big the original gets.

[READ: November 8, 2018] “Cattle Praise Song”

This is a story about genocide and cows.  The genocide is unavoidable but not explicit; the cows are the focus.

Starting in Rwanda, a seven-year old boy, Karekezi, watches his father with their herd of cows.  The cows are everything to them.  Karekezi even has a cow of his own: Intamati–all of the cows are named.  Every morning they look after the cows carefully–removing ticks or other insects, carefully inspecting them, calling them by their name and petting them–even worrying about a cow that takes too long to pee:

He’d hold her tail high and boldly lean forward–never mind that if the cow finally decided to urinate she might shower him.  Nobody dared to laugh.  Anyway, isn’t cow urine, amagana, considered to be a potent remedy?

The first few pages discuss the caring for and nurturing of these cows–the hand feeding, the fires to keep away flies; the special water only for the cows to drink.  And then the milking–a family event in which the best milkers milked and the others carried the bowls of milk like a priest with a chalice.  The young children drank hungrily from the fresh warm milk. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HASSAN HAKMOUN-“Balili (My Father)” (Field Recordings, June 11, 2014).

I didn’t know Hassan Hakmoun, but he is one of many West African musicians whose music I have come to really enjoy.  I absolutely love this song.

Hassan Hakmoun’s music is very much rooted in his homeland. Born in Marrakesh, he is from the Gnawa community, whose ancestors were brought from West Africa to North Africa as slaves in the 15th and 16th centuries. Gnawan music and dance, which are central to their spiritual tradition, fuse Muslim mysticism with sub-Saharan traditions in rituals meant to heal the body and lift the soul.

This Field Recording [On a Magical Mystery Tour with Hassan Hakmoun] has a different component to it–it is (so far) unlike any other one.

When we plan Field Recordings, we usually look far and wide to find off-the-beaten-path locations for filming musicians. But a unique opportunity presented itself when a duo called Wanderlust Projects — designers of “transgressive placemaking experiences” for urban explorers, usually in abandoned or otherwise places — invited us to come along on an adventure.

Wanderlust invited a crew of intrepid New Yorkers to accompany the fabulous Moroccan musician Hassan Hakmoun and his band on a mysterious day trip. So we piled into a van with the musicians, and off we all went to points unknown. After a long morning being driven to our secret destination — with no one but the organizers knowing where we were heading — we arrived upstate at the stunning Widow Jane Mine.

Along with providing spectacular visuals, the mine proved to be an oddly fitting location for Hakmoun and his musicians. The Widow Jane is a limestone mine that once supplied cement for such landmarks as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and the U.S. Capitol. Hakmoun’s music has found its fullest flower in New York with a highly transnational lineup of nomads.

The song opens with Hakmoun playing a fast riff on his instrument.  I cannot believe that they don;t say what it is–is it homemade?  is there one string or more?  how does he get such a great sound out of fit?).

He starts playing what will be the song’s main riff–a cool fast melody with some counterpoint loud notes.  The percussionist sings along , the flutist plays a solo of sorts and then after about a minute, the drums kick in and the song just rocks.

His band includes

Percussionist Chikako Iwahori is originally from Japan; guitarist Raja Kassis hails from Beirut; flutist Bailo Bah comes from Guinea; and drummer Harvey Wirht is from Suriname.

The sound is incredible.  Whether the caves enhance the music is unclear, but it sounds wonderful there.  The song is about 8 minutes long.  There’s not a lot to it–the riff is repeated almost throughout, but there are great variations throughout. The flute solo, the guitar solo or when he starts stomping his feet on the limestone while wearing bells on his ankles–it adds a great new component to the music.

This is just fantastic.

[READ: January 19, 2018] “Sprawl”

This is an excerpt from Dutton’s novel Sprawl (getting a reprint in 2018).

It’s a little hard to tell what the novel is about from this excerpt but I loved the whole take on suburbia that the export displays.

The excerpt is full of letters, presumably written by the same person (it’s unstated).

The first one is to Mrs Barbauld and is designed as a re-orientation to the neighborhood.  It is a bit confusing so I’m moving on.

The narrator is talking to us, I suppose as if setting the ultimate example: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JULIE BYRNE-Tiny Desk Concert  #788 (September 19, 2018).

Julie Byrne plays a quiet acoustic guitar and sings in a melodic whisper (almost).  She reminds me of Nick Drake in many ways.

Even in an office in broad daylight, Julie Byrne sings with both a husk and a whisper as if she’s gone a long time without speaking – as if she’s been alone, as if she’s been traveling. Her opening number at the Tiny Desk, “Sleepwalker,” sings of the road as a source of freedom.

I lived my life alone before you
And with those that I’d never succeeded to love
And I grew so accustomed to that kind of solitude
I fought you, I did not know how to give it up

Byrne’s guitar playing sounds very full as is each string gets its own special attention.

Julie Byrne’s hypnotic fingerstyle picking conjures a sense of wandering, a style she adapted from her father and a sound she grew up with until multiple sclerosis robbed him of that companionship and comfort. She now plays her dad’s guitar.

After performing “Sleepwalker” alone, Julie Byrne was joined by her musical companions, Marilu Donovan on harp and Eric Littmann on electronics. Together they conjure an ethereal compliment to Julie’s love of the open landscape.

“Follow My Voice” begins with just Byrne.  After a verse or so, the harp enters, making the song seem somehow even more delicate.  And the keys are there just to add a bit more substance–but not to solidify this delicacy.

“I Live Now as a Singer” is just the keys and the harp.  It reminds me a lot of Enya, with the washes of keys and Byrne’s deep but delicate voice.

[READ: January 5, 2017] “The Short History of Zaka the Zulu”

This story is set in a boys’ Jesuit boarding school in Africa.  The narrator is relating the story of a boy they nicknamed Zaka the Zulu. The narrator explains that Zaka was always odd but that they had never expected that hew would be accused of murder.

He was a very smart boy and he succeeded very well–which made him a little unpopular.  But he became even more unpopular when made head prefect.  He was so upright and sincere; he would get boys in trouble for the slightest infraction.  His worst punishment was when he made the younger boys stay for an extra period so that they could not watch the Mary Wards (the girls from Blessed Virgin Mary school) go for their weekly swim.

There were 40 or so Mary Wards every year.  They didn’t live with the boys, of course, but they were all part of the same school–the girls got the best Jesuit education the country could offer.   Only senior boys were allowed to mingle with the girls–particularly at the one or two dances each year.  It was felt that the girls had a civilizing effect on the boys. (more…)

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