Sunday, June 10, 2007

Congo, Goray, Butch Morris

First things first, saw a very important film recently, Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death. It tell the story of Belgium's King Leopold II and his genocidal operations in the Congo during the 19th and early 20th century. Director Peter Bate casts modern-day Congolese in historical re-enactments of actual events at times, which is at best distracting, at worst very unsettling. But nonetheless, he and narrator Nick Fraser have produced an extremely important document. As they lament, Leopold II destroyed much of the evidence and accounts of what happened in Congo during his reign. Therefore, Leopold II's apologists have forever had a way of escaping the truth. The only solace, Bate and Fraser conclude, is that during Leopold II's state funeral, his casket was booed as it was on parade. Still, statues of Leopold II can be found in Brussels and Antwerp, and official Belgian history portrays Leopold II as a civiliser. See this film and see for yourself what happened on his watch.

Burned through Satan in Goray, by my man Isaac Bashevis Singer. Beautifully translated by Jacob Sloan, Singer tells the story of a 17th century Polish town making preparations for the messiah. The villagers of Goray believed fervently that the messiah was coming in the form of Sabbatai Levi, a charismatic preacher from the Middle East. When word reached Goray that Levi was the messiah, that God was going to open up the heavens, save all the Jews and smote all their oppressors, the villagers' lives changed drastically and for the worse. Believing pre-ordained salvation was just around the corner, they abandoned their pious ways and lived immorally and savagely under the spell of a hypnotic pro-Levi rabbi who'd come to town. Turns out he's an incarnation of El Diablo, and before they know it the town is worse off then it ever was, the messiah Levi is exposed as a fraud, and his champion who swept up Goray in his charm is exposed as a dybbuk, a malicious spirit in Jewish folklore. I'm always completely enamored by Singer's magical realism, and feel a deep sense of connection to his Eastern European settings and characters. Read him, whatever your background. He's as important as Garcia Marquez and Nabokov.

Been playing with Butch Morris every Monday at Nublu. Always a rewarding challenge to play for Butch. I think the only other bandleader I've ever worked for who brings the same intensity as Butch is Wadada Leo Smith. There's a lot of similiarities playing for them, most importantly that you have to keep your eyes on them the whole time. In both of their cases, the musical landscape changes so quickly that if you're not looking at them before it happens, you've missed it already. Its been great with Butch; I've been playing either drumset or sabar. Very diferent endeavors of course. There's a couple regular drumset players who've been doing it for years, Kenny Wollesen and Brazilian Girls drummer Aaron Johnson, so I play kit if they're not there, and sabar when they are. Its a nice challenge to fit sabar into the mix. Since I almost always play sabar in the context of traditional Wolof music, it forces me to think about it differently. Good, challenging fun.


Dan said...

Film, books,'re a true renaissance man. I love Singer but haven't read that one, I'll definitely pick it up....thanks for the recommendation.


Harris Eisenstadt said...

satan in goray's great, dan. a quick, engrossing read.
hopefully get out to chi september and/or december...