Friday, July 24, 2009

There’s a lesson in the Pan

[image courtesy of blk jks]

“Everything is everything
What is meant to be, will be
After winter, must come spring
Change, it comes eventually”

- Lauryn Hill

In music, the simplest components can be the most profound, or problematic. In language, too.

Short words like god and love tend to have a long list of meanings, whether they stand alone or are used with other words (like -less and tough-). They generally have even more interpretations, much like patterns in music.

“Pan” has at least 18 different uses, which seems a bit tautologous when most people just think of it as an empty container for cooking or washing. But wait – maybe there’s something singing through the semantics?

In the arts, pan is an unfavourable review or critique;

in PC talk,
PAN is an acronym for Personal Area Network;

pan is an acoustic instrument hailing from Trinidad and Tobago, aka Steelpan ;

Pan is a moon off Saturn;

pan- is a prefix for … well, everything. (so Pan-African means… well… a whole continent of lions and elephants and people running around half-dressed, I’d assume?).

But funnily enough,
Pan is also a stinky ancient Greek goatgod that takes pride of place in Tom Robbins novel Jitterbug Perfume, and most of our erotic dreams (though he’s always hidden in the guise of the desired);

and - uh oh - when you get personal about it, pan is also a biological term for a genus of apes composed of the common Chimpanzee and the Bonobo. (I’m not going to follow lingual threads here and tell you that Bonobo is also a British musician, DJ and producer whose NinjaTunes album Days To Come made waves in the west with the help of spoken word from my India-born, African-schooled, Europe-renowned, Deep South-sounding high school best friend Bajka because it’s (ostensibly) got nothing to do with my point. Which is?)

Which is that these different uses of a simple sound have something common. They underline and override many of the assumptions around the Pan African Space Station, better known by in age of ADD as PASS. In addition, they illustrate how the same root can have many shoots, depending on where you plant it. Let’s start with native soil.

Naughty, naughty Africans
With due defiance, The Pan African Space Station is an annual music festival that puts paid to the city of pretty as a post-colonial stronghold of polarised cultures and isolated pigments. Covering the Cape Town peninsula and former marshes and pans, it mixes audiences, areas and artists up in the intended understanding of pan – meaning ‘inclusive’, ‘all’, ‘everything’.

In orbit
Last year the fest bussed people back and forth from townships to town, from suburbs to shack lands, putting people in places they’d never been, including some of the country’s and the worlds best musical dissidents. The disarmingly charming and stylistically dangerous Carlo Mombelli (And The Prisoners Of Strange) got a standing ovation in the slave church, the visionary acoustic guitarist Madala Kunene gave his all in the dark, the globe trotting, genre-and-grammar-ducking blk jks did their thing their way, and the belle of them all, Cindy Blackman (great name, hey?)graced us with her good looking drum kit. PASS turned wish lists into playlists, made people listen without light, dance in the studio, and helped them discover that what’s really dark about our continent is the ignorant attitudes towards it.

Personal area network?
But it’s not all about the music. On the cutting edge of digital penetration and implicit accessibility, Pan African Space Station exploits first world technology to create a third world for entertainment– a seam between the poles of the mainstream and the underground that inspires public consumption of artistic integrity. Besides a brilliantly diverse line-up, it achieves this by broadcasting free over licensed radio (that’s not a cheap feat to pull off), offering podcasts of live performances, creating a meeting place for people of like mind and action, and making a public service announcement which reminds us of the plausible reality in Steve Biko’s promise that “in time, we shall be in a position to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift - a more human face”

This year’s gifts include Malian Kora maestro Toumani Diabaté; 9-piece, Chicago-based Hypnotic Brass Ensemble; Ras G and the Afrikan Space Program on location in the Western Sahara ; Cameroonian Franck Biyong and his Massak Afrolectric Orchestra; Ghanaian 'afro-pidgin-punk' Wanlov the Kubulor.

And getting back to fifty ways to leave your lover, whatever your definition of ‘good music’ is, the Pan African Space Station could broaden it, by design, and by definition, which means you only have more to enjoy. So balls to the Bauhaus; less is more no more.

Scour the site for more on this “30-day music intervention”
September 12 - October 12
on air, online and on stages around the Cape Town
Pan African Space Station? See if you can pan it.

“Everything must change
nothing stays the same
everyone will change
no one, no one stays the same”

- Nina Simone

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