Sunday, December 08, 2013
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
Why Tevita Latu is the new Lou Reed
In a morose and provocative column for the Guardian, Suzanne Moore has argued that the recent death of Lou Reed, the revered frontman and wildman of the Velvet Underground, symbolises the end of avant-garde art. Moore was one of a generation inspired, in the 1960 and ‘70s, by Reed’s droning, gorgeous songs about heroin addiction, gender bending, mental illness, and other subjects considered taboo by postwar Western societies. For Moore, the Velvet Underground was a link to Dadaism, Surrealism, and the other great avant-garde art movements of the early twentieth century. Like Tristan Tzara and the young Picasso before him, Lou Reed rejected the values of the society around him, and made art which celebrated an alternative set of values.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Who owns history? and other annoying questions
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
The dialectics of Tongan churching
This semester I've been asking Tevita to test the material he has gathered against the academic literature on Tonga and similar societies. I've thrown him a series of texts and references, and asked him whether they illuminate or contradict the facts he has gathered in his village. Here are some notes I gave Tevita this week.]
You have stated that you would like to analyse Kala’au society using the methods of FutaHelu and Futa Helu’s great inspiration, the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesos. I want to discuss a study of religious life in another Tongan village, because I think this study features the sort of method you want to deploy.
First, though, let's talk quickly about the method Futa Helu got from Heraclitus. Heraclitus is often seen as the father of dialectics, because he emphasised what is sometimes called the contradictory unity of the world. According to Heraclitus, or at least Futa Helu's interpretation of Heraclitus, the world is made up of an almost infinite number of interconnecting parts and processes. Everything affects everything else, at one time and in one way or another.
Despite all this interconnection, the world does not, according to Helu and Heraclitus, exist in any sort of harmony. Different parts and processes of reality clash with one another, and these clashes create perpetual change.
The dialectics of religious diversity
As you have seen, Ernest and Pearl Beaglehole explain the religious diversity of Pangai by arguing that the competing churches allow for competing personalities in the village to at once express and solve their conflicts.
In a small village set in a relatively remote part of what was, in the late 1930s, a profoundly undemocratic society, competing churches provide malcontents and dissenters with a way of expressing their sense of difference and dissatisfaction.
Some questions to consider:
Does the Beagleholes' account of religious life in Pangai have relevance in Kala’au today? Do the churches in your village express and regulate social conflict in the way the Beagleholes describe?
Are the Beagleholes exponents of dialectical analysis?
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]
Monday, November 18, 2013
An Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in Nuku'alofa
[This poem is part of a series.]
Christ will not let us go.
the prone body of Hikule'o,
her seven bellies stuffed full
of midden-shells and pot-shards
As the rotors strain
Under the chandeliers
our saviour shines with sweat.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Dangers of the crossover
When I attended Rosehill College, the pride of Papakura's educational system, back in the late 1980s and early '90s, the school had two official uniforms.
The first uniform, which was worn grudgingly and scruffily, consisted of the sort of grey shirt and blue jersey with which so many institutions, from schools to prisons to mental hospitals, homogenise their inmates.
The second, unofficial uniform, which was worn underneath those colourless shirts, and which burst proudly out of its hiding place on the school's rare and coveted mufti days, showed the letters AC and DC on either side of a lightning bolt and featured either a nihilistically black or garishly purple background.
By the end of the '80s the Aussie metal band was fifteen or so years old, and its members had acquired stock options and golf club memberships. At Rosehill, though, AC/DC's deadhead lyrics and two chord drones were still seen as a symbol of rebellion. The band was so popular that anyone who spurned it was seen as a cultural traitor. I got teased for months after I wore a T shirt that honoured The Smiths rather than the Aussie metallers on mufti day.
I felt like I was entering familiar territory, then, when I turned up at the waterlogged campus of the 'Atenisi Institute this year and heard AC/DC blasting from a stereo. I soon realised, though, that loud guitars are not as popular in Tonga as they are in South Auckland.
After one of my first days teaching at the Institute, I accepted a car ride home with Salise and Hai, two of the school's biggest metalheads. As our vehicle skidded and roared through the crumbling backstreets of Nuku'alofa, launching chickens into the air and pigs into puddles, Hai put an old AC/DC cassette onto the stereo, cranked up the volume, and hooted with a strange anticipatory delight. Soon 'Highway to Hell', the title track to AC/DC's most famous album, was bringing Tongans onto their doorsteps and verandahs. An old man stepped out of a Free Wesleyan Church and frowned meaningfully at the din. A couple of boys sprinted down the drive of their 'api and stared at us, wondering if we were the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Men and women in passing cars gave us thumbs down signs and shouted curses from which I was magically protected by my ignorance of Tongan.
"Tongans don't like loud music" Salise explained when we got back to my place. "They don't even like rock. Kava songs, love songs, reggae - anything mellow, island style, that's what they like. Not AC/DC." In Nuku'alofa, fans of bands like AC/DC are not snotty-nosed bogans but avant-garde provocateurs.
I soon learned that Salise doesn't need a stereo to play music. He's an extraordinarily talented musician, who can knock out a classical piece for Spanish guitar as easily as the riff to 'Highway to Hell' or 'Smoke on the Water'. I've been working on winning Salise over to my tastes in guitar music, by lending him CDs by Nick Drake and John Fahey, but he remains a devotee of the heavy stuff. Together with a couple of mates, he has formed a band called One in Blood, which is battling against the Tongan distaste for rock music.
This semester Salise is doing a research project - autoethnography is the fancy term I'm using for it - in which he reflects on the difficulties of making loud guitar music in Tonga. I've been giving him music and texts which relate the struggles of path-breaking musicians in other countries, and asking him to relate them to his own experiences. I'm not so much interested in discussing the technical aspects of music, which are beyond me, as in hearing Salise talk about the sociology and politics of rocking out.
Here are some of the notes I've given to Salise. Some of the musos who frequent this blog, and in particular the great Bill Direen, might have their own responses to the questions I ask.
You have been listening to Miles Davis, and reading Nick Kent’s classic portrait of the trumpeter. As Kent notes, Davis was a compulsive innovator who repeatedly crossed from one genre of music to another during his career, as he sought out new sounds and new bandmates.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]
Saturday, November 09, 2013
The noble savage and the Toilet Club
Last week Sally Richardson, a Fulbright scholar from Alabama who has been living and making art in Tonga for most of the year, opened an exhibition of her work at an old house in central Nuku’alofa run by On the Spot, a collective of young Tongan painters, dancers, and actors. Richardson’s opening was an opportunity for Nuku’alofa’s thriving arts community to party. As the sun set and Nuku’alofa’s growing population of flying foxes began to shake themselves awake in their banyan and mango trees, the Selakarians rolled up in their club truck, which is painted with the same psychedelic colours and surreal slogans as the famous ‘Magic Bus’ Ken Kesey and his band of merry pranksters drove across America in the sixties. The Selakarians were armed with guitars, plates of watermelons, and their notorious kava bowl.
(Photos pinched from On The Spot and Sally Richardson.)