Posts Tagged ‘Jazz’

Simon Webb Claims that the Haye-On-Wye Literary Festival is Dumbing Down with the Inclusion of Stormzy and Dua Lipa

March 16, 2023

More from our favourite internet non-historian. History Debunked put up a piece today criticising the Haye-on-Wye literary festival for heading downmarket in the name of diversity. They’ve had a change of director, and according to him, the festival has been judged to be ‘too White’. And so make it more inclusive, they have included the Black rapper Stormzy and Dua Lipa, another pop star, who’s of Albanian heritage. He argues that there are plenty of Black and ethnic minority writers, like Vikram Seth, who he says is miles better than other, White writers, but they tend to be quiet, thoughtful types and so not calculated to appeal to the new demographic the Festival hopes to reach out to. This is an ominous sign, according to Webb, because the inclusion of those two has started a trend in which literature will be second place.

Okay, so I did what Gillyflower has advised me to do, and decided to check what was actually going on at Haye-on-Wye. I took a glance at this year’s programme. There seems to be a number of the thoughtful, serious ethnic writers Webb talks about, including a Black author talking about his decades of writing on the topic of race. I didn’t find the event with Stormzy, but I did find the one with Dua Lipa. She’s there talking about her life and career, but the programme also says she champions books and reading on her Service 95 podcast. This puts a slightly different complexion on it than Webb’s discussion. She’s there not just because she’s a pop star, but because she’s also a literary woman as well. If there’s an issue there, it’s the same one as when Mariella Frostrup started presenting a literary review programme on the Beeb. Is the presenter too lightweight? Well, if it takes a popular media celebrity to get people to stick their noses into books, I don’t care. And it doesn’t mean that the people who go to see her won’t also go and see some of the other, more high-brow speakers. I can remember hearing Terry Pratchett talk at the Cheltenham Literary Festival years ago about how the directors of that festival looked on him with disdain as if he were going to talk about fixing motorcycles when he began speaking there. When the Discworld books came out there was massive sneering at them from the literary establishment, including the panel on the late Newsnight Review when Tom Paulin showed his real literary prejudice against genre fantasy. But this was just literary snobbery and Pratchett became, at least in my biased estimation, one of their most popular speakers. British culture didn’t fall because he spoke, and it hasn’t prevented me nor anybody else going to see some of the other, rather more serious speakers. I don’t think the inclusion of Dua Lipa will do the same to British literary culture either.

And if we’re on the subject of popular music, I notice they have a Jazz band playing. I know that Jazz now occupies the same highbrow cultural niche as classical music, with radio programmes about it like Late Junction and Freeness appearing on Radio 3. Duke Ellington was also their composer of the week a couple of decades ago. But Jazz is popular music with its own clubs, if now massively overshadowed by pop, rock and the other genres. But I can’t imagine anyone complaining that the Festival would be turned overwhelmingly towards Jazz instead of literature because of the band’s inclusion.

If there is a problem with the Haye-on-Wye Festival, it may well be the same one Private Eye’s literary column identified years ago with the Cheltenham literary festival. The complaint then was that a large proportion of the speakers were celebrities, such as TV personalities, who had written a book but did not make their main living from literature. People like, I presume, the actor David Walliams, who has written a string of children’s books. I haven’t heard that criticism repeated, so I assume that despite the influx of media celebs, British literary culture has still held firm. I don’t doubt that the Haye-on-Wye Festival will still uphold literary standards with the appearance of Stormzy and Dua Lipa. The Cheltenham Festival has held poetry slams which have included rap as well as British Afro-Caribbean poetry, and it’s still going on.

Sketches of Pat Keysell, Tony Hart and Morph from Vision On

December 2, 2022

Vision On was another cult children’s television that ran from the 1960s to the mid-1970s, when it was succeeded by Take Hart, presented by Tony Hart, one of the preceding show’s presenters. Vision On was aimed at deaf children and so the jokes and action were primarily visual. Pat Keysell had originally been a secretary at the Beeb but got the job presenting as she knew sign language, and so appeared on the programme signing and interpreting the speech for the deaf children watching. Tony Hart was an artist, and art featured heavily in the programme with Hart creating a number of pictures each week. The programme also encouraged its viewers to make their own pictures and send them in to be displayed in their gallery. They were sorry they couldn’t return any, but there was a prize for each picture they showed. Alongside Keysell and Hart were a range of other performers. These included a young, slim Sylvester McCoy, playing a mad Professor decades before he became the seventh Dr Who. When I was watching the programme in the 1970s there was also Wilf Lunn, who looked a bit like the intergalactic showman in the John Pertwee Dr Who series ‘The Carnival of Monsters’. He was an inventor, who every week produced a little automaton. In addition to the real-life human presenters, the show also had a range of animated characters. This included a clumsy dinosaur that fell over its own tail, a tortoise, and the Burbles. These were disembodied entities that lived inside a clock, and who communicated in speech bubbles. But most memorably there was Morph, a small plasticine man with a mischievous sense of humour who lived in a wooden box. Morph could stretch and transform himself into different shapes, often transforming himself into a ball and rolling across the table Hart was working on at the time. Later on, he was joined by Chad, another plasticine man, but who was white rather than brown like Morph. And it wasn’t just confined to the studio. The Professor’s escapades took place in the open air. He even slept there, waking up from his bed, complete with bedside light, in a green area. Hart, meanwhile, could appear at the seaside to draw figures in the sand in anticipation of the great competitions in sand painting and sculpture that have now arisen.

The Beeb has been celebrating its centenary this year, and on one of its other channels it put on some of the favourite children’s programmes it has broadcast. Last weekend one of those was Vision On, and the episode selected show just how surreal the programme was. The programme’s theme was ‘Seaside’, and it featured the Professor losing a fight with a deckchair, Tony Hart drawing figures in the sand and Hart, Keysell and one of the other male presenters creating a picture in the studio of a series of fish eating progressively smaller fish in seaweed. At one point, Keysell and the other guy followed Hart to the seaside through a mirror. And once there, as they had gone through a looking glass, they naturally did everything backwards. The show ended when Keysell lost her ring in a fish tank, so she and one of the other presenters jumped it. They did find it, but emerged with an anchor, which they pulled and hauled in a ship into the studio. But for all the frenetic action, it was also strangely calming. Because it was mainly visual, speech was kept to a minimum and so there was no shouting or screaming. There was also much use of music, with the gallery having its own theme. And sometimes there were just images for the viewer to contemplate, such as in a sequence of footage of the seaside, with people wading in the sea and the waves washing over sand and rocks.

The show is fondly remembered, and references to it occasionally turn up in other programmes. For example, one sketch in the comedy show, Dead Ringers, started off outside 10 Downing Street before becoming an impression of Vision On’s gallery, as the character said, ‘We are sorry we can’t return any, but there is a prize for each one we show.’ Vision On was also the birthplace of Nick Parkes’ Aardman Animations, who went on to create Wallace and Gromit. Parkes was one of the team that created the animated sequences for the show. Aardman took its name from an anti-superhero they created for Vision On. Vison On ended forty years ago, as did Take Hart, but watching it the other night I wished they’d repeat it, so that some of us adult fans could revisit some of the magic it brought us as children,

Pat Keysell and Tony Hart


Here’s a video I found on TVtestcard’s channel on YouTube of the programme’s title sequence and its theme music, Accroche-ti, Caroline, which gives a good idea of how surreal the show was.

And here’s the gallery theme from the 45RPMsinglesbyMike Evans channel on YouTube. Its real name is ‘Left Bank Two’, and it was performed by a Dutch jazz group, the Noveltones.

More Sketches of Geniuses of British Comedy: Bob Monkhouse, Rod Hull, Emu, and their Victim Michael Parkinson

November 25, 2022

Bob Monkhouse is, in my opinion, one of the very great figures of late 20th century and early 21st century British comedy. He was not just a comedian, but also game show compering some of the nation’s favourite shows. I can remember him from the early or mid ’70s compering The Golden Shot, for those that can remember that far back. The contestants had to give instructions to blindfolded marksman, Bernie the Bolt to get him to aim a crossbow at a target. If he got it, they won the prize money. I can still hear the words, ‘Up a bit, left a bit…’ and so on. I don’t know if Monkhouse took over from someone else, but there are clips of it on YouTube with a Black presenter with a broad Yorkshire accent. Later on, in the 1980s he presented Family Fortunes. He was asked in one interview what the worse moment from the show was. He replied that it was when one contestant kept replying to each question, ‘Christmas turkey?’ This led to exchanges like ‘What item would you take to the beach on holiday?’ ‘A Christmas turkey’. ‘Interesting answer. We’ll see. Our survey said. -‘ and then the buzzer to indicate that the people surveyed definitely had not replied that they would take a Christmas turkey to the beach’. Monkhouse asked the poor fellow afterwards what happened. He said that he didn’t know, his mind just went blank. In the ’90s or early years of this century he started to come back after a period when he was off camera. I think this followed an appearance on Have I Got News For You, where he displayed his wit. Actually, I think he had scriptwriters with him handing him gags, or perhaps I’m confusing him with another comedian and entertainer whose career was revived by the show.

Monkhouse began his career away from the camera, writing jokes for other comedians and children’s comics. In an interview with the popular science magazine, Focus, he recalled how he nearly created Star Trek. He had been a science fiction fan, and so had an idea about a spaceship, called ‘Enterprise’, whose captain was a Scotsman called Kirk. Ah, that would have been interesting. He also gave praise to the other comedians he believed deserved it for their skill. One on series about various TV comedians, he described Jimmy Carr as ‘the comedians’ comedian’. But that phrase could also easily describe him. He was acutely interested in other comedians and the craft of comedy itself. In the 1980s he had his own show at about 7.30 in the evening, in which he interviewed comedians he admired from Britain and America. One of them, if I recall rightly, was our own Les Dawson. His house was also full of old film and clips of past comedians. He died of prostate cancer a few years. After his death one of the TV channels broadcast his farewell show, with commenters from other comedians. They said they didn’t realise how terribly ill Monkhouse was at the time, and that he was saying ‘goodbye’ to them. Another great comedian lost to us.

Rod Hull and Emu – another brilliant comedy act taken from us by the Grim Reaper. Hull said he was inspired to create Emu while watching a nature programme in New Zealand. This may have shown the country’s national bird, the Kiwi, another flightless bird rooting around on the forest floor. Or it may have shown Australia’s great flightless bird, the emu. Either way, the bird inspired Hull to create this avian monster of children’s television. It was the most terrifying puppet not to come out of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, though some cruel individuals may detect a certain resemblance to the villainous Skeksis in the film The Dark Crystal. Whatever its inspiration, Emus temperament was more like the 12-foot carnivorous Terror Birds that lived after the demise of the dinosaurs. Hull and Emu had a variety of children’s programmes. I remember him from E.B.C. 1 – ‘Emu’s Broadcasting Company’ with Billy Dainty on BBC 1, and then he moved over to ITV and Emu’s World. On E.B.C., Hull and Emu attempt to perform pieces from the Bard, complete with Emu wearing an Elizabeth cap. I also remember a recurring segment where Dainty, another great performer in his own right, dressed in Edward strongman long johns, tried to give advice on getting fit. This was introduced by the 20th Jazz song, ‘Keep fit, take exercise, get fit, and you’ll be wise, whatever you do, keep fit’. The music that introduced the Shakespeare segment, I later found out, was the 16th century German Mohrentanz, played on shawms and crumhorns. Emus also did weather forecasts, which were introduced by the jingle, ‘Weather, weather, all together, what’s it going to do? We don’t know, and so let’s ask, weatherman Emu.’ In addition to his own programmes, he also appeared as a guest on others, most notorious on Parkinson.

Emu’s style of comedy was pure, anarchic slapstick, whether he was on his own programmes or a guest on a chat show. These performances usually started off calmly, with Hull talking quietly and the puppet behaving itself on his arm. If they were being interviewed, Emu would act docile, snuggling up to the interviewer to be stroked. ‘There, he likes that’, Hull would say approvingly. Then it would start to go wrong, the beak would curl up in a snarl and before long Hull, his guest star or the interviewer would be savagely attacked by the thing’s beak, all with Hull screaming, ‘No, Emu! No!’ This would often end up with the three struggling on the floor while the set collapsed around them in a heap of overturned furniture. Emu was a force of pure chaos, bringing down televisual order. And hilariously funny. But it wasn’t all laughs. I can remember my grandmother telling me I was not to get like him with the sock puppets I made, as Hull had admitted he couldn’t control it. I don’t know if that was true, or another reworking of the old fear about ventriloquists and their dummies. I think Emu was also like Sherlock Holmes as the artist’s creation its creator would like to kill off and move away from but couldn’t because of the characters’ immense popularity. Hull himself was sadly taken from us in a domestic accident. He fell off his roof trying to fix his TV aerial.

I couldn’t sketch Rod Hull and the monstrous bird without also including his most famous victim, the chat show host Michael Parkinson. Parkinson’s show, simply called Parkinson, was one of the mainstays of British television. Parkinson interviewed a number of great and famous stars, like Oliver Reed and Mohammed Ali. And then he had the misfortune to interview, and get assaulted, by Emu. This incident has gone down as a piece of broadcasting history. It became so notorious that it was included in a skit in Private Eye commemorating Parkinson being given an honorary degree or doctorate from one of the universities. Whenever a celebrity, actor, sportsman or whoever, is awarded one of these honorary qualifications, the Eye prints a piece celebrating it in Latin, with the title ‘The …. Laudation In Full’. The Latin is easily understood, recognisable from the Latin vocabular in English. The Parkinson laudatio mentioned his interview with pugilist Mohammed Ali, before adding ‘assaultam cum Emu, avis horribilis. Ave, Emu, salutamus Emu, laudamus Emu’. Or words to that effect. Parkinson had his revenge a few years later when he appeared on Room 101. Parkinson naturally wanted Emu to be consigned to the room containing everything rubbish and terrible in the world. He was obliged when Emu was brought on in a miniature guillotine. Parkinson naturally threw the switch or pulled out the block, and one of children’s television’s most comically terrifying puppets was beheaded, with Parkinson shaking his head as if he couldn’t quite work out whether this was appropriate or not.

Chumbawamba Sing Their Farewells to Maggie Thatcher

May 6, 2022

Okay, I’ve put up a series of left-wing and socialist music videos over the past couple of days laying into the Tories and other right-wing pundits and blowhards like Piers Moron and ‘Depeche Toad’ Farage. The results of the council elections are coming in, and it seems the Tories haven’t done terribly well. Not as disastrously as I’d like, but they’ve lost several councils to Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens. And I thought I’d rub it in a bit further with this musical reminder that Maggie is no longer with us. This is a performance by the pop band Chumbawamba singing their song anticipating Thatcher’s death, ‘In Memoriam – So Long So Long’ at a concert in Bedminster, one of Bristol’s suburbs, way back in 2009. It was put up on Random Planet’s channel on YouTube in 2013.

The song was written and performed before Thatcher’s death and the band were going to release it as an EP. Hence they ask people not to put it up on YouTube just yet, and also give instructions on how you can order it directly from them. As the performance is over a decade old, it’s doubtful this arrangement is still working. You can, however, hear the full EP on YouTube as well. This includes a short piece in Spanish which is supposed to be General Pinochet’s regards from beyond the grave, as well as Frankie Boyle’s joke that when Thatcher dies, the Scots are going to dig a hole so deep they’ll be able to hand her over to Satan personally. It’s an interesting piece musically. It’s jazz-inflected and actually really laid back, for all that it’s celebrating Thatcher’s demise.

Thatcher’s long gone, but unfortunately Thatcherism still remains a force in British politics as zombie economics – a doctrine long shown to be dead and useless, but which is still propped up into a kind of ghastly semblance of life by right-wing politicians and the media. It’s about time it was laid to rest as well.

Faye Hallam Plays Dave Allan Theme at Jazz Club – Nice!

April 27, 2022

Here’s a bit of fun for a Wednesday morning. I’m a great fan of the late Irish comedian Dave Allan. He is, to me, one of the very greatest of the television funny men. His style was that of a bar room philosopher, sat on a bar stool taking the occasional sip of whisky, cigarette smoking quietly away in an ashtray, while he made his wry observations on the absurdities of human nature and the world. Mixed with this on his series on the Beeb were sketches, some of which were just jokes, such as the tourist who brings down Stonehenge like a string of dominoes simply by leaning on one of the trilithons. Others were a kind of morality play, like the one about a man who spots a tenner trapped under a car wheel. He goes into a cafe to wait until the car moves off and he can grab the money, only to find that everyone else in the cafe was had the same idea. Religion was a frequent target of his humour. He hated the Roman Catholic church in particular because of the brutal discipline at his old Catholic school, a situation which I know has resulted in many Catholics lapsing. He was also no admirer of Ian Paisley at the time, for keeping the murderous sectarian bigotry in Ulster alive from the Protestant side. This was decades before the Good Friday agreement and the warm friendship between Paisley and Gerry Adams, which resulted in the two getting the nickname, the Chuckle Brothers. Some of his jokes and sketches were based around sex, and got very ‘near the knuckle’, as the saying goes. But mostly it was good humoured and simply fun. Allan died a few years ago, but there are a selection of his sketches and monologues on DVD, and, of course, on YouTube. He’s much missed by his legions of fans. The show’s theme was written by Alan Hawkshaw, who also wrote, among other TV themes, that for Grandstand. There are videos of him playing this and his other compositions also on YouTube.

Black and Muslim YouTubers Discuss Slavery and Racism in Islam

March 30, 2022

I found this fascinating video on Sa Ra Garvey’s YouTube channel. I don’t know anything about Garvey, except that he’s probably a proud man of colour concerned with his people’s improvement and liberation. His name appears to be a reference to the Black activist and Jazz muso Sun Ra and the great Jamaican Black activist Marcus Garvey. Since the issue of slavery and reparations emerged once again in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, many, largely conservative commenters, have also been raising the issue of slavery in Islam. Slavery did not, after all, begin with Europe and the transatlantic slave trade. It has existed in various forms around the world since antiquity, and before White Europeans turned to enslaving Black Africans for the plantations in the New World, Islam had also done so. The first Black slaves imported into Europe were slaves brought into Islamic, Moorish Spain. Stephen Howe in his book Afrocentrism, states that the Arabs enslaved 5 million Black Africans, comparable to the 12 million taken by White Europeans.

In the video Black and Muslim speakers discuss the Islamic enslavement of Black Africans and the resulting legacy of racism in the Arab, Middle Eastern and south Asian worlds. One of the terms used in Arabic for Blacks is ‘abid’, which means ‘slaves’. The video also contains footage from documentaries filming the slave markets that have opened in Libya, selling Black migrants hoping to reach Europe. It also contains comments from enslaved Africans and free Blacks further south in Africa justifiably furious at the enslavement of their fellows. There are also clips from an al-Jazeera documentary on Black Iraqis. They are the descendants of enslaved Africans, and complain about the racism and marginalisation they suffer from and their political aspirations to gain power and improve their lot. One Black American contrasts the attitude of White westerners with that of the Saudis. He states that if you ask a western White about slavery, they’ll respond with remorse. The Saudis never do.

I have a few caveats about the video. Some of the material comes from Memri TV, and the video’s edited by Taqiyya Watch. These are both anti-Islam channels. ‘Taqiyya’ is an Islamic term for lying to defend Islam. It started out, I believe, as a Shi’a strategy to avoid persecution. It initially meant that a Muslim could deny he was a member of the faith in order to avoid being killed. Since then it has been expanded to the production of falsehoods to protect the faith itself. Memri TV seem to be an Israeli outfit specialising in translating material from the Islamic world which Muslims would like to hide. This is often when Middle Eastern politicians present a moderate face to the West, but present themselves as much more hard line to domestic Muslim audiences. However, the important point is that these organisations also have their overt biases against the Islamic world.

Regarding racism, Jonathan A.C. Brown discusses this in his book Slavery & Islam. He notes that the Qur’an actually condemns racism, and during the Middle Ages a series of Muslim scholars wrote books defending Blacks with titles such as The Excellence of the Negroes. He also describes the shock of one 19th century Arab visitor to France, who was shocked at how the standard of beauty was confined to White complexions, excluding the darker skin colours the Arabs preferred. The anti-Black racism is therefore against the letter and spirit of Islam, but persists nonetheless.

I am not trying to be deliberately controversial by posting this video. I find it interesting because it shows that Blacks in America and Africa are concerned about the Arab/Muslim slave trade, its legacy and resurgence. I find it particularly interesting that Afro-Iraqis are challenging racism in their country. That’s something I doubt very many people have heard about, unless they’re studying Islam or Middle Eastern politics at a post-graduate level in academia. The two speakers at the start of the video, a Black man and an Asian Muslim woman, describe how Blacks and Arabs are both minorities and so have allied with each other. But they feel that in this alliance, Blacks are very much the junior partner. They are the minorities’ minority. This is a comment on the politics of intersectional leftism, which seeks to unite a range of disparate groups, such as Blacks and ethnic minorities, gays and feminists in order to challenge conventional society. It shows that, despite right-wing attempts to present such alliances as a monolithic block, there are strains and criticisms within them. As for the re-opening of the slave markets in Libya, this is deeply offensive and troubling to the majority of severely normal Muslims around the world. In 1856, for example, the Muslim ruler of Tunis banned slavery completely within his dominions. That was 164 years ago. It is deeply repulsive and shocking that after all that time, real slavery is returning to the world.

Two Images of Blacks from the Age of the Victorian Music Hall

March 14, 2022

I found these two pictures in Edward Lee’s Folksong and Music Hall (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1982). This is part of a history of popular music for schools. Other books in the series are, or were, on contemporary folksong, Jazz and Blues, Reggae and Caribbean music, Rock, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Soul and Motown, and Tin Pan Alley. The picture below, of a Black man holding the hand of a little White girl as they go paddling on the beach in the chapter on the Minstrel shows. The caption for it says ‘The minstrel as a family entertainer. Another stereotype – the black man as simple friendly soul’.

I’ve mixed feelings about this. I can see that some people would find it patronising and offensive, but at the same time it also shows how Black American popular music was gaining an audience in this country. And that people were enjoying it and celebrating its performers, rather than treating them as some terrible threat.

Less controversial, I hope, is this picture of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, one of the first genuine Black American musicians to become popular and tour over here.

Discussing the impact of Black American music in Britain, the book states

‘Linked with the popularity of minstrel shows there was an increasing interest in black artists and in genuine black music. Early in the nineteenth century the actress Fanny Kemble, travelling in the southern states of America, had been struck by the ‘strange and wild songs’ of the black boatmen. These were probably an early form of shanty with a strong blues influence.

‘As the century passed, black artists began to make a name for themselves. Among the most famous was James Bland (1854-1911), composer of ‘Carry Me Back to Old Virginny’ (his first big hit), and ‘Oh Dem Golden Slippers’. In England a sensational reception had been given, in 1848, to Juba, an outstandingly talented black dancer, and later, in 1871, to the Fisk University Jubilee Singers. It was they who made popular ‘Deep River’, ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’, and ‘Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen’. It was through them that the genuine ‘spiritual’ became known and loved by white people.

‘But this was not all. The tumultuous receptions they had (ten thousand people at an open-air concert in Hull, for instance) was in part due to the powerful rhythmic effect of their music; it must have had what Jazz lovers later came to call ‘swing’. The gripping excitement of authentic black music had begun to be felt, and within twenty years, ragtime, the first internationally popular Afro-American musical style, was sweeping the world.’ (Pp. 79-82).

Brits have been listening to Black music for a very long time. The Fisk Jubilee Singers are also included in a collection of essays on Black and Asian British history, Under the Imperial Carpet, which is itself well worth a read.

As for the minstrel shows, I’m not nostalgic for their return. The music’s good, but Whites performing in blackface is racist and offensive, however much the Heil and Depress may defend it and get themselves furious about the cancellation of the Black and White Minstrel Show. What I also find sad is that when people have tried to perform the old minstrel songs without the racist makeup, they’ve flopped. I don’t think there should be anything problematic about the music. But it is skewed and wrong that people only apparently want to hear it when it’s in blackface.

History Debunked on Diversity Working for Black Representation Against Asians

December 17, 2021

I’ve put up a number of videos from Simon Webb’s History Debunked channel on YouTube. Webb’s an author of a string of history books and a Torygraph-reading right-winger. He specialises in tackling the gross historical distortions and myths that are now being promoted as trustworthy Black history. He’s also, you won’t be surprised to read, an opponent of immigration and affirmative action. I think his videos criticising Black history are largely accurate, though as with anything else on the net you should also check it, and your well advised to take some of his other views with more than a little scepticism. But in the video below he seems to make a good point regarding the over-emphasis on promoting Black film and talent at the expense of other ethnic minorities. It’s shown in the forthcoming Beeb adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days.

Webb argues that Blacks are actually overrepresented in the media compared to their numbers as a percentage of the British population. The total BAME population of Britain is 15 per cent, with Blacks accounting for 3 per cent. But if you look on television or film, you find a much larger proportion of Black actors, performers and presenters and relatively fewer Asian faces. It seems that when it comes to ‘diversity’ and the promotion of non-White talent, in practice this means Blacks. This is shown in the way the Beeb has swapped the races of the leading characters in their version of Jules Verne’s classic yarn. Phileas Fogg remains White, but his servant, Passepartout has been made Black. The love interest is a White woman. But in the book she’s Indian, as apparently having two non-White lead characters would be too much.

It’s a very long time since I read the book, and I can’t remember very much about it, though I’ve got the film version on DVD. Assuming that what he says is right, and the leading lady in the book is Indian, I would have thought that made the story diverse enough without messing around with the other characters. Not so, apparently. Webb speculates that this emphasis on Black talent possibly comes from the TV companies’ need to sell to America, where Blacks constitute a much higher proportion of the population at 13 per cent. I think he has a point. A few months ago a Black actor or director appeared in the I calling for more parts for Black actors otherwise they would leave Britain and go to America. And it certainly seems to me that there are more opportunities for Black actors over the pond. It might also come from Blacks being rather more integrated into the western entertainment business. In America, people were listening to Black music, like Scott Joplin’s Rags since before the Jazz age. Over here, I think the pioneers were the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Americans who made a tour of Britain before the Second World War. And White Brits also listened to Caribbean calypsos before the emergence of Rock and Roll and such great performers as Little Richard, James Brown, Motown and so on. Despite the claims of racism in the music industry, which led to the establishment of the MOBOs as a set of separate music awards for Black artists, it really isn’t at all remarkable to see Black singers and musicians in the charts. In fact, I’d say it would be more remarkable if there weren’t any.

The same with drama. There are a number of Black Shakespearian thesps – Josette Simon, who played Dayna in the classic SF series Blake’s 7, had that theatrical background. I think a year or so ago Lenny Henry, who is very active promoted Black talent, appeared on stage as Hamlet. And this is apart from other plays from the classical repertoire, including those from Ancient Greece. There have also been a number of contemporary plays examining the position of Blacks in western society. I also wonder if part of the relative underrepresentation of Asians – and I am very well aware that there are Asian actors and presenters, like Anita Rani, Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Adil Ray – may come from that community’s general preference to choose careers other than the entertainment industry. Or at least, not the western canon. I am aware of the casting of an Asian actor, whose name I’ve forgotten, as the Master in last season’s Dr. Who, and others in Armando Iannucci’s film version of one of Dicken’s classics. But I wonder if the Asian community generally prefers to look to its own cultural traditions, like Bollywood movies and traditional Indian arts and theatre, rather than mainstream film, TV and music. There have been Asian artists and bands in the charts – Apache Indian, Corner Shop and Kula Shaker, and I remember Jaz Mann’s brief hit with Babylon Zoo in the ’90s. But there seems to be far fewer of them than Black performers.

Clearly in a White majority society, there are limited roles for Black and Asian performers, hence the demand for ‘colour blind’ casting, as actors from ethnic minorities are given the roles of White characters. I also wonder if some of the casting of Black performers for reasons of diversity isn’t part of an attempt to create work for them. I heard from academics years ago that there’s actually only work for a 1/4 of the drama students who graduate everywhere. I think if this was not tackled, it would be particularly acute for Black performers. And so to avoid another furore about racism and for the other reasons discussed, the entertainment industry is deliberately casting Black performers in greater proportion than they are as part of the general British population.

This forced diversity is unpopular with White right-wingers like Webb and Belfield, but it is a problem when it serves to discriminate against Asians. And that needs to be tackled, like any other form of racism.

Students of Colour Object to Oxford Music Curriculum Because of Slavery

March 29, 2021

The Telegraph ran a story yesterday claiming that they’d received documents showing that Oxford University was considering changing their classical music course. This was because, following Black Lives Matter protests, students of colour at the university had complained that they were left very distressed by the course on European music from Machaut to Beethoven, because this was the period when the transatlantic slave trade was developing. They also made the same complaint about western music notation.

Now this comes from the Torygraph, part of Britain’s exemplary right-wing press, who are known for their rigorous commitment to journalistic truth and integrity, ho, ho. So you wonder if it true, or is the product of some Tory hack’s fevered imagination, like many of the stories about the Labour party produced by Guido Fawkes. Is this all made up to discredit Black Lives Matter?

Thinking about the issue, it seems very much to me that the problem isn’t the curriculum’s links to colonialism, but an attitude of entitlement and the cultural prejudices of the rich and monumentally uninformed.

Let’s deal with their objection that western musical notation developed during the time of the Black slave trade. As the Torygraph pointed out, it didn’t. It developed before the transatlantic slave trade from the church’s Gregorian Chant. This is absolutely true. The origin of the western musical tradition is in the music written for church services. This soon expanded to take in secular subjects, such as the courtly lyrics of the troubadours, the celebration of kings and princes, drinking, war, and just about every aspect of life. As a genre, the emergence of western classical music has nothing to do with the slave trade. Machaut, the French composer mentioned as the beginning of that part of the Oxford music course, lived in the 12th century, three centuries or so before the development of the transatlantic slave trade in the 15th. The modern system of musical notation was also developed in that century by Guido d’Arezzo. The scale, Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Te Do, comes from the initial syllables of a line in the Latin Mass. And whoever thinks that Beethoven is connected to the slave trade is clean out of their tiny mind. Beethoven, I think, was a German liberal with a profound sympathy for the ideals of the French Revolution. His Eroica was originally dedicated to Napoleon, until the Corsican bandit invaded Austria. His Ode to Joy looks forward to a world where nations live together in peace and fraternity. Furthermore, it’s also been suggested that he may have had Black ancestry. Either way, I doubt very much that he had any sympathy for slavery or any other form of human servitude whatsoever.

The complaint about that part of the music course is just so wrong, that I do wonder about the motives of the people making these complaints. Assuming they exist, and that the complaints are genuine. Because the complaints are so wrong, and so ignorant, that either the complaint is some kind of mickey-take, or else the people making them are simply monumentally stupid and lazy. For example, what kind of individual, who seriously wants to learn music, objects to learning the notation? Yes, people can and do play by ear, and many non-western musical traditions don’t have a system of notation. But if you seriously want to play music, and certainly if you’re studying it an advanced level, then understanding its notation is very much a basic requirement. This includes not only classical music, but also Jazz, rock and pop. Much of this is composed through improvisation and jam sessions by the musicians themselves, and its form of reproduction is primarily through records rather than print. But nevertheless, they’re also published as sheet music. I’ve got several books of pop, rock and Jazz music on my shelves. They’re published as sheet music as people not only want to listen to some of these great pieces, but also play them for themselves.

So basic is an understanding of written music as well as the development of western music from the Middle Ages onwards, that I really do wonder if the people behind these complaints actually want to study music, or do so to the extent that they have to do some serious work that might stretch them. It doesn’t look like they do to me. I also wonder why, if they consider western music so intimately linked to colonialism and slavery that it causes them distress, that, if they’re foreign, they wanted to come to Europe to study it.

It’s therefore occurred to me that, if the complaints are real, the people doing the complaining may not actually want to study the subject. They just want the cachet of studying at Oxford. Years ago I read a history of Japan, which warned about giving in to the insularism and xenophobia of many Japanese. The Japanese highly value an education at Oxbridge and/ or the British public schools (God help them!) but they don’t like mixing with non-Japanese. Thus one or the other of Oxford or Cambridge was building a separate college to accommodate Japanese students so they wouldn’t have the inconvenience of mixing with people of other nationalities. Perhaps something similar is the case here? Do they want the prestige that goes with an Oxford education, but have their own racist prejudices about European culture and music?

If this is the case, then it’s a scandal. It’s a scandal because education at one of Britain’s leading universities is being dumbed down for these morons. It’s a scandal because it cheapens the real problems of Britain’s Black community, which were behind many of the Black Lives Matter protests. For example, there’s a programme on the Beeb this evening investigating the reasons Black British mothers are four times more likely to die in childbirth than Whites. It’s a scandal because there are doubtless plenty of kids of all colours in the UK, who would just love to study music at Oxford and have a genuine love of classic music. There’s a campaign at the moment to get more Black and Asians into orchestras. It’s been found that people from these ethnicities are seriously underrepresented. Hence there’s an orchestra, Chinikwe!, purely for non-Whites, in order to produce more Black and Asian orchestral musicians. This has also followed attempts to recover the works of Black classical composers. Back in the 1990s one of the French labels issued a CD of harpsichord pieces written by Black composers. Earlier this year, Radio 3 also played the music of Black classical composers. The best known Black British classical composer, I’m sure, is Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who lived from 1875 to 1912. His father came from Sierra Leone while his mother was British. He was the composer of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, based on Longfellow’s poem, which is still performed by choral societies up and down the country. And yes, it’s written in western musical notation. But these attempts to encourage the performance of classical, orchestral music by Black and Asian performers, and to restore and include Black and Asian classical composers in the western musical tradition, has also been effectively spurned by what seems to be rich, entitled, lazy brats.

The fault therefore seems not to lie with the Oxford music course or with Black Lives Matter, but with an admissions policy that favours the wealthy, even when they are racist and xenophobic, over those from poorer backgrounds, who are genuinely dedicated and talented. If, on the other hand, the people making those complaints seriously believe them, then the response should be to educate them to dispel their prejudices, not accommodate them.

History Debunked Refutes Ethnomathematics/Rehumanizing Mathematics

September 8, 2020

This is another video from History Debunked. In it, youtuber and author Simon Webb attacks Ethnomatics, sometimes also called Rehumanizing Mathematics. This is a piece of modern pseudo-scholarship designed to help Black children tackle Maths. The idea is that Blacks perform poorly compared at Maths compared to other ethnic groups. This is held to be because Maths is the creation of White men, and this puts Blacks off studying and mastering it.

The solution has been to scrutinise African societies for their indigenous Maths, especially the Dogon of Mali. They have been chosen as the chief model for all this, as they possessed extremely advanced astronomical and mathematical knowledge. In the 1970s there was a book, The Sirius Mystery by Robert K.G. Temple, which claimed that they owed this advance knowledge to contact with space aliens. Apparently this claim was subsequently dropped 10 – 15 years later, and the claim made instead that they were just superlative astronomers and mathematicians themselves. But Dogon Maths is held to be different from White, western Maths because it’s spiritual. History Debunked then goes on to demonstrate the type of pseudo-scientific nonsense this has lead to by providing a link to an Ethnomathematics paper and reading out its conclusion. It’s the kind of pretentious verbiage the late, great Jazzman, Duke Ellington, said stunk up the place. It’s the kind of postmodern twaddle that Sokal and Bricmont exposed in their Intellectual Impostures. It’s deliberately designed to sound impressive without actually meaning anything. There’s a lot of talk about expanding cognitive horizons and possibilities, but History Debunked himself says he doesn’t understand a word of it. And neither, I guess, will most people. Because it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just there to sound impressive and bamboozle the reader into thinking that somehow they’re thick because they don’t, while the fault is entirely the writers.

I think History Debunked is a man of the right, and certainly his commenters are Conservatives, some with extremely right-wing views. He’s produced a series of videos attacking the pseudo-history being pushed as Black History, and apparently Seattle in America is particularly involved in promoting this nonsense. But he expects it to come over here in a few years. Given the way Black History month has jumped the Atlantic, I think he’s right.

There’s been a particular emphasis on find ancient Black maths and science for some time I know. For a brief while I got on well with a Black studies group when I was a volunteer at the slavery archives in the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum. That was before I read their magazine and got so annoyed with it and its attitude to Whites that I sent them a whole load of material arguing to the contrary, and pointing out that in places like the Sudan, Blacks were being enslaved and oppressed not by White Europeans, but by the Arabs. I also sent them material about the poor Whites of South Africa, who also lived in grinding poverty thanks to Apartheid. This was stuff they really didn’t want to hear, and I was told that if I wanted to talk to them further, I should do so through someone else. They were also interested in finding examples of Black maths and science. I sent them photocopies and notes I’d made of various medieval Muslim mathematicians. These were Arabs and Persians, like al-Khwarizmi, who gave his name to the word algorithm, Omar Khayyam, best known in the west for his Rubayyat, but who was also a brilliant mathematician, al-Haytham, who invented the camera obscura in the 12th century and others, rather than Black. But they were grateful for what I sent them nonetheless, and I thanked me. This was before I blotted my copybook with them.

I’m reposting this piece because, although it comes from the political, it is correct. And you don’t have to be right-wing to recognise and attack this kind of postmodern rubbish. Sokal and Bricmont, the authors of the book I mentioned early attacking postmodernism, were both men of the left. Sokal was a physicist, who taught maths in Nicaragua under the left-wing Sandinista government. They wrote the book because they took seriously George Orwell’s dictum that writing about politics means writing clearly in language everyone can understand. And even if you believe that Black people do need particular help with maths because of issues of race and ethnicity, Ethnomathematics as it stands really doesn’t appear to be it. It just seems to be filling children’s heads with voguish nonsense, rather than real knowledge.

I also remember the wild claims made about the Dogon and their supposed contact with space aliens. Part of it came from the Dogon possessing astronomical knowledge well beyond their level of technology. They knew, for example, that Sirius has a companion star, invisible to the naked eye, Sirius B. They also knew that our solar system had nine planets, although that’s now been subsequently altered. According to the International Astronomical Association or Union or whatever, the solar system has eight planets. Pluto, previously a planet, has been downgraded to dwarf planet, because it’s the same size as some of the planetoids in the Kuiper Belt. Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince discuss this in one their books,The Stargate Conspiracy (London: Little, Brown & Company 1999), which claimed that the American intelligence agencies were secretly preparing a fake UFO landing in order to convince everyone that the space gods really had arrived, and set up a one-world dictatorship. This hasn’t happened, and I’ve seen the Fortean Times and other weird magazines trying to explain their book as a high-level hoax which people took too seriously. I don’t believe this, as they seemed very serious at the time. The Dogon believe that the first human ancestors, and some of their gods, came from the sky. Hence Temple’s claim that they were contacted by space aliens. Picknett and Prince, however, sided with sceptics like Carl Sagan. They argued instead ithat the Dogon owed it to a French priest, anthropologist or colonial administrator, I’ve forgotten which, who visited them in the 1920s and who was extremely interested in astronomy. This seems to me to be far more likely than that they either got it from space aliens or that they far better mathematicians and astronomers than they could have been at their level of development.

The Dogon are fascinating as their homes and villages are laid out to be microcosms of the male and female human body and the universe. The book African Mythology by Geoffrey Parrinder, London: Hamlyn 1967, describes the layout of a Dogon house thus:

The shape of the Dogon house is symbolical. The floor is like the earth and the flat roof like heaven. The vestibule is a man and the central room woman, with store rooms at her sides as arms. The hear at the end is her head. The four posts are the man and woman entwined in union. So the family house represents the unity of man and woman and God and the Earth. This is accompanied by the elevation and ground plan of a typical Dogon house. (p. 49).

There’s also this diagram of an idealised Dogon village:

The caption for the diagrame reads:

Like the house, the Dogon village represents human beings. The smithy is at the head like a hearth in a house. The family houses in the centre and millstones and village represent the sexes. Other altars are the feet. (p. 51).

Truly, a fascinating people and I have no problem anybody wanting to study them. But it should be in anthropology, ethnography or comparative religion, not maths.

But it struck me that if teachers and educators want to enthuse and inspire young minds with what maths Africans were studying, they could start with ancient Egypt and the great Muslim civilisations of the Sahara and north Africa, like Mali. Aminatta Forna in one of her programmes on these civilisations was shown an ancient astronomical text from the medieval library of one of these towns, which she was told showed that Muslims knew the Earth orbited the sun before Copernicus and Galileo. I doubt that very much. It looks like a form of a combined helio-and geocentric system, first proposed by the ancient Greeks, and then taken up by some medieval astronomers not just in Islam, but also in Christian Europe. In this system, all the other planets when round the Sun, which orbited the Earth. Close to the modern system, but not quite. But it showed that the Black citizens of that civilisation were in contact with the great currents of Muslim science, and that they would have had learnt and taught the same kind of Maths that was being investigated and researcher right across the Muslim world, from India to Morocco and further south to Mali. One of the Black educationalists would like to translate one of these books from Arabic, the learned language of Muslim civilisation, and use it as an example of the kind of maths that was also taught in Black Africa.

Or you could go right back to ancient Egypt. Mathematical texts from the Land of the Nile have also survived in the Moscow and Rhind mathematical papyri. These have various maths problems and their solution. For example, problem No. 7 of the Moscow papyrus is about various calculations for a triangle. This runs

Example of calculating a triangle.

If you are told: A triangle of 2 thousands-of-land, the bank of 2 of 2 1/2;

You are to double the area: result 40 (arurae). Take (it) 2 1/2 times; result [100. Take its square root, namely] 10. Evoke 1 from 2 1/2; what results is 2/5. Apply this to 10; result 4. It is 10 (khet) in length by 4 (khet) in breadth. From Henrietta Midonick, The Treasury of Mathematics: 1 (Harmondsworth: Pelican 1965) p. 71.

It’s amazing to think that the boys at the scribal school were being taught all this millennia ago. It gives you a real sense of connection with the ancient schoolkids reading it. You can imagine them, hunched over with their pen and ink, busily cudgeling their brains while the teacher prowls about them. The Babylonians were also renowned as the pioneers of early mathematics. They even uncovered a school when they excavated Ur of the Chaldees in the 1920s, complete with the maths and other texts the schoolboys – female education didn’t exist back then, but I’m willing to be corrected – were required to learn. As a schoolboy character in the Fast Show used to say: ‘Brilliant!’ You don’t need to burden modern African societies like the Dogon with spurious pseudo-history and pseudo-science, when the real historic achievements of ancient Egypt and medieval Africa are so impressive.

It struck me that even if you don’t use the original Egyptian maths texts to teach maths – which would be difficult, as their maths was slightly different. Their method of calculating the area of a field of four unequal sides yields far too high a figure, for example – you could nevertheless inspire children with similar problems. Perhaps you could do it with assistance of a child or two from the class. You could bring them out in front of everyone, give them and ancient Egyptian headdress, and then arranged the lesson so that they helped the teacher, acting as pharaoh, to solve it. Or else pharaoh showed them, his scribes, and thus the class. This is certainly the kind of thing that was done when I was a kid by the awesome Johnny Ball on the children’s maths and science programme, Think of a Number. And every week, as well as showing you a bit of maths and science, he also showed you a trick, which you could find out how to do by dropping him a line. It was the kind of children’s programme that the Beeb did very, very well. It’s a real pity that there no longer is an audience for children’s programmes and their funding has subsequently been cut.

Here’s History Debunked’s video attacking Ethnomathematics. He also attacks a piece of ancient baboon bone carved with notches, which he states has been claimed is an ancient prehistoric African calendar. He provides no evidence in this video to show that it wasn’t, and says its the subject of a later video. If this is the one I’m thinking of, then that is a claim that has been accepted by mainstream archaeologists and historians. See Ivor Grattan-Guinness, The Fontana History of the Mathematical Sciences (London: Fontana Press 1998) p. 24.

If you want to know more about ancient and medieval maths, and that of the world’s many indigenous cultures, see the book Astronomy before the Telescope, edited by Christopher Walker with an introduction by the man of the crumpled suit and monocle himself, Patrick Moore (London: British Museum Press 1998).

This has chapters on astronomy in Europe from prehistory to the Renaissance, but also on astronomy in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, India, Islam, China, Korea and Japan, North and South America, traditional astronomical knowledge in Africa and among Aboriginal Australians, Polynesia and the Maori. It can be a difficult read, as it explores some very technical aspects, but it is a brilliant work by experts in their respective fields.