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Dahr Jamail and Stan Rushworth, editors
2022 The New Press
The last time many of us remember Dahr Jamail, he had quit his job as a nature guide in Alaska in 2003 and risked his life to sneak into Iraq as an independent, “unembedded” journalist seeking the truth about the United States’ illegal invasion of Iraq. Soon he was sending dispatches to major news media outlets around the world and filing some of the best, most hard-hitting reports of the war.

Unlike most other western reporters, Jamail testified publicly about the U.S. military’s war crimes in Iraq that he had witnessed and documented. He went on to write a few books about the lie that was America’s barbaric “war on terror”.

Jamail has since turned his sights from that “war” to the much bigger human-led war being waged against the Earth itself — a war that threatens all life on the planet as we speak. It is on this subject that Jamail has published his latest book, We are the Middle of Forever.

Co-edited by Jamail and Stan Rushworth, a Native American elder, author and teacher, the book features a series of 20 interviews with indigenous North American tribal leaders, healers, academics, community organizers, elders and students. The common theme they address: the human degradation of the Earth and the extreme climate disasters that are now upon us.

Ron W. Goode, tribal chairman of the North Fork Mono nation of central California, for example, relates how age-old Native fire management practices are being learned and applied today by state fire officials in California to more effectively deal with deadly wildfire disasters.

Professor Kyle Powys Whyte of the Potawatomi tribe speaks on the vital importance of true kinship in human relations with the Earth. Ilarion Merculieff of the Unangan nation in Alaska talks about the personal sacrifices that need to be made — in his case, giving up a comfortable life in government and business to go back to the traditional Native healing ways of his people.

Terri Delahanty of the Cree tribal nation in the U.S. speaks on the healing that must happen between the masculine and the feminine if humans are going to take better care of each other and of the common Earth they live on. The abuse of women is tied directly into the abuse of the natural world, as several female interviewees in the book attest.

The western history of colonialism, materialism and patriarchy is covered at length among the interviewees. Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault tribal nation in Washington state, sums up the ties between past and present:

Ultimately the solution to the [climate] crisis lies in our values, and we’ve proven that simply by existing today, regardless of how we had the most powerful country in the world [the USA] try to destroy us, terminate us, and assimilate us. We lived under great pain and suffering. They carried out murder and genocide and attempted full-scale annihilation, but they never could stop that drumbeat in our hearts. One could either just wither away like paper, or be like steel that just grows stronger and stronger. When the most powerful country in four hundred years can’t stop you, you know it is because of our resources, prayers, and blessings and everything that has been across this land since time began. And we not only have survived, but we are now emerging even stronger.

Melina Laboucan-Massimo of the Lubicon Cree tribal nation in Canada, weighs in with the urgent challenges that lie ahead in getting enough people, both Native and non-indigenous, moving together to mentally and physically change things before it is too late:

It’s not just one way of seeing things and one way of being, or one way of doing. Everything is important. The climate crisis is the issue of our day, of whether or not we survive on this planet, but we also need every single person to be involved because everyone’s impacted. We need a paradigm shift of understanding that we aren’t in this hierarchy with Mother Earth, that we are in the sacred hoop. That’s something that still needs to shift. It’s how we right our relationship with Mother Earth.

As editors and composers of the book chapters, both Dahr Jamail, of Arab-American descent, and Stan Rushworth have experienced the trauma of war: Jamail as a first-time journalist in Iraq in the early 2000s and Rushworth as a soldier in the American war in Vietnam decades ago. With the U.S. military being one of the world’s biggest polluters, a discussion of global climate change would not be complete without bringing militarism into the conversation as well.

An interview excerpt from We are the Middle of Forever can be viewed online and is well worth checking out. The book is published by The New Press, a nonprofit organization based in New York that releases some outstanding literary works on the important issues of our time.

Western science, feeding technology and industrialization for centuries, is what got us all into this mess of planetary climate change in the first place, and the best minds in science alone will not get us out of it today. Tapping into the vast repository of indigenous knowledge of the Earth is the key to overcoming the current state of emergency in human history. This book takes the modest step of guiding us in that direction.
音楽 music
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Abel Selaocoe
Contemporary European classical music has rarely sounded as enticing and exciting as it does on this debut album by young cellist and composer Abel Selacoe, as he redraws the musical map with passion, dynamism and lots of African soul.

As a South African musician based in London for some years now, Selaocoe has been earning accolades and acclaim galore for his artistic explorations and improvisations. It all comes together on this new recording, Where is Home (Hae Ke Kae).

This set of songs, as Selaocoe attests, represents a search of sorts for a lasting place of refuge and shelter, both musically and geographically. In that search, Selaocoe celebrates his indigenous Sotho ethnic traditions of the southern African continent and melds them joyously with the often-stuffy world of classical music in Europe. The resulting fusion is pure magic.

The 16 tracks that make up this aural adventure feature Selaocoe on several of his original ensemble compositions, displaying his chops on both cello and vocals in a group setting. He is joined on the opening track, “Ibuyile iAfrica”, by none other than Yo-Yo Ma, who has perhaps done more than any other living musician to bring recognition to the cello as a solo instrument in its own right.

The tune “Ka Bohaleng” finds Selaocoe backed by stellar musicians on both acoustic and electric instruments in an irresistible rhythmic excursion. He dedicates the hard-hitting piece to the mothers of the world, especially the matriarch of his own family in South Africa who fostered his cello studies from an early age.

Selaocoe goes on to fete Hukwe Zawose, the legendary musician from the nation of Tanzania, on “Zawose,” paying homage to Tanzania’s vital role in supporting the Black liberation struggle against apartheid in South Africa decades ago.

As inspiring as the ensemble outings are on this album, though, they can often overshadow Selaocoe’s individual virtuosity on cello and vocals. The solo number “Seipone” (audio clip above) features a pared-down blending of the traditional Sotho throat-singing style of South Africa with a multi-toned solo improvisation on cello.

On the European purist side, Selaocoe pays tribute in this recording to a couple of Baroque-era composers that had long inspired him on cello, breathing fresh new life as he does into the “Sarabande” compositions of German composer Johann Sebastian Bach as well as a short suite of songs by Italian composer Giovanni Benedetto Platti.

This album draws to a close with a communal healing prayer, “Ancestral Affirmations,” featuring Selacoe and his own family in a musical collage that brings the sacred circle back around again.

The CD version of this album, released on the major Warner Music record label, is well packaged, with extensive liner notes written by Selacoe himself that are presented in a multilingual format.

Check out some of Abel Selaocoe’s live video performances on the Web (along with audio tracks from the new album) for a thrilling glimpse of what the future of European classical music holds in the coming years. In this young musical adventurer’s hands, that future never looked better.
映画 film
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Margaret Brown, director
2022 110 min.
An episode from the story of slavery in the United States of America is told powerfully in this new documentary film about the last known slave ship voyage to the southern U.S. region and a local African offspring community that has survived there for more than a century.

Descendant by independent filmmaker Margaret Brown does more than just chronicle the sins of a past that America as a nation would rather forget: The film also serves as a critical reminder in these early decades of the 21st century that history is always circular, not linear, and how the exploitation of yesteryear is carried over into the present and future as well.

The film’s storyline centers around the U.S. slave ship Clotilda, a wooden schooner owned by a wealthy, white American shipyard owner and slave trader in Mobile, Alabama, and the ship’s illegal human cargo: 110 men, women and children from what is now the west African nation of Benin. The Clotilda was the very last U.S. slave ship known to have brought captive Africans to the American South for enslavement.

The owner of that ship, Timothy Meaher, had the vessel set afire and scuttled into a watery grave in the Mobile River around 1860 to hide his crime of international slave trafficking, which at that time was punishable by death under U.S. law. Meaher’s descendants remain prominent landowners in the area even today.

The Africans on the Clotilda were sold into slavery, getting their liberation only after the U.S. civil war ended in 1865. They soon established their own freedom colony, Africatown, on a tract of land they had managed to buy; it still exists there today. About a hundred of the current residents of the Africatown historic community are direct descendants of the Africans transported on the Clotilda.

The Descendant film crew is there to catch the discovery of the remains of the Clotilda in 2019, as well as the Black and white reactions to the archaeological find. For the former, it’s a matter of personal family history; for the latter, it seems to be more about the media hype surrounding the historical discovery.

The legacy of slavery in modern-day Africatown wears the mask of environmental racism and corporate land theft. A Native American activist works with the Africatown residents to challenge the local land-zoning laws that allow nearby industrial plants to grab land and spew toxic pollution over the Africatown community. “The fight over zoning is a fight over destiny,” the activist says in the film, and it is “just as much a part of the story as the Clotilda.”

This film also serves as a tribute of sorts to the late Zora Neale Hurston, the author, anthropologist and filmmaker who did so much to chronicle Black American life in the last century. A long-suppressed manuscript of hers was finally published in 2018 as the nonfiction work Barracoon (excerpts here). In the book, she transcribes in local dialect the interviews she had done in Africatown, Alabama with Cudjo Kazoola Lewis, one of the last surviving Africans of the Clotilda. Excerpts of Hurston’s book being read aloud by the living descendants of Lewis in Africatown make for some striking scenes in the movie, and it is Hurston’s own voice we hear on tape at the film’s closing.

Descendant is released by Higher Ground, the media production company launched by the former U.S. president and first lady, Barack and Michelle Obama. Higher Ground has produced some exceptional documentary films in recent years, and this newest endeavor stands out as its best cinematic undertaking yet.

Epilogue: The film and all the public acclaim it is receiving has recently led the white Meaher family descendants of Mobile, Alabama to break their long-held silence about the Clotilda and to denounce their patriarch for his role in the American slave trade in the mid-1800s. The descendants of the former slaveowner and the descendants of his former slaves are now communicating with each other for the first time — a positive development.

Even so, the legacy of the Clotilda and Africatown will continue to play out for a long time to come against a broader backdrop of systemic racism and economic exploitation. In Africatown, as throughout the entire USA, the past is indelibly etched into the present and the future.