My favourite thing for the year of our Lord 2016 is D.R.A.M’s happy face…
… Now that we got that out of the way, here are some of my faves for 2016:
I visited a lot of content farms this year, these were the gems that I stumbled upon.
I still liked Baldwin but in a divested way, the way that anyone who writes and aspires to write well does. When people asked me my opinion on him I told them the truth: that Baldwin had set the stage for every American essayist who came after him with his 1955 essay collection Notes of a Native Son. One didn’t need to worship him, or desire to emulate him, to know this and respect him for it…
Yet there is a central paradox around loneliness. While it can lead towards very undesirable places (isolation, depression, suicide), it can also make us better observers of the social world. We can become more perceptive, more in charge of our own reality, as loneliness makes life compelling. Vitally, loneliness assures us that our life is our own. Historically – and mythically – it has been the singular and narrow path towards virtue, morality and self-understanding…
But in America, we don’t connect the dots. We hate connecting the dots. People fantasize that the destruction of the American Dream is the fault of the poor, rather than the explicit and long term intention of the corporate class. Instead it’s China, it’s Mexican immigrants, it’s lawlessness, it’s that black boy on the street. Let’s blame him…
By complete chance, I stumbled upon a 1995 interview of writer/philosopher Emil M Cioran and it is one of the greatest things to happen to me. It made me discover someone who is now, one of my favourite writers
…For more than twenty years it sold only two thousand copies. So, it was my good luck to have been able to spend almost thirty years in a sort of oblivion. For me the drama of a writer is being famous when he’ young, that’s extremely bad. It forces everything, because most writers, when they’re known fairly young, they write for their public. In my opinion, a book should be written without thinking of others. You shouldn’t write for anyone, only for yourself. And one should never write a book just to write a book. Because that has no reality, it’s only a book. Everything I’ve written, I wrote to escape a sense of oppression, suffocation. It wasn’t from inspiration, as they say. It was a sort of getting free, to be able to breathe.
Almost all the music videos I’ve seen this year were forgettable. These two weren’t.
Sweaty naked Teyana Taylor doing what looks like a sexy Michael Jackson routine at the gym. Perfect idea.
This is a very trippy vid. I have no idea what is going on, but I loved it and it made me smile.
[Aside: The saddest thing in Rap this year was watching a bunch of old men gang up on a 19 year old kid because he makes ‘mumble rap. Back-pack used to be great. Around 2010-2012 the bulk of the output was disappointing, most of us who used to listen to back-pack rap gave up searching for new artist. The energy spent on denigrating what they feel is whack could be better used putting the dope shit on. The world needs to know more about the like of ‘Nolan the Ninja’.]
Prof. Pumla Dineo Gqola doesn’t give us the answers at the end but along the way we get to understand the mechanism of rape, why it is so intertwined with South African Culture.
There was a lot of grey in the fight against apartheid and that was never really told, or maybe it was on a dull academic paper that wasn’t open access. Anyways, Jacob Dlamini shone a light on some of that grey. A compelling read about Apartheid collaborators.
There are certain writers, no matter how brilliant, will never be appreciated or widely read because of their subject matter. E M Cioran, an obscure Romanian philosopher, is one of those writers. These three are the his only books that I’ve managed to read this year. They’re very short but there’s so much lyricism in those short books. I’m still in awe at how he managed to write so beautifully about something(s) so dark.
Marikana is an indictment on all South Africans. That men working under such poor conditions extracting the worlds most expensive metal at that time could be paid so little is an indictment on all of us. That when they were striking for better wages we thought their demands were unreasonable is an indictment on all of us. That after they were shot dead in front of TV cameras we believed the South African Police Service’s official embellishment instead of the miners is an indictment on all of us. That four years later no one has been held responsible for their murders is…
Greg Marinovich tells a story of the miners (something the South African media failed to do in the few months after the massacre) in this extraordinary account of what went down on that fateful week in August 2012.
A classic account of how a group of slaves organised the world’s first real revolutions and created the world’s first truly inclusive democracy. A history that was largely ignored because the protagonists are black.
A history of Johannesburg, how it came about. How it was brought down and rebuilt several times. How and why the City centre was allowed to degenerate. How and why the infamous suburban sprawl came about.How an evil alliance of property developers and urban planners prevent apartheid spatial planning from being undone. A must read for Johannesburg lovers and residents.
A modern day (?) african whodunit written with a poet’s sensibility. Read it if you like modern West African Literature.
This 1977 sci-fi classic from Phillip K Dick was so ahead of it’s time. Addiction is dealt with such great empathy and sensitivity. And he, unintentionally predicted the US government’s inhumane ‘war on drugs. A very beautiful book.
Ananda Devi shows us the side of Mauritius you will never find in your travel brochure. Told from the point of view of four youths whose lives are about to change, entirely in monologues. A brilliant book from a brilliant writer.
A brilliant novel where all the experiments and risks Fiston Mwanza Mujila takes pay off. One of the best things I’ve read in the last two years. A must have if you like your authors to prove to you that you can do anything with words.
Tweet – Charlene
Tweet can still sing. Tweet can still make a solid traditional R&B album that doesn’t pander to critics and taste makers. Tweet came by in 2016 to remind us that R&B is still in good hands.
Nicolas Jaar – Sirens
Nicolas Jaar is one of the musicians that doesn’t have to operate in an album format to be considered great. Every subsequent release (whether EP, 12”, or single) since 2010 sounds like he’s working towards perfection and this brilliant album that subtly sneaks in his Chilean heritage is the closest we’ll get to perfection.
James Blake – The Colour In Anything
An album about a love that has grown complacent. A love that has become boring. Like the previous album, Blake prioritises melody, song writing and rhythm over in-studio geriatrics that made him famous back when he was just a producer. A very solid album.
King – We Are King
That whimsical feeling when you first fell in love. The dreams about running far away together. This is it but in musical form. A very low-key album that seems to get better with each listen. THE MOST OVERLOOKED ALBUM OF 2016!
Amathongo – Modokali
The magic of this album lies in its subtlety. Madosini’s vocals are other worldly. I never thought Xhosa traditional vocals and white hippie Cape Town Jazz could work so well, but it does. It really works, this album really works and you should listen to it.
Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
Danny Brown came back to tell us that the pain remains constant even as success accumulates. He still raps with an urgency of a dying man in the interrogation room whose last words are an impassionate scream that the revolution will not be quelled. Producers on this record were allowed to do whatever the fuck they want and the results are amazing.
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Radiohead don’t have to put out experimental records anymore, their back catalogue is solid and all they do lately is build on what went right (which is almost everything) on their last release and perfect it. Everything they do sounds and they make it look so easy. Oh and by the way, this album contains one of the best string arrangements I’ve heard in a long time.
Solange – A Seat At The Table
There’s been a Pro-Black resurgence in African American art in the last several years and it has brought us some amazing music. Solange’s new album continues with that trend. With lush production from the likes of Raphael Saadiq, this album is really fulfilling.
Bon Iver – 22, A Million
Justin Vernon is a talented songwriter. Bon Iver is a solid band and they’ve released decent material that I didn’t really like because it lacked ‘that thing‘. Luckily for me, their latest has less Folk that puts me to sleep and more risks and experimentation. Existential Angst never sounded so good.
Ka – Honor Killed The Samurai
Ka raps with such precision and efficiency that no word or syllable is wasted in each bar. He writes about the pain of growing up in a marginalized environment, about the decisions one is forced to take and the lifetime scars cause by the choices one had to take to survive. Very grimy, percussion-less production accentuates the pictures he is creating with his word. He’s a real treasure and Rap will forever be thankful that he never gave up on his dreams of being an MC.
Frank Ocean – Blonde
The most amusing thing about post-Channel Orange frank Ocean coverage has been the violent ways identities were assigned to him by people who should know better, even after he stated clearly that he doesn’t want to be boxed into any identity but I digress. Frank made a great album here, gave non-heteronormative experience the nuance it deserves. A nuance that I haven’t heard in music since during Meshell Ndegeocello’s hey days.
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
Aesop Rock is one of my favourite writers. A perfect example that you can do anything with words. On his latest, less esoteric and most personal record to date, he deals with loss, social isolation, mental illness, disillusionment with mental health treatments, familial relations and much more. Production entirely handled by himself. A great album you should listen to if you’re still into words.