By Bill Saidi
ONE of my grandsons, after listening to me playing Simon and Garfunkel’s hits — including The Boxer and Bridge Over Troubled Water — asked, with breathless impatience:
“Didn’t you have any African-American favourites?”
I reeled them off: The Mills Brothers, Harry Belafonte, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jnr, James Brown, Whitney Houston, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Billy Eckstein, Joe “King” Oliver, Bessie Smith and Duke Ellington, who I met in the flesh . . . And Paul Robeson, singing Old Man River,Then I stopped.
I’ve never had to apologise for my musical tastes to anyone.
But with my grandson, I assumed I had to make a convincing case.
I suspect he thought, perhaps, I wasn’t setting a good example.
He is now 22 and there was no way my taste in music would influence his. I decided I’d just let it be . . . as The Beatles song goes.
I suspect he had also heard me play Perry Como’s Magic Moments and What Did Della Wear, Boy?
I often wonder if people without an ear for music can live life to the fullest.
There is nothing pompous about this. Listening to good music can be therapeutic, enchanting.
For many years, I have read of the conductor Daniel Barenboim, born of Jewish parents in Argentina. He has conducted orchestras of different nationalities all over the world.
I am myself not freakish about opera. I loved Maria Callas and, before her, the great Mario Lanza.
In a recent interview on Aljazeera TV, Barenboim spoke passionately of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Barenboim seems to have taken the position that Israelis and the Palestinians could settle their differences if they accepted that their two nations can live side by side without tearing each other to pieces . . . perhaps through music.
The idea that their differences are impossible to resolve is something nobody in the world can subscribe to. Human beings are different.
But there is no record of people failing to resolve their differences.
The prime example is South Africa.
Black and white seemed destined to rip out each other’s throats, before they could “do the right thing”.
Among the white advocates of apartheid were people who believed, fervently, that it was God’s great design for black and white to live apart — forever.
In a word, what the Arab-IsraeIi conflict sorely needs is a Nelson Mandela.
Of course, there is still trouble in South Africa. But there are people today who are amazed that the country has come this far, without two or three massacres of the sort that occurred at Marikana.
The ANC has trouble running the country without constantly reminding itself that the liberation war ended when democracy came about in 1994.
Quite often, it’s as if someone is frightened that one day, the ghost of Hendriek Verwoerd will rise up in Parliament to ask Jacob Zuma: “Where is your pass, jong?”
Some of this fear is generated by a white lunatic fringe which still sees an independent, democratic South Africa as a mirage.
There is absolutely no chance of a return to the horrors of apartheid.
The Arab-Israeli conundrum will be resolved, eventually.
It may take time, but the idea of the bloody confrontation between them being permanent is impossible to rationalise.
The Boers tried and look what happened to them.
In his interview, Barenboim seemed to suggest that if people such as the feisty anti-Palestine politician Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu were persuaded to treat music with the same reverence as politics, things might turn out for the better.
What seems certain is that Israel, led by people such as the apparently non-musical Netanyahu, will continue to blunder from crisis to crisis.
Mandela’s theme was basically that, with each of the races conceding political ground to the other, all would eventually come out on top.
It may not have happened yet, but not all is lost. It’s probably advisable for Netanyahu to sound out Mandela on what to do next.
He might find it useful to persuade Barenboim to arrange for an orchestra featuring The Soweto String Quartet, the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra, with vocals by the Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Simon and Garfunkel.
- Bill Saidi is a writer in based in Harare