Friday, 15 June 2007

Sophiatown; Triomf; Sophiatown

Those of us back here in Paris, back behind the blogging curtain, feel a long way off from South Africa.... and as Americans, we proudly assert our ignorance of all things un-American. Like, for instance, South Africa. The whole thing, practically. Oh, we've heard of that place -- didn't you people used to have something kinda weird going on down there for a while? But surely that's all been straightened out nicely by now?

Well, ok -- we're not quite that dumb. But nearly. And as we've gotten involved with TRIOMF, we've been learning...and fast. We learn that -- and here we invite anybody who knows anything to jump in and correct us -- once upon a time there was a place called Sophiatown. And that approximately one million years ago, in the middle of the 1950s, its residents were kindly requested to vacate, due to certain legal discrepancies. Like them being the incorrect color. And that the South African government was kind enough to offer them six bottles of soda pop each as it ushered them away, and razed their homes. Let's see; 63,000 people each given 6 bottles of pop. You do the math -- we're too boggled.

And in honor of this epic urban redevelopment process, the new white suburb was jubilantly titled "Triomf." And this is the context for the novel and now the film. But not the mid-1950s. Instead, TRIOMF is set in March, 1994, five days before the first democratic general election in the history of South Africa.

After which, a number of things happened, we understand. Not least among them: Triomf was renamed Sophiatown.

We'll be putting some music on here before long, music created in the cultural environment of the original Sophiatown. We'll perhaps put up something from the Jazz Epistles, the Sophiatown band that included Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibraham), Hugh Masekela, and Kippie Moeketsi. Their album, released in France in 1960, was the first appearance of South African jazz on an LP. You might say it was a small triomf.

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