Subscription 790/year or 190/quarter

Pigeons and pirates

I have diamonds under the shoe soles, but have to cross the creek for water.


[East Africa] It begins with the first prayer calls from the mosque in five o'clock. Then the cocks, cows and loose dogs will join in the morning concert, and then it is really just standing up.

Being at the foot of Kilimanjaro is rarely silent.

But occasionally, when I sharpen my ears, I can hear a familiar stanza I long thought was only 20 years old, but which has probably resonated here on the plains longer than Paul Simon and the Zulu group Ladysmith Black Mambozo have sung it, and even further than the prayer calls from the mosque has been hearing. It's the sound of a pigeon – do not ask me which one – but there are indeed some beats from the intro to "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes", from Simon's fantastic album Graceland, it hums. Maybe Paul Simon just forgot to credit it?

In 1986, the economic and cultural boycott of the apartheid state of South Africa was still strong, and many therefore thought it was wrong of Simon to record parts of Graceland in South Africa. In retrospect, however, there is little doubt that Simon's enthusiasm for South African township music and collaborations with groups such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo and The Boyoyo Boys Band resulted in an explosive interest in African music in the West. Many also consider Graceland to be one of the first additions to the somewhat mysterious genre of "world music", which – if nothing else – has received a number of white ears for music from Africa, Asia, Latin America and other outposts.

But raise your hand all there at home that can name at least two East African artists? I had only heard of the Tanzanian hip-hop group X Plastaz before moving here. And it doesn't help that I'm rich, white and have diamonds under the shoe soles when I go out and update the record collection, because it's far between the original recordings here, even by good, local artists. Instead, I am forced to buy pirates, or I have to go across the creek for water and order through western online stores if I am not to help undermine what should have been a glorious East African music industry.

A World Bank report concludes that more than 90 percent of all CDs sold in Kenya are pirated. This business is so widespread that people in Africa no longer know it is illegal, John Andrews of East African AI Records told the Daily Nation newspaper. The result is cheap music for the people, but little money for the music industry. But it probably whitens the pigeon on the neighboring roof for a long march.

You may also like