Wednesday, September 14, 2016


I'm well into my publishing projects now. Last month I released a new novel, Temangwane, my fifth book, and it's doing well both locally and also is on Amazon. That book was finished in 2003 and revised only slightly. Now I'm getting my 2004 novel, Coming Home, ready for publication.

Publication means 3 formats these days: a local print copy, an Amazon CreateSpace copy, and an epub/mobi edition.

Amazon is great, but it doesn't at the moment serve the needs of Africa because packing and postage can easily cost more than the book itself. There's still much to do to kickstart an African reading revival...

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Shakin' The Reed

Wena weluhlanga. You of the reed.

In 1926 Jelly Roll Morton released a single called Black Bottom Stomp (he had originally called it Queen of Spades). It was a jazz dance and a hot record of its time, so popular that it was covered by other early Jazz legends in one form or another. When, a decade later, jazz had moved into the snazzy windy city clubs the dance was resurrected under the new title of  Shakin' the African. The dance was synonymous with excitement, energy, and vitality.

I was reminded of these earlier dances by media coverage of this year's Umhlanga, the national Reed Dance, an event that many city dwellers now seem to regard as mainly for tourists. I'm sure that isn't so, although the ceremony's origins are so shrouded in the mists of time that there are many who see the annual ritual as an anachronism, an odd, out-of-place happening in this high-tech mobile-phone and computer age.
   Yet the event's central metaphor is still striking. In contrast to the Judeo-Christian myth that people were fashioned from clay (cf the potter's wheel, 'dust-to-dust' and 'ashes-to-ashes'), Swazi cosmology has it that the first people were shaped from reeds.
   This connection of people with reeds was once engagingly made by a preacher in a service I attended. He gave no impression that he knew of the Swazi creation story, but instead argued that 'reeds' was an accurate description of the unconverted, since reeds are hollow and are easily swayed by the wind. The image was an ideal one for the preacher, allowing him plenty of scope to elaborate on those whose lives are 'empty' and 'wavering', without purpose and direction. Never once during that longish sermon did my attention to it waver.
   I have another view of those reeds however. I think if you look at a bed of reeds moving in the wind you can easily imagine them to be dancing, and I think that's an apt image for life itself. The reeds are animated, alive because they have movement. Death, after all, is supremely seen as a stillness. Life can be viewed as a kind of dance: a sometimes noisy, crazy, careering one, but still a dance.
   This interpretation, I believe, enriches phrases like wena weluhlanga, and supports the Reed Dance's prominence on the national calendar.
It's another instance of discovering the constellations of meaning behind what we say and do. Often familiarity and repetition blur and obscure meanings. For example, many people believe that English names have no meanings, whereas Swazi names do. Everyone knows why an Ntombifuthi is so named, but what about a Kenneth? The truth is that English names do have meanings but they've been forgotten over the course of time and need someone to take the effort to find out what they mean. The same applies to annual events like uMhlanga. It is certainly a colourful event and, yes, it does attract visitors from other countries, but if we allow it--and other events like it--to become merely a vivid event, a spectacle, a showy entertainment for the media age, then everyone will ultimately be the loser. By watching the swaying, jostling, singing girls at the Reed Dance and imagining them as that amazing thing, a bed of living reeds, we can deepen our understanding of ourselves, and perhaps regain something of the wonder of life itself.

[* an earlier version of this article was previously published in the Times Sunday newspaper*]

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The lie of romantic love

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Sgt Pepper's Alternate Expanded Radio London Club Band

deviantart by SavoyLemon
I made myself a Christmas diversion:

Sgt Pepper’s Alternate Expanded Radio London Club Band

1. Alternate: the first two tracks recorded during the Sgt Pepper’s sessions were Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane but they were selected as a double-A side single and therefore, following EMI’s principle of not including singles on Beatles albums, never made it onto the album. George Martin apparently said, “I wonder what the album would have been if those two corkers had been included”, so I had the idea to include them. That, naturally, raised the question of what to replace. The obvious choice for me was Paul’s ‘granny song’, When I'm Sixty-Four  which wasn’t written for Pepper (he’d been playing it since the Cavern days) and George’s misfit song, Within You Without You  (which is clearly not a rock song).
2. Expanded: since Beatles albums usually have at least one Harrison song, I felt I should  include the song George actually intended for Pepper, (It's Only) A Northern Song which was recorded at that time but vetoed by Martin as ‘not up to standard’.
3. Radio London: in 1967, the ‘pirate’ radio station radio London ( 'Big L') had 16 million listeners and was given an exclusive 8-day preview window of Sgt Pepper’s. When later that year the British government brought in legislation to end the pirates, Big L was closed down at 3pm on 14th August 1967. The last song the station played was Pepper’s A Day In The Life. That historical moment is recreated here by adding the broadcast ending.


1. Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
2. With A Little Help From My Friends
3. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
4. Getting Better
5. Fixing A Hole
6. She's Leaving Home
7. Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!
8. Strawberry Fields Forever
9. (It's Only) A Northern Song
10. Penny Lane
11. Lovely Rita
12. Good Morning Good Morning
13. Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
14. A Day In The Life
15. 14th August 1967 (Big L Closedown)

The mix sounds great to my ears and I was intending to share it with you on mixcloud but apparently more than three songs from one artist aren't allowed. However, there's nothing to stop you creating your own version.

Consider this mix as a fan’s tribute.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Karma Chameleon

THIS MORNING I witnessed a death. I was driving home, out of town and into the country. As a novelist I naturally notice things and ahead of me on the road, moving slowly--very slowly--swivel-eyed and hesitating step-by-step, was a young chameleon. I took care to avoid him and drove up to my gate. Whilst I waited for the gardener to open the gate I looked back at the chameleon, still on its hazardous journey across the road. I thought, My heart's with you guy, but I don't think you'll make it. Immediately, a kombi hurtled down that stretch of road, its driver oblivious to the tiny creature; amazingly it missed the chameleon. But the car following quickly behind didn't and the creature was spun into the air and landed, inert, on the road. And then a truck rushed along and squashed it flat. And I was thinking, that's a life lesson right there, isn't it? One moment you're here; the next moment you're gone. For that chameleon, the struggle is over; for us the daily struggles go on: but also the joys, the triumphs and ephemeral achievements of what all of us call life.

c Kenneth Rowley 2015

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Classical Sunday 1: JS Bach: The Brandenburg Concertos

JS Bach's Brandenburg Concertos are amongst the gems of the entire classical repertoire, not only the Baroque period. Composed throughout his career then selected, assembled and reorganised, Bach presented these works to the Margrave of Brandenburg in 1721. Bach may not have heard these pieces performed as a complete work; the Margrave certainly didn't. He didn't have enough musicians in his Berlin orchestra to have them performed and so the manuscripts went straight into his library and were only discovered over a hundred years later, in 1849! How fortunate for us that they were! The manuscripts were first published the following year, in 1850, and have since then become regularly performed, frequently recorded, and very popular works.

The youtube performance given here is of the 5th concerto, performed by one of the best period performance ensembles, the Freiburger Barockorchester, and filmed at Cothen, where Bach worked as a court musician.

This is the concerto that includes an amazing section written to spotlight the harpsichord. I hope you enjoy it.

c Kenneth Rowley 2015

The Christian Rats

The Christian Rats

Here’s an interesting example of how language and its idioms change through the passing of years and movement between different cultures.

In Shakespeare’s lifetime (1564-1616) there was a common expression, “to be as hungry as a church mouse”. This expression came about because in those days churches had neither kitchens nor storerooms, unlike eating places and homes, so a mouse that tried to live in a church could literally starve to death.
During the next few hundred years, however, the saying became “to be as poor as a church mouse”. This change is easy to explain, for the poor of every nation have always struggled to get enough food to eat well.
Then, in the nineteenth century, when Christian missions began to spread throughout the world, establishing churches and the English language, this revised expression naturally travelled with them.
Fast-forward to our era, and the expression has changed again. I came across this interesting passage recently in the introduction to a book discussing the proper Christian approach to wealth:

‘Once upon a time, an extremely poor person used to be likened to a church rat. The expression was ‘as poor as a church rat’. This meant that the Church/believers were so poor that they barely managed to survive and so could not have anything left over for the rat in the Church to feed upon.’

Here, not only has the mouse become a rat but through personification the rat itself has become a Christian!

This is yet another fascinating example of language change. I hope you found it as interesting as I did.

© Kenneth Rowley 2015