Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Of Politicians, Asylum Seekers and Marijuana: S.E. Rogie

S.E. Rogie (Sooliman Rogers)

Australia is one of the better places to live on this wobbly orb. Open space. Beaches with names like ’90 Mile’. Fantastic cities. Rainforests and Uluru (Ayers Rock).  In fact The Economist put the country on its cover a couple of weeks ago with the headline The Next Golden State?

About the only aspect of this country that the venerable paper could find to criticise was the government. Not just the present bunch of Labor Party nincompoops, but the entire cadre of professional politicians who blubber and sputter at each other but who are incapable, ‘of pull(ing) the skin off a rice pudding’. Policies are spun like cricket balls off a cracked pitch, leaving the average citizen unable to follow the direction or focus on the vision, so much does it swing from side to side. With their noses finely tuned to the slightest whiff of public discontent, both major parties break their promises and abandon their moral convictions like soiled underwear. 

The long suffering citizenry, the Washerman’s Dog included, generally ignores them and gets on with the job of living. But at times this strategy is not  only inappropriate but morally wrong.  Such an instance is the way in which this country of immigrants, convicts and deportees allows its rulers to bring shame, ridicule and (much deserved international condemnation upon the land with its reprehensible, demagogic and completely unnecessary policy of incarcerating asylum seekers and vilifying refugees, especially those who arrive on boats from neighbouring countries.

In the latest move in this macabre game of political Twister, the baby-faced Minister of Immigration, puffed out his chest and talked tough about the new policy that would see all asylum seekers who arrive by boat, including, unaccompanied minors…that’s children…sent to Malaysia, the one country in the region that has a worse track record than Australia on the handling of those seeking refuge.

It leaves one speechless.  Where are the Juvenals, Jonathan Swifts and Mark Twains of our age? Surely we are living in a madhouse! 

This issue is close to my heart. I spent many years helping asylum seekers and refugees in Africa, the Middle East and Asia find a solution to the terrible situation (s) they found themselves in, simply because their country’s collapsed or for their beliefs or their religion. 

But the Washerman’s Dog  is not a rant-corner or soap box. It is about music and so as a small token gesture to all those refugees and asylum seekers in the world, I offer up a record with the best ‘refugee’ song I’ve ever heard: African Gospel sung by the doyen of palm wine guitarists, S.E. Rogie.

Palm wine tapper

S.E. Rogie (Sooliman Rogers) was born in Sierra Leone in 1926 and died in 1994. He came into musical maturity at a time when a style of guitar playing in West Africa known as palm wine music was being developed. The guitar was introduced into West Africa by Portuguese traders. Early African guitarists and bottle percussionists played at gatherings where revelers drank the fermented sap of palm trees, a traditional alternative to bottled beer. Palm wine music was influence by Caribbean calypso and went on to influence the development of highlife

S.E. Rogie was the best-known proponent of palm wine music and played and taught extensively in West Africa before moving to the States and eventually to London. I first heard his music on a rainy Welsh afternoon in the car of an Indian Kenyan friend. The song was African Gospel and I couldn’t believe how the message was could be so simply but powerfully delivered.

Dead Men Don’t Smoke Marijuana, the album, was recorded just a few months before S.E. Rogie passed away. It is one the Washerman’s Dog evergreen favorites, especially liked for Rogie’s gentle and warm voice which matches perfectly with the image on the cover of a kind-hearted, fun loving man. The guitar playing is exemplary and a great example of a style of African popular music that is virtually unheard anymore.

         Track Listing:
       01 Kpindigbee (Morning Noon and Night)
02 A Time in My Life
03 Nor Weight Me Lak Dat (Woman to Woman)
04 Jaimgba Tutu (The Joy of Success)
05 Kohen Pela Woe (Please Open Your Heart)
06 Jojo Yalah Jo (I Lost My Wife)
07 Nyalomei Luange (Love Me My Love)
08 African Gospel
09 Nyalima Gotee (The Cornerstone of My Heart)
10 Dieman Noba Smoke Tafee (Dead Men Don't Smoke Marijuana)

Listen here.

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