when we were kings: a response

Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman, in the Congo, in the 1970s. It would be nearly impossible for this to be a bad movie. Luckily for us, it’s better than good. It’s intoxicating.

What I would like to dissect a bit is the spectacle of it all, mostly because that’s the most compelling aspect. Ali’s persona is so bold, even overwhelming, and so charming. As a viewer, you cannot help but love him. When he gets riled up and yells “I’m Gonna. We Gonna. I’m Gonna!” after the match is postponed, it’s just so beautiful and so boundless. The addition of characters like James Brown and Don King to the mix make the story that much more dynamic.

“What a fighter, what a man,” George Plimpton follows. Plimpton! Norman Mailer adds in a quality anecdote that I’ll let you watch the movie to discover. (!!! Journalistic idols !!!)

ali

That is, to me, a beautiful sentiment and a simple way of capturing what it is about these men and this fight that was so appealing. Fighting can be barbaric, and I usually don’t care much for it. But in this context, with these men, it’s amazing. Their guts, their devotion are fully on display.

The whole experience seems to have fostered a kind of intellectual revival and reinvestment in the black African experience among black Americans (and white Americans). If not a revival, then a coming-to, a re-appreciation for it. These men drop some fantastic knowledge-bombs, when they say things like “You are all alone when you become unnecessary,” and “We are coming back to Africa in splendor and scintillating glory.”

Yes, it’s about a fight, but it’s about an icon of a new black identity and a new African awareness. Ali says it best when he describes that, if he were up there alone, he would be afraid.

Instead, Ali says, he has all of the people of the Congo and Africa behind him, and his God with him. How can I be scared? Ali asks. My God controls the universe.

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Laissez les bon temps rouler,

the girl

malick sidibe and street style photography

malick sidibe

Malick Sidibé’s images have an aesthetic and a sensibility that I just adore. His images are just so cool. 

Sidibé, a Malian photographer active in the latter half of the 20th century, focused on Bamako culture and style. Sidibé’s images are intentionally candid, and bound up in the popular culture of Mali at the time. (Seydou Keita is another Malian photographer that must be mentioned. Due to their similar geography and emphasis on portraiture, are oft compared. Their popularity at different times reflects different interpretations of a changing Mali.)

In these photos, we begin to see a global, rather than a regional, youth culture. It should be noted that the glorification of Western culture among youths does have some pretty gnarly neocolonial and commercial implications. But from the pictures, at least, it seems like this youth movement was a liberating, unifying trend. Through this sharing of culture, young people in Mali could associate with young people around the world, feel empowered, and become part of a movement. It’s this kind of perspective that creates momentum and ultimately, a zeitgeist.

sidibe

Malick Sidibé, Merengue dancer, 1964

Looking at Sidibé’s beautiful imagery of youth culture in Mali, particularly the ones of people dancing, I can almost hear the music and feel what that place would have been like.

That’s the beauty of great photography: it can take the viewer to a setting in a way that few other art forms can.

“Malick Sidibe’s photographs enable us to revisit the youth culture of the 1960s and our teenage years in Bamako.” – Manthia Diawara

I got interested in whether there’s a contemporary equivalent to this kind of photography. I’m interested in seeking these equivalencies, not because I believe that they must be there, but because I think they can shed light on one another. Learn history, or be doomed to repeat it, I reckon.

I’m not sure that there is; that is, I’m not sure that there’s one photographer working on documenting this age of people and particular culture. However, I think that’s because there are so many more subcultures now. With the Internet, people around the world can connect with other young people, and create a strong community; I’m thinking of the psy-trance dance community that was just covered hilariously in VICE UK (I know VICE is raunchy but it can be awesome).

It seems possible that street style blogs are a rough modern-day equivalent. They document the look and feel of a place semi-candidly, much like Sidibé did, though with an emphasis particularly on the fashion instead of the overall culture. With street style blogs, there is also not quite the emphasis on youth culture, but the culture of a location. This may actually be more in line with what Sidibé was doing anyway. He documented people of all ages, though his depictions of the youth are most famous- possibly because of their neocolonial implications. These street style blogs capture the cutting-edge sensibility of a place as described in fashion, and help share it with an interested global community. While it’s certainly not the same things as what Sidibé did, photographers like Bill Cunningham of the NYT style section and Steve Schuman of The Sartorialist (though they’re in very, very different veins), are documenting in a way that Sidibé would understand.

Union Square, New York

Union Square, New York :: The Sartorialist

For all of them, it’s about movement, about personal expression, and about energy.

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And a pinch to grow on:

Malian music is generally awesome. Multi-layered percussive rhythms and dense melodies, often with a strong single vocalist, all add up to a beautiful sound experience. Here’s a contemporary Malian singer, Fatoumata Diawara, who has good energy and a neat sound:

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Laissez les bon temps rouler,

the girl