One of the regular Westminster underground station buskers was singing 'How Great Thou Art' as I hurried along one of the subways under Whitehall this morning. He normally plays reggae tunes on his battered guitar, but this hymn sung with echoing gusto gave me quite a tingle and I started singing along. Well until I checked if no-one was listening or staring at this this strange man that was me!
This last weekend saw us in Graz, in Austria. It's the second biggest city after Vienna and a bit of a cultural hotspot. With glorious weather it was a shame to be inside on occasions, but one gallery we visited had a major exhibition featuring art from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It contained an impressive number of modern paintings that depicted scenes from everyday life with all its trials and tribulations, as well its joys and celebrations. Vibrant primary colours made a great impression and the setting was made complete with music from Congolese musicians such as Papa Wemba who founded the Society of Ambience-makers and Elegant People (SAPE) . This was a 1990's group of smartly, if garishly, attired young men who emerged from the sometime squalor of Kinshasa to parade their threads and adopt a cultured lifestyle. Check out the Congolese Rumba music that will defy anyone to stay still for long!
The exhibition also told a darker story of the Congo's colonial oppression and the barbarity of the Belgian King Leopold's private fiefdom there in the early years of the 20th century, as well as the civil war that erupted at the start of independence in 1960. The story concluded with the 30 year rule of President Mobutu who reportedly looted the wealth produced by the country's precious metals and two more civil wars in the early years of this century. Its a tragic history.
So the busker singing 'How Great Thou Art' can sound rather bitter sweet when you juxtapose it against the background of a nation that that offers so much but has been and continues to be abused by both internal and external forces. But many of the pictures revealed a deeper truth about the power of community, care, ambition and hope. Of people getting on with their lives in the face of adversity, and wherever there is courage and resilience, there is hope for a great future.
Loving the new Dr Who as well, which also promises a great future. Who would have thought that one of the new assistants would be a middle aged man called Graham (without the 'e' though)! And I think I understand more about whats going on than in previous series. With the Sheffield backdrop and some real moments of drama and meaningful dialogue, the first episode was almost emotional. Enjoy.