SHEDNOTES 5 – Seeing the future in chaos

Sometimes in The Shed we just read and file our notes and today is one of those days.
Just finished Crazy River: Exploration and Folly in East Africa, a report published in 2010 of a trip in 2009 by Richard Grant (a professional writer, not the actor).
It’s a good read, although not an uplifting one. Although Grant is scathing about western intervention in Africa, he acknowledges that the Africans have a lot to blame themselves for. He describes a countryside so widely ravaged by human intervention that it is a relief to get into the slums of the cities. And that is where he makes his most interesting discoveries.
He writes:
Fifteen years ago, when the world’s population was 5 billion and chaotic urban slums were smaller, I used to look at them and wonder when they were going to get fixed; when these people would catch up with the rest of us.
Now I look at a place like Dar es Salaam and see the future gathering strength. I see a crucible where skills for the future are being forged and honed.
It won’t be like this in the rich successful countries but the poor are rapidly outnumbering the rich in this world. With the global population set to increase from 7 billion to 8 billion in the next 15 years, with resources diminishng inexorably, the climate getting harsher in the parts of the world where the poor live, does anyone still seriously believe that slums are a problem that will get fixed?
It is true that modern India has been successful in getting people out of its slums, but they fill right back up again with refugees from the overcrowded, dessicating countryside.
Populations are growing faster in sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere else, despite the ravages of Aids, malaria and other diseases, despite the wars and ethnic slaughters and the world’s highest rates of infant mortality and the lowest life expectancies.
The population of black Africa is expected to double by 2050 and most of those new Africans will be urban slum dwellers, pioneering new ways of surviving …

A little further on Grant, who is an admirer of the king of the great white explorers, Sir Richard Burton, adds:
In Burton’s day, the unknown regions on this continent were its great interior savannahs, mountain ranges, lakes and rivers. I had felt called to Africa by a nostalgic impulse to engage with this physical geography and fill a small gap in our understanding of it. But it was becoming increasingly clear to me that the real terra incognita in Africa today was urban and modern, and to explore the human geography of these sprawling, rapidly expanding and evolving slum cities was to make discoveries about the future. If Burton was here today, he would be taking notes in slum brothels and nightclubs, interviewing rappers and bartenders, scrap metal kings, crooked cops and crime bosses.


Robin Denselow of the Guardian recently reviewed a new line-up of the Congolese street band Staff Benda Bilili, made famous by a documentary released in 2010 and a successful gig at the Womad festival the same year.
Denselow said they were better than ever. Still central to their sound, he said, was Roger Landu’s “homemade one-stringed satonge, constructed from a tin can”.
This will interest shed men everywhere.
The satonge is made from a bendy stick, a can and a guitar string.
There is an unsatisfactory clip of Roger Landu making one at

And you can catch glimpses of him playing it at

Pupils at Oriel High School, Crawley, worked out how to make one and posted a few pictures from their process at!prettyPhoto/
And an anonymous (far as I can tell) semi-retired drummer going under the name of The Fishing Musician offers some notes on similar instruments, and thoughts on its construction, at
… well worth checking out for the fishing blog links, too.
(For some reason, the link above fails on click-through but works ok by cut and paste).


This entry was posted in notes from the shed and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to SHEDNOTES 5 – Seeing the future in chaos

  1. hack4hire says:

    At another point in Crazy River, the author writes about driving to the music of “L’Orchestre Empire Bakuba, featuring the late Pepe Kalle, a 300-lb singer who wore shiny suits and spangled robes and performed with a dancing dwarf, who died of malaria, and then with three dancing pygmies …
    “It was impossible to imagine a better soundtrack for driving to the river … that shining, ringing, amplified Congolese guitar sound, notes rippling out of the guitarist’s fingertips with such suppleness and delight as Big Pepe crooned, chanted, exhorted and demanded, what could only be a party.
    “One of these days, I promised myself, I would ignore all the dangers and warnings and travel across Congo, from dancehall to night-club to recording studio, and look deeper into the miracle of the human spirit that produces Congolese music.”
    Sample what he is talking about at

Leave a Reply to hack4hire Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s