Funk Soul Brother 3

It’s been a while but finally managed to get this saved down. Mikael Seifu starts off with Soul Manifest before the slow beats of Jonwayne’s Jump Shot. There’s a little soul injection from DJ Vadim & Sena and Electric Empire before Oddisee, The Allergies and the bold Dayme Arocena speed things up a bit. Snarky Puppy then come in with an international melting pot of a tune. Rodriguez Jr provides a nice deep house track while Life on Planets take things back down. To finish off Orelha Negra and Idjut Boys provide a couple of relaxing numbers before Pajaro Sunrise’ weird and wonderful cover of I’m on fire closes the mix.

 

The Silk Roads (A new history of the world) – Peter Frankopan

The accepted and lazy history of civilisation, wrote Wolf, is one where ‘ancient Greece begat Rome, Rome begat Christian Europe, Christian Europe begat the Renaissance, the Renaissance the Enlightenment, the Enlightenment political democracy and the industrial revolution. Industry crossed with democracy in turn yielded the United States, embodying the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ I immediately recognised that this was exactly the story that I had been told: the mantra of the political, cultural and moral triumph of the west. But this account was flawed;

So this one is really partly Colin Thubron’s fault. I loved his shadow of the Silk Road, and as I’m also currently listening to the Ancient World podcast (see here) which was delving into the East at the time when I saw this in Foyles, I immediately bought it (along with a few others). Then when picking what to read next, I kept coming back to it until I just plunged in.

This is a brilliant brilliant book, I absolutely loved it. An attempt to write (rewrit?) perhaps a more comprehensive history of the world, or certainly the Eurasian world, Frankopan ties as much together as he can in a rough chronological order, as West and East met through early travel but more importantly through trade. Along with the thrust of time and place, I really enjoyed little footnotes of history, such as Buddha statues coming about because of the introduction of statues of Apollo following the conquest by Alexander the Great, as well as the resonances with the contemporary world:

It was unlikely that places like Britain would provide lucrative additions to Rome’s territories: as slate letters sent home by soldiers stationed in Britain attest, this province was a byword for grim and fruitless isolation.

Much like it is now. Is something that could have easily been tacked onto the end of that sentence
The history is backed up by hundreds if not a few thousand references. Indeed spending a chapter on the introduction of Islam into the world, Frankopan points out just how hard it is to confirm some of it’s initial elements from the contemporary sources. From the index, he certainly hasn’t scrimped on searching.

Showing how early slavers from the Nordic countries swept down deep into central Asia, to the all conquering Mongol empire, this part of the world was the crossroads, the resource rich gateway to the mysterious orient as well as to the emerging west. From the decimation of populations due to the black plague, which levelled the field more between serf and landlord in the north of Europe than it did in the south, the pendulum of wealth and power slowly shifted from the opulent and decadent east to the less developed west, where it was to stay for quite some time. Countries like Spain, Portugal, England and Holland drove expansion and exploration, partly to cut the cost of their insatiable appetite for goods from the east, and partly for profit, sometimes flimsily disguised as a religious and righteous crusade for God and the church, and the discovery of the Americas literally placed Europe at the centre of the world. Their circumnavigation of the globe to reach India effectively cut out what had previously been a crucial trading hub from it’s livelihood and power for a time, but what it lacked in trade it made up for in something even more valuable, oil, the fuel that powered the new world.

While I bought this for the ancient history, the history of the nineteenth and twentieth history was engaging, and makes for uncomfortable reading at some points. The West’s insatiable appetite for oil and fear of Russian influence generated short sighted and untenable policies, invasions and barely disguised attempts at maintaining power that wreaked havoc in much of Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq to name but a few. Given the recent attention to the Chilcot report in the news, reading about the flip-flopping of support for Saddam whilst trying to keep a grip on Iran was both arrogant and clumsy, and the results have been clearly visible for all to see.

More recently the emergence of the former Russian states, that are incredibly resource rich yet at the same time are plagued by Nepotism and abuses that are well publicised, are making the West sit up and pay attention, but hopefully in a slightly more cooperative way and in conclusion The Silk Roads indicates power returning to this historically rich and crucial part of the world.

Frankopan has written clearly and concisely, with even odd flashes of humour mixed in with the fascinating and detailed history of civilisations, countries and people. It’s been a while since I’ve been at school, but I learnt more from this book than I remember from years of history lessons in the classroom, and was much more enjoyable.

Twice a week a hammer was struck against the wall three times in order to check it was secure. Each time, the inspectors would listen for any deviation from the norm: ‘if one applies one’s ear to the door, one hears a muted sound like a nest of wasps’, one account reports; ‘then everything falls silent again’. The purpose was to let the savages who might bring the apocalypse with them know that the wall was guarded and that they would not be allowed to pass.

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Shadow of the Silk Road – Colin Thubron

You wander through courtyards interlocked like those of a Ming palace, where the stelae are carved alternately in Arabic or Mandarin, and a minaret rises out of a porcelain-tiled pagoda. Stone dragons and tortoises coil and slumber here and there, ignorant of the Muslim ban on living images. The roofs tilt and swing above their high-coloured eaves, and across the lintels Chinese birds and flowers flock round Koranic inscriptions. An imam’s sermon booms over the loudspeakers from a prayer-hall  strung with neon lights. The voice is emphatic, overamplified, but I can barely comprehend a word.

Starting in Xian in China, Colin Thubron charts as much of the old Silk road as he can, traversing what must be some of the least travelled parts of the world as he skirts the Taklamakan desert (Its name perhaps means ‘abandoned place’. but in local parlance ‘You go in and you never return.’ In it’s heart, unlike the Sahara, nothing lives.) through to central Asia, following the mix of people, philosophies, religion and of course, goods between East and West, finally looking out of the Mediterranean Sea at Antioch.

I’ve seen Thubron’s books on the shelf before, but have always passed him over, heading straight instead to Theroux, or more recently Gimlette or Jacobs. A novelist, like Theroux, the difference seemed that Theroux seemed to go to places that I wanted to read about, but Thubron didn’t. However I have had a slow burning interest in central Asia for a while, although I couldn’t say where it comes from, and a trip along the old Silk Road is something that appeals to the wanderlust in me.

Starting along with Thubron was a struggle, his China seemed impenetrable, conversation with locals muffled and difficult to understand, they being as inscrutable to the outsider as the country itself. It seemed Thubron himself was suffering, his conversation with the Sogdian trader indicating a descent into madness. The air clears some though as he reaches western China and skirts the Taklamakan desert along it’s southern route to Kashgar, before passing deep into Central Asia, an area that in my mental map is marked by here be dragons, so little do I know about it. Thubron fills the book with history, his interactions with the locals and officials, but it is prose that slowly seeps into your conscious, his descriptions of the places he ghosts through. It is beautiful, his descriptions at once evocative but distant, not immediately recognisable. As he filled out my geographical and historical black hole, winding down through to Afghanistan and Iran I took in the history but enjoyed it as if it was fiction, such was his elegant pen. Thubron has a natural curiosity that draws him deep into the history and nuances of a place. Even his trespassing in Meshed, something that for some reason I disagreed with, was something that was done our of pure curiosity, rather than a malicious incursion into forbidden territory. From the buried stoicism of the Uighur people to the state of Islam in Iran there is a melancholic yet piercing glance at the places and people of this historically critical part of the world, and it’s a trip I would love to take at some point myself, although I’m pretty sure I couldn’t write about it quite like this.

For more than half the year the sky above the sky above the town was opaque muslin, dense with unseen sand, and the sun only a white coin discarded there. From the invisible Kun Lun mountains, the twin Black and White Jade rivers cam winding out of mist between banks of silt and pebbles, flowing through the oasis to the desert. The Kun Lun seem to retreat forever into a cold elusiveness. here, in the Chinese mind, bloomed the orchards of immortality and the white land of death, where the Queen Mother of the West ruled from her jade mountain at the gate of heaven.

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