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Elizabeth Kinder
Photo: Sophie Ziegler

The Elusive Ethnomusicologist

Elizabeth Kinder’s monthly column

“Do not talk about politics. Do not talk about random acts of violence and do not mention the Election,” the Editor said. “And no more Show Of Hands. You’re beginning to sound like a mad person on Mudcat.” [Not a drug but an internet folk forum]. “What we want in your column is something light and ethno­musicological – and where is it, by the way?” Bugger. My column, largely featuring the above but without the violence is in a mess somewhere beneath the debris in my ‘office’, as am I.

The eighteen-year-old, taking her A-levels and so a sweet balanced vision of serenity, decided revision can only be effective if she clears out her room. In the ensuing devastation, sorry, redecoration, she’s adopted a minimalist aesthetic that makes Trappist monks seem flashy. And she’s mistaken my ‘office’ for a skip.

So I’m sorting through stuff, hers and mine, and discover here in the tunnels of unwanted furniture, black bin liners and tons of CDs, one that bears the legend “Worldwide Music Guide: Jeremy Corbyn, 2 Parts”. Worldwide Music Guide was the snappily titled series of radio programmes I made for Channel 4 in 2007 with the aforementioned Editor as top consultant, and a brilliant producer who prefers to remain nameless, no doubt mindful of his subsequent career.

The basic pitch was “Britain: brilliant multicultural society, fantastic music from other cultures with cross-cultural popular appeal.” Channel 4 said, “Great. Get us some celebrities.” And so some wonderful human beings pitched up, among them Sir Peter Blake, Alexei Sayle, Al Murray, Julian Rhind Tutt (actor) and Martin Duffy (musician). I’d ask them “Where would you go on your ideal world tour, it can be places you’ve visited or places you’d love to see – and why?” And so we’d learn a little of their lives and dreams and I’d play them music from the places they talked about. They might suggest tracks, or more likely we would. A sort of Desert Island Discs in reverse.

I put on “Jeremy Corbyn 2 parts” and am whisked off to the Caribbean, Latin America, the US, the Congo, Somalia, London (for some brilliant bhangra), Papua New Guinea and China with the man himself. He is astute, intelligent, self-effacing, thoughtful and compassionate throughout. I appear to have had a lobotomy. On the three million lives lost from war in the Congo (where he’d been to ensure fair practice in the first election for 40 years) his concise elucidation of the conflict’s causes and effects, politically, economically and ecologically and his ideas about how the future could be shaped, elicited the following: “Yes, well Jeremy, one thing that hasn’t been lost is the music. Here we have Kekele and some brilliant Congolese rumba.” And so on.

Corbyn mentioned a Chilean singer who remained totally of the people, who didn’t change with fame, but remained true to his principles. These were inclusive, recognised the humanity in others and the value of other cultures. He was discussing Victor Jara, but the words apply to him.

Corbyn was eighteen when he went to Jamaica after his A-levels to work for the VSO. The eighteen-year-old in the minimalist room next to my skip/‘office’ has applied for university, and a soul-destroying debt. Unless, somehow, Corbyn pulls it off.

[That’s enough Election… Ed.]

Elizabeth Kinder


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