The Commandant's Daughter (Travelling South)

Am back in Paris now, after a month in Melbourne - and some time in Hobart, as well ...

Street Art, Melbourne

Here is an essay, or perhaps I should call it self-portrait, as it's one of my most personal pieces of writing that I've published to date that reflects on my recent experience in Australia - travelling South - and also the confronting documentary that exposed the abuse of Indigenous Australian children in Northern Territory jails that was broadcast in late July.

This writing speaks to how I felt being back in Australia, and also broader questions about my sense of self as an Australian and as a writer .. Read more here

Watch the Four Corners program, 'Australia's Shame' by Caro Meldrum-Hanna here. 

Detroit Project

Not so long ago the UK newspaper, The Guardian published a story about an American artist ‘bringing a Detroit family home’ (to the Netherlands). Unsurprisingly the sarcastic Brits commenting BTL enjoyed the ambiguous headline. What, they asked, the artist had adopted an entire Detroit family and took them home, as if they were pets for Christmas? 

No, the artist and newspaper subs were forced to reply (and later change the headline): the artist had moved a ‘family home’ from Detroit which was then rebuilt in Rotterdam. 

When thinking about this so-called ‘Detroit project’ I thought about this artwork and how deep the association between Detroit, decay, dispossession (what some call 'ruin porn') is now among outsiders and how all other aspects of the living city - and the people who live there - are overlooked in the process. 

If I'm honest, when I think of Detroit I have zero visions in my mind. And yet the city intrigues me, mainly because such intractable (musical) genius has emerged there, despite or maybe because of what one of the interviewees here described as ‘the struggle’. This idea sustains me.  

If I think about the music that matters to me personally - Alice Coltrane, Stevie Wonder (circa 1972-1980) ...

and when I was younger, Patti Smith, The Stooges - everything of real importance musically from the US somehow seems to come from Detroit. Interestingly, this then continued with hip-hop, in that the track that brought me back to the genre was Black Milk's 'Everyday Was' from his landmark 2014 record If there's a hell below ...

When I first heard that piece of music, it was as if air divided in my chest.  

First up/featured is the gifted MC Nametag Alexander who burst into my consciousness with one of my preferred hip-hop tracks of the past few years, 'Hookless' (feat Mahd, prod. by Nameless).

Then there's an interview with Detroit record label boss, Jay 'Pauly' Lovejoy from BenOfficial Music; a composite interview - a Detroit mix - between Nappz Julian, Maj James and NateOGDetroit and to finish a very cool conversation with Loe Louis from Detroit's Laswunzout - one of the seminal, pioneering hip-hop acts from the city that soldered the so-called Detroit sound.* 

Hope you like it. 

*Been around enough hip-hop journalism/culture to note the competitive edge - it should be noted that none of this is a 'hot picks'/a top-5 (flashing lights, flashing lights) or anything else: my mind doesn't work that way, some of this is friend-related, some of it is related to chance. 

HHF Interview: Changa Onyango (West Baltimore) after police officer acquittal, Freddie Gray trials

‘Apathy is the word I'd use,’ Mr Changa Onyango replied via email when asked how people in West Baltimore responded to the decision that saw Officer Edward Nero cleared of all charges. ‘The people don’t hold out hope for justice in any tangible ways any more. Mainly they were happy to see that the world give them a nod for 15 seconds.’

Twenty-five year old West Baltimore native Freddie Gray died on April 19th after suffering a ‘high-energy injury’ an autopsy report said came from the sudden deceleration of the police van in which he was travelling, shackled and handcuffed, but not restrained by a seat-belt. As a result of his injuries – a severed spine and crushed voice box - Mr Gray fell into a coma and died a week after his arrest.

Read the interview here, where Mr Onyango talks about his community development work and the key issue of housing in West Baltimore (or read it on the Hip Hop Forum digital magazine site).  

And check out this very moving personal response, written by Omi Muhammad - one of the great writers we're supporting at HHF via our New Black Writers Program.  

Today's verdict in the Caesar Goodson case, mentioned in the original article, saw the police officer cleared of all charges (including culpable homicide relating to his driving of the van). It's hard to believe really. 

Rest in Peace, Freddie Gray.

Zero Hour: France after Terrorism


The time at which a planned operation, typically a military one, is set to begin.

  • as zero hour approached, thirty ships swung into position

    the appointed time, the appointed hour, the crucial moment, the vital moment, the critical moment, the moment of truth, the point/moment of decision, the Rubicon, the critical point, the crux


  • Denoting or relating to a contract of employment that does not include a guarantee of regular work for the employee, who is paid only for the hours they actually work: their survey suggested that one million people are employed on low-security zero hour contracts.

Here is the first section from the book that I'm writing on Paris and France after the terrorist attacks last year, called Zero Hour. In this chapter I evoke how it feels to be in Paris now, while also describing the 'psychology of poverty' and what it is like to live on an unstable income in France.

Media & English Training & Writing Services

Courses for Journalists/Artists & Musicians/English Language courses for Business Professionals

Training for Journalists

Develop skills to work as a professional journalist in print/radio/TV and online - course for people who either want to break into journalism, or further develop their skills (appropriate for native and non-native speakers of English).

By the end of the course you will know how:

- to contact artists, politicians, agents/managers and editors and then set up an interview

- to structure an interview and ask effective questions to get a strong response (inc. questions to avoid)

- to research/edit your work (inc. advice on key resources and processes) 

- to approach editors to try and place your interview, or self-publish.

These courses include original material, based on my many years experience as a professional journalist and also published/broadcast examples to study. The focus of the course will depend on student needs, but by the end allow you to work as a journalist with confidence.

Media Training for Artists & Musicians

Get personalised feedback and individual training on how to best present yourself to journalists, in interview situations and other contexts, including online. This coaching can be either a stand-alone course, or ongoing coaching. 

All training programs will focus on how:

- to present your work and career in a professional way, from first contact, whether by messages/email or phone contact

- to best contact journalists or magazines to interest your work, including how and when to involve your publicist/manager

- to answer interview questions in an effective and engaging way, including tips on how the journalist will be thinking and what they are looking for and how to avoid common mistakes

- to maintain relationships with journalists and media professionals.

This coaching can also include advice - and written support -for websites and promotional material.

To sign up and find out more information, please go here.

(From the archive) Borges, Houellebecq, Lou Reed ... essays

One of the more surprising aspects of having this website over the past year has been seeing which pieces of writing connect with readers and how; noticing, for example, how on one day a reader in the Philippines links with a few more in the United States, and then another in Argentina, or Germany or wherever it might be through the reading of a particular piece of writing.

Two older essays keep returning in the traces: one on the great Argentine writer, Borges and another on the French iconoclast, Michel Houellebecq. It's almost as if this writing is flickering light, across borders and time-zones. So as an expression of gratitude - and it must be said curiosity and intrigue - here are the two essays again.

Rather than a slow fade into the twilight of old age, the last two decades of Jorge Luis Borges’s life saw the transformation of his literary reputation and personal life (through the first International Publishers’ Prize in 1961; then later the Spanish-speaking world’s most prestigious literary award, the Cervantes; the translation of his collected works into English and French and his late marriage to María Kodama). And yet in a way not unlike the knife-fighters seeking their deaths in his imagined Buenos Aires, this success appeared to come at a price.
An elderly man, whose white beard and glasses make him look like a retired professor, sits drinking beer in a Phuket bar. Smoke machines obscure young women – nude, save for necklaces of flowers.

The man is so still he seems dead, but there are tears of happiness in his eyes. He signals to a young Thai woman in a white G-string, who comes and sits on his lap.

On Michel Houellebecq: Sex and the West

As a response to this interest, I have created a new tag 'essays' where you can find my longer pieces, from the archive (on literature, music/hip-hop and refugees) and also future extracts from the book I'm writing on Paris. My hope is that readers who like a certain subject might also try others, as in the end I'm using the same literary techniques and it is driven by the same sensibility. 

My curiosity is piqued by all of this; I encourage you to contact me to let me in on the 'secret'. Indeed, I encourage anyone who reads work on this site to get in touch via contact (as I don't always see the comments on the essays) Thanks.

Marco Polo Interview

When asked to identify the key element of his aesthetic, Toronto-born New York-based hip-hop producer Marco Polo answered simply: ‘the drums.

Drums are always the centre of my beats; they’re always hard-hitting, aggressive: you feel them, cause that’s how I was brought up as a fan of producers like DJ Premier, Large Professor. It’s all about the kicks and the snares, you know. And then of course the musical elements too: it’s a vibe. To answer your question, I think what defines my beats, what people probably know, it’s my drums.’

Having worked with many of the greats since coming to New York in 2003 (Pharoahe Monch, Rakim, Masta Ace, Large Professor, Torae among others) and also new generation voices, Marco Polo has marked out a defined niche within the hip-hop genre; that builds on the past, while creating a sound that is distinctively his own.

What immediately strikes you about Marco Polo’s music is its impact; there is something complete - or totalising - about it. Whereas many hip-hop producers allow space between the elements, letting in an airiness or lightness of tone (or irony) Marco Polo’s music is about how the elements come together in a united front. There is an intensity to this music that rarely lets up.

Read the essay/extended interview, here. 

HHF Interview: MC Sha-Rock

Had the great honor of speaking with MC Sha-Rock, the first female emcee in hip-hop culture and original member of the Funky Four last week for Hip Hop Forum digital magazine.

In this interview she takes us back to what it was like being there at the birth of hip-hop, being part of the first ever performance by a hip-hop group on Saturday Night Live, how she developed her distinctive style - so beloved by DMC of Run DMC and her role at the new Universal Hip Hop Museum being set up in the Bronx.

Thank you so much MC Sha-Rock for everything you have done and continue to do to keep hip-hop culture alive. Read the interview here.  And have a look at this rare video from 1980 featuring Sha-Rock, with the Funky Four ...

Nothing better; this is a glorious performance - at once innocent and wry, ironic, highly skilled (everything, almost that I love about hip-hop).

'Stay strong, Paris ...'

(Sometimes) je kiffe trop ma ville ... I came across this window display dedicated to the Velvets and Lou Reed in the Mohammed Arkoun library today in the 5th arrondissement. The library was named after the Algerian intellectual, who is best known for his writing on Islamic studies. 

Window display, Mohammed Arkoun Library

And just to add to the mix and match of street life here ... I took this photo of an artwork based on an image from the great 1995 film, La Haine in my favourite street here, rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis (though this picture was put up all over the city).   

Prince (1958-2016)

Looking in from the outside has certain advantages; there is no need to demonstrate loyalty to your cultural roots and/or holding onto key moments in your individual cultural awareness and development. You have no place; this has the potential to keep you free.

And yes, of course, I'm aware of the privilege that is being expressed here, where the ability to isolate yourself reflects confidence about your cultural power. There is no need to unearth, to recognise and take comfort from belonging when all around you see people like you. 

Miles Davis speaking about Prince:

He’s got that church thing up in what he does,” Davis continued in his autobiography. “He plays guitar and piano and plays them very well. But it’s the church thing that I hear in his music that makes him special, and that organ thing. It’s a black thing and not a white thing. Prince is like the church to gay guys. He’s the music of the people who go out after ten or eleven at night. He comes in on the beat and plays on top of the beat. I think when Prince makes love he hears drums instead of Ravel. So he’s not a white guy. His music is new, is rooted, reflects and comes out of 1988 and ‘89 and ‘90. For me, he can be the new Duke Ellington of our time if he just keeps at it.”
— Miles Davis speaking about Prince, quoted in Miles: The Autobiography

(To read more on this, go to 'Inside Miles Davis's Prince Obsession' first published in Pitchfork; or have a look at this brief snippet from an interview with Davis. And check out this never previously released collaboration between Miles Davis and Prince).  

Last night when walking home from an attempt to see what had been advertised as a tribute to the great late Detroit hip-hop producer, J Dilla in a neighbouring arrondissement that ended up being a DJ in a booth high above a restaurant, where the entirely white population of diners was eating and talking and having fun - unable to hear the music being played, and remembered (and probably loved in an intimate way by the DJ). 

When walking home I listened to a group of French radio personalities, and artists (musicians, producers) talk about Prince in a special memorial program. One man who had, I think, written a book on Prince said how he was largely not recognised, or appreciated by the Black community in the US in that Prince was playing some kind of wild fusion of music, as much as rock as soul as funk that was entirely new. He said this even though he name-checked George Clinton, Funkadelic, Parliament. (The danger of absolute statements). 

The writer added that what he loved about Prince was his essential liberty; Prince as an artist was free, certainly but when thinking about the truly great, transcendent artists it is never a matter of either/or, nor should it be. Just listen to this to understand ...   

(From the archive) In praise of ... Pete Rock, hip-hop producer

One year ago to this day, I published this - my first piece of writing on hip-hop here on my site, in praise of ... Pete Rock, which I have recently reworked/changed so that it better represents the reasons why I respect his oeuvre so much. Read the article here

Over this past year my personal and professional life has expanded in so many really beautiful ways, connected to my real passion for hip-hop (and music in general) and my writing. I feel like I've found my place, here in this community and my voice.

Thank you James Mayfield and Andrew Smith - my two brothers 'in hip-hop' at Hip Hop Forum Digital Magazine and Hip Hop Forum. We have a really great thing going and it will only get better.

Thanks too to Andy Love
and Adrian AceBoogie Murray - who were both there at the very 'start' when it all kind of fell into place for me:

Uh, Uh, Uh, 1, 2, 1, 2
Uh, Uh, 1, 2, 1, 2, uh, uh
All my dogs

It's bigger than hip hop, hip hop, hip hop, hip
It's bigger than hip hop, hip hop, hip hop, hip hop

[Verse 1]
Uh, one thing 'bout music, when it hit you feel no pain
white folks says it controls your brain
I know better than that, that's game and we ready for that
Two soldiers head of the pack, matter of fact who got the gat?
And where my army at?

HHF Interview: Chief69

Chief69 is a Bronx based Bboy/Emcee/ Graffiti writer/educator of Puerto Rican descent, inspired by Rammellzee, Mr Wiggles, Keith Haring, KRS-One, Immortal Technique, Brother J (X Clan), Frosty Freeze, among others. Member of Zulu Nation and President of the Mecca chapter of The Bronx Boys Rocking Crew, Chief69 is keeping the spirit of the pioneers alive in his ‘positive and consciously imaginative works of art and performance pieces’.

Here in this extended three-part interview with Hip Hop Forum Chief69 takes us back to the beginnings of hip-hop culture in the Bronx, to then talk about the foundations, spiritual dimensions of b-boying. Towards the end Chief69 gives his take on education/miseducation in the US and hip-hop politics. Continue reading here

In a melancholy mood: writing on hip-hop quiet (instrumentals from the 90s)

Onyx  'Last Dayz', Miilkbone 'Keep it Real' (prod. by Mufi), The Speedknots 'The Zone' (prod. by Stress & War)

'When I asked Samson S. if he would sample a song because of what it represented to him, he was unequivocal in his response:

'Not based on that fact alone. I don't care how much that record meant to me, if it's not poppin' .... I go on straight sound, man. You know, 'Do I like it?, Does it sound good to me?,' that type of deal. I don't really get all up into this mystical shit'. 

Samson S. cited in Making Beats: the art of sample-based hip-hop, by Joseph G. Schloss (Wesleyan University Press, 2004), interview 1999, p.147

Read more here

HHF Interview: April Ma'lissia

Twenty-six year old poet/writer/ and motivational blogger, April Ma’lissia (Texas) is an internet phenomenon, clocking up thousands of views for her videos, with fans across the globe who appreciate her clever rhymes and determination to create art that will ‘uplift women’. 

Before the interview I asked her to nominate a hip-hop track, or artist that has inspired her style and overall creative approach. Her choice: Tupac’s ‘Keep ya head up’ …..

Continue reading here

EU Turkey refugee transfer deal, 18th March 2016

In early September last year, newspapers all over the world published the shocking photograph of a dead Syrian boy, of Kurdish descent, Alan Kurdi, with his tiny body dressed in a red T-shirt, blue shorts, lying face down in the water.

The reaction to the photograph was immediate. With world leaders expressing their shock and dismay; and donations to one NGO – that was set up to lead rescue operations in the Mediterranean - increasing its donations 15-fold in the 24 hours after the photograph was published.

Britain’s Chief Rabbi said: ‘‘For far too long we have related to these suffering individuals as if they are people living on Mars …. That desperately sad and tragic image has moved our hearts. (The image) has brought us to our senses and we must respond adequately.’

Read more here.

Blackberry PhatFM Radio: 'Letters from Europe'

This final of a two-part 'Letter from Europe' broadcast on Blackberry PhatFM Radio evokes the mood in Paris after the 13 November terrorist attacks.

I've returned to and developed a piece first published on this site - written just days after the violence - and added just a bit of Robespierre riffing on the essential 'virtue' of terrorism and included a memory from the Mobb Deep show at the Bataclan (the venue where 90 young people were murdered that Friday night).

To listen go to Blackberry PhatFM Radio or get a free app and listen on your phone, to do this click here.

Decided though that I need to focus on what really matters to me - writing; but thanks to Amir Quadeer Shakir and the broader team, for letting me be part of the Blackberry PhatFM Radio experience even just for that little while.


(From the archive) Writing on Hong Kong

Hong Kong is my paradise place: whenever I fall into that bad habit of low-key resentment that can offer a bland patina, whenever I indulge in reveries of how my life might have been; well, whenever this happens, I think to myself: Hong Kong is where I would be. 

This morning I read an article from TIME on protests in early February; triggered by attempts to ban unlicensed hawkers selling fish balls and tofu on sticks at Mong Kok and then further protests following the case of the 'missing' booksellers, who had published works critical of the Beijing regime (and were then located in detention on the mainland; two later made televised 'confessions' broadcast on State media).

Hong Kong is impressive, not only for the chaotic visuals that confront you whenever you walk out the door, alongside all those tiny details, but also for the rebellious spirit that is never far from the surface.    

Hong Kong’s Victoria Park separates the city’s busiest shopping district from North Point; a suburb of decaying apartment blocks, rapidly constructed to house refugees fleeing the mainland post-war. Here, open-air markets—illuminated by red lanterns—sell shoes alongside racks of seafood and pyramids of vegetables. On Sundays, the birdsong chatter of ‘domestic helpers’ fills the air. Women crouch on the ground, not unlike me, as I wait inside the park for this year’s pro-democracy march to begin.

According to The New York Times, Hong Kong is riding out a ‘politically turbulent summer’. Half a million people took to the streets on 1 July, demanding democracy in Hong Kong and, for the first time, on the mainland. Less than a month earlier, a record number commemorated the 15th anniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen Square. More than 80,000 people, carrying black banners and a coffin, called on Beijing to ‘vindicate’ the memory of the students who died.

Continue reading this article that featured as a Eureka Street cover story; or this article that takes a close look at Hong Kong's economy and political structures following the handover.  

(From the archive) 'The pitfalls of privatising war'

Here's another article from my past publications that gave me a little thrill, as even though I can't remember the details of it now, I received some sort of complaint and threat of legal action from one of the companies mentioned in the article - Titan Corp or CACI International.

Licking combs, practicing their lines, the opening salvo of Michael Moore’s anti-war film Fahrenheit 9/11 lines them up like witnesses for the prosecution: Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and George W. Bush. If there were a corporate version of this axis of evil for many Iraq-war sceptics, it would be the energy firm once run by US Vice-President Dick Cheney: Halliburton.

A recent report claiming that the Halliburton unit Kellogg Brown Root (KBR) failed to disclose records of its fuel transportation in Iraq will reinforce these views. The October audit report, never released to Congress or the public, found more than US$108 million ($137 million) in questionable delivery costs. In one instance, KBR charged US$27.5 million ($34.8 million) to ship just over $100,000 worth of liquefied petroleum gas, according to The Wall Street Journal.

KBR is the US military’s biggest contractor in Iraq and this is the latest in a series of corruption allegations that have hounded the Bush administration’s post-war reconstruction (an impression reinforced by its decision that only member states from the coalition of the willing would gain from the spoils).

But the real issue is not so much profiteering - an impulse that has been around since Homer - but the way the private sector evades scrutiny.