Thank you so much to (the team) BROOKZILL - Ladybug Mecca; Prince Paul; Don Newkirk and Rodrigo Brandão for the interview alluded to below that ended up taking place on Monday and is now finished and sent to Ambrosia for Heads (a big moment for me).

What struck me about the BROOKZILL group was their gracious spirit, what the French might call their generosity ... to each other and indeed to the process of being interviewed in itself (in the far from ideal circumstances of an international conf call that kept cutting out, leading to the disappearance of various members of the group at different points).

Merci mille fois.   

Praying to some forgotten Swiss saint

Some better than good news, though I won't share it so as not to hex it, even if this reticence might go against this period's mores (how jealous, how judgmental I was of that other writer who used to announce yet another 'latest success' via weekly emails - until I blocked it - but then went on to publish multiple books, and so it goes). 

This secret is a writerly break, writing for a magazine I respect on musicians that I respect even more. So let us pray to the forgotten patron saint of our craft, Francis de Sales, who according to a very cute piece on the patron saint of writers and journalists, published in The Paris Review in 2014 (by Dan Piepenbring) is best known for his 1609 Introduction to the Devout Life. I especially liked this extract from this forgotten tract: 

1. Place yourself in God’s Presence.
2. Humble yourself, and ask His Aid.
3. Picture to yourself a dark city, reeking with the flames of sulphur and brimstone, inhabited by citizens who cannot get forth.

Picture to yourself a dark city, reeking with the flames of sulphur and brimstone, inhabited by citizens who cannot get forth. 

Let us pray that my phone doesn't self-destruct at some inopportune moment during the interview; that it records okay, that I can distinguish the male voices; that I make sense when asking my questions, and don't speak too quickly and then that it all comes together, so that the editor offers me another chance and it continues.

Another article by the same author centres on a rare recording of Jean Rhys (a writer whose work makes me revert to adolescence, seeking out superlatives). Piepenbring, says that he believes the recording was made in 1979, the year of Rhys's death. 

In the interview, she said: 

You see, there’s very little invention in my books. What came first with most of them was the wish to get rid of this awful sadness that weighed me down. I found when I was a child that if I could put the hurt into words, it would go. It leaves a sort of melancholy behind and then it goes. I think it was Somerset Maugham who said that if you “write out” a thing … it doesn’t trouble you so much. You may be left with a vague melancholy, but at least it’s not misery—I suppose it’s like a Catholic going to confession, or like psychoanalysis.

From the archive: 'Tales from the desert camps'

When in Australia last month thousands of documents were published in The Guardian detailing various human rights abuses and crimes committed against detained asylum seekers in the country's offshore 'camps' at Nauru (a previous Australian protectorate, the tiny island nation, now largely bankrupt after the excessive mining of phosphate - the island's only natural resource that made the country extremely rich for a period of time).

Nauru became self-governing in January 1966. On 31 January 1968, following a two-year constitutional convention, Nauru became the world’s smallest independent republic. It was led by founding president Hammer DeRoburt. In 1967, the people of Nauru purchased the assets of the British Phosphate Commissioners, and in June 1970, control passed to the locally owned Nauru Phosphate Corporation. Money gained from the exploitation of phosphate was put into the Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust and gave Nauruans the second highest GDP Per Capita (second only to the United Arab Emirates) and one of the highest standards of living in the Third World.
— Wik https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Nauru

I was thinking of this history which includes Nauru taking Australia to the ICJ in 1989 over what it claimed to be Australia's 'actions during its administration of Nauru' and 'failure to remedy the environmental damage' caused by excessive mining. I was thinking of this today, crouched fully clothed by the swimming-pool (on my way to the beach) here on holiday listening to a man from Ivory Coast tell me about his country's recent history and thinking about how the countries may change, but the relationships remain the same.

GETTING WORK IN Australian detention centres was once surprisingly easy. First, you sent your CV to Australasian Correctional Management’s head office in Sydney and within a couple of days you got a call asking when you could start. No formal interview, just questions about how soon you could leave.

’Alarm bells should have been ringing, says psychologist Lyn Bender about her recruitment in March 2002, ‘but I wasn’t picking it because ACM was a great employer.’ The recruitment officer gave her the phone number of a woman who’d recently returned. ‘Call her,’ he said, ‘if you want to know what it’s like.’ Looking back now, Bender describes the phone call as bizarre. The woman talked endlessly about the uniforms, which sounded hideous, and food that sounded worse. She made no mention of the asylum seekers or ethical issues connected to their internment.

In her dimly lit consultancy rooms lined with impressionist reproductions, Bender’s voice is so quiet sometimes I struggle to hear her words. A former Lifeline manager with experience working at the maximum-security Port Phillip Prison, Bender says her interest in working with refugees was pre-conscious. ‘I had a sense it was a bit like volunteering for overseas service, overseas aid abroad. I knew it wouldn’t be pleasant, but ...’

Few friends or family showed much interest in her new job at Woomera. Perhaps because Bender had always been a bit of a loner and, at that stage, largely estranged from her conservative Jewish family. ‘I always felt like an outsider. When I went to university I joined the Rationalist Society. It wasn’t bagging religion; it was the only way I could express my despair at being dominated by the Holocaust.’

During the Second World War, Bender’s Polish father had no idea what was happening in his homeland. It was only when the survivors from Lowicz, his home town south of Warsaw, came to Australia that he found out that his family had been taken to the forest and shot soon after the invasion. ‘My father then shut himself away for several days; locked himself in his room,’ Bender says. He never recovered.

One of her clients challenged her about the new job, calling it immoral and asked how she could work in such a place. ‘I was going to see what I could do,’ she says. ‘I wasn’t going to support the system.’ Ultimately, though, she didn’t have much time to think. She left Melbourne within the week.

On her arrival at Olympic Downs, Bender was already having second thoughts. Maybe it was something to do with the airport’s oppressive atmosphere, crowded with mine workers. Driving through the desert, Bender kept seeking more information. The officer who met her flight would only say, ‘Oh, you’ll find out. It was like I’d landed in a movie in some kind of redneck town.’
— 'Tales from the desert camps' Griffith Review, 2005

'Tales from the desert camps' is probably still my favourite piece of long-form journalism published to date; taking as it does an early look at the experiences of those working in Australia's immigration detention system that in that era saw the mass detention of all arrivals in remote prison-like centres set up in former military bases in the Australian desert.

My interest then, as now was how these Australians felt about their experience of working in places where children routinely (then as now) cut the word 'freedom' into their bodies; where extreme violence was seen on a daily basis - harsh physical restraints, beatings; during riots, the use of water cannon and tear gas; the repeated use of isolation - and roles within families shifted, as parents progressively became unable to care for or protect those they loved. I was interested to hear how these Australian staff members understood their role within this system and how they managed their feelings of guilt and complicity.

Woomera, water cannon and guards near perimeter fence used in 2001 - I was there during the few days this 'incident' occurred, watching the women and children among the groups of people being pushed by the full force of the water cannon, with all the other protesters (and so-called 'refugee people') who had travelled from Australia's major cities and regional areas.

Woomera, water cannon and guards near perimeter fence used in 2001 - I was there during the few days this 'incident' occurred, watching the women and children among the groups of people being pushed by the full force of the water cannon, with all the other protesters (and so-called 'refugee people') who had travelled from Australia's major cities and regional areas.

From the archive: 'Just neighbours' (Australia and Timor-Leste, 2006)

On the day Timor-Leste became a sovereign nation, the new government signed a deal with Australia. The 2002 Timor Sea Treaty resembled the earlier Indonesia-Australia treaty in place since 1989, with one fundamental difference.

Whereas the earlier arrangement ignored Timorese interests, under the new agreement 90 per cent of the earnings from the Joint Petroleum Development Area (JPDA) went to Timor-Leste, with the remaining ten per cent going to Australia.

‘It will give East Timor an opportunity to build itself into a truly successful nation,’ Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said at the time. While some international law commentators lauded the deal as a good compromise; others are more circumspect.

Geoffrey McKee, a chemical engineer with more than three decades of experience in the Australian oil and gas industry, is one of them. The treaty will deprive the Timorese of a ‘swathe of important benefits’ especially down-stream infrastructure development, he says. 

The Timor Sea’s real prize was not the joint development area, otherwise known as Timor Gap, but oil and gas fields on its fringes: especially, the Greater Sunrise. In August 2002, a Shell spokesman told the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties that the Greater Sunrise expected to return $30 billion in export revenues, with approximately $8 billion in taxes for the two countries.

McKee says it could earn much more. ‘At that time the expected earnings were based on US$20 a barrel for crude, now it’s around US$50,’ he says. ‘The $3 billion offered to East Timor by Australia is far too low, if it is intended to settle a dispute over a gas field that could yield about $90 billion in export revenues.’

More on the $3 billion payment later, but let’s return to our starting point. One of the mysteries, among many, is why Timor-Leste signed the treaty with Australia three years ago. McKee suggests Timor-Leste was badly served byinexperienced negotiators. The country also needed an income.    

A Commonwealth parliamentary library research note puts it this way: ‘Australia had refused to agree to a new seabed boundary, and new talks on a final agreement might have brought both immediate and future investment in exploration and production to a halt.’
At stake for the Timorese was $8 billion over two decades. ‘With the East Timor government having no other major source of revenue (except foreign aid),’ the note continues, ‘it was in no position to stand on a point of principle.’  Read the article here.

First published in Eureka Street, April 2006.

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

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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

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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, madeleinebyrne.com 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