Stranger Things, Season One, is the Netflix hit series that revels in 80s nostalgia and pays homage to everything from ET and The Goonies to Firestarter and Dungeons & Dragons.
It’s the story of four small-town American boys, Will, Mike, Dustin, and Lucas, who encounter a mysterious girl named Eleven who possesses enormous power that threatens to destroy anyone who crosses her—even agents of the United States government. And all of them and the people they love are threatened by Lovecraftian annihilation from a force emanating from a place beyond reckoning: the Upside Down.
I love Stranger Things, and not just because I’m a child of 80s. I love it because it does what I tried to do with my debut novel The Coyote Kings: celebrate friendship and young love and science fiction and fantasy fandom and the heroism of young people. The series is enamoured with its non-glamourous setting and the innocence of its characters, chief of which are teenagers played by actual teenagers, harkening to the glory days of DeGrassi Junior High, rather than having gangly 13-year-olds played by 25 year-old athletes and underwear models.
The series loves the American science fiction and fantasy movies, TV shows, and games of my youth, and does them one better—tying them into a coherent package that rises above 99% of its inspiration. The show makes me feel like a kid again in the best possible ways.
And now season 2 is out, and tonight’s SPOILER-INTENSE CONVERSATION features my guest and friend, the acclaimed science fiction novelist who’s also a scientist, Ekaterina Sedia. She’s the author of five novels including the celebrated Heart of Iron. She’s been on MF GALAXY before to talk food, fiction, and feminism, and she’s also maybe just as much a fan of Stranger Things as I am, if that’s actually possible.
Today, we discuss:
What is the Zimbabwean musical instrument called the mbira? It’s a wooden resonator box with metal keys, called kalimba in Cameroon and thumb piano in the West, although “chime-box” offers a better description of the instrument’s sound. Its pristine voice is perfectly suited to cathedrals, ancient caves, and modern concert halls. But the origins of the mbira are lost in the mists of time.
Westerners who know mbira most likely do so from the work of Zimbabwe’s Thomas Mapfumo, a fusion musician who helped resurrect the mbira which the British colonial dictatorship had banned because of its religious and cultural gravity. Mapfumo’s chimurenga (struggle) style was a cultural-nationalist concoction that changed modern Zimbabwean music, seizing it back from its own Euro-American aesthetic occupation.
But today’s guest has a different path to and with the mbira. It’s not often a musician tells you an origin story that sounds like a quest straight out of the pages of an Africentric epic fantasy novel. But that’s the scenario that Edmonton’s Chaka Zinyemba unfurled about how he discovered and later learned to play the mbira, the leading instrument of Zimbabwe’s classical music. I’ll let him tell you that story, and about his royal lineage, in just a moment.
In 2012, Chaka Zinyemba released his debut album Tariro with his cousin Freemantle Nhembo playing bass mbira and hosho (or maracas). Both provided vocals. Zinyemba played traditional songs using mbirahuru (great mbira), also called mbirahurudzavadzimu (the great mbira of the ancestors). That instrument was once used particularly during Shona religious ceremonies (or mapira) which often lasted through the night, the mbira music lifting people into a hypnotic, ecstatic state.
Zinyemba’s album Tariro is a beautiful, sensitive, soulful album. Hearing it, one feels the caress of the clouds and tastes the shimmer of moonlight. You can find the album on BandCamp and iTunes and probably elsewhere.
When I spoke with Zinyemba in February 2012, he told me had no plans to become a full-time musician; back then he was studying Human Geography at the University of Alberta in Edmonton with a minor in Music and a focus on disaster management, health planning, and urban planning. He also volunteered with the Kenyan Red Cross. But he did hope to collaborate with other musicians and develop spoken word albums featuring his musicianship.
Let’s hear all about his music, his plans, and his history of the mbira and its music in my conversation with Chaka Zinyemba on MF GALAXY.
Mark Meer is possibly the most affable fellow in showbiz. He’s a terrific stage actor, voice artist, and improviser, and I’ve known him since we were both cartoonists at university and worked together in the sketch comedy troupe The 11:02 Show. He’s best known as the voice of Commander Shepard from BioWare’s Mass Effect trilogy and has done other video games including Gods of Rome and Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced.
And he’s not just someone whom fans love—he’s a fanboy himself, and attended numerous conventions in costume. He’s literally a pro at cons. He’s also appeared in short films such as Tar Zombies Barbecued and Flight of the Polar Bear; and he’s been a stalwart of the Edmonton theatre community for decades in ongoing longform improv such as Die-Nasty! and Gordon’s Big Bald Head. And if that weren’t enough, many radio listeners in Canada and the US know him as one of the actors in The Irrelevant Show.
In today’s episode of MF GALAXY, Mark Meer and I discuss:
We spoke at Meer’s home in Edmonton’s theatre-arts district on July 4, 2017.
Across the world, modern peoples look towards the great civilisations of antiquity of their continent for answers about who they are now, and from what greatness they have arisen. East Asians gaze toward China; indigenous Americans recall the Olmec, Maya, Aztec, and Inca; Europeans remember Greece and Rome... and Africans remember Nubia and Egypt.
Yet despite the obvious Africanity of Egypt, for more than two hundred years, Europe has taught an imperial racist mythology that erased who the Egyptians truly were, and thanks to Hollywood, has pinkwashed them into Europeans, a depiction never created by any ancient Egyptian painter or sculptor.
To re-establish Egypt, or Kemet, literally, the Black Land, as an African society and civilisation populated and led by racial Africans is a complex task, due to the crushing weight of more than two centuries of racial brainwashing. Doing so requires a multidisciplinary approach engaging Archeo-Linguistics, Philosophy, Comparative Religion, Physical and Cultural Anthropology, and blood-type analysis, to name only a few.
Few scholars were better suited to such labour than the late Dr. Martin Bernal, author of the monumental series Black Athena: The Afro-Asiatic Roots of Classical Civilisation.
A maverick academic and historical investigator, Dr. Bernal employed thousands of modern and ancient documents, and addressed innumerable cultural, philosophical, scholarly, and scientific issues in order to re-establish what the Greeks and other ancient Europeans said: that the Egyptians were dark-skinned Africans whose vast genius formed the basis of Greek religion, philosophy, art, architecture, mathematics, science, and civilisation.
Bernal was a professor of Government at Cornell University. His career began in Chinese studies, but grew into the tradition of groundbreaking African scholars such as George G.M. James, St. Clair Drake, and Cheikh Anta Diop. While Bernal is primarily interested in understanding Greece so as to understand Europe, his work in clarifying the Egyptian influence on Greece has required him to establish Egypt’s Africanity.
I had the privilege of interviewing Martin Bernal in person way back in November 2000 in Edmonton, when he spoke at Edmonton Public Library Stanley Milner Branch. He was the guest of the Living History Project of which I was a member, a committee of the Council of Canadians of African & Caribbean Heritage.
For more information on Martin Bernal and his work, visit mfgalaxy.org for the links. Martin Bernal died on June 9, 2013. He was a delightful man, and a brilliant scholar. I’ll always be grateful for his time.
To hear the 90-minute-long patrons-only BONUS CONTENT EDITION of my conversation with Martin Bernal, click on the Patreon link to become a sponsor for a dollar or more per week.
By funding MF GALAXY, you get access to all extended editions of the show, plus video excerpts from selected interviews as they become available. This extended edition includes Martin Bernal discussing:
COMING IN DECEMBER, don’t miss the serialized AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS of my cult-classic novels THE COYOTE KINGS and my award-winning SHRINKING THE HEROES, available exclusively on PATREON!
Actor William B. Davis is best known as Cigarette Smoking Man, AKA Cancer Man, from the 1990s hit science fiction television series The X-Files.
By know all you X-Files-ophiles know that the Chris Carter-produced show will be returning to television in 2016 as a six-episode miniseries shot in Vancouver, and will feature stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. And returning with them will be the sinister Cigarette Smoking Man, whom the readers of TV Guide voted Television’s Favourite Villain.
Davis, the Canadian screen legend, is also an acting teacher who founded his own acting school where he taught stars such as Lucy Lawless. Davis is the author of a memoir called Where There’s Smoke... Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man. In this episode’s conversation you’ll hear Davis talk about the craft of acting and his odyssey to enrich his own artistry, including the time when his fellow student Donald Sutherland was, in Davis’s words, “not very good.” He also discusses his thoughts on:
This episode is sponsored by the multiple-award-winning comic book store Happy Harbour Comics in Edmonton. Happy Harbour offers every comic and manga and more you could possibly want and if they don’t have it in stock, the friendly staff will get it for you.
Happy Harbour supports charities, schools and libraries, its own Artist in Residence, and even a scholarship. The store is family friendly, and the place where I buy all my comics and graphic novels, and where I have all my book launches. In short, it’s a great place. If you’re in E-Town and shopping for comics, find Happy Harbour in the heart of downtown across from MacEwan University campus on 107th Street and 104th Avenue, and tell them heard about Happy Harbour on MF GALAXY.