As Black History Month rolls on, I asked myself a question that may seem stupid to most people: Who exactly is black and who is not? And how is it decided? Does the individual or society determine what we are or is it a combination of both? Are there other factors? Is this the Family Feud or actual objective science?
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Malians outside a cinema
Culturally, however, it's quite rich. Like its West African neighbors, it's also highly diverse. Most of its people are Bamana. There are also large populations of Soninke, Khassonke and Malink are all Mandé. There are smaller numbers of Peul, Voltaic, Songhai, Taureg, Bozo, Dogon, and Moor. Altogether, more than 40 languages are spoken.
The Dark Knight was released today (December 9th) on DVD and Blu-Ray. It will, no doubt, be yet another enormously popular title on DVD -- but for Blu-Ray, it's being viewed by some as a make-it-or-break-it title. You may've noticed Blu-Ray commercials are beginning to sparingly pop up on TV. This is part of a curiously cautious, last ditch effort to boost the troubled format's fortunes. Last Christmas, sluggish sales of HD DVD resulted in that format's extinction the following spring. Some thought that Blu-Ray, as the victor of the so-called format war, would benefit from a sales boost from cautious buyers who'd been waiting to see what format triumphed. But instead Blu-Ray player sales dropped 40% in the first month of the year, then plateaued before dropping to less than half their peak sales not long after. Like LaserDiscs before them, Blu-Rays offer superior quality at a higher price but appeal only to a niche market. It remains to be seen if this market can grow sufficiently to keep Blu-Rays viable.
If you're like me, you may feel like the media only provides confusing, fragmented glimpses into what remains, by and large, an obscure part of the world that makes regular appearances in the news regarding (usually) famine, war or piracy. And yet, the newscasters seem perfectly content to repeatedly ask, "What's going on?" and "Why do they kill us when we bring aid?" and (most inexcusably stupid) "Aren't pirates a thing of the past?" Yet they seem content merely to ask and never to attempt an answer. So, in the face of another wave of gawking, 30 second snippets provided by the news, here's my humble attempt to shed a little light on the region; one where long-simmering tensions and colonialist pressure have caused the Somali people considerable strife and difficulty for centuries, with no hope of apparent change in the future. And yet, I hope the music and cultural bits I've thrown in will provide a balance to all the misery.
Somalia's history (and the horn of Africa, for that matter) for the last few centuries has been a familiar history of extreme hostility and violent retribution. Begrudging neighbors are made pawns of European powers and played against each other with suffering resulting on all sides. Somalia, whilst one of the only countries with only one ethnic group, has never very unified. Originally the Somali people organized themselves on the coasts of the mostly barren country in tiny city states (and later, after conversion to Islam, Sultanates).