Friday, July 27, 2012

Interview with Mpho Muthubi

Mpho is a new friend of mine. Already, I have had with him some of the most inspiring conversations I have ever known. He is a brilliant and selfless human being. He gives of himself to the world unconditionally.

I met Mpho at events connected with the Unreasonable Institute.  

If you're not already familiar with what this incredible organization is doing, please check it out.  It's unbelievable.  It's the future.  Whoa.

Through conversations with Mpho, I learned that there is a powerful misconception that has taken hold in the world.

     There is a belief that there are massive, complicated, unsolvable
     problems in Africa.

     This is not true!

     The problems in Africa are actually massive, simple, and relatively
     easy to solve

This misunderstanding is represented as the truth so consistently in the media that even the people of Africa have started to believe it.  Know that it is not true.  The problems in Africa are solvable.  They are problems that have already been solved in the “first world.”  If we can recognize this and we can work together, we can challenge this misconception and empower countless people. The world will change...quickly.

The following interview took place Monday, July 23, 2012 at the Yellow Deli in Boulder, CO.

Danny Meyer: You love to travel.  Why do you love to travel?

Mpho Muthubi: Yes, I do.  Traveling makes gives me a lot of energy.  It makes me get in touch with a lot of cultures and to understand more about humanity.  To see if what I’m experiencing or going through as a person in my own country has anything akin to what other people are going through.  

DM:  What has been great about traveling to Boulder?

MM:  Well, a lot of things.  I’ve seen a lot of things that made me say, “Wow, this is the real first world.”  We talk about the first world and people talk about the third world...coming from Africa, we are the third world...developing.  I looked at stuff around here and I said, “This place is complete.  There is nothing else to be done here.  You guys are thinking that you still need to improve more, but for me, that’s about it.  You guys have everything here.  

What actually intrigued me, though, was that it was amazing how I moved around the places and there were no trash bins along the roads and stuff like that and still there is no litter.  I said, “’s nothing like that in Africa!” [Laughs] I said, “What sort of mentality is this?”  Are you much more aware of the [idea of] environmental upkeep than we are?  We’ve got all sorts of trash bins, but still we find people throwing stuff and you guys don’t have a lot of them, but the place is clean.  

I remember [walking in Boulder holding] a can of some soda for a long distance and I was looking for a trash can.  There was nothing.  What if I were in my country?  What would I have done with that thing?  I probably would have thrown it, and it would have probably accumulated into a heap of [trash].  So, I said, "Ok, fine.  I'm going to behave, here."  So, it taught me something.

In the streets, your motorists respect pedestrians.  The standard that I come from is quite different.  You guys will wait for a pedestrian crossing - even if it is coming from afar - you wait.  We don't do that!  In my country - or most countries that I know.  No way!  You'll see that when you come to Africa.  I'll show you.  If you try and stop, they may bump on you.  [laughs]
So, I saw the opposite of everything and everything has been good for me so far.

I went to a lot of restaurants and stuff, and one thing that sort of peeved me was that the price [of food] is very expensive.  Boulder is a bit expensive compared to other places.

DM:  So you intersected the Unreasonable Institute here.  We both saw the event yesterday [the Unreasonable Climax] and we were both very moved.  Could you talk some about the Unreasonable Institute and what your experiences were with it?

MM: The Unreasonable Institute: it's one hell of an undertaking.  I know the intentions that Daniel Epstein laid out yesterday - it's amazing.  Yes, I think they could match the Richard Branson type of thing.  The Virgin model.  And I wish they could do that, because what Richard Branson really does…he's a maverick and I love him for being a maverick.  Sort of turning everything upside down and making sure that people don't just get stuck into the old ways of doing things.  So, the disruption of traditional stuff has to happen.

For me, the Unreasonable Institute has been good. Not only good, but excellent, because it brought in people from all over the world - Asia, Africa, South America, America, Britain as well, and Europe.  By bring them together like that…the tapestry is now coming together.  All the threads are coming together and people are starting to understand that what [they] have in [their own] country, it’s not dissimilar than the problems other country are having.  Same problems globally.  For example, the transport of goods across borders. This is a problem in Mexico.  We have it as well.  People are able to solve problems together.  To help whoever needs to be helped. It's a team of people.  

Another thing is that I don't think I'll stop coming here.  [laughs]  I'm sold.  

DM:  Why do you write?

MM:  Why do I write? [pause] I try to read a lot of books.  Although the books that I read are not so much romantic books.  I'm kind of a cold person, maybe.  I read books that want to add value.  I'm not saying that romantic books are not adding value - they maybe adding value for couples or whatever, but for me it's all about wanting to help take a [group of] people from point A to point B and as they travel that area, they must make sure that they are enhancing peoples lives.  So, it's all about information.

DM:  So your next book that will be coming out, Voetsek, why did you write this book?  With this book you're trying to take "who" to "where."

MM:  I've used my country- South Africa - as a point of reference.  I've seen that there is some kind of laxity.  People are laid back, not wanting to tackle issues that are important.  It's to try to apply some shocks onto them and say, "Come on.  Do this.  Let's go."  Because other people in the vicinity are looking up to us.  Although we are not America…ok…but we're stable.  We have our problems, but relatively speaking, we're stable.  In the rest of Africa, we are called the "Gateway of Africa."  That's what we're called.  Whether we are like that, I don't know.  Maybe we're moving on to became the "Doormat of Africa."  [laughs] Could be, because I don't think that international conglomerates, when they do come to Africa, ask South Africa for permission to come.  They don't do that.  They just go and do whatever they want to do, anyway.  So, it's not like we are a gateway.  It's not like we are gatekeepers and the whole world must come to us asking.  They just go.  So, for me, that kind of title is undeserved and doesn't work.  That mentality - if South Africans are thinking that they are like that, I want to challenge them.  To say, "Unh Uh.  You are not.  Wake up," because other countries are doing the very same things that you're doing.  So, if you're going to think like that, you're going to be late.  The train will just pass you by.  So, wake up.  Be effective. Get into other countries.  Do your part, so that the problems that they have don't spill into our country, thereby creating a lot of commotion and stuff like that.  So, let's go and do things.

DM:  Who is the audience that you are hoping will read this book?

MM:  Ok, there is a saying in our country that says, “If you want to hide anything from a black person, put it in a book.”  Which means, a lot of people don’t read.  When they do read, it is when they want to pass exams.  So, exams and general books that teach a lot of things are two different things.  You’re talking academic and you’re talking groundbreaking books that make people to do things.  And most of the times, it’s groundbreaking books that turn things around.  

DM:  One thing you’ve said is that right now it’s not necessarily cool to learn in Africa.

MM:  In a way, yes.  A guy would go to buy a case of beer, which will cost him $50.  He can pay for that, but the same guy would not go and buy a book that would help him to get more beers.  [laughs] In the book, that’s where he’s going to get more ideas.  He’s not going to do that.  He’ll go for a beer, which he’s going to drink now and then it’s gone.  He’s not even sharing with his family.  So, for me, it’s kind of dumb for a person to do that.  That should be the cherry on top.  If you have already done all that you’re going to do, then fine.  Enjoy that.  

I think it was Obama that said that, "Children care more about their hair than what is in their head."  Something like that.  They go and get these nice hair styles and all these other things and earrings on their head, but what's inside there...  Nothing.

DM:  They're celebrating, but they haven't learned anything yet.

MM:  That's not right.  So, that's what I want to address.  To say, "Guys, come on.  Get the fundamentals right.”  The fundamentals are reading, getting skills, and stuff like that.  Then, you go and decorate yourself.  Do it.  Do that, but you can't decorate yourself without having the fundamentals right.

DM:  What is something that you see that Africa can learn from America...something that is clear to us, that your people overlook?

MM:  I think maybe it has to do with you being a homogeneous country.  Africa is not homogeneous.  Most Americans seem to think like that - that Africa is homogeneous.  It’s not.  It’s about 53 countries with all sorts of different objectives.  An American will say, “Hi, how are you doing?”  
“Where do you come from?”  
I say, “Africa.”
He’ll say, “Do you know a person named...?”  [Laughs]
What kind of...?  No.  

DM:  This is as ridiculous as if I told someone, “I am from the United States - from Colorado,” and someone were to say, “Oh! I’ve got a friend in Venezuela!”  

MM:  Yeah! [laughs] And I keep on hearing this!  I say, “What are you talking about?  Don’t you know?”

DM:  Ok, so we’re homogenized.  

MM:  Yeah.  We’re not.

DM:  So what could Africans learn from that gives us access, too?

MM:  Africans can learn something about tackling issues like you Americans do.  Obviously, we’re going to have to do that.  At first, we’re going to have to do that as individual countries, because we’ve got our own laws and borders; but where issues are common, then we have to think about coming together and solving the problem together.  That’s the thing.

DM:  Great answer.  The best answer!  

So, then what about the other way?  What could the American people learn from Africa?

MM:  Well, what you could learn is how you guys take things for granted.  

[Also,] there are a lot of opportunities that individual Americans can tap into or take advantage of in those developing countries, that for now you seem to have lost to the Chinese.  It’s true.  It’s that simple.  I hear the American president saying - I can’t quote him, but things like, “You’ve gotta lead.”  I’m not seeing that.  I’m not seeing the leading anymore.  I’m seeing the following; because those guys - the Chinese guys - are actually doing it.  

DM:  You were saying earlier that they [the Chinese] are intersecting the communities [in Africa] in a way that is supportive - that they are teaming up with other countries, rather than going and “imposing” or going and “taking.”

MM:  Yeah, that has to be done.  I know that at the governmental level they are tied up with bureaucracy.  These guys are tied up with a lot of policies and borders to go around.  The issue of party comes up.  Democrats and Republicans...

But individual Americans, they have to do that.  In fact, they have to drag the government by the nose and say, “This is what we’re doing.”  If you don’t do that, you stay irrelevant to a lot of developing countries in the world.  

So, if you come in and say you want to help out - whether it’s with angel funds or whatever it is, that’s what people appreciate and people will start thinking, “Whoa! They’re doing something!”  But if you don’t do that, and [the Chinese] do it, and you complain about...maybe their policies, people will say, “No.  Stuff it!  They’re helping!”  

Maybe in 10 years or 20 years time, it will be catastrophic or whatever; people now don’t think about that.  They think about what’s happening to them now.  If you come now and pontificate and say all sorts of thing like, “These are bad guys...”  I want to see.  Is there bread on my table, NOW?  Are my kids going to school, NOW?  Not then.  So whoever says, “Here’s bread.  Here’s education.”  I go for that person.  So, that is something that individual Americans must think about and say, “Let’s do these things.”  And then you will remain leaders.  Leaders in incorporation with others not imposing leaders.  

DM:  That is very important.  

Now, this next part gets fun for a minute.  You grew up listening to jazz.

MM:  Yes.

DM:  Why do you love listening to jazz?

MM:  It’s therapeutic.  

DM:  Why is it therapeutic?

MM:  Jazz kind of resonates with what we went through [in Africa] even as kids.  In Africa, these things are there.  Let’s take for instance, the blues.  That’s what happens all the time.  You find a woman, maybe grinding corn or something like that, it will be like blues.  There will be singing and all these things.  When they’re happy, when they’re sad, there will be that kind of blues kind of thing that goes on.  Those things have been there all the time.  

I’ll take you to go experience a certain dance called “ticona.” It’s played with a lot of different types of reed [instruments].  Like an ensemble of saxophones and clarinets and whatever you’ve got.  Their instruments, though.  You’ll hear different sounds.  And the music is long.  Very long.  

Other songs [in Africa] are played as a dirge.  If you’re not educated to hear the songs, you’ll think it’s just monotonous sounds, but it’s not monotonous sounds.  

DM:  What do you love about American jazz?

MM:  [I] grew up listening to American jazz.  John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt, Duke Ellington, Shirley Scott, Satchmo.  For me, it’s something that makes me think.  American jazz makes me think.  And it’s kind of a spiritual type of thing, because someone is kind of talking.  When I saw you playing the other day, it was like you were talking.  

DM:  It is language.

MM:  It’s also an inner dialogue kind of thing.  I looked at this and thought, “Wow!”  It’s kind of well structured.  But it makes me think, more than anything.  It makes me think deeper. I get deeper into myself and think about lots of things.  It’s creativity.  Its kind of creativity flows into me and and produces more creativity.  So, when I listened to Ben Webster, that baritone... know how Ben Webster plays...kind of like “Vuvuvu” [does an impression of Ben Webster’s sound and vibrato].  It makes me so happy.  It’s unique.  

So, for me, After Hours by Dizzy Gillespie, Back to Back by Duke Ellington, My Favorite Things by John Coltrane.  These recordings make me think.  There is another one...The Creator Has A Master Plan by Pharoah Sanders.  

DM:  That’s a great record!

MM:  Yeah...I said, “Wow, this is something else!”

DM:  Something that you’ve said is, “Those who look inside themselves know what is inside another.”  Can you talk about that?

MM:  It comes from being honest with yourself, because human issues are human issues.  If I get hurt by something, whether it’s a death of a person or a relative or whatever, or there is some kind of happiness that another one is enjoying, it resonates with me.  It’s not like if I’m in Guatemala, and somebody dies in Guatemala, it won’t be the same feeling in India.   It will be the same feeling in India!  Whether you’ve got a billion pounds or you’ve a nickel, if that strikes, same pain.  You go through the same pain.  It’s not going to be different.

Let’s talk about what happened now in Aurora.  

DM:  The shooting.

MM:  Yes.  It shook...jolted the whole nation.  For you guys, this is rare.  For us, not as rare, but I feel the pain.  I understand.  Same pain.  Whether it’s been done by whoever, wherever, it’s the same pain.  It shouldn’t have happened.  We shouldn’t have allowed it to happen, but when it happens, we feel the same pain.  It comes to us can’t believe it.  

So, whether you’re Bill Gates or whoever.  Same thing.  If I’m going to eat an egg and he eats an egg, same egg.  I mean, it comes from a chicken, doesn’t it?  There’s no golden egg.  It’s the same egg.  Even if, maybe, you go to a restaurant where they pay $5000 per plate, whatever they’re eating, if it’s egg, it’s going to be the egg I eat.  So, even when it comes to pay, it’s that kind of thing as well.  

If we have to look inside ourselves and be honest with ourselves, we will find out that we’re just the same.  Inside them? Same.  Sorrow? Same.  Happiness? Same.  We’re all looking for joy.  This joy thing.  It sort of escapes us because sometimes we look for it in another direction [and it] is not there.  We look for it in, maybe, materials.  We want to gain more material stuff.  Maybe, kill this one and take his stuff to get more and more, but it [joy] keeps escaping us.  

The simple people in the world, funny enough, they find joy.  The other day, I looked at some guys that were scavenging [for] food in trash cans and eating that stuff.  And these guys are healthy and we are not healthy.  How is that?  I do not understand.  We go with probiotics and eat all these nice blah, blah, blah.  These guys go to a trash can, and somehow, nature or the universe just protects them; gives them health.  You can’t try that.  [laughs].  So, that’s it.  

DM:  So you’re saying that you don’t find it outside of yourself.

MM:  Yeah, you have to first find it inside you.  It’s inside you.  I think those that are more into the Bible will say that the Kingdom of God is not there, or there, or over there [points], it’s in you.  You’ve got to look into yourself to get it.  

When you are going to do something, your conscience tells you, “Don’t,” or, “Do it.”  When you feel like it’s pinching you and your spirit gets a bit sour or bitter, you know you’re not supposed to do it.  [It’s] what you call a gut feeling.  It tells [us], but we don’t do that 9/10 times.  We just do our thing and we land into trouble.  So we have to look into ourselves first.  Then we will see that a lot of things will help out.  

DM:  You’ve also said that you are “passionate about all people of the planet who present themselves as clear and unfettered by chains of bigotry and express first-class self-serving status.”  Can you talk more about what those things are and why those are important?

MM:  This ties up with what I said before; that we don’t have to think that we do I put it...  In the the 20th century, some guy called Hitler thought that maybe he was this special guy and that his race was so special that he decided to get rid of other people who didn’t look like him.  He thought that if you were not like that, you were not supposed to live.  What he forgot was that it’s not like everything has to be the same, because if everything is the same, then life will be boring.  That variety in itself - some people say it’s the spice of life - it’s necessary to be there.  Why is it like that?  Because it adds spice to life; it brings out challenges that [provide opportunities for] all those that have answers to add to show their prowess; to show their skills, to help out.  And for those, you don’t have to say, “Hey guys, please help.”  It’s not that they don’t know the answers themselves, it’s just that they can’t do anything about this.  And even though some people can do some things, they must not think [that] they are better, because those other ones might have something better in terms our country we call it Ubuntu.  

Nelson Mandela speaking about Ubuntu

Ubuntu basically means: you’re a person because of me.  I am a person because of you.  I think it was John Donne that said, “No man is an island unto himself.”  We are a piece of each other.  If you cry, I feel the pain.  We should actually be everybody’s keeper.  We have to be like that.  If we don’t do that and we think we are this special species, [then] life will be boring to us.

I read an article where someone was bemoaning the fact that in America some people do not have a sense of community, and that the only thing that will bring them together is when there is war.  When there is war, Americans will come together, but when there is no war, everybody is sort of independent.  They do their own thing.  “I don’t care what you’re doing, it’s my thing.  Go to hell!”  Something like that.  That makes people resort to getting into drugs because they want to try to kill that thing...that loneliness in the midst of beautiful things.  You know what I mean?  Here’s a person that’s got everything that is lonely.  Why?  Because there is no impact on another human being.  

If you’re not going to be able to touch...there’s a song that you guys [have]... “reach out and touch somebody’s hand and make the world a better place.”   So, if you don’t do that, you end up getting frustrated and end up doing drugs just to cool yourself out or to get high, because you’re not doing anything to help anyone.  So clever Americans, those that actually saw that this was killing them, they moved out to other countries and said they wanted to help (like what you want to do).  That will then give you a lot of peace within yourself.  You will see that you are doing something meaningful.  

When I was saying, “You guys take things for granted...”  [It was] because everything is here.  Ok for us, things like Wi-Fi, we have it here and there.  That restaurant there, you’ve got got to get in there and buy something.  But for you, almost every place has got a Wi-Fi.  It means you’re connected.  You get information quickly.  We don’t get that.  All we can do is go to what is called an internet cafe and pay money.  Or have our own and [for that] we’ve got to have a career or a business.  Sometimes, I don’t have money, and that means I won’t get information.  That is something that you take for granted.  

DM:  There is something we should talk about.  This is something that we found today talking together.  I think there is a misunderstanding. [I think] that Americans think that there are massive, complicated, unsolvable problems in Africa, and that is not the truth.  There are actually massive, simple, relatively easy to solve problems in Africa.  

MM:  And they don’t require a lot of things.  They just need the presence of people who have knowledge about the problem to share ideas and say, “Look we’ve been here.  We know how to tackle this thing.  This is how it has to be done.”  There could be variations there, but basically to say, “We know about this thing.”  And people will listen to you more because they know you’ve been there, and everything that comes to them has happened before [in America].   

DM:  What’s next for you?  You’ll release your next book, and then what are your plans?

MM:  After this book is released, I intend to travel to Kenya, Uganda, Liberia, Cameroon, Sri Lanka, and probably to  India.  How that is going to happen? We’re talking finance now. I don’t know, but I’ll try to get to one place before December.  If it doesn’t happen, then it will spill over into January and February.  Also, I would love to connect with this book back to the Unreasonable Institute.  If [that can happen] just think about where and how far it could go.  

We can do great things if we do them together.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Music and Living

My path has been to look for how everything can be understood as essentially the same expression. To look for an underlying simplicity in things.

As a musician, I’ve looked at how all of music - regardless of what it sounds like - is of the same simple nature.

First, how the elements of music - harmony, rhythm, form, pitch, etc - are just subtly different expressions of the same thing.

Then, how all of the arts - music, dance, art, etc - are the same.  They are language.

How all languages are the same tool - a way of expressing thinking about living.

Essentially, all of this is just about living, so I looked for how music and life are the same thing. An expression of creation. Divinity.

What I’ve ended up with is this tool that I’ve been building for the last 10 years that allows me to better understand life and thus better understand everything. What I learn as a musician informs my life. What I learn as a person informs my music. I have a tool that allows me clarity to move forward.

The punchline, then, is this:
It doesn’t matter what you do. It only matters that you do it honestly and deeply. Then it becomes a tool. A tool that you can use to find peace, love, joy, and beauty.