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"Culture is the heritage of us all. some may be more interested than others in the treasures of the past, but no one can fail to take a pride in his country's participation in the story of mankind, as represented in carvings, sculpture, music, paintings and the other arts. And there is a personal commitment to this, for no man can really say he is alone: we are all joined through our identity, with the cultures which are part of the mainstream of life"
- Simon Kapwepwe, Zambian Independence Freedom Fighter

"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm" - Winston Churchill

"Try to be the rainbow in someone else's cloud" - Maya Angelou

"Your time is limited so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinion drown out your inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition" - Steve Jobs

Monday, 26 November 2012

Zed Culture Part IV: Polychronic vs Monochronic

 © Mwana ba Afrika 
In October, I attended my first TopFloor Public Discussion Forum.  The theme was "Zambian Cultural Identity" and featured insightful discussion lead by presentations from Ms Mulenga Kapwepwe, my Zambian girl crush, and  University of Zambia, UNZA, Professor Mubanga Kashoki.  The debate was framed around: "What is Zambia's cultural identity? What influence does Zambia's cultural identity have on business practices? What defines culture: Language? Dress? Protocol? What influence do these cultural indicators have on individual careers and business conduct? What are the hindrances?  What cultural elements need to be emphasised? Managed? Changed?"  What came out of the discussion was the importance of our concept of time, and how much that affects the legacy colonisation left us with: the disjuncture with our polychronic, historically fluid perception of time that is in constant battle with the monochronic, fixed, unidirectional notion that British brought with them .  

Over the next month, I have realised, even though I may have spent two thirds of my life in the West, in countries that operate monochronically, you can't take the African, the polychronic, out of me he he he.  Used it when I was over there with time difference to buy time or complain that I had lost it.  And now I really take advantage, particularly when operating with the USA, as I am half a day ahead, so can always stretch time out - when I don't get something done in my time, I go back in time and make sure it is done by the time it's that time half way across the world.  Also have to be aware that some people are ahead of time, like when working with my current collaboration partner from C1rca 1964, who is based in Australia.

I recently commented on Facebook that you can't operate on the continent if you cannot operate polychronically.  Now that I am working with the National Arts Council of Zambia, with a bunch of creatives to boot, I have been stretching time and having people stretch mine back.  As Ms Kapwepwe pointed out, in Indonesia they go so far as to call it rubber time.  The important thing is to get whatever it is done, worrying about the time wastes just wastes more time.  And sometimes deadlines can just be stressful.  Life is not linear, it never goes in a straight line: sometimes it goes off on a tangent, it gets a little wiggly, or just goes round and round and comes back to the place you started.  So time should accommodate that.  I am a much happier person since I ditched the 9-5 model and now work anytime between 9am and 2am everyday, take naps when I need to and am flexible enough to meet anyone, any place, and work for whomever, anywhere, thanks to the beauty of the Internet.  I am physically static but virtually limitless!  

However, what I don't like about the polychronic nature, and of Zambians in particular, is that they don't distiguish between stretching time and not respecting other people's time.  I always believe that you should do what you do with your time to yourself, but respect that others may be different.  As I say Don't waste my time, it is not your time to waste.  There is a difference between just being late coz you can't be bothered versus being overextended, stuck in traffic or stretching the hours to fit everything into the day.  Sometimes Zambians take advantage of APT (African People's Time) aka CPT (Coloured Peoples Time) and turn up hours late for things for no apparent and then expect to be accommodated, huffing and puffing, causing more harm than good.  

Stretch the time, don't waste it!

My Kamanga Wear Dropped-Crotch
Jumpsuit, the first of many I'm sure,
just had my second altered to fit :)
 © Mwana ba Afrika 
This new understanding of time has also helped a lot with understanding my concept of African style.  Creativity is not linear either.  You need to be able to dip into the past, be rooted in the present and be flying in the skies of the future to truly tap into that energy and be creative.  Something can be new and old the same time e.g. same cut, different chitenge print.  Or how my earrings are in-style without following trends and can follow traditions while adding new creativity.  Everything is always in if you rock it :).   It's the same with music we make - it can never be placed to a particular year or decade, it can be attached to a place but not to a time.  Recently I have been particularly dispassionate about American music. It is so cookie cutter and people keep churning out songs just be be relevant and not to produce something new.  The videos are all the same, and there are forever naked women,  all trying to pass versions of nudity off as stylish and original. I'm really quite bored and disaffected. Even talented people like Alicia Keys and Christina Aguilera seemed to have plateaued and/or worse plummetted into mediocrity with regards to song quality.

I like the electronic and dance sound coming from Europe, and Afro-pop continues to hit the spot, with the Nigerians leading the way.  I have also been leaning towards doo-wop 60s type songs like Olly Murs's last two singles, but the song that really brought this out is Bruno Mars' "Locked Up".  It has touched my soul in such a way because it sounds so old, yet so fresh, and will continue to do that because of how genius it is.  Same with PSY's Gangnam Style: reminiscent of the one hit wonders of the 90s like Macarena and Saturday Night but really original, futuristic and ultimately timeless.  I have also been discovering a lot of African music and thinking it's new, only to find out it was released years ago, and rediscovering old stuff too.  So I leave you with a promise that I will make a 3-4-10 post of music that defies the laws of time, polychronic in nature, and therefore timeless due to their refusal to be limited by the Zeitgeist and ever present in the past, the now and the tomorrows to come.

As promised, here  is the polychronic global music mix :)

1 comment:

  1. The next thing that has to happen is the 'materialisation' of this polychronic culture in our art, architecture and society because in the end that becomes our cultural construct which then becomes our identity, which determines our responses and stand with regards to 'global interactions'