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21.12 a mince pie review of the year

December 21st 2009
1.
I trudged back home through the Dalston snow, a smattering of mince pie ingredients in my backpack. Flour. Butter. Demera sugar; and some Duerr's luxury 1881 mincemeat which was on special. In my mind I was, as I have been much of late, turning over thoughts about my life and specifically my love live which has been sadly uneventful this past year. Every nice girl that I've ended up chatting fancifully about fixing all the ills of the world with, has without fail been already attached (something which my cousin says I should enquire about earlier in the conversation), or leaving the country imminently – the most recent of which was a lovely girl I exchanged 'Secret Santas' with at the Passing Clouds Christmas party who had to make a 6am flight the next morning. At Eleanor's behest, I had arrived early to help set up for dinner, and managed to highjack the sound system to play a taster of South African Dub, Bhundu Boys and Oliver Mtukudzi until Planetman arrived and through me off the CD turntables. But I digress. There's no escaping that whilst I may have had a fair few chemistry laden moments in 2009, nothing had ever quite sparked into anything resembling any kind of flame.

Actually, I decided to engage in a spot of Dr Who inspired psychological time travel a few weeks ago - around the time my grandmother passed away in South Africa. After that I decided it was best to put 2009 to one side and move directly into 2010, and this had caused a marked improvement in my general mood.

Sure the year had had it's highlights – in March my trip home to Zimbabwe had injected me with some much needed enthusiasm. I have not had a birthday in Africa for several years and it had quite a profound effect on me if I'm honest. It was a three day youth festival - Nguva Yedu-Thuba Letu-Our Time. After waking up on my actual birthday and remembering that I was at an outskirts of Harare retreat without electricity or running water, included amongst a group of young Zimbabwean poets, filmmakers, musicians, and artists discussing the future of our cultural identity and other such loaded subjects; I found myself playing a small acoustic set on the first day of the festival proper. But really, rising Zimbabwean stars Victor Kunonga and Dudu Manhenga were highlights, along with of course the Ugandan Afro-beat/ragga crossover that is Jose Chameleon whose end of night collaboration with Zimbabwean Reggae artist Mic Inity and South Africa's Gang Of Instrumentals vocalist Bongo 'Riot' Zungu ended up as a highlight act at the other big African Festival I went to this year: Bushfire.

I had been to Bushfire the previous year as well and went back this time specifically to make a series of videos for the festival – all of which are now in the final stages of editing awaiting approval which has no doubt been delayed by current festivities. Bholoja were once again a top act, but my personal favourite of that gig was Sipho Hotstix Mabuse who rounded up proceedings on the last day. As I stood on the top of the sound desk and camera tower sipping my Sibebe Swazi beer and taking in the Swazi ambience, his guest musician friend Funky Masine Mohapi, guitarist from his former afro-rock outfit Harari, walked onto stage; an ageing blues rocker in a white suit wearing shades and sporting a cherry red guitar, and to a dirty overdriven rock blues riff he instructed “everybody” to “party”, making the words rhyme in a way they only can if your voice is sanded by a life of whiskey and cigarettes and you really REALLY mean it.

Kamikaze Test Pilots at Zimfest and again at their album launch in Reading, along with Botswana rockers Used2Bsyris and Mashasha at Africa Rocks! had convinced me that there is such a genre as Afro-rock with the help of South Africa ska band A Tower Of Sheep and of course the ever rock'n'roll Sabatta fronted by Nigerian rock guitarist Yinka. Yes, my own little afro rock outfit Dhindindi was in good company, although I did have this nagging feeling that we should take it all a bit more seriously – thankfully that generally passed.

2.
I walked through Dalston Square and the snowman which someone had made, looking longingly at the front entrance of the Vortex Jazz Bar made me smile. Further up towards my little flat someone had carved a massive I ? M into the fallen snow. I had a ridiculous romantic moment wishing I was 'M', or maybe had an 'M' to inspire such behaviour. For my part I simply took the odd opportunity to retrace my steps as far as I could and then continue off in a different direction in the hope that someone would be walking along and find the footsteps inexplicably stopped. I didn't have too much time for tom-foolery as I had a terribly long list of things to do including all my Christmas shopping and organising the new Book Cafe Paw Paw Jam Night at The New Empowering Church at the bottom of London Fields.

I met Khwaja, who I had interviewed for Run Riot in the early days of Passing Clouds, for dinner and to catch up and discuss the launch night. I had already had two fine nights of revelry at the new 'Empowering Church' which incidentally takes it's name from the old venue on Richmond Road which Khwaja was running this time last year, and I had already convinced him that a regular night of Zimbabwean and South African poetry and music would go down a treat there.

I made it home and set about rustling up some mince pies – my fourth attempt this Christmas if you count the ridiculous cake-sized mince pie I made first off because I didn't have any cupcake-ish baking tray apparatus. My eventual solution was to purchase 50 tinfoil cupcake trays from a pound shop in Dalston and mould my wineglass cut mince pie discs into those. The recipe I found online worked best if remembering the recipe was tempered by a few glasses of red wine or rum and ginger beer; which I still have a feeling might just be the drink of the revolution.

I do actually really enjoy the festive season and would that there was this much revelry all year round. That's the worst thing about a general national economic depression: people stop having so many parties! And this always leads to a spot of binge partying, I find. A ridiculous free booze work related function had resulted in me having to film a bunch of kids playing video games at the Birmingham Bullring with no money, the tail end of a batch of winter flu and a terrible hangover – making what was already a difficult day's filming even more taxing. In the end I volunteered to shoot some additional footage in London the following weekend when I was back to full health and had been paid and this proved to be oddly stress free (although it did prevent me doing any present buying until December 23rd in the end which was required it's own operation like approach).

I took my mince pies out of the oven and put one on a plate to be sampled with a nice cup of tea and returned to watching Blankman for the umteenth time; my internet having been cut off (not due to my sometimes poverty stricken boom and bust lifestyle choices but because I'd lost my debit card leaping over a fire at a party where I sported a particularly inspired Wickus costume and hadn't got round to ordering a new one.

Actually District 9 was I guess a bit of a highlight for me this year as well. It managed to both stand as an authentic Sci-Fi genre film and be genuinely African, and such a film is long overdue. Whilst Europe and Hollywood has had mixed success in recent years making African films like The Last King of Scotland, Blood Diamond, Shooting Dogs and Hotel Rwanda, African filmmakers have been slow to realise that there is a wealth of fine Africa stories beyond overtly issue based films, a category into which the last big South African offering Tsotsi almost fell - but thankfully not quite. In the end although I enjoyed it, maybe that was just a bit too formulaic, a trick short of District 9's weaving story of a man thrust into exceptional circumstances. Watch District 9 if the chance comes your way. Maybe I'm biased but I really thought it was a fantastic film.

So I take a step out of the future and return to thoughts of 2009 as I bite into my tester mince pie. No Copenhagen environmental treaty to keep our minds at rest over the impending climate excitement. Rage Against The Machine set to throw multitudes of people's 'Christmas number one collections' into disarray. No? But 2010 is going to be a whole new adventure. I can feel it in my bones.

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