Fred Ho, Bandung, and the Idea of Afro-Asia (the Time for Remembering is Now)

I did not know Fred Ho well, but I knew him enough to mourn his passing. Fred, like the clothes he often wore, was bold and unforgettable in life and I have no doubt he will remain so in death through his music and his writings. The handful of times I heard him on his saxophone I was blown away by his virtuosity, though certainly a technical appreciation of his music is best left to those better qualified. What I know to value more deliberately is Fred’s politics, an exhilarating mix of this, that and the other radicalism—matriarchy meets ecosocialism meets Black Power meets Asian Pride. Did these diverse subversive strains of thought coexist in Fred’s thinking in coherent harmony? At one level, that is the wrong question. What matters is Fred’s impetus in bringing these ways of being in the world together.

To understand this impetus you might have to go back to an idea of Afro-Asian solidarity traceable to Bandung. Bandung is a town in Indonesia where leaders of countries from across what we would now call the postcolonial world or the Global South gathered in 1952. The meeting was a ringing declaration of decolonizing intent. Leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Zhao Enlai of China, Sukarno of Indonesia and Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt met to carve out a geopolitical space free of the influence of the great colonial powers. No matter the actual achievements of the non-aligned movement that followed (or for that matter these leaders), Bandung represents a pivotal moment in the cultural history of radicalism. Recognizing its importance, Richard Wright, the great African American novelist, traveled from his exile in Paris to Bandung as an observer, entitling his subsequent report The Color Curtain in order to draw a parallel with the Iron Curtain separating the capitalist First World and the socialist Second World. He went on to famously describe Bandung as a “meeting of the rejected [that] was in itself a kind of judgment upon the Western world!”

Bandung echoed through the Sixties and the Seventies, exerting enormous cultural influence by offering a global vision for the wretched of the earth. This is the vision Fred too claimed, upheld in his inimitable way, and worked to grow into a movement (go here for an upcoming Fred Ho event: https://www.facebook.com/events/677215905667784/). I fear its passing in our solipsistic times. The time for remembering and preserving is now.

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