JuJu Music

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The
spectacle of President Clinton's visit to Nigeria masterfully fuses
his two principal modes of expression: paranoia and narcissism.
Together, they frame his presidential style and inform his public
language, even as they reveal his most private pathology.

The
Sunday New York Times reports: "Nigerians watched with
a mix of fascination and delight as the leader of the Western world
rocked and swayed to the u2018juju' music of their very own Sunny Ade,
a rhythmic blend of traditional and foreign influences."

There
is nothing particularly charming here. We have watched with a similar
mix of incredulousness and horror for the past eight years as Clinton
has rocked and swayed his way through the vagaries of Washington
politics with a rhythmic precision that transmutes Nigerian "juju"
into Arkansas jukin'. Clinton is a sensualist and a cosmic roué,
seducing African bump with Western grind. He correctly perceives
that the most communicative gestures in the sub-Saharan milieu are
not discussions of complex issues; indeed any discussion at all
would be too complex for sensibilities hopelessly lost in the archaic
immensity of that primordial continent. Thus, Clinton's dance weaves
a sinister skein of deception around an uncomprehending African
nation. And, like many Americans, they celebrate him as uncritically
as a bon vivant in the languid salons of late nineteenth-century
France.

Certainly,
Clinton's puzzling remarks about Nigeria's important role in world
affairs and the courage of its fragile democracy are redolent of
the PC nonsense and Civil Rights doggerel of his own political experience.
But there exists in his African rhetoric an astonishing cynicism
quite different from the sanctimonious posturing of his domestic
pronouncements. In America, a clever special interest group may
formulate its argument through entitlements and quotas and, of course,
specious claims of White villainy. However, the Nigerians have neither
a leftist bureaucracy to support them nor an evil White Other to
blame. The Clinton maneuver, then, is calculated to address the
Nigerian condition in the American register of hope and promise.
And if anything is more predictable than Nigerians squandering $28
billion in American taxpayer-funded debt relief, it is the concomitant
sound of Nigerians (at home and abroad) traducing everyone else
for their failures, among which will surely be their new "democratic"
government.

Clinton's
ghastly performance last weekend opens the vast vistas of his imagination
to the primitive terror of African mystery, its ritual, its inscrutability.
Africa, like the Clinton ego, is an instrument of desire, of darkness,
turbulence, and excess; its is finally unknowable and untouched.
The Nigerians pretend to be Western as Clinton pretends to be African.
The polyrhythmic surge of Clinton's self-righteous heartbeat subsumes
the primal echo of naive drums, his feet tracing spiral glyphs in
the sand, his silver hair shimmering in dazzled black eyes.

The
perverse splendor of the Clinton legacy will be that he understood
at all moments in time when to speak the truth and when to shut
up and dance.

August
28, 2000

Scott
Wilkerson is a graduate student in philosophy.

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