Skip to main content

Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane.

Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane. He's the son of the legendary jazz musician John Coltrane, and was two years old when his father passed away. He's just completed his first album as band leader, "Moving Pictures" (RCA Victor)


Other segments from the episode on May 18, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 18, 1998: Interview with Ravi Coltrane; Interview with Mamphela Ramphele; Review of the album "Kurtis Blow Presents the History of Rap."


Date: MAY 18, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 051801np.217
Head: Moving Pictures
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.

Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane bears one of the most significant names in jazz. His father was John Coltrane. His mother is jazz pianist Alice Coltrane, who named her son after Ravi Shankar.

Now, Ravi Coltrane is coming into his own as a musician. He's played with such artists as Roy Hargrove (ph), Charlie Hayden (ph), Kenny Barron (ph), and Elvin Jones (ph) -- who for many years was a member of the John Coltrane Quartet.

Ravi Coltrane spoke recently with Terry Gross. His new CD, "Moving Pictures," is his first recording as a leader.


TERRY GROSS, HOST: Ravi Coltrane, this is your first album as a leader. Would you share with us some of the thinking behind the CD -- what you wanted to communicate through the choice of compositions, side-men, et cetera -- what -- what you wanted the CD to say about your arrival as a leader?

RAVI COLTRANE, MUSICIAN: Well, I felt this -- with this record, I didn't feel like I was a new artist, really. You know, I felt that I kind of was around enough for maybe some people to kind of get used to the direction I've been going in, and some of the types of associations I've had over the years. And I felt that, with a lot of debut records, there's this -- a tendency to always kind of have everything out there -- your whole -- everything you have to offer.

And sometimes that makes for a nice record, and most of the times I don't always -- you know, I didn't want to make a record like that. You know, where you do a little of this and a little of that and a little of this, and -- to try to give the whole story in the first record. I think that with this one, I wanted it to be kind of understated I guess, and kind of -- not telling the whole story, but maybe just part of the story.

GROSS: You play tenor and soprano, same instruments are your father. Did you intend it that way?

COLTRANE: No -- nothing -- there was no real design at all. There was no pre-plan in how I came about into dealing with jazz music or dealing with the saxophones or dealing with tenor and soprano specifically. It happened in a way that was -- was pretty natural, you know, and...

GROSS: And what was that way?

COLTRANE: Well, I just -- I got really caught up in music, you know. As I got older, I started hearing my father's music in a way that I hadn't really heard as a younger person. And you know, from that it allowed me to listen to other players like Charlie Parker and Sonny Rawlins (ph). I always name those two, because they were real early listening experiences that I had that were really meaningful. I've heard the music all my life, but it really didn't affect me until I got older.

I wasn't thinking about jazz as a young person. You know, I'd spend more time listening to the things that we always listen to, you know -- "Cool and the Gang" and "Earth, Wind, and Fire" and, you know, "The Jackson Five" and James Brown -- you know, I mean, really, you know, you know, my early years of listening to music.

Later on, I started listening to, you know, "The Beatles" and things like that and a lot of classical music and things. And the jazz -- it was fun, but it hadn't made a real impact, you know, beyond just it being a fun music.

GROSS: I know you never really knew your father. I think he died before you were two.

COLTRANE: Yeah, he died in '67. I was born in '65.

GROSS: So, but you knew of him through his music. Did you -- when you were young, did you investigate his life at all? Did you feel this kind of emotional desire to know more about the man who was your father?

COLTRANE: Well, I've always had a sense of who he was a person from, you know, things I've been told, you know, by my family, you know, so that -- that aspect was, you know, I never felt a complete void there. You know, there was always, you know, there was always that that I could -- that I could have and hold onto.

As far as the musical history, it -- that was something that I kind of -- I had to do myself, and it didn't happen until I got older, you know.

GROSS: How old were you when you realized how your father was revered -- and it really went beyond admired into revered? And what impact did it have on you to get a sense of that?

COLTRANE: As I got older, I started to become more aware that he was -- you know, his impact was greater than, you know, the things that I had seen as a younger person, you know, and those things were just within our kind of household, I guess, you know, and I was a real admirer of my ma, you know. She raised me and I, you know, had opportunities to go into the studio with her and travel with her.

So I always knew that there was a kind of thing, you know, for her and my father, obviously, but as, you know, as I got out on my own, I could see how my father's music was, you know, it seemed had been influencing a lot of people -- you know, people that I hadn't, you know, even imagined that it might influence.

GROSS: Ravi Coltrane is my guest and he has his first CD as a leader. It's called Moving Pictures and it features him on tenor and soprano saxophone.

In fact, why don't we pause here to listen to a track that features you on soprano saxophone.


GROSS: Why don't we hear "In Three For Thee." Do you want to say something about this before we hear it?

COLTRANE: Well, just briefly -- it's -- it's an older tune. Most of the compositions on the record, I guess, maybe came about in the last year or so. But this tune, I think, I wrote when I was still in college and it was written for my niece before she was born.


COLTRANE: So, that's the story there.

GROSS: Well, I should also ask you this: how did you start to play soprano?

COLTRANE: The soprano came first, actually. I was, you know, I played the clarinet in junior high and high school, and my mother brought me a -- bought me a soprano when I was 16. And it was her only real kind of overt sort of push into, you know, "why don't you check this out."

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

COLTRANE: You know, most of my life, she never said "you should check this out" or "you should play jazz" or "you should do this or" -- you know, she never pushed any kind of music on us, or anything really. You know, when we had a desire for something, she would support it, you know, so when I played the clarinet, she kind of made sure I had a nice instrument and I got private lessons and things like that.

And -- but the soprano is, I think, her kind of way of saying: "well, you know, maybe it's time to, you know, check this out if you like." And so that was the first instrument, really, that I played of the saxophones.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. OK. Well, let's hear In Three For Thee from Ravi Coltrane's new CD Moving Pictures.


That's Ravi Coltrane on soprano saxophone from his new CD Moving Pictures, and it's his first CD as a leader.

COLTRANE: And maybe the last. No, no, no -- just kidding.

GROSS: You don't mean that.


Now, I know you had an older brother -- John Coltrane, Jr. -- who...


GROSS: ... died in a car accident, I believe, in 1982. How old was he at the time of his death?

COLTRANE: He was 17.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

COLTRANE: He was 17 -- just shy of 18.

GROSS: What happened?

COLTRANE: It was a very unfortunate accident, you know. He had been hanging out with some friends, you know, and -- you know, you're at that age where you're -- you know, it's cool to be hanging out later and later each night and, you know, drinking beer and things like that. It's this new thing.

And he felt that he couldn't drive himself, so he let his friend drive, you know, and his friend was even more, you know, out of it than my brother was at this time. And his friend fell asleep at the wheel and they, you know, they ran into a row of parked cars. And you know, it was a real wakeup call, you know, a real wakeup call for all of us, you know.

GROSS: Did it make you any more careful or careless in your life?

COLTRANE: You know, it made me think a lot more about, you know, what we're supposed to be doing while we're here, I guess. You know -- you know, it was, I think, that the break from childhood, I guess, you know, like, you know, I had -- after he passed, everything kind of stopped for me and, you know, I took about four years where I didn't do anything. I didn't play any instruments or any music or -- you know, and just kind of thought about, you know, trying to find some direction I guess, you know -- trying to find something and...

GROSS: Why did you stop playing? Did that seem like a frivolous direction and one that you should give up in the light of this, you know, tragedy in your family?

COLTRANE: Everything shut down, you know -- everything shut down. You know, there was -- there was no choice or any conscious thought about it. Everything shut down, you know, and you know, actually I took the test to leave school a year early. I just -- you know, it was -- it was -- it was unbelievable, you know. It was just -- it was too hard to function, you know, doing anything at that time.

You know, and it took -- it took me a while. It took me until about 19- -- he passed in the summer of '82, and it took me about 'til 19-, you know, '85-86 to really get it together again. You know, to really -- to try to -- to start up again. I don't just mean music. I mean, you know, just as a person I guess, you know.

GROSS: It's a really treacherous period to be shut down in.

COLTRANE: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: Those are such formative years.

COLTRANE: Most -- yeah, most definitely. You know, I -- a lot of my friends were going off to college and I was still, you know, trying to figure out what I was going to do. And you know, and just kind of floating, I call it. You know, I was, you know, letting time go by.

And you know, this -- it was, you know, at this time I started playing my father's records to kind of get, you know, that history thing with him that I hadn't really had, you know -- didn't really have a solid grasp on that, you know, growing up. I wanted to have like the -- a deeper knowledge of his thing, you know.

And that's -- you know, when the music started speaking to me, you know, I think that -- you know, I never realized it until this year when I started doing interviews and talking about, you know, these things so much, that that's -- it's -- I think that's how it kind of happened for me, you know, that there was a real void in my life and that the music, it had another effect on me at this point, you know. It had, you know, it had a -- there was something in the sound of it, you know, in my father's music. There was like a calling that I hadn't heard before, you know. It was -- it was something that -- I don't know.

GROSS: So, how did you decide to start playing it more seriously yourself?

COLTRANE: It was -- that -- that part was not the planned part, you know. I wanted -- I was getting so involved as a listener and really enjoying the music on, you know, this other level that I wanted to see if it was something that I could do as a player, you know.

And you know, I'd never really had any training in improvising or studied any type of jazz music before. And I just wanted to go to school to see if it was something that I, you know, might have any ability, you know, in or any desire to do, really. You know, I was really enjoying the music as a listener and I wanted to see if, you know, if playing could be, you know, in there.

GROSS: Is this when you started studying with Charlie Hayden at the California Institute of the Arts?

COLTRANE: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

GROSS: That must have been interesting for you because, I mean Charlie Hayden is, you know, one of the, you know, greatest jazz...

COLTRANE: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: ... bass players and surely he knows your father's music.


GROSS: And -- was it intimidating to study with Charlie Hayden, in feeling that, I don't know how old you were then, but...

COLTRANE: I was 21.

GROSS: ... which is considered kind of old, I mean, to start...

COLTRANE: Oh yeah, most...

GROSS: ... studying seriously.

COLTRANE: Most definitely. Most definitely. And I think -- I think, oh wow, I wish that I could have been involved in doing this earlier and earlier, but you know, I -- my life developed the way it did, and I -- you know, I -- fortunately, you know, got involved when I did.

BOGAEV: Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane is Terry's guest. His new CD is Moving Pictures. We'll hear more after their -- after the break -- of their conversation.

This is FRESH AIR.

GROSS: I think a problem for anyone who starts playing seriously, or starts playing at all when they're a little bit older is that your -- your ability to hear goes so far beyond your ability to play, and for some people that's paralyzing. Did you feel at that point when you started seriously playing that you were a much more sophisticated listener than you were a player -- and did that ever, you know, trouble you or cripple you?

COLTRANE: Well, considering that I couldn't play at all when I...


GROSS: Yeah.

COLTRANE: ... started school...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

COLTRANE: ... you know, I -- you know, I was young as a listener, too, really. You know, there were things...

GROSS: Right.

COLTRANE: ... I hadn't -- you know, there was a lot of music that I hadn't heard. There's a lot of music today that I'm still trying to get to. You know, there's so much great music in the world, and you know working with Charlie, you know, it was -- I -- when I started there, like I said, I couldn't play at all, but I -- you know, I -- my mother, you know, has this association with Charlie that goes way back and, you know, I felt comfortable around him in that sense, because I had met him before on several occasions.

But you know, musically I was kind of thrown into situations that I was definitely not ready for, because of who I was, you know, and you know, that made it a little trickier for me.

GROSS: When you started listening more seriously to your father's records, did it help give you clues about him as a person?

COLTRANE: I -- yeah, I feel that as my years have changed and as I've grown as a musician, I've started to, you know, to hear, I guess, more of a depth, I guess, in what was happening musically in the Quartet and in my father's writing and his improvisations, even -- especially in the later periods, you know.

I don't know. I feel there's a thread, really, that runs through all of his work, you know, even up until, you know, '66 and '67, that goes way back to like, you know, him playing with Monk and Miles and even in R&B groups and things with Dizzy, you know.

And it -- you know, that right there shows you the kind of long-range thinking; you know, the kind of focus where you don't always know where you're going, but you know that you are headed in a direction, you know, and you know, you can hear that dedication, you know. It's very, very clear.

GROSS: I'm wondering if there are any people who come to your concerts who are also like great admirers of your father's, and you know, devoted fans of his work, and if they project anything onto you? And if they want to use you to get at his memory in any way? Do you know what I mean? -- of being somebody who other people project things onto?

COLTRANE: Right, right. I think people are, you know -- nostalgia's kind of a -- I don't know how I feel about that, you know, where people say "oh, you're filling his shoes" or "you're carrying his torch" and I don't see it like that. I am -- I'm extremely influenced by him, you know, and this person is not only a -- you know, my father, but somebody I have, you know, this great, great respect for, you know. And I -- I want to, you know, I want to use his influence in a way that's not just about copping his licks, as we say, you know.

You know, there's -- you know, there's other ways to deal with a person's influence and I'm trying to find those ways, you know, not only with John Coltrane's music, but with, you know, with all the music that I like, you know, and, you know, I -- I'm trying to -- to put that across in the things that I do, you know, like with this record and just how I present myself on gigs or as a side man or wherever.

You know, I think -- I'm trying to say that I -- I understand you, you know, and I understand that you might want these things or see these things, and you want me to be these things for you, but I'm trying to do something different. And maybe if you get past that thing, you know, maybe, you know, what I'm doing will be OK for you.

GROSS: Well Ravi Coltrane, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

COLTRANE: Thanks, Terry. Thank you.

BOGAEV: Ravi Coltrane spoke recently with Terry Gross. He performs at New York's Town Hall on June 14. He'll be playing with his mother Alice Coltrane. Ravi Shankar will also perform in the program. The concert is billed: "An Evening of Ravis."

I'm Barbara Bogaev and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia; Barbara Bogaev, Philadelphia
Guest: Ravi Coltrane
High: Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane. He's the son of the legendary jazz musician John Coltrane, and was two years old when his father passed away. He's just completed his first album as band leader, "Moving Pictures."
Spec: Music Industry; Ravi Coltrane
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Moving Pictures
Date: MAY 18, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 051802np.217
Head: Across Boundaries
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:30

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, filling in for Terry Gross.

Mamphela Ramphele is known in her native South Africa as a feminist role model of both the apartheid and post-apartheid eras. She was among the first women to get a medical degree in her country. As an activist against apartheid in the '70s, she was banished to a remote village where she built self-help clinics that still thrive today.

As an academic, she became one of South Africa's foremost anthropologists of rural poverty. In 1996, Mamphela Ramphele was named president of the University of Capetown, making her the first black African woman to head a university in South Africa.

Ramphele is also a single mother of two children, one of whom bears the name of her long-time lover, the political activist Steven Biko. Biko was murdered in detention in 1977 by South African police. He was the founder of the Black Consciousness movement, which was dedicated to ending racial oppression.

In her new memoir, "Across Boundaries," Mamphela Ramphele describes her relationship with Steven Biko and the philosophy of Black Consciousness.

MAMPHELA RAMPHELE, PRESIDENT, UNIVERSITY OF CAPETOWN, AUTHOR, "ACROSS BOUNDARIES": It was really quite an interesting movement the focused on an analysis of how does it happen that the majority in South Africa, which was black, can actually be kept down so effectively and efficiently by a minority.

And it's in understanding that and being influenced by the wave of student protests, which started in France and in this country as well, that we began to raise the question as young people and as young black people, about what would really make a difference.

And there was also the wave of the black power movement in this country, and the Negritude (ph) movement in Africa, particularly in West Africa. And that really opened our minds to understanding that oppression had two elements to it. There was the physical oppression of the big mighty state that keeps you in your place.

But there was also the equally powerful psychological oppression, which really became embedded in one. And if one didn't believe in oneself -- if one believed that, in fact, being treated as an inferior person made you inferior, and if you believed in that inferiority, then there was no chance of actually ever freeing oneself from oppression.

So, the focus of the black consciousness movement was in liberating black people from the psychological oppression of feeling inferior.

BOGAEV: And how did people respond to you? Did they want their consciousnesses raised?


RAMPHELE: Well, in the beginning people were very frightened because you must remember that this was in the late '60s, early '70s, after the massive clampdown by the South African government on the ANC and the PAC. And people were absolutely terrified of being seen to be involved in anything political.

And so, the impact of the Black Consciousness movement was very slow in coming. But when it did -- because it spoke to what people really cared about, which is themselves -- their own self-image -- then you had that surge of energy that was largely in the -- among the youth, but also permeated into the adult world in the form of nongovernmental organizations, church groups. And you had people raising their fists for the first time and saying: "we -- if we unite, we are able -- we will be able to overcome the oppression that keeps us down."

BOGAEV: You worked closely with Steven Biko at this time. He was married to someone else. You had married someone else. And then your marriage had fallen apart -- you were divorced. You became pregnant with Steven Biko's child. Had you planned the pregnancy?

RAMPHELE: Not really, but it's one of those things that happened subconsciously -- that you want it; you don't want it. Because not wanting to be controversial, because it's very complicated to have a married man's child. But being so deeply in love, you do want to share something larger than just the two of you. So yes and no -- it was planned and unplanned.

BOGAEV: The baby died, I think, was she just over two months old?


BOGAEV: What did she die of?

RAMPHELE: Pneumonia, viral pneumonia, which was very sad for me. But, it's one of those things that also reflects the poor health services in the rural areas because the baby was left with my mum, and it was very difficult for my mother to get the child to a hospital. And when they finally got there, there wasn't a pediatrician. There wasn't anybody there but a nurse. And so, there was really no chance for the baby.

BOGAEV: It's so painful to lose a child, especially so young. I'm thinking your relationship was such a -- it was still secret then. Did you have to grieve alone, in secret?

RAMPHELE: It wasn't secret. I mean, the point is that our relationship was a public secret, if you see what I mean. Everybody knew about it, including his partner, or his wife. Because it was something that really was beyond our power to keep under control because I had, by marrying somebody else, actually tried to deny the depth of that relationship. And when it became quite -- in fact, the reason why my marriage broke down is because my husband could never trust that I wasn't in love with this man anymore.

So, it was really a relationship which had a momentum of its own, and I don't think that -- it was unstoppable. I don't think it could have been stopped, in an interesting way.

BOGAEV: After the Soweto riots in 1976, there was a police crackdown on activists. How did you first feel the crackdown?

RAMPHELE: It first occurred around one's friends getting detained, and in fact a very close member of our community was killed in detention -- Mabete Mohabli (ph) -- and I had the unenviable task of attending his post-mortem. It was in fact on the night of our planning to go to his funeral the following day that I became -- I was detained. And so, the whole wave of detention without trial was increased from August 1976 until the end of that year.

But I was fortunate to be detained not for interrogation, but for what they call "preventive detention."

BOGAEV: What does that mean?

RAMPHELE: That meant that you were simply made, as my kids would say, "chill out" in jail. You had no contact with the outside world except the monitored visits. And you sat there until it pleased them to release you.

BOGAEV: I believe your brother, who was only 14, was also arrested at the time. Were they trying to get at you through your brother? Or get at Steven Biko through your family?

RAMPHELE: They were trying to get at Steven Biko because they beat those little boys to smithereens -- to the point where they were so swollen that they couldn't get into their pants. And the whole purpose was to try and find out from them who Steven Biko sees and whether or not he's involved in activities which were proscribed in terms of his banning order.

BOGAEV: My guest is Dr. Mamphela Ramphele. She is the president of the University of Capetown and the first black woman to head a university in South Africa. Mamphela Ramphele is a physician and an anthropologist. She was a long-time healthcare and political activist against apartheid.
We'll talk more after this break.

This is FRESH AIR.

If you're just joining us, my guest is Dr. Mamphela Ramphele. She's the president of the University of Capetown. She worked as an activist with the Black Consciousness movement led by Steven Biko during apartheid.

You were arrested again, shortly after you were detained for a short time. You were banned to the northern Transvaal. Did you know the area of the country where you were going?

RAMPHELE: Not at all. But when I got to this place, I was put up in a hospital because, through some twisted logic, they actually thought that I would accept a job as a medical doctor in this remote village hospital. And fortunately, the person who received me at the hospital was a schoolmate of mine. And so, she helped me to contact the Catholic Church the following day and got the Catholic priest to put me in contact with Steve.

And so, when I finally got through to him, I just cried. I was just so frustrated and angry, but that's the old South Africa.

BOGAEV: Now, in the rush to banish you, the police and the authorities apparently didn't dot all their "I's" and a lawyer got you back home on a technicality, only to have you banished back to the Transvaal shortly thereafter. Did you know by the time you got back to your banishment that you were pregnant again with Steven Biko's child?

RAMPHELE: No, I didn't know until I -- I think that was in April, and I only got to know that I was pregnant late in May, early June. Because in the manner in which I left King Williamstown (ph), there was no time for me to take my pills, which I was using at that time because we had planned not to have another child until he had sorted out his marriage.

And so, we didn't want to raise any further eyebrows by having another child. But because I'd left in a rush, going back to King Williamstown 10 days later, it was inevitable that with the passion, there would be a product. And thank God that there was.

BOGAEV: You were in the hospital with problems with the pregnancy when Steven Biko was arrested again and underwent the interrogation which ended his life in 1977. Did you know how he died?

RAMPHELE: I knew exactly. I mean, after I calmed down and heard that he had died in detention, I knew that they would have tried to humiliate him and he wouldn't let them, and that they would all try to pin him down, and in the process they would hurt him. I knew. So, I don't have to go through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to know how he died. I knew exactly how he died.

BOGAEV: What did you tell your son early on?

RAMPHELE: Well, it took me four years to tell him that actually his father is dead. And it's funny with children, because I'm sure he knew that something was wrong. So the minute I told him, he said: "ah, sure, Mum" and gave me a big hug and ran off to go and play. It was -- it must have been a moment of relief for him. And we are very close and he has gone through life obviously very deprived, not having a father, but we have an open relationship that we talk through these issues.

BOGAEV: My guest is Dr. Mamphela Ramphele. She's the president of the University of Capetown and the first black woman to head a university in South Africa. She was a long-time health care and political activist against apartheid and in the post-apartheid period.

When your banishment was lifted in 1983, you went back to the cape and you lived in Capetown during really, to put it mildly, chaotic times. How did the high crime rate, the chaos, and the political unrest intrude on your family? What was life like in the '80s there?

RAMPHELE: It was truly one of the darkest hours of South Africa, because not only was one contending with the harassment by police and the brutality of their methods, and the fact that they -- they had their armored cars parked outside of the house which we were renting.

And anytime, you could have a burst of fire going -- either directed at fleeing youths, or in one instance, they actually blew a huge hole through the roof and only noticed it when it rained and water just started pouring down.

But also, one had to contend with youth that were intimidating people, and that behaved -- youth who behaved in the most dreadful way. And so, one was caught between brutal police and the equally ill-disciplined youth. It was a terrible time, because what worried me most was how, out of that chaos, we were going to be able to build a society that would have any measure of discipline; any measure of a sense of respect for itself and for other people.

BOGAEV: You wrote a book at the time for UNICEF called "Children on the Frontline" about how South African children are affected by the violence on both sides of the apartheid line. And you were criticized for your -- your analysis of black South Africans' violence and how it's shaping these children's lives. What did the black activist community object to in your analysis of children and violence?

RAMPHELE: Well, they objected to the fact that our saying even though the system is brutal, even though the police are brutal, there is no excuse for us as black people turning the anger against the self, and letting young people be the executioners, and having young people actually humiliate their parents and adults. Because my concern, as I said to them, was that in the end, we are going to have to live with these young people -- in the post-apartheid South Africa. And they are not going to be able to know what is right and what is wrong.

And so, the criticism was that I was blaming the victim. And I said: if we treat ourselves as victims, we will be victims. We've got to go beyond just simply being survivors of that system, but also historical agents so that our liberation process must also have within it the seeds of the new South Africa.

BOGAEV: You describe a great irony about your life at that time, which is that in all this chaos, when you'd go to work, your life was very calm and peaceful and normal. Is that how you explain to yourself how many South Africans and white South Africans came to believe that there wasn't so much wrong with society under apartheid? If you never see the black townships, then how do you know?

RAMPHELE: Absolutely. And sadly, that not wanting to know continues today, because white South Africa and increasingly the upper and middle class black people, who have moved into the suburbs, you can literally live in Capetown in Cansby (ph) and see nothing but the beauty of the sunsets and the sunrises, and the beauty of the forest, the mountain -- and not have to deal with the fact that the school system in Gugulati (ph) and Yunger (ph) and all the black townships -- is in a state of chaos. You don't have to deal with that.

And this is the real success of apartheid. It has successfully created a division or divisions that insulate those who have from the have-nots. And so, if we are not very careful in South Africa, we will have class replacing race as a definer of opportunities.

But even having said that, the majority of poor people will be black people. And so we really do need to constantly remind ourselves that the leafy suburbs of Capetown just 10 kilometers away from the dust and the chaos and the crime-ridden Gugulatis of this day.

BOGAEV: Dr. Ramphele, do you still see in your work with young people as president of the University of Capetown a Black Consciousness problem in South Africa? That that's the legacy of apartheid -- that blacks and young blacks still believe that they are truly inferior? Still believe the line they were fed?

RAMPHELE: Indeed. And that's part of the criticism that I get from a lot of white people, is because there is underlying that criticism a belief that if something is not white and male, it must be substandard. And so, I have to be very clear that our vision as a university to be a world class African university, is a conscious decision which is not a kind of media hype. But that we know that there are elements within the university which are world class, but there are others that are not up to scratch. And we're going to attend to that.

And so, I turn 'round to the black students and say to them: for as long as they believe they're inferior, they're not going to take ownership of a university like Capetown. They're going to constantly react negatively for their own benefit to this underlying white racism, which still exists in South Africa.

So I have to work very closely with young black students, particularly the student leadership, to ask them and to encourage them to really examine their own consciences, because if they liberate themselves from that inferiority complex inside, then it becomes less easy for the bigotry -- whether it be racism or sexism -- to get at them.

And I believe that in the country as a whole, there is still a big job to be done, because how do you explain to the young black people why the poorest people, the less educated, the least educated people, the people who are entangled in the most violence and the most crime are black people? Unless, you know, there is an explanation to them that places that whole analysis in context, they're going to run the risk of believing that there's something wrong with black people.

BOGAEV: Mamphela Ramphele is the president of the University of Capetown. Her memoir is Across Boundaries.

Coming up, the roots of rap.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Philadelphia
Guest: Mamphela Ramphele
High: President of the University of Capetown Mamphela Ramphele. During the 1970s she was a leader in the struggle against apartheid, and was a colleague of Steven Biko. Later she became his lover. Biko was murdered while in detention and Ramphele was pregnant with his child. Ramphele is also a medical doctor and anthropologist. Her new memoir is "Across Boundaries: The Journey of a South African Woman Leader."
Spec: Africa; Apartheid; Steve Biko; Across Boundaries
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Across Boundaries
Date: MAY 18, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 051803np.217
Head: History of Rap
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:55

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: What we know today as "rap" had its roots in the south Bronx of the 1970s. Back then, rap was known as "hip-hop" and rappers were called "mc's."

Kurtis Blow, who's been a DJ and a rapper and scored a rap hit in 1980 with "The Breaks" (ph), has compiled a series of three CDs on the history of rap. Music critic Milo Miles reviews volume one.



Baby, keep it up
Turn it loose
Like a sex machine
Hit me...

MILO MILES, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: Despite the title, Kurtis Blow Presents the History of Rap, Volume One. This album has only one rap on it, and that rap, Fat Back's (ph) "King Tim the Third, Personality Jock" is simply a fast-talking spiel over a rhythm, in the classic manner of dance DJs since the '50s.

The lead-off cut is the James Brown we heard a moment ago, and that's no surprise. Some other tracks are fairly well known, but not in this context. This next number was not a hit for the Isley (ph) Brothers, though it came out in 1970 when they were on a roll.


If you want to get into something
You picked the right time
Come on and follow me
Yeah, yeah

If you want to get into something
You chose the right time
Come on and follow me
Yeah, yeah

If you're disappointed
With the way things are
If your reach is too short
And you go too far now
Then follow me
Let me protect you

Follow me
I'll direct ya
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Oh, follow me

MILES: But the DJs and rappers liked, though, was this part of the song.


Gonna get in something y'all
Gonna get in something y'all now
Come on now

MILES: This spare, but very tough and extended break, was perfect to rap over. And every track here has some knockout spot for bare beats. Some tracks are one-hit wonders, like "Scorpio" by Dennis Coffey (ph). Others are lesser-known tunes by unlikely stars such as "Hum Along and Dance" by the Jackson Five. Others are straight rap cult items, like "Apache" by Michael Vymer's (ph) incredible bongo band.

Oddly enough, this is a profoundly ear-opening set of songs, completely aside from the rap breaks.


SINGERS: Love the life you live

MILES: What brings all these items together are singularly rugged grooves and compact punchy sound. As Blow says in his lively detailed liner notes, this music was the soundtrack for the defiant kids who wanted to dance, but didn't want to do disco. This is the original punk funk, and this collection lets you hear how the sharp ears of the DJs scoured for beats and breaks that fit together like steel plates.

Kurtis Blow Presents the History of Rap, Volume One is the fresh collection your retro dance party needs. It's a complete alternate view of dancing in the '70s.

BOGAEV: Milo Miles is music features editor of He reviewed Kurtis Blow Presents the History of Rap, Volume One on Rhino Records.

For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Milo Miles; Barbara Bogaev, Philadelphia
High: Critic Milo Miles reviews Volume One of "Kurtis Blow Presents the History of Rap."
Spec: Music Industry; History of Rap
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: History of Rap
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Daughter of Warhol star looks back on a bohemian childhood in the Chelsea Hotel

Alexandra Auder's mother, Viva, was one of Andy Warhol's muses. Growing up in Warhol's orbit meant Auder's childhood was an unusual one. For several years, Viva, Auder and Auder's younger half-sister, Gaby Hoffmann, lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. It was was famous for having been home to Leonard Cohen, Dylan Thomas, Virgil Thomson, and Bob Dylan, among others.


This fake 'Jury Duty' really put James Marsden's improv chops on trial

In the series Jury Duty, a solar contractor named Ronald Gladden has agreed to participate in what he believes is a documentary about the experience of being a juror--but what Ronald doesn't know is that the whole thing is fake.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue