Interview with Pan Africana frontman “Rankin’ Kim” Douglas.
By Trista di Genova
The Wild East
His voice is smooth as rum; his smile infectious and his manner at once mellow, engaging and humorous.
There’s something inspirational, soothing about Kim Douglas’ very presence; in fact, it comes as no surprise to learn that his father was once prime minister of his island nation of Dominica.
Kim Douglas (金旺) is frontman for the Afro-beat music group, Pan Africana, formed five years ago by Ghanians here aiming to sow the seeds of African Culture in Taiwan.
“I was very interested in the Afro-Caribbean connection,” he said in a recent interview with The Wild East. Besides lead singer, his other role is to promote the band’s music through a variety of channels, around the island.
There are several notable successes. Pan Africana’s played at universities islandwide, at many music festivals, and after “communicating with government agencies” they were once invited to play for then-President Chen Shui-bian.
We asked, Have they been invited to play for the current Ma administration? No, “but traditional culture was very important to Chen’s administration,” he explained.
“There’s a lot of events taking place, though many are not always on the radar,” although “Taiwan has a lot of work to do in that sector,” he added, “combining Culture and Tradition with technology to bring more prosperity to the ‘left out’ aboriginal peoples.”
As for differences between the reception by Taiwanese and Aboriginal audiences, “Of course from our traditional standpoint the cultural performance is closer to the Aboriginal lifestyle,” he said. “So there is more in common. There is also more closeness between the people, a deeper interaction so to speak, since they are more able and willing to break the “color barrier”.
What are your seeds of African culture? WE asked. “At the beginning [Pan Africana’s music] was mainly traditional. In Ghana and all over Africa there are culture organizations where you take courses before you can become certified.” This is where they got their drums, for example.
“Some of the founders went through the program and later shipped some instruments and costumes to Taiwan. That was step one. Then comes the job of communicating or attempting to communicate with the local population. That was my responsibility… Interesting and rewarding but very difficult and consuming,” he observed.
Presumably, Pan Africana’s biggest obstacle would be to get Asian audiences — who don’t seem to let loose easily — to go with the proverbial flow, to get off their collective asses and get down to the group’s invigorating Afro-beat. But Pan Africana’s biggest hurdle is more macrosocial in nature.
“We’re living in the age of Mass Media and Africa has been the forgotten continent,” Kim said. “Even people from Africa themselves get consumed in the waves of popular culture. So you can imagine the task of trying to gain recognition and acceptance in Taiwan. It’s a task,” he smiled, disarmingly. “But we continue to do our best whenever and wherever we can.” The main difficulty is in promoting “something which is not in step with the trends as depicted in the media. It’s like swimming against a tide…”
There’s room for growth overseas, Kim points out. Besides being offered seasonal contracts in China and Macau, he says he’s looking forward to going on tour with the band in the near future.
“I’m hungry myself, hungry and ready to embark on an extended journey around the African Continent. Like I said before, there has been a lot of interest overseas, we need to grow. In Taiwan, our new manager is Shybo, from Ghana. He is married to a Taiwanese, so he will be in Taiwan long term. The seeds have been sown.”
Justin Lewis: Bass
Mark Miller: guitar
Peter: drummer percussionist
PAN AFRICANA ONLINE:
Kim’s favorite gig in Taiwan, at Tainan National University of Arts: Pan Africana Culture in Motion
Another of his favorite great gigs in Taiwan, “Carnival” video
Peacefest Music Festival, 2007