Consider "The Source"
By Craig Brandhorst, CRAIGB1@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-3681
It’s a rainy Tuesday afternoon and English professor Robert Brinkmeyer isn’t in his Gambrell Hall office. He isn’t behind the lectern in the classroom, either, or in the stacks at Thomas Cooper Library, or anywhere else you might expect. Rather, the man who earlier this year replaced celebrated South Carolina historian Walter Edgar as director of the Institute for Southern Studies following Edgar’s retirement is in the DJ booth at WUSC, kicking out the jams.
As the host of "The Source," South Carolina’s only locally produced radio show devoted exclusively to African music, Brinkmeyer spends two hours a week turning Midlands listeners on to Congolese soukous, Nigerian jùjú and any other style of African music he feels like playing that day.
“I don’t really plan my shows,” says Brinkmeyer, now in his fourth year with the student-run college radio station. “I might decide, ‘OK, I’m going to play a lot of Congolese music today’ and grab a bunch of Congolese CDs, but I don’t figure out which tracks I’m going play until I get here.”
Not that Brinkmeyer has any trouble filling out a playlist. Prior to stepping behind the mic at WUSC, the station’s only full-time professor hosted similar radio shows at the University of Mississippi and the University of Arkansas. Over that stretch, he has amassed an extensive personal collection of music from across the African continent.
Brinkmeyer’s most recent playlist featured not only rhumba-infused Congolese beats but music from Ethiopia, Senegal, Mali, Cameroon — even a cover of the Clash’s 1982 hit “Rock the Casbah” performed by the Algerian artist Rachid Taha, which represented a slight departure from what he normally selects.
“I mostly play sub-Saharan stuff, because I play my own music and that’s what I have the most of,” says Brinkmeyer. “But I’m committed to playing all kinds of African music.”
Indeed, what began as a casual hobby almost 30 years ago, when a friend in the Peace Corps gave Brinkmeyer a stash of homemade mix tapes of African music, has gradually grown into something deeper.
“To understand African music is to understand the blues, is to understand jazz, is to understand rock 'n' roll,” Brinkmeyer explains. “It plays into an understanding of the global world.”
And while the professor of Southern literature sees his role as an African music DJ as something separate from his scholarly role, the vocation and the avocation both spring from the same place.
“As I’ve gotten older, I feel I’ve become much more of a public scholar, and this is part of that, of wanting to give back to or share with the community,” says Brinkmeyer as he gets ready to kick of another block of music. “I like to think I’m bringing something to Columbia. It's just this marvelous music you won’t hear on another station.”
"The Source: The Best in African Music" airs on WUSC each Tuesday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
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