“The psychology of Ghanians, when it comes to governance or politics generally, has been influenced by our history,” notes Baffour Agyeman-Duah, an expert on governance.” While the aim is to construct “a stable democratic government, guided by the principles of good governance,” the route has been uneven. As he finishes speaking, scene cuts from his face to a close-up of a butcher at work: whomp goes his cleaver, splitting red meat. It’s a striking early image in Jarreth and Kenneth Merz’s An African Election, suggesting the high stakes during Ghana’s 2008 presidential elections. Currently at the Quad Cinema, the documentary considers that election (when Nana Akufo-Addo of the ruling New Patriotic Party ran against John Atta Mills of the National Democratic Congress), history (the legacy of colonial rule, the decades of increasing corruption), and also points toward a kind of future, that is, the ways that elections have become—more and more, there and elsewhere (say, the US), contests over who can be loudest or least honest while appealing to broad bases. A smart, lively film—beautifully enhanced by a terrific percussive soundtrack—An African Election reveals how entrenched layers of trouble remain, despite and because of the cheering throngs, the advances in media technologies, the hopes for change. As journalist Kwesi Pratt puts it, “None of the parties is offering a paradigm shift. All of the parties will be doing the same thing, but some promise to do it better than the others.” How familiar does that sound?
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78. The Belle Brigade
The lead single from the Belle Brigade’s thoroughly engaging eponymous debut begins with a mellow acoustic guitar cuff but builds into a slamming tension-and-release anthem that serves as a refreshing denunciation of conformity and competition, threaded to this bro-sis duo’s tribute to ‘70 California pop. With their Everlys-meet-the-the-Chipmunks family harmonies, the Brigade updates There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, but instead of rejecting all the crap they learned in high school, Barbara and Ethan Gruska catalogue all the shit they don’t care about anymore, like being smooth with women, going out on Fridays, being the life of parties, being harder, being daddy’s favorite, etc. What the Belle Brigade achieve most, though, is a sort of irony. In disregarding winning, they’ve made a single that crushed the competition.
79. David Guetta (feat. Taio Cruz and Ludacris)
“Little Bad Girl”
Though 2011 was a time of strife and division, we’ve got no plans to abandon the communal perversity of the brittle club banger. Guetta, 44, is something of an elder by his culture’s standards—hence, he’s witnessed many progressions (stagnations) in electro-dance music, though “Little Bad Girl” is founded on a Ke$ha-level riff. But the catch is Ludacris, whose entire verse—the best thing he’s done in years—is some kind of ridiculous genius. (His “dollars” line is followed by “ching-ching-ching-ching-ching-ching”... oh right, dollars!) We aren’t getting rid of dumb craziness anytime soon. Why not enjoy the dumbest and craziest?
“For most children,” begins Strangers No More, “going to school is as simple as going around the block.” But for the students in the Bialik-Rogozin School in Tel Aviv, the journey has been long and continues to be difficult. Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon’s documentary, winner of last year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary Short, premieres 5 December on HBO, tracks the experiences of several students, as examples of the many (from 48 countries) who have survived loss and trauma. Many are orphans, others have parents who are refugees, all are doing their best to remember their pasts and also to move on. According to principal Karen Tal, means to “open our arms to every student. Almost every student is running away from something.” Their relatives have been running too: Johannes’ father, from Sudan, confesses that his son was never able to go to school before; the boy’s new teacher observes, “You see the eyes of the father, you see that he is really tired from running from one place to another.”
80. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit
Jason Isbell’s career since leaving the Drive-By Truckers has sometimes seemed like the work of a man who hasn’t quite reached his full potential. But this simple country song highlights his best qualities as a songwriter. Essentially it’s a love letter to Alabama, namechecking many of the state’s small towns. But Isbell adds depth to his narrator, sketching out his background as a brokenhearted man in just a handful of lines scattered among the Alabama references. The song’s melody emphasizes Isbell’s rich voice, particularly in the soulful, conversational verses. Meanwhile, small musical touches like the catchy, easygoing lead guitar riff and Amanda Pearl Shires subtle fiddle work give the song the extra character that helps elevate it to one of the year’s best.