“The pride of Africa™”

It’s a sad fact of life in the arts and showbiz world that it’s the products with the biggest marketing budgets that tend to get the most (usually undeserved, if we’re judging on merit) media attention. Having been in music journalism for so many years, this really shouldn’t surprise me – but one tends to forget these basic facts until one gets an occasional rude reminder.

I had one such reminder yesterday, whilst flying from Nairobi to Amsterdam with Kenya Airways (“The pride of Africa™”). As do most other airlines, Kenya Airways publishes a guide in which it lists all the films, music, television and radio shows available on its in-flight entertainment system. And also as with other airlines, a couple of films are selected as the top pick for the month, and given a full write-up in the guide. A couple lower down on the food chain might get a paragraph or two; the rest get nothing.

Throughout this month, passengers on Kenya Airways (“The pride of Africa™”) have two African films to keep them entertained: Africa United and Benda Bilili! And which of these two great African films has “The pride of Africa™” chosen as its pick of the month to big up to its passengers – the uplifting family film about a group of Rwandan kids who hitch-hike to South Africa to see the World Cup, or the award-winning documentary about the hottest band to come out of Africa in recent years? The answer is neither. That honour goes to… [Drum roll, fanfare, hip-hop turntablist scratch solo] Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son. I know; there’s no way the indies responsible for either of the other two films could compete with 20th Century Fox’s spending power. But something about this seems just plain wrong to me.

So here’s a travel tip from me. If you happen to be flying on one of Kenya Airways’ Boeing 777s this month, ignore what it says in the entertainment guide and watch one (or both) of these two gems instead of Martin Lawrence’s latest fatsuit ‘n’ drag outing… [Trying extremely hard not to swear here]

(That is, if the in-flight entertainment system on your flight is working in the first place. It wasn’t on mine, so we were shown some Jennifer Anniston flick on the overhead screens instead. Thank the Lord for iPods and sleep.)

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In Conversation: Watcha Clan

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of hanging out with Sista K, Supreme Clem and Nassim – three members of the Marseille based ‘global fusion’ band Watcha Clan. Their fifth album, Radio Babel, comes out in April and it’s simply the most awesome take-everything-you-can-get-hold-of-and-shake-it-all-about concoction I’ve ever heard; a mix that includes dubstep, drum & bass, rai, and folk music from Europe and the Middle East, underpinned by a strong sense of social justice. The band were as much fun to talk to as their album was to listen to. But don’t just take my word for it; have a listen for yourself…

 

Famous Sierra Leoneans, #1: Idris Elba

Known to millions of telly viewers as Stringer Bell in the crime series The Wire, London boy Idris is one of the finest British actors in recent years to find success stateside.

Idrissa Akuna Elba was born in 1972 to a Ghanaian mother and a Sierra Leonean father. His journey from Hackney to Hollywood has seen him appear in Absolutely Fabulous, Family Affairs, Luther, The Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and the US version of The Office on telly, and a long string of films that includes 28 Weeks Later, American Gangster and Guy Ritchie’s Rocknrolla. Off screen, he’s also a pretty nifty DJ. spinning tunes under the nom de turntable DJ Big Driis.

Look out for Idris this summer, playing the role of Heimdal in the film version of Marvel Comics’ Thor.

Greenbelt 2010: Why I’m Excited…

And we’re off…

The 09:48 1st Great Western to Cheltenham Spa has just pulled out of Paddington. In about two and a half hours’ time, I should be searching for a nice accessible spot on Cheltenham Racecourse on which to pitch a tent. I’m still pondering whether to go and socialise or just lie in it and sleep once it’s up.

The tent will be home for the next few days while I’m at the Greenbelt festival. I hadn’t realised it before, but this is actually my 20th Greenbelt! All of a sudden, my DJ set tomorrow evening has a whole new meaning.

It’s been an interesting 20 years – in which I’ve gone from being the unsure rookie punter whose borrowed tent fell in on him on his first night in it, to a virtual resident of the press room. These days, I even get to inflict my choice of music on the other punters! Nice…

There’s a lot I love about Greenbelt. Back at the start of the 90s (and the start of me dabbling in this writing thingy), the writing workshops held at Greenbelt’s London HQ were key to my early development as a writer (thanks a lot to guys like Dave Roberts and Martin Wroe, who used to share their insights and expertise with us). The more I went, the more I realised there was more to Greenbelt than music. I’ve discovered an array of writers and thinkers (Caesar Molebatsi, Robert Beckford, Jim Wallis, Phillip Yancey and the late Mike Yaconelli, to name a few), and made lots of friends through my annual pilgrimage to Cheltenham (and to Castle Ashby and Deene Park before that). And of course, I’ve heard more great bands and singers than I care to remember.

On the Greenbelt blog (see my blogroll), there’s a series of “Why I’m Excited” posts, in which people associated with the festival have been talking about what (or who) they’re looking forward to the most. Here’s my “Why I’m Excited” list:

Jars of Clay are playing! So too are Brownmusic, Gil Scott-Heron, Ty, Beverley Knight, Foy Vance, Courtney Pine and Greenjade. Just a few of the acts I don’t want to miss.

They’re screening Africa United on Sunday afternoon (check back here for a review soon after).

A couple of ‘must go’ workshops and panel discussions – including one on storytelling and one on the relationship between music and activism.

The comedy line-up’s brilliant: I have to see Jude Simpson, Milton Jones and Andy Kind (he’s recently been featured on Channel 4’s 4thought.tv – top bloke).

And did I mention that I was Djing? 7Pm on Saturday in the Blue Nun wine bar. Drop by just before Shed Seven on Mainstage…

10 things I’d have liked to see Hitler’s reaction to

It’s been nearly four months since Constantin Films (the company behind Downfall, the Oscar nominated film about Hitler’s last days) got Youtube to take down a rash of “Hitler reacts to…” videos, made using key scenes from the film.

The first one I saw was the Fuhrer’s foul-mouthed reaction to the news of Michael Jackson’s death, barely days after watching his memorial concert. Others followed: Usain Bolt’s 100m win; Kanye West upsetting Taylor Swift; Oasis splitting up… all of varying degrees of hilarity (and tastelessness).

While I can understand why the filmmakers had the videos pulled (they did kind of trivialise what was a really deep, serious film), part of me wishes they were still around, and new ones were being made. I’d have loved to see what Hitler would have made of these news stories:

  • Rage Against the Machine getting the Christmas number 1
  • Heroes being axed
  • Britain’s hung parliament
  • Reception problems with his new iPhone 4
  • The vuvuzela
  • Delirious?’s ‘History Maker’ only getting to number 6 in the charts
  • Robbie Williams rejoining Take That
  • Google Wave not really catching on
  • Naomi Campbell giving evidence at the Charles Taylor trial
  • Usain Bolt losing to Tyson Gay

… And if possible, I’d like those videos to be in 3D.

“India on my mind…”

I’ve been thinking about India a lot lately.

It started with an invite to the premiere of the new documentary India’s Forgotten Women, just a day before hopping on a plane to Singapore for a week. Then last Friday, I spent much of the evening in Secondo (a trendy bar/clothes shop situated under a railway arch in Clapham), at a fund raising event called Tamasha, organised by a couple of young women I go to church with.

Last year, ten of us spent two weeks in Delhi, with a project we support out there called Asha (the Hindi word for “hope”). Asha operates in 35 slum areas in Delhi, providing healthcare, educating children, helping people set up businesses, and a lot of work empowering women in various aspects of life – to the point that whereas in the old days, slum dwellers were completely at the mercy of slumlords, these days it’s the women who ‘run tings’ in the slums where Asha operates. Anj (one of the two ladies who organised the event) works in London as a teacher. She’s about to head off to India to work with the Asha project again – for a year this time.

The event itself was a lot of fun. I ate some extremely sticky Indian confectionery and saw a couple of very promising new singers perform live (with real bands; none of that karaoke business). I even bought a Levi’s denim jacket really cheap! All in all, a good night – and it started me thinking about a few things.

One of the reasons I started a blog was that I was getting fed up of having stories which I felt ought to be heard, but not being able to share them because they weren’t “what editors are looking for right now.” If your work involves dealing with a gatekeeper of some sort – an editor, an interview board, Simon Cowell – you can probably relate to that feeling of your destiny being in someone else’s hands. Not nice. Well, this blog was meant to be the place where those stories found an outlet, so it’s about time I used it for that a bit more.

As I’ve already mentioned, I went to India last year and spent some time with the Asha project. I’ve got an in-depth interview with the leader of the project, which I’ve hawked around various newspapers to no avail. The commissioning editor of one very big magazine was interested in the story; we swapped emails back and forth discussing the possibility of them running it… and then the emails stopped (I discovered a while later that the mag had gone bust).

Anyway, the point of all this is to announce a mini “India Season” of blog posts. I’ll be putting up part of that interview with Dr. Kiran Martin (founder of the Asha project) soon, followed by an interview with Michael Lawson, the director of India’s Forgotten Women. In the meantime, why not recap by having a look at my blog posts from last year’s India trip?

In Conversation: To’Mezclao

DJ Lyng Chang on the "unos y doses" with To'Mezclao at Africa Oye

I’ve already talked about my time at this year’s Africa Oye festival in my last blog post. I’ve been beavering away with the audio I recorded there… and now, for your listening pleasure, here’s the interview I did with Lyng Chang, DJ with the Cuban band To’Mezclao.