Thursday, May 29, 2008

The show must go on... and the understudy must go on too.

Caution: ranty post.

Having failed to catch the last wave of tiredness into the shore of sleep, I now find myself caught in the rip of insomnia... leg roped to some truly terrible metaphors. (I've been reading Tom Wonton's newie -- I rather like that typo, might leave it in -- can you tell?) So you, dear reader, will reap the -- er -- 'rewards'.

The call came at 1:40 this morning: "I had to leave at interval, you'll have to write the review." Which is why I missed the last wave. I had to review INUK 2 for the Herald Sun. It's not the first time something like this has happened. It's one of the perks of divvying up reviewing responsibilities with a couple of others. Once 'K8' had a migraine (La nausée, if you ask me!) part way through an MTC show at the Playhouse. I was enlisted to write what Julia Blake would call "The Notice [Brackets, Bastard]."


Inuk, incidentally, is the singular of Inuit

It's quite a challenge, actually, this night watchman thing. When I'm off-duty, I apprehend theatre like tele.

This time, though, I was geared-up. Sort of. My dance reviewer colleague had a baby on Saturday, but Wonder Woman fronted up to review INUK 2, a new piece by Meryl Tankard for Sydney Dance. When I ran into her on the Arts Centre forecourt before the show, I broke into a few bars of Madonna. I sang: "Ex-press yourself!"

So... Steph got the great seat in the stalls while her 'husbang' was home holding the four day old baby, and I was relegated to the nosebleeds seats. Steep? Hell! They're okay for ballet, when you're watching line and length, but for Meryl, not so good. Not intimate enough.



My first (unreliable) memories of Meryl Tankard are of an ABC TV arty variety show called Pack of Women, with the yodeller herself, Robyn Archer. The first time I saw Meryl perform live -- certainly one of the first times -- was in a lightweight show called Travelling Light at the Studio, as it was called way back when.

It had 'audience participation'. (Grrr, grrr! My attitude is -- or was -- I've paid my money, YOU can do all the frickin work!!) And I was seated on an aisle. When approached by the smarmily smiling Meryl, microphone in hand, I responded to her question (mic. now firmly planted in my gob) that I didn't speak English. I said it in fairly convincing Italian. Guess wot? The next question... was in Italian. Perhaps Spanish. I dunno. I just slumped. (Yes, Meryl, it was meeeee!) But before this becomes a rant about audience participation (another time, another time... I'll tell you about being tea-bagged by a man in a kilt -- with the most evil smelling, sweaty balls -- during a comedy fist-evil... or that other time when...)

Meryl, bless, was back from her stint with Chaka Khan's company in Wuppertal. (Pina Bausch for those who don't appreciate my lousy attempt at humour [sic].) But her star was about to slingshot into the heavens when she went to Canberra and formed a small ensemble around her. And started to choreograph (in the BIG sense of that word) the most remarkable and beautiful pieces of dance theatre.

Like Twyla Tharp in her early days, Meryl's were all-women outfits. Long hair was pretty much essential. (I'm not kidding, a buzz-cut could cost you a contract!) She loved girly banshees.

And she made a string of pearlers. Nuti, Kikimora, Songs with Mara, Furioso, and some brilliant solo works. VX, Two Feet, you name it. Her works crossed art forms. Fused them. They were installations, theatre, pure dance, musical, true 'opuses'. (I know, I know, it's 'opera' but stick with me.) Her audiences -- loyal in the cities her company toured to -- were solid; hungry for this stuff that got contemporary dance out of the ghettoes... without compromise or pandering to schlock tastes. I remember how shocking it was when Meryl finally cast a man in one of her works! (A tall, striking actor with a Roman look about him.)

I was reminded of all this last night because Meryl's chorey looked all wrong on most of the men of Sydney Dance. Even the great Bradley Chatfield -- who is among the very best dancers this country has produced in the last decade or two -- had his wings clipped. Connor Dowling too.

If you've seen the promo image for this show -- compact girl dancer (Emee Dillon) holding barebacked boy (Reed Luplau) in front of her, parallel to the ground, as if he's weightless -- you'll have guessed that this is a show about (at the very least) female strength and gender equality. Male submission too, perhaps.


Production photograph of INUK2 by Regis Lansac

Of course, when it came to the crunch, the first woman to do the heavy lifting was guest dancer Sarah-Jayne Howard, pictured on the right, who could bench press me one-handed. And, yes, while there was some nice boisterous stuff in the first Act, like a good-natured tag team bout in which the girls got to beat up on the boys, the best choreography was undeniably feminine.

And, finally, only two of the dancers did it absolute justice. Only two would make it, I dare say, into a new Meryl Tankard company. Correction. Two would be drop-dead certainties. A handful of others would (at the very least) get call backs. (You know who you are!)

One of them was the divine Reed Luplau. The other was Annabel Knight who kicked off the show on her tippy toes, like a 21st century Faun. Both manage to dance like mercury, like newly-anointed angels trying out their limbs and wings, without cockiness or apparent self-consciousness.

Five minutes into this work, even from the nosebleeds, I was thinking: better than sex!

But that proved to be one more of those nasty premature evaluations.

More soon.

Q. Will the early squelching around turn into a Long Slow Grind?

Spoiler alert!!

A. Yes.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Parallax error: Bill Henson (2)

There are a couple of informative and cool-headed articles about Bill Henson in Sunday's Age, both now available on-line.

The first details the intricacies and technicalities of the application of child porn laws between the states. Weirdly, if Henson is charged over [the display of, presumably] specific images in New South Wales, he can't be charged over the same images in his home state of Victoria.

That said, if the offence is in the taking of the photograph(s), then [again, presumably] he would need to be charged in the state where that offence is alleged to have taken place. Victoria Police are showing no sign of the zealotry evident north of the border


The second article, is a brief account (by John Elder) of the reception of Henson's work in the art world over the last several years.

One assumes the Age lawyers thought long and hard (in the current climate of hysteria) before publishing this on-line... (Then again, maybe their server is overseas!) (And, hey, I'm only linking orright?)


One of the offending series...


And our man in New York, George Hunka, proves that rule about parallax: the greater the distance, the lesser the error. Cop this for perspective:
The 13-year-old subjects of Henson's photographs do not appear to be enrapt in states of sexual excitement or posed in positions that explicitly depict intercourse (though they may not be particularly chaste either); instead, it's the very display of these fragile bodies, uniquely young and therefore innocently vulnerable (though "innocence" itself is a condition that Henson may be exploring), that offends. That adolescent sexuality is all-pervasive in this commercial culture as a means to sell products -- whether they're promoted through commercials during Gossip Girl or offered as iPod downloads after a performance by one of any number of scantily-clad adolescent pop-stars -- is apparently not at issue. Henson's photographs, instead, bring this vulnerability to light, as images and vulnerability that sell nothing. Responding to concerns that his work might provoke disturbing feelings (feelings that can't be catharted through the purchase of a product, anyway), Henson says, "You can't control the way in which individuals respond to the work," adding that his intention is to explore notions of intimacy: "Something which is absolutely inviolate and unknowable." Far from violating his subjects, Henson seeks to express their ambiguous inviolability, without attempting moral judgment or conclusion -- which is not the same thing as violation in the least.
Henson sees the ambivalence in teenagers: the craving for experience and the anxiety of innocence. His 'crime' is to acknowledge that truth.


See also: Bill Henson's lightness of being.
It's odd that the photographer should be presumed to be obsessed with the pornography of youth -- with licentiousness and passion -- when he is so obviously fascinated with cyan: the colour of the skin in the moment between the last pulse of oxygenated blood through the arteries and the flat-line of brain death.

Henson photographs adolescence precisely because of its obliviousness -- its apparent imperviousness -- to mortality. He doesn't see the skull beneath the skin so much as the marble waxiness of flesh in the cool light of night.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Bill Henson

This morning, as I write, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery's web site is down and the NSW State Premier is sounding alarmingly and tub-thumpingly like Daily Telegraph leader: what parent would allow their child to be photographed like this? And Australia looks like having a shit fight to rival the so-called culture wars that swept up artists like Robert Mapplethorpe and Karen Finley.

But while the American battle was all about NEA funding of the arts (a pittance, relatively speaking) -- of performance and visual artists -- the events of the last 24 hours in Sydney are far more chilling for artists. They're reminiscent of the raids of the late 1960s, when actors were arrested, charged and convicted in various cities, for saying 'fuck'. Let we forget, the Norm and Ahmed convictions were not overturned, except (from memory) in Queensland where the appeal courts were more forgiving than those in the 'free-thinking' southern states.

And yet, a charge of offensive language or obscenity or lewd behaviour -- whatever -- is nothing compared to the accusations being levelled against Melbourne photographer Bill Henson, whose latest exhibition was supposed to open last night at RosOx9. Pre-publicity, in the Sydney Morning Herald, attracted the attention of lobby groups and ultimately the police who intervened to prevent the exhibition from opening. Reportedly, the 41 photographs show young teens -- a boy and a girl -- naked and in sexually suggestive poses.

First up, I haven't seen these images. However, I have been writing about Bill Henson's work for a dozen years, and first saw his work more than thirty years ago when the models he was photographing weren't that much younger than me. Or, indeed, much younger than Bill was.


An example of Bill Henson's work, c 2006

While I gather my thoughts on this, let me make two points. Firstly, and disregarding for a moment if any offence was wittingly or unwittingly committed in the taking of the photographs, the bastille has been stormed by those who vociferously deny that context counts here. That an image in an art gallery -- or in your family photo album -- is identical to that same image if it were printed in a magazine to advertise clothes or posted on a porn site.

And secondly, Henson has resolutely declined to comment on or defend his art over the years... rather like Andres Serrano of 'Piss Christ' fame though, artistically speaking, that's a very clumsy and inappropriate comparison. Serrano reckons porn can be art and vice versa. Henson's work is rarely graphic or explicit or especially detailed. Indeed, like Mapplethorpe, he's at his coolest when photographing what the press and the pollies are so eagerly calling "kiddie porn" and even, moments ago on the Fairfax radio news network, 'pedophilia'.

Robert Mapplethorpe's most erotic photographs were of flowers. His shots of erect black cocks curving out of polyester suits were stylish, but cool. Almost clinical. Likewise, Henson's most passionate photographs are of empty roads. His naked teens have the cyan of death...



Britain's foremost painter of swimming pools David Hockney reckons that we should "believe only what an artist does, rather than what he says about his work." That used to seem like good advice in the age of post-postmodernism, when artists and curators and critics seem incapable of saying anything simply or coherently, but when your work causes as much disquiet as Melbourne photographer Bill Henson's does, can he afford not to defend it?

More soon. Doubtless, too much more.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE (Heath, Hutch and Hugh)

An on-line poll of Herald Sun readers has come up with some bizarre (and revealing) results. The "hottest of the hot" list of men includes three of the -- er -- forever stiff club: Heath Ledger, Michael Hutchence and -- get this -- Bon Scott.

What are we to infer from this? That women don't mind their men having a past as long as they don't have a present... as long as they're not sleeping with anyone else? (With the possible exception of the fishes?!)

Can you imagine the reverse? Can you imagine men naming recently, tragically, hunkily dearly departed? With the possible exception of Marilyn Monroe in the '60s, it's just not gonna happen. You will not find an Anna Nicole Smith on a comparable list. (I can't even bring myself to name the beautiful, talented, recently-departed Aussie women to rival Ledger or Hutchence in this context.)

Men, obviously, demand availability from their women. The more available the better. (Is this why men admire Paris Hilton? That they think they have a fair shot?) They also, admirably, demand a pulse... a throbbing heart in their heart throb. That's pretty much it... if you're a supermodel that is! (Jennifer Hawkins clocks in at #1, Megan Gale at #2.) [Hmmm. This leads me to wonder if this poll is a hoax and only women voted. Gale, after all, is the supermodel that women drool over and men go "meh, I don't get it" over.]

Women, on the whole, demand unavailability from their men. Pulse optional. Good looks optional. Wealth, desirable. Talent, desirable. (Jimmy Barnes didn't crack the list on good looks, nor did Paul Hogan crack it on talent.)

To be fair, at the top of the list of blokes -- streets ahead of Heath and Hutch -- is "happily married dad-of-two" Hugh Jackman. He scored "more than 60 per cent of the total vote for Australian male stars." (!!)

While we're on the subject of the undead, talent and stuff -- and while I'm in a ranting state of mind (lacking in Self Control, one might say) -- I'm quite irrationally offended to see that Laura Branigan's song 'Gloria' is on the new Countdown CD/DVD set of One Hit Wonders. Had she not been cremated, and her ashes strewn, Branigan would be pirouetting in her proverbial pit over the "one hit" label. Hell, 'Gloria' wasn't even her biggest Australian hit. She had a "number two smash" with another Umberto Tozzi number, 'Ti Amo'.



I'm hardly what you would call a Branigan 'shipper, incidentally. I didn't like the nasal thing in her voice. (Actually, I didn't much like her nose!) But credit where it's due. She sold a squillion records in Europe and the US and she made a lot of people damn happy. [gnashes teeth]

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Who knows not that the gentle Duke is dead?

KING EDWARD

Is Clarence dead? The order was revers'd.

GLOUCESTER

But he, poor man, by your first order died,
And that a winged Mercury did bear;
Some tardy cripple bare the countermand
That came too lag to see him buried.
Forgive the gratuitous quotation from Richard III. It was either this or some hackneyed bit of Hamlet about funeral-baked meats or ghosts condemned to walk the earth.

I received a press release from the Victorian College of the Arts last week which I initially took to be an elaborate hoax. Two superstar opera singers given honorary doctorates, yada yada yada. Great singers, true stars. Graduates of a great opera school. And there's the rub.

The school no longer exists. The school was not deemed important enough to sustain.

It would take a Richard Gloucester to pull that one off. You know: We shut your school down, but we're really stoked how you guys turned out.



STRICTLY EMBARGOED UNTIL FRIDAY 16 MAY 2008 - 6AM

Honorary Doctorates awarded to renowned opera singers

Cheryl Barker and Peter Coleman-Wright

On Thursday 15 May the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) awarded opera singers Cheryl Barker and Peter Coleman-Wright with Honorary Doctorates of Visual and Performing Arts. Barker and Coleman-Wright, both alumni of the VCA, are the first music professionals to receive this University award, which recognises outstanding service to the arts and arts education.

The husband and wife duo are internationally recognised for their work across opera, concert and recital platforms. They recently appeared together in the successful season of Strauss’ Arabella with Opera Australia.

Barker has performed to rave reviews on many of the world’s most prestigious stages. She regularly sings with Opera Australia and has appeared at the Royal Opera, English National Opera, Scottish Opera, Hamburg State Opera, Netherlands Opera and Houston Grand Opera among others.

Coleman-Wright is widely considered one of Australia’s most versatile singers. He has performed around the world and is the recipient of many awards including the Glyndebourne Touring Prize (UK), a Green Room Award (for Billy Budd) and Helpmann Awards for Best Actor in a Musical (Sweeney Todd, 2002) and Best Male Performer in a Supporting Role in an Opera (Death in Venice, 2006).

At the VCA’s annual graduation ceremony at Hamer Hall, Professor Andrea Hull AO, Director and Dean of the VCA, thanked the couple for their contributions to the College and the wider arts community.

“I am absolutely delighted that we have been able to recognise such renowned alumni as Cheryl Barker and Peter Coleman-Wright who bring such distinction to the country. It is testament to the high quality arts education that the VCA delivers, to be represented by such prestigious alumni on both the national and international stage,” said Professor Hull.

Barker and Coleman-Wright said they were thrilled and honoured to receive such recognition from one of the most important arts training institutions in the country. “It’s particularly special for us to be receiving these awards together on the same evening as husband and wife,” said Coleman-Wright.




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Friday, May 09, 2008

More Premature Evaluation

Okay, so we're not even twenty weeks into the year and I'm at least considering hailing 2008 as the best in Melbourne theatre in the 21 years I've been reviewing.

The beauty of it is, the goodies are coming from all directions. From (as Joan Armatrading once sang) the bottom to the top. From the usual and unusual suspects alike: La Mama (Porcelain), Red Stitch (The Winterling), Hayloft (Platonov), Malthouse Theatre (Moving Targets) and the Melbourne Theatre Company (Love Story). How wonderful, too, that the MTC has hosted two rippers from interstate: The Season at Sarsaparilla (STC) and Holding the Man (Griffin).

I've got two more to add to the list this week. Michael Dalley's one-man show Death in White Linen at Headquarters (there are three more performances, tonight and tomorrow at 8 pm and Sunday May 11 at 6:30) and the latest production at Red Stitch, an imaginative and strikingly original production (directed by Görkem Acaroglu) of Bruce Norris's play The Pain and the Itch. At least you have three weeks in which to see that! It runs through to May 31.

Death in White Linen will only take an hour of your time but (if I may quote myself!) it has a luxuriantly high thread count. It's a really interesting step from Dalley. He turns what he does -- the satirical song'n'dance hide-the-castor-oil-with-caster-sugar stuff -- into a fair-dinkum play.

The Pain and the Itch is -- if I might reach into my capacious bag of cliches -- a savage indictment of holier-than-thou US liberalism. Or should that be prolier than thou? (Mmmm... No.)

In today's Herald Sun (sorry, no link) I liken this play from Chicago to Ibsen's Ghosts and David Eldridge's stage adaptation of the Dogme 95 film Festen. And here's a bit of trivia for theatrical trainspotters. Ghosts had its premiere in Chicago, in Norwegian, with a Danish actress in the lead.

What the hell... you've read this far. You might as well get a bit more of the Dalley review.

We're used to songs that are martini-dry -- or cyanide-sweet -- from Michael Dalley. He combines the cool wit of Noel Coward and the cruel wit of Tom Lehrer. But he's so good at writing (and performing) satirical songs, that there isn't much need to go beyond threading them together, as in Vaudeville X which graduated to the Arts Centre recently.

[...]

Death in White Linen is the story of a family which flees the class drudgery of middle England for the new world... which gives Dalley the opportunity to rhyme (frozen) genitalia with Australia.

Rather than revel in the relative classlessness of the New World, the aspirational son trades on his acquired posh accent, his Young Liberal connections and his mother's savings. He becomes the "Melba toast" of the town. He marries well and lives happily ever after.

Perhaps!

[...]

Dalley swaps voices and characters (age/sex/nationality/class) with a turn of his head. He doesn't miss a beat. There are moments that reminded me of Judith Lucy's first stage performances in Melbourne, in this theatre, almost twenty years ago. And he's every bit as funny.

But the comedy serves the drama and the subtle theme is that bullying makes bullies. That the bullied, when freed from the tyrrany of bullying or in this case class, sometimes get revenge on the world rather than make a better one.

Death in White Linen. Written and performed by Michael Dalley. Direction and dramaturgy by Anna McCrossin-Owen. Designed by Dayna Morrissey. Lighting design by Michael Jewell. Sound design by Bryan Duke. A High Performance Company production. At La Mama, 205 Faraday Street, Carlton. Bookings 03 9347 6142.





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Monday, May 05, 2008

A broadcaster of renown: John Cargher

The SMH ran a good, solid run-down on John Cargher's life on Saturday which is worth a read.
Pinchas Cargher was born in London, the only child of an English father, Jacob, a rabbinical student, and a German mother. When he was only two, his mother developed tuberculosis and he went with her to a sanatorium on the German island of Foehr, in the North Sea. She died not long after they arrived and his father sent him to a boarding school in Germany, then to his aunt in Madrid. In Madrid he started to educate himself by reading in the local library. This multinational background - he could be prickly if asked about it - explained his slightly unusual accent.
I'm scratching my head over the last sentence. I interviewed Cargher seven or eight years ago and he happily explained all of this, and more. He told me he had been "fobbed off" on the Spanish relatives and that he'd even been signed up to a trial Kibbutz (in Germany of all places!) by his father.

He also listed many of the thirty 'careers' he had in his life: from toolmaker to diamond merchant. His longest full-time job in Melbourne was manager of the National Theatre, though his first dealings with Australia date back to the late 40s, when -- as an agent in London -- he booked talent for "The Firm" -- J C Williamson Productions Ltd.


Sadly, the SMH obit gives little sense of Cargher's self-deprecating wit and his sly sense of humour. He was a big kid. Even at 81, when I met him. 190 cm tall, he was a very big kid.

Off air, he was an irreverent joker, more likely to put himself down ("I'm a complete coward," he told me in all seriousness, explaining that he enlisted in the Royal Air Force rather than risk being drafted into the army!) than any of the opera singers that he commented on.

Still, he couldn't resist the occasional cutting remark. This is a classic Cargher left-right combination: "Leona Mitchell sang a magnificent Turandot. What a pity that the opera was Suor Angelica." Another singer, a real Turandot this time, was praised, backhandedly, as "the mouse that roared."

To his death, Cargher was more than a little miffed that one of his best lines has become such a part of our culture it is rarely attributed to him. It usually begins "as they saying goes..." or "as they say..." Writing about the "Great Australian Opera House" in 1983, Cargher quipped: what a pity they built the outside in Sydney and the inside in Melbourne.

Lest we forget... Cargher said it!


See also the ABC's page on Singers of Renown where the image was nicked from.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

If Abdullah had a dollar... an interview with Dr Abdullah Ibrahim (aka Dollar Brand)

I wonder if it's my bedside manner?

The last two phone interviews I've done, I've been serenaded by the talent. I had David D'Or (counter-tenor, world music singer and hunky Eurovision Song Contest finalist) doing thrillingly good impersonations of Robert Plant ('Rock and Roll') and MIKA ('Grace Kelly') down the line from Tel Aviv in February. It was a couple of hours before a concert, so I guess I served as a vocal warm-up!

More bizarrely, I had South African ex-pat and third dan Jazz Master Dr Abdullah Ibrahim -- still better known to the world by his half-century old stage moniker Dollar Brand -- singing hymns to me one minute, and Harry Belafonte's Jack-Ass Song the next. This time from Germany. At breakfast time (his time) no less!


"Let him bray, let him bray, let him bray." Abdullah Ibrahim.
(Photograph © Manfred Rinderspacher, click to enlarge)


Ab/dollar (sorry) is in Australia for a lightning visit which started yesterday afternoon, with a master class in Melbourne at Federation Square, and continues tonight [Thursday May 1, 2008] with a concert at the Regent Theatre (with his Ekaya ensemble) and a very special trio performance, a late show at Bennetts Lane, tomorrow night [Friday May 2, 10:30 pm]. All of these are part of Melbourne Jazz 2008.

Interviewing The Doc is -- in a word -- daunting. Like sparring with an angel. And our brief conversation was packed with head-of-a-pin musings and bad bad badinage. Most conversations are a bit like pinball, with a few unexpected ricochets, a few good shots that cause the machine to light up, this one was all that... in four dimensions.

I'll leave it pretty much intact -- meanderings, stagnant billabongs and all -- to give you a sense of the scarily rapid cross-fire. I begin, bravely, by attempting to describe the feelings Ibrahim's music evoke in me.

[CHRIS BOYD:] 'JOYFUL' IS NOT QUITE RIGHT. IT'S MORE THAN CONTENT. MORE THAN JUST RESTFUL. TOP OF THE WORLD? SMELL THE SALT ON THE OCEAN MUSIC. FEEL THE SPRAY. THIS IS BRIGHT MUSIC. HAPPY MUSIC. SUNDAY MUSIC. DAY OF REST MUSIC.

[Abdullah Ibrahim, with a low laugh:] Well. Duke Ellington said the most important thing about music is listening to it. Cos there's nothing else to do. As a musician, once you strike the note, there's nothing more you can do about it.

YOU GIVE IT AWAY.

So, the smart thing to do then is to make every note that you strike [with] the best of intentions. The best of intentions and sincerity. So we try in our daily lives to do the same. To re-establish our angelic qualities and be sincere. That's what music is about, play about what you experience on a daily, minute-to-minute basis.

IT'S DIFFICULT TO BE ANGELIC IN THE MIDST OF STRUGGLE, EXILE, CHALLENGE... HAVE YOU NEVER DESPAIRED?

No problem. Our illustrious poet Rumi said: God made us part angel and part donkey. We have to accept there can't be one without the other.

IS IT POSSIBLE FOR THE ANGEL TO RIDE THE DONKEY? [LAUGHS]

We say when a cock crows it's seen an angel. And when the donkey brays it's seen a devil. That's why the calypso song says: if jackass were jumpin' let him bray let him bray let him bray. [That's Harry Belafonte's Jack Ass song, dear reader!]

IN HAMLET, THE COCK'S CROWING KEEPS THE GHOSTS AND EVIL SPIRITS AWAY... I'M PARAPHRASING IT TERRIBLY. AT CHRISTMAS, "THE BIRD OF DAWNING SINGETH ALL NIGHT LONG." IT'S A HALLOWED AND GRACIOUS TIME...

Well, we have to reconsider Hamlet as well, see.

IN WHAT WAY?

Again, it has to do with the reading. Music has to do with sound. With Hamlet and all that reading. Remember? When they asked what are you reading: words words words.

FUNNY. WHEN I LISTENED TO YOUR "BEST OF" CD, I THOUGHT: THIS IS LIKE SEEING HAMLET AND RECOGNISING ALL OF THE EXPRESSIONS THAT ARE NOW IN COMMON PARLANCE, THAT THEY CAME FROM HERE. I HEARD BITS OF KEITH JARRETT AND BITS OF PHRASES AND FRAGMENTS THAT HAVE BEEN PASSED AROUND FROM MUSICIAN TO MUSICIAN LIKE A JOINT!

Our illustrious poet Rumi said words to that effect: there's only one sound all the rest is echo!

I THINK NARCISSUS MIGHT HAVE SOME SOMETHING TO SAY ABOUT THAT! LET ME ASK AGAIN WHERE THE ANGEL COMES FROM IN THE MIDST OF THAT?

If we knew, we would all be staying in one place, right?

There's no duality. It's one. Our lives are spent trying to dissolve this [opposition] of predestination and free will only to realise that it's the other side of the coin. Yin yang.

IT SEEMS TO ME YOU LIVE A HIGHLY DISCIPLINED EVEN ASCETIC LIFE --

What else is there to do?

WELL --

We're on this planet, right?

IT'S ANOTHER OF THOSE FLIP SIDE OF THE COIN QUESTIONS: HOW DOES THIS FREE-WHEELING, IMPROVISED MUSIC -- YOUR PERFORMANCE -- FIT IN TO THAT DISCIPLINE? HOW DOES IT COME OUT OF THAT?

Unless you have the discipline you can't be free.

I DID ANTICIPATE THAT ANSWER, BUT I WANTED TO HEAR IT IN YOUR WORDS.

I've practiced martial arts for 50-60 years and [the] basic principle of traditional martial arts is to have no mind. No mind. Stop thinking. But before you can stop thinking, you have to think.

Charlie Parker said: you practice and practice for 20 years, all that technique, and then you forget all about that shit and just play.

I LOVE THE WAY ROBERT HUGHES CAN STAND IN FRONT OF A WORK OF ART, FORGET EVERYTHING, AND RESPOND TO IT PURELY.

Our lives are... pyramid.

IN WHAT WAY?

When we reach the apex. Going up the hill and you look down, you'll see where you came up. And if you're 20 years of age, 70 looks like a long time ahead. When you're seventy and you look back, it's a flash.

IT'S 30 YEARS SINCE THE JOURNEY. IT'S 25 SINCE AKAYA WAS FORMED.

Time. We just do our best. This is one of the things about the concept of playing this music. The concept of The Now. This moment of expression. It crystalises everything that you learned and everything...

We've one quest: is to perfect. Is to perfect our art. We'll never reach it. [quietly chuckles] Is to perfect in everything, whether it's martial arts, everything. It's the same formula.


There's more than an octave in each of these babies...
Abdullah Ibrahim (photograph © Žiga Koritnik)


And perfection really means to understand the unity within everything. Understand the unity with trees and flowers and birds and cows and god's creation and ourselves. In the scheme of universal things, we are new kids on the blocks. [chuckles again]

EVEN AT 73!

What is that hymn? My grandmother's favourite hymn: "A thousand ages in his sight are like an evening gone. Oh god our help in ages past..."

I THOUGHT I KNEW THAT HYMN, BUT THAT'S A LINE I DIDN'T KNOW. WE HAVE A HISTORIAN WHO WRITES IN MUCH THE SAME WAY. INSTEAD OF CONCENTRATING ON A MERE CENTURY, HE'LL CONCENTRATE ON A MILLENIUM... QUITE WONDERFUL.

They took away time and gave us a clock.

THAT SOUNDS LIKE 'PAVE PARADISE'! THAT SOUNDS LIKE A POP SONG! YOUR DAUGHTER, SHE'S A RAPPER -- IS SHE?

Wonderful. We have a family of musicians. Sathima [Bea Benjamin, his wife] a jazz singer, my son Tsakwe a musician and my daughter Tsidi [aka What What] a rapper!

I ALWAYS THINK OF ELLINGTON AS THE FIRST RAPPER. I LOVED THE WAY THAT MAN SPOKE...

Rap goes back in all traditions. You know.

INDIAN TOO.

Moonlight, fireside, story-telling, cinemascope. Sit around the fire. The elders go through their paces. We had ancestral cinemascope, and you sit there [near the] fire transfixed. Then the cock crows. Daylight breaks.

AND THE DONKEY BRAYS!!

Depending if they're coming or leaving! [!!]

I WAS SURPRISED TO DISCOVER YOU BEGAN YOUR CAREER AS A SINGER?

Where else would we begin it? That was the first sound. You cry. Otherwise I would have been born with a horn in my mouth. Or a piano.

I THINK MILES DAVIS WAS BORN WITH A HORN IN HIS MOUTH.

You know the story of Miles and Coltrane?

REMIND ME!

When Trane came to play with him, Trane took a solo, Miles got off the stand and went to the bar. Had a drink. And he said: "Hey, John, why don't you play shorter choruses." And Trane says: "Hey Miles, the music is so beautiful, I get carried away I can't stop." And Miles says: "Have you tried taking the horn out of your mouth."

[LOL] I THOUGHT MAYBE YOU SUBSCRIBED TO THE "DON'T TALK JUST SING" PHILOSOPHY.


Angel and Donkey syndrome.

HOW?

You're soaring you can't come back get your feet on the ground.

WHEN I SIT IN FRONT OF MY KEYBOARD, MY COMPUTER KEYBOARD, TO WRITE, I DON'T KNOW WHAT WILL COME, BUT I KNOW SOMETHING WILL. IT'S LIKE A RAIN DANCE THAT I DO. I'D LIKE TO HEAR YOU DESCRIBE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU SIT IN FRONT OF YOUR KEYBOARD.

I have no idea.

WHAT DO YOU DO? DO YOU CLEAR YOUR MIND? WHAT IS THE THING YOU DO TO START?

I have no idea. I've absolutely no idea. This is the basis of martial arts. [Hard bop drummer Albert] 'Tootie' Heath says: "Damn jazz musician, can't play the same thing twice!"

THERE'S A REAL DRAMA IN PLAYING WITH ANOTHER MUSICIAN. IT'S VERY EASY TO BE A SOLO ARTIST. BUT TO ACTUALLY -- TO RESPOND TO ONE ANOTHER. TO HAND THE PULSE AROUND. TO FOLLOW THE PULSE. IT'S LIKE THEATRE TO ME. ACTORS LISTENING TO ONE ANOTHER. INSTEAD OF JUST RECITING THE WORDS, THEY LISTEN TO ONE ANOTHER AND RESPOND...

There are musicians and there are people who own instruments.

WHAT'S THE DEFINITION OF A GENTLEMAN. THE MAN WHO OWNS A BANJO BUT CHOOSES NOT TO PLAY.


No, that's a master.

IN MARTIAL ARTS --


When you can play the solid iron flute, you've mastered.

IS THAT THE ONE WITH NO HOLES?

Precisely.

THAT'S SO ZEN!


When.

I SAID 'ZEN'... OR WAS THAT A JOKE AND I JUST MISSED IT!

I said 'when'.

When I first went to Japan, the first thing I did when I get to the airport as asked to go to the hotel. I said I would I like to go to [Sengaku-ji]. [Sengaku-ji] is the grave of the 47 masters of the Samurai. 47 Ronin. Who commited seppuku. Under order, killed themselves. I went to see them.

[I met an American man. He said:] "I've been here, I've been living in Japan for 20 years and I study Zen." And I said: "Oh, congratulations." And he said: "What do you know about Zen? I hear you practice martial arts." "I don't know anything about Zen." "You study it. So what is Zen?" "I said it's saying the first thing that comes into your mind." Then he says: "that's not true!" That was the end of the conversation.

I DID THINK -- WHEN YOU SAID "WHEN" -- IT WAS LIKE: WHAT'S THE SOUND OF ONE HAND CLAPPING...

It takes a minute.

[...]

They say musicians -- people in creative fields you see -- we have a big problem because we can't find a foothold in society. You see? So we levitate.

LIKE THE SIDHI YOGIS!

The most profound energy is generated... You go through this process of purification on the way to -- hopefully -- find... [trails off]

WHO DO YOU HEAL? HOW DO YOU HEAL?

[Very softly] I have no idea. [long pause] I have no idea.
What do they say in India? If a doctor has money, don't trust him!
My people are all over the world... Healers. What do they say in India... If a doctor has money, don't trust him!

[...]

WHERE'S HOME FOR YOU?


The beauty of being homeless is always being home.

WHAT DO YOU TRAVEL WITH?


Faith.

THAT'S QUITE ENOUGH, REALLY.


Exactly.

BETTER THAN A DINERS CLUB CARD.

There's a blues singer that says... She sings and she says:
My man left man, I'm really feeling low down.
My man left man, I'm really feeling low down.
I'm gonna take this credit card and buy everything in town.
Credit card blues.

I THINK SPENDING IS PROBABLY CHEAPER THAN THERAPY. PROBABLY A BETTER BANG FOR THE BUCK.

Purification!

[AT LAST, I GET TO SING BACK:] "THAT'S THE NAME OF THE GAME!" OH, NO, WAIT. THAT'S MULTIPLICATION.

[...]

I PUT ON A BELT EARLIER. MY FAVOURITE BELT BROKE. I DUG UP AN OLD ONE THAT WAS GIVEN TO ME IN 1990. I LOOKED AT IT AND THERE ARE RINGS WHERE I'VE EXPANDED AND EXPANDED. I THOUGHT: MY BODY IS LIKE A TREE TRUNK. IT HAS RINGS OF GROWTH.

In martial arts we have the the principle of the tree.

You see, I live in the country. I have trees around me now. Mountains, lakes, birds, ducks, cows.

What's that song? "I think that I will never see a poem lovelier than a tree."

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Trees (1913) by Joyce Kilmer

God says everything between heaven and earth makes praise to me, only you don't understand it. You look at a tree and it's also the basic structure of flower arranging, you see. And the basis of martial arts is the basis of the structure...

In the tradition, the tree consists of three branches. One branch, it reaches to the sky is for heaven. One branch, it reaches lower down is earth. And the one in the middle is a person. So: dragon, tiger and a monk.

[Then we get onto ikibana... But there's still one more song to be sung.]

[...]

In Australia, I attended a dance ceremony and they did the dance of Brolga. I was going back to Copenhagen to get an examination for my third degree black belt and I was doing a bird kata. And I spent four or five days with your dancers and their different versions of Brolga.

And then I understood what it means to -- not to do a bird form but to become the bird. And I went back to Copenhagen and I performed my kata. My master said it was the most beautiful and best one he had ever seen.

So there's the camp fire. What is happening with us now in South Africa? We have AIDS. See. The circle is broken. The circle is broken. There are no camp fires anymore. We don't sit in circles anymore and pass the drink and information anticlockwise, which is the movement of the stars. The circle is broken.

And the musicians, we are displaced healers. In traditional society, if we showed any signs of musical inclination, we were immediately drafted into medicine.

And I wrote a song about Uluru. Ayers Rock. So when we were there with the Aboriginal people we showed them some of the photographs of our family. The bushman people. My grandmother's people. So they looked at me...

"Where are these people. These are the old old people from the dreamtime."

There's an interconnectedness. During that festival in Australia we had the Bauls of Bengal. The traditional people, they came and played, and the Aborigines played the same song.

My solo concerts now are called Senzo. In Chinese and Japanese it means ancestor. But it's also the name of my father. From the land of Lesoto. Same word.

The circle is broken. The circle is broken.

CAN IT BE UNBROKEN?

My grandmother used to sing: "Will the circle be unbroken, by and by, by and by. There's a better land waiting in the sky, in the sky. Will the circle be unbroken..."


Photographs used with permission.

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