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I took the chance…. taking my 16-year old to the concert. Last Thursday at the French Institute Alliance Francaise, a world music duo, Ballaké Sissoko a Malian griot playing a kora harp-lute – and French cellist Vincent Segal were performing.
I was partly saved by Ballaké Sissoko’s name, and was informed right away that this first name and surname are regulars in soccer teams. That helped! Sure enough, we learned later from Vincent Segal, in his broken English, that Sissoko’s son –a 17 year old as well- was on the junior team of the PSG, Paris Saint Germain of course!. (That was effectively checked as soon as the Iphone could be connected to the Internet.) Still cello and flute did not seem like an easy combination for a teenager.
An official from the World Music Institute co-presenter of the concert introduced the two musicians as they sat on the stage. It took us a few minutes to apprehend Sissoko’s instrument – a harp with bulky round body and a long and thin neck. I regretted not having more informations on this exotic instrument from the musician himself. Wikipedia came handy: “ A kora is a harp built from a large calabash cut in half and covered with cow skin to make a resonator with a long hardwood neck.”
If Vincent Segal has been trained as a classical cellist, Sissoko has worked with Blues musicians like Taj Mahal and of course West African kora players.
They started playing music, chamber music as announced but with multiple influences, Arabic, African, western… in other words, world music. It was very peaceful and serene and very beautiful. And yes, my teenager was transported as I was as was the public in this packed auditorium at the Florence Gould Hall. It was different, “elevatingly” different, and good for the soul.
I discovered that my son had grown up to become this inspired young man open to a world music experience, and I discovered Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal. It was a full evening.
(Dee Dee Bridgewater last night at the Apollo Theater)
Cecile McLorin Salvant, a name to remember! A French American born and raised in Miami, Florida of a French mother and a Haitian father. What a voice! She performed last night at the Apollo Theater in Apollo Club Harlem, an original production celebrating the theater’s own history.
No need to present the Apollo, this mythical theater created in 1934 in West Harlem where the best jazz musicians and singers of all times performed including Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday. Well, last night it was no less than DeeDee Bridgewater who starred in the production. Sharing the stage with her was amazing Cecile. Both singing I don’t mean a thing gave an impressive show of vocal jazz. In the Apollo’s tradition of the Amateur Night contests started in 1934, in the show hosted by Maurice Hines, different dancers, singers, tap dancers performed one after the other.
Another great moment was Storyboard P performing his HipHop dance called Mutant.
A perfect New York night ending with a drink at Red Rooster.
Cecile McLorin Salvant
I really enjoyed the latest creation of stage director Robert Wilson: Zinnias, the Life of Clementine Hunter at Montclair State University. It was a nice surprise, colorful and greatly musical and quite different from Robert Wilson’s other works.
It was a « childish » play in some ways reflecting the close and confined world of Clementine Hunter. Clementine was born in 1887 and raised on the Melrose cotton plantation in Louisiana owned by French immigrant Claude Thomas Metier and Congo born Marie Therese Coincoin. She first worked in the fields before being hired as a maid in the main house. All of this would be of no interest if it was not for the artistic life that when on in the plantation, the residencies of painters in the Yucca house that allowed Clementine to gather end of paint tubes and old brushes, and finally start painting. Thanks to the protection and friendship she developed with Francois Bignon, the contremaitre, she painted more and more and finally her works was exhibited in a museum in New Orleans where she was not allowed to go in this times of segregation expect when the museum was closed on Sunday.
Thierry Mugler style costums cut in primary colors, simple gestures performed with élégance and restraint, beautiful live music from the South….. Bob Wilson succeeded in making the life of Clementine Hunter what it was, a small miracle. But so was it for the famous American director who has elected domicile in Long Island at the Watermill center. He met Clementine when he was 11 and his parents took him on a visit to the plantation. He loved the paintings and asked his parents to buy him one for 25 cents. He went back as a teenager and bought more and stayed in contact with the woman. She died at 101, and this play is a tribute, full of love and respect.
I remember Mayor Koch in 1983. I interviewed him for Le Matin Magazine, a weekly supplement to A French daily and leftist newspaper Le Matin de Paris, where my editor was Jean Dominique Bauby, Jean Do.(Yes the guy from the The Butterfly and the Diving Bell!).
The magazine is long gone, the Butterfly has escaped behind close lids and Mayor Koch is dead.
I remember the man larger than life, impressive, and, like many New Yorkers, I have a special thought for him today.
I was a young journalist and interviewing Koch was not a piece of cake. I had prepared my questions thoroughly and tried to shut my ears to various comments from fellow journalists: « Mayor Koch is the worst interviewee ». « All he does is talk and does not answer questions. » Bla, bla bla..
As I arrived at the Mayor’s office, I relied on Gallic charm to operate. (Well if the man was not homosexual as rumor said…). After all he was a Francophile. He had fought the Second World War in France, landed in Normandy with the allies on D-Day. Usually those who did so and were lucky enough to come back, had a sweet spot for France they had liberated.
But my questions that day were different and tricky. In that issue dedicated to New York, published in March 1983, I wrote the first magazine story on AIDS published in the French press, reporting on Homosexuals in Greenwich Village.(entitled “Rien ne va plus à Christopher Street”(All is wrong on Christopher Street). The interview with the Mayor was focused on this touchy subject. What was Mayor Koch doing to help Gays infected by the virus who unlike their counterparts in San Francisco received little help from the city. With a special question from Bauby: Was Mayor Koch gay himself?
It all started on a wrong foot with Mayor Koch asking questions. He had been elected in 1981 and so had Francois Mitterrand in France. The first move of the new French President had been to appoint communist ministers. Ed Koch was democrat, but America’s left was far from socialism. « How was it to have a very socialist government? How was it to have communist in the forefront? ». I could hardly place a line. I remember Mayor Koch talking nonstop and explaining persuasively what he was doing for the community touched by the deadly disease and how he had defended them against the others. Behind his informal talk, it was all double speak or better said in France la langue de bois (literally to have a tongue in wood).He was a genius in communication and PR.
Was it that same year or the year after? The youngest elected mayor of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, came to New York to meet with Koch and learn a few useful tips about political communication!
Incredibly enough I found a cover of the issue on the Net
It was the US premiere of the new film by French director Michel Gondry (The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). The We and the I was acclaimed at the Directors’ Fortnight at the last Cannes festival. The film is controversial: 40 teenagers from the Bronx, all amateur actors pour their violence, resentment, questions, silliness during this very long bus ride through the Bronx (It the Bronx THAT spread out!) on the last day of the school year. There are a lot of four letters words, a lot of provoking gestures or thoughts. But as the bus moves on, as students descent, the atmosphere gradually quiets down, and the remaining teenagers on the bus are faced with themselves, with their realities. It is very, very strong. The highlight of the evening was the Q & A after the movie with six amateurs/actors/kids and the two writers. The kids talked about their experience “Man, it was hot on that bus!”- Their discovery of filming -they raved about Michel Gondry who was not an… imbecile and listened to them, about their sense of empowerment – they had a real input on the script which became interactive in the end. They all live in the Bronx, are involved with “programs”- anti HIV, community programs that imply acting. -, They all dream and their dream came true: they went to Cannes! How cool is that! They all are totally emotional, totally genuine. And if you think about it, their problems are just problems of teenagers, and not so far from problems of Upper East Side teenagers. It is all about bullies and bullied, about love and hate, about crossing the Rubicon or not, about fragile -oh! So fragile minds- of teenagers, about finding oneself. Obviously their environment has no, or very little structure, and this makes it so difficult for them. Yet, the freedom they have allows them to truly look at themselves if they want to do so. They talk, they communicate, and they live! Great movie released in the US in March.
Thanks once again Michel Gondry for daring and forcing us to grow and look around!