Thriller Live

An all singing, all dancing revue of Michael Jackson’s music career, It couldn’t be Bad could it? Sorry.

Sitting somewhere between a tribute act and a Top of the Pops MJ special, Thriller live delivered the greatest hits of the King of Pop in his unique and thrilling style across the stage of a packed Lyric Theatre.
Starting with the Jackson 5, through to the Jacksons before concentrating on Thriller and Bad, a variety of singers, from the young Kyle Johnson to the fantastic Trenyce Cobbins, who performed a brilliant version of The Way You Make Me Feel, one of my favourite MJ tracks, belted out hit after hit while the dancers performed in homage to the classic videos and choreography of the man himself.  From ABC, I’ll be there, Can you feel it, Beat It, She’s out of my life, to Man in the Mirror, Dangerous and Dirty Diana, the costumes, voices and dancers all screamed Michael.

Smooth Criminal was perfectly recreated on the stage, MJ in his white suited, trilby wearing glory as he kicked, whirled, and crotch grabbed his way through the bar.  Thriller and Billie Jean were, as expected, highlights and finally got the sluggish Friday night crowd out of their seats.

A couple of songs failed to hit the bar though, Don’t stop till you get enough and Wanna be starting something didn’t quite sound as good, and I left with the feeling that there could have been more.  But on reflection perhaps not, Michael’s personal life was under intense scrutiny while he was alive and for once it was enough to sit back and enjoy his legacy as one of the greatest performers of our time, and an inspiration to countless numbers of people around the world, and no, it wasn’t Bad at all.

Details here

Social Fabric: African textiles of today

A compact, bright, colourful and informative exhibition at the British Museum, African textiles today looks at the history and production of clothing in Eastern and Southern Africa, focusing on Kanga’s from Kenya and Tanzania, Capulana’s from Mozambique and Shweshwe from South Africa.

Textiles are the most obvious, visible signifier of culture throughout Africa.  History, beliefs, politics, fashions, status and aspirations are communicated through the colours and patterns of textiles.

At the front of the exhibition is a welcoming Kanga with the inscription of Karibu Mgeni ‘Welcome Stranger’ in Kiswahili, on which a labelled map of the African continent is printed.  The Kanga is a printed cloth, each with it’s own inscriptions written in the same place.  They are sold and worn in matching pairs, and, although principally a women’s garment, they are sometimes worn by single men at home or by masaai men in public.  The word Kanga is the Kiswahili word for guinea fowl, and they are named after the spotted plumage of the bird which were reminiscent of the early cloths.

Worn by women, the Kanga can be used to demonstrate her stance on global issues or political allegiance, or even to convey sentiments that would not normally be said out loud.  At the end of the exhibition is a Kanga with the inscription ‘Hujui Kitu’, ‘You Know Nothing’, which could be worn by an older woman to comment on her younger rivals.   They are also playful, such as ‘The Mangoes are Ready’ a friendly invitation from a wife to her husband to help himself.

A wedding Kanga (Kisitu) is also displayed.  These are worn by the bride, her family and friends.  In Eastern Africa women and men may dress in the same pattern and colour of cloth to show unity and friendship at any gathering.
More contemporary Kanga’s are on show, ‘Daima Tuta Kukumbuka’, ‘We will always remember you’ the inscription for a Michael Jackson Kanga, which hangs just above one for Barack Obama.
From Tanzania a Kanga for the Millennium reads ‘The new millennium belongs to us’.  The central space, known as mji, meaning ‘tomb’ or ‘womb’ is left deliberately empty, filled only with the deep blue of the unknown future.

Kanga’s were originally created in the late 19th Century by sewing together six printed handkerchiefs, lenco’s, which were traded from the Portuguese.

It’s not all Kanga’s though, in Mozambique the Lenco (here a head scarf) is worn with the quimau , a tailored blouse, and a Capulana, a wrap around dress.  Herero men and women from Angola wear a printed cloth called a Samakaka on special occasions, while on the Comoros islands the Cheramine completely covers the face and body of the woman.

The last part of the exhibition looks at the discharge-printed indigo cloth, the Shweshwe, and the Kings Blankets.  On display are blankets that celebrate world figures, such as Albertina Sisulu, Nelson Mandela and Josina Machel, from Mozambique, the late lamented mother of the nation.

The textiles of eastern and southern Africa play a central role in all of the major rites of passage ceremonies in women’s and sometimes men’s lives, and this exhibition shines a small, but bright light on this.

The exhibition is on until tomorrow (21st April) so again a bit late on this one..

Details here

The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll [Alvaro Mutis]

In attendance, behind an untidy heap of books and maps that he was cataloguing in an exquisite, old fashioned hand, was a young man with the heavy black beard of a Levantine Jew, an ivory complexion, and melancholy black eyes fixed in an expression of mild astonishment.  He gave me a thin smile and, like any good bookseller, allowed me to peruse the shelves while he attempted to remain as unobtrusive as possible.

I have put off writing this, as if by writing my review I am closing the book on Maqroll, a book I almost flipped back to the front to read all over again, so not ready am I to end my association with him.
While I can’t say that this book has changed my life, it has awakened something in me.  Maqroll, the endless wanderer, and one of the most perfect yet flawed characters ever laid down on paper, has nurtured and grown my own inescapable wanderlust and his adventures have come at at time when I have been able to nudge my own life down a channel different from the one I was travelling before.

In Maqroll I see a different version of myself, someone with the same outlook as me but without the fear or bonds to the family home.  So complete is the Gaviero that you want to meet him, indeed even the author believes he has crafted a flesh and blood man from ink and paper

“All of Alvaro’s friends know that he speaks of Maqroll the Gaviero as of a living person, whom he sometimes has news of, sometimes not”

But it’s not just the Gaviero that captured me, the world Maqroll wanders (which is pretty much all of it) is richly and sumptuously described by Mutis, describing cities, ports, and characters with enough detail that, were you a painter, you could paint the scene in glorious detail.  In the Snow of the Admiral, the intoxicating revulsion of his coupling with the Indian woman on the barge leaves you feeling as horrified after reading it as if you had taken part in the act yourself.  Characters appear, disappear and re-appear in Maqroll’s life until you welcome them like old friends, particularly his closest companions, the incomparable Ilona from Trieste and Abdul Bashur, dreamer of ships.

The king of the flock, a beautiful jet-black bird with an orange ruff and an opulent crown of pink feathers, had already settled on the frame work supporting the canvas in the stern.  A sky-blue membrane blinked down over his eyes as regularly as a camera shutter.  We knew the others would never approach until he’d had his first peck at the corpse.  When we dug the grave where the beach meets the jungle, he watched from his vantage point with dignity not free of a certain disdain.

Maqroll accepts his role as a pawn, while maintaining his free will to endless wander and take part in adventures, riding the waves of his life, knowing from the moment it rises and sweeps him off that it will crash onto the shore and wash over him.  What sets Maqroll apart from others, such as Abdul Bashur, who dreams of owning the perfect tramp steamer, is that he has no such ambition or dream. He has no permanence, and by his own acknowledgement everything and everyone slips through his fingers.  After one adventure he holds a cheque for a six figure sum and casually hands it over to Abdul, knowing he will just squander it, and that it will not, in the end, have any material difference to his life.  Despite his own pragmatism, his letter to Flor Estevez and his interactions with women, and his friends reveal a weary tender side that is not always apparent.
Others appreciate the role he plays in their own lives, aware of his endless destiny, as if he brings life down the back waters, and when he leaves, life follows him, a role that Maqroll is aware of, but accepts with resignation.  There is however a motor inside him, that continually propels him from one adventure to the next, and even in his darkest, most introspective days either following a period on land, away from the expansive freedom of the oceans, or another disappointing end to his last enterprise, it only takes the start of the next adventure to notch the motor up a gear, and the Gaviero is off again.

This volume is all of his collected tales, and I loved every one of the seven hundred pages.  Hopefully the Gaviero will show up on Alvaro Mutis’s doorstep soon with another tale to spin.

Like everything that had to do with him, the narration of his past depended on a complex alchemy of humors, climates, and correspondences  and only when it had been fully achieved would the floodgates oh his memory open, launching him into long recollections that did not take into account either time or the disposition of his listeners.

Meat Loaf – Last At Bat tour at the O2

Words were missed, vocals were slowed down so he could keep time, the backing singers took up the mantle for some lines altogether, You took the words right out of my mouth seemed cut short, but..but underneath all the signs of age and a wild life, the consummate showman, and the voice, the voice was still there.  True it didn’t break out all the time, but when it did, the power and glory was all there.  Meat Loaf is not one to merely sing, he belts out his lyrics with passion and gusto, and to me (and this was my first Meat gig so I would be intrigued to know if he’s always sung like that) at times on the stage at the O2 last night, Meat Loaf the showman seemed to dig deep to rip his voice from his ageing body.
“I’m gonna aim for 1978, I’m not sure I’m gonna make it” came his honest promise before Two out of Three.
“We love you Meat Loaf!” came the response from the crowd, seeing past the sixty five year old man laying down his soul on the stage, it gave him energy,

The greatest hits portion included Dead Ringer for Love and Objects in the rear view mirror but the main event, Bat out of Hell was the draw, that’s what the O2 had come to see, and the Loaf did not disappoint.  Video clips featuring Jim Steinman, a younger Meat Loaf, Ellen Foley and others introduced each song. Thirty five years after it was released Bat out of Hell has just re-charted, coming in at number nine, the same spot it peaked at before, the album itself is older than me, so were most of the crowd.  A young guy across the aisle looked incredibly bemused, while his girlfriend danced beside him, when I saw him again, he was mouthing the words to heaven can wait, we were mere onlookers though to a good portion of the crowd, (slightly) older couples singing along to every word, any number of memories pinged back from each and every song.

A giant inflatable bat appeared over the stage during the first song, followed by an inflatable women’s torso with two arms coming around to cup her breasts during paradise by the dashboard light, which was belted through like he was back in his thirties.  What made the gig was For Crying out Loud, Meat Loaf broke down during the introduction explaining why he hardly ever plays it in his shows.  He started singing, eyes closed, pouring out everything to the mic.  After that the band left the stage.  There had to be an encore, he hadn’t played I’d do anything for love, but I couldn’t see how he could have anything left.  But this is Meat Loaf.  He came back out to the epic intro to I’d do anything and belted out his only UK number 1, to a faithful crowd wishing a warm and wonderful good bye to one of Rock’s greatest showmen.

M/A/R/R/S – Pump Up The Volume

I love everything about this song, which will always remind me of my school discos, and which almost certainly sparked the love of dancing that still drives my feet to this day.  From the unmistakable intro through the looping beats and sparse keys through to the iconic refrain, you can’t help but at least tap your feet or bounce to it.  This and C & C music factory, Everybody Dance Now were always staples at school disco’s while I went through school, from the last days of the Juniors to the formative years of the seniors, where I would happily dance away, knowing that my rest would come when the slow songs came on at the end.