The 2010 World Cup is in full swing. And while the eyes of the world are trained on South Africa, not everyone in the host nation is sold on the event.
On this week’s show, South African novelist Marlene van Niekerk was in to discuss her new novel Agaat. But she and Kurt also got to talking about the Cup and she said, unlike many South Africans, she’s not convinced it’s benefiting the country.
It’s hard to imagine a band getting more exposure than by playing at the opening ceremony of the World Cup. With the eyes of the world on South Africa last Thursday, the nation’s own BLK JKS delivered what was arguably the best performance of the night.
At the heart of their music is a tenacious fidelity to afrobeat, a mélange of traditional African styles with progressive Western ones like funk and jazz. However, the BLK JKS have upped the ante, casting the elements of afrobeat in the unlikely mold of alternative rock, while referencing such disparate genres as dub, prog, and psychedelia. Incredibly, the combinations, transitions, and contrasts never sound forced with these guys – that’s because all four BLK JKS are also really smart composers. Their new album Zol! showcases this talent, particularly on “Paradise,” in which the band moves from dystopian guitar riffs to sun-soaked Afro-Cuban interludes in the blink of an eye.
BLK JKS wrote the title track from Zol! as an unofficial World Cup anthem. It’s a joyous song, and easily the most “traditional” track on the album. So it was surprising when they chose to play the more aggressive, politically-charged “Mzabalazo” at the opening ceremony instead. But I’m not complaining: it’s my favorite song on the new album. It’s also a more fitting one to share with the world, as it shows just how BLK JKS mix the heaviness of Western rock with the musical vocabulary of Africa.
O’Mara got notice for her first novel, Home Affairs (2007), a rendering of the “new,” post-apartheid South Africa. Critics and readers praised her sharp, satirical style. It won the Citizen Book Prize, decided by popular vote in South Africa.
Ironically, O’Mara had worked as a flight attendant early in her career, for Bahrain Air. After appearing in a television commercial for the airline, she was recruited by the commercial’s producer to become art director of his production company. She also worked in public relations and journalism in London, and spent a year living with the Masai in Tanzania with the British charity Mondo Challenge. She moved back to South Africa in 2006, meeting her husband-to-be on her flight back.
O’Mara described her new book as a novel “about turning 30, hating your job, and finding your wings.” We hope that audiences will still get the chance to read it.
This week New York welcomes “Performa ’09“, the third biennial of performance art to hit the city. The event features more than 150 artists over three weeks, and one of whom has me very excited.
I was lucky enough to experience South African artist Candice Breitz’s video installation “Legend” a few years ago, and have been a devoted fan ever since. “Legend” is an homage to Bob Marley using 30 of his fans. She had each of them wear headphones in a simple studio setting, and then individually recorded them singing the entire album. The effect is stunning: the videos are synced so it appears that all 30 participants are singing together a cappella (imagine grooving to your favorite song when you think you are alone):
There’s an even better quality version of the video on Breitz’s website, along with similar homages to John Lennon, Madonna, and Michael Jackson.
Breitz’s usual media are video and photography. For “Performa ’09” she is directing her first live performance, “New York, New York.” She’s working with four sets of twins: each set will work with her to develop a single character. Then the twins will be separated into two groups, who will do independent, improvised performances based on their characters. As with much of her work, “New York, New York” is meant to address the complexity of individuality. This work may raise more questions than it answers, but promises to be fun while doing so.