Troubling times told by those who witnessed them

We all know about the troubles, or think we do. Everyone the world over has some sort of opinion of how the troubles started or who was at fault. As someone who was born in the midst of the chaos, this particular reviewer, when asked about the troubles always explains it as different versions of the same truth. That is to say that each person who lived through the troubles will have experienced the events from a certain point of view and that particular point of view isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s simply the version that that particular person has come to think of as the truth given their own unique set of circumstances. That is not to say that everyone doesn’t come with their own particular set of prejudices but it is up to the interested and impartial observer to listen to each point of view and make up their own mind. Among those observers, who often put themselves in harm’s way in order that you the public were informed of events, were the journalists and reporters who reported on the numerous tragic events so for this to happen. Reporting the Troubles: Journalists tell their stories of the Northern Ireland conflict, does exactly what it says on the tin so to speak. With participation of well known international journalists such as Kate Adie, Martin Bell, Robert Fisk along with lesser known hacks who lived among the people about whom they reported. Each one has their own perspective, their own memories of a particular person or incident which occured during the over thirty years of violence. Each one is heartfelt and sincere and tries to bring attention to some of the many victims of the troubles, it also does what every journalist is often told not to do – it makes things personal. The strength of the book is as has been mentioned already, in the wide variety of reporters who have been asked to contribute. Perhaps where the book falls down is in a way in which the reporters themselves would critique their own work, it highlights one particular incident over another. Another point worth making is that once you read about an incident you have yet to come across you are fairly certain that the next is linked in some way, there isn’t enough of a variety. With that said it is indeed hard to remember every terrible incident, to pick one victim over another. What the book does do well is explore the human, private side of the reporters involved. It allows them to open up to an audience like perhaps not permitted at the time about the events and personalities involved. As someone who grew up during the troubles it is perhaps difficult to look at these events totally objectively, however at times the perspective of the intervening years and unawareness of some events certainly helps. A book best for those with a distant perspective on events perhaps

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African Queen Kidjo Delights audience in Belfast

Before this particular reviewer commences this particular review a certain amount of bias must be confessed. In the mid-nineties; while a lot of my peers were listening to hardcore rave or grunge music, artists such as Angelique Kidjo could be found in my fledgling CD collection. Indeed given how long the Beninese songstress has been on the music scene it is hard to believe that this was her first visit not just to Belfast; as was the case on this occasion, but the first time that she has played in Ireland at all – quite a coup for the international arts festival in Belfast.

She’s a UNICEF good will ambassador, she’s an advocacy ambassador and multi-award winning recording artist and last Monday night took to the stage. The critically acclaimed singer was in town to show case some of her best known songs as well as those from her latest offering, a reimagining of Talking Heads 1980 album Remain in Light, which became known for such hits as Once in a Lifetime, and The Great Curve, and which it is said was inspired by many of the rythem found in African music. So it is only natural that one of Africa’s top recording artists brings those beats back home.

 The night began with an upbeat rythem. Born Under Punches was her opening song, the lines punch out like a great political statement, “Take a look at these hands, take a look at these hands” Kidjo has a power and range to her voice that makes her audience immediately sit up, pay attention and crave more still. “All I want is to breathe” she sings melodically. The whole time Talking Heads original disappears into the mists of time and what emerges is something fresh and different that makes the song sound as if it was meant to be sung by Angelique Kidjo. Next up on the process of transformation is Cross-eyed and Painless originally a funk disco vibes song, somewhere in the back of the mind the listener can still hear the original with the new version laid over it and appreciate how it has been made completely new.

As well as her music, Angelique Kidjo is also known for her advocacy work and her work to help young girls around the world, who would otherwise be married off at a young age, achieve their goals of a productive education. In tribute to this she slows down the tone and sings a heartstring pulling lament Cauri. Moving swiftly back into Talking Heads material came Listening Wind, a song Kidjo uses to illustrate the greed and corruption that is riddling both the African continent and the world.

The Great Curve is transformed into a afro jazz number with a fast paced drum beat, and pulsating trumpet sounds, high tempo afro beats and electric guitar blend. The world moves on a woman’s hips indeed, this is another song that seems made for Angelique Kidjo

Next song on the reportoire is one neither of hers nor Talking Heads but “If you don’t know this you have not been living on planet earth”” she declared to an enthusiastic audience before the familiar beat of Pata Pata starts up (CJ: put it this way, you do know it, you just don’t know that you know it, if you search for it on Google you’ll soon be thinking “ah that one!”)

The Overload, updated by Angelique Kidjo into a song with attitude. African drum beats slow paced, electro pop turned afro rock with a smooth brass line.

Next up was the ultimate in audience participation. Angelique at this stage had well and truly seeped into the spirits of her audience and she new it. Now it was time for them to join in, not one person was uninfected with the rythem and the beat that she was spreading. Within minutes not a member of that audience wasn’t singing “Mama se Mamá se Mama Afirika” The world is Africa and Africa is the world; and the world is above all else human.
After the excitement and euphoria had lowered just a touch the magic was continued in the form of the iconic Once in a Lifetime (not on the Into Light album but a welcome addition nonetheless). The song is familiar enough to be recognised but Kidjo gives it her own twist.

The tempo was kept high and the audience participation also kept to the maximum with Tumba, a high octane catchy tune that sticks in the memory. Then comes a song that began it all, that first brought the hostess for the evening to this particular reviewer’s attention – Malaika , a melodic and tender love song in Swahili from the archives of African folk music.

Angelique Kidjo rounded off the night with her funked up version of Burning Down the House, a song not on the current album, also famously covered by Tom Jones and the Cardigans.

On the whole, while some might have expected a more extensive back catalogue to be covered by Kidjo she was there to highlight her most recent recording and did so with flash and with flair. This particular reviewer isn’t in the habit of liking an album of cover versions, often thinking it lazy and a sign that an artist’s career is slowing down, however and I hate again to show bias (“oh go on”, I hear you all cry, “you know you want to”, oh ok then) this was an inspired transformation of songs and the most energetic and enjoyable show this particular reviewer has been to. The high enjoyed by this particular event is still being felt, well done Angelique!

Mark Kermode at QFT and review of the Breadwinner

The Godfather of all film critics, Mark Kermode was in Belfast at the weekend as part of QFT’s 50th birthday celebrations.

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In conversation with Brian Henry Martin, Kermode talked about everything from his beginning in criticism and the fact that he believes that there are too many middle-class, middle-aged men in film criticism and that there needs to be more diversity. Mr. Kermode also talked about his most and least favourite film and also films that everyone else loved almost universally but he himself wasn’t so keen on. This is where the audience were brought in as several members of the audience gave their input as they gave their opinion as to what should have the dubious honour of being on this list. Mark Kermode also revealed an exclusive; new episodes were being made of the critically acclaimed Secrets of Cinema which will feature… Yes you’ve guessed it, or is it too soon to mention the “C” word?

Another anecdote in Kermode’s conversation was that he remembered criticisms of himself and his work more than he remembered the praise. In fact he acknowledged that Secrets of Cinema wasn’t universally loved, one critic from one of the UK’s leading daily newspapers bemoaned the fact that “Mark Kermode watches too many films”!

Part of the reason Mark Kermode was there was to preview his choice for the 2018 Belfast Film Festival Pick, The Breadwinner, a 2017, Irish, Canadian, Luxembourgish co-production. The Breadwinner is a beautifully animated story set in Afghanistan during the time of the Taliban. It focuses on Parvana, a young girl who spends her time with her father, who we learn from quite early on has given her daughter a sense of determination and independence; a dangerous thing for a young female in Taliban ruled Afghanistan to have. When her father, who has previously been left as an amputee following the Afghan-Soviet war, is arrested by the Taliban, Parvana; living in a country where females cannot go out in public without being chaparoned must resort to desperate measures to provide for her family. She must also however also endeavour to save her father.

Along the way she encounters many people, both friend and foe and survives through sheer determination and the memory of some of the folklore that her father has passed down to her. There is a contrast set in the film in that it is an animated film, but has very graphic adult themes such as beatings. The character of Parvana is only eleven but finds she has to grow up quickly in order to survive; indeed the audience, although tempted to think of it as a pleasant cartoon about the life of a young girl are occasionally nudged in the elbow and reminded that before their eyes is a serious drama.

Although The Breadwinner does have some heart pounding moments and does deal with some violent themes, (it is set in a turbulent land during turbulent times after all) gratuity is never resorted to. The Breadwinner is a story of triumph over adversity and determination over despair that is bound to be enjoyed by the whole family.