Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Reggae through Iceland’s longest night of the year

Huffington Post Story by Stephen Weir. December 12, 2016
AmabAdamA strut their way through the longest night of the year 

On December 21st – Day One of Winter – sunlight in Reykjavik is just a 4 hour 7 minute low-in-the-sky rumour. The dim sol stays lit long enough for Icelanders to shop, grab an espresso, gas the car and suck up what little light the gods offer that day.
Busy. Busy. But oh so brief. What do Icelanders do for the other 20 hours of a winter day? For Gnúsi Yones, Salka Sól Eyfel and Steinunn Jónsdóttir, the three singing stars of  AmabAdamA  the seemingly never-ending night is time for perfecting the Jamaica strut,  singing and writing reggae music -- all in Icelandic of course!  Next spring when the sun comes back, AmabAdamA will have a new album for their growing world fan base.

Iceland Crowd Goes Wild When Band Took The Stage
There wasn’t much light last month when I travelled to Reykjavik to take in the Airwaves music festival. Sixth year in a row and the third time I was seeing AmabAdamA.  For most of the show I was trapped in a crowded media pit watching the two blond female singers and a bearded red haired man giving their Icelandic take on the Jamaican strut.Incongruous. Herky-jerky.  Infectious.  The 1,000 Vikings in the packed hall (that is big audience for a city of 120,000) started mimicking these odd Jamaican-like moves as the music on stage throbbed in a decidedly Caribbean Call and Response musical movement.
It is old style reggae AmabAdamA music has trace elements of last century stars like Toots and the Maytals and Chaka Demus and Pliers.
I didn’t get backstage that night – a glacial wall of security people blocked the entrance from the screaming fans.  I wanted to find out how there could be original reggae being written and performed so far north? What are they singing about? And, where did that Iceland strut come from anyway?

I did connect with the band after returning to my own version of the Great White North, albeit via e-mail.  Over a couple of days we talked about AmabAdamA’s  three year evolution from a Reykjavik  “Bashment Dance” band to A-list performers with online Icelandic videos garnering more views than there are people in the world who can understand the language.
“ We haven’t made an English song yet! It’s all in Icelandic. We write about things that matter to us,” explained singer Steinunn Jónsdóttir. “We have made songs about corruption (hermenn) and lack of compassion (fljúgum hærra), the importance of respecting earth (gaia), dancing (hossa hossa), and forgetting what you are doing because you see something nice (Ai Ai Ai) and lots of other stuff. We say what we think and (with these long dark winters) we think a lot.”

“Gnúsi makes the “riddims” and he and I have written most of the lyrics, but we all influence the outcome.”

The band formed in 2013 and quickly signed to a local recording studio.  One album Heyrðu mig nú   has been released and a single from it  "Hossa Hossa" (Think the 1965 breakthrough hit  Bam Bam by Toots &  the Maytals) was a solid hit in Iceland and got play in Scandinavia. Last year "GAIA", found a large following (by Icelandic standards) on radio and YouTube.
I couldn’t understand a word of what I heard on stage but the tight harmonies and the enthusiasm of the performers make it oh so approachable.  For Iceland ears, the lyrics resonate as strongly in the land with little light, as reggae does in Sun Splashed Trench Town.
“ We use the same themes (as Jamaican reggae), just because they speak to us. Lovers. Rock and Rebel music,” she continued. “We are fortunate enough to grow up in a very peaceful and privileged island so we cant say that we have been through much hardness, but still there are some things in our society that we think are wrong and we point them out. “
“Our biggest political party is right-wing. We dont connect with that way of thinking and we are not afraid to say that out in our songs. We want to inspire our listeners to care! To stand up! To love our neighbours. That’s how we were brought up.”
“We are Icelandic and we are not pretending to be anything else. We write about our own experiences. We still connect to the compassion and simplicity of the lyrics of classic reggae songs.”
At Airwaves, the people cheer, clap and try to mimic AmabAdamA’s moves. It looks like the  whole room is moving a chicken dance has met dancehall thing (watch their YouTube Hossa Hossa to understand).
“We don’t really think a lot about our choreography, but Steinunn took some dancehall classes and taught us some moves. We haven’t mastered it yet though (as you probable noticed) but we just like to dance!”
One of the reasons we love reggae is the trance of the (sic) riddims. You just cannot stand still!,” said singer Salka Sól Eyfeld. “Icelandic people don’t really let loose on the dance floor but we do, and don’t really care if we don’t look our best doing so, and that influences our audience.”
The band has only performed once outside of Iceland and that was in England.  This time of year they dream of taking their act to somewhere warm … including Canada (It is all relative, the band thinks of Canada as a ‘way south’).
The three singers don’t have the luxury of warm weather vacations, all have part-time jobs to sustain themselves.  “Gnúsi has a recording studio, Salka is a radio host and one of the Icelandic Voice judges on TV. I teach dance and work at a cafe called Kaia Kaffihús (that sells Marley coffee :)”

Friday, 25 November 2016

Does Life Change When You Win A $100,000 Book Prize


Susan Pedersen Reflects On Family and 2015 Cundill Prize 
By K.J Mullins Newz4U

Winning the 2015 Cundill Prize in Historical Literature has not changed author Susan Pedersen but it did help her have more time to reconnect with her youngest son. Last autumn when Pedersen won the prize she was taking some time off from her teaching position at Columbia University to work on her current project. She used some of the prize money to fly her youngest child to the UK for some much needed one on one time.

Pedersen said that winning the prize was special but in terms of academic success did not have a large impact at Columbia University. She noted that the book appearing in the Oxford University Press in summer 2015 was more celebrated at the American school.
Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell (l), Susan Pedersen
and Chancellor Michael Meighen - Cundill Win!

Pedersen is a dedicated academic and a devoted working mother. Loyal to a life of exploring and retelling the history of Britain there are times that her two worlds are in conflict. Long periods of research while teaching takes time, making each minute with her family important quality time. She remembers speaking at a lecture in aboard when her daughter was just three months old. Still nursing she transported back several large containers of milk on the airplane. “The flight attendants all were working mothers and so helpful” making sure to pack the bottles in dry ice for the long trip home.

During the summers Pedersen was often away from home doing research. Her children always came with her and her husband on these trips. “I always told the two of them to entertain themselves,” Pedersen laughs. Because of that time her daughter and son spent together they have a tight bond with each other which Pedersen is quite happy about.

Pedersen admits that at times the blending of her two worlds is a challenge, a fact that she shares during some of her lectures. Many young working women have been inspired by her example of mixing family and a successful career.

Pedersen in university housing for NYU in Greenwich Village with her family. (Her husband is a professor at NYU). We spoke about the high cost of rents in both New York City and Toronto for small apartments. For this historian having a large office with room for books at her school is a life saver! That's not to say books aren't an important part of the family home which she confided is filled with book shelves.

Her book The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire showed the power and fatal flaws of the League of Nations. The book took a decade of research. Her next book is still years away but her excitement of the subject is infectious. She is venturing into the world of Edwardian era of politics from the eyes of three women. At a time when women, like children were to be seen but not heard, feminism played an important role. Pedersen had a mischievous smile in place as she discussed her subjects in Toronto hours before the announcement of the 2016 Cundill Prize for Historical Literature (McGill University) was announced. Still early in the game of research Pedersen has found some delicious scandals. “This book will be very different than The Guardians,” she promised. One of the biggest changes will be the overall style of writing which she believes will speak to a large audience. Not that The Guardian was not an amazing read that appealed to a wide audience.

One of the most lasting powers from literary prizes like the Cundill Prize is increasing the reach of books that often have a very limited audience. Historical literature is generally read by historians, with dry academic writing. The Guardian broke that rule by being lively and a page turner, appealing both to the academic and the general public, it has been on many best seller book lists.


Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Last Folio - Books of the Dead - Yuri Dojc's art at the Hamilton Art Gallery


By Stephen Weir
Edited version posted by Huffington Post

Moscow. Jerusalem. Vatican City. São Paulo. Canadian photographer Yuri Dojc is is known and admired for his world vision.  His photographs of crumbling synagogues, badly decayed Torahs scrolls and discarded school books he discovered in a rotting  70-years locked Jewish school in Slovakia are seen as instruments of change in a battle against cultural genocide.

Here in Canada little is known about his travelling exhibition of pictures of those holocaust books. That is because he is Canada’s most accomplished nude photographer. That may changes now that his Last Folio exhibition has finally arrived in Canada, and people in Ontario are seeing his passion and his dread of mankind’s darkside.

The Last Folio is an exhibition, an art book and a documentary movie, based on the Slovakia pictures he has taken.  The exhibition that continues to tour in Europe, Israel, South America and the United States just opened in Hamilton, Ontario.

Time had stood still since 1942 in Bardejov, Slovakia, until ten years ago Dojc returned to visit his family’s ancestral home.  There  was once a thriving Jewish community in the North-Eastern Slovakia town but that ended a long time ago. It was on the eve of World War II, many of the villagers had fled, and those remaining were taken away to concentration camps.

Serendipity led Dojc, along with a documentary film team to the local Jewish school, which had been locked since the day their students were deported to the concentration camps. All the schoolbooks were still there, including essay notebooks with corrections.

The decomposing books, which were lying on dusty shelves, are the last witnesses of a once thriving culture. Dojc  photographed each book like the survivors they are–each one captured as a portrait, preserved in their final beauty, silent witnesses to the horrors of history.

It was oh so personal for the Toronto photographer. Amongst the hundreds of books and fragments he photographed one instantly seared his soul – it had belonged to his grandfather, Jakab Deutsch.

“The Holocaust is something, it is a topic that I have avoided all my life, but now in my 60s, it eventually caught up with me,” said Yuri Dojc, explaining how he turned his photographs of those books into the global travelling show he calls Last Folio.
School found by Yuri Dojc unused since WW2
“This exhibition started in 1997, it was a total departure from what I was doing until then.  This work actually changed me as a person and as a photographer.  This is a show about cultural memory.  Memories of people who never came home. Memories about my parents, from whom I just got scraps  of what happened during my childhood.

“ What I was fascinated with is the beauty of the decaying books  … they are monuments to people who used to own them . Most of the people who owned those books did not return from the camps. There were no funerals, there were no headstones, there is nothing to show they lived, except what I was able to picture. Those books are their tombs and at the same time they are acts of defiance against those people who tried to destroy (it all). “

It is Dojc’s stunningly beautiful photographs that let us experience the vibrant cultural history of Slovakian Jews through the now abandoned schools, synagogues and mikvahs (ceremonial baths) he remembers with his camera.

“There is a reason why I call it Last Folio. It was the last stand. The people are all gone, the books 90% of them are gone and the other10% will be gone in five years because of neglect. A project like this is just a cultural memory -- nothing else.  The photographs are all that I can do.”

In Brazil the arrival of the show was frontpage news. Last month a television special was broadcast throughout the country comparing Dojc’s exhibition with what is happening in Allepo, Syria.

“The news feature talks of how easily cultures can be destroyed by war,” explained Dojc. “They said I was showing a culture that was killed 70-years ago and now we are watching the destruction of another culture, in real time in Syria. So what have we learned over those 70 years?  My pictures preserve and hopefully we learn!”

Art Gallery of Hamilton is exhibiting the Last Folio, The show opened last week and will remain on view until May 14, 2017.

George Socka interviewed Yuri Dojc at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. Now posted on You Tube 



Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The Soca King Is Coming Hopefully to a Cinema Near You

Natalie Perera and Machel Montano in Bazodee
huffington post blog - pending

The King of Soca and perennial star of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival, Machel Montano, has a mission.  Black. White. Brown. Yellow. Montano feverishly believes that Soca Music is the beat of the 21st century
This weekend the Trinidadian singer is seeing his new movie Bazodee, opening in theatres across Toronto.  The feature film -- a musical -- is a fusion of Soca music and Bollywood movie styling.
Fresh from a sell-out premiere at the just completed Caribbean Tales Film Festival in Toronto, Bazodee is being booked into Canadian theatres by Serafini Films.  They are billing Bazodee as "a 'Come Alive' Caribbean Musical featuring Machel Montano in his debut and the heartbeat of his Soca music, influenced by the traditional sounds of India and electronica." The movie will be shown at three theatres in Toronto, Brampton and Mississauga this weekend.

45-year old Machel Montano, the longtime soca grandmaster of the annual Toronto Caribbean Carnival Parade (and carnivals around the world), has won countless awards for his singing and songwriting .When people dance on the streets in carnival parades from Port of Spain, Trinidad to Toronto, it is done to a song written and sung by Machel.  Over his career he has recorded over 70 songs suitable for Soca road marches including Party Done, Waiting on the Stage, You, Bend Over, and, One More Time/Wine (all featured in the movie).
"He wakes up every morning and thinks 'How am I going to bring Soca to world," said Canadian based business manager Che Kothari at an open-mike session on stage at the Caribbean Tales Film Festival last week. This film, Bazodee is a huge part of his plan of attack.
" It took 10-years to make this movie. The financing, in the Caribbean was a huge challenge -- I don't know if I could do it again!" explained producer Ancil McKain to me after the movie.  "It cost $2-million to make.  That isn't big money by Hollywood standards, but, if it wasn't for Machel investing his own money in the feature it would never have been made."
Set on the colourful islands of Trinidad & Tobago, Bazodee pulses with sensuous dance rhythms.  It is a Romeo and Juliet story that was shot on the crowded streets of Port-Of-Spain during last year's Carnival.
Bazodee Talk Back at Caribbean Tales. Ancil far left Che Kothari second right

Anita Ponchouri (Natalie Perera), is the dutiful Indian daughter of a deep-in-debt Trinidad based businessman (Kabir Bedi). She is about to marry a wealthy Londoner (Staz Nair), but a chance encounter with Soca singer, Lee de Leon (superstar Machel Montano), sets the love story in motion. de Leon agrees to perform at the engagement party for both families. Unable to deny their mutual attraction, Anita must now choose between the answer to her family's financial prayers and the possibility of true love.
Dancing. Romancing. Drama and Humour playing out on screen to a soundtrack of 33+ years of Montano's biggest hits, have already made the 110 minute film a huge hit in the Caribbean where it was released earlier this summer.
Montano and Serafina Films admit that the movie has to be seen by more than just the Caribbean diaspora, to make Bazodee a financial success and to get worldwide converts to the fine art of Soca Jumping UP!
Montana didn't make it to Toronto for the movie's premiere, instead sending Instagram messages the SRO Royal Theatre audience during the wrap-up post movie chalk talk.  He also talked to Billboard Magazine in LA about the movie.  “It’s important to put a film out that tells the story of Caribbean culture, alongside the story of soca music,” says Montano about the movie, which Serafini Releasing hopes to release to 200 screens nationwide. “Reggae music did what it did, and I think now Soca can do the same.”

Ancil McKain interviewed by Paradise Hendrickson
" The movie is shot in English, but, we did think about adding subtitles when Trini dialect is used.  But you know, the movie has been showing in Manhattan since August 1, mostly to white audiences.  We surveyed them and 95% came back and said No, don't add subtitles,” continued Ancil McKain. "The Trini accent  is very much a singsong style of speaking.  At first they (white audience members) don't get it,  but, by the time we get to the big finale everyone gets it!" 
This weekend they have nailed down just three Canadian theatres to run the film. Montano and McKain are praying that that this weekend’s screening beach head will bring more cinema bookers into Montano's cult of Soca.