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Nelson Mandela
Liveright Publishing 2018
The late president of South Africa, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, has had his life story told in one medium or another, from printed works to musical recordings to the silver screen, over the past few decades. Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom (1994) told that story in his own inimitable style and set the record straight for posterity.

Yet there was one area of Mandela’s eventful life that seemed sorely under-documented over the years, and that is the details of his 27 years spent in prisons in South Africa as a political prisoner who stood up against the heinous system of racial segregation known as apartheid. This newly released book, The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela, fills that longstanding void in the Mandela story — this time, through the many letters Mandela himself had written to people in the outside world from within the hellish confines of prison.

It is a marvelously rich and detailed work, destined to become an international classic of prison literature. The editing of this bulky 600-page book is ably done by Sahm Venter, formerly a journalist in South Africa and currently senior researcher at the Nelson Mandela Foundation there. Ms. Venter does a commendable job of digging up and compiling the sheer mass of information presented within these pages, including many of Mandela’s old prison letters that are being published for the very first time.

And what a story these pages tell: Through Mandela’s own handwritten letters, painstakingly transcribed and meticulously collated and annotated, we see a man’s life as he lived it within the four prisons where he served time, starting with Pretoria Local Prison in 1962. He was 44 years old then and head of the guerrilla wing of the African National Congress (ANC), the political party to which he belonged. Mandela was a hero to his people; to the South African government, he was a communist-led terrorist who would die behind bars, never knowing freedom again. Or so they thought.

Some of the more poignant letters written by Mandela came about while he was locked up at the notorious prison at Robben Island, just off the coast of the southern tip of the African continent, from 1963 to 1982. He writes constantly to family, friends, compatriots and others, never sure if his letters were even reaching their destination. (They mostly weren’t; Mandela’s letters were confiscated by the prison authorities and held back for years.)

One letter that did make it out of Robben Island to its intended target was a letter that Mandela wrote to the South African government’s minister of justice in 1969 on behalf of his imprisoned comrades, demanding that they be released from prison immediately — and if this was not going to happen, that they be accorded the privileges commonly given to political prisoners and stop being treated as criminals.

The government responded to Mandela’s letter not long afterward by arresting and imprisoning his wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, too under harsh conditions. Nelson Mandela followed that up with two heart-wrenching letters in June 1969: one letter to his young girls at home as they now lived without both of their parents, and the other letter to his wife Winnie in prison, in which he penned these memorable lines:

A new world will be won not by those who stand at a distance with their arms folded, but by those who are in the arena, whose garments are torn by storms & whose bodies are maimed in the course of contest. Honour belongs to those who never forsake the truth even when things seem dark & grim, who try over & over again, who are never discouraged by insults, humiliation & even defeat.

Mandela was a lawyer by profession, and lawyers the world over are generally not known for being a prosaic lot. But these prison letters show a side of Mandela not often seen, a side that was expressive and almost poetic and philosophic in his command of language. Some of Mandela’s actual letters are even reproduced in their original form in this book, bringing the reader that much closer to Mandela’s emotional state of mind at the time he wrote them.

Through Mandela’s own prison letters over time, we see the shaping of a freedom fighter — someone, as Mandela would say later, who never doubted that his cause was just and that someday he would, in fact, be freed and his country liberated from the scourge of apartheid.

It all comes out here in Mandela’s writings, just as it was happening: the story of his own personal life and of his people, and the historical course of the liberation struggle in South Africa. Prison Letters documents Mandela’s writings right up until the very day of his release from Victor Verster Prison near Cape Town on 11 February 1990, when he emerged from prison life forever as a 71-year-old icon and, of course, as the future “father of the nation”.

Backing up these letters is a wealth of supplementary information in the form of appendices, including a timeline of events and a glossary of the many people whose names come up in Mandela’s letters over the course of his 27-year-long imprisonment. It is an exhaustively researched work befitting the legacy of one of the world’s foremost leaders in modern times, an obvious labor of love for both the book’s editor and the reader alike. One of Mandela’s grandchildren contributes a moving foreword to the book, adding the perfect special touch.

Released as part of events in South Africa marking 100 years since Mandela’s birth in 1918, The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela fills a long overdue gap in the life of this remarkable public figure. It is often heavy reading — not the kind of book you can breeze through and then casually put aside. But for those who are familiar with South Africa, as well as for those who aren’t, this book is essential reading.

Nelson Mandela passed away in 2013 at age 95, and this lengthy tome is a reminder that he is gone but not forgotten. More books will, no doubt, be released in the coming years by and about Mandela that will shine more light on his life and secure his golden legacy even further. But few of those books will likely ever come close to achieving what this one has achieved. So, buy it, read and reread it, treasure it and share it. And remember again one man’s greatness in the making.
音楽 music
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Cristina Pato
When most people think of Celtic music, an image of middle-aged white men dressed in corny-looking Scottish kilts and playing bagpipes in unison probably comes to mind. Cristina Pato, an artist from Galicia, Spain, generally destroys that stereotypical image of Celtic music and replaces it with a new, energized and feminized image.

In this recording, however, her immediate priority is to redefine and reaffirm what has come to be popularly marketed as “Latin music”. A professional player of the Galician bagpipes known as the gaita, Pato delves into the very roots of this music, the traditional 6/8 rhythm, and explores the ways that 6/8 time has transcended cultural boundaries and barriers in Latino-influenced cultures.

The result is a delightful journey to the heart of música latina — with the Galician Celtic bagpipes at the center of it all.

The Cristina Pato Quartet, made up of both Galician musicians and Latino-American musicians from the United States, gets right down to business on this CD with a group of six songs collectively dubbed “The Latina 6/8 Suite”, covering a myriad of European and South American song and dance styles. What unites them all is the 6/8 rhythm that gives this music its uniquely Latino flavor and which has migrated around the globe over the course of centuries. And of course, as we know, many Latin rhythms hail from Africa originally.

Each member of the quartet gets a chance to show off some musical chops in the blazing opening track of the suite, “Fandango: Prueba de Fuego”, which is based on the fandango singing/dancing style of Spain (featured in the audio clip above).

“Joropo-Festejo: Muiñeira de Chantada,” a composition by the band’s bassist, Edward Perez of the U.S., is centered around Afro-Peruvian, Venezuelan and Galician folk styles. On this track, Pato burns all over the place on bagpipes, accented by the occasional vocal yell that has become her musical trademark, both in the studio and in her dynamic stage performances.

But Pato is not only an accomplished bagpipe musician — she is a superb classical piano player as well. This is heard most clearly on “Tanguillo: The High Seas”, where Pato paints a mood in sound and does some stunning soloing as well. The accordion playing of bandmate Victor Prieto, also from Galicia, blends in beautifully on this tune.

Apart from the six-song suite, Pato and her band pay tribute to composer/pianist Emilio Solla of Argentina in a cover of his tune “Llegará, Llegará, Llegará” and to the rhythms of Brazil in “Let’s Festa”, an original by accordionist Prieto.

If there is one minus to this musical journey into the heart of Latin-inspired music, it is that it feels much too short. Clocking in at 35 minutes, Latina seems like it is really warming up just as it ends, and as a listener you want much more. But that said, Pato does manage here to cover a lot of territory in a relatively short span of time, and the soulfulness of the music never lags for a moment.

Many music lovers around the world have become familiar with Pato in recent years due to her collaborative work on recordings by the Silk Road Ensemble, led by cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Pato adds an integral voice as a woman to that ensemble, and frankly speaking, she makes the ensemble’s live concert performances that much more sensational.

And if that weren’t enough, Pato is also in demand as a writer for news media in Spain, as an educator of music (she holds a few degrees in the field), as a composer of musical concertos and as a public lecturer on the topic of being a “Sustainable Artist of the 20th Century”.

You can find out more about Pato, a truly multi-talented force of nature, by checking out her official website and her YouTube page. But be forewarned: You’re going to enjoy watching and listening to her performances, and are liable to come away as one of her newest fans, as I did.

While this recording, Latina, is about redefining and reaffirming the wide scope of Latin music in modern times, in the process it also redefines what being Celtic is all about. Thanks to performers like Cristina Pato, gone forever are the old stereotypes of Celtic music as the sole domain of kilt-clad white men. In their place is a new image today of Celtic music as the stuff of swing, soul and sensuality, and all while being carried forward by women.

Galicia, Spain has long been one of the centers of traditional Celt-influenced culture in Europe, and in that fusing of Celtic and Latino musical traditions, pure magic happens. All the evidence you need of that magic is right here on this CD.
映画 film
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John Scheinfeld, director
2017 160 min.
Considering how prolific of a composer and performer that saxophonist John Coltrane was in his short lifetime — and how influential and controversial he was to jazz followers and critics alike — there is relatively very little in video format to bear witness to his legacy.

Even in the DVD age, all that has been available on Coltrane in recent years are a few grainy, monochrome videos of him playing live in Europe and the United States in the 1960s (on stage and on television), along with a mostly forgettable, one-hour-long featurette about him titled The World According to John Coltrane, originally released back in 1990. That’s about it.

This new, full-length documentary film, Chasing Trane, remedies that visual-media deficit in Coltrane’s life and work in a big way. Interviews of people who were closest to the musician during his life are combined with snippets of him in concert, presenting a much fuller portrait of his creative genius as a jazz giant. The best actor in Hollywood today, Denzel Washington, also narrates Coltrane’s own words throughout the film, while the use of high-tech special effects makes it very much a movie of these digital times.

Running more than two and a half hours in length, Chasing Trane covers Coltrane’s entire life from birth to death: his early years growing up in the Black church and getting bitten by the jazz music bug, his time playing with jazz greats such as Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk, and his later search for a universal sound that might touch the common cord binding humanity. Coltrane’s struggles with heroin and alcohol back in the 1950s are not papered over in this film, and we get to know his personal pain and growth from that inner struggle into the evolved spirit he became.

Some of the American jazz elders who knew Trane personally or had worked with him — Benny Golson, Jimmy Heath, Reggie Workman, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter — appear in cameo interviews, underlining the film’s jazz-roots credibility. Guitarist Carlos Santana of the rock band Santana is among the musicians from other genres who appear on screen, testifying to the power of Trane’s music to inspire across borders and boundaries in the music business.

Especially delightful and insightful for viewers of this film are the video clips of home movies taken by Trane and his wife, the late musician Alice Coltrane, as well as old photos of Trane. Many of these have never been seen publicly before, and through them we get a glimpse of John Coltrane the father and husband, not just the icon. Director Scheinfeld apparently had direct access to the Coltrane family archives, and he does a fine job of weaving these precious archival finds into the film’s narrative.

A few surprises come up in the interviews: guest appearances by pianist McCoy Tyner, the last surviving member of Coltrane’s classic quartet; by Antonia Andrews, one of the stepchildren of Coltrane, in her first-ever appearance on camera; and by former U.S. president Bill Clinton, who was an amateur jazz saxophone player (he should have stayed in music instead of politics).

There is also a Japan connection to Chasing Trane. A wealthy Japanese businessman from the city of Osaka whose expensive hobby is collecting anything and everything having to do with Coltrane is among those interviewed in the film. Yasuhiro Fujioka often promotes himself here in Japan as a self-styled “John Coltrane researcher”, quote-unquote, but he is little more than a middle-aged otaku (geek, maniac) with lots of money to burn in obsessively buying up Coltrane memorabilia wherever he can find it in the world. The segment of the film featuring him amuses more than impresses.

Coltrane’s tour of Japan in 1966 was the last tour in his lifetime, and it was worth it just to see some of that covered in the film. Some months later in 1967, Trane died suddenly in the U.S. at age 40 from liver cancer — a result, no doubt, of his early years of substance abuse. His death still resonates deeply among those who were closest to him, even 50 years later, as we see movingly in this film.

Much is made in the documentary of the “cosmic” side of Coltrane’s music and of his spiritual search for the meaning of life. Toward that end, the film features a lot of outer space special-effects graphics, many of which look like they were leftovers from an old Star Trek television episode. Those could easily have been deleted; otherwise, the latest technology employed throughout the film really works to complement visually the telling of the Coltrane story, especially for younger viewers who are used to lots of digital flash.

And on the audio side, Chasing Trane was simultaneously released with a CD of original soundtrack music from the film. Though it is far from being a complete discography, for a single-disc release, it does a good job of representing the Coltrane legacy and the film. If you plan to buy this DVD, you will want to get the CD soundtrack too. They go together perfectly.

Interest in Trane’s music legacy shows no signs of waning either, in these early years of the new century. Impulse Records, the American record label that Coltrane helped make a success while he was alive, has just come out with a new 3-CD collection of “lost” recordings from Trane’s later years. (It is being made available in Japan first, one of the benefits of living here as a music fan.)

If there is a single facet of this film that is noticeably missing, it is the sound of Coltrane’s own voice. The only time we get to hear him actually speak in the movie is during his familiar chanting on the song “A Love Supreme”. But then again, Trane seemed to have done no television interviews while he was alive and the sound quality of the few surviving audio interviews he did give were said to be of inferior quality — thus the decision by director Scheinfeld to have Coltrane’s written words culled from various sources and brought to life by a famous Hollywood actor as narrator. It is a filmmaking technique that doesn’t always work well in a nonfiction documentary; it does work effectively in this case.

And lest we think that the inspiration of Coltrane on others was limited to musicians, the bonus tracks on this DVD treat us to some real nuggets of gold: short interviews with several people in the U.S. who are inspired today to use the music of Coltrane in their own line of work in the fields of art, theology, education and medicine. It is the oil painting of one of those interviewees, artist Rudy Gutierrez of New York, in fact, that graces the DVD and CD covers of Chasing Trane.

Included among those bonus interviews is one with another Rudy of some notoriety: the legendary Rudy Van Gelder, the recording engineer of choice for Trane and many other big-name jazz stars due to the warm and clear audio techniques used at his Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. In one of his last interviews before passing away in 2016 at age 91, Van Gelder relates his memorable experiences of recording the “unique” sound of Coltrane in the studio and live.

Coltrane released 25 albums as a band leader in his lifetime and played on many more sessions of other top-name artists. Trane was by all accounts a quiet, humble person who did not have much to say verbally, but who nevertheless changed the world of modern music forever with the depth and soulfulness he expressed on his horn and through his composing.

“I know that there are bad forces, forces that bring suffering to others and misery to the world. I want to be the opposite force,” Trane was reported to have said not long before he passed away. “I want to be the force which is truly for good.” In that sense, he has succeeded gloriously in attaining the universal reach of his music that seemed to elude him in life.

Here, at last, is a film that fulfills a long-overdue role in affirming Coltrane’s high place in the world of modern music and introduces him to yet another generation of music lovers and jazz fans around the planet. And not a moment too soon. Chasing Trane is bound to stand above other video productions for a long time to come as the definitive movie on the lifework of the late, great John Coltrane.