Sunday, July 19, 2009

Mandela Day - the concert

The NY Times had picked it as the gig of the week even before the show took place, and it certainly lived up to the hype. What a show! It was filled with so many highlights and goosebump-inducing moments. From Dave Stewart collaborating with France's First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy to Baaba Maal and Chris Chameleon's version of 'With My Own Two Hands'. Morgan Freeman, too, said a few words about playing the role of Mandela in the upcoming movie, 'Invictus'. Madiba himself also sent a little message through and Barack Obama paid a warm, heartfelt tribute to the former SA president too.

I truly felt proud to be South African as Soweto Gospel Choir enhanced the performances of almost every artist on that stage. Freshlyground, Jesse Clegg, Loyiso, Sipho Mabuse, Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Vusi Mahlasela were brilliant on stage. Literally every single performance fitted right in and added its own shine to the show. Josh Groban and Italy's Zucchero too, brought tears to eyes of those around me. For me, that moment came with the Maal/Chameleon duet and the images on screen of people's hands opened out. The last image was Madiba, smiling broadly, with his palms turned out.

Aretha Franklin, Alicia Keys, Angelique Kidjo, Queen Latifah and Cyndi Lauper brought their pizzazz too. But Mister Stevie Wonder brought the house down. It was only natural that he sing 'Happy Birthday' and the entire ensemble joined him for that. Absolutely amazing!

As I was leaving the afterparty, I saw him walk inside the hotel through the garage. I said to the person who was walking with him to please tell him that a South African fan wanted to say thank you for a great show. Stevie put his hand out right in front of me to shake mine and said thank you to me. It was a moment that no camera could ever have captured.

Here's to 91 more, Madiba.

A special thanks to the US Embassy for helping me to be in the United States to cover two of the biggest stories of the year.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mandela Day Gala Dinner

I've always thought Morgan Freeman was one of those iconic figures you could never really get close enough to speak to. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he hardly gives interviews and also that when he was filming in SA, there was no getting a microphone near him. But last night at the Mandela Day Gala Dinner and Auction at Grand Central Station, I got to shake his hand and have him give me a little hug. I couldn't believe how approachable he was - and such a warm character.

Bill Clinton, together with Graca Machel, hosted the event. I was really lucky enough to be inside the dinner as it was not open to the media. It was really hard not to be able to record everything that was being said. Freeman spoke about how playing a US president and playing God paled in comparison to playing Mandela. Clinton described Madiba as one of his greatest friends, and said that not many people would give up 67 months of their life for others, never mind the 67 years Mandela dedicated to the struggle.

Alicia Keys and Josh Groban were there too - and a whole host of great SA artists like Vusi Mahlasela, Sipho Mabuse, Thandiswa Mazwai, Jesse Clegg and Yvonne Chaka Chaka. Loyiso and the Soweto Gospel Choir performed. The Reverend Al Sharpton - whom we have heard a lot from since Michael Jackson's death - also attended. Didn't get a chance to ask him what he thinks about the talk that MJ's death could be investigated as a homocide...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Even the Mayor gets in on the action...

He may be the richest man in New York and mayor of the city, but Michael Bloomberg did his part to bring the spirit of Mandela Day to life. Bloomberg joined dozens of people who were packing parcels of apples for the underprivileged. He even picked up a drum and started playing with the guys from The Drum Cafe - nice one!

NY Mayor with 46664 director Tim Massey at Union Square.

Mandela Day really seems to be gathering momentum. There are volunteers all over the city, recruiting more volunteers and talking to people about the idea. I've been approached by a number of them, handing out flyers and asking me to sign up.

Also chatted to Vusi Mahlasela about his performing in the first ever Mandela Day concert. He was on the bill for last year's concert at Hyde Park in honour of Madiba's 90th birthday and he is collaborating again with Josh Groban. The way they do 'Weeping' is just beautiful. Many of the SA musicians are starting to arrive in New York now, getting settled in the city that never sleeps, ahead of the big concert on Saturday. I hear Gloria Gaynor has also arrived in town for the show - really want to speak to the woman who gave us 'I Will Survive'. I am sure she has much to say about a man who really did survive a lot.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Listen. Speak. Act

So it's full steam ahead for Mandela Day celebrations in New York. An exhibition about Madiba's life has opened at Grand Central Station - very simple, yet very effective.

Also went to a reading by a Broadway star here, called Brian D'arcy James who plays Shrek in the hit musical. He read two stories - African fables, if you like - as kids from a disadvantaged school in Harlem tried to pay attention. Shame, at least they learnt a little bit about our former president. One ten-year-old boy told me he considers Mandela to be "the Martin Luther King of South Africa". Another girl said the world should be more like him 'cause "then people would be fair". Insightful young things.

It's also great that America is getting in on the Madiba magic. One man I spoke to who helped with the creative side of things, told me the country is in need of nation-building and reconciliation now more than ever. And he believes Mandela - or the spirit of Mandela, embodied through Mandela Day - is the best thing right now. Interesting...I would have thought Obama could have done that. But I guess there's enough Madiba magic to go around, isn't there ;)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Hello, New York

I thought I would somehow leave Michael Jackson behind when I left Los Angeles. Not sure why I thought this, but I was soooo wrong. I went to get something to eat just after arriving in the City. Stepped into the pizza place, and what are they playing? The Girl Is Mine...followed shortly by Thriller. Walk out of the place and slap bang into a street vendor trying to sell me a t-shirt.

The next day, I had a guy try sell me copied CDs of MJ's music for 5 dollars a piece. I didn't buy them in LA, so I ain't going to be buying them in NYC!

I am really looking forward to Mandela Day. It's a global call to action by the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the 46664 campaign to encourage people across the world to follow the example set by Madiba to give of their time to others. The idea is that he gave up 67 years of his life for the struggle, so people should dedicated 67 minutes of their service to others. And this all takes place on Madiba's birthday, the 18th of July. New York is spearheading the movement and on that day a star-studded concert is taking place at Radio City Music Hall, featuring Alicia Keys, Queen Latifah, Aretha Franklin, T-Pain, Wyclef Jean and a whole host of South African performers too. It's going to be fantastic!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Moving On...

I managed to miss my flight to New York yesterday morning.

I overslept.

It was probably bound to happen considering I have had so little sleep in the past week. But it’s okay, because it gave me some time to gather my thoughts and reflect on things before heading to the City.

I’ve been reading the LA Times, which has a number of pages dedicated to the story of the memorial. Reading the articles, I relived many of the moments that took place during the event. When it was happening, I was so busy jotting down notes and tweeting that it all went by very quickly. I am so fortunate and grateful to have been able to experience this first hand, and to have been able to report on it for people back home.

Much of the focus of the memorial has been on Paris Katherine Jackson and her moving words about her father. Some argue it was not right letting her speak – celeb blogger Perez Hilton let the world know he thought it wasn’t the smartest of moves – but others say it did what nothing else that has been said or written about Michael in the past few days could: it humanized him. Many said afterwards that when Paris called him “daddy” it brought home the reality that MJ was a father, and he had a family, just like you and me. That’s probably where the similarities end, but it’s a powerful connection to make. Her words seemed to make sure there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Brooke Shields also brought some of that humanity in Michael out – talking about his mischievous nature and his infectious laugh. Relaying a story of how they snuck into Elizabeth Taylor’s suite to see her dress the day before the wedding, she brought to life another side of the popstar: that of a close friend who always had time for those close to him – no matter how famous he was – and someone who loved to laugh.

John Mayer’s guitar solo of ‘Human Nature’ was as moving as Mariah Carey singing the words of ‘I’ll Be There’- if not more so. But just being among the fans – the ordinary people to whom he meant so much – was by far the most touching and moving experience. People buoyed by his music, his memory, his Michael Jackson-ness.

Over the past few days I have discovered what the word ‘fan’ really means. It many cases it truly means fanatic - a fervent love for someone that you have never met. It’s a passion that keeps you hanging onto the person with all your might – even if they have gone.
Aside from the adults who relayed their fondest memories and unfulfilled dreams through devastated eyes, young girls too young to have been around during his heyday, also told me they liked his songs - because they could relate to them.

I am wondering what creates this definition of fan. I met a woman who was standing outside MJ’s Encino home, crying as if she’d only just heard the news. It was a week and a day after the world discovered that he had died. Another lady sat up for 23 hours the day before the memorial to paint a portrait of the singer to take with to the service. For these die-hard fans, I think his memorial service certainly brought with it sort of closure, a defining sense of “this has really happened.” For days after MJ’s death so many things were up in the air – including the funeral and memorial details and I think this is what caused so much of the grief to last so long and build up.

Anyway, whatever lies behind becoming and being a fanatic, I think I will take a little break from Michael Jackson before I head off to another larger than life personality – Nelson Mandela. It’s his 91st birthday next Saturday and I will be in New York for the first ever Mandela Day.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Remembering Michael Jackson - The Memorial

I almost can't believe it is over. The memorial and funeral of Michael Jackson. The story itself is, of course, still far from being done. I've been working in two time zones so I am feeling the effects of it all now and am pretty exhausted. There is still so much to reflect on, but that will come. I fear the Starbucks has stopped working and I must get a bit of shut eye.

Being at the Staples Centre I truly felt a part of History (yes, I've been told to pardon the pun already). Because of the time difference I was there on Monday evening LA time, so I could report live for Tuesday morning SA time. The people who were there yesterday were mostly those who didn't get tickets for the memorial. A few of them told me they came to pay their respects anyway, and sign a giant condolence card in honour of MJ.

Returning, after three hours of sleep, the next day, on Tuesday morning LA time, Tuesday afternoon SA time, I found more fans paying tribute to MJ the way they knew best. Some dressed up, some carried paintings, others wore t-shirts with his face on them or a single silver glove.

More to come, but for now a few hours of shut eye.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

4th of July

In amidst all the Michael Jackson madness, Americans still managed to celebrate the 4th of July. Well, most of them anyway. I went back to the Encino family home and couldn't believe there were still so many people coming to pay their respects. I spoke to a lady who couldn't stop crying and said that as a little girl she always thought she would marry Michael.

The Williams family travelled together to come pay their own personal tribute.

The crowds

There are also still loads of tributes on Michael's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

On Friday morning there was a press conference at the Staples Centre about one of the issues that's had people talking about - the funeral details. The family spokesperson Ken Sunshine said the family was concerned about making sure the fans got to be a part of the experience.