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There aren’t many places to go in New York when you’re homesick for a lekker South African meal. For ‘n bietjie bobotie, some pap & vleis, a bowl of mngqusho, or a slice of malva pudding. Up until Sunday night, there was only one place to go that fed your soul just as much as it did your stomach.
To residents who live in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, Madiba became a staple on the block of Dekalb and Carlton streets, opposite the Edmonds Playground, close to the park. To South Africans – and Africans – it became a home-away-from-home. A place to go when you wanted to support your team during the Soccer World Cup. When you needed to mourn the death of Nelson Mandela with others who felt the depth of the loss. When you wanted to vent about the US presidential election and the rise of Donald Trump. Or when you just wanted to catch some local kwaito or jazz tunes. 
Owner Mark Henegan started the restaurant 19 years ago, when he and his wife took over a rice-and-beans spot, adding 5 tables and a make-shift bar to create Madiba. Mark wanted to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela, to the ideals of freedom he stood for, and the example of sacrifice he served to his country. I remember interviewing Mark when he was expanding to a Harlem location and him telling me about how much he wanted to keep Mandela’s legacy going in the US, for others to follow.
“Mandela was the peacemaker. He said, ‘put down your pangas and your guns.’ He embraced rugby, the Afrikaners, and, through the TRC, helped us come together. We’re all the reflection and image of God – we all have the ability to do great things. If everyone can just do a little bit, we can all make wonders happen. Somebody that went to jail for what he believed in, became president of South Africa. Could you imagine being in that moment in that time, coming out of prison and becoming a president? It’s almost crazy.”
Brooklyn was the first place Madiba went on his first visit to NYC, which was also his first to the US, upon being released from prison. Mark himself was told he was crazy to open up Madiba, as a white man in what was then a predominantly black area that had a problem with drugs. Over the years Fort Greene has changed and morphed into a hip part of Brooklyn, with gentrification causing property prices to surge. Mark has made his battles with rent known – he didn’t have a proper lease on the building and so the restaurant’s future was always unknown.
To have made it this long is testimony to the family behind the scenes – to Mark, who was born in Benoni and grew up in Durban, to his sister, who helped him financially get the place on its feet, to his brother, who spent many a night behind the bar. But also, to those who became family, which is essentially, anyone who walked through Madiba’s doors.
The restaurant attracted a warm hub of people, working with the nearby community to help plant food gardens for local charities and becoming the place to hang out for regular customers. “Madiba is about community; it’s about family, wrapped in a blanket. It doesn’t matter if you’re from South Africa or not. I don’t look at it as a restaurant, I look at it as a community space,” Mark had once told me. It was a space we all could go for a little of that Madiba magic in the US of A.

In Blood Diamond, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Zimbabwean ex-mercenary utters a line that became one of those oft-heard film quotes. As a means of explaining the way things work – or don’t work – on the continent, he tells co-star Jennifer Connelly, “TIA.” When she doesn’t get his homemade-acronym the first time around, he spells it out: “This. Is. Africa.” It may have taken over a decade, but you could say Black Panther is the cinematic blockbuster retort to that. A long-awaited clap-back in the form of a roar. 
This is Africa. Yes, it’s a heightened, idealized version of it — where vibranium, not diamonds — is the major resource. Yes, it’s called Wakanda, and is a place built out of the pages of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s comic books. Yes, it exists within the fictional Marvel Cinematic Universe. And yes, most of it was filmed in Atlanta in the US. But make no mistake. This. Is. Africa. 
This is Africa – a multifaceted, exhilarating place that hardly gets the kudos it deserves onscreen. Not until now, not until Black Panther. As a South African, I was giddy with little squeals of excitement each time I heard Xhosa being spoken by the characters or recognized an item of clothing. It’s because for so long, when Africa has been represented onscreen, a simplistic view has usually been shown. Poverty over potency. When attempts have been made to change the portrayal of Africa onscreen, more often than not, shortcuts are usually taken. I will love Morgan Freeman forever, but even he battled with pronouncing the Rolihlahla of Nelson Mandela’s name in Invictus. In Black Panther, the clicks and accents of Xhosa are there. The effort to be authentic is there. It’s in the “eish” that Lupita Nyong’o utters when T’Challa interferes in her mission. It’s in the “Nkosi” uttered by the women in moments of hardship. 
It’s in the Basotho blankets that are held up as shields in battle. It’s in the gold and silver Ndebele neckrings the Dora Milaje wear. It’s in the casting of legendary local actors John Kani and Connie Chiume as elders.  
In director Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, this is Africa. Where scientists and shamans live side by side; where spiritualism and technology can co-exist.
Where world music’s elder statesman Baaba Maal and the Gqom Queen Babes Wodumo share space on the music credits. Where trap music can play in the background of one scene, and then traditional drum-beating in the foreground of another. Where Kendrick Lamar can curate songs and Ludwig Göransson can compose them.
This is Africa – where women in front of the screen are just as important as any man, but not at the cost of their femininity. From the moment Angela Bassett, as T’Challa’s mother, enters the frame in her regal white headdress, I thought of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, with her stature and formidability. But also her fallibility and devotion. [Side note: why have we never seen Bassett play Madikizela-Mandela?] From the instant we meet Lupita N’yong’o’s spy Nakia, we know she is her own force to be reckoned with, beyond the love she has for Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa. And Danai Gurira’s Okoye fights and wields weapons as deftly as any army general, but she can also throw her wig in combat when the spirit moves her.
This is Africa – where Letitia Wright’s teenage Shuri, with her cheeky sense of humour, can act childish, but still knows how to program the hell out of a suit. A younger, way more stylish Alfred or Q to Boseman, if you will, but for a new generation of young girls to look up to.
This is Africa – where women behind the screen are important too. Debbie Berman, who was born in Johannesburg, edited the film, after working on Spider Man: Homecoming.
It goes without saying that Black Panther has been the most anticipated film of 2018, with pre-sale box office tickets breaking records all over the world. There is a richness to the interviews the cast members and director Coogler have been giving. There’s an electricity flowing through this film that is unlike any other. 
Leaving the cinema after seeing Black Panther at a press screening, I felt the energy coursing through my veins – like I had just taken some of the heart-shaped herb that gives T’Challa his powers. That’s what happens when you see something so exhilarating, fantasy grounded in the real, on the big screen. An experience that leaves you thrilled for what you’ve just seen unfold in front of your eyes – and ears – and for what comes next. An experience that makes you proud to say, “This. Is. Africa.” 

Pic from Entertainment Weekly.

This evening, the history-making, true-to-her-roots, only-woman-in-an-all-men-best-rap-album-category Rapsody dropped a little more insight into her 7-year “overnight success,” the films & actresses who influence her alongside the musicians who do too, and how much she loves body-rolling.
5 days before the Grammys, she says this year feels different from the last time, when she went to support Kendrick after guesting on TPAB. “That was like when you babysit someone else’s kid. This one is mine. I carried it for 9 months. I had to push that thing out.“
Endearing herself to me even more, she told me South Africa, where she created the album Beauty & the Beast, is her favourite place to perform. When I asked when it was that she knew she had power in her words to articulate her thoughts about the world, she says it was in a moment that came while in Soweto. A woman approached her after a performance with a little girl, about 3/4, and this little girl said she wanted to be like Rapsody. “That’s when I knew the power of music for me, and how important my voice was. So that was when it changed for me. No lie – Soweto, South Africa.”
Sending Rapsody — Marlanna Evans — good vibes for the Grammys this weekend!

It took me 5 miles to run to all the statues of women of historical importance in NYC. There are only 5. I have no idea how long it would’ve taken me to run to the ones of men because there are 150 of them.

I’m fascinated by the question of what that does to the imagination, the psyche of one half of the population when all around places of importance – street names, buildings, statues – are named after men. It’s the same issue of representation that is sorely lacking on TV and in film. And, of course, goes beyond gender and into race and ethnicity too.
Rebecca Solnit’s City of Women maps out what the subway stops of NYC could be like if they were named after women who did great things here. I’d love to be able to run from Mary J Blige up in the Bronx to Billie Jean King in Queens. And I’d relish every mile.
Here’s the route I ran, if you’re in NYC and would like to do it too:
– Start at Bryant Park, at the end closest to the NY Public Library main branch. Just across from the Bryant Park Grill, where you’ll see Gertrude Stein seated in a Buddhist position.
– Head down 40th St and cross over 6th Ave. Make a left when you hit Broadway, and on 39th st, you’ll see Golda Meir Square on your right. It may be under construction, so you’ll have to look hard to find the bust of Israel’s first female prime minister, Golda Meir.
– Make your way north towards Broadway and run all the way up towards 72nd Street. Run west to Riverside Drive where you’ll see Eleanor Roosevelt, humanitarian and longest-running First Lady in US history.
– Head straight up Riverside Dr for just over a mile until you hit 93rd street, and you’ll find Joan of Arc, the first statue of a female to be put up in NYC, in 1915.
– Run east towards Amsterdam Ave, and carry on for 2.1 miles along it, ’til you hit 123rd St. Continue on 123rd, and turn right down St Nicholas, where you’ll find abolitionist Harriet Tubman, or Moses, as she was fondly known, on 122nd.
Celebrate the fantastic women in this world by popping over to Sylvia’s for some comfort food!

One of the magical things about living in NYC is that on an ordinary Wednesday night you can sit in an audience and hear one of contemporary jazz’s great musicians. Not play his instrument – no, that you can experience any place the musician may be touring. But sit in the audience and hear said musician share the story of his life – the story of his love of the very style and shape of music he has come to be known for playing.
I walked into the Great Hall last night, well aware of the way Wynton Marsalis has with a trumpet – having become the first jazz composer to win the Pulitzer Prize and notching up Grammy wins for both jazz and classical work. What I wasn’t aware of is his skill as an orator, as a story-teller. He took us back to the mid 60s when he grew up – telling us what he sees when he thinks back to that time. A huge presence in his life, like for many, has been his mother. But, as he’ll tell you over and over, in rhythmic, poetic fashion – naturally – you ain’t never seen no-one like Delores. Not on TV, not in the movies.  When she’d tell you something, you’d listen, because she knew what she was talking about, he told us.
She taught him the basics of life, those fundamentals that are always under attack but always come back around, just like the mighty Mississippi River, near where he grew up.
Don’t be greedy.
Don’t steal.
Look people in the eye.
Be quiet, listen, they have something of value to say too.
Don’t eat that last piece.
Hold your head up high and be for real.
Marsalis strung together anecdotes, as if arranging notes in a performance piece. They relayed how his mother physically helped instill jazz in his heart. She took him and his siblings to the symphony, even though she didn’t want to be there – the same symphony he would go on to play in. But beyond that, her very essence moulded the man he became and the music he would go on to play.
So many times I felt myself hmmm‘ing in much the same way I would if I heard a song I liked. One time his mother took him and his brothers to a parade; he was 8, they were 4 and 5. As he held onto the hand of his 5-year-old brother, he could see his mother was taking some strain in carrying the younger sibling. After he’d repeatedly asked if he could help, she said to him: “The weight of something depends on how you feel about carrying it.” HMMM!
She taught him about the most important thing in life – your spirit. “The spirit is ephemeral. It’s omnipotent and transcendent. This I have seen, and this I believe. And that’s jazz,” he said.
Delores passed away last year, bringing her words into sharper focus for Marsalis. He spoke about how she understood how easy it was for the meanings of things to erode, how fast the mind can adjust to the absurd and the mediocre, and to rally against that. Pertinent words for these crazy times. Take care of your spirit and your soul, he learned from her. Jazz — music — expands the soul, and that’s what we can learn from Marsalis.
“She told me, your soul was actually the biggest part of your person. But it occupies a small space. And that space grew when it connected with other people’s souls. And I was just a boy — but I heard her,” he said, wiping away the tears.
And I heard him.