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Miss Ntertainment

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As the Oscar race slowly starts building up, so countries have been submitting their films for consideration into the best foreign language category.

South Africa hasn’t had a nominee in this category since Gavin Hood’s Tsotsi won it in 2006. This year, a film shot entirely in the language of Venda has been selected by the local committee, for consideration. It needs to make the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ long-list and then short-list to become one of the 5 nominees.

Elelwani (which means ‘to remember’ or ‘recall’) was made in 2012, but released in January 2014. It earned Florence Masebe, a well-known TV star taking on her first film feature role, a Best Actress win at the Africa Movie Academy Awards. Directed by Ntshavheni wa Lurulithe, the film is based on a book written by Dr Titus Ntsieni Maumela, who was a teacher in the 1950s.

There are already some strong contenders – from Argentina’s Wild Tales (made up of 5 impeccably-directed vignettes) to Sweden’s moral dramedy Force Majeure, which have become festival favourites. They were certainly among my most-enjoyed films from this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Mommy, which I saw at Toronto, by Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan, is by far one of my best films of the year and has been selected by Canada for its submission. While also at Toronto last month, I kept hearing such positive things about Leviathan, which won Best Screenplay at Cannes earlier this year, and is Russia’s submission, even though its been reported the Russian Ministry of Culture, which funded the film, didn’t like its criticism of the current regime.

The deadline was October 1st, and in January next year, the long-list will be announced. After that, two committees, one in LA and one in New York, will vote to determine the five nods to be made public along with all the other nominees that will be announced come January 15th. For a more thorough look into the films, read Scott Weinberg’s column over at The Hollywood Reporter.

Last year the Academy chose Italy’s The Great Beauty as its winner – a well-deserving honour for a film that is breathtaking in its visual style yet edgy in its commentary about Italian culture at present. Perhaps not being too gentle on one’s home country helps in the Oscar race, and in turn, gaining a little sliver of the Hollywood spotlight for a local film industry.

Since moving to New York three years ago, I’ve come to appreciate the corner of Bowery and Houston, like many fellow street art lovers in this city.

The mural that exists at the spot where the streets intersect has been covered up for a few months – leading to fears it may be in jeopardy, with all the construction and development going on.

It turns out the space will still be there, as it has for the past 32 years (making the Bowery mural as old as this here writer), even as the area continues to develop. It wasn’t always a mural for street art, but once a real estate developer donated it to his artist friend in 2008, it became a place for big pieces to shine – and attract tags from other artists – in NYC.

Keith Haring first painted the mural, back in 1982, together with fellow artist Juan Dubose, according to ComplexHistory of the Bowery Mural. The spot is as central now as it was back then, in the middle of the burgeoning downtown arts scene, right on the path of artists walking back and forth between SoHo and the Lower East Side.

Since 2008, the space has seen the likes of Shepard Fairey, JR, Aiko Nakagawa and more. On Tuesday night, an Os Gemeos piece was unveiled, from 2009. The piece by the Brazillian twins Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo had been protected and stored and is now back up for a limited time. Quite fitting too, that it was done on the eve of it being a year since Banksy made NYC his playground with his Better Out Than In street art scavenger hunt. The brothers collaborated with him on a set of Village Voice covers, one of which it seems the producers of Homeland may have seen too…
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Os Gemeos have gone on to develop their scope and style, as their incredible recent 360 degree piece in Vancouver shows, but their Bowery mural is a pleasure to behold for those of us who weren’t here back in 2009. And perhaps those who missed it the first time around. The whimsical piece is full of colour and detail – I particularly like the over-full N train. The vibrancy and life within the piece, much like that which the mural space itself represents, is most welcome back to the area.

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Whoever curated the series for Carnegie Hall’s upcoming South African celebration deserves a virtual (and real life) high-five. The line-up features such an extensive list of South African performers and other special guests that I feel as if I may as well just set up shop inside the iconic venue for the month long showcase and not leave so as not to miss a single beat.

That would be limiting though, because the series is taking place all over NYC – not just Carnegie Hall itself.

The usual names that have been part of South Africa’s cultural background for the past 2 decades will be there – Hugh Masekela, Vusi Mahlasela, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. They’re names that’ll be familiar to many Americans who became involved in the anti-apartheid fight through their melodies.

But at the Ubuntu: Music and Arts of South Africa events – created to celebrate the occasion of 20 years of democracy – there’ll also be a handful of names that represent the new strands of the country’s cultural fibre.

Many of them, like Toya Delazy and Kesivan Naidoo will be performing for New York audiences for the first time. Simphiwe Dana enthralled those who gathered in the bellows of Red Rooster last year, and she’ll be back too.

Each of them has a fascinating story to tell of how they become voices of the new hues of South African music – Naidoo is a child of Cape Town’s rich jazz history, influenced by the many travellers that docked in the port city, Tumi Molekane’s socially-conscious rhymes have seen him collaborate with a number of American rappers visiting the city, and Dana has oft-been compared to a young Miriam Makeba.

Delazy will be making her US debut too. The singer/pianist/dancer daughter of a politician, who is openly gay, creates pop anthems that are sung all over the country, giving the local pop scene a voice of both power and play that unites. She was also nominated in the Best International Act category at last year’s BET Awards, but has never performed abroad before. She’ll be taking to the stage of another legendary venue, the Apollo Theatre as part of the series.

The series will no doubt introduce New Yorkers to many more sides of South Africa’s culture – the parts of the country I miss so much being outside of it. For many expats and Africans living in the Big Apple, the series provides a chance to keep homesickness at bay, for, at least, a month. Plus, New York could do with a little more ubuntu, the ideology that “I am because you are” philosophy too.

And with the additional announcement of Angelique Kidjo closing the fest with Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig and British singer Laura Mvula in a tribute to the late, great Miriam Makeba, together with Makeba’s former supporting singers Zamokuhle “Zamo” Mbutho, Faith Kekana, and Stella Khumalo, it truly couldn’t get any better.

The line-up is more than I could possibly cover here, so please head over here for more info.

[Pic: Toya Delazy]

Hello all you coffee-lovers, here are the entertainment news stories that have been on my radar today…

* The New York Film Festival continues, and, much to the disappointment of many, the secret screening on Sunday night wasn’t Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Actually, it wasn’t really a disappointment – those who did have tickets still got to see the delightful While We’re Young, in which Ben Stiller plays an aging hipster. Until Interstellar lands, there is the online game for a little time-passing.

* Sticking with film festivals, the San Diego Film Festival this past weekend awarded best feature to Where the Road Runs Out. It’s billed as the first major feature film to come out of Equatorial Guinea, but it was directed by a South African, Rudolf Buitendach, and also stars South African-born, LA-based Stelio Savante, alongside Isaach De Bankolé (winner of a Cesar Award, akin to the French Oscars). It’s got chocolate, a love story and children involved, so that already looks like a winning combo.

* Turns out 60 000 people came out to Central Park for the Global Citizen Festival. This pic from Twitter user @Zellyanks helps put that number into context. I’m still on Cloud 9 from seeing No Doubt and Sting perform Message in a Bottle together.

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* Chromeo spoke about their clothing range a few weeks ago, and now it’s available. Fresh from his NY Times Style profile, Dave 1 and his partner P-Thugg are releasing some pretty awesome men’s items, including a rad cheetah bomber jacket.

* If your Monday wasn’t rocked by the release of Aretha Franklin‘s Rollin’ in the Deep cover, then you may need a do-over. It’s the first single off the singer’s forthcoming record – an album of covers Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics, coming out next month. Looking forward to Franklin’s inimitable take on some great tracks.

* Lorde released the soundtrack single for The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part 1, with a journal-like Tumblr entry here.

P.S. This past weekend I had such a ball at the Dumbo Arts Fest – so many wonderful things to do and see. I also stumbled upon the whimsical prints of Brooklyn-based Estonian artist, Kristiana Parn. Do check her out if you’re a fan of bunnies and lions and other such ‘cute’ animals.

Jay-Z headlining the Global Citizen Festival was always going to be a major drawcard. So too, the prospect of seeing No Doubt together again on stage, joined for a track by Sting. Adding Carrie Underwood, The Roots and Tiesto to the mix made Saturday’s line-up appealing enough to take on the Global Poverty Project’s initiatives to win tickets to their concert in Central Park. Beyond, of course, the aim itself of ending extreme poverty by 2030.

It made sense that Jay would have started his set with Empire State of Mind - as he did, after opening with a mash of Gil Scott-Heron’s NY You’re Bringing Me Down,  Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind, and Sinatra’s New York, New York.  But I didn’t expect just how magnificent the sound of 60 000 people singing along, hands up in the air, would be – an anthem for the Big Apple, performed live in the heart of the city that birthed its creator. A moment too big for even the fanciest of phone cameras to capture. So too, was Sting roping in No Doubt for Message in a Bottle, his voice harmonizing with Gwen Stefani’s, as that familiar bass-line reverberated through the trees, and the sliver of golden moon grew brighter against the backdrop of the NYC skyline. Ridiculously perfect.

I’d always hoped to see No Doubt perform live. Even before their wedded union, Gwen and hubby Gavin Rossdale, with his band Bush, together helped get me through many moments of teenage angst. I remember watching videos of Stefani jumping around the stage, sweat glistening from her perfectly-sculpted abs. Twenty years later, she wasn’t rolling around on the stage but the band still energetically spun through their back catalogue, from opener Hella Good to prize possession Don’t Speak and the ska-fuelled Hey Baby. Stephen Bradley on trumpet and keys helped keep that vibe lifted, literally jumping up and down all through the set.

When Jay took over the reigns, the hood of a Global Citizen Festival sweatshirt framing his face, he bounded through his hits, one after the other, Izzo (H.O.V.A), Big Pimpin’, I Just Wanna Love U, Tom Ford, in between thanking the crowd for coming out for “a beautiful cause.”

“If you believe in this movement, make some noiiiise,” he urged.

And the crowd obliged.

Jay’s was the only set that wasn’t interspersed with messages from Global Poverty Project ambassadors, Elmo or Hugh Jackman (oh, how we love Hugh) explaining the various problems exacerbating world poverty right now and what is being done to help, or the challenges being issued to world leaders and, in many cases, the positive responses issued to these. In between The Roots, fun. and Carrie Underwood, who all performed to fans who’d filled the park, were snippets of info and stats to go along with that. It helped the medicine, so to speak, go down a lot easier than the first year a concert was held when so many of the messages were dragged down by being too long and overwhelming.

Jay was impressing just fine, but then he pulled out the Bey card, and his wife came out to perform Holy Grail, singing, as she did on their On The Run tour together, the part of Justin Timberlake. If Central Park had a roof, it would have been blown off, such was the excitement at Beyonce’s arrival on stage. Together, they ended the show, once again, how they ended their tour, with Young Forever and images of their life together playing onscreen behind them. It was another one of those ridiculously perfect moments, when those 60 000 voices sang the Alphaville chorus, cellphones – and one or two lone lighters – illuminating the night sky.

Like, I said, ridiculously perfect.

What’s not perfect, as we know, is the state of the world right now. Many of the problems the Global Citizen Festival highlighted seem insurmountable, like the fact that 2.5 billion people in the world still don’t have access to proper toilets. But Saturday’s concert and the actions its presenters – from actress Olivia Wilde to Madiba’s grandson Ndaba Mandela – asked its audience to perform, made those problems feel a little less so. It’s like, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: “Our world needs solar power and wind power, but I believe in an even stronger source of energy – people power.” After this year’s Global Citizen Festival, I’m a believer too.