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Kendrick Lamar

It was the second of two nights Kendrick Lamar sold out at the Barclays Center – a date added after his first one sold out instantly. A date for Kung Fu Kenny to celebrate the biggest success of his career so far: a two-times platinum-selling album and a number 1 single in Humble.
It was a different show to the one he last put on in NYC at the Panorama festival, which I just realized I saw on exactly the same date a year ago – 23 July. Aside from this being his first big headlining arena tour, there was a different atmosphere. That show was more political, coming in on the weight of the presidential election and the rise of Donald J Trump. Videos of George Bush and police brutality played in a black and white backdrop to Kendrick’s rhymes. It was a moving and urgent and felt more like a conduit for outrage and support.
Last night’s show felt lighter, even if Kendrick himself felt more formidable. He had more bravado, which – granted – he’s earned since releasing a big-on-swagger track like Humble, and he seemed to grow to fill out the arena. With just his rhymes and only two guest appearances (Travis Scott for Goosebumps and 2Chainz for a frenzied rendition of his new single, 4 am), Kendrick demonstrated his prowess as the greatest rap talent we have right now. His words, his stories are all he needs. He wove them altogether into a kung-fu story, wearing a yellow and then red tracksuit that looked like Bruce Lee’s iconic jumpsuit. Short videos played in between the tracks, as “Black Turtle” made his quest through songs like DNA, ELEMENT, LOYALTY, LUST,  and LOVE, and then older material like Swimming Pools, Levitate, Backseat Freestyle, and of course the Collard Greens cover. It was most thrilling to hear him jump from XXX to m.A.A.d City at the part where Bono usually comes in.
He made sure to thank his Day Ones, as he always has, and remembering the love the East Coast showed the West Coast when he first started playing here, noting his gigs at SOBs, before ending with an encore of GOD. Stay humble.

There was a moment during this past weekend’s Global Citizen Festival when I looked back over the crowd stretched out across Central Park – 60 000 or so people – and I felt my jaw drop, in the very real and literal sense. It’s not the first time – it happened before, in 2014 when No Doubt joined Sting to sing Message in a Bottle and in 2012 when John Legend played Imagine on his piano. It’s a moment, spurred by a song, that contains a kernel of the Global Citizen Festival’s significance.
This moment came during Yusuf Cat Stevens (he now goes by all the names!) singing Father & Son with Eddie Vedder. Stevens hadn’t played on a NY stage in 40 years but that meant little to me as someone who’s never had the pleasure of seeing him live in any place. He only played 3 songs – Wild World, Father and, fittingly, Peace Train, but it was what he said as an intro to Father, that gave me goosebumps in reflection.
“Like that song says, there’s too much distance between people these days…Unrest around the world is caused by people who feel their identity has been traumatized and trampled on, so they lash out,” he said. “Movements like this can remind us that the globe is big enough for everyone to share.”
It’s been 5 years since the first Global Citizen Festival took place in Central Park, with the likes of Foo Fighters, Neil Young and John Legend performing. Since then a bevy of names – from Stevie Wonder to Coldplay and Jay Z and Beyonce (separately and together) – have all taken to the stage to complement the message behind the movement. With Chris Martin as the music curator, and a host of celebrities and world leaders at his side, CEO of the Global Poverty Project Hugh Evans has managed to create a must-watch event on the calendar every year.
More than that, it’s a must-do in the sense of taking part in one of the activities needed to be done to earn tickets – all centred on helping to end extreme poverty by 2030 – and also talking about some of the biggest issues facing the world right now. Right now that includes refugees and gender inequality, and to speak to those, there was a guest appearance of gleeful waving from six-year-old Alex who wrote a letter to Obama about little Omran Daqneesh that went viral, and a memorial video to Pakistani social media star Qandeel Baloch, who died at the hands of her brother in an honour killing.
The music is the reason we are there, to be sure. Sets from Demi Lovato, soaked in female confidence, Metallica, who sent rockwaves through Central Park, and a potent punch from Kendrick Lamar that included the anthemic and urgent Alright made sure of that. Rihanna’s headlining performance, with tracks from Anti, Unapologetic and Good Girl Gone Bad, sizzled 
Music is the reason we’re there, but it goes beyond and further. It’s a gathering of people, of actual bodies in the same place, at the same time, giving their energy to something good, rather than just sitting as individuals behind computers and phones. And it’s a wonderful, like I said, jaw-dropping thing.

Hello from New York City! Well, actually hello from New Jersey. I took myself across the Hudson River to Hoboken to check out a few Sinatra-inspired sights, on account of what would have been Ol’ Blue Eyes’ 100 birthday.

This week has been the kick-start of awards season nominations, with the SAGs and Golden Globes nods being announced. There were quite a few suprises and snubs, but Carol scooped 5 Globe nods – with its stars Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett both scoring Best Actress noms. But at the SAGs, they’ve been separated into Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress for Rooney. Also, it’s been a great year for Sweden’s Alicia Vikander – she is up for best actress and best supporting actress at the Globes, for The Danish Girl (opposite fellow nominee Eddie Redmayne) and Ex Machina, respectively.
It’s also been a good year for Kendrick Lamar – he scored 11 Grammy noms, followed by Taylor Swift and the Weeknd with 7 each. Kendrick is up for Album of the Year for To Pimp a Butterfly. The track Alright, which he penned in a time where racial profiling and cops killing civilians has been a urgent need to address, is also up for best song, and best music video, which pleases me a lot because it’s my favourite music video of the year. Even Pres Obama said How Much a Dollar Cost was his fave track of the year. Kendrick is also now just behind Michael Jackson, who once had 12 nominations in a single year. History-in-the-making.
For Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday celebration, the Grammys and CBS staged a special concert. Lady Gaga (who also scored a Globe nod for American Horror Story) put her spin on New York, New York.
For the route that I ran, take a look at the Hoboken Museum’s Walking Tour, and just do it faster!

Good day from New York, where the Empire State Building was turned red last night for the midterm election results, on account of the Republicans winning the Senate. Onto things less disappointing…

* After years of build-up and months of hype, Interstellar is releasing on the big screen this weekend, and there is great excitement around that (you can join in a live Google hang-out today to see the cast talk about it). But Big Hero 6, the latest animated film from Disney, is also releasing, and while it isn’t ground-breaking like Christopher Nolan’s film is, I’ve been looking forward to seeing the not-your-average robot Baymax and his human friend Hiro in a full-length movie since the trailer released. The film had its LA premiere last night, ahead of this weekend’s opening.

* From one kind of robot to another, the Chappie trailer was posted yesterday, as promised. It’s positioned as a coming-of-age story with a difference – our protagonist is a robot, played by Sharlto Copley, who’s learning what it means to be human, thanks to his creator, played by Dev Patel, and Die Antwoord’s Yo-landi and Ninja. Mullet-haired Hugh Jackman, who wants to see the robot destroyed, is a highlight, as is the part where Chappie does the He-Man signature move that so many of us growing up with Masters of the Universe cartoons used to do. I also like that he has ears, making him a little more human-like in appearance. The film rolls out onto the big screen next March.

* Speaking of Die Antwoord…the duo also released their latest music video, which features cameos from Dita von Teese, Jack Black, Carla Delevingne, Marilyn Manson (fresh from his Beautiful People shenanigans on stage with Johnny Depp and Ninja in LA this past weekend). It’s directed by Ninja and not as hardcore as many of the other videos – which is saying a lot considering there is a lot of blood in this one. The video I’m really digging right now though, is Kendrick Lamar’s one for i. Give me dancing Mr Lamar any day!

* The fantastic Carnegie Hall Ubuntu series comes to an end this evening, with a tribute to Miriam Makeba, South Africa’s late, great singer who drew attention to the struggle in apartheid South Africa when she spoke at the UN in the ’60s. Hosted by Whoopi Goldberg, the event will feature Angelique Kidjo, as well as British singer Laura Mvula, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig and Makeba’s back-up singers, among others, paying homage to the woman we fondly remember as Mama Africa. I wrote about the series for City Press newspaper. I’ll be forever indebted to Carnegie for providing me and other South Africans with an antidote to homesickness over the past few weeks.

{Pic: Disney}

* It’s heeeere! Guardians of the Galaxy earned so much pre-opening buzz and box office mojo that the filmmakers announced at Comic Con last week it would be getting a sequel, before it even screened at cinemas. The film opens in the US, and the rest of the world today, so this weekend should be spent in the Marvel Expanded Universe – with Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Groot (Vin Diesel), Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Batista).

* Lollapalooza hits Chicago this weekend. Headliners Eminem, Outkast and Arctic Monkeys will play alongside the likes of Phantogram, Bleachers, Chrvches and those South African-born rockers Kongos.

* Kendrick Lamar will present a short film inspired by his debut album good kid, m.A.A.d city as part of the first Sundance NEXT Fest, which has been created to showcase budding directors and artists at the Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles. Made by The 14-minute film was made by Khalil Joseph who won acclaim for his 2012 collaboration with Flying Lotus, Until the Quiet Comes. The rapper has also, according to reports, been working on new music for a follow-up to his debut.

* Lorde has a new task ahead of her – curating the soundtrack to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 movie, plus coming up with a song for the lead single off the album. Should keep the 17-year-old Grammy winner busy for the next few weeks.

* And in case you missed it, the trailer for Alejandro Iñárritu’s Birdman will leave you excitedly awaiting the opening night of the New York Film Festival, when the movie premieres. Michael Keaton looks like he’s nailed it as a washed-up actor, who once played a superhero, trying to make his comeback through a Broadway play. The music, the imagery, the white underpants – bring on October!