Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Last night on Sky1: 24: Redemption

Call me a nitpicker, but last night’s 24 special really should have just been called 2, shouldn’t it? Although it used 24’s trademark real-time system, had a few split screen moments and featured, of course, a grizzled Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) running around with a gun and a manbag, it covered just a couple of hours, a new departure for the long-running show. 

The breakaway from the main series was obviously so the show’s creators got the chance to do a “Jack in Africa” sort of adventure without then having to follow it with 10 episodes of Jack sitting on a plane looking out the window and watching an in-flight movie.

Yes, this way was probably the better option – and it worked. The show kicked off with our hero working in an orphanage in ficitonal African country Sangala alongside old special forces pal Carl Benton (Robert Carlyle in fine fettle), Bauer’s utilitarian approach to saving the world has left him physically and psychologically scarred - although you should’ve seen the other guy.

Meanwhile, a warlord was busy recruiting children for a coup, while over in the US, President-elect Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones) was preparing for her inauguration. (Of course, 24’s black President has been and gone – keep up, America!) Plenty afoot then. Anyway, it wasn’t long before the political intrigue got going in the States, and Jack had a group of African children to save and a gang of African soldiers to shoot.

The America scenes were weird, as usual, all muted and eerie blue, like something out of a dream. In contrast, the vivid action sequences in Sangala were a return to the show’s heartpumping best, and Jack’s moving moment of redemption a finale so good we were even tempted to let him off for the mostly boring season six.

by Will Parkhouse

Originally published on Orange.co.uk

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Brimful of Asa

[previously published in Arise magazine October 2008]

French-born Nigerian singer Asa combines soulful melodies with serious issues, finding her inspiration in the most unlikely places. Here, she talks about the immense love she has for Nigeria - and Africa

Where's the best place to write a song? A nice, quiet enclave, where you can achieve maximum concentration? Not if you're Asa.

"I write in rough environments where I can get inspired, like the bus in Lagos," says the honey-voiced chanteuse, who grew up in the south-west Nigerian city. "They call them molué – they look like school buses in America, you know, the yellow and black ones? Except these ones are bad, bad, bad, bad. It's like they've picked them up off the junkyard and forced the cars to come back to life. But there's so much drama: they're always overcrowded and there's so much noise – hawkers hawking their goods, the preacherman in the corner trying to catch the attention of the people…"

But Asa, she explains, isn't the first singer to be inspired by these incredible, sense-clashing modes of transport.

"Fela [Kuti] sang about it. He said, of course we have 49 people sitting and 99 people standing." She laughs. "But it gets me thinking. You have the reality right in front of you. It might not be fun, because someone might be stepping on my foot or taking my space, but you look back on the day and you laugh. And that's the story of Lagos."

And the story of Asa? Born in Paris, she moved back to Lagos with her family at the age of two. By seven, thanks in part to her father's record collection, singing was a habit that she felt incapable of breaking. She found an opening as a young artist at the French Cultural Centre in Lagos, which helped her learn and hone her craft. It was as part of a French jazz group that Asa returned to the country of her birth and where she's now based, although trips back to Lagos are leapt upon whenever there's a break from touring. Oh, and just in case you didn't know, the name's pronounced 'Asha'.

Despite those cramped writing conditions, the bespectacled 26-year-old still manages to give her music an expansive calmness that makes you want to stretch out your arms and close your eyes; perfect for lying on the grass in a park with an untouched weekend on the horizon. But that's not to say she deals in frivolity or fluffiness. The carefree refrains on her self-titled album, released earlier this year, disguise some serious subject matter, as the bleak world described in her track 'Fire on the Mountain' ("So little Lucy turns sixteen… / She has a lover in her daddy / She can't tell nobody") and anti-slavery melody 'Jailer' demonstrate.

No temptation to write love songs then? "Growing up in Lagos, you have no choice but to wonder and ask why – there are so many questions," she says. "It's just natural. These are things my peer group always talked about. There are so many issues we were meant to assess or fight for. I grew up with it every day – I see it, I hear it, I live it."

In line with the aims of THISDAY's Africa Rising concerts, Asa sees her music as a way of showing the world a more positive side to her country and Africa in general. "As a Nigerian in a foreign land, when I tell people where I'm from, there's always two things that come up: oil and violence. It really saddens me that that's the only idea others have of this amazing country. I just want to tell people that not everything that comes out of Nigeria, or indeed Africa, is bad."

Asa calls her music "soul, but with a fusion of folk, jazz, hip hop and reggae", namechecking musical greats such as Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye as just two of her many influences. But showing how important roots are to this Franco-African singer, Asa also includes Nigerian Yoruba culture in the list.

"My roots are my identity, they're very important," she says. "When I sing I want people to ask 'who is she?'" They undoubtedly will.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Len an ear

Went to a Leonard Cohen gig last night, and he was quite something. Four (or was it five?) standing ovations! Concert aside, that's quite an impressive spectacle in itself, when it's the Albert Hall.

Even better was the delightful sight of pop's most miserable skipping off stage - which he did several times - like a carefree 10-year-old girl. My highlight was 'Bird on the Wire', immensely measured and moving, even from the fourth (or was it fifth?) tier.

Here's a fantastic version of Len-Co doing the song back in the late '70s. Searing Hammond, asthmatic vocals and epic gospel backing all present and correct.

Does anyone else think that Mr Cohen perhaps deserves a co-writing credit for The Rolling Stones' 'I Got The Blues' and Ben Folds's 'The Luckiest'?

Tonight on Channel 4: The Devil's Whore

Now that's what I call a salacious title! Although this being Channel 4, it's slightly surprising this new English Civil War drama isn't called The Devil's Whore ON CRACK for that added punch. But hey ho. Read more...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Put the Boots in

Little Boots! Cool, cute and talented. Well done!

Via Jamie, sort of

Monday, November 17, 2008

Rice precedent

I think I just got an electric shock from washing rice. Is that possible?

Friday, November 14, 2008

It's David O'Doherty Time

Woo, I'm seeing this guy in a couple of weeks. It's David O'Doherty (he's Irish, can you tell?) who won this year's if.comeddies award (formerly the Perrier) at Edinburgh. Veh gud.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


So Barack Obama's US Secret Service codename is Renegade, it's been revealed. Sounds cool, don't it? But, ladies and gentleman of the White House Communications Agency, isn't it a bit of an odd choice? The Guardian, I seem to remember, were once forced to publish a correction after describing George Galloway as a renegade - i.e. an individual who has ditched their beliefs (ah, here it is).

Chambers Dictionary has this:

renegade noun
1 a someone who deserts the religious, political, etc group which they belong to, and joins an enemy or rival group; b a turncoat.

2 a Christian turned Muslim.

Oh well, maybe they had Jay-Z's definition in mind: "Renegade! Never been afraid to say what's on my mind at any given time of day, cos I'm a renegade - never been afraid to talk about anything. Anything? Anything. ANYTHING!"

Last night on BBC1: Charles at 60: The Passionate Prince

If I were heir to the throne, I’d probably behave a bit like a cross between Tom Hanks in Big and competitive eating champion Joey ‘Jaws’ Chestnut – an average day for me would involve buying a truckload of state-of-the-art toys, playing with them, then cramming hot dogs and fried chicken down my throat until I was sick all over the toys. Read more...