Friday, April 17, 2015

Hinds on early Steel Pulse

Steel Pulse in 1978
Steel Pulse is one of the most successful reggae bands – not just in the U.K. but in the world. Yet it wasn’t always easy for this group. Lead singer and founder David Hinds, the son of Jamaican immigrants, grew up in the rough Birmingham neighborhood of Handsworth in the 1970s during a socially and racially tense period in England. For their forthcoming program “Dread Inna Inglan: How the U.K. Took the Reggae,” producer Saxon Baird spoke with Hinds about his life as a black youth during this volatile period and how reggae and Rastafarianism played a role in the formation of his identity and music. Read the questions and David Hinds' answers @ http://www.afropop.org/16360/babylon-is-falling-david-hinds-on-the-early-years-of-steel-pulse-and-his-youth-in-england/.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

My Cambodia twenty years ago

Last year was the 20th anniversary of my first-ever visit to Cambodia, in November 1994, and to celebrate that seat-of-the-pants trip I wrote an article for my company's quarterly magazine at the time. I've tracked it down and repeat it here for posterity. Reading it now, so many years later, I wish I had been more descriptive about the sights, sounds and smells I encountered, such as the hordes of limbless beggars in ragged military uniforms that invaded the Central Market area every morning, the constant blaring of car horns at all hours of the day, the absence of any street lighting in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap that left me reluctant to venture out of my hotel and the crazy, lawlessness of the city's traffic, amongst a plethora of experiences that overloaded my senses. I was shit-scared at times but for the majority of my six days in Cambodia, I was utterly exhilarated. Here's the article:

Cambodia : A Land of Charm & Cruelty
The name of Cambodia is synonymous with the cries of the tortured and starving and more recently, the murder of western tourists by the genocidal Khmer Rouge, responsible for the deaths of over one million of their fellow countrymen in the late 1970s. However, that was my choice of destination for a week's break from the rigours of C&G life at Chief Office in late October [1994]. Cambodia, racked by civil war for the last twenty-five years, is one of the world's poorest countries with a population of nine million, the majority of whom live in abject poverty by western standards. Conversely, it is also a beautiful country with a fascinating culture and people and a history brought vividly to life by one of the world's greatest architectural achievements, the temple ruins of Angkor.

The country had captivated my attention since I was drawn to the suffering of its people in John Pilger's 1979 documentary, Year Zero. My interest was sustained as a member of parliamentary lobbying groups whose aim was to bring to an end the isolation they'd endured at the hands of the international community. A fragile peace had been achieved following the 1993 UN-supervised elections that had ushered in the country's first democratically-elected government and for the first time in recent history, the country had opened its borders to the more adventurous tourist.

Undoubtedly, the highlight of my trip was the three days I spent exploring the dramatic ruined cities of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. Flying from Phnom Penh, the capital, to the northern provincial centre of Siem Reap, I was unprepared for the awesome array of massive stone temples, wide majestic causeways, imposing towers and gates and beautifully intricate stone carvings that I encountered. The monuments were originally constructed by a dozen Khmer god-Kings between the 9th and 13th centuries but had lain hidden by dense jungle for nearly 500 years until their re-discovery by the French in the latter part of the last century. Alongwith my guide Soy Bun and driver Somath, I leisurely wandered for hours amongst the almost-deserted ruins before completing a whistle-stop tour of the lesser-visited outer-lying temples.

For sheer size, the vast spectacle of Angkor Wat, the largest religious edifice in the world, is simply stunning. Its central tower, surrounded by four smaller towers, a myriad of galleries and covered passageways and an 800-metre long series of richly carved bas-reliefs will linger long in the memory, particularly a dawn visit to watch the sun rise and bathe the temple complex in swathes of red and orange light (Note: I was the only foreign tourist that morning for sun rise). Perhaps more startling, although smaller and less restored, is the Bayon, at the centre of Angkor Thom. Its most intriguing feature - although its bas-reliefs are extraordinarily detailed - are the giant faces of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, with its enigmatic half-smile peering down from all four sides of the fifty-four towers. Amongst the other temples to make a lasting impression were the well-preserved Preah Khan - a labyrinth of fascinating pavilions, halls and galleries, and the temple of Ta Prohm. The latter has been left much as it was when it was first re-discovered - a mass of silk-cotton and fig trees, tangled roots and vines and fallen masonry, framing an eerie and haunting scene.

Phnom Penh on the other hand, was an altogether different proposition. It is a city in transformation. The once-elegant French-colonial capital became a ghost town when the Khmer Rouge forcibly emptied it of all its inhabitants in 1975. Today, parts of Phnom Penh are undergoing frenzied reconstruction, although life remains unchanged in the city's back alleys, where the majority of the one million populace live in hovels without basic amenities. Negotiating the traffic - a multitude of mopeds, cyclos and bicycles jockeying with private cars and trucks - was a nerve-wracking experience, the loss of my suitcase at the ramshackle airport for three days was a nightmare but nothing could prepare me for my sobering visit to see the graphic reminders of the cruelty inflicted on the Cambodian people by the Khmer Rouge. At the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum - a former high school turned into a torture centre and prison - my guide Kin gave me a tour of room after room of torture implements, photographs and other evidence testifying to the atrocities of the Pol Pot-inspired regime. Ten kilometres outside the city are the 'killing fields' of Choeung Ek, where at least 17,000 people were taken from Tuol Sleng, brutally murdered and buried in mass graves. A memorial glass tower at the site is filled with the cracked skulls of some 8,000 of those victims and is definitely not for the squeamish. I left Cambodia with many lasting memories, enriched by my experiences and eager to return to this fascinating country in the not too distant future. (Note: I returned every year until I moved to live in Phnom Penh in 2007).

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sok Sothun receives Asean Award

LtoR: Sok Sothun, Kulikar Sotho, Nick Ray
Sok Sothun wins Best Supporting Actor at the Asean International Film Festival & Awards 2015 in Malaysia to once again highlight the Cambodian film The Last Reel on the international stage. The veteran actor scooped the Best Supporting Actor award at AIFFA2015 for his portrayal of Vichea in the movie, the directorial debut of Kulikar Sotho. The Cambodia team enjoyed a star-studded Gala Dinner at the Borneo Convention Centre, Kuching, together with celebrity guests Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh. Director Kulikar Sotho and Actor Ros Mony were on hand to accept the award on behalf of Sok Sothun. The film was also nominated for two other awards, Best Supporting Actress (Dy Saveth) and Best Editing (Katie Flaxman). A big thank you goes out to the Sarawak Government and the Ministry of Tourism for the generous invitation to join AIFFA 2015 in Kuching and the chance to bring The Last Reel to a wider Asean audience. More recognition for the resurgent Cambodian film industry!

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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Pulse in the house

Steel Pulse 2015 edition
Steel Pulse opened tonight (1 April) in the first of their 5 UK shows - Blaenau Ffestiniog, Manchester, Birmingham, London and Brighton - bringing their whole 1978 album Handsworth Revolution to the stage, followed by their usual array of marvellous tunes. Really regretting not busting a gut to get back to Blighty for the first time in 8 years to see them in the flesh at all five shows. I'm sure they will have a ball on their 40th anniversary tour. Reggae music at its finest.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Get along to Meta House

Robert Carmichael’s new book When Clouds Fell From The Sky spans five lives and five decades as it covers the causes and consequences of the Khmer Rouge’s catastrophic 1975-79 rule, which cost two million lives. A Q&A with the author at the Monument Books-presented Book Launch at Meta House on Thursday 9 April at 7pm.
Also coming to Meta House soon will be French photographer Roland Neveu, who was one of the few foreigners who stayed behind when most of the press corps left Phnom Penh as the Khmer Rouge arrived on 17 April 1975. The few 35-mm films which he shot that day are some of the only remaining images of that time. Meta House exhibits them to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Phnom Penh. Roland will be present and hold a talk at 8pm on the rooftop on Tuesday 21 April. Exhibition opens at 6pm.

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