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LE NEWSLETTER

February 5, 2009

February is here!  Black History Month, Valentine's Day and Family Day - lots to look forward to!  Thanks for all the inquiries about my surgery - things are progressing slowly but going well.  I look forward to the day when it's all done!  Again, thanks for all those who have checked up on me.

Lots of exciting news so please take a walk into your weekly entertainment news!

::TOP STORIES::

Alexis Baro's Songs Inspired By Baby Hearts And Car Horns

Source:  www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry,
Pop & Jazz Critic

(January 29, 2009) Ask trumpeter Alexis Baro about the inspiration for From the Other Side, his new album of original songs, and the initial response is rather vague.

"Some people ask, `Do you write first the harmony and then the melody?' It's hard to tell, it kind of all comes together," said the musician over tea at a café in his Bloor St. W. neighbourhood.

"Sometimes, it starts with a drum groove. You never know. You take influence from everything around you – could be a car horn."

But when he's pressed on the origins of a particularly compelling track, "African Escape," quite a story unfolds. The tune, which is anchored by free-flowing percussion, was born out of regular hospital visits Baro and wife Tracey made to monitor her pregnancy with their son Alexis Jr., who is now 2.

At each appointment the couple were placed in a large room with other mothers-to-be, in varying stages of gestation, listening to the amplified heartbeats of their babies.

"The beds were only separated by curtains," Baro explained. "You would hear like three or four heartbeats at the same time. I guess the smaller babies' rhythms were faster and the older babies sounded slower.

"After a couple weeks, I developed a pattern that could be used with the bata drums. I took it to the guy who plays percussion with me and he said it was very similar to the Shango pattern in Afro-Cuban religion, which I had no clue (about)."

Baro is a Havana native who came here in 2001. Noted for an aggressive sound, he's a key member of hard-bop group Kollage, Caribbean jazz ensemble CaneFire and Latin band Son Aché.

While his 2005 disc Havana Banana was steeped in traditional Latin jazz, this disc, which is being celebrated at a Lula Lounge show tonight, showcases funk and R&B.

"You get influenced by the music scene that you're involved with most," said Baro, pointing to his regular Saturday-night Orbit Room gig with R&B/soul band The A-Team.

"They like to categorize people here, which I hate. That kind of happened with the first album – `He's the Latin jazz guy.'

"It doesn't matter where you come from; music is universal. You can get a Romanian guy playing amazing straight-ahead jazz, or a Cuban guy playing funk.

"This is another side of me. Jazz is the kind of music that can mix with anything. I usually compare it with pasta: you can put any kind of sauce on pasta and it will taste like something. I like to listen to something non-jazz and bring it to jazz."

Baro, who began playing at 9, describes himself as a dedicated but practical player.

"Trumpet is not like a lot of instruments; you need to rest your facial muscles, your lips, your teeth. If you've been playing for a really long time your teeth will hurt, because you're pushing on your gums. You need blood to flow in your lips and you can overwork your muscles, then they don't respond. I practise, but not every day."

Just the facts
WHO: Alexis Baro

WHERE: Lula Lounge, 1585 Dundas St. W.

WHEN: Tonight, 8:30 p.m.

COVER: $15 at the door

Tough Times Make Historic New Project A Welcome Relief

Source:  YWCA Toronto

(January 21, 2009) The time for investment in Canada’s social future has never been better. On Wednesday January 21, at 80 Woodlawn Ave. East at 10 a.m., YWCA Toronto will unveil plans for a major new $80 million affordable and supportive housing development called the YWCA Elm Centre. The complex will take up a city block in downtown Toronto and feature 300 permanent affordable apartments for women and their families. In support of the project, the YWCA has received a record breaking $5 million gift from the estates of the late Ken Thomson and the late Audrey Campbell in memory of their sister Irma Brydson, who predeceased them. “This gift, which is believed to be the largest gift ever to a social service organization in Canada’s history, leads the way, both in terms of this important resource in Toronto, and of investment in Canada’s social infrastructure”, says YWCA Toronto CEO Heather McGregor.

“Our $80 million project will be of immediate benefit to the families that will occupy these 300 new homes, but, this project will also immediately stimulate the city’s economy”, McGregor continued. Especially pleased to be partnering with Wigwamen Incorporated and the Jean Tweed Centre, YWCA’s ambitious new development will provide permanent homes for women and their families and ensure that, once housed, women have the staff support to turn their lives around.

In response to a public call for proposals in 2006, YWCA Toronto and its partners were selected by the City of Toronto to develop the city block bordered by Edward, Elm, Chestnut, and Elizabeth Streets. The complex will consist of three buildings and will provide 150 affordable apartments for single women and women–led families, 100 apartments for women living with mental health issues, and 50 apartments for people of Aboriginal ancestry, including 10 designated for Aboriginal women fleeing violence. Fifteen percent of all apartments will be designated for women over 50 years old. The main 17 story tower on Elm Street will be named Irma Brydson Place in recognition of the 5 million dollar gift in her memory. Irma Brydson was born in Toronto, a stone’s throw from what will become the YWCA Elm Centre. The middle child in a close and loving family, Irma was a strong and vivacious woman who had deep compassion for those less fortunate. A young teen during the Depression, Irma witnessed her mother feeding the hungry and unemployed who came to their door. This example greatly influenced Irma’s life.

“Everyone benefits when our most vulnerable citizens have a safe and stable place to live. Philanthropy has an important role in addressing the root causes of poverty and homelessness and needs to be a top priority, especially in tough economic times,” said Sherry Brydson, the daughter of Irma Brydson. Sherry has been involved in the business community of Elm Street since 1979, when she acquired 18 Elm Street, YWCA’s original headquarters, and turned it into the Elmwood Spa. “My mother would be proud that her brother and sister chose to preserve her memory by helping others in such a positive and meaningful way, and we are thrilled to cement the bond with the YWCA even further with this donation.”

The YWCA Elm Centre is set to become a hub in the downtown core, also featuring several public venues including: a 200 seat auditorium, meeting rooms, a reception hall, a women’s Resource Centre, retail space, and a restaurant. YWCA Toronto’s administrative headquarters will relocate to the YWCA Elm Centre, which will also become the new home of YWCA Canada. The YWCA has also incorporated many “green” features in the complex. Being built to LEED Silver standards, the YWCA Elm Centre will incorporate geo-thermal, radiant in slab heating and cooling, five green roofs, a rooftop garden, EnergyStar-rated appliances throughout, as well as a tri-sorter garbage disposal system for the tenants. Hilditch Architect and regional Architects have teamed up for the project and Bondfield Construction has been selected as the General Contractor. Construction will begin in February 2009 with completion expected by early 2011.

Since 1873, YWCA Toronto has offered women supportive, affordable well maintained housing. Currently the largest association by, for, and about women and girls in the city, YWCA Toronto provides a range of housing options for women and their families – from emergency shelter and transitional housing to permanent apartments. In 2007, 1,331 individuals (women and their families) called the YWCA home.

Steelers Tiptoe Past Cards

Source: www.thestar.com - Dave Perkins,
Sports Columnist

(February 02, 2009) TAMPA, Fla.–Pittsburgh, which has always been a six-pack town, now owns six Super Bowl championships, the most of any team in the National Football League.

None was any more sensational than No.6, a fantastic 27-23 last-gasp win over the Arizona Cardinals, cemented by a brilliant toe-sticking TD catch by Santonio Holmes in the back of the end zone with 35 seconds remaining on a pass lasered by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

That catch, Holmes' ninth for 131 yards, helped earn him the award as game MVP.

"If you get the ball to Tone, he's going to make plays and he did tonight," said Roethlisberger, who had some shaky moments but was rock-solid in leading the eight-play, 78-yard drive to the winner that began with 2:30 left on the clock.

"The first read was the running back in the flat, but he wasn't open. I looked back, scrambled right a little bit and saw Tone in the corner. I tried to throw it high so he was going to catch it, or no one was, and luckily he made a heck of a play."

"It was a play we drew up that we were hoping to get open in the back of the end zone," Holmes said. "The defensive back bit up on the short route and Ben held on to the ball long enough to get it to me."

The Cardinals, down 20-7 in the fourth quarter, had rallied with a safety between a pair of TD passes from Kurt Warner to Larry Fitzgerald, the second a shocking 64 yards with less than three minutes remaining that lifted the Cardinals to a 23-20 lead.

"I thought we'd get the stop," said Fitzgerald, who ended up with seven catches for 127 yards and two TDs. "I just feel kind of empty, like it's all been for nothing."

"We were seconds away from crying in the locker room," said Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu, after Warner, who ended a spectacular 31-of-43 passing for 377 yards, pretty much shredded the vaunted Steel Curtain defence in the final quarter.

The Steelers, behind a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker James Harrison on the final play of the first half, turned a nervous quarter completely around.

The mistake-prone Cardinals, who were flagged 11 times for 106 penalty yards, looked poised to go ahead in the final seconds of the opening half, but instead trailed 17-7 after 30 minutes on probably the most bizarre play in Super Bowl history.

With Arizona at the Pittsburgh one-yard line and 18 seconds remaining in the half, down 10-7, Warner's pass for Anquan Boldin was picked off by Harrison, the NFL's defensive player of the year, and returned exactly 100 yards for a shock TD. Harrison, who staggered the final 20 yards, was dragged down right at the goal line with no time left on the clock, but an official review awarded the TD, an unreal turnaround.

"They showed an all-out blitz and (Harrison) did an excellent job of holding in toward the line of scrimmage, then popping out," Warner said.

"I couldn't see him around our linemen. I thought I had one-on-one coverage wide, but he jumped out there and made a play. The unfortunate thing is that we couldn't bring him down."

In the fourth quarter, with the Cards down 20-7, Warner threw a jump-ball TD pass to Fitzgerald, capping a desperate drive of 87 yards on nine plays in which the QB went 8-for-8. The Cards then held the Steelers and made a couple of first downs before punting and downing the football on the Pittsburgh one-yard line. A holding penalty in the end zone against the Steelers gave Arizona a safety to close the gap to 20-16.

The Steelers then punted the ball away and, two plays later, Warner found Fitzgerald on a crossing route and he sped away from all defenders straight down the middle of the field for 64 yards.

Roethlisberger's first interception of the post-season, tipped by defensive tackle Bryan Robinson and snared by linebacker Karlos Dansby at the Steelers' 34 with two minutes left in the first half, had set up the Cards for what looked like the go-ahead TD before Harrison's memorable sprint, the longest play in Super Bowl history.

Attendance was announced at 70,774. Pittsburgh fans, all with yellow towels, outnumbered red-clad Cardinals fans at least 3 to 1.

They were towel-waving emphatically late in the third quarter as the Steelers, aided by three major penalties against the Cardinals, took a 20-7 lead on a 21-yard Jeff Reed field goal.

NOTE: Kurt Warner won the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award in a pre-game announcement.

Nickelback Nabs Five Juno Nominations

Source: www.thestar.com - Nick Patch,
The Canadian Press

(February 03, 2009) Nickelback leads the charge heading into this year's Juno Awards, nabbing five nominations. The Alberta rockers earned five nods, including fan choice, single of the year, album of the year, group of the year and producer of the year. Dark Horse, the band's latest album, was one of the most anticipated releases of last year and has topped the charts. But Nickelback also has its share of detractors and, stung by bad press, frontman Chad Kroeger did virtually no print interviews to promote the new release. Montreal's Sam Roberts scored four Juno nominations while diva Céline Dion and Vancouver band Hedley each nabbed three. Montreal phenom Nikki Yanofsky also had a strong Juno showing with nominations for best new artist and best vocal jazz album of the year. The Juno Awards – celebrating the best in Canadian music – will be held in Vancouver on March 29. Nickelback is set to perform at the show as is Vancouver's Sarah McLachlan and Toronto band City and Colour – nominated for artist of the year and songwriter of the year – and Montreal band Simple Plan, which is up for album of the year and group of the year. For the second year in a row, the gala will be helmed by comedian Russell Peters. He won a Gemini Award for his last turn as host. The show will be broadcast on CTV.

Juno Award Nominations

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(February 03, 2009) Juno Fan Choice Award: Celine Dion, Feist, Hedley, Nickelback, the Lost Fingers.

Single Of The Year: "Taking Chances," Celine Dion; "Lay It on the Line," Divine Brown; "Dangerous," Kardinal Offishall; ``Lost," Michael Buble; "Gotta Be Somebody," Nickelback.

Album Of The Year: "Famous Last Words," Hedley; "Dark Horse," Nickelback; "Simple Plan," Simple Plan; "70's Volume 2," Sylvain Cossette; "Lost in the 80's," The Lost Fingers.

Artist Of The Year: Bryan Adams, City and Colour, k.d. lang, Sam Roberts, Serena Ryder.

Group Of The Year: Great Big Sea, Nickelback, Simple Plan, the Trews, Tokyo Police Club.

New Artist Of The Year: Crystal Shawanda, Jessie Farrell, Kreesha Turner, Lights, Nikki Yanofsky.

New Group Of The Year: Beast, Cancer Bats, Crystal Castles, Plants and Animals, the Stills.

Songwriter Of The Year: Alanis Morissette, Dallas Green, Gordie Sampson, Hedley, Nathan Ferraro.

Country Recording Of The Year: "Thankful," Aaron Pritchett; ``Dawn of a New Day," Crystal Shawanda; "Beautiful Life," Doc Walker; "What I Do," George Canyon; "Chasing the Sun," Tara Oram.

Pop Album Of The Year: "Flavors of Entanglement," Alanis Morissette; "No Sleep at All," Creature; "Wake Up and Say Goodbye," David Usher; "Passion," Kreesha Turner; "Holes," the Midway State.

Rock Album Of The Year: "Terminal Romance," Matt Mays & El Torpedo; "Fortress," Protest the Hero; "Love at the End of the World," Sam Roberts; "Parallel Play," Sloan; "No Time for Later," the Trews.

Rap Recording Of The Year: "A Captured Moment in Time," DL Incognito; "The Book," D-Sisive; "I Rap Now," Famous; "Not 4 Sale," Kardinal Offishall; "Point Blank," Point Blank.

World Music Album Of The Year: "Shivaboom," Eccodek; "The Art of the Early Egyptian Qanun," George Dimitri Sawa; "Africa to Appalachia," Jayme Stone & Mansa Sissoko; "Contrabanda," Lubo & Kaba Horo; "Cairo to Toronto," Maryem & Ernie Tollar.

::SCOOP::

Embracing Da Kink Airing on Global TV - Saturday February 7 at 9pm on Global TV

Source: V-Formation TV

Joel Gordon of V-Formation Productions is pleased to announce the re-broadcasting of the award-winning documentary,
Embracing Da Kink. Filmed over seven years, Embracing Da Kink is a 45-minute documentary that steps back to reveal a path of healing and success as a cast of young actors struggles to make their voices heard. From a humble show to one of the most successful Canadian plays ever, “Da Kink” gives an entertaining new voice to several hard-hitting issues. Tune in to Global TV on Saturday February 7th, 2009 at 9 p.m. to relive this remarkable journey.

Executive Producers: Trey Anthony & Joel Gordon

Director: Joel Gordon

Associate Producer: Oksana Kolibaba

www.vformation.tv

PHOTO CREDITS - Embracing Da Kink

POSTER PORTRAIT BY MARC LOSTRACCO

::RECAP::

When Sisters Speak, Truths Must Be Revealed

Source: By ItaL rOOts RaDio™ host, Sweet T

(February 3, 2009) The streets were sleek with slush and snow, temperatures were frigid, and Toronto was in blizzard mode as patrons rushed to get out of the wind tunnel and into their seats at the St. Lawrence Centre, to hear the sisters speak.

Another Up From the Roots Production, the 9th annual
When Sisters Speak melted the city’s ice-cap with dub poets from Halifax, Montreal, Buffalo, and Toronto spitting dope lyrics to dedicated fans and rookies alike.

Well worth the trek during a snowstorm and the cost of admission, these young, vibrant, witty, intelligent, beautiful, and dynamic women graced the stage one after the other sharing their poems /social commentaries with themes of African ancestry, black pride, racism, and inevitably men. The latter of the subject matter, by far the most favourable by the cheers from a densely populated female audience.

With tongues as sharp as their wit, and passion as deep as their wounds; Jemini, Shauntay Grant, El Jones, Sharnelle, Truth, and Truth Is, represented respectfully with poignant thoughts and crucial words. For as many times as the brothers received notable tongue lashings, they were also celebrated and praised.

Appearing for the first time on the When Sisters Speak stage, Montreal’s Truth and Buffalo’s Sharnelle found their flow as their confidence blossomed, despite somewhat nervous starts. Truth’s “Midas Touch” along with her “Tribute to the Dark Skinned Brothers” and “Happy to Be Nappy-Afro” poems were well received by the crowd. As were Sharnelle’s “Broken Reflections”, Seeing Heaven Through Early Eyes and “Amazing Just You”.

Meanwhile Toronto’s Truth Is emerged fearless, and served a healthy helping of satire with “Giftmas - I’m Not Writing To Santa” poem before the self-love, self hate entree, “My Attempt At A Love Poem”.

As they shared their stories of love and sex or lack thereof; struggles and tribulations; raw emotions from the depths of their souls were felt through their fear, anger, contempt, passion, and compassion. Feelings and emotions that were accompanied by redemption, triumphs, and joys that made the crowd laugh and cheer in delight.

Kudos to Toronto’s illustrious Jemini, for the hilarious set that evoked roars of laughter from the upper levels of the S.L.C. right through to the very front row where we sat buckled over, slapping our knees for most of her performance. BRRAAAP! BRRAAAP! BRRAAAP! Stand up should be next for this extremely talented Grenadian, Canadian.

Like her colleague, the poised and smooth sounding Nova Scotian, Shauntay Grant, Jemini poked fun at, and scorned their male-poet counterparts. Dauntless and audacious, Jem’ mixed it up and rocked the crowd about being Canadian, tax returns, and pretty boys, without missing a beat. Jemini delivered an emotional and heartfelt piece, “Kingston Galloway”, before exiting the stage to thunderous applause.

For the past two years, Halifax has been the #1 spoken word city and Toronto was blessed to experience the lyricism of two members of the Canadian National Poetry Championship Team; one of whom, played djembe and keyboards to accompany her verse.

The mature and seasoned, Shauntay Grant wooed the crowd with her rhythmic literary work in an exquisite set that guided the audience on a journey through “Back in the Day”, a Nas inspired piece.

A poet, author, and playwright, Grant’s sophistication exemplified womanhood – imparting the knowledge that in order to find oneself, one must first “lessen the load.” Ultimately, it was Shauntay’s compelling , “Take Your Time” from one of her upcoming plays that demonstrated the strength of character and often the hard lessons that bring forth the necessary change in our lives that help us to become who we truly are and meant to be.

A collective consciousness is on the rise and the words of El Jones were far more powerful than her petite stature. A bona fide, sistren, this passionate, young woman from Halifax, Nova Scotia made an indelible impression with her first piece, “Kings and Queens”.

Her delivery was simply brilliant; her words powerful and penetrating.

Consistent with her first poem, the subsequent pieces, “The Letter B” and “The Zoo”, each made accurate and valid observations - looking not to blame others, but to invoke change and individual responsibility. They identified problems and offered simple and attainable solutions. Culminating this stellar cast and night of poetry, El Jones transported us to a higher level of consciousness.

For this I am grateful and for all the sisters who performed that night. Thanks for the “stitch in my belly laughs” and thanks to my real-life sistas who joined me in the ring, Maria and Cecilia! Accolades must also be given to the show’s producer, Mr. Dwayne Morgan who continues to present and promote an outstanding calibre of North American dub poets. The art of dub poetry is educating and engaging as well as an entertaining form to expose the hypocrisies and sincerities of our societies. More life, more love and more guidance.

::TRAVEL NEWS::

New Ports Of Call Adding Spice To Caribbean Cruises

Source:  www.thestar.com - Diane Tierney,
Special To The Star

(November 01, 2008) Note: This article has been edited to correct a previously published version.

The Caribbean is already a powerful magnet for cruise travellers. But cruise lines are adding new ports to their itineraries and adding new ports to punch up their line-ups.

New ports include the Turks and Caicos, where you can check out world-renowned diving, as well as Bonaire and Tortola.

New ships launching this November include Princess Cruises' Ruby, Celebrity Cruise's Solstice and Carnival's Splendour.

Here's a look at some of the new offerings.

TURKS AND CAICOS: The $60-million Grand Turk Cruise Centre, created by Carnival Cruise Lines, opened in 2006 and continues to expand. The 5.2-hectare facility has both a private beach and supersized pool.

Dining includes the newest outpost of Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville restaurant, plus a coffee bar and ice cream parlour. Shoppers enjoy the 3,000-square-metre duty free store.

You can also rent a car, jeep or bike to explore the island of Grand Turk which is 11 kilometres long and two kilometres wide. In addition to magnificent beaches, it is world renowned for diving, snorkelling, fishing and other water sports.

New tours include a hop-on/hop-off island tour bus that has a stop at a restored 1800s prison and historic lighthouse.

Many tours take advantage of Grand Turk's marine environment, including a semi-sub tour, snorkelling, kayaking, fly-fishing, power snorkelling and helmet diving.

Soft adventure tours include beach horseback riding, stingray encounter at Gibb's Cay and four-wheel drive and dune buggy tours.

BONAIRE: Bonaire is another new port of call for cruise ships. A range of excursions focus on the island's famous first-class snorkelling and diving. Many Caribbean islands brag about their underwater worlds, but Bonaire is considered one of the elite.

The island led the way by protecting sea turtles back in 1961, banning spearfishing in 1971, making it illegal to remove live coral in 1975 and establishing the first marine park in 1979. It also helps that the island is outside the traditional hurricane zone and is a desert island with no river runoff into the sea.

This dry climate and cacti plants are why Bonaire is called Arizona by the Sea. Unlike its better-known neighbours, Aruba and Curacao, this isle of 14,000 residents is quiet and laid-back. See colourful butterflies at the Bonaire Butterfly Farm. Or take a kayak through the calm waters of Lac Bay National Park and its fabulous mangroves.

TORTOLA: Tortola is a superb destination for water sports, snorkelling and diving. There are several underwater wrecks including the popular RMS Rhone.

The warm trade winds also make this island a sailor's paradise. Day trips include visiting Jost Van Dyke, a favourite island for yachters and home of White Bay and the Soggy Dollar Bar. Another neighbouring isle, Virgin Gorda, is the place to explore the caves, grottos and pools of the famous Baths, formed by gigantic boulders.

Even if you don't snorkel or scuba, you can see the underwater world of coral reefs and shipwrecks from the camera of a remote-operated vehicle (ROV). You'll view what the robot sees on a large plasma screen.

Starting Nov. 15, Carnival's 3,006-passenger Splendour begins eastern Caribbean's sailings including Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, Dominican Republic, Grand Turk and Nassau until February. Visit carnival.com or call 888-CARNIVAL.

Celebrity's 2,850-passenger Solstice begins its maiden season Nov. 23 with seven-night eastern Caribbean cruises calling on Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, St. Kitts and Tortola until May. Visit celebritycruises.com or call 800-437-3111.

Diane Tierney is an Oakville-based freelance writer.

::MUSIC NEWS::

Alex Cuba Feature

Source:  CIRRA (Note: I encourage you to visit the site to sign up for free membership HERE).

Singer-songwriter Alex Cuba hails from Artemisa, Cuba (60 km from Havana) and resides in Smithers, B.C. (a 14-hour drive north of Vancouver). Musically, he lives everywhere in between. His trademark sugarcane-sweet melodies, pop-soul hooks and rock chords subtly subvert commonly held notions of what Cuban music is. Alex is on the vanguard, crafting a cross-cultural sound that mirrors his geographical journey.

With two JUNO awards, a Canadian Music Week Indie Award, a Western Canadian Music Award and many other accolades and sales achievements under his belt, this musician, label owner, singer and songwriter is actively performing and showcasing and is focused on securing licensing deals and agents in various international territories. The January 27, 2009 release of his album "Live from Soho" on iTunes globally went straight to #1 on the iTunes U.S. "Alternativo" chart, and is currently #6 on the overall Latin albums chart. Alex plans to commence recording of his next album in late February.


Q1. Can you share your musical journey with us? When did you first start performing, and what experiences have brought you to this point in your life and career?

I was born inside music. My father, Valentine Puentes, has always been a musician and guitar instructor. The music school where he taught was across the street from my house, and every Wednesday, a band would come from Havana to play a show. So for my twin brother, Adonis, and I, being immersed in so much music and culture, it was just part of our life growing up.

When I was 14, I saw someone playing electric bass, and it was like love at first sight for me. I couldn't believe the sound of that instrument. So, my Dad went and found an electric bass for me and I started right away learning the electric bass. I was one of those kids that never had to be told to go practice; I was practicing without anybody telling me anything because it was something that I enjoyed so much.

Very quickly I became one of the hottest bass players in town. By 17 years old I was in the major leagues in my town, which was a very musical town. So that's what I did all the way up until when I moved to Canada at age 24. In between those years I did a lot of performing in Havana and also became the bass player for a jazz band in Havana that became very popular. We did two albums; the first one won Best Jazz Album of the Year.

I was about 18 when I started writing songs. At that time I went into the Army in Cuba, not for a very long time, but I went, and then as I was getting used to my new life in the military, I remember writing my first song. That's how it all started.

Q2. How has Canadian culture influenced your musical evolution?

I've been very lucky in terms of adjusting to my new country because, first of all, it was a conscious decision to come. It was based purely on the fact that I wanted to try a musical career here in North America.

The influence that American music culture had on me when I was growing up, I think made the transition easier in adjusting to a new country.

I was also lucky to be with the woman that I love in my life, who is a Canadian. We married in Cuba and lived there together for two years before coming to Canada. I always had a lot of support from my wife's family, so when we came I immediately had a place to live, a beat-up car to drive, and so on, so that helped. But I believe that as long as you are together with the people you love you can conquer anything; so we could move again to a whole different place and it would be okay, because love gives you strength and the power to keep going.

To this day, I have never, ever regretted that I left Cuba. I go back and visit every year, though.

Q3. You have talked about one of your goals for your career is to take Cuban music to the mainstream. What is your strategy for achieving that?

I'll start by telling a story. The first time I came to Canada was in 1995, which is when I met my wife. I came to Canada to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the diplomatic relationship between Canada and Cuba. My brother was the singer and I was the bass player for my father's band.

We went from the western point of Canada, in Victoria, all the way to Halifax. It was about 78 days we did that tour. It was amazing. One thing that I saw in that trip was that most Latin immigrants here were completely segregated and it was a mind set, a way of thinking, that many of them didn't like speaking English and only did so because of necessity. I said, "If I ever come to live in Canada, I will be proud of being who I am and I will make as many friends as I can outside of the Latin world."

Later on I got to know that many of the people have come to Canada from countries that have gone through horrible situations like Guatemala, El Salvador, and many of them have been forced to move away from their home country, and I can't even begin to imagine how that feels, because you feel like you've been kicked out of your own country. But, I found that even some of those who came here the same way as I did were consciously choosing to stay only within the Latin community.

I didn't want to limit myself that way, because I believe in a bigger sense of love that crosses beyond the way we look, where we come from, what language we speak. I believe that you can meet a lot of incredible people in every culture.

When it was time for me to come to Canada, I opened myself up to the mainstream world, meaning just being in the midst of what's going on in the country, especially with music and meeting up with musicians from rock bands and pop bands and funk bands.

Given that I was singing in another language, my focus became on really refining my songs and making them interesting from a musical point of view. I would write music from every genre that came into my mind, and I don't even consider music in terms of genre, because music is music and it just depends how you feel about it. So I would have songs that are rootsy and then would jump to a 50s rock type of feel, but somebody told me that's what made me stand out from the crowd. So my whole thing is that if you aren't able to understand the words I'm saying, the only way for me to keep you interested in listening to me is for me to continually surprise you music-wise, and that's what has been happening with my albums and what has been allowing me to slowly, but surely, put my music in a more mainstream level.

I'm really strong in the sense that I've come to a new land that has given me a new identity, and that new identity I believe is half where I come from and half where I am. And I believe that is a stronger identity than only the one I had where I was coming from. And I see that in my kids' eyes; they're half-Cuban and half-Canadian. I have to love that - those two worlds together. There is a power in that, and that's the sound that comes through in my music and that's what is making my music go to the mainstream and is allowing me the opportunity to work with a broader range of musicians. If you are a musician, you should play whatever.

I don't consider my music World music. I consider my music mainstream, pop, because of the craft of the songs and the hooks.

I just feel the music, but the part of it that has been conscious has been in not doing what many Latin bands tend to do, which is play every Friday at a certain place for a certain group of people. The problem is when you get trapped in that routine, playing at the same place every week making the same amount of money, then you become afraid of losing that steady money (even though it's not a lot) and you are afraid of breaking away from that and you don't take the next step up which would be getting into a touring band where people have to pay a cover charge to see you. People aren't going to pay to see you play if they know they can go to a club and see you play for free.

So, that's something I saw from the beginning that I felt could limit my ability to grow my musical career, so I have refrained myself from playing weekly shows. I've never done it before.

To date, I'm proud to say that I don't need to play a lot in a month in order to make my living. One or two shows is all I need to do, and then I have the time to spend with my family or create.

It's been scary, like anything in life where you're taking a risk, but the only thing that gets you through is how much you want what you see in front of you.

Being a musician is difficult because there is no guarantee that you're going to make a living. But what has helped me is that I have maintained a very simple style of life that is according to what I'm pulling in. My feeling was always that the fact that I was coming from Cuba would get me ahead in a society like this because I was trained to not have a lot of material things. That was my strategy from the beginning and I've been doing it that way ever since. So, today, I'm really proud to say that all that I have, I have done through my music; I own my own place and support my family from my music career.

Q4. How have your JUNO Award wins helped with public awareness about you?

Well, the first one was a complete surprise, and that album [his debut CD with the Alex Cuba Band, Humo De Tabaco, which won the 2006 Juno award for World Music Album of the Year] didn't get as much attention in Canada as I wanted it to. That was a weird journey. The album was released in three different territories in the world on three different labels [Japan, UK and US/Canada], and therefore it created a mess that taught me a lot on the business side.

It was released in Canada on an American label, and they didn't know anything about the Canadian market, so they didn't market the album correctly. They started phoning around being so aggressive and pissing everybody off!

Anyways, it felt amazing when I won, especially since I was up against two musicians that I love, Celso Machado and Alpha Yaya Diallo.

Not much happened after that, though. Maybe because I wasn't prepared from the management side of my career and I didn't have the money that I have today. I was doing as much as I could managing myself with the help of my wife, Sarah, and I'm really happy with everything we did, but we didn't have the extension and the presence in the city, which is what I have now.

When the second nomination came [in 2008 for Agua Del Pozo], I was ready in the management area, so he [Andres Mendoza] knew how to grab the moment. From the time we knew we were nominated we were able to do a lot of publicity and we were more prepared for the second victory. So, it has helped a lot, not only in the Canadian market, but in other territories as well.

Q5. Are you an independent artist by choice, or by virtue of not getting the attention of a major record label. What are the pros and cons of being an independent artist?

I'm an independent artist by the choice of God! [laughter] Maybe it's because of the way I see my own music. I always had big dreams for my music and believed that I could become a famous artist, and then I started to get a bit frustrated trying to put certain things in place to launch my career.

I guess I've been independent because that's the only thing that's been there for me. As you can imagine, for me as an immigrant, the chances of a label grabbing me would be pretty low. There are so many other issues to work out when you come to a new country, learning a new culture, a new language, learning how business operates.

I'm enjoying being independent, but I recently came very close to starting a joint venture with a major label in the U.S. Last year I was approached by several U.S. labels with both artist signing and licensing offers. One of them was from Bluenote Records. They actually offered me a recording contract, but I felt too old and too experienced to go into a recording contract. That's something that you offer to a 17-year-old musician! In my opinion, recording contracts are becoming something that you see less and less. The artist is getting a lot of force and strength and I think that is creating a more favourable situation for the musician, where you own your work, and you find a partner and you license in fair terms what you are doing and then you keep control of it.

After many months of licensing deal negotiations with Bluenote, I graciously declined their offer. With the volatility in the recordings market and with many labels in flux, we have had a very deliberate and patient approach to this area. My management and I will now look for a new U.S. licensing partner and we have started talks with Spanish, French and Japanese labels who are interested in the project [release of Agua Del Pozo in various international terretories].

I'm really happy with where life has taken me. No regrets.

With my big dreams, I knew that maybe it would be easier with a major label, but looking back now and analyzing the past nine years of my life in Canada, it's been a solid career that could very well be compared to any major label career here in the sense of the progression, music-wise, of where I have gone and what I have created, and the achievements.

I do believe that the term 'indie' is a temporary name. I think it's going to become something that is standard to the point where no one thinks in terms of 'indie' or how 'indie' started. What's happening now with the industry is what needed to be done a long time ago to create a more healthy music environment.

To be 'indie' is to be in control of what's going on with your career, and I think that makes us better artists. It must be horrible to give yourself to a label and they make you and you don't even own your own name. I'm proud of where I am right now. I've just taken the steps that life has been offering me and today my music is becoming strong around the world and I am very happy for that. So, we'll see where we go from here now!

Q6. What is the experience like running your own label, Caracol Records?

I'm self-taught with the business side of things. I've read some books, and experience has taught me a lot of things.

It's great when you make a good decision and you achieve something and move forward, you get to enjoy the credit for that. The negative side is that you have nobody to blame but yourself when you make the wrong decision!

I have always been intrigued by how the business end of things works, and right now I'm in a situation where I know how the business moves and I'm making decisions on a daily basis and not afraid of it anymore. I manage to be involved with my team making decisions and creating at the same time. I have finally learned how to separate those two worlds. When I go into the studio, I turn the business switch off and it's all about the music.

I'm also really lucky in that when I go into a creative mode, I could write a lot of songs in the short span of a week, and then I'm not creating for about a month or so. I don't try to force my writing; I always try to feel it. When I get those creative blocks and I write a lot of songs, I put everything away and when it's time to make another record, I'll have about 30 songs to pick from. So, that keeps me musically healthy, and I'm enjoying that, because it allows the business and creative worlds to function together.

At the speed that the world is going, I believe that if you don't know about business, you will find yourself in trouble because you'll get left behind. As musicians, we need to make decisions every day in how to move forward.

Q7. Recently you had shows booked from Bragg Creek, Alberta to Seville, Spain to London, England to New York City to San Francisco to Tokyo, Japan. How important is touring in your revenue generation and what is your strategy for booking shows in such a wide range of locations?

Touring always has been, and will continue to be, the most important element in a musician's career because that's what connects you to your audience. From the spiritual point of view it provides the most important moments, where you deliver who you are.

I toured this past fall in a really strange range of places, from Alberta to Asia. I don't think it was planned that way, it just happened and was put together that way. I must say that I don't have a solid touring history yet. Maybe because the momentum hasn't come for me yet. All the elements as well have not always been in place. I've finally found a good agent who is making sense of things and trying to put everything together. For 2009-2010 we want to see a touring sense in going from one point to the other.

It has taken me about 10 years to gain my reputation, to show some consistency and to find and put together the strong team that is making sure that things happen in the right way.

I'm very aware that touring is the way and I'm fully committed to going at it heavy for the next 10 years.

Q8. What has been your experience with getting grants? What programs have you benefited from throughout your career?

It's been lovely to see that side of my career grow, because in the beginning I wasn't getting certain grants that I applied for, and it would always piss me off because I would wonder why someone else got it.

But, I think in the process of being turned down, it made me better. I'm very thankful of the grant system in Canada and at the same time, I am also looking at the other side, which is what the granting bodies want you to do. I don't think the grant system wants you to totally get used to them. They want you to launch your career and then you would find your own way. I've seen many artists who totally get used to it and the end result is that they never make it commercially because they get stuck in a cycle of a limited type of touring with festivals and concert societies that have existing audiences.

I think the granting system is wonderful, but I believe it creates a bit of an illusion that you can perform to big crowds, but what would the result be if you tried to do a show on your own? Canada is great for having a granting system, but it's not intended to be used as a sort of welfare system for your entire career. They are there to help you launch and if you're smart enough, you'll find your way. The way to find your way is to invest your own money out of your own pocket to go the extra mile and explore new opportunities. But I want to be clear that I think the granting system is great and needs to live on forever!

Q9. How has your merchandise been doing as a revenue stream? Has it been a worthwhile investment?

Yes, it has worked for me, from posters to t-shirts, to buttons to CDs. It's been interesting, being your own label and therefore investing your own money into it. The only part about it that I'm not too crazy about is that you have to lug it around yourself and travel with it to shows!

So far every investment that I've made has come back and doubled itself. It's so important, though, when you own your own business to put the money right back into it. I believe that's one of my biggest qualities in the business world, that I have always been very responsible and willing to invest whatever comes in back into the product. At the beginning I didn't know why I was doing that, or what I was doing, but I just knew it needed to be done in order to grow.

I'm used to the investment and I'm enjoying being able to have the resources to do whatever we need to do whether it's buying a plane ticket or going to a conference. We know that we may be able to get a grant, but it's something that we just move ahead with anyways. You can only do that when you have a high consciousness that the money is to be reinvested.

Q10. How do you define professional success?

The ability to balance my two worlds - family and career. I'm a proud father and I'm doing what I love.

I have three kids, ages 12, 6 and 2, and I think it makes me love them even more the fact that I'm doing what I love in life. I think it brings the happiness that they need to feel secure, to feel loved. When you do what you love in life, then you can have many things going on.

Music has been what has supported my family in Canada from the beginning; I've never done anything else. My wife has always been working with me since the beginning. She is the best thing that has happened to me in my life. A person with her type of drive and determination; I can't thank my wife enough for being so supportive of my career. She is a big part of our team and she is a strong voice on the team. It makes me only feel lucky. What fuels me is the drive of doing something that I love and respect.

For more information on Alex Cuba, visit www.alexcuba.com.

Early Leona Lewis Album Is Secret No More

Source: Rick Scott, greatscottproductions@earthlink.net

(February 3, 2009) *Today Leona Lewis is a best-selling global recording artist who has a #1 debut album, chart-topping singles and is nominated for three Grammy Awards this Sunday. 

Years before the release of her smash album, Spirit, Lewis recorded a soulful R&B collection in 2005 entitled Best Kept Secret with British producer-songwriter Barry Bee, who developed the gifted vocalist under his UEG Music banner. 

The eleven-track collection has finally been released in the United States, Canada and Mexico by the 4th Sun Entertainment Group, which is distributed by Caroline/EMI Music.  The album will be available in traditional record stores and via iTunes and the usual digital outlets.   

Best Kept Secret was recorded primarily at Boombee Studios in England.  Under Bee's direction, Lewis was a great listener and eager to learn.  The exquisite young beauty's star qualities were already in evidence. 

The album was carefully crafted by Bee, who produced the collection, wrote seven songs, co-penned two more and selected a cover, SWV's hit "I'm So Into U," for Lewis to record.  Whereas Spirit showcases Lewis' sterling vocal abilities in a mix of pop gems and dramatic ballads, Best Kept Secret is more of a soul-drenched dance-oriented project. 

Opening the album is the dance floor filler "L.O.V.E U."  Lewis' agile vocal calisthenics are deployed in abundance throughout the disc, including on "Dip Down," which gets an assist from rapper Loot.  "Ready To Get Down" is another up-tempo dance number with a throbbing bottom-end.  Originally recorded for Best Kept Secret, "Private Party" served as the title track to a 2005 EP that became an underground club sensation and was followed the same year by a second EP.  Lewis riffs freely on the hypnotic dance-pop cut "Joy."  The hip-hop flavoured "Bad Boy" includes a rap from K2 Family.  Buoyant and bright, "I Can't Say Hello" ends up being an invigorating greeting after all.  Lewis' version of "I'm So Into U" is a bit more of an aggressive, edgy funk jam than the original.  A sensual and sultry mid-tempo groove, "I Wanna Be That Girl" delivers an amorous plea.  "Silly Girl" is a pure club banger while a "Private Party" remix closes the collection. 

"Leona first came to us when she was 16-years-old.  Even then, you could see that given the right opportunity, she could become a global star," said Bee.  "I mortgaged my house to make this album possible and want her fans to have the opportunity to listen to the album we worked on so hard together.  I'm positive that this album would have put her on the map and now I think it will make her star shine even brighter."

After recording Best Kept Secret, Lewis traveled to the U.S.  While there, Bee received an offer to sign her to a major American production company.  However, Lewis decided to return to the UK where additional recording sessions were scheduled to fine-tune Best Kept Secret.  Before that could happen, she entered X-Factor, the British precursor to American Idol.  Lewis won the television competition.  Songs from Best Kept Secret were rumoured to be included on Spirit, but none of them were.  Those early recordings are being made available now for the first time.  Released in late 2007, Spirit has sold over 5 million copies worldwide led by "Bleeding Love," the #1 hit that was the best-selling single last year.  Lewis was the best-selling new artist and the fifth best-selling artist in the world last year.  In the U.S., "Bleeding Love" spent 39 weeks on Billboard's Hot 100, including four weeks at #1, which is a new record for a British female solo artist.  The album debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200, which marked the first time ever that a British female artist entered the chart in the top spot as well as the first time a British female or male reached the summit with a debut album.   

Additional information about Best Kept Secret is available at www.4thsun.com/llsecret.

Rising Star Jenn Grant Getting Run Ragged

Source: www.thestar.com - Ben Rayner,
Pop Music Critic

(February 01, 2009) In a sense, Jenn Grant's professional tour of duty behind her new album, Echoes, began this past Thursday, when she awoke in a Montreal hotel room to spend the first of many days to come chatting with the press.

That moment signalled a severe acceleration in the pace of the Halifax singer/songwriter's life, a pace that likely won't let up until the summer leaves are threatening to fall again.

Grant will be making the rounds here in Toronto this Tuesday when Echoes officially arrives in stores via Six Shooter Records, but swiftly after that she's on her way down to Los Angeles to perform at a party at the Canadian consulate, a couple of showcases presented by the Canadian Independent Record Production Association and "some NBC office thing" during the run-up to the Grammy Awards.

She's back in Toronto for a show at the Mod Club on Feb. 12, bouncing back and forth to Ontario and Quebec between gigs in her childhood stomping ground of Charlottetown and her current home base, Halifax. There's a run of U.K. dates with Barenaked Lady Kevin Hearn after that, the boozy grind of Canadian Music Week and South by Southwest after that, and then maybe it's time to start thinking about taking the new record to the rest of Canada and the States. Then ... well, you get the picture. That almost gets us to April.

In any case, it definitely sucks that Grant could already feel the tingle of a cold coming on after just that one day of yakking it up with music scribes in Montreal.

"It's been good. My throat hurts, kind of, but I'm okay," she maintains as the afternoon begins to wind down. "I'm gonna go get some medicine. I'm fighting. I don't want to say that I'm sick, but I am fighting."

Grant, 28, is no innocent ingénue when it comes to touring or anything, but the release of Echoes marks her first opportunity to conduct a properly mobilized assault not just on these shores, but on both sides of the Atlantic.

There are, as one might discern from her current flurry of activity, quite a few folks on her side willing to make it happen. The Six Shooter crowd, in particular, is an "enthusiastic bunch," she says. And why wouldn't it be? The local indie label must know it has the potential next big thing in Canada's long line of internationally revered female singers in its midst.

"I love it. I'm doing exactly what I want to do and people are helping me. It's great," she enthuses. "I've gone to Europe a couple of times and done some small stuff in the States, but this is the first time I'm releasing something with, like, a full team of people working with me from the get-go. So there's going to be a lot more focus on touring as much as possible. That's what I want."

Acclaim accrued organically to Grant's emotive voice and quietly complex folk-pop songwriting upon the release of her debut album, Orchestra for the Moon – a critical smash recorded with assistance from a couple of her sometime bandmates in Halifax's Heavy Blinkers and released on the tiny Paris 1919 Recording Company label – in 2007.

One suspects, then, that the trend will continue on a larger scale once Echoes finds its way in front of the appropriate people.

Slower, more sombre and less easily revealing of itself than Orchestra, the new record is a glowing venue for Grant's voice – an unpredictable instrument adept at conveying real ache non-verbally and which invites comparisons to Sarahs Harmer and McLachlan, Leslie Feist and maybe a hint of Patsy Cline – and her heightened talents as a songwriter and arranger. Echoes might at first sound like a run-of-the-mill, sad-chick folk record, but as elements of jazz, swing and doo-wop are subsumed into the mix and song after song winds through a series of intriguing, unexpected corners to get to the finish, one realizes that there are much larger ambitions at work.

Grant, mind you, isn't terribly forthcoming with analysis.

"I'm kind of a weird-corner-taker, I think," she agrees. "But there's no `trying.' We don't try to be weird or anything.

"I just write stream of consciousness and sometimes I don't really know what I'm writing until I listen to it later. And I think that's what happened a lot here with this album."

The two covers included on Echoes – a funereal version of Neil Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" and a scratchy snippet of Grant crooning Noel Coward's late-`20s chestnut "I'll See You Again" – are fairly representative of the stylistic collisions at work in her oeuvre to date.

She looks a bit like a creature of an earlier, classier era, and Grant peppers her tunes with Andrews Sisters harmonies accordingly. She's not really sure where these old-time flashes come from, though, and she swears up and down none of it is intentional.

"Maybe it was a past life. I'm thinking that's what it was," she quips. "But my father did spend some time getting me to sit by him at the piano when I was a kid while he played songs from the `30s and `40s. so I think that must have rubbed off on me a little bit."

A desire to emulate purer musical times did indeed govern Grant's decision to record Echoes on entirely analog equipment and as "live" as could possibly be in the studio at Puck's Farm in Schomberg last summer.

She wanted a low-key environment where she and her band – longtime side players Kinley Dowling, Sean McGillivray and David Christensen, along with Blackie and the Rodeo Kings drummer Gary Craig for this excursion – could learn the new songs at a leisurely pace and capture the first "magical moments" that ensued.

There are minimal overdubs on the instrumental side and Grant and producer Jonathan Goldsmith were equally sparing when it came to stacking vocals, too, aiming to keep them "as real as possible."

"I just liked getting back to the way records used to be made," she says.

Not a bad display of confidence, really, for someone who was just a few years ago too paralyzed to perform the songs she's been hoarding since childhood for anyone.

She still gets a little flushed onstage sometimes, but she's turned those jitters to her advantage. Grant's self-deprecating between-song babbles are often as charming as the music itself.

"That was resolved – I just went for it and did it for myself," she says. "I just kinda got used to being onstage and took it from there. Now, I love performing. I don't mind the little bits of nervousness. I kind of like them, I guess, because they keep you feeling alive."

Broadway's Chester Gregory to release long awaited R&B/Soul debut

Source: 
www.eurweb.com - By Eunice Moseley

(January 29, 2009) *“I am taking a break, focusing on my music,” R&B/Soul singer Chester Gregory said about taking time from his career on Broadway to record his debut CD. “I am always performing…I love to do it, doesn’t matter if it’s a stage or a recording studio.”

Chester made his mark on the entertainment world in the theatrical arena. His multi-octave voice inspired Phil Collins to compose a Broadway song custom made for his vocal talents. Gregory has starred in musicals The Jackie Wilson Story, John Water’s Hairspray, Tarzan (Phil Collins) and Cry Baby.

“In Search of High Love” is Chester Gregory’s debut R&B/Soul album and it shows the versatility of his voice which is reminiscent, to me, of the early Musiq Soulchild's sound. On his song “High Love,” his sweet harmony sticks out with his tenor capabilities; “Question” is a master piece with strong piano driven tracks and a soulful vocal delivery; the cover song “Higher and Higher,” is a dance track with a funky feel to it, and “If U Only,” is a sweet plea of forgiveness.

An unbelievable songwriter, Chester also covers two Angela Bofil songs “Moon Over the Sky” and “Universe for U.”

“I grew up in Gary, Indiana where Michael Jackson comes from,” Chester points out to me when we talked about his performing talents. “The choreography inspired me. I went to a visual arts high school. I did a show where I played Jackie Wilson…it had a three year run. I was seen by an agent and three weeks later I was on Broadway (doing Jackie Wilson). I did two other musicals….Hairspray for two and a half years and then got an offer from Phil Collins (for Tarzan).”

Gregory went on to also perform at the Tony Awards and in between all that was recording, “In Search of High Love.” So for all of those looking for some real Soul music and who love, as I do, the high tenor voice that only a man can deliver, check out the music of Chester Gregory, to be released February 24, 2009.

Mary Wilson: Legendary Supreme As Busy As Ever With Career

Source: 
www.eurweb.com  - By Kenya M Yarbrough

(January 30, 2009) *One of the legendary Supremes, Mary Wilson, has been entertaining since she was just 14 years old – and she hasn’t stopped yet.

The incomparable star still tours and performs for her many fans and finds herself entertaining her eight grandchildren, too.

Taking a moment out of her Las Vegas schedule, the Motown superstar chatted with EUR’s Lee Bailey about the work she’s doing on and off the stage.

“I’m very, very busy right now,” she said. “I’ve been appointed the spokesperson for this company called Humpty Dumpty Institute, where we travel around the world speaking out on unexploded land minds. It’s something that [has taken me to] Vietnam and Sri Lanka. And I’m presently coming to LA to finish my new CD that I’m working on with the Holland Brothers.”

Wilson feels really good about working for such a good cause and good about still doing her music. However, she admits that what gives her the most joy is spending time with her grandchildren.

“I’m having a great time. I have all these grandchildren,” she said. “I have a chance to go out and tour and then come home and be a grandma, which is really kind of fun. I’ve traveled so much; I’ve done so much, but I’m just as busy as ever.”

Motown fans might find it hard to picture Mary Wilson as a grandmother, but the singer fits the role perfectly. As for her role as a legendary singer, well, that’s taking her grandchildren some time to get used to.

“It’s only just getting started now,” she said of her grandkids recognizing her superstar status. “When I’m home, I’m really grandmom. They don’t really know much about it. Sometimes I work in Vegas and I bring them to see the show and they see me up on stage and it doesn’t look like grandma at all. I bring them up on stage. They’re staring at me saying, ‘This is grandma, but it’s not grandma.’ I guess they’re just starting to get that grandmom is somebody special.”

Wilson, 64, is certainly doing something special for victims of landmines. She is working with Humpty Dumpty International, to help raise awareness and funds for landmine clearance projects around the globe.

“After close to 50 years of singing, getting awards, and traveling, I felt that I needed to do things that were rewarding in a different kind of way just so it keeps me doing things that are good,” Wilson said of her philanthropic work. “So early on after the Supremes disbanded, I started taking on other endeavours like charities. These things became more and more important in my life.”

Wilson was appointed as an ambassador by then Secretary of State Colin Powell and spoke about AIDS awareness in Africa and other causes.

“Then the Humpty Dumpty people asked me if I would become a part of their organization because they had seen what I’d done as and Ambassador,” she said. “They asked me to be a representative of their organization to spread the word about unexploded landmine clearances.”

While a Culture Connect Ambassador, Wilson also became involved in pushing through important legislation such as the Truth in Music Bill.

“The Truth in Music Bill has to do with people using the names of famous groups as their own,” she explained.

She was one of the celebs that started the grassroots movement of the bill as she, along with a number of ‘50s groups, were finding that people using their group names.

“You could see three or four Supremes [groups], lots of Temptations. We felt there was nothing there to protect us. So we got together with the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and we started putting this initiative together to stop these people from using our names. It’s really great that this bill has passed. In other words, if you did not record the music, then you cannot call your group by the name on the recording; you have to be a tribute group.”

There is one fictionally famous group, however, that Wilson says is using the story of the Supremes that she can’t do much about. It’s widely accepted that the play/movie “Dreamgirls” is based on the story of the Supremes, though Motown founder Berry Gordy has spoken out about the similarities and implications.

“I was always a bit concerned that it was so close to the Supremes,” Wilson said, “but yet and still, no one said it was.”

Apparently, one good turn deserved another. After the play hit Broadway in the 1980s, Wilson was working on her first book.

“I didn’t have a title for it, so I called my book ‘Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme.’ We had a little litigation conversation – their people and my people. I said, ‘You guys have a lot of the Supremes information there, but you’re not saying it is the Supremes,’ so they just let it drop.”

Wilson did say she thought the film was a great piece of art and a beautiful film, without endorsing the storyline.

“It definitely was not the story of Motown,” she said. “It was not 100% the story of the Supremes, but there was a lot they took from us. My whole thing is that someone took our story, but did not really give us the acknowledgment that it was our story. There should be a story of the Supremes.”

For Mary Wilson’s story and the latest on Motown’s 50th anniversary, check out her website at www.marywilson.com

Motown Turned 50 This Month

Source:
www.eurweb.com

(February 02, 2009) **Emirates Business chats with founder Berry Gordy, 79, about all things Hitsville [the birthplace of Motown Records in Michigan, US] as he spills the beans on why he turned down Jackson at first, why Wonder was nothing but a nuisance and why he sold the company in 1988.

When was your last visit to Motown's Hitsville home on Detroit's West Grand Boulevard?

The last time I was at West Grand was during Levi Stubbs' funeral, in October. I spoke at his funeral. Levi Stubbs was one of the great singers of all time, and I enjoyed his music so much.

What's it like going back there?

I'm very proud of the Hitsville Museum, but I'm not anxious to go there because it's an out-of-body experience. People walk through the house I lived in and say: 'This is where his baby was, this is his stove, this is the kitchen'. It couldn't be me. I'm way too young to be the person who lived in that little room and ate on that kitchen table, which is a foot long. I'm too young for a museum.

What made it so creative? Was it because everything was part of the community?

Yes, that was part of it. We lived there and it was all fun and we were all enthusiastic and passionate. And it was not only my home, but it was everybody else's home that worked in Motown – all the artists. Whenever they came off the road, they wouldn't go home; they always came to the studio, because it was going around the clock, everybody was recording. Many times people couldn't get in the studio because there was so much action going on there.

Producer-songwriters Brian and Eddie Holland said it was the biggest boys' club.

Oh yes, it was home to everybody. It was the second family to everybody and the first to many. Never before in history has a company had that much closeness and success. And I don't think it will happen again.

Was there competition between the writers, producers, and artists?

It was built on competition. I started it out that way. Everybody competed with everybody. And people said it wouldn't work because they all competed against me.

Whenever they beat me, they were happy and I was unhappy. We usually voted and Smokey Robinson and I had the biggest rivalry; I hated him because he won almost every time and I had better songs than he did. But people knew they could vote against me, and because I was the boss, they took advantage of me and made Smokey's songs better than mine. So he got the releases and I didn't. That's why he is more popular and I'm the better writer (laughs).

Love and relationships were the formula for hit records?

And the truth. About the song and the situation. Take Smokey's Tracks Of My Tears which had you visualizing a person crying; everything was visual and truthful. I was the first songwriter to do that, and when others came along, they were good too. All because I chose artists who had integrity and character; just because a person was talented did not mean I would sign them. Handling success was an integral part. And because we were confident we could get hit records, Motown artists had longevity.

Was it like going back to school?

I created a "cycle of success" where I would tell the artist where they featured on the cycle. A hit record was a part of it, but where they got money and used it for something else was another part.

Brian and Eddie once said what they dealt with lyrically is still part of every soap opera today. Would you agree?

I don't know exactly. I agree their lyrics were some of the greatest, yet underrated. Yet, aside from writing skills, their coaching and production skills were great. They coached Diana Ross and The Supremes. But some notes were too high for singers like Marvin Gaye or Diana.

Most of the producers at Motown were new people. Rick James and Nick and Valerie Simpson were single-handedly responsible for making Diana Ross' solo career work. And Norman Whitfield is probably one of the most underrated producers I know.

So did you turn down Michael Jackson?

That is correct. When Michael was offered to me by Suzanne de Passe [current CEO of De Passe Entertainment Group, then Creative Assistant to Gordy], I did not want him because he was part of a kids' group. I'd been with Stevie Wonder, who had also been part of a kids' group and had an entourage with him all the time – a strict teacher, a tutor, his mother, producer Clarence Paul and a whole group of people. Plus, he was a blind singer who wasn't making any money and I had to pay for all those people. So I was not happy with him, nor with his mother, who was even more demanding than he was.

So when Suzanne said, "Well, I got this kids' group", I said, "No, I don't want to hear anything." And she said: "Just listen to them."

And when I saw, such great choreography, Michael was just a star. He was doing splits and dancing like James Brown and cute as he could be. So I said: "Ok, I'm hooked."

It was amazing. Michael was very smart as a producer and an incredible performer.

For MORE of this article, go HERE.

Shockingly New And Surprisingly Familiar

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
J.D. Considine

(February 02, 2009) For All I Care - The Bad Plus is the most controversial group in jazz today, a distinction that becomes far less impressive once you realize just how tiny a teacup such tempests fill. For starters, the Bad Plus doesn't take the traditional, swing-based approach of most piano trios, opting instead for a rhythmic base that draws from rock, contemporary classical and hip-hop styles.

Worse, the group likes to cover tunes by such contemporary pop acts as Blondie, Nirvana and Rush, a choice the group's detractors see as pandering at best and anti-jazz at worst. Lord knows what those folks will make of For All I Care, which devotes eight of its 12 tracks to versions of tunes originally recorded by Yes, Heart, Pink Floyd and the Flaming Lips, but the odds are they won't take the inclusion of a vocalist as a step in the right direction.

A pity, because what the vocal tracks on For All I Care show most clearly is just how far from the pop aesthetic the Bad Plus lives. Yes, singer Wendy Lewis tends to avoid the stretched notes and melodic filigrees traditionally associated with jazz singing; her performance hews close to the melody, and at times echoes the timbre of the originals (Heart's Barracuda offers a particularly vivid impression of Ann Wilson).

But that's hardly the same thing as sounding like a pop singer. If anything, Lewis's melodic accuracy and deadpan intensity has more in common with art song, think of lighter Poulenc chanson, than rock 'n' roll, something that both rolls back the bombast on tunes, such as Comfortably Numb (from Pink Floyd's The Wall), and neatly distills the romantic desolation of Lock, Stock and Teardrops (a 1963 hit for Roger Miller).

The larger connection to classical music here isn't accidental. The four non-pop selections on For All I Care are drawn from works by Igor Stravinsky, Gyorgy Ligeti and Milton Babbitt — the latter two derived from impossibly virtuosic piano pieces. But rather than reduce the pieces to "jazz tunes" by way of swing phrasing, the trio condenses each into a string of essential themes that are reharmonized and improvised, creating something new while retaining the overall thrust and structure of the original.

That's also how they treat the pop material. Because the three are such artful arrangers, the amount of material edited out or reconfigured isn't always immediately apparent (although A-B comparisons between their versions of Lithium and Barracuda are eye-opening), but there are a couple tunes that are masterpieces of reinvention.

Long Distance Runaround, a Yes tune that seems both windy and rambling in the original, comes across here as a deftly modulated meditation on love and trust, while the Bee Gees' How Deep Is Your Love is a minor masterpiece, transforming the breezy romance of the original into heartbreaking melancholy, until the chorus hook takes on the emotional weight of a Mahler adagio.

In short, what the Bad Plus do with these songs is what jazz musicians have done with standards for ages: given us a new way of hearing them. Isn't that tradition enough?

The Bad Plus performs March 10 in Victoria and March 11 in West Vancouver.

Today's The Day The Music Died

Source: www.thestar.com - Joel Rubinoff,
Special To The Star

(February 03, 2009) To those with their feet planted firmly in the 21st century, the three dead rockers who perished in a plane crash on Feb. 3, 1959, may seem like musty relics of another age, their legacy muted, their impact unclear.

But when the tiny chartered plane carrying
Buddy Holly, J.P. (the Big Bopper) Richardson and Richie Valens crashed over Clear Lake, Iowa, in a blinding snowstorm 50 years ago today, it seemed, for a moment, that rock 'n' roll would never be the same.

Never mind Richardson, a novelty act, and Valens, a 17-year-old Latino hitmaker whose promising career had barely begun.

It was 22-year-old Holly – a lanky Texan with an ear for innovation – whose music would go on to influence everyone from The Beatles to Bruce Springsteen and is considered the more significant loss, musically speaking.

"I can't remember if I cried, when I read about his widowed bride,'' crooned Don McLean in his song "American Pie," which immortalized the crash as "the day the music died" and became a huge hit in 1971.

The deaths – along with the drafting of Elvis Presley, the blacklisting of Jerry Lee Lewis (for marrying his 13-year-old cousin, Myra Gale Brown) and the imprisonment of Chuck Berry (on prostitution charges) – are generally considered an ominous harbinger that rock's robustly primitive era was drawing to a close, making way for a slew of blandly charming schlockmeisters in the Frankie Avalon/Bobby Rydell mould.

After five years of wild-man posturing, rock had been cut off at its knees, robbed of its vitality and neutered beyond recognition.

What might have transpired had Holly lived to fulfill his musical legacy, reunited with his former band, The Crickets, raised the child tragically miscarried by his wife after his death and witnessed first-hand the legacy of kinetic chart-toppers like "Rave On" and "That'll Be The Day"?

That's for the pundits to determine. What we do know is that in his brief heyday, the determined maverick made an imprint that would remain indelible a half century later.

Which leads us to Vision's "day the music died" tribute.

Rock biographies, as a rule, are a sorry lot, serving more as dumbed-down primers for the uninitiated that rely more on schlock-baiting sentiment and overwrought idol-making than vibrant approximations of real life, which is why 1978's The Buddy Holly Story (9 p.m. Wednesday on V) – which won its star, Gary Busey, an Oscar nom – is a rare exception.

A rollicking dramatization that captures the feisty spirit of rock's early years, the film brings to rowdy, irreverent life the grainy, black-and-white photos of the bespectacled nerd with the Fender Stratocaster who looks so outrageously square by today's standards he might have existed during the American Civil War.

And then there's La Bamba (9 p.m. Thursday on V), the '87 biopic that attempts the same trick with Valens's legacy, with only middling success.

Sure, the Los Lobos soundtrack is electric and the film watchable enough, but the ominous (and unconvincing) foreshadowing of its subject's death and melodramatic conflicts with Valens's obnoxious half-brother – who crashes into every scene like an unwanted party guest – gives it a Hollywood sheen that never rings quite true.

For those who prefer their nostalgia rooted in reality, check out Buddy Holly and the Music of the Crickets (12 a.m. Thursday on V), a made-for-TV doc that mixes archival footage and current interviews with Holly's friends and those who claim him as an influence.

Make no mistake: 50 years is a long time in pop music – several lifetimes, really – and for many, Holly may seem as removed from current hitmakers like Lil Wayne and Lady GaGa as a Model T to a Mazerati.

But there's a pioneering spirit to his work missing from most of what passes for cutting-edge music today, an uninhibited sense of adventure that, a half century later, continues to weave its strange, sonorous magic.

Feb. 3, 1959, may have been the day the music died, but for true believers, its legacy shows no sign of keeling over anytime soon.

Joel Rubinoff is the television columnist for The Record in Waterloo Region. Email jrubinoff@therecord.com

Plenty Of Old Favourites In TSO 2009-10 Line-up

Source: www.thestar.com - John Terauds,
Classical Music Critic

(February 03, 2009) One theme has emerged from today's unveiling of the 2009-10 season by the Toronto Symphony and Roy Thomson-Massey Halls: Don't mess with success.

Although ill economic winds have yet to blow down ticket sales in Canada, the city's flagship classical music presenters aren't taking risks. The TSO season's biggest initiative is a cycle of the seven Symphonies by Jan Sibelius in April, 2010, conducted by Danish guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard. This project took three years to set up, said music director Peter Oundjian in a follow-up interview.

Special performances include a late-night close to the season on June 19 – an 11 p.m. presentation of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 with top Canadian soloists Gillian Keith, Frédéric Antoun and Brett Polegato. The night before, diva Measha Brueggergosman gets the spotlight in a performance of Maurice Ravel's Schéhérazade.

November sees two all-star performances of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem. A starry cast of singers features tenor Michael Schade, baritone Russell Braun and soprano Christine Brewer.

Favourite returning guest conductors include Andrew Davis, Stéphane Denève, Gianandrea Noseda and Yannick Nézét-Séguin, who leads the TSO and Chinese pianist Yundi Li in June – and his new orchestra, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, on Feb. 24.

The China Philharmonic Orchestra is another significant visitor, arriving Nov. 16. Piano sensation Lang Lang returns on Apr. 6 with Germany's Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra.

The TSO's 100-plus performance season features a four-program Mozart festival in January and a three-program New Creations festival in March, focused on star Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov.

There are lighter classics and pops concerts on the calendar too. "There are so many concerts in the season that you've got to be eclectic," said Oundjian.

The subscription series at Massey Hall-Roy Thomson Hall is hosting big-name orchestras and soloists. The 2009-10 line-up includes the Cleveland Orchestra and its music director Franz Welser-Möst on Oct. 19 and Valery Gergiev's famed Mariinsky Orchestra on March 16, 2010.

Angela Hewitt will present Bach, Beethoven and Brahms at the Roy Thomson Hall piano on Feb. 12. Visiting singers include tenor Joseph Calleja (Nov. 15), sopranos Karina Gauvin (Feb. 14) and Alexandra Deshorties (Apr. 25) and baritone Nathan Gunn (Mar. 10).

Big jazz names set to play Massey Hall next season include Herbie Hancock, who teams up with Lang Lang on Aug. 5, and sax master Ornette Coleman (Sept. 24) and the Brad Mehldau Trio (April 10).

British Musician John Martyn, 60, Dies

Source:  www.thestar.com - Greg Quill,
Entertainment Columnist

(January 29, 2009) British songwriter, singer and guitarist John Martyn, whose gravel voice and innovative fusion of folk, blues, jazz and funk made him one of the most influential musical artists of his generation, died today in Glasgow. He was 60.

Martyn's web site posted the statement: "With heavy heart and unbearable sense of loss we must announce that John died this morning."

Some unconfirmed reports give pneumonia as the cause of death.

Born Iain David McGeachy in the inner London suburb of New Malden, Martyn lived in Scotland for most of his life and spoke with a rich, sometimes impenetrable brogue. He released 20 studio albums over a 40-year career and worked with many more high-profile pop and rock artists, including Eric Clapton, David Gilmour and Phil Collins.

He moved to Glasgow after the divorce of his parents, both light opera singers, but it was in London's burgeoning Soho folk club scene in the late 1960s where Martyn made an indelible impression while still in his teens, sharing stages with British folk stars Ralph McTell, Bert Jansch and fusionist Davy Graham, whose eclectic style he strove to emulate.

In 1968 he was signed to Chris Blackwell's Island Records. Martyn's 1973 breakthrough came with Solid Air, one of the defining recordings of the British folk revival and a tribute to friend and protégé, composer/guitarist Nick Drake, who died from a drug overdose the following year.

Martyn's intensely autobiographical lyrics revealed a life of heartache and struggle with alcohol and drugs. The break-up of his marriage to gifted British singer-songwriter Beverley Kutner - the duo was briefly taken under the wing of famed American folk music producer Joe Boyd, and lived for a while in Woodstock, N.Y. - was chronicled in the 1980 album Grace & Danger, a landmark effort in which the singer's voice took on the tone and timbre of an alto sax.

After his right leg was amputated in 2004 - the result of a burst cyst in his knee - Martyn continued to write and record, and performed in a wheelchair. A grizzled demeanour and weighty presence in recent years could not conceal his hearty nature and passion for music.

His experiments with sophisticated sound processors and other guitar gizmos is said to have influenced countless contemporary artists, including U2 and Portishead.

Martyn was awarded the lifetime achievement award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards last year and was appointed an OBE in the New Year Honours.

His second wife, Annie, predeceased him. Martyn is survived by his companion, Theresa, and by the daughter of his first marriage.

MUSIC TIDBITS

Maxwell, Al Green, Ne-Yo Join Essence Fest

Source: 
www.eurweb.com

(January 30, 2009) *Maxwell, Anita Baker, Al Green, John Legend, Robin Thicke, Salt-N-Pepa, Ne-Yo and En Vogue are among the performers joining previously announced headliner Beyonce at the 15th annual Essence Music Festival, organizers said Thursday.  The annual event, to be held July 3-5 at the New Orleans Superdome, will also feature performers Teena Marie, Eric Benet, Jazmine Sullivan, Janelle Monae, Raphael Saadiq, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Zap Mama, The Knux, Irvin Mayfield, Lalah Hathaway, Blind Boys of Alabama, Ledisi, Marva Wright, Big Sam's Funky Nation, Brand New Heavies, the Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars, Dan Dyer, DJ Soul Sister, Keri Hilson, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Rebirth Brass Band, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Ave. The Essence Festival includes empowerment seminars that are free and open to ticket-holders on a first-come, first-served basis. Among the personalities participating in these events are Bill Cosby, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Donna Brazile, Tom Joyner, Hill Harper and Donnie McClurkin. In addition, there will be a tribute to TD Jakes featuring CeCe Winans and Marvin Sapp, among others. Tickets for the Essence festival are available from Ticketmaster. Weekend packages are discounted by 15% through Feb. 15.

A Charmingly Quirky Concert

Source:  www.thestar.com - John Terauds,
Classical Music Critic

Art of Time Ensemble
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gif(out of 4)
With Danny Michel, John Southworth and Martin Tielli. Repeats tonight.
Enwave Theatre, Harbourfront,
231 Queens Quay W. 416-973-4000.

(January 30, 2009) Imagine getting together with a small group of friends to make a quilt without a plan or a pattern. Then, surprise! At the end of the evening, you find yourself with a beautiful keepsake that's also cozy and warm. That's the effect of the Art of Time's quirky concert program at Harbourfront's Enwave Theatre. For the third season, artistic director and pianist Andrew Burashko invited indie singer-songwriters to draw inspiration from a piece of classical music. In this case, it is the obscure Suite for Two Violins, Cello and Piano Left Hand written in 1930 by Austrian composer Erich Korngold (1897-1957), best known as a master creator of 1930s and '40s Hollywood film scores. The singer-songwriters are local heroes Danny Michel, John Southworth and Martin Tielli, who each fashioned two songs out of Korngold's melodies. Whether or not Burashko intended this, the Korngold piece was the perfect mirror of the contemporary pieces' diversity. As is the case today, the 1920s and '30s were a time of cultural shift and tumult. The Suite's five movements are a mishmash of just about every musical style available to an early 20th-century composer, often sounding like a parody of themselves. Yet there is an underlying winsome earnestness in the music that proves to be irresistible – especially as so expressively performed by Burashko, violinists Stephen Sitarsky and Benjamin Bowman, and Thomas Wiebe on the cello. The six very different new songs, accompanied by a quartet that included violist Steven Dann, had that same quirky, ultimately magnetic charm, pulling last night's first performance together into a beautifully wrapped package.

Smokey Robinson To Receive AFTRA Honour

Source: 
www.eurweb.com

(January 30, 2009) *Smokey Robinson will be feted with the AMEE Award in Sound Recordings during the 2009 AFTRA Media and Entertainment Excellence Awards gala on March 9 at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.  The AMEES recognize members of AFTRA who have made a significant contribution to American culture.   Once pronounced by Bob Dylan as America’s “greatest living poet,” Smokey's career spans over five decades. He co-founded the Motown Record dynasty with Berry Gordy and created R&B legends The Miracles, who’s 1960 single "Shop Around" was Motown's first number one hit on the R&B singles chart.  Smokey and The Miracles scored many hits over the years, including "Who's Loving You." Writing for Mary Wells, Smokey penned the hit single "My Guy" (1964), and served as The Temptations' primary songwriter and producer from 1963 to 1966, writing such hits as "The Way You Do the Things You Do" and "My Girl." Smokey has been inducted into both the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.  Other honourees include "Young and the Restless" actress Jeanne Cooper (Katherine Chancellor) for the AMEE Award in Entertainment, and broadcaster Vin Scully, who will receive the award in broadcasting. Don LaFontaine, "King of Voiceovers," will be posthumously presented with a special tribute.  Previous AMEE recipients include Don Hewitt, Ed Bradley and Susan Lucci.

Jennifer Hudson's Emotional 'Star Spangled Banner'

Source:
www.eurweb.com

(February 02, 2009) *In her first public appearance since the October slayings in Chicago of her mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew, singer/actress Jennifer Hudson flat out "sang" the national anthem before a massive worldwide television audience Sunday night.  Hudson looked relieved when she was through. When she returned to her dressing room, she anxiously asked pre-game show producer Rickey Minor "How did I do?" "I told her 'Touchdown!'" Minor told The Associated Press after the performance. Minor said Hudson's two cell phones lit up "like slot machines" following her performance, and she received a moving text message from Jamie Foxx, her co-star in "Dreamgirls." "His text said 'Amazing. It brought tears to my eyes,'" Minor said. "She's just getting so much love." Although entertainers can perform live at the Super Bowl, Minor insisted that Hudson and Faith Hill, who sang "America the Beautiful" before the national anthem, use the tracks the NFL requires them to submit a week before the game. "That's the right way to do it," Minor said. "There's too many variables to go live. I would never recommend any artist go live because the slightest glitch would devastate the performance." Hudson is now officially back in the limelight; she's ready to resume her active work schedule. Also on tap for her is a performance at next week's Grammy Awards. Additionally, her new video for "If This Isn't Love" is set to debut the week of Feb. 9.

Former CBC Radio Host Russ Germain Dies At 62

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(February 03, 2009) Veteran CBC broadcaster Russ Germain has died. CBC reports on its website that the radio newsman, who used to anchor The World at Six, succumbed to a battle with cancer in Toronto. He was 62. Germain spent 29 years at the public broadcaster, joining The World at Six in 1983 after hosting CBC Radio's Ideas through the late '70s and early '80s. Germain, who retired in 2002, also hosted the morning radio show World Report and served as CBC Radio's broadcast language adviser. Before joining the CBC in 1973, he was a TV announcer in Saskatoon and worked at various private stations.

Ticketmaster, Live Nation In Merger Talks: Report

Source:
www.globeandmail.com - Reuters

(February 3, 2009) NEW YORKTicketmaster Entertainment Inc. and Live Nation Inc. are close to a merger that would combine two of the most powerful forces in the music industry, the Wall Street Journal reported on its website Tuesday citing people familiar with the matter. The new company would be called Live Nation Ticketmaster, marrying the world's biggest concert promoter with the dominant ticketing and artist-management company. The companies have ties to more than 200 major artists such as the Eagles, Miley Cyrus, Christina Aguilera, Madonna and Jay-Z. The paper, citing the unnamed sources, said the boards of both companies have yet to approve a merger and sticking points remain in the negotiations. The deal, which will not involve any cash transfer, could be announced as early as next week, according to the Journal story. Ticketmaster spokesman Albert Lopez declined to comment. Live Nation officials were not immediately available for comment. Last year Ticketmaster acquired Front Line Management, which represents around 200 major clients. Irving Azoff, head of Ticketmaster, and Live Nation Chief Executive Michael Rapino both are expected to remain at the combined organization but their exact roles have not yet been nailed down.

Stevie Prepares First Live DVD 'At Last'

Source: www.eurweb.com

(February 04, 2009) *Highlights from Stevie Wonder's September 30 – October 1 stand at London's 02 will be gathered for "Live At Last," the singer's his first authorized DVD due March 10 on Universal Motown in DVD and Blu-ray formats. The London shows were part of Wonder's first major tour in a decade. Among the 27-song set list are such hits such as "Living for the City," "Overjoyed" and "Sir Duke," s well as a special "U.K. medley" with songs from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Wonder spent last month performing at various Barack Obama inaugural events in Washington, D.C., and debuted a new song, "All About the Love Again," at one of the shows. He is currently recording a duets album with Tony Bennett, which will be produced by Quincy Jones. Tracks will include "a lot of Marvin Gaye songs," Jones told Billboard. "We're going to do them jazz, though, because Marvin always wanted to be a jazz musician."

::FILM NEWS::

Djimon Hounsou - The Push Interview with Kam Williams

Source: Kam Williams

During an interview with me last year, Djimon Hounsou prematurely broke the news that he planned to pop the question to his girlfriend, Kimora Lee Simmons. The casual comment might have landed the Benin-born actor in a little hot water because the model-turned-fashion magnate wasn’t yet divorced from hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. That might explain why Djimon remained button-lipped about the rumour currently circulating in the tabloids that Kimora is now expecting their first child.

Despite my polite prodding about the pregnancy, the two-time Oscar-nominated actor (for Blood Diamond and In America) with the help of his publicists directed the focus of this tête-à-tête back to his new movie, Push. The riveting flick is a harrowing mindbender which successfully blends elements of X-Men, The Matrix and Memento while adding some of its own unique sci-fi flava.

Set in Hong Kong, it revolves around a group of psychic American expatriates on the run from a U.S. government agency seeking to harness their superpowers for its own nefarious purposes. The film co-stars Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle and Chris Evans.    

FYI, besides making movies, Djimon is famous for parading his hot chocolate bod in tightie-whities as the pitchman for Calvin Klein underwear.

KW: Hey Djimon, thanks again for the time.

DH: My pleasure, man. How is your son doing?

KW: Very well. Thanks for asking. He’s a sophomore at Princeton.

DH: That’s cool. I remember the first time we talked he was still in junior high school and he knew so much about my country. And not too many people know about Benin.

KW: Yeah he had done a project about it in grammar school.

DH: Tell him I said, “Hi!” and I wish him well and a very successful year and that I hope all his wishes will come true.

KW: Well, what about you? I understand congratulations are in order for you and Kimora.

DH: [Hesitates] Well, er…

KW: Are you free to talk about it?

DH: Not really.

KW: The rumour’s flying all over the place. You gotta give me something for my readers.

DH: [Sings] There’s a lot of love in the air! [Laughs]

KW: The headline for my last interview with you was: “Djimon Announces Plans to Pop the Question.” I had no idea that she wasn’t divorced yet. 

DH: [Laughs]

KW: Let me ask you this. If Kimora were pregnant, do the two of you have any names picked out for the baby?

DH: Shhhhh! Sorry, I have a group of nervous publicists behind me shaking their heads saying that question’s a no-no. But we’ll tackle it another time.

KW: Can you tell me when you’re going to pop the question?

DH: [Hesitates] Hmmm… sometime soon. I mean, it’s been done already, in a different fashion.

KW: Congrats! Okay, let’s talk about Push. What interested you in making this movie? It reminded me of a mix of X-Men, The Matrix, Memento and a movie you were in, The Island.

DH: Yes! And also Constantine. The premise is obviously the one thing that’s bringing all those references you mentioned together. And it was probably that same thing that attracted me to the project, the signs of an occult world that we don’t seem to grasp or comprehend at all.

KW: How would you describe your character, Henry Carver?

DH: He’s a government operative who basically hunts down anyone with the psychic ability to see into or alter the future, and then he helps them weaponize that trait for tomorrow’s war.

KW: You had a similar sort of role in The Island, right?

DH: Yeah, I did some bad things working for the sake of the government.

KW: What was it like working with Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle and Chris Evans?

DH: It’s always a pleasant journey when you’re working with an actor who takes all the elements of the production to heart. Here, Chris Evans was always watching out to make sure the story flowed and that all the dots were connected. To come to a setting where a fellow actor is so dedicated only enhances your overall understanding of the project and inspires you to do your very best, too.   

KW: Sounds like he’s a future director.

DH: Yeah, I really think this kid has all the ingredients to be a great director. So, I hope it takes a shot at it.

KW: Coincidentally, one of my readers, Laz Lyles, wants to know whether you have any plans to direct.

DH: I’d love to, but I’m so aware of everything involved in directing that it discourages me from seriously considering it. There are so many elements in making a movie which have nothing to do with directing. That would be too much of a headache for me. I don’t think I have enough patience for that. But I like the idea of producing stories that move me.

KW: What would you say was the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome in your career?

DH: There’ve been so many. [Laughs] Which one was the biggest? My coming to America, moving here all by myself, just me, myself and I, with no background in the language and having to learn it on the spot in order to work in English.  

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman was wondering how you improved your English after making Amistad?

DH: The same way I was doing even before Amistad, which was by a combination of watching documentaries on television and reading books. I would keep watching and reading even when I couldn’t understand a word. With documentaries, depending on what you’re watching, what is described is pretty much what is happening in front of you. That can really help you grasp the language on some level. And then you go out and mingle with crowds to learn the everyday language used on the street, which is different.

KW: Speaking of mastering English, I heard you’re doing Shakespeare soon, appearing in a screen adaptation of The Tempest. 

DH: We just wrapped that.

KW: How did it go?

DH: It was quite a production. That’s the least I can tell you. [Chuckles] Caliban was an intriguing character to play, and it was very challenging going through four hours of makeup daily. But I loved working with a cast of such a high calibre: Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina, Chris Cooper, and so many other great actors.

KW: It’s usually impossible to assemble such an impressive cast like that simply because of conflicting schedules. How did director Julie Taymor pull off that miracle?

DH: She was smart. She got everybody at the right time.

KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

DH: Yes.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

DH: Sometimes.

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

DH: Things Fall Apart.

KW: By Chinua Achebe.

DH:  Hey, you got it!

KW: Yeah, in fact, my wife’s book club is reading both Things Fall Apart and The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad this month. So, at the meeting next week they’ll be comparing the two authors’ characterizations of Africa.

DH: Wow! Please let me know how the discussion goes. I really want to call you and find out.

KW: Will do. Is there a question no one ever asks you that you wish someone would?

DH: Yes, but how do I put this. It really has to do with the way how people view Africa, when Africa is addressed. Because I think the generic way of looking at Africa is like it’s just a bunch of people in loincloths running around chasing gazelles and stuff. That’s the issue, but I don’t exactly know how to phrase that as a question.

KW: No, that was good enough. Rudy Lewis asks: Who’s at the top of your hero list?

DH: Nelson Mandela, although I have a few other people in different domains.

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to nowadays? 

DH: A combination, really. Tribal music… hip-hop… reggae… I’m sort of cosmopolitan as far as music is concerned. 

KW: Djimon, thanks for a great interview, as usual,

DH: It’s been a pleasure! Thank you very much. Give my best to your family and Happy New Year!

KW: Same to you!

To see a trailer for Push, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsDWFWupyYU

Meagan Good: The Unborn Interview With Kam Williams

Source: 
www.eurweb.com

(January 30, 2009) *Born in Panorama City, California to Tyra Doyle and Leon Good on August 18, 1981, Meagan Monique Good was raised along with her three siblings mostly by her mom.

The precocious tot got her early start in showbiz at the age of four with the help of her mother who served as her agent.

After appearing in countless TV commercials, the photogenic cutie pie started landing bit roles on TV series like Gabriel's Fire and On Our Own until she made her screen debut in Friday in 1995.

A couple of years later, her big break arrived when she got to play Cisely Baptiste in Eve's Bayou with Samuel L. Jackson, Jurnee Smollett and Debbi Morgan.

Since then, her familiar face has become a staple of television on such shows as Cousin Skeeter, Touched by an Angel, My Wife and Kids and Moesha, to name a few. Meanwhile, in film, she made Roll Bounce and Waist Deep before enjoying a starring role as a romantic lead opposite her childhood friend, Columbus Short, in Stomp the Yard.

In 2008 alone, the versatile thespian appeared in the horror flick, One Missed Call; the Mike Myers comedy, The Love Guru; and the slasher flick, Saw V. and this year promises to keep Meagan just as busy, since she's slated for three more releases, Sundays in Fort Greene, Sweet Flame and The Unborn, which is already in theatres.  

Here, the striking actress shares her thoughts about everything from the election of Barack Obama to how she has successfully avoided the pitfalls of early fame which so many former child stars seem to fall prey to.   

Kam Williams: Thanks so much for the time, Meagan.

Meagan Good: Thank you.

KW: Since you've been friends with Columbus Short for years, I think I ought to start by asking you the Columbus Short question which is: Are you happy?

MG: I'm very happy! It's an important question which I don't think people ask enough in the midst of the glitz and the glamour and all the other things that go on.

KW: How did you and Columbus meet?

MG: We've known each other since we were 10. He lived right across the street from my baby cousin's. So, we used to play together, and we also went to school together around that age. We actually hadn't seen each other for several years when we ran into each other when we were like 18 or 19. We became friends again then and we've stayed close ever since, and we got to make Stomp the Yard together.

KW: What interested you in making The Unborn?

MG: First of all, when I was a kid, what really got me wanting to act was Halloween 4 and 5. I wanted to be the little girl in those movies so badly. Ever since then, I always wanted to make a scary movie that's really like a classic thriller. I don't think we've had a great one since Scream 1. So, to me, it seemed like a great opportunity to do everything that I had wanted to do as a little girl.

KW: But this wasn't your first horror flick, was it?

MG: No, I also did Venom, One Missed Call and Saw V.

KW: What did you think of the storyline of The Unborn?

MG: I believe in ghosts and spirits, and I believe that they can possess you.

KW: What I found a little strange was the idea of a rabbi performing an exorcism.

MG: Spiritually, if something like that needed to be performed, I don't think it would matter if you weren't Catholic. I think it's about believing in God and that you can be saved and healed. 

KW: Because of the demonic subject-matter and the physical intensity, this looks like it could have been a very emotionally-challenging film to make.

MG: Oh, yeah! Because of the content, I had to do a lot of praying even before I accepted the role. Then, once I got on set, I prayed every single morning before we started shooting. And I'd pray again in the afternoons.

KW: Why so much?

MG: Even though it's just a movie, you really are opening yourself up to a lot of things spiritually. People still talk about how the little girl in Poltergeist [Heather O'Rourke] passed away at the age of 12 of some mysterious disease and the actress who played the eldest daughter [Dominique Dunne] in the same movie was murdered a few months after the film opened.
So, it was intense for me and I pretty much prayed for everyone on set. You definitely have to take it seriously, spiritually. 

KW: I first recall seeing you in a very spiritual film, Eve's Bayou, a masterpiece directed by Casey Lemmons.

MG: Oh, thank you.

KW: What are you memories of making that movie?

For full interview with Kam Williams, go HERE.

Are We Ready To Relive The Montreal Massacre?

Source: 
www.globeandmail.com - Ingrid Peritz

(January 30, 2009) Montreal — Polytechnique opens with the startling sound of gunshots. We don't yet know their source, but we see their target – two female engineering students working at photocopy machines. The women clutch at their wounds, stunned, uncomprehending.

The burst of violence should hardly come as a shock. This is, after all, a movie about the 1989 shooting rampage at Montreal's École Polytechnique. Nearly 20 years on, the brutal images have lost none of their power to disturb.

Acclaimed Canadian director Denis Villeneuve is the first to tackle the massacre of 14 women at the Montreal engineering school in a feature film – and its arrival across Quebec this Friday is stirring up a mix of anticipation and unease.

Many have not forgotten the horrific sights of that cold December in Montreal: the ambulance workers frantically loading stretchers, the mass funerals, the face of a killer who spewed venom about “feminists.” An entire country watched in horror.

Some of the victims' families chose not to attend private pre-release screenings of the film; the thought of returning to that dark place was simply too difficult.

“They still feel fragile and don't want to repeat the experience. They didn't want to expose themselves to something so painful,” explained Sylvie Haviernick, whose younger sister, Maud, was killed at the Polytechnique.

The trauma also still lingers among the engineering school's staff. The Polytechnique trained department heads this week to be on the lookout for signs of moroseness among staff when the movie opens. Nearly half of the 300 professors and other employees worked at the school in 1989.

“Everyone remembers where they were at the moment of the drama. Imagine what it's like within the walls of our school,” said spokeswoman Chantal Cantin, who was one of eight school staffers to see the movie at a private

screening. “It's still very, very fragile.”

The $6-million movie, made with the help of $3.1-million in funding from Telefilm Canada, has also generated an emotional debate. Are the filmmakers picking at a scab, or offering up a vehicle for collective recovery? Should the tragedy be used as the subject of a movie for commercial release?

And, apart from the moral concerns, there's the question most crucial for the filmmakers: Will audiences want to go to see it?

For Villeneuve, the time to tackle the subject was overdue.

“For a society to grow up and become adult, it has to explore its shadows,” said Villeneuve, whose last feature was the award-winning Maelström. “I wanted to get to the heart of it. I wanted to explore the fear and rage that exist in men.”

Villeneuve's film tells the story of the tragedy through the eyes of students, and captures the ordinariness of the fateful day about to be destroyed. The kids are cramming for end-of-term exams and giving class presentations.

Actor Maxim Gaudette's depiction of gunman Marc Lépine – whose name is never uttered in the film – is a portrait of vacant-eyed alienation and nihilistic rage. The 76-minute film is shot in black and white, an attempt to put a distance between the viewer and the bloodshed, Villeneuve said.

“Yes, it's a violent film,” Villeneuve said. “But mostly psychologically. I wanted to make a film that would be watchable, digestible, not a turnoff.”

Still, the action is sometimes agonizing, with viewers witnessing the unspooling of a tragedy they are helpless to stop.

A certain amount of trauma was present on the set as well. The scene in which the killer enters a classroom, separates the men and women, and then shoots the women execution-style left some of the actresses in tears.

The film doesn't confine itself to the victims who fell to the gunman's bullets on Dec. 6. Before the closing credits, dedications appear on screen in memory of the Polytechnique's victims; after the 14 women comes the name Sarto Blais. Blais was a student at the Polytechnique who witnessed the shootings and grew so despondent that he hanged himself eight months later.

“He is one of the indirect victims of the drama,” Villeneuve said. “I see this movie as a war movie. There are a lot of direct victims in a war, but the waves of violence touch everyone.”

The creators also take on the delicate question of the responsibility of the male students on campus, who were criticized for not stopping the gunman. (In an interview immediately after the event, a reporter asked one of them why they “abandoned” the women.) In the film, the Jean-François character, played by Sébastien Huberdeau, is confronted with the moral decisions of saving himself or saving the women.

But remember these were relatively innocent days before the tragedies at Columbine and Virginia Tech and Dawson College, the filmmakers are careful to remind viewers, when the arrival of an armed gunman on campus was almost unthinkable.

“I wanted to absolve the men,” Villeneuve said. “Society condemned them. People were really tough on them. But they were 20 years old. [When the shooter arrived], it was as if an alien had landed.”

Blogs and online discussions are already aflame with disputes about the film; some fault the makers for exploiting the tragedy, while others revive the debate over whether the killer was an anomalous madman, or a vessel for collective misogyny.

Given the touchiness of the subject, the promotion and marketing of Polytechnique has been muted. The makers kept a lid on publicity and enforced a closed set; they were also careful to involve those touched by the tragedy from the outset.

Families of the 14 women were not consulted on the content (though many witnesses, police officers and others were interviewed), but were offered private pre-release screenings. So was Monique Lépine, the mother of the killer, who came out with her own book last year.

Haviernick, who had headed the Dec. 6 victims' foundation for several years, says no families opposed the making of the movie. The events are public, she says, and the families recognize the tragedy doesn't belong to them.

When the film's trailer became available online in December, Haviernick watched it over and over on her home computer. It gave her chills, she said, but she felt it was well done.

“It's not an entertaining subject. But since when do films have to entertain us?” she asked. “When they make movies about the Holocaust, it is meant to be entertaining?

“History's great wars, tragic events like 9/11 – you don't stop directors and creators from taking them on.”

Vanasse ( Ma fille, mon ange; October 1970) portrays Valérie who, like the character of Jean-François, is a composite of several female students. Her character is struggling with being a young female engineering student trying to break into a man's field. Vanasse was only six years old at the time of the tragedy, and felt compelled to present it to a new generation.

But she was shocked, when the film was first announced in 2005, to be berated on open-line shows and told to leave the subject alone.

“It surprises me that we still have this malaise, that as a society we're afraid to revisit it,” she said. “We shouldn't be ashamed. It happened chez nous but we shouldn't carry the blame.”

Polytechnique was shot simultaneously in English and French and both versions will be released Friday in Quebec. No release date has been set for the rest of Canada.

Super 8 Takes A Personal View

Source:  www.thestar.com - Peter Goddard,
Special To The Star

(January 30, 2009) Thinking small and simple these days? Going back to basics, doing it by hand, sticking close to home, that kind of thing? Do we have a film festival for you.

It's The 8 Fest at Trash Palace, 89-B Niagara St. (west of Bathurst St.), starting tonight. The second annual "small-gauge film festival" celebrates everything hands-on in vintage film technology, including 8mm film, Super 8 and early format film loops. Often fragile and hard-to-find, this technology comes with one major bonus. It's never instantly obsolete.

"Super 8-makers tell me the equipment may break down," says festival organizer Chris Kennedy, "but they like the fact that they don't have to upgrade it."

Anti-obsolescence means thinking small, sustainable and domestic. Super 8 led to today's big-time boom in homemade DVDs, CDs and digital picture frames. But as a format and look, Super 8 conveys the personal, intimate and idiosyncratic, a clear attraction for Oliver Stone, who included Super 8 footage in films such as JFK.

But if you're really on the prowl for low-budget idiosyncrasy, check out tonight's screening of Shark's Purse (2007) by Diane Thorn Jacobs and Andrew Robert Smith, part of a series provided by Vancouver's Project 8 Film Collective annual Super 8 boot camp. The show starts at 7.

A shark's purse – sometimes known as the devil's purse or mermaid's purse – is the egg sack left behind by a female shark or ray. Often found floating in sea detritus near shore, it may on rare occasions still have a living embryo inside. Project 8's Shark's Purse has a distinct goth vibe by way of the striated surface of the shadowy black-and-white film as well as the silent film style of acting, narrative and (most importantly) heavy make-up.

Only three minutes long, Shark's Purse has the scope of a silent-era epic as its Goth Princess bites lustily into several huge eggs found inside her sack only to have them disintegrate with a great blast of liquid on her face. Before the Freudian content really gets out of hand, our Princess begins to crawl backward into the sea. Guy Maddin, a major Super 8 fan, would love it.

Tonight's West Coast screenings include C.J. Brabant's dusk at ten thousand (2006) and Sacha Fink's We Are All in Your Head (2006), both with lots of jumpy image interference set to superbly well-integrated electro-music scores. Nancy Lizuck's Apartment 3 (2008) includes a Hollywood film-noir narrative, as a mysterious male figure creeps into a room.

Following these, Jonathan Culp premieres his festival-commissioned film, Red Shift, at 8:30 p.m., backed by the local chamber ensemble Picastro.

One bookend for The 8 Fest screenings is Robert Kennedy's installation now showing in the window of Paul Petro Contemporary Art (980 Queen St. W.) as part of the artist's ongoing "Animal Control" series. The other bookend is Sunday's 8mm workshop from 1 to 5 p.m. by the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto (LIFT) with John Kneller.

In between, the festival is at its most far-ranging, starting 4 p.m. tomorrow with Takahiko Iimura's White Calligraphy (1967-2009), in which the veteran Japanese artist flashes a stream of calligraphic images he initially drew on 16mm black leader tape around the darkened room as if spray-painting a story on the walls and floor. An artist's talk follows.

At 7 p.m., Cathy Punter narrates My Year in Malaya, a silent home film shot by her father, Harold Norris, in 1953-54 at the end of British colonial rule in Malaya.

Tomorrow's screenings continue at 9 p.m. with "Bangeroo, too!" – a full slate of recent Super 8 work. Happily, it concludes on a hugely personal note with Dagie Brundert's The Self-Healing of My Bike (2008), in which the Berlin artist discovers she and her bike share the same DNA. How super indeed.

What Made Woody Trade His Shorts For Sorels

Source: 
www.globeandmail.com - Gayle Macdonald

(January 30, 2009) Hamilton, Ont. — Much as he enjoys visiting Canada, Woody Harrelson can't figure out why anyone would want to live here. At least, in winter.

“I hate cold so bad I fear it,” says the Maui-based actor, his words coming out in a giant puff of frosted breath on the Hamilton set of his upcoming feature film, Defendor. “I mean this isn't just any kind of cold. Canada is a consistent brand of cold. It's downright nasty.”

His discomfort with the elements aside, the Oscar-nominated Texan by birth says he nevertheless agreed to hunker down in Ontario's industrial heartland for 20 bone-chilling days last month to shoot the independent film.

The reason? The “pure magic and originality” of Vancouver writer-director Peter Stebbings's script, says the 47-year-old, plumped up by layers of fleece and down, and sporting a tuque, Sorel snow boots and mittens the size of oven mitts.

“This is probably the most original thing I've ever read. I've never really loved the traditional hero. I just don't like the typical role or the typical story,” says the affable Harrelson, a raw-food vegan, as well as a hemp and environmental activist. “I'm not averse to doing them. But to me, Peter's screenplay is just a really beautiful story, with heart. And wonderful humour.”

Written 3 years ago, the film follows Arthur Poppington (Harrelson), a mildly mentally-challenged guy who in his escape fantasies has an alter-ego – a superhero known as Defendor who combs the city streets at night in search of his arch-enemy, Captain Industry. (Arthur's mother dies of a drug overdose and, through a linguistic slip, his grandfather blamed captains of industry for her death.) In his attempts to combat crime, Arthur ends up stumbling into an actual crime ring and befriends a young prostitute, Kat (Kat Dennings). Harrelson won't give any more detail than that.

He kicks off the interview with a line he picked up from James Garner: “Okay, let's go swap some lies.” Then adds, “I'm so hungry I could eat my right armpit right now.”

So we troop out of the Defendor's mock lair (in a drafty former Packard Motor Car factory), to his trailer (where counters are strewn with bottles of Celtic sea salt, bee pollen, pomegranate and organic herbal laxative) and then to the makeup truck (where a woman is trying to make Harrelson look like he's gone a few rounds with a Rocky Marciano).

“My character is attempting to be a superhero but he doesn't have the superhero properties,” explains the actor, who is digging into a killer salad from Toronto's Live Organic Food Bar (which the actor had shipped in) filled with greens, seaweed, sprouts and sauerkraut. Chopsticks poised, he pauses for a second: “You want a bite?” Then he continues: “So people can actually beat him up. And bullets hurt.”

“To prepare for the role, I talked to psychologists, read a lot and met various people [with mental challenges], including a young boy who despite [his obstacles] was a bright light – always in the present.

“He was very inspiring for me, and I didn't want to appear phony [in the role]. I could relate to Arthur because he's always functioning from the heart, as opposed to the intellect,” adds Harrelson, who first endeared himself to millions of viewers as Woody Boyd on Cheers and received an Academy Award nomination for The People vs. Larry Flynt. He recently appeared in Seven Pounds and No Country for Old Men.

Then he meanders off in another direction, explaining how he became a health freak. “I can thank my excessive hedonistic lifestyle.

“Isn't there a saying that the road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom, or something like that?” he adds, flashing a devilish grin. “I was just in a very hard-core, pedal-to-the-metal lifestyle and I got into the healthy side of things as a necessity.

“I now believe in the Henry Miller approach. If somebody wants to go on a bender, give them a drink. Push them down the road. They're going to go down that road no matter what. You won't stop ‘em,” says Harrelson.

Over the years, Harrelson's had a few brushes with the law, including an arrest in 1983 for dancing in the street, halting traffic. He later jumped out of a moving police van and punched an officer. In 1996, a jury in Kentucky dismissed charges against him for marijuana possession after he was arrested for planting four marijuana hemp seeds to challenge a state law that makes no distinction between marijuana and hemp. But last month Harrelson married his partner of 20 years, his former assistant Laura Louie, with whom he has three girls Defendor is Stebbings's feature-film directorial debut. Perched on a box spring in a rickety loft that serves as Arthur's humble abode, the director says he still pinches himself that he was able to attract the likes of Harrelson and Dennings ( The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist) to a film with a budget he half-jokingly says is “desperately low.

“You can say it's under $4-million and above $3-million,” says Stebbings, who started acting at the age of 12 (recently appearing in CTV's Flashpoint and Would Be Kings) before branching out into screenwriting. Produced by Darius Films, the cast also includes Sandra Oh, Elias Koteas and Michael Kelly.

“I really do feel in working with Woody that I'm working with an A-list-calibre actor. He took this major hiatus and he's clawed his way back now. When I work with him, I absolutely understand why he was nominated for an Oscar. His rivers run deep.”

With Defendor, Stebbings says he set out to explore the issues of mental health and social injustice. His mom, he explains, used to take him to church in Vancouver's seedy Downtown Eastside because she wanted him to see “how the other half lives.

“I grew up in a pretty, leafy neighbourhood, but there was this guy I'd see every week who used to ask me what flavour my thumb was today [because I sucked it]. It was only later in my life that I realized that was someone's grandfather. I wanted to look at how people got to the street. There have been times in my own life when I wasn't sure where my next paycheque was coming from, but I always had this assurance that I would not fall through the cracks, in part because I come from this middle-class life.

“This film isn't depressing. And it's not humourless. I'm not trying to paint it all with some kind of liberal, bleeding-heart brush. I just wanted to tell a story from the eyes of the people who live there a little bit.”

Dennings, who was cast as the prostitute after Juno's Ellen Page dropped out, says she signed on because the script was “unlike anything I'd ever read before.” And like Harrelson, she craves originality.

“I've read so many bad scripts and I can't even explain how many terrible ones there are out there. So when there's a really amazing one, you kind of hang on by your fingernails.”

As for her first-time experience working with Harrelson, she says she'd sign up in a heartbeat to do it again. “He's the best. I love him. I feel like I've known him all my life.” And while she found the weather trying at times (Dennings walked around with multiple, stick-on heat pads under her clothes), she admits she fared better than her co-star.

“I think he's suffering from the cold, but he's handling it great,” she says, chuckling.

Reached back in Hawaii for a few follow-up questions, the first thing Harrelson boasts is “that he's running around in shorts.” He got into acting because, “I never wanted to go to work for a living, it's just play,” adds the actor, who recently appeared in Seven Pounds and No Country for Old Men.

Then he passes the phone to a person he claims is his dad, Willie (which is odd, since his father, convicted murderer Charles Harrelson, died on March 15, 2007, in a federal super-maximum prison in Colorado).

“No. No. My dad wants to talk to you,” he insists, passing the receiver to a friendly sounding guy, who says, “I'm Woody's dad. Not the real one. But the one who adopted him after I picked him up on the side of the road and dropped him off at his house. I guess he's adopted me, too, since he looks for friends who are wise and aged.”

Harrelson, chortling, gets back on the horn. “Do you know who that was? That was [country singer] Willie Nelson. We're over at his house.”

Just as any proud fake dad would, Nelson was in attendance at Harrelson's tiny wedding in Maui a few days later.

Scarlett, Frankly

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Bob Strauss

(February 02, 2009) LOS ANGELES — Scarlett Johansson has traded in her signature blond locks for a more subtle shade of brown. Did she make the change for a movie role? Or is the privacy-minded, 24-year-old actress and newlywed (she married Canada's Ryan Reynolds in the fall) attempting to go unnoticed?

“It's part of being a girl,” Johansson says with a shrug. “We get to change up our thing and confuse everybody.”

She certainly befuddles a couple of men in the new ensemble film He's Just Not That Into You. And she has been doing an excellent job of keeping paparazzi and nosy tabloid reporters off her trail since marrying Reynolds, 32, at a remote spot on Vancouver Island in September. No photos or details of the wedding at the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort near Tofino have made the media – a marvel of covert planning on Johansson's part in this intrusive age.

“I'm such a private person in that sense,” she says unapologetically. “I'm never going to answer any wedding questions.”

She will, however, gush about everything else the West Coast has to offer.

“British Columbia has all of those beautiful, protected forests – endowments, I guess they're called – that everybody can enjoy,” Johansson marvels. “And Vancouver is a great city. It's a late-night city, which I love, coming from New York. And it's very welcoming. There are all different kinds of people, you feel like you're in a sort of hub.”

He's Just Not That Into You, which opens Friday, is a multistory romantic dramedy that was inspired by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo's snarky self-help book of the same title. As in her recent films, Vicky Cristina Bracelona and The Spirit, Johansson is happy to share the spotlight with multiple co-stars, among them Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Ginnifer Goodwin and Justin Long.

She plays an independent young woman named Anna who is strongly attracted to a conflicted married man ( Yes Man's Bradley Cooper) while keeping an ardent, slightly more than a friend ( Entourage's Kevin Connolly) simultaneously at arm's length and within reach.

But don't think of Anna as either a home wrecker or a tease. Scarlett didn't, and she played her empathetically enough to undercut any judgments.

“She's sort of angry with herself that she was blind to such an obviously messy situation,” Johansson says. “And she does really try with Kevin's character. I didn't want people to hate her because of how she deals with him, particularly. I didn't want it to seem like she was just a user. I think that she genuinely is a free-spirited kind of person.”

In its light way, He's Just Not That Into You strives to make women examine their beliefs and delusions about relationships. Whether it works that way for viewers or not, the film certainly had that effect on the cast.

“You can't be practical about love,” Johansson asserts. “This isn't just from my own experience, but also from what I see my friends dealing with. It's not about how on the page everything looks great. Just that phrase ‘This relationship should work' is such a kiss of death, y'know?

“Sometimes it seems like things should work out. This person is handsome, successful, charming, all of these things. But if you don't really have a partnership with somebody, if you're not their best friend and their lover and their partner and supporter, and almost a mirror for them, it's a cause for concern in my book.”

So she has all of those things with Reynolds? “I sure hope so!” she says, laughing.

She laughs even harder when asked what the most Canadian thing is about her Vancouver-born husband, who most recently played a loveable single dad in the romantic comedy Definitely, Maybe.

“The most Canadian thing? Isn't it just the fact that he's Canadian? I'll say his Canadian passport. And I think everybody enjoys his sense of humour. That's why he's such a good comedic actor.

“I've shot in Vancouver and been to the Toronto Film Festival,” Johansson notes. “Most every Canadian I've ever met and worked with has a really wicked sense of humour. They sort of wink at life, and I like that. That's why I like to visit, and as close to home as it is, there's sort of a European sensibility about the place.”

Born and raised in New York, Johansson claims to have been an irrepressible hambone from an early age. She first appeared on stage at the age of 8, got her first substantial film role in The Horse Whisperer four years later and broke out as a marquee name at 17 with Lost in Translation. She has worked at a furious pace since then, averaging about three films per year over the past five years, not to mention doing a good deal of high-end spokes-modelling for companies such as L'Oreal and Dolce & Gabbana, volunteering for charities as well as Barack Obama's campaign, and even recording an album of Tom Waits songs.

She also squeezed in a few high-profile romances, including one with actor Josh Hartnett, before she first hooked up with Reynolds in 2007. Characteristically, she kept details remarkably quiet for such a hot young star – but she believes that talking about deeply personal stuff can be a good and necessary thing, in the right setting.

“Of course, my friends and I always talk about relationships,” she acknowledges. “And I always probably overanalyze everything. But if this person is making you crazy, if this person is making you doubt yourself, go get rid of him; I always come back to that.

“When I talk to friends who have been with their husbands or boyfriends for a long period … long relationships have their own lives and go through different cycles – sometimes it's nice just to vent. … Sometimes you need an outside perspective; relationships can get sheltered and kind of fester if you don't.”

Derek Luke: The Notorious Interview With Kam Williams

Source:
www.eurweb.com - Kam Williams

(February 3, 2009) *Derek Luke was born in Jersey City, New Jersey on April 24, 1974, one of three boys who blessed the holy union of his parents, Marjorie and Maurice.

After graduating from Snyder High School, Derek headed to L.A. where, as legend has it, he was discovered while working in a gift shop on the lot of Sony Pictures. He was plucked from obscurity by Denzel Washington to play the title role in Antwone Fisher.

An overnight sensation, Derek has gone on to enjoy a storybook career, appearing opposite some of the best in the business in everything from Pieces of April to Spartan to Catch a Fire to Lions for Lambs to Miracle for St. Anna.

Here, Derek discusses his latest outing as Sean "Puffy" Combs in Notorious.


Kam Williams: Hey, Derek thanks for the time. I was at a wedding recently where I sat next to Gayle Ford who says she met you over the holidays through Carl Dixon.

Derek Luke: Yeah, she knows my Uncle Carl.

KW: The Derek Luke legend is that you were discovered working in a gift shop. Is that true?

DL: Actually, I had stopped going to acting classes, and was supporting myself while pursuing my dream of acting. I got wind of an audition, and that audition went okay, and I ended up auditioning again. But then the film was shelved for a couple of years. Overall, I ended up auditioning for Antwone Fisher about five times before I got a chance to meet Denzel Washington. After I was back at work folding clothes and selling videos, Denzel came into the store while the real Antwone Fisher happened to be a customer. And as I was bagging him up, Denzel came in and said, "Yo, Antwone! I'm talking to you Derek Luke. I hired you. You're my Antwone
Fisher."   

KW: What interested you in Notorious? 

DL: I think it was the swag. I once heard Richard Gere say, "When I did Chicago, it was fun and reminded me about what acting was." When you do anything, it should be fun. And that's why I actually chose to be a part of this. 

KW: What do you mean by swag?

DL: Swag is sort of your personal memorabilia. It's like the shadow of who you really are. It can be your walk, your talk.

KW: Oh, like swagger.

DL: Yeah. I did the film because there aren't a lot of times where the brand for the film is swagger, and I was excited about that.

KW: What did Puffy think of you playing him?

DL: My getting the role was based on his recommendation after his seeing me in Friday night Lights. He thought that the character was kinda similar to who he was and shared a lot of his aspirations. I didn't have to audition for the role because that movie auditioned for him, and he told me, "If anybody ever played me, I would want you." From there, we developed a bond, and today we're friends.

KW: I heard Lil' Kim isn't too happy about how she's portrayed in Notorious.

DL: I would just say that the movie shows a lot of empathy for her character, and she might be surprised once she sees it. I think Naturi Naughton did a wonderful job with the material that she was given. 

KW: Who do you think killed Biggie?

DL: Oh man, maybe you can ask Chris Rock. He joked that they can find Saddam Hussein, but they can't find a killer who committed a murder on one of the busiest streets of one of our busiest cities. I would just say that God knows. I firmly believe that the film will comfort the hearts of those who have been mourning some of hip-hop's greatest to date. As the scripture says, "It ain't about the soul, it's about where your spirit rests."

KW: When you were a kid, did you pick a side in the East Coast-West Coast gangsta' rap war?

For full interview with Kam Williams, go HERE.

DVD REVIEW: The Secret Life of Bees

Source: www.eurweb.com -
By Kam Williams

(February 04, 2009) *Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) has been troubled since the age of 4 when she accidentally shot her mother (Hilarie Burton) to death.

Her parents had been in the midst of a violent argument at the time, and the little girl was too young to understand the consequences of her innocent attempt to intervene with the pistol that had fallen right in front of her.

Unfortunately, her father T. Ray's (Paul Bettany) subsequent unwillingness to talk about the incident has only left Lily so confused that she grew up blaming herself for the tragedy.

Everything comes to a head on her 14th birthday, when the only present she asks him for is the truth about whether the mother she resembles but only vaguely remembers really loved her.

When her alcoholic dad's response is to punish her for even broaching the subject, she finds comfort crying on the lap of her nanny, Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson).

Not long thereafter, Rosaleen is beaten to a pulp for trying to register to vote, for she is African-American and this is South Carolina in the Sixties, during the waning days of Jim Crow segregation. Then, after T. Ray sides with the whites seeking to keep blacks in their place, Lily calls her father a coward and talks Rosaleen into running away to the town of Tiburon, the only clue she has of a link to her mother's past.

Once there, it's not long before the pair find themselves deposited off the beaten track in front of the Pepto Bismol-colored home of the eccentric Boatwright sisters: simple-minded May (Sophie Okonedo), cello savant June (Alicia Keys) and family matriarch August (Queen Latifah). The beekeeping siblings run a thriving business bottling a popular brand of honey called Black Madonna. 

Lily and Rosaleen find themselves welcomed with open arms, and nourished by a supportive environment neither has experience before. More importantly, the spiritual oasis is able to supply answers to the questions long nagging Lily like who her mother was and what could possibly have been her connection to this modest farm.

So unfolds The Secret Life of Bees, an optimistic tale of female empowerment directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood. The story explores a treasure trove of themes ranging from racism to religion to sisterhood to loneliness to love and loss of innocence, though Bees is mostly about the individual urge for
self-fulfillment.  

Heavily-laden with both symbolism and spiritualism, the picture relies on an array of evocative images such as queen bees and the Virgin Mary to deliver a series of subtle, yet very effective feminist messages. Particularly powerful is the silent scene where a piece of paper stuck in May's wall of woe is unfolded to reveal a prayer for the four little girls blown up in a Birmingham church by the Ku Klux Klan.

Smart and sentimental but not syrupy, with a well-executed script guaranteed to leave you in tears.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, mild epithets, ethnic slurs and mature themes. 
Running time: 109 minutes
Studio: Fox Home Entertainment

DVD Extras: Commentary With director/writer Gina Prince-Bythewood, producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Joe Pichirallo, actresses Dakota Fanning And Queen Latifah, commentary with Gina Prince-Bythewood and Editor Terilyn Shropshire, director's extended cut with never-before-seen footage, eight deleted scenes, and featurettes entitled "The World Premiere," "The Women And Men of The Secret Life of Bees," "Adaptation: Bringing The Secret Life of Bees To The Big Screen" and "Inside The Pink House With Sue Monk Kidd."
 
To see a trailer for The Secret Life of Bees, visit HERE.

::TV NEWS::

Is This Woman Too Real For Reality TV?

Source: 
www.globeandmail.com - Kate Taylor

(January 30, 2009) Fashion-house publicity intern Whitney Port may be sufficiently blond and sufficiently likeable to pass as a reality-TV star. But everyone agrees she's no Lauren Conrad.

And that may spell trouble, not only for Port's fledgling show,
The City, a spinoff of the hugely successful The Hills, but for the whole docu-soap genre that Conrad and her coterie pioneered. Conrad will return for her fifth season of The Hills this spring, but her show is clearly nearing an end: Last fall's season-four ratings were down 25 per cent. And so The City, which was renewed for its second season this week, holds the future of a franchise in its fumbling little hands.

The new show was certainly struggling to keep the format alive this week. Port and her gang were getting together at an art opening in full knowledge that model Allie would be in the same room with the woman who had allegedly kissed her boyfriend while she was out of town on a fashion shoot. But as Port dutifully discussed the tense situation with her colleague Olivia Palermo and then with her boyfriend, Jay Lyon, nobody seemed too interested in this manufactured crisis. Palermo even interrupted Port midstream to tell her this was too much information, a ghastly faux pas in this gossip-dependent genre.

“Jay doesn't know why [Port] cares; Olivia doesn't care at all,” offered Jessi Cruickshank, co-host of The After Show, an MTV Canada series devoted to dissecting the lives of the apparently real people on these youth soaps. “And Whitney is like, ‘Guys, this is a TV show. Could you at least pretend to care?'”

Can we trust Port to carry a TV show? The question is important because the groundbreaking Hills (on which producer Adam DiVello has given reality fare the gloss of fictional drama) cannot last forever, despite MTV's official protestations to the contrary. Its ratings are heading downward, and Conrad herself has made it clear in interviews that she knows there is a shelf life for this kind of fame, and that she needs to move on with her career. The City, however, appears to be an imperfect heir.

“The problem I see with the show is the potential lack of conflict to drive the narrative,” writes American blogger Justin Wolfe, one of The Hills' most analytical fans. He compares the plot to that of the Meryl Streep movie The Devil Wears Prada. Port has left her job in Los Angeles (and her spot on The Hills) to work at the studio of designer Diane Von Furstenberg – but he doesn't see strong potential villains in either the socialite Palermo or Von Furstenberg herself. “I don't think Diane von Furstenberg is going to be playing a cartoony Wintourian powerbitch … and in terms of the difficulty of the job and the stress and stuff, that drama is undercut by the clear fact that Whitney is obviously not struggling to get by, that she is a popular television star.”

Indeed, Port has been accused by gossip sites of showing up at DVF only when MTV is shooting. And while she insisted in an interview with The Globe and Mail last week that it is a real job, she revealed that she works erratically. “I go in as much as I can. It's difficult because I have to balance work life with filming. … They completely understand. They know it's a unique situation. I guess it's worth it for them … It's such a large company. They get what they can from me, but they have lots of other women there.”

In the midst of much speculation about how MTV is manipulating these young people's lives for the cameras, it's revealing that Wolfe analyzes The City in fiction's terms of plot and character. In a recent e-mail interview, he said he believes Port's current job is more real than Conrad's internship at Teen Vogue ever was, but also thinks the important difference is how work is depicted.

The Hills, especially in the earlier seasons, focused intensely on its depictions of work,” he wrote. “Work wasn't just a place to talk about stuff, it was also a place where Whitney and Lauren did things that tested them as characters and had dramatic ramifications. So far, work on The City is just a different backdrop in which Whitney can talk about boys.”

Last week's episode of The City, for example, featured a staff meeting so cursory it apparently was called for the sole purpose of giving Port, a mere intern, an assignment.

Wolfe believes that as The Hills evolved, the producers became looser about such obvious fabrications because fans seemed willing to accept them. He is not the only one who has noticed that the docu-soaps are becoming more obviously contrived. On The After Show, the Toronto-based postgame analysis that is Canada's great contribution to the docu-soap phenomenon, Cruickshank and co-host Dan Levy seem increasingly cynical about just how real these lives are.

Last week, Cruickshank wondered out loud what Palermo, who supposedly works at DVF, was doing shopping for art in the middle of a weekday afternoon. This week, the two hosts and their savvy guests were chortling away about Palermo's discretion as she revealed her snobby judgment of the art opening to her cousin only in the privacy of her own apartment – with the MTV cameras rolling, of course.

“When they started with Laguna Beach [precursor to The Hills] they were just bringing cameras to house parties. As they evolved, they needed more storylines,” observed Levy in an interview. “In terms of broadcasting someone's real life, there are things you leave out, there are things you replace … Everyone reads the blogs, everyone knows what's going on. There's a misty cloud around [the question]: ‘Is it real?' But in the end, it doesn't affect the numbers.”

Viewers seem accepting of the shows' possible fabrications, and indeed, even appear titillated by the opportunity to guess what is going on behind the scenes; so far, the lukewarm numbers for The City are more likely a vote on its lack of drama than its lack of realism. The show is averaging about 1.7 million viewers in the United States, about half the number who were regularly watching The Hills at its peak. (MTV Canada will not provide specific Canadian ratings other than to say The City is currently its top-rated show.)

Meanwhile, MTV has taken a serious step backward from the artistic inventiveness of docu-soaps with its other Hills spinoff, Bromance. That show is a six-part series following reality star and man about town Brody Jenner, a former boyfriend of Conrad, as he seeks a new buddy to replace Spencer Pratt, the villain of The Hills.

Bromance has challenged nine contestants to entertain Jenner with stunts, to catch and cook dinner, and to make small talk with Playboy bunnies. But the show never stops to ask which is more pathetic: to compete for the friendship of such a character, or to launch a TV contest to find a pal in the first place. Expect the show, which has posted poor ratings, to sink without a trace after Monday's finale.

Bromance represents a serious dilution of The Hills brand, but that didn't stop MTV from sending Conrad herself in to help out on a recent episode, where she interviewed the contestants to determine their potential as sidemen to Jenner's Lothario. It was a classic Conrad performance: charming, funny and warm, yet somehow never losing the mystique that allows her to float above the frat boys and party girls she surrounds herself with.

Part of The City's big challenge is simply that the pert and pretty Port is not Conrad. “There is something about Lauren,” notes Levy. “She is really unguarded the way she acts on camera … She's gone through best friends like I have gone through socks … yet she maintains her heroine status. She can do no wrong.”

Wolfe concurs. “She creates drama and narrative, she does things. … Whitney, on the other hand, seems to just be floating along: Any of the [minor] drama of the show is created and developed by other characters.

“The other thing is that Lauren is so expressive – there is a very real sense of angst in her which she, through her eyes and face and tones of voice, projects in a resonant way. … Whitney seems much more authentic and ‘real' than Lauren but, perhaps because of this, the emotional reality she creates for the viewer is ultimately less affecting.”

Which speaks to the intriguing paradox at the heart of the docu-soap – and the one that may signify that The Hills' great moment is now behind it: Port is probably too genuine a person to keep aloft the fiction that these shows represent reality. I asked her last week if she considered herself an actress. She said no, and I had to believe her.

Five Webisodes To Watch - And One You Can't

Source:  www.thestar.com - Marc Saltzman,
Special To The Star

(January 31, 2009) Anytime With Bob Kushell (Crackle.com): From a garage in Van Nuys, Calif., this five-minute talk show is hosted by a TV comedy writer who's worked on such shows as Samantha Who and The Simpsons. Kushell's guests so far have included Howie Mandel, Neil Patrick Harris and John Stamos, who all stop by the garage behind Kushell's sister's house to listen to Bob's one monologue joke and enjoy the Anytime orchestra (squeezed up against the rakes and tools).

Star-ving (Crackle.com): David Faustino makes fun of the fact that his career has been a bust since Married...with Children went off the air 10 years ago. Several of his former co-stars, including Ed O`Neill and Katey Sagal, play along with this pretty raunchy gag, along with Faustino's fellow sitcom loser Corin Nemec (Parker Lews Can't Lose). There are 20 of the five-to-eight-minute episodes.

Ron Howard's Call to Action (Funnyordie.com): This is the four-minute film Howard did to support Barack Obama's bid for the presidency. "I've never done this before and I hope I never to do it again," says Howard, who pulls on a wig and grabs a fishing pole to play Opie opposite Andy Griffith again (he also reunites with Henry "Fonzie" Winkler).

Clark and Michael (clarkandmichael.com): These 12-to-14-minute webisodes star Brampton's own Michael Cera and Clark Duke, Cera's self-described "BBF." This one goes all the way back to 2006, between Cera's work on Arrested Development and his breakout success in Juno and Superbad. CBS funded these 10 mocumentary episodes, which find the two awkward teenagers struggling to make it as two awkward struggling teen actors.

Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (latenightwithjimmyfallon.com): If you're looking for this at Hulu.com or NBC.com, it's geo-blocked. The good news is you can check out Conan O'Brien's replacement at his own website. The four-minute digital clips are like opening on the road for Fallon, allowing him to find his feet online before his March 2 NBC debut. You can even see the former SNL Weekend Update anchor undergo laser eye surgery so he can read his cue cards better on set – if you have a strong stomach!

Rockville, CA (TheWB.com; premieres March 17; geo-blocked in Canada): Creator/executive producer Josh Schwartz (The O.C., Gossip Girl) teams with music supervisor Alexandra Chando (Twilight) on this music-themed romantic comedy set in an L.A. rock club. Featuring indie bands Kaiser Chiefs, Phantom Planet, The Kooks, Bishop Allen, Oppenheimer and others. Each webisode lasts four or five minutes; Andrew West, Chando and Jelly Howie star.

::THEATRE NEWS::

Andrew Moodie: Toronto Revisited After Riot

Source:  www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian,
Theatre Critic

(January 31, 2009) Andrew Moodie learned at an early age about the pains of prejudice and the perils of racial profiling that mark his latest play, Toronto the Good, opening at Factory Theatre Thursday night.

Only he wasn't on the receiving end.

"I grew up in Ottawa," he recalls during a recent early morning conversation, "and being French there meant you got the shit kicked out of you. I'd look at my friends beating up on some dude and say, `If you're hitting him because he's French, then what about me? I'm black!' but that never bothered them."

In fact, Moodie only bears the memory of being called the N-word once in his childhood, "and that was from a kid whose parents had divorced that summer, so I said, `Kid, you've got bigger issues.'"

That's a pretty tranquil beginning for a man whose plays consistently challenge the status quo and its treatment of this country's minorities, while his personal pronouncements on the lack of diversity in government and theatre are consistently explosive.

Most recently, he went head to head with the Shaw Festival's artistic director, Jackie Maxwell, challenging her organization's spotty record of hiring actors from visible minorities in significant roles.

But Moodie almost backed into his radical politics, as it were, since his grandparents were headmasters of a private school in Jamaica, his father had a successful career in real estate and his mother was the head nurse of the operating room at Grace Hospital in Ottawa.

"My dad's shame," says Moodie, only half joking, "was that I didn't want to go to private school (in Ottawa). Why? They could get way better drugs there, and that scared me.

"Also, I didn't want to hang around with a bunch of kids whose major concern was what they were going to do if they couldn't get away to Aspen that winter."

It wasn't until later in his life, when he travelled outside of Ontario, that Moodie claims he got to see racism first-hand in Canada.

"The big shock to me was going to Vancouver and seeing the way the First Nations and Asian people were treated there," he says. "Or going to Halifax and hearing about the tension between the blacks and whites there."

All of that would eventually coalesce into Moodie's first play, Riot, a 1995 hit that won the 1996 Floyd S. Chalmers Canadian Play Award.

But that was still years away. Just as he became an activist by slipping through the upper middle class, Moodie came into playwriting by way of performing.

"I feel like I was born to act. Ever since I was a child, I was intrigued by playing make believe and thinking, `Wait a minute, you mean I could do this for a living?'"

At the age of 10, Moodie auditioned for one of the few TV shows produced out of Ottawa in those days and got a callback, but he missed the second round of auditions because he had to go to Jamaica for his grandmother's funeral.

"I told my parents I'd rather stay home to audition and they looked at me like I was from another planet."

That incident would acquire added weight for Moodie when the series became You Can't Do That on Television, which brought Alanis Morissette and many of Moodie's other peers to prominence.

After high school, more disappointments awaited him. "I auditioned for every theatre school I could," Moodie says, "and was rejected by every one of them." In fact, the National Theatre School turned him down three times.

But in between, he was landing acting jobs in Ottawa, working for the Great Canadian Theatre Company and appearing in some made-for-TV movies. A friend finally said, "Why do you keep trying to audition for theatre school? You're already an actor."

So Moodie kept on with what would prove to be a successful career. Yet "I always still feel I missed something by not getting training," he says. "It's what Woody Allen calls `little holes in my knowledge.'"

During a brief bout of unemployment in the mid-1990s, Moodie decided to write a play about the racially motivated Yonge St. riot of 1992. He took the script to a friend who worked at Theatre Passe Muraille and after a long, long time, was told he could come pick it up; they weren't interested.

"I remember it was a hot August day when I took my script back from them. I kept asking myself how I ever thought I could be a writer. I was walking down Bathurst St. looking for a garbage can, but before I could find one, I came to Factory Theatre.

"I walked in the door, gave it to the guy at the desk and said, `Throw this in the garbage, will you?' and I left."

Fortunately that staffer didn't listen and a few days later Moodie got a call telling him that Factory Theatre wanted to begin its next season with his play, Riot. "It's all up to the universe sometimes," he muses.

Since then, Moodie has written scripts when moved by events in the universe around him. His latest, Toronto the Good, began with a news story of several years ago.

"A man was sitting on a couch watching TV with his son when a bullet ripped through the wall and killed him. You're in your house. That's a sacred place. You shouldn't think about death ripping through the walls and taking you there.

"It made me realize that something about Toronto has changed, and I wanted to communicate that."

But Moodie is always wary of growing preachy in his work. "The goddess of theatre is a hard taskmaster, and she warns you this is no place for lecturing. You have to listen to her."

But ask him why he keeps trying, and he has a ready answer: "Theatre is a fundamental expression of who we are as human beings. It can make the world a better place."

Getting Angry Is Better Than Getting Even

Source:  www.thestar.com - Momoko Price,
Toronto Star

(January 29, 2009) In the recesses of Toronto's Distillery District, a cabal of young artists is busy redefining staid stereotypes of the term "Asian Canadian" however they see fit.

The fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company's production of
Lady in the Red Dress, written by playwright-in-residence David Yee, opens today at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, portraying the Chinese Canadian experience in an angry, vengeful and often hilarious voice.

Technically the story revolves around the legal battles of redress for the Canadian government's head tax on Chinese immigrants in the early 20th century. But with exotic dancers, binge-drinking, tooth-ripping, show tunes, time travel, ebonics and murder, it's an approach not usually seen onstage. Yee takes sweeping creative liberties telling the tale of Max (played by Richard Zeppieri). He's a black-hearted, Scrooge-like Department of Justice lawyer negotiating head tax reparations who tumbles down a rabbit hole of flashbacks into the tragic tale of head-tax payer Tommy Jade (Ins Choi). All the while, he's pursued by a knife-wielding, paranormal femme fatale (Laura Miyata) with a Terminator-like determination to avenge the pain of her ancestors.

"The voice of the Asian-Canadian community has always been placated and thrown bones," Yee explains. "I wanted to create a world where the voice of disenfranchisement could be heard, had no choice but to be heard in a very real, violent way.

"I know people whose families did pay the (head) tax and the men in that family don't talk about it because they're that angry."

But objects in his play may be more fictional than they appear. "Some of it did happen, some of it I just made up ...

"It's really meant to just get people to ask questions about justice, about what that means."

At the very least, Yee did release a disclaimer about the tenuous historical basis for his story – just in case you actually believe exotic dancers from beyond the grave influenced Canadian reparations policy by stabbing negotiators and kidnapping their children.

Stage On Screen Has Never Looked So Good

Source:  www.globeandmail.com -
J. Kelly Nestruck

(January 29, 2009) Now playing at a theatre near you: The Stratford Shakespeare Festival?

Yes, a recording of
Caesar and Cleopatra, the Ontario festival's critically acclaimed 2008 production of Bernard Shaw's proto- Pygmalion comedy, rolls out on 80 Cineplex screens across Canada tomorrow for a single showing. Now you can experience Christopher Plummer in the title role (no, the other title role) without braving the traffic on Highway 401 or flying across the country.

But can the ephemeral pleasures of a live performance ever fully translate to a screen, even when shot in high-definition on nine cameras?

Theatre and opera companies everywhere are banking on in it. New York's Metropolitan Opera has had a much-emulated sideline broadcasting live performances to cinemas for three seasons. Sony's The Hot Ticket recently screened the final Broadway performance of Rent. And Britain's National Theatre has announced plans to live-broadcast to cinemas starting with Helen Mirren's Phaedra in March.

But the Stratford's Caesar and Cleopatra – an experiment the festival hopes to replicate in future seasons – is slightly different from all these examples: It was recorded over a couple of live performances and additional close-ups were later edited in.

The result is light-years ahead of previous Stratford Festival productions recorded live at the festival. In fact, Caesar and Cleopatra makes the 1993 CBC recording of Romeo and Juliet starring Megan Follows look like one of those illegal Broadway bootlegs you find on YouTube.

So, yes, people unable to make it to Stratford, Ont., will get a good idea how Plummer commanded the stage this summer. And in terms of making Stratford a truly national institution once more, the screenings – and the upcoming broadcast on Bravo! in April – are a thrilling project. (It should be noted that the film is also excellent advertising for the festival itself.) Still, compared with seeing Des McAnuff's production in person, the film is lacking – though that is only to be expected. A live performance that is influenced by laughter or silence is always more engrossing than a film of that performance, where you are tied to a different audience's reactions and rhythms.

Chief among what could be improved, however, is the audio. Where theatre and film acting diverge most is in the way the actors speak. The Stratford company performed Caesar on the thrust stage of the Festival Theatre without technical help for their voices . For the filming, they were outfitted with radio microphones hidden under their tunics – but they continued to use their voices to fill the 1,826-seat theatre.

While this isn't a huge problem for actors like Plummer, who have more resonant voices and know how to project without straining, the less well-trained or higher-pitched actors – and this includes some old as well as young cast members – seem to be shouting their lines.

The worst example, unfortunately, is co-star Nikki M. James as Cleopatra, hampered by a squeaky voice; her girlish petulance as the future ruler of Egypt moves from amusing to a nearly unlistenable shriek in the transition from stage to screen – at least until her character grows up and calms down in the second half.

Plummer's magnificent delivery of the text, the way he somehow manages to make Shaw's unwieldy contrarianisms snap like sitcom punchlines, is intact – but strangely the jokes don't land quite as solidly. The reason: Half of Shaw's comedy comes from the company's surprised reactions to Caesar's counterintuitive statements, and too often the camera pauses on Plummer's gracefully aging mug instead of showing us, for instance, Stephen Sutcliffe's hilarious appalled reactions as the uptight Brittanus.

Refreshingly, the film does embrace the live audience, who often appear in the background – an effect that reminds us this shouldn't feel like a normal film. (By contrast, the old CBC broadcasts seem to hide the audience; you see only the tops of their heads in some shots.) In the end, I'd say Stratford's film of Caesar and Cleopatra captures about 60 per cent of the production's appeal. A further 15 per cent of the enjoyment can surely be made up by snacking while watching it. As for the remaining quarter, well, if the movie was as pleasurable as communing with Plummer in a live setting, it would mean the death of live theatre – so given my line of work, I'm not really complaining.

For information on Caesar and Cleopatra screenings go to cineplex.com/events.

::TECHNOLOGY NEWS::

CarneyVale Showtime: The Circus Comes To Your Xbox

Source:  www.thestar.com - Darren Zenko,
Special To The Star

CarneyVale Showtime
Platform: Xbox Community
Rating: Unrated (but clearly an E)
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_halfstar.gif

(January 31, 2009) Well, that's it for another January...and not a moment too soon. While most folks save their calendrical opprobrium (kids, it pays to enrich your word power) for February, winter's dismal endgame, it's January that hard-core gamers (and game reviewers) most dread. After the holiday rush, the stream of new releases freezes up, leaving us desperately panning for novelty in a trickle of also-rans and future bargain-bin staples.

One bright spot this year, though, has been Microsoft's Community Games channel, the crowd-moderated "YouTube of video games" that's been providing a steady flow of indie titles. With a modest fistful of MS points, Xbox 360 owners can while away the winter with an eclectic and ever-growing stable of platformers, puzzles, board games, strategy games, top-down shooters, you name it. There's even room for plenty of strange non-game content: soothing ocean-sound screensavers, a digital version of the ever-popular video fireplace, a utility that repurposes the vibrating controller as a massage accessory. Amid all this, nothing has brightened my January like CarneyVale Showtime.

A student project from the National University of Singapore and a grand prize finalist in this year's Independent Games Festival, CarneyVale Showtime is a circus-themed action/skill game that plays something like Spider-Man trapped in a demented pinball machine. Loose-limbed acrobatic clown Slinky must work his way up through the ranks of carnival fame by completing 18 levels of high-flying challenges, using trapeze momentum to fling himself through the air, striking a balance between safety and style as he dodges deadly traps on his way to that great flaming hoop in the sky.

It's an absolute steal at 400 points (about $5), but even a quick spin on the time-limited free demo will have you hooked. Rarely have I played a game that felt so perfectly satisfying right from the first button-press; CarneyVale's rag doll physics and swing mechanics – literally momentous – are pure pleasure to play. Immediately, you get that delicious sensation of just rocking through, of hitting a perfectly designed line and feeling it pay off in those special brain cells dedicated to dispensing game-induced endorphins.

"A perfectly designed line." Yes, design is what it's all about. The physics by themselves would be plenty fun, but CarneyVale's levels are a textbook in building and tuning game boards that perfectly express a game's mechanics. As you move through the stages, new elements are introduced that seamlessly build on what you've already learned, and before you know it you've gone from simply getting where you want to go to executing dazzling mid-air dashes, squeaking through deadly electrified gaps, riding rockets and daring the impossible for maximum points and the adoration of the crowd and the crotchety critics who review your performance after every run.

Beyond the gameplay, CarneyVale offers production values far beyond the garage-band style of the enormous majority of Community games – bright and beautiful artwork and menu design, flawless play free of glitches and hiccups, and professional-level circus music and sound effects that inform and enhance the experience throughout. And as if that's not enough, the developers have included a fully functional and relatively easy-to-use level editor to round out the package.

Like I said, it's an absolute steal. Most games costing 10 times CarveyVale Showtime's sticker price deliver about a tenth of what you get with this indie treasure. This is the kind of development the Community Games initiative was meant to encourage, and if there's justice in the world it'll be picked up and expanded for commercial release; 18 levels of CarneyVale were enough to redeem a dull January, but my hands are itching for more.

Halo Wars `Goes Gold'

Source:  www.thestar.com - Marc Saltzman,
Special To The Star

(January 31, 2009) Halo fans should circle March 3 on their calendars. That's when Microsoft Game Studios' next instalment in the mega-popular franchise will make its debut on the Xbox 360.

Halo Wars (HaloWars.com) has "gone gold," meaning the game is now officially finished and has been sent to manufacturing.

As a bit of a departure for the sci-fi shooter series, Halo Wars is billed as a strategy-based action game played primarily from a bird's-eye view, but is built from the ground up to take advantage of a console controller.

Most real-time strategy games that make the jump to consoles were ported from a PC version, and ultimately prove too cumbersome to control with a gamepad instead of a mouse.

Halo Wars's rich story is set 20 years before the events in 2001's Halo: Combat Evolved on the original Xbox.

Gamers who can't wait until March for a taste of the game can visit Xbox.com/Halo to watch the first of many planned behind-the-scenes videos chronicling the game's development, story, characters and game play.

Alternatively, the videos are available for download at Xbox Live to watch on a television.

An Xbox Live public demo for Halo Wars, containing a tutorial, two campaign missions and a multiplayer map (against A.I. opponents), will be available beginning on Feb. 5 at 5 a.m.

Halo Wars is considered a swan song for veteran developers Ensemble Studios, whose parent company, Microsoft, announced in September it would be closing the Dallas-based studio doors for "fiscally rooted" reasons.

Grateful Dead truckin' again

Deadheads who own MTV Games's Rock Band are likely aware that a half-dozen songs from their favourite band were available for download about a year ago. An additional six-pack is now yours for the taking.

The six songs included in the "Grateful Dead Pack 02" are: "Uncle John's Band," "Doin' That Rag," "Hell in a Bucket," "Don't Ease Me In," "Cold Rain & Snow" and "Fire on the Mountain," available for $1.99 each or $9.99 (800 Microsoft points) for the set.

TECHNOLOGY TIDBITS

Kung Fu Panda Drop-Kicks Wall-E

Source: www.thestar.com -
Los Angeles Times

(February 02, 2009) LOS ANGELES – Kung Fu Panda was the big winner at the 36th annual Annie Awards, capturing 11 prizes, including best animated feature and voice acting in an animated feature for Dustin Hoffman. The DreamWorks Animation hit about a roly-poly panda who dreams of becoming a martial arts master beat its competition, including Pixar/Disney's Wall-E, which recently won the Golden Globe award for best animated feature and is considered to be the front-runner for an Oscar in the outstanding animated feature category. The awards from the International Animated Film Society were announced at a ceremony in Los Angeles Friday evening. Kung Fu Panda also won Annies for best animated video game, animated effects, character animation in a feature production, character design, directing, musical score, production design, storyboarding and writing.

::OTHER NEWS::

In The Era Of Slavery, The Tale Of A Family's Hard-Won Reunion

Source: www.thestar.com - Vit Wagner,
Publishing Reporter

(February 01, 2009) For a lot a farmers, February is a month to put up the feet, browse through seed and equipment catalogues and maybe enjoy a couple of weeks in Florida. Not so for Bryan Prince of Kent County, who spends his spare time researching his ancestors and other slaves who fled the pre-Civil War U.S., eventually settling in southwestern Ontario.

As the author of I
Came as a Stranger: The Underground Railroad and a director of the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum south of Chatham, Ont., Prince has become accustomed to a February calendar filled with appearances and speaking engagements related to Black History Month.

Prince generally works in tandem with his wife, Shannon, who serves as curator of the North Buxton museum, which commemorates an early settlement of former slaves established in 1849. Shannon fleshes out her husband's Underground Railroad talks by acting out the parts of various historical figures.

"We are somewhere pretty much every day in February," Prince says.

The couple's dance card is particularly full this year, as they take to the road to promote a new title by Prince, A Shadow on the Household: One Enslaved Family's Incredible Struggle for Freedom. The itinerary includes an interview Tuesday at the Gladstone Hotel in conjunction with This Is Not a Reading Series, and a reading next Sunday at the Royal Ontario Museum.

"A lot of people take the view that black history has been forgotten and we should be required to remember it," Prince says. "My attitude is different. It's not that we should know about it. It's that there are so many incredible stories."

A Shadow on the Household is a case in point. It traces the harrowing history of the Weems family, slaves in mid-19th-century Maryland who were near to buying freedom when the death of their owner sparked a chain of events that resulted in the sale and dispersal of the family's seven children.

Prince's rigorously researched and carefully plotted account details how the family was reunited after a series of small victories and reversals. It sets their personal drama against the backdrop of the abolitionist movement. One thread concerns a daughter, Anna Maria Weems, who made her way to Dresden, Ont., disguised as a man.

In fitting together the pieces of the narrative, Prince was assisted by a friend in Washington, D.C., who helped search various archives. Also crucial were press accounts of the time, which treated the family's plight as something of a cause célèbre, particularly in Great Britain, where slavery had already been abolished.

"It's so difficult to get details about the lives of slave families," says Prince, whose interest in his own ancestral history was sparked by the landmark 1977 miniseries Roots.

"There were some slaves that wrote autobiographies," he says. "The Weems (family) didn't leave any writing of their own, but the abolitionist press got a hold of the story."

Prince's Canadian publisher, McClelland & Stewart, has arranged for U.S. distribution of A Shadow on the Household through Random House. As a result, this month's promotional tour will include a week of bookstore appearances and related events in Washington, D.C. Prince was in the U.S. capital four times to research his book, but this will be his first visit since Barack Obama's election as president.

"It moved me beyond what I expected it to," Prince says of last month's inauguration. "It hit me in a way I can't explain.

"The one other time I was overcome by emotion in that way was quite different but somehow related. I was visiting Georgia for the first time and I saw the Confederate flag. It stopped me dead in my tracks."

Arts Groups Pleased But Canada Council Snubbed

Source:  www.globeandmail.com -
James Bradshaw

(January 28, 2009) The injections of cultural cash in Tuesday's federal budget are being hailed by many in the arts community as a landmark moment showing national politicians' heightened attention to the arts. But complaints about what was left out remain widespread.

Arts leaders have been virtually unanimous in saying the budget – which, according to the Conservative government, offers $276-million in new funds – brings generally good news, taking culture's prominent profile as a sign of a strengthening relationship with the Tories.

“We're really thrilled that there's a strong minister and that there were [two] pages in the budget devoted to the arts, which is a first in my history,” said Kevin Garland, general director of the National Ballet of Canada.

But two potential recipients that were snubbed continue to feature prominently in most reactions, namely the Canada Council for the Arts and initiatives concerning Canada's cultural presence abroad.

Anne-Marie Jean, general director of Culture Montréal, described the Canada Council as lean and efficient, arguing that it should be handed new tools with which to promote Canada's arts beyond its borders.

“There are interesting things in the budget and we're happy to see that. But we were all deceived by some of it because we thought there would be more money for the Canada Council,” she said.

Jean also argued that the council is uniquely positioned to help maximize the effects of the $60-million in infrastructure spending earmarked for the next two years.

“Although you do have money for infrastructure, you have to have something to present. You have to encourage creation,” she said.

Robert Sirman, the director of the Canada Council, said his organization is still celebrating the $30-million permanent increase to its budget given by the Tories last year. But he added that the council is eager to help provide artists with the touring capacity they lost with the demise of the PromArt and Trade Routes programs last fall.

“We'd like to be a part of some kind of solution that provides greater opportunity to Canadian artists to access international markets. This seems to be what the arts community is most conscious of and is telling us is their No. 1 priority,” he said.

He also expressed concern that the rise in infrastructure money will increase pressure on operating budgets for a number of arts organizations in the years to come, with the burden falling on the council's shoulders.

Garland will join Jean in making the case to Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore that the Canada Council deserves a boost, and she said she has not yet given up on lobbying for increased funding for foreign projects, echoing the spirit of many arts leaders that the conversation is just beginning.

“I think we re-established a relationship with the minister in the past month. … I think we have to have many meetings, we have to have a regular dialogue, which means we have a lot of work ahead of us,” Jean said.

Also absent was any pledge of support for Project Niagara, the collaborative effort by the National Arts Centre and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to launch a summer music festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. But a pledge of $75-million to Parks Canada for upgrades to sites linked to the War of 1812 could provide some aid, as the festival is slated to open on the 200th anniversary of the war, and be built on a famous landing site.

The announcement of the wide-ranging new Canada Prizes for the Arts and Creativity has generated considerable buzz, though most observers are eager to see how the prizes will be administered.

There has been effusive praise for the new money given to the National Arts Training Contribution Program, which funds the country's most prominent national training schools such as the National Ballet School and the Royal Conservatory of Music. The Conservative pledge of $20-million in extra funding spread over two years followed by $13-million in permanent increases is part new money and part renewal, as $6-million of the $16-million program was set to expire at the end of this year. Nevertheless, the program will still see a net increase of $7-million – or more than 40 per cent – in perpetuity.

And the permanent extension of the Canada New Media Fund at its current level of $14.3-million each year has been widely welcomed.

But many of the measures, including the $100-million-per-year renewal of the Canadian Television Fund, are limited to two years, leaving some nervous that the government's generosity has a time limit. Sirman attributed the two-year time frame to Conservative attempts to avoid plunging the country into permanent structural deficits.

Still, Garland worries that many arts organizations such as hers lack the sustained, long-term federal support they need to make the most of the government's generosity.

“We're very thrilled to see the National Ballet School will benefit,” she said. “But obviously, in the end, if we have more talent trained in the country we just hope we're able to employ them.”

Black History Month Events

Source:  www.thestar.com -
John Goddard, Staff Reporter

(January 31, 2009) Toronto singer Kemer Yousef and a renowned African kora player top the list of events celebrating Black History Month, which starts tomorrow.

Other highlights include a Somali film festival, a Toronto Library poetry reading and a dance tribute to the late South African singer Miriam Makeba.

"We had 40,000 people at some shows," Yousef said a few days ago from Ethiopia, where he has been touring for nine weeks as one of the country's top pop stars.

The trip proved a triumphant homecoming for a singer who fled his country on foot 24 years ago and scored a hit recently with Nabek, a music DVD that uses Casa Loma and other Toronto landmarks as a backdrop. "I'm looking forward to Harbourfront," Yousef said of the "Horn of Africa" concert next Saturday, the centrepiece of Harbourfront Centre's Kuumba festival. Yousef shares the bill with local Eritrean-born artist Daniel Nebiat.

Details: harbourfrontcentre.com

More music

• At York University in the coming week, Malian instrumentalist Ballaké Sissoko, one of the great soloists on the 21-stringed West African kora, launches a concert series. Sissoko appears at York's Accolade East Building for a talk Wednesday afternoon and concert Thursday evening, a rare North American visit for the hereditary player.

The series continues Feb. 13 with a solo piano concert by U.S. jazz artist Randy Weston, followed Feb. 28 by a West African drum/dance showcase with artists-in-residence Billy Nankouma Konaté and Sani Abu.

Details: yorku.ca/perform

• At the Gladstone Hotel's Melody Bar every Friday in February, Music Africa is staging free concerts beginning with Toronto reggae act Kwesi Selassie. Two ticketed concerts in the Gladstone Ballroom by the same organizers pay tribute to Nigerian Afrobeat king Fela Kuti (Feb. 20) and South Africa's Makeba (Feb. 27).

Details: musicafrica.org

Poetry

• Toronto Public Library presents poets Dwayne Morgan, Boonaa Mohammed, Michelle Muir and Oni the Haitian Sensation reading from their works Feb. 5 at York Woods Library (1785 Finch Ave. W.). Moderating is Chioma, editor and publisher of Amöi magazine.

Details: toronto.ca/blackhistory

Dance

• In tribute to singer Makeba, who collapsed after a concert in Italy last November, the dance Collective of Black Artists, or COBA, presents Maa Keeba. The piece by Trinidadian-born Toronto choreographer Bakari Lindsay forms part of a program of live music and dance entitled Banta, running Feb. 20-22 at Harbourfront Centre's Fleck Dance Theatre.

Details: harbourfrontcentre.com

• On Feb. 20, Lula Lounge hosts Sa-kotosa: Dance to the Earth With Bent Knees, a night of African singing, drumming and dancing by Toronto's Isaac Akrong and the African Dance Ensemble.

Details: lulalounge.ca

Theatre

• From Feb. 9 to March 7, the Canadian Stage Company presents Miss Julie: Freedom Summer, adapted by Stephen Sachs. Swedish playwright August Stringberg wrote the original Miss Julie 120 years ago, putting class, gender and sexuality on a collision course with changing mores. U.S. playwright Sachs adapts the play freely to add racial elements.

Details: canstage.com

Storytelling

• The Royal Ontario Museum plays host to two family-oriented events. Next weekend and the weekend after, storyteller Phyllis Walker recounts tales of Anansi, a mythical figure with superpowers. Author Bryan Prince also talks next weekend of his new novel A Shadow on the Household, about an enslaved family's struggle for freedom.

Details: rom.on.ca/visit/calendar

Visual arts

• Not unique to this month but in the same spirit, the Art Gallery of Ontario recently opened its African gallery of 82 superb sub-Saharan artworks donated by Murray Frum.

Details: ago.net

Film

• At three major movie theatres, the Caribbean Tales Youth Film Festival showcases documentaries and feature films from the African Diaspora, Feb. 13 to 17. Selections include The Rosa Parks Story by U.S. director Julie Dash, about the civil rights hero who refused to relinquish her seat to a white person on an Alabama bus in 1955.

Details: caribbeantales.ca

Can Toronto Learn To Love Winter?

Source:  www.thestar.com - Christopher Hume,
Urban Issues Columnist

(January 29, 2009) How do you think Toronto could be a better winter city? Use our commenting tool and tell us what you think.

Let's be honest: winter leaves us cold. It's the one season Torontonians have never really warmed up to.

Most of us would rather pretend it isn't happening and carry on regardless. And given the hermetically sealed nature of the modern city, we're nearing the point where that's almost possible. In recent decades, it seems we have built almost as much underground as above, especially in the downtown core where the PATH system represents a sort of parallel subterranean universe, a place where any sign of weather actually ceases to exist.

At the same time, more people live and work in large-scale complexes that have their own below-grade shopping, parking and recreational amenities, as well as subway connections. Those lucky few never have to go outside unless they absolutely have to – or want to.

For the rest of us, however, avoiding winter is not an option. So the question arises, how do we make it more appealing? The example of other winter cities – from Montreal to Moscow – shows that it can be done.

But how? To begin with, Torontonians will have to accept the inevitability of winter. Sounds obvious, but when you look at how people dress, you can't help but notice we are a population in denial. When there's snow up to our knees and it's –25C, too many of us still dress as though it's just a brisk autumn day, which partly explains the pained expressions on our faces.

Perhaps we could begin the rehabilitation of winter by wearing the right clothing, i.e. hats, scarves, gloves, boots and coats. Apart from the few regaled in fur or high-fashion parkas, the only Torontonians who dress for the cold now are children, bundled up by anxious parents who themselves haven't done the same for decades.

Clothing may be a precondition to enjoying winter, but there's more to it than that. The design of the city itself affects the way we relate to the seasons.

"It sounds strange," says Toronto architect James Brown, "maybe even dangerous, but I think we should have regulated places, specific sites, where people can have bonfires. There are a number of places where you could do that safely, especially along the waterfront. We also need to create amenities, places where people can get a cup of coffee and a bun."

Brown also suggests that "five-ton stake trucks be parked every 1,000 metres in places such as Coronation Park and the Martin Goodman Trail. They would sell everything from cold beer to hot chocolate.

"Part of it's the winter," says landscape architect Janet Rosenberg, "part of it's a head space. You need winter programming as well as ways to try to make it comfortable for people."

She proposes "designing certain places specifically for winter." Examples include ice hotels, ice bars and ice sculpture.

"We have been taught that in winter we hibernate," she notes. "But winter is something to celebrate."

Rosenberg also points to the work of people such as Ned Kahn, the California-based "environmental artist" who reveals usually invisible natural phenomena through his creations. Using wind, fog, water and fire, Kahn has produced fantastic pieces that sit somewhere between a sophisticated science project and sculpture.

The key is audience participation. In the case of Toronto's annual winter ritual, the Santa Claus Parade, we feel a deep-seated ambivalence. Even at the best of times, it is one of those things we do because mainly we feel we ought to. The reason? The kids, of course, but even for then – especially for them – standing still for hours in the freezing cold does not a pleasant winter afternoon make.

If there's one great example of making do with the cold and snow, and extracting pleasure from them, it is that great, indefatigable explorer, Samuel de Champlain. As Canadian history buffs will recall, it was he who, in November 1606, founded the Order of Good Cheer (l'Ordre de Bon Temps). It lasted only a season, but in the centuries since, has acquired legendary status throughout French Canada where it ranks as a sort of founding myth. This is the land, don't forget, whose unofficial anthem tells us: "Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver."

Champlain's idea was simple: Members of the Order were required to provide a feast on a rotating basis in the depth of a winter so terrible it almost ended the tiny colony. By all accounts it was a huge success; tables were piled high and morale even higher.

The Order speaks of a desire not just to adapt an old established culture to new conditions, but also to create something new and different – based on that most novel of concepts, winter.

English Canada, let alone Toronto, has yet to invent its version of the Order. But viewed in that context, WinterCity, the celebration of cold at Nathan Phillips Square that begins this weekend, may come close. So, too, does Winterlicious, with its emphasis on food and eating as a shared activity.

Now, as in Champlain's day, we are what we eat. And never more so than in winter, when it sometimes feels as if the next meal might be your last.

What Toronto Gets Right

Source:  www.thestar.com - Christopher Hume,
Urban Issues Columnist

(January 29, 2009)

Winter Festivals

WinterCity and Winterlicious, beginning this weekend, and the Cavalcade of Lights and Santa Claus Parade earlier in the season, are perfectly fine ways to get us out of our cozy homes in the cold months. WinterCity is the most truly festive, with outdoor concerts, fireworks, skating parties and theatrical events.

BUT they are just a taste of what Toronto in the winter could become – and it should spread well beyond City Hall. How about a winter campout on the islands? Or a craft market? Or an icy marathon? Or an outdoor art festival amid the deep freeze? Perhaps the city should take a cue from urban creatives like Newmindspace, and organize a good, clean snowball fight. Possibilities abound.

Outdoor skating

The city manages 49 outdoor artificial rinks, and there are many more expanses of ice al fresco across the GTA. The two best-known downtown rinks – at Nathan Phillips Square and the Natrel rink at Harbourfront – perfectly capture what winter in the city is supposed to be.

BUT both are small and often crowded, making it impossible to skate fast enough to even break a sweat. Also, with thousands taking to these rinks every year, the ice is often in poor condition, making it difficult to skate during off-peak hours. Give us room to roam!

The PATH system

The underground city has been acclaimed by Guinness as the largest in the world, and is a necessity for the thousands of Bay St. workers needing respite from the surface-level wind tunnels.

BUT give those of us who don't work in the financial core a reason to visit. A subterranean spa, maybe? A subway museum? Food court fare and generic retail outlets have no allure.

Coldest day of the year

bike ride

Tomorrow, statistically the coldest day of the year, the city is hosting what's becoming an annual event: a daring group bike ride from behind City Hall to the Fairmont Royal York, beginning at noon, with warm-up refreshments plus free Thermoses to the first 50 riders. It's a great way to encourage us to thumb our noses at the cold. Anyone up for a dip in Lake Ontario?

New Canada Prizes For The Arts Derided In Quebec

Source: www.thestar.com - Martin Knelman

(February 04, 2009) Hold the champagne. Not everyone in Canada's fractured culture world is rejoicing at last week's news that Ottawa is writing a cheque for $25 million to kick-start an annual global contest in Toronto culminating in six-figure prizes for the world's best emerging artists in theatre, dance, music and the visual arts.

According to a sneering headline yesterday in Le Devoir, this is a case of Ottawa funding Toronto for an American Idol event.

Perhaps it was naive of David Pecaut and Tony Gagliano, co-founders of the Luminato arts festival, to think they'd be thanked for securing mega government support for their latest bright idea – called the Canada Prizes for the Arts and Creativity.

The Montreal newspaper sees them as Nobel Prizes in the arts offered to foreigners – and claims that it's all just a vast public relations exercise for Toronto.

Is this a case of Montreal's jealousy over any cultural breakthrough in Toronto?

Bloc Québécois culture critic Carole Lavallée told Le Devoir that this funding decision shows that Heritage Minister James Moore has no understanding of the real needs of the arts community. In her view, it's "a Star Academy in Toronto" organized by people from private enterprise.

"The article is full of inaccuracies," a perplexed Pecaut said yesterday. "No one from Le Devoir even called us."

One misconception is the notion that the prize is part of Luminato, when in fact it will be a separate organization. Another is that this is a business venture, when in fact it will be set up as a non-for-profit charity.

In any case, the discontent does not stop at the Quebec-Ontario border.

"There is great concern among local artists who feel they've been overlooked," says Jacoba Knappen, director of the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts, which represents 182 organizations from the fields of theatre, dance and opera.

Some are angry that local artists may fail to benefit from this windfall.

A sore point: Why is Canada giving money to foreign artists when nothing has been done to replace federal funding, cancelled last fall, that enabled Canadian artists to be presented abroad?

Knappen has requested a meeting with Pecaut and Gagliano to see whether the prize-giving event could be set up in a way that would help TAPA achieve its goals.

On the flip side, Peter Oundjian, music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, acknowledges there are other groups that deserve support, but quips, "Canada must be the only country in the world where a $25 million government gift to the arts is considered bad news."

Pecaut invites us to keep an open mind and count the great things the Canada Prizes will do for the country's arts community.

First, by awarding the world's biggest culture prizes, Canada brands itself. Second, the event will draw major players in the arts world to Toronto and create the sort of industry marketplace that enlivens the Toronto International Film Festival. Third, it will draw cultural tourists. Fourth, there will be a huge boost for education, with tie-ins to school curricula and master classes by visiting artists. Fifth, Canadian artists will have the chance to compete with those from elsewhere in the world.

Still, given the government's agenda of winning support in Quebec, will Pecaut and Gagliano be pressed to loosen Toronto's grip on the prize?

Pecaut bristles: "It's wonderful that Quebec City had a great anniversary event, and Vancouver will have the Olympics, and other cities are identified with certain events.

"But this is conceived as something rooted in Toronto. Just ask yourself: Does the Venice Biennale ever move to Rome or Florence?"

::SPORTS NEWS::

Williams Sisters Win Doubles Crown Down Under

Source:  www.thestar.com - Paul Alexander,
Associated Press

(January 30, 2009) MELBOURNE, Australia – Serena Williams was happy to have sister Venus on her side of the net Friday so she didn't have to try to fend off those wicked volleys.

Their doubles title – their third at the Australian Open and eighth Grand Slam title as a combination – came at the expense of Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia and Japan's Ai Sugiyama, who lost 6-3, 6-3 and had to dodge a number of stinging shots at the net, particularly from Venus.

"I just wouldn't want to face them too much. They are ferocious," Serena said of her sister's shots. The sisters have faced each other in seven Grand Slam singles finals.

"She's covering the whole net. At one point today, I literally stood back and she took care of everything."

It was a good tune-up for Serena's singles final Saturday, when she will face Russia's Dinara Safina.

With the temperature topping 45C in the late afternoon, the roof on Rod Laver Arena was closed when the tournament's Extreme Heat Policy was again put in effect. It was opened later for the men's match: top-ranked Rafael Nadal was playing fellow Spanish left-hander Fernando Verdasco in the second men's semifinal.

Some top players avoid doubles, worrying that the extra time on court might hamper their singles prospects. While they took a long time off from doubles as both dealt with injuries – resulting in them being seeded only 10th at Melbourne Park – the Williams sisters have gotten back together recently, winning Wimbledon and the Olympic gold medal at Beijing last year.

"I have a great partner," Serena said. "I don't have to work too hard out there. Just hit some big serves. Venus hits some big serves. We put the ball away. Most of all, I love to play doubles. For me it's great practice, great fun. If I'm really fit, then I like to go for the win in both events."

Fun indeed. They dropped only one set in six matches, playing better as the tournament went along. They were chatting and laughing Friday as if they were playing with some friends.

"I think we complement each other on the court because we're both extremely positive," Venus said. "We never, ever in our lives have said nasty things to each other. We just don't operate that way."

There's also a different mood for them than in singles.

"I think that when you play good points in doubles, you tend to smile a little more, enjoy that point with someone else," Venus said. "It's definitely a different kind of feeling, 'cause in singles you're so focused, you don't even smile, you just move to that next point without any kind of elation."

The sisters held up their rackets to celebrate the win before hugging each other on court.

"I'd like to thank Serena for being the best partner," Venus said. "I wouldn't want to play with anyone else. She's amazing."

They have won doubles titles at all four Grand Slams, a milestone that Sugiyama had been hoping to achieve by winning here with Hantuchova.

Williams Sisters Take Over Down Under

Source:
www.eurweb.com

(February 02, 2009) *Serena and Venus Williams left the Australian Open and its oppressive heat last weekend with a doubles title, earned Friday; and a 10th Grand Slam victory for Serena after she annihilated Dinara Safina the following day.  The Williams sisters, seeded 10th, teamed to beat Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia and Japan's Ai Sugiyama 6-3, 6-3 in an Australian Open Doubles final that took all of 38 minutes.   "We played a great team today. They were very tough," Venus said after the match. "At the end there I think we just maybe wanted it a little more."     Serena returned to center court the following day and simply dominated Russia's Safina 6-0, 6-3 to win her fourth Australian Open title, bringing up her 10th Grand Slam and reclaiming the world number one ranking on the way.   The match was described as one of the most lop-sided Australian finals ever, with Serena allowing her opponent to win only eight points in the first set and claiming the championship in less than an hour.     "I'm so excited ... I clearly love playing here and I get great support here. I don't get that every place I go," Williams said, after winning the first women's night final played in the Rod Laver Arena.     Williams, the second seed, backed up her pre-tournament comments that she was the best women's tennis player in the world and will now officially reclaim the top ranking from Serbia's Jelena Jankovic. She also became the highest ever prize money winner in women's sport during the tournament.      Williams said she was thrilled to join the likes of Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova in the elite group of women with 10 or more Grand Slams.     "I idolized Steffi Graf," she said. "When I played her I was like 'Oh My God, it's Steffi Graf' and Martina Navratilova was someone who was my role model, so when I think of these greats I don't really think of my name, I think of them. I think people are starting to think of me (in those terms), which is uber-cool, I can't even get my mind around that."

Nadal Ousts Verdasco In Epic At Australian Open

Source:  www.thestar.com - Paul Alexander,
Associated Press

(January 30, 2009) MELBOURNE, Australia – Top-ranked Rafael Nadal outlasted fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco 6-7 (4), 6-4, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (1), 6-4 Friday to reach the Australian Open final after the longest match in the tournament's history.

Nadal will attempt to keep second-ranked Roger Federer from tying Pete Sampras' record of 14 major titles on Sunday.

The fans were riveted as the left-handed Davis Cup teammates went at each other for five hours and 14 minutes. After all that, having saved two match points, 14th-seeded Verdasco served a double-fault to give Nadal the victory.

"Today was one of those matches you're going to remember a long time," Nadal said. "In the last game, at 0-40, I started to cry. It was too much tension. Fernando was playing, I think, at his best level. He deserved this final, too."

There were no arguments, no gamesmanship, just great shots, with the momentum shifting on a handful of key points.

The previous longest match at Melbourne Park came in 1991, when Boris Becker needed five hours and 11 minutes to beat Italian Omar Camporese, with the fifth set going 14-12.

Federer advanced to his 18th Grand Slam final with a straight sets win over Andy Roddick on Thursday.

Nadal said it would be tough to recover for his first Grand Slam final on a hard court.

"Roger has a bit of an advantage over me," Nadal said. "He's resting right now. But I want to try my best."

Verdasco was disappointed that he drained so much energy from his friend.

"Really a pity," Verdasco said. "I want him to be 100 per cent to play that final. I wish him the best of luck. I hope that he will win."

With the arena's namesake, Rod Laver – a pretty good leftie in his own right – in the crowd and Spanish flags scattered around, Nadal found his renowned defence tested to the limit as Verdasco ripped 95 winners. But while he bent, he never broke, committing fewer than 10 unforced errors in every demanding set, including just four in the fifth.

The first set included 75 minutes of long rallies, more associated with a match on clay than a hardcourt.

Nadal was serving at 4-3 in the tiebreaker when Verdasco ran off the last four points. The key shot was a backhand that trickled over to give him set point. A sharp volley set up an easy overhead, and the crowd erupted in cheers.

Cool temperatures had come through during the afternoon to ease Melbourne's hottest three-day stretch on record – daytime temperatures topped 45C – but the constant sprinting from sideline to sideline left both players draping ice packs wrapped in towels around their shoulders during changeovers.

The high quality of the tennis had fans – silent during play – rising to standing ovations for both players for outstanding shots.

Another tiebreaker loomed in the second set with Verdasco serving at 4-5, 40-15. This time it was Nadal, who had been looking a little puzzled and less confident than usual, running off four points in a row.

At deuce, Verdasco hit what appeared to be a volley winner on the 17th shot of a tense rally. The ball was spinning away from Nadal, but he got to it on the dead run, flicking a forehand winner that dropped in the corner to even the match.

Verdasco managed a smile as he watched the replay on the big-screen TV suspended above the court. He sent a forehand long on the next point, and Nadal pumped his fist in celebration.

They swapped four service breaks in the third set, and the second tiebreaker quickly went Nadal's way, with Verdasco looking increasingly drained.

He called for the trainer to massage his left calf for apparent cramps twice during changeovers early in the fourth set and was clearly favouring it. But he worked through the pain.

The third tiebreaker was all Verdasco as he raced to a 6-0 lead while forcing a deciding fifth set. It was the first time Nadal had ever lost a Grand Slam tiebreaker while winning only one point.

Verdasco saved five break points in the fifth set before finally faltering. Serving at 4-5 he fell behind 0-40 to set up three match points for Nadal. He saved two with swinging volley winners, then double-faulted – only his fourth of the match. Both players dropped flat on the surface before Nadal got up, jumped over the net and gave his friend a hug.

Earlier in the day, the roof was closed as Serena and Venus Williams teamed for their third doubles title at the Australian Open and eighth Grand Slam title.

They beat Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia and Japan's Ai Sugiyama 6-3, 6-3, forcing them to dodge a number of stinging shots at the net, particularly from Venus.

"I just wouldn't want to face them too much. They are ferocious," Serena said of her sister's shots. The sisters have faced each other in seven Grand Slam singles finals.

"She's covering the whole net. At one point today, I literally stood back and she took care of everything."

It was a good tune-up for Serena's singles final Saturday, when she will face Russia's Dinara Safina.

Some top players avoid doubles, worrying that the extra time on court might hamper their singles prospects. While they took a long time off from doubles as both dealt with injuries – resulting in them being seeded only 10th at Melbourne Park – the Williams sisters have gotten back together recently, winning Wimbledon and the Olympic gold medal at Beijing last year.

They dropped only one set in six matches, playing better as the tournament went along. They were chatting and laughing Friday as if they were playing with some friends.

"I think we complement each other on the court because we're both extremely positive," Venus said. "We never, ever in our lives have said nasty things to each other. We just don't operate that way."

They have won doubles titles at all four Grand Slams, a milestone that Sugiyama had been hoping to achieve by winning here with Hantuchova.

SPORTS TIDBITS

Canadian Speedskater Denny Morrison Wins World Cup Gold

Source:  www.thestar.com -
Associated Press

(January 31, 2009) ERFURT, Germany–Canada's Denny Morrison won gold in the 1,500 metres at a long-track speedskating World Cup event Saturday. The Fort St. John, B.C., native edged two Americans to finish in one minute 45.32 seconds. Trevor Marsicano was second with a time of 1:46.00 and Shani Davis was third in 1:46.25. The victory comes a week after Morrison won back-to-back gold medals in the 1,000 at a World Cup stop in Russia. Morrison has moved into 10th spot in the World Cup standings. Norway's Haevard Boekko is in first place with 255 points, 35 more than Davis. Tucker Fredricks of the United States beat World Cup leader Yu Fengtong of China to win the 500-metre race. Fredricks became the first speedskater to break the 35-second mark at the Erfurt oval when he clocked 34.91, beating Yu's course record by .12 seconds. Yu was second in 35.00 and Jan Smeekens of the Netherlands was third in 35.26. The victory moved Fredricks up to fourth in the overall standings with 537 points. Yu leads with 936 points while Keiichiro Nagashima of Japan is second with 867 points after finishing fourth. Jenny Wolf of Germany celebrated her 30th birthday with her 39th World Cup win, taking the 500 in 37.85 for her second victory over the distance in two days. Wolf has already assured herself of the 500-metre World Cup title. World Cup leader Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic cruised to her second win of the season in the 3,000. Ottawa's Kristina Groves was seventh and Brittany Schussler of Winnipeg was 10th. Groves is fifth in the overall standings.

Argos Add Another Ex-NFLer To Coaching Staff

Source: www.thestar.com - Daniel Girard,
Sports Reporter

(February 02, 2009) The Toronto Argonauts continue to fill their coaching vacancies, announcing Monday the hiring of former NFLer Mike Jones as receivers coach. Jones, who played six seasons in the NFL with Minnesota and New Orleans, was head coach of the Frankfurt Galaxy of NFL Europe from 2004 to 2007. He also has coaching experience in the XFL and NCCA. "I look forward to coaching there and getting the team to a place that will excite the fans of Toronto," Jones said in a statement. Jones worked with the Argos new head coach, Bart Andrus, with NFL Europe's Rhein Fire. They also coached against each other, including in the 2006 World Bowl, when Jones' Galaxy defeated Andrus' Amsterdam Admirals.

::FITNESS NEWS::

Ask the Trainer: Toning Your Inner Thighs

Source:
Raphael Calzadilla, B.A., CPT, ACE, Chief Fitness Pro, eDiets.com

(January 29, 2009) Dear Raphael - I’m performing my cardio and strength-training at least four times a week. I’m doing a lot of squats and lunges, but I don't feel anything on my inner thighs. Can you please suggest an effective exercise to work my inner thighs? I have some excess fat in the area that I hope will tighten up. I also bought a piece of equipment where I push my legs together to create resistance that’s supposed to work the inner thighs. Will that work?

Thanks,
Jill from Berkeley


Raphael’s Answer
:

Jill, thanks so much for writing to me. The first point I have to make is that if you have some excess fat on your inner thighs, then a further reduction in your total body fat is required. Resistance exercise will help strengthen and tighten muscles, but it won't reduce the fat in the problem area. This is best accomplished with a slight reduction in calories, a slight increase of cardiovascular exercise - or possibly both. The end result will be less body fat all over your body.

As far as the exercise equipment, you mention that it isolates the inner thighs – I believe you’re referring to a small unit that you place between your thighs while seated; it requires you to push against the unit's resistance so the thighs come together.

I find this type of exercise unit to be very ineffective. Some women tell me they feel the movement but unfortunately that’s not enough. The key is to create an even higher degree of stress on the inner thighs than this exercise unit provides for.

One of my favourite exercises for the adductors (inner thighs) is Plié Squats. Plié Squats allow you to isolate the inner thigh muscles and most women who try it swear by its results. Here is a video of me demonstrating:

In the video, I provide a general recommendation of 1-3 sets on alternate days of the week. But because your question is so specific and you already work out quite a lot, I’d like to provide a custom solution for you. Begin your lower body workouts with the Plié Squat and after warming up with a few very light sets, perform 4-5 sets of 15 challenging reps. I only want you to take 30-40 seconds between sets. It’s important that the weight feel challenging. The last rep of each set should be difficult to accomplish. The minimal time between sets, challenging weight in combination with a lowering of your body fat will give you the results you seek!

Good luck and feel free to write back!

::MOTIVATION::

Motivational Note

Source:  www.eurweb.com - Tom Blandi

"Our attitudes control our lives. Attitudes are a secret power working 24 hours a day, for good or bad. It is of paramount importance that we know how to harness and control this great force."