Film Fess by Helene Ravlich

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Posted on Thursday 9/04/2015 April, 2015 by Rialto Admin

In the music world the word ‘legend’ gets bandied about a lot – there’s the ‘living legend’, the just plain old ‘legend’, the ‘major legend’ and of course, the ‘legendary song’. The title is not always justified, but is most definitely when it comes to the names Jay-Z and Miriam Makeba.

In the music world the word ‘legend’ gets bandied about a lot – there’s the ‘living legend’, the just plain old ‘legend’, the ‘major legend’ and of course, the ‘legendary song’. The title is not always justified, but is most definitely when it comes to the names Jay-Z and Miriam Makeba.

The aforementioned more-than-legendary pair are the subjects of the two music documentaries that I’ve been given to muse upon this week: MADE IN AMERICA (Thursday, April 9 at 8:30pm) and MAMA AFRICA (Friday, April 10 at 8:30pm). The former is pure, unadulterated behind-the-scenes style reportage with added flavour, whilst the latter tells the amazing life story of a truly extraordinary woman.

A Rialto Channel New Zealand television premiere, MADE IN AMERICA is a documentary chronicling the 2012 debut of the "Made in America" music festival. Produced by Jay-Z and directed by Oscar winner Ron Howard, it is a veritable all-access backstage pass to the festival and features performances and interviews with an insanely diverse roster of chart-topping music names. There is footage of everyone from Gary Clark Jr., D'Angelo, Dirty Projectors, The Hives, Miike Snow, Janelle Monáe and Odd Future, as well as big personalities like Rita Ora, Passion Pit, Pearl Jam, Run-D.M.C., Santigold, Jill Scott, Skrillex, and Kanye West. A right musical buffet, if you will!

Howard reportedly met Jay-Z through his partner at Imagine films, Brian Grazer, who he says “has always loved hip-hop. I went in and spoke to Jay Z and said ‘I don't know much about music, I know very little about hip-hop, and I've never made a documentary…’" To which the living hip hop legend apparently replied: "You've told a lot of stories in a lot of different ways and I'd be curious to find what story you'd find in the festival". Howard has also confessed that he hadn’t actually heard of 70 per cent of the artists playing at the festival beforehand, but in my opinion that hasn’t harmed the treatment at all. Howard reportedly also had only 10 days of preparation before taking the helm of the mammoth project executive produced and starring an equally mammoth persona, but due to the many stories told within something quite extraordinary comes out at the end – even if at times the train threatens to run off the rails.

It’s true that it could have been a little less Jay-Z As Patron Saint at times, but the peripheral stories surrounding the narratives of the artists who made the festival happen are the most interesting. This is where we get to hear about the motivations and aspirations of the stagehands, the single mother with her first taco truck, the security staff and their never-ending challenges to ensure that everyone has a great day/night out – with some truly great results.

Next up is the inspiring and at times heart wrenching MAMA AFRICA, the story of Miriam Makeba. Directed by Finnish filmmaker Mika Kaurismäki, it tells the story of world-famous South African singer Makeba (AKA ‘Mama Africa’), who spent half a century travelling the world and spreading her political message to fight racism, poverty and promote justice and peace. The late Makeba (who passed away in 2008) was an endless inspiration to musicians all over the world but remained true to her South African musical roots til the day she died.

Forced into early exile in 1959 as a result of her involvement in the documentary indictment of Apartheid COME BACK, AFRICA, entertainer Harry Belafonte helped her to gain entry to the USA where she performed at the likes of John F. Kennedy’s birthday party and scored her first international hit with ‘Pata Pata’. Finding herself in the sights of the FBI following her marriage to Black Panther activist Stokely Carmichael in 1968 however, she eventually settled in Guinea where she continued to fight the white Apartheid regime in her native land.

The fast-paced film makes good use of rare documentary footage and a plethora of interviews, and includes testimonials from friends, relatives and colleagues – both young proponents of African music as well as those who have known and cherished Makeba since her earliest beginnings in the dance halls of Cape Town.

The film is very straightforward in style but the story so compelling that it comes highly recommended. The only thing missing is comment from Makeba herself: RIP Mama Africa.

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