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January 25, 1991 - Image 5

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1991-01-25

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ARTS

The Michigan Daily
'The beat
is robust
and
A
constant
by Peter Shapiro
Although they deal almost exclu-
sively with traditional social issues
and gospel praise in their lyrics,
Mahlathini and the Mahotella
teens are perhaps the most
olitical musicians in the world.
Their music should not be reduced
to, solely political terms, but the
pure ecstatic joy of their
recordings in the face of
Apartheid, not to mention their
live shows, is a singularly moving
experience.
Mahlathini and the Mahotella
_ Queens came out of the Black
*ownships in South Africa in the
mid '60s with a style of music
called mbaqanga. Mbaqanga
literally means "dough," named
after the beat that is as heavy and
as' pliable as its name implies.
M'baqanga, or township jive, is an
urban music that fuses traditional
elements like sing-song kwela and
pennywhistle with gritty electric
instrumentation. Where the
predominant styles of the rest of
sub-Saharan Africa are based on
endless layers of polyrhythms,
mbaqanga resembles a twisted 4/4
and centers around the interplay
bttween an earth shattering bass
and a South African rendering of
every African-American guitar
style since Robert Johnson.
Mahlathini and the Mahotella
*Qoeen's usual backing band is the
"eiendary Makgona Tshole Band,
the South African equivalent of
Booker T. and the M.G.'s. The
Mahotella Queens' unique brand of
mbaqanga is called mbqashiyo, or
the "indestructible beat," not only
f6r political reasons, but because
th'e groove put into motion by the
Makgona Tshole Band is
absolutely devastating. The bass is
i ge and dominating without being
Cmpsi [E@
The, recent success of
Goodfellas and other Martin
Scorsese/Robert DeNiro crime
fihs brings to mind one of the
other great pairings of director and
star: John Huston and Humphrey
*Bogart. Of their six collaborations,
their three crime films - The
Maltese Falcon, Key Largo and
Beat the Devil - are each bril-
liant and quite different.
i Released in 1941, The Maltese
Falcon made Bogart a major star.
His portrayal of tough, cynical
detective Sam Spade is now
legendary, establishing an
American icon. Yet like many of
W uston's films, the supporting cast,
which includes Mary Astor, Peter
Ldrre and Sydney Greenstreet, is

also excellent. Based on a novel
by Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese
Pents
Java
r..
&
Jazz
Free!
In the Tap Room
4pm.- 7pm
Jan 27 -Alma

Friday, January 25, 1991

Page 5
By Godot, it's
Endgame at the RC

by Juiue uKomorn

South African music isn't just Ladysmith Black Mambazo singing mbube to Paul Simon's new world angst and
universalist message. Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens play The Indestructible Beat, music that is
indefatigable and invincible, even under the forces of Apartheid and vast cultural difference.

"Nothing is funnier than unhap-
piness... Yes, it's like the funny
- story we have heard too often. We
still find it funny, but we don't
laugh anymore," says Nell in
Endgame. These lines reflect the
essence of Samuel Beckett's un-
conventional and ambiguous play,
to be performed this weekend by
the Residential College Drama
Program/Brecht Company. Unde-
sirable situations often provoke
laughter, and as director Martin
Sweeney explains, "We do in fact
laugh at unhappiness - that's
what keeps us going."
The four characters of the play
are situated in an old shelter,
isolated from the dead or dying
world outside 'and isolated from
themselves as well. The characters
hate where they are, yet it is too
difficult for them to leave.
At the center of this microcosm
lives Hamm, blind and without the
use of his legs, who directs what
passes for activity. His servant
Clov, who can move but cannot sit
down, wishes to leave but remains
tied to his obedient position to
Hamm. This interdependent rela-
tionship between master and ser-
vant produces a bizarre vaudeville
humor. Nagg and Nell, the legless
parents of Hamm, live in separate
trash cans, signifying that they
also are isolated. It is human exis-
tence at its most bare level; life
here exists as a cruel joke.
Sweeney says that in directing
Endgame, he feels it is essential to
stay true to the script. "It is
important to trust the playwright,"
he says. He explains that the
setting and stage directions will be
performed exactly the way they
are in the text because of the
brilliantly poetic rhythm and ca-
dence in the dialogue. Although
witty, Beckett's juxtaposition of
pauses and quick dialogue can
also provoke an uneasy, lurching

feeling in the audience.
Although there are many
specifics in the script, the play is
unlimited in terms of interpreta-
tion. The show is simple in its dia-
logue and setting, yet is truly'
composed of very complex and
powerful ideas. Trends and themes
exist, but they do not always fit
well together, explains Sweeney.
Interestingly, the play is aware
that it is a play, with the actors
seeming to know that they are part
of a show. At one point, Hamm
even announces that he "is ,
warming up for his soliloquy."
Sweeney proposes that perhaps the
show exists as a continuous cycle
- a play that never ends. Its title
possibly represents a move in
chess which usually ends in a draw
and, like the play, can lead to an
obscure ending. Hamm declares,
"The end is in the beginning, yet
you go on."
Beckett, who was born in
Ireland but lived mostly in France,
is known as the Father of Absur-
dity. The dark wit and irony of the
play depicts the writing style of his
birthplace. Although writing was
physically painful for Beckett, his
work has had an incredible impact,,
on the theater of today. Endgame
was originally written in French
and translated into English by
Beckett himself, demonstrating his
true mastery of languages.
Sweeney explains that
:Endgame "is not the feel-good hit
of the summer. But it's not just to
sadden you, either. It is a thinking
play." So, don't worry if you're un--
able to put your finger on the
theme. Maybe it is the actual fin-
ger-searching that it's all about.
And then again, maybe not.

claustrophobic, while Marks
Mankwane's guitar is a slightly
off-kilter James Brown riff with
hooking runs coming from places
so familiar that the names will be
on the tip of your tongue forever.
Don't let the folk label scare you
away; this is dance music that
Jam/ Lewis, L.A. and Babyface or
Teddy Riley couldn't make even
in their wildest dreams.
But the true stars of the show
are Mahlathini and the Mahotella
Queens, particularly live.
Renowned for whipping audiences
into rabid frenzies, even "no
excitement please, we're
intellectual folk aficionados"
types, Mahlathini et al. are the
world's most energetic live
performers south of the Bhundu
Boys, Papa Wemba and Fela Kuti.
Mahlathini plays the role of the
role of the preacher, exhorting his
congregation to experience the
majesty of life through an,
unrestrained exorcism of
physicality, while the Mahotella

Queens act as the chorus affirming
his words with their dulcet har-
monies.
Their vocal style is probably
the strangest call-and-response
music to hit uninitiated Western
ears since field hollers and work
songs. It's not because of the
Mahotella Queens, though. Their
sweet, soaring harmonies are as
close as the nearest African
Methodist church or your copy of
Marvin Gaye's "I Heard it Through
the Grapevine." Mahlathini, on the
other hand, is from the groaning
school of vocalizing. No joke, he
sounds like a goat bellowing
across a mountain range, warning
all other males in proximity that
this is his territory. His voice of
potent masculinity (one of his nu-
merous nicknames is Indoda
Mahlathini - "Mahlathini the
man") played off against the
flowing lyricism of the Mahotella
Queens is the source of- their
music's tension and irony, just like
in "Grapevine."

The exhilarating flights that
their music takes are among the
few examples of that Western
academic banter about
transcendence and true beauty.
Maybe singing along to "American
Pie" or the inevitable cover of
"Blowin' in the Wind" isn't your
cup of nostalgic white liberal
indigence, but the price of
experiencing some truly
miraculous music is never slight.
MAHLATHINI AND THE MA-
HOTELLA QUEENS play tomorrow
at THE FOURTEENTH ANN AR-
BOR FOLK FESTIVAL along with
Don Mclean, The Golden Ring,
Laura Lewis, Pat Donahue, Chris-
tine Lavin, Jane Siberry, Patty
Larkin, Robert Jones and Matt Wa-
troba. The show begins at 6 p.m. at
Hill Auditorium. Tickets are $19.50
and $17.50 at TicketMaster, plus
the evil service charge.

ENDGAME will be performed att
the Residential College Auditorium
in East Quad. tonight and tomorrow,
and next Thursday through Satur-
day, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5, stu
dents $3.

i

Falcon is also the first great work
of film noir, the dark, urban genre
of crime films that placed flawed
heroes in tense confrontations with
crooks and corruption.
Seven years later, Huston
teamed up with Bogart again for
Key Largo, a similarly dark film
about post-war apathy and the
return of the gangsters of the
1930s. Bogart is the reluctant hero,
a World War II veteran who,
during a Florida hurricane, is faced
with an old mob hood named
Johnny Rocco (what a name). As

the wonderfully slimy and paranoid
Rocco, Edward G. Robinson steals
the show. Unforgettable is Rocco's
first appearance: naked in a
bathtub with a cigar in his mouth,
he looks (as Huston described
him) like an "animal with its shell
off."
The most unusual of the three is
Beat the Devil, a satire of crime
films that mystified audiences in
1954. Huston ridicules even
himself here with direct references
to The Maltese Falcon. Part of the
See CINEMA, Page 9

________________. rtl)s'.T V. k J A AfF---_ FI4Llo4

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