Friday, 30 September 2016

Nakhane Touré

So far in our trips around the world we haven't visited Africa. I say it's high time we do. Ladies and gentleman, here's South Africa's very talented son, an out and proud gay man, Nakhane Touré.

Born Nakhane Mavuso in 1988, in a small town in the Eastern Cape called Alice, he was adopted by his aunt, Nothemba, who gave him Mahlakahlaka for a surname, he moved to Port Elizabeth when he was seven, and at 16 he moved to Johannesburg, where he's still residing.

His maternal side of the family was very musical, so he grew up in an environment of singers and choirs. When he was in primary school he studied the trombone classically, while playing other instruments like the piano, steel drums, drums, marimbas, and then later the guitar. He changed his surname to Touré as a way of honouring his hero, Ali Farka Touré, the Malian singer and multi-instrumentalist. On his Facebook page he lists his cultural influences: Marvin Gaye, Mark Hollis, Busi Mhlongo, Nick Drake, Madala Kunene, Fela Kuti, Radiohead, Pharoah Sanders, Herbie Hancock (70s), Miles Davis (70s), DM Stith, Joni Mitchell, Ali Farka Touré, Arthur Russell, Henry Miller, Will Oldham, Toni Morrison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Holy Bible.

You may notice that there are authors, as well as musicians, listed as his influences. That's because he's also an accomplished author, having published the novel Piggy Boy’s Blues a year ago. More importantly, I love his views on reading, especially since the first book he references is one of my all-time favorites. Listen to what he's saying:

"I remember being a young queer boy, coming to terms with the fact that I felt like an outsider all my life and picking out James Baldwin’s Just Above My Head. That book saved my life because here was someone who felt like me. It made me accept that my feelings were not crazy."

"Reading has made me not kill myself. It’s important for any reader to be able to connect with a book, even if the writer is from a different generation and on the other side of the world. Reading books that had characters like myself helped me deal with a ton of things. Like Toni Morrison said, if you’re not reading what you want to read, you’re in a good position to write it yourself. That’s how my book Piggy Boy’s Blues came about."

"I started writing to exorcise my demons. Any writer that says they were initially writing for people is not telling the truth, because on some level, any sort of creative work is selfish and you’re doing it to please yourself first. Before even thinking about publishing, I just wanted to get something out of me. I wanted to cleanse myself by writing it out."

"The most difficult thing in writing the book was finding my own voice. I have lots and lots of heroes, how do I use my influences from those heroes but mixing it them up in order for it to be me? To write like myself has been difficult and the only thing that’ll help fine-tune my voice is to keep writing."

"The challenging thing after my book got published is the separation between the book and Nakhane. In the beginning, I felt like I had to hammer the fact that it is not an autobiography or a memoir. But someone advised me that you can never write yourself out of your work because it’s your work so I decided to let it be. On some level, of course, I’m using myself and my experiences in the book because I can access those feelings to feel like the character. The book is not biographical but it is intimate. I’m not bothered by it anymore, if it helps the reader connect to the book, that’s okay. I’ve done the work and how you chose to enjoy it is up to you."

The title of his debut album, Brave Confusion, which came out in 2013, is derived from James Baldwin’s seminal novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain.

The opening track, Christopher, is a touching and effective dedication to his lover of the same name. He is a Manchester (England) expat whom Touré met online. Touré says: “We are not an item, we are lovers. I love Christopher so much it hurts.” The song was also a single:

The first official music video from Brave Confusion, however, was for Fog, a very emotionally profound song:

The album had great reviews. NME wrote: "One of the brightest new stars in the African musical sky - a wonderful singer songwriter destined for a very big future". Rolling Stone wrote: "Nakhane Toure is a gifted young singer-songwriter (he's better than Thom Yorke at the same age)". For this album, Nakhane has received four South African Music Awards nominations including: Album Of The Year, Best Alternative Album, Newcomer Of The Year, Male Artist Of The Year.

Another great single that comes with an excellent video is In The Dark Room.

When asked about how difficult it was for him to come to terms with being gay in his particular culture, he gave a very thoughtful reply: “I can’t speak for other cultures. I’m Xhosa and there’s a huge spotlight on masculinity and what it means to be a man in Eastern Cape. So I did everything. I went through the rites of passage of being Xhosa. I went to the mountain,” he says. This despite him not wanting to go.

“I remember my mother used to tell me: ‘Just go, and get it over with. Satisfy your father and after that, you can do whatever you like with your life,’” he says.

Touré says his uncle, Langa Mavuso, is a tribal chief in Alice. This makes him the custodian of culture in his community. It also means pressure for boys in his family, including Touré, who at this stage was battling with his sexual orientation. The two came face to face on gender issues during a family lunch when Mavuso was being inaugurated into the chieftaincy.

“I remember we were talking about these things and I said to him: ‘But malume, phaya ebuhlanti (there at the kraal or initiation school), there are men having sex with other men.’ And he didn’t even try to get away from it." He said: ‘Yes, but we don’t talk about it.’ I couldn’t believe it. Then I said I wanted to talk about it.”

But there came a point when the struggle had to end, says Touré with a sigh. “I began to accept that maybe I might never always agree with certain people about how I should behave,” he says. “Who I’m in bed with, who I’m supposed to love, and what consumes my mind, and who I’m supposed to write songs about.”

Abraham, from the same album, is another song that you should listen to. Here's a beautiful live version:

Here's a live version of the song Tabula Rasa:

In mid 2015 he collaborated with South African multi-award winning record producer and DJ Black Coffee and together they released We Dance Again, which became a #1 hit in South Africa for 5 non-consecutive weeks. Only Justin Bieber and Adele managed to knock the song off the top of the charts.

Nakhane's second album came out in the end of 2015: it was more of an Extended Play really, containing just four songs and clocking under 17 minutes. Opening song The Plague is a strong first single:

Blackened and Bruised is the song that closes the EP. Another excellent song by Touré:

I will close this with Nakhane's own words:

"Thank you for recognizing a South African artist. There are many different musicians and artists in this country who don’t have the confidence to come out. I know for a fact that I’m not the only one. Hopefully with this support, more will find the courage to come out."

As a farewell song, here's a live cover of the Cure's Just Like Heaven from 2013.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Ivri Lider

Today our travels take us to the land of Israel, which has developed a thriving gay scene in the last few years. Israeli gay cinema is remarkable, and there are also a few shining examples in Pop music. Ivri Lider is one of the most prominent.

Ivri Lider (Hebrew: עברי לידר‎‎; born 10 February 1974) is an Israeli Pop star and part of the duo TYP also known as The Young Professionals. He is one of the biggest-selling contemporary artists in Israeli music, and has won the Male Singer of the Year honor from Israeli national and local radio stations since entering the Israeli music scene in the late 1990s. He has sold more than 200,000 records.

Born on a Kibbutz in 1974, Ivri took his first musical steps while still in high school. At the age of 17, he started a group called Everyone Does It Like This, whose gigs included a performance at the legendary Roxanne Club in Tel Aviv. As he continued to refine musical skills throughout his teen years, renowned Israeli modern dance choreographer Anat Danieli commissioned Lider to compose the music for two of her pieces, Kisses and October. Shortly thereafter, he was tapped by Ohad Naharrin to compose the music for Kaamos, which Naharrin choreographed for the famous Dutch dance company, NDT. And at the young age of 21, Israel’s leading dance company, Bat Sheva, chose Lider to compose the entire score for Z/NA, making him the youngest person to compose an entire evening of music in the company’s history.

A couple of years later, Helicon Records signed Ivri to produce his first album after receiving his demo tape in the mail. His debut album, Melatef Umeshaker (Caressing And Lying), was produced by Yo’ad Nevo and released in 1997. The singles Leonardo and Tamid Ahava (Always Love) were overnight radio hits, skyrocketing the record to Platinum status.

Here's Leonardo:

... And here's Always Love:

His second studio album, Yoter Tov Klum Me'kimat (Nothing Is Better Than Almost), was released in 1999. Written entirely by Lider, who co-produced it with Nevo, the album included hit singles such as Chultzat Pasim (Striped Shirt), Ha'kos Ha'kchula (The Blue Glass), and Yoter Tov Klum (Better Than Nothing). The album went platinum.

Here's Striped Shirt:

Here's The Blue Glass:

In January 2002, Lider spoke openly about his sexual orientation in a cover-story interview to the daily newspaper Ma'ariv, which attracted a lot of attention. He later said, "On a personal level, I felt complete and happy with my life and who I am, and I didn't see any reason to not talk about it. It seemed strange to have an interview and not to talk about it, about my boyfriend, about my life. On a less personal level, I felt it's kind of my obligation. When you're an artist and you're doing well and you're successful, you get a lot of love and appreciation and energy and good things from people, and I think you need to give it back. Maybe I can influence people and help younger people that struggle – help them to be able to change their views, and stuff like that."

His coming out to his family happened a few years earlier. In his own words: "I came out really late – at 24 – to my mom first. It went something like this: Me: I met someone last night. Mom: A girl or a boy? [moms always know…] Me: A boy Mom: Oh, cool. There’s pasta in the fridge."

January 2002 also saw the release of Lider's third studio album, Ha'anashim Hachadashim (The New People). This time out, the production was a solo run for Lider, who came up with a new electronic sound. Ha'anashim Hachadashim produced a number of hits, including Batei Kafe (Coffee Houses) and Al Kav Hamayim (On the Water Line).

Here's Coffee Houses:

Here's On the Water Line:

The album also contained a cover of Ehud Manor's Geshem Acharon (Last Rain) that was especially recorded for the Shirutron, an annual fundraising program. Here it is:

During the same year, Lider collaborated with Idan Raichel, who was at the time playing keyboards in his band. Lider produced and arranged the song Bo'i (Come), which went on to become a chart topper for Raichel.

Expanding his scope of interest, Ivri composed original music for Eytan Fox and Gal Uchovsky’s gay classic film Yossi and Jagger (2002). The soundtrack included a cover of Rita’s 1980s hit Bo (Let's) sung by Ivri. This new interpretation of Rita’s classic hit received rave reviews and became one of 2003’s most popular tracks on radio throughout the country.

Ivri also collaborated with actress Meital Duhan. Their show Love and Sex During the Days of Awe combined music, theatre and recitation that were especially created for it.

In 2004, Lider again composed music for another Fox/Uchovsky queer classic, Walk On Water, the soundtrack of which included a rendition of the classic Esther and Avi Ofarim hit Cinderella Rockefella sung by Rita and Ivri.

The soundtrack also features a remix of Ivri’s edgy rock song, Mary La'Netzach (Mary Forever).

Ivri's next album, Ze Lo Oto Davar (It’s Not The Same Thing) was released in February 2005 and immediately became a hit, again reaching gold status in no time. In this album, Ivri decided to create a different sound. An orchestra of 40 musicians played the string instruments heard throughout the album. Ivri’s musical gamble paid off. The album’s first single, Zachiti Le'ehov (I’ve Known Love), was a soft, sweet piano-based single that became an instant success, further solidifying Ivri’s place as a leading Israeli musician.

Another single from this album was Lehavin Et Hamayim (Understanding the Water).

In October 2005, Ivri was given the Male Singer of the Year award from all the major national and local radio stations, and was then awarded Best Male Singer and Best Live Show at the Israeli Music Awards. In June 2006, Ivri’s 3rd collaboration with Eytan Fox and Gal Uchovsky produced the score for their newest feature film, The Bubble (probably my favorite of their movies). This time Ivri also appeared in a beautiful cameo where he sang the Gershwin classic, The Man I Love.

The ending credits of the movie feature another cover song by Lider, Song to the Siren.

Since the original by Tim Buckley is one of my all-time favorite songs, I can't resist the urge to present it:

For Lider, 2007 was a busy year. In May, Sony Music released its first LGBT compilation under their boutique label, Music With A Twist. Ivri (with his song, Jesse), was the only non-American artist chosen to appear on the CD. The video for Jesse received widespread buzz in the blogosphere.

In June, Ivri wrapped up his 2 year, 300-performance tour. For the remainder of 2007, Ivri finished production on Rita’s album, Remazim (Clues). At the same time, he continued working on his 5th Hebrew album, Be'ketzev Achid Be'tnuot Shel Ha'guf (The Steady Rhythm of Body Movements), released on September 2008. The opening track was called Rak Tevakesh (Just Ask).

For Israel's 2008 International Music Awards Lider recorded a quiet and melancholic version of Katy Perry's hit I Kissed a Girl.

In the beginning of 2011, Ivri has completed his work on the soundtrack of Aluminium – a dance performance that has gone nationwide. a Few months later, on July 2011, Ivri has launched his new art-music project The Young Professionals, or TYP, in collaboration with producer Johnny Goldstein, a prodigy in the Tel Aviv music scene. The first single D.I.S.C.O. (a remake of the Ottawan hit) was released in Israel and in France.

On September 2011, Ivri released 20 Seconds, the new single by The Young Professionals.

Ivri's next album came out in 2012 and was called Mishehu Pa'am (Somebody Once). The title track is a beautiful song:

His last album (so far) came in 2015. Ha'ahava Ha'zot Shelanu (This Love of Ours) contains Hayiti Kan (I Was Here), a haunting duet with Nathan Goshen:

Ivri is currently serving as a judge on The X Factor Israel and is hopefully working on his English-speaking album that he has promised us. Don't take too long, Ivri!

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Ricky Martin

Today we'll be dealing with a person who needs no introduction: he's very well known all over the world. He was a charming child star, who grew up to be a beautiful young man and is now an very handsome daddy. Dedicated to my good friend Carlos (if you're reading this, lots of love from me, Ito), here's Puerto Rico's own Ricky Martin.

Named Enrique Jose Martin Morales by his parents, Enrique Martin Negroni and Nereida Morales, Ricky was born on December 24, 1971, in Hato Rey, a small peninsula located in the area of Puerto Rico's capital city, San Juan. Martin in an interview with Vanity Fair described his origins as Spanish, with Basque ancestry from his great-grandparents, plus some Corsican through his paternal grandmother.

His interest in performing arts had been apparent to everyone since he was still a student of Colegio Sagrado Corazon grade school, for the little boy was actively involved in its plays and choir. Taking singing lessons and some auditions for TV commercials, he successfully joined a Latin boy band, Menudo, at the age of 12 with the encouragement of his separated parents who had their divorce when he was merely 2 years old.

The first Menudo album that he appeared on was Evolución (1984). He sang lead vocal on Rayo De Luna, one of the group's most popular songs of the era.

If you prefer to hear the song in English, Ricky obliged by recording it as Oh, My Love in their next album called Menudo (1985). Here's a live version in Miami, 1986:

From their next album, Ayer Y Hoy (Yesterday and Today/1985), here's Me Siento Bien Con Mis Amigos (I Feel Good With My Friends):

From Refrescante (Refreshing/1986), here's Con Un Beso Y Una Flor (With A Kiss And A Flower):

Although Martin enjoyed traveling and performing onstage with Menudo, he found the band's busy schedule and strict managing to be exhausting and later reflected that the experience "cost" him his childhood. He considered leaving the group while on tour in Brazil, but ultimately decided to stay out of fear of media backlash and being sued for breach of contract. Martin also began struggling with his sexuality, noting the stark contrast between his status as a sex symbol and his own emotions.

Ricky Martin's last album with Menudo came in 1988 and was called Sombras & Figuras (Shadows and Figures). Here he sings Auxilio (Help):

Following his departure, Ricky went to New York with the purpose to develop a solo career, but he soon found out that it was such a hard task, since there was no career prospects for him. Unemployed for a year, he went to Mexico, which turned out to be a right decision for he later earned a role in the musical play "Mama ama el Rock" and even secured a record deal with Sony. As his debut album came out in 1991, people also began to notice him in the regular cast of the Mexican soap opera, "Alcanzar una Estrella II." The self-titled album sold 500,000 copies worldwide to become one of the highest debuts for a Latin artist under Sony, leading Ricky to a considerable national popularity. First single was Fuego Contra Fuego (Fire Against Fire) and peaked at #3 on the US Latin chart.

Second single El Amor de Mi Vida (The Love of My Life) peaked at #8 on the US Latin chart.

From his second album Me Amarás (You'll Love Me/1993), the title track peaked at #6 on the US Latin chart.

After this album, Ricky headed back to North America, this time deciding to go to Los Angeles. He turned his attention to acting for a while, and managed to appear on an episode of the NBC comedy series, "Getting By" (1993-1994). Ricky then satisfyingly took one step further when ABC gave him the role of Miguel Morez in its long-running series, "General Hospital". During this period, he returned to music, entering the recording studio to work on his third album which later was entitled A Medio Vivir (In The Midst Of Living/1995). A collection of Pop, Rock and Latin tunes, it immediately became a hit around the world with 600,000 copies sold within six months and ultimately selling over three million copies, worldwide. That number includes 1.3 million copies sold in Europe.

Lead single Te Extraño, Te Olvido, Te Amo (I Miss You, I Forget You, I Love You) peaked at #9 on the US Latin chart (#2 Latin Pop), but also at #4 in France, where it went gold.

His next single, María was his international breakthrough: a #1 hit in Australia and France, #2 Latin Pop, #3 in Germany, Sweden and Switzerland, #6 in the UK, #9 in Finland and #11 in Spain. It was also his first US Hot 100 hit, albeit at #88.

In 1997 he had a #10 US Latin Pop hit with the song from Hercules, No Importa La Distancia (Go The Distance):

His next album, Vuelve (Come Back/1998), was even bigger, selling over 8 million copies, worldwide. The album's biggest hit, La Copa de la Vida (The Cup Of Life), became the official song of the 1998 FIFA World Cup and topped the charts in many countries around the world (Germany, France, Australia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland).

Ricky Martin was already a superstar. His next album, however, which came out in 1999 with his name as the title, made him a megastar. The album is one of the best selling albums of all time and has sold 22 million copies, worldwide. It's his first album in English.

His biggest and most enduring hit came out of this album: Livin' la Vida Loca gave him his first #1 in the US as well as in the UK and was a big Top 10 hit everywhere else.

His next album, Sound Loaded (2000) also did very well, with worldwide sales of over eight million copies. Biggest hit of the album was She Bangs (#12 in the US, Top 5 in most of Europe). Since most of you know the English language version, here's the Spanish language one:

Another big international hit from this album was Nobody Wants to Be Lonely, a duet with Christina Aguilera.

Almas del Silencio (Souls from the Silence) is the seventh album and the first Spanish language album by Ricky Martin since 1998's Vuelve. It was released on May 20, 2003. It includes Asignatura Pendiente (Pending Subject), inspired by the first time Martin left Puerto Rico to tour with Menudo.

His next album, Life (2005), was one of his most personal releases to date. The big hit from this album was I Don't Care (ft. Fat Joe & Amerie).

His MTV Unplugged (2006) album featured Tu Recuerdo (I Remember You). Singing with him are La Mari De Chambao.

Lo Mejor de Mi Vida Eres Tú (The Best Thing About Me Is You/2010), as were many other of his hits, was released in two versions. The English language version featured Joss Stone while the Spanish language version featured Natalia Jimenez. Here's the latter:

Aside from his professional singing career, Ricky is also well known for his humanitarian efforts, especially where children are concerned. Through the "Ricky Martin Foundation," he participated in the battle against child prostitution, pornography, and trafficking. Another project was to donate a million dollar's worth of musical instruments to Puerto Rican public schools and to fight for children's rights on a global basis under the People for Children program. However, this does not mean that he ignored other pressing issues such as building and restoring houses for the Tsunami victims in Phang Nga province, Thailand and being an active supporter of the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, the Carousel of Hope, and the Rainforest Foundation.

After the success of Livin' la Vida Loca, Martin's personal life became a subject of interest due to his large gay following, and he was questioned about his sexual orientation. In a December 2000 interview with The Mirror, Martin was asked to comment on the rumors surrounding his sexuality. He replied that "I don't think I should have to tell anyone if I am gay or not, or who I've slept with or not." On March 29, 2010, he publicly acknowledged his homosexuality in a post on his official website stating, "I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am." Martin said that "these years in silence and reflection made me stronger and reminded me that acceptance has to come from within, and that this kind of truth gives me the power to conquer emotions I didn't even know existed."

In 2011, during his acceptance speech of the Vito Russo Award. Martin publicly thanked his boyfriend, Carlos González Abella, an economist. His relationship with González Abella ended in January 2014. Martin has also expressed support for same-sex marriage in an interview on Larry King Live, and commented on his experience of being closeted and coming out. "Everything about saying that I am gay feels right...", Martin stated, adding "if I'd known how good it was going to feel, I would have done it ten years ago." Ricky Martin delivered a speech at the UN homophobia conference on November 12, 2012. As of April 2016, he is dating Syrian Swedish painter Jwan Yosef. Ricky's twin sons Matteo and Valentino were born using a surrogate in 2008.

Ricky continues making hit records till today. Although never reaching the commercial heights of the period 1995-2005, he still manages to collect his gold and platinum records, while making good music. His latest album came out in 2015. The single La Mordidita (ft. Yotuel) made #1 on the US Latin Pop chart, also in Venezuela and in the Dominican Republic, #3 in Spain and #13 in Mexico.