Saturday, 29 September 2012

Rhythm & Sax Orchestra - Shola Hits the Big Time

Received this invitation to the upcoming Rhythm & Sax Orchestra concert in Abuja on October 21. I thought the guy holding the sax in the poster looked awfully familiar and sure enough, it is Shola, my running buddy from Abuja in 2008 with whom I had lost touch. Looks like he has hit the big time: =N=10,000 for a VIP ticket to hear him play is a long way from scuffling for bar and hotel gigs. That's about 60 bucks for a seat! I phoned Shola and we will try to get together in Lagos soon.

It is great to see the progress he has made over the past four years. I met Shola the first week I was in Nigeria, at the Nigerian PGA tournament at the IBB Golf Course where I had been invited to sit in with the band. Shola was introduced to me as the best saxophone player in Abuja. Over the next six months or so we jammed innumerable times at my hotel room, at his house, and at various gigs. I've got a bunch of our rehearsal recordings in the can and even went so far as to write out the lead sheet to one of his compositions, which I've got in my book as Shola's Blues.

If you are in Abuja in late October and have the chance to see him perform, go for it. Here's a photo of Shola sitting in on keys with Dare Peter's band at the legendary Elephant Bar in Abuja back in November, 2008. Note the horn case hanging from his shoulder.

Shola Emmanuel on keys at the legendary Elephant Bar in Abuja, 2008. George on drums.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Drive All Night

Mark Sasse's short comedy-drama Drive All Night won the Audience Choice Award at the 2012 Short + Sweet Theatre Festival in Penang on September 15. It is the story of Sonny, who drives off into the night after a spat with his wife and is tormented by late night radio...

Drive All Night topped ten other productions over four nights to win the award. Jackie [Ashkin] can be seen playing Right Speaker, alongside Sarah Lim as Left Speaker and Joseph Stolzfus as Sonny. Amanda Khoo directed. Playwright Mark is Jackie's drama coach at Dalat International School. Congrats!

Special thanks to Festival Director Faridah Merican and Artistic Director Joe Hasham for bringing Short + Sweet to Penang Performing Arts Centre and for giving Jackie and cohort the chance to perform.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Smart Phones Stupid People

Jackie's original short play Smart Phones Stupid People is now up on YouTube for those who missed the performance at the Short + Sweet Theatre Festival in Penang. A comedy about a couple driving through the African savannah who spot a wild animal in the distance and decide to stop for the perfect Facebook profile picture (based on a true story, believe it or not...).

The Credits

Playwright: Jackie Ashkin; Director: Dr. Shark; Kangaroo: Nik Ahmad Aiman bin Nik Kamaluddin; Panda: Timmy Ong; Leopard/Goat: Dr. Shark; Festival Director: Dato' Faridah Merican; Artistic Director: Joe Hasham. Performed at the Short + Sweet Theatre Festival, Penang Performing Arts Centre, Penang, Malaysia, September 14, 2012.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Jackie Wins Short + Sweet Theatre's Best Newcomer Award

Jackie Ashkin Presented Best Newcomer Award by Faridah Merican and Mark Cleary
Short + Sweet Theatre Penang closed last night with its final run of eleven original 10-minute plays. Closing night concluded with presentation of awards for writers, actors, and directors based on cumulative scores from independent judges and the audience over the four nights of performances. 

Jackie [Ashkin] did really well! She won the "Best Newcomer Youth Award (Female)" from among a very talented group of players. Festival Artistic Director Joe Hasham was exceedingly kind with his words and commended Jackie for her potential both as a writer and as an actor. His advice was "Don't let her stop". 

Audience Choice Award: (L to R)
Mark Sasse, Mark Cleary, Faridah Merican, Jackie
Ashkin, Amanda Khoo, Joseph Stolzfus, Sarah Lim

But that is not all. Mark Sasse's Drive All Night, in which Jackie acted in a key supporting role, was named the "Audience Choice", coming out on top of the eleven productions despite being the very last play to be performed each night. Mark is Jackie's drama coach at Dalat. Rumour has it that Jackie's script Smart Phones Stupid People was the runner-up. A win for all. 

And her Smart Phones Stupid People won the Best Glitz + Glamour award for costumes, and two other awards as well. Dr. Shark ("Leopard") was named the festival's Best Director and actor Timmy Ong ("Panda") received the Festival Director's Award.

Short + Sweet founder Mark Cleary was in the house for Saturday's performance. Thanks go out to Mark for the great concept and to Festival Director Faridah Merican for bringing it to Penang. Short + Sweet is now off to Kuala Lumpur where there will be theatre, dance, stand-up comedy, and musicals at KLPAC over the next month. Try to catch at least one performance if you are in KL.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Short + Sweet Theatre in Penang

Jackie Ashkin in Short + Sweet Theatre Malaysia
Short + Sweet Theatre is a short play format drama festival that started in Australia and has expanded throughout the Asia-Pacific region over the past 10 years. Short + Sweet incorporates original scriptwriting, acting, and directing; participants are selected through a months-long competitive process at each festival location, and then a series of 10-minute mini-plays are produced and performed by the chosen troupe. Short + Sweet came to the Penang Performing Arts Centre this year for the first time, directed by Malaysian theatre icons Faridah Merican and Joe Hasham. Short + Sweet bills itself as "The Biggest Little Festival in the World" - short play festival that is - with four nights of performances at PPAC, September 12 through September 15. Last night, Friday, an engaged and responsive audience packed the house.
Smart Phones Stupid People

Jackie [Ashkin] was chosen as both a playwright and as an actor; easily the youngest writer in the bunch and also one of the youngest actors (some of the competitors included university professors!). Her script Smart Phones Stupid People got a ton of laughs with its outrageous direction by Dr. Shark and hilarious Malaysian-style comedy acting by Nik Ahmad Aiman bin Nik Kamaluddin and Timmy Ong. A 10-minute comedy about a technology-crazy couple driving through the African savannah and wanting to take a Facebook profile picture on an iPad after spotting a wild animal...the point being that no matter how smart the gadgets are, they don't make stupid people any smarter. The performance embellished the original script and Jackie had her first experience with having one of her scripts produced, directed, and acted independently. Quite an experience for a 16-year-old.

Curtain Call for Smart Phones Stupid People
The Playwright, Actors, and Directo
Jackie also acted in Mark Sasse's Drive All Night, in a supporting musical comedy role alongside Joseph Stolzfus and Sarah Lim, with Amanda Khoo directing. The comedy-drama is about a man driving through the night listening to the radio as he flees a spat with his wife. Jackie got to sing and dance her way through several rapid-fire prop changes, playing a succession of late-night radio performers and announcers. She received some of the night's loudest cheers and hoots from the audience. Jackie's characters included a Boy George imitator, a bored classical music announcer, a suggestive dancer, a heavily-accented car wash promoter, and a hard-sell direct mail advertiser.

Jackie in the Spotlight
Jackie Ashkin in Drive All Night
Saturday is the closing night of Short + Sweet Theatre in Penang and the house is expected to be sold out, SRO. Jackie regrets that the run was only four nights, already missing the camaraderie and performer's rush. Short + Sweet is a great concept that offers a forum for honest, original, professionally produced theatre with a variety of roles and concepts ranging from hard-hitting social commentary to local humour. The PPAC production was extremely well done from start to finish and we are already looking forward its return next year. All those involved are highly commended.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Amayo from Antibalas Guests with Femi Kuti's Band

Femi Kuti's regular Sunday night performance at the New Africa Shrine featured a special treat last night - vocalist Abraham Amayo from Antibalas sat in with the band during the warm-up set. Antibalas is a Brooklyn, New York based afrobeat orchestra that gained notoriety during the Broadway run of the Fela! musical. Amayo can really sing and he didn't move like an American. I googled him this morning and now it makes sense - he is of Nigerian descent although born in the UK and domiciled in the US. He may be the most capable guest artist I have seen at the Shrine these last few months. His two songs actually received applause from the usually stoic regulars at the Shrine. Have a listen

In researching Amayo and Antibalas (a very good afrobeat band, but incontrovertibly a US-based revival band), an irony became apparent - Antibalas made the front page of the New York Times Arts section about a month ago while at the same time, in its home country of Nigeria, afrobeat is virtually nonexistent outside the walls of the New Africa Shrine. Many of the artists and musicians who formed the style are lingering in obscurity and poverty. The NYT article spoke of afrobeat's "momentum" - which must be happening outside of Nigeria because it ain't much happening here. You have to wear big sunglasses, drive a huge car, and do hip-hop to be deemed a successful musician in Nigeria these days. Afrobeat is considered strictly "old school." Once again, the West has 'discovered' and co-opted a unique ethnic art form while back at home, the art form is on its deathbed. 

Catch this quote from the NYT article: “Now every town we go to in the States, Canada or Europe has its own local Afrobeat act,” he [the band's trombonist] said. “Or two or three or four.” Are you kidding me? I'm still looking for one place in Lagos other than the Shrine to hear live afrobeat. With so little interest in playing afrobeat among Nigeria's young people, I wonder if it will survive the decade as living culture in its homeland. Highly questionable. I really don't know what can be done about it since 42.8% of the Nigerian population is under the age of 15, which means they were born after Fela's death and have little or no exposure to his music. May be that afrobeat is something you will only hear from revival bands in Brooklyn in the future.