Posts

Diepsloot, South Africa: Sitting in the offices of Lawyers Against Abuse (LvA), Thelma Mwale, 23, said that before she joined the organization’s Sexual Violence Workshop last spring, she did not understand much about abuse. “Before I used to judge people, like if a woman was being beaten up I was like ‘maybe she did something wrong,’” she said from Diepsloot, an area north of Johannesburg, South Africa. “I have a friend who has been abused for almost three years now [so] that is why I was so interested and I want to get her out of that abusive relationship.” Read more

LONDON — It turns out, the hay bales caused it. Sitting in a cafe a stone’s throw from the Royal Opera House in London, the opera singer Pretty Yende of South Africa whipped out her smartphone to show an Instagram photo of herself in a surgical mask during rehearsals for her London debut in the opera “L’Elisir d’Amore” in May. She had come to London two weeks earlier for rehearsals for her role as Adina, and for the first two days she could not stop sneezing.

“I thought, ‘It is London, it is worse than Milan, and it is this time of year and you expect it,’ ” she said referring to pollen allergies and adding that when she is not traveling she resides in Milan. “But the moment I entered the rehearsal room the worse it became,” and in her apartment that night she was convinced she was getting a cold.

But the next day she realized that the small rehearsal room was filled with raffia — palms that are found in tropical parts of Africa — made to look like hay bales for props for the opera, and it (or the dust on it) got her allergies churning, and she had to take a week off. She asked for a mask to use during rehearsals, and found that it actually helped her become more conscious of her sound. Once the raffia was moved onto the large stage, her allergies calmed down.

“It was interesting technically because I found and learned things I was not aware I was doing,” she said. “The sound that comes out, I do not need to open my mouth so much.”

She will reprise the role of Adina — minus the allergies, she hopes — at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in January and will also perform the title role in “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the Met starting in March, a role she will also perform at the Deutsche Oper Berlin later this month. It is a busy time for the 32-year-old, who will be performing in “Fra Diavolo” at Teatro Dell’Opera di Roma in October and “La Fille du Regiment” at Seville’s Teatro Della Maestranza during November and December — and her second album, “Dreams,” will be released at the end of October.

Read more

africa

There is a fantastic show on BBC2 about space, “The Wonders of Space”, which reminded me of a story I had been commissioned to write for Newsweek two years ago but it never ended up being published…

Meet Mary Phoolo, Lesotho’s first cosmologist. The 30 year-old mother of one is finishing up her Masters’ degree at South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal and will begin a PhD later in the year looking into how future cosmic microwave background datasets may be used to probe the early universe. It’s an amazing feat that Phoolo wants to focus on the study of the universe; there are no courses in astrophysics taught in her country and she never had any introduction to the field until her late 20s. Growing up under the wide-open skies of southern Africa, Phoolo knew there was something that intrigued her about the universe; she just never knew how to explore it. “I remember I used to wonder how the universe was [created], how the structures like planets and stars formed and so many other questions,” Phoolo recalls. “However I was not aware that there were people [actually] studying the universe.” But Cape Town’s African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) changed all that. She entered the postgraduate program planning to focus on epidemiology in order to help her nation control its booming HIV/AIDS problem. But taking a three-week module in astrophysics, she fell in love with cosmology. Her goal now is go home to Lesotho to teach university students the wonders of the universe. “I want to go back there and motivate them, get kids interested in this field that I love,” says Phoolo. Read more

knaan

If anybody has a story to rap about, it’s hip-hop artist K’Naan. Born in Mogadishu, the Somali rapper (real name: Kanaan Warsame) fired his first AK-47 at the age of 8; at 11 he blew up half his school when he accidentally detonated a hand grenade. By the time he and his mother fled Somalia in 1991, he had already seen three of his friends shot dead. The family settled in Toronto, where the young refugee learned English partially through rap songs. He released his first album in 2002, and his follow-up, Troubadour, to wide acclaim last year; its single “Wavin’ Flag” has been chosen as the official anthem of this year’s World Cup, to be held in June in South Africa, and will be featured in Coca-Cola ads that will play in 150 countries. Addressing the issues of poverty and political freedom, the song blends African and Western pop with rock and rap, in the style known as Afropop. “With my experiences and where I come from, the sounds and melodies that speak to me, I could not possibly put all that into the narrow idea of music popular in the West,” says K’Naan. “I felt I needed to bring all my experiences together, put them in a pot and serve them like that.” Read more