Artists of the Year

Framed, penned, screened, danced, sung, shot, delivered: City Pages lauds the artistic creations of 1999

He whistled a few bridges--and got an answer, the next few bridges of the song.

He later met the whistler; she was a teacher, imprisoned also. When they were both free, she went to work as his assistant.

I felt a little shy about my next question in the interview--after all, how many times do you ask a freedom fighter and supreme-court justice to whistle?--but he was quick in his assent. He closed his eyes and pursed his lips and, quite movingly, whistled the bars that became a bridge for him in prison, music that went from our booth to around the region.

You'd whistle back, too, if you had heard it.

It's not easy to get a copy of his memoir, but that should change next spring when an American edition is being reissued. He's due back in the States then--and, likely, Minnesota--so if you have a chance to hear him speak, do so. You might even ask him to whistle.


Katherine Lanpher is the host of Midmorning on Minnesota Public Radio.



by Jim Niland

On December 1, at the Dakota Bar and Grill, I witnessed perhaps the finest jazz set I will ever see. Abdullah Ibrahim and his trio played at a level of musicianship that was awe-inspiring. Spiritual is not too strong a word for the communion of the musicians. I never saw John Coltrane perform with his classic A Love Supreme quartet, but I can only imagine it must have been like this.

Ibrahim and his trio played a seamless, 90-minute suite of involving, inventive, and at times intense music. At certain moments one could hear the inspiration of chamber music, township jazz, Steve Reich, Ibrahim's legendary Cape Town Fringe album, and many other musical currents. For the entire hour-and-a-half the whole audience sat silently enraptured.

I have never experienced a finer pianist than Ibrahim. His technical command was incredible--whether it was a whisper-soft passage or a thundering chord cluster. But he was also a generous bandleader, showcasing the excellent stand-up bassist Belden Bullock and drummer George Gray.

The concert was particularly memorable as it was an unexpected delight. I had been a fan of Abdullah Ibrahim (formerly Dollar Brand) since being mesmerized by the album side-long track "Cape Town Fringe" when I got turned on to jazz in college. But I hadn't followed him closely in a while, and was unaware what a musical presence he had become. The surprise of that made the performance especially powerful.

Then, too, there is always something special about seeing a national treasure. Abdullah Ibrahim is a black South African who played at Nelson Mandela's inauguration after the pianist returned home from an exile brought on by his antiapartheid activities. At a time when so much of what passes for culture or music is devoid of political (or other) significance it gives me hope to see a musician like Ibrahim with spiritual discipline and integrity. We all need a little more of that.

Abdullah Ibrahim may never play here again--he had not been here for about a dozen years. But if he does come, you must go see him while you still can. Free jazz and free South Africa!


Jim Niland is a Minneapolis City Council member and the booker at Lee's Liquor Lounge.



by Jim Taylor

As I walked by the exit of a parking lot in Los Angeles early this year, a long-haired man rolled his shiny car toward me, fumbling with his money, not seeing me. I shouted, he hit his brakes and looked up. The moppet behind the wheel was Kato Kaelin, history's most famous houseguest, the accidental pop-culture superstar who had the great career fortune to be in the proximity of a brutal double murder. I should have let him hit me. Had I allowed O.J.'s flunky to roll his Lexus into me at three miles an hour, I might have parlayed that mild scrape into talk-show appearances, profitable litigation, and, most important of all, the kind of gratuitous, accidental fame that builds fortunes, elevates careers, and liberates schmucks like me from the tedium of obscurity.

Unearned fame is everywhere in America. Linda Tripp becomes famous for making Monica Lewinsky famous for servicing a famous man. Ivana and Marla are famous for marrying Donald Trump, whose own fame is built exclusively on being an obnoxious rich guy. Talent-free popsters like Britney Spears and Ricky Martin prove the supremacy of marketing over substance. The accidental fame that befalls these people is a transformational force majeure, turning inconsequential lives into crass, unconscious performance art. Yet they remain safely devoid of content, using their celebrity only to further their own celebrity. And for the working class, a will to give in to self-humiliation buys 15 minutes of fame on trash talk shows.

In my pursuit of the American presidency, I've tried to procure this kind of fame in order to promote a real political agenda. But my fatal mistake has been my serious purpose. Only by ridding myself of content and throwing myself in the path of celebrity vehicles do I stand a chance of winning the fame I need to become your president. So don't expect me to talk about national health care, a living wage, or a 30-hour work week anymore. I will now seek fame for the sole purpose of showing the world how great my ass looks in corduroy.

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