As one of the virtuoso jazz guitarists, Jean Baptiste ‘Django’ Reinhardt had many particularities. He was born in a caravan in 1910. His mother ‘La belle Laurence’ was a dancer and acrobat in a wandering Sinti group. His father Jean-Eugène Weiss, a musician, left mother and son only few years after. They called him by the nickname of Django – ‘I awaken’. He liked his red socks with the black suit. He loved his pet monkey. And he was about as renown for his pool billiard and gambling as for the musical skill. Faring from Belgium to North Africa he did not visit any school, did not read or write. Things changed with the more permanent residence at the ‘Porte de Choisy’ in the Paris periphery.
It was there that he skillfully learned to play the banjo, violin and guitar. It was there that he earned his first musical acclaim. It was there that he almost lost two fingers of his left hand and his left leg in the flames of a burning caravan. And it was there that he perfected his particular two finger plus thumb technique as a consequence – playing even as a Django ‘in chains’, breaking free.
With the French violinist Stéphane Grappelli he shared the passion for American jazz and swing. And with the Quintette du Hot Club de France they co-founded an innovative eyclusively string jazz band. One of the few European jazz groups with great popularity in most of Europe and the US at the time, they perfected their jazz manouche. Repeatedly being featured by touring masters like Coleman Hawkins, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and their kind.
He has inspired many. Together with Stéphane Grappelli he contributed numerous masterpieces. One of them being the controversial Marseillaise interpretation Echoes of France recorded upon their reunion in London after WW II in 1946. Perceived as ‘offensive’, French authorities decided to censor and ban this piece for ten years. New chains. Maybe he was an outlaw. Reinhardt-inspired title and story line of the 1966 Italian Western film Django seem to suggest the same. They also served as a starting point for Django being ‘unchained’ just recently. Sixty years after his premature death. And almost fourty after he broke loose. All this time his music has prevailed. Just like the Sinti in the Paris outskirts.
Django Reinhardt Unchained (1946)
Non-discrimination is an issue which requires attention all around the world. Not only is it an abstract human right which has been accorded some prominent attention in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It rather manifests itself in the very concrete situations in the life of many. Those stories can be told. They can create rather singular and specific attention. But they can ideally also trigger awareness. Specific attention cumulating in the more general awareness is an ambition of many. Those who possess the gift of working with the medium of film have a strong tool at hand to create it.
The background to the film project Punishment Island can be perceived as a rather specific case. In south-western Uganda, at Lake Bunyonyi, a practice existed in which women were banned from society for pre-marital sexual relationships. Not only were they stigmatised, they were taken to Akampene Island in the lake: Punishment Island. Director and Producer Laura Cini saw and experienced the impact of this practice during her stay in the region. She also came to understand the impact this practice has had on the banned and their relatives. She and her team are not solely striving for attention. They are aspiring to create awareness – amongst the local communities and those who will see the moving images once produced.
Strength and dedication of the team cannot carry this project alone. As often the case, money is an issue. Of course, monetary contributions can be made in a setting of complete non-discrimination. Contributions to a project which may well contribute itself in adding to the first article of the Universal Declaration: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” …and sisterhood.
Punishment Island from Laura Cini on Vimeo.
There has been much acclaim for 28-year-old Gary Clark Jr. from Austin, Texas, before and around his recent first official album release of ‘Blak and Blu’ (released in the US on 22 October 2012). And there is more to this ‘guitar man’ than the news that he has continuously been mentioned with good reason next to giant musical predecessors like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton or Steevie Ray Vaughan. He has performed next to Sheryl Crow, Citizen Cope, Alicia Keys, Damian Marley, and The Roots band leader and drummer Questlove amongst others. He has also had his share of an exposure to the political sphere. Sometimes pro-actively, at times acceptingly, certainly with the necessary blues.
Gary Clark Jr. Day has been celebrated in his hometown on 3 May ever since he was 17 years old and the local mayor introduced it. He has been invited to and applauded the ‘Red, White and Blues’ 21 February 2012 official White House event where he performed next to B.B. King, Jeff Beck, Warren Haynes, Mick Jagger and others in front of a particularly ‘selected’ crowd. While he musically claims that ‘Times Are Changin’, he is also attempting to contribute his own more tangible share to this very change. Playing at the 2011 Black Ball of the Keep A Child Alive foundation – co-founded by Alicia Keys and Leigh Blake to combat HIV/AIDS on the African continent and in India – he helped raise a total of USD 3 million to benefit the foundation’s work. He also played a Sandy relief concert in New York’s Brooklyn Bowl on election day 6 November with monetary, food and goods donations being collected and directed to hurricane victims. In his one-off cinematic appearance he also featured in the movie Honeydripper – a symbiosis of themes which could hardly have been more suitable: civil rights, discrimination and: the blues!