Make it Snappy: PBS 'Sound Tracks' on WCNY next Monday

After Bloom, Marco Werman goes to Lagos, Nigeria, to explore music's purpose with the youngest son of legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti. The current Broadway musical "Fela!" recounts how Kuti -- inspired by the Black Panthers and Malcolm X -- combined 1970s U.S. jazz and funk with West Africa juju to create what he called Afrobeat, railing against the military regime's brutality and theft of oil profits in a mix of Pidgin English and Yoruba. Fela died in 1997 of AIDS; he had been arrested over 200 times and -- after the release of his '77 album "Zombie" -- his home torched and his elderly mother thrown out an upper-story window. Seun Kuti was just 14 when his father died, but took over Fela's band, the Egypt 80, and continues to carry on as cultural provocateur.

Then, after landing by balloon in the Kazakh capital's central marketplace and reminding us this culture dates back to Genghis Khan, reporter Arun Rath joins violinist Marat Bisengaliev -- "Kazakhstan's Itzhak Perlman" -- and travels with him to Hollywood. Sasha Baron Cohen's 2006 film "Borat" (actually filmed in Romania) offended Kazakhs in multiple ways. But Bisengaliev focused on the fake national anthem -- one line proudly hails the "cleanest prostitutes in the region" -- written by the filmmaker's brother, Erran. Bisengaliev invited the composer to write a symphony for Kazakhs as a way of making amends; "Sound Tracks" filmed its premiere performance and the Kazakh audience's response.

The short closing segment centers on the mournful traditional Portuguese bar songs called "fado" -- meaning fate or destiny -- usually sung by women in black, accompanied by drums and classical guitar. The diva Mariza, European sensation and star of Carlos Saura's film Fados, sings "Minh' Alma/My Soul" at a massive outdoor Lisbon concert.

Publicity for "Sound Tracks" promises it's good for a whole season and that subsequent shows will take us to bayou Louisiana, Havana, Paris, the desert music festivals of Mali, bluegrass country and Bollywood. But there's no word on a regular time slot, so my guess is that audience feed-back will count for a lot in whether we see more installments.

This article appears in the 1/21/2010 print edition of the Syracuse City Eagle. "Sound Tracks" debuts Monday, 1/25 at 10:00 PM on PBS stations nationally, including here in CNY on WCNY Channel 24. "Make it Snappy" is a regular film column. Nancy is a member of the national Women Film Critics Circle and the James Agee Cinema Circle. Reach her at nancykeeferhodes@gmail.com.

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