First Steps to Freedom: A Mandela Moment in Time

It is the only historical event in modern times that literally takes my breath away whenever I see a picture of it or stop and think of it, with time itself standing still and my heart overwhelmed just in the simple act of remembering that day. No other event ever does that to me. I’m talking about the moment Nelson Mandela walked out of prison in South Africa on 11 February 1990 — today, exactly 30 years ago.

Read more...
Comments

From Syrinx to Rio, A Writer Remembered

The first time I heard Rush on the radio was the very moment when I began to take notice of rock musician Neil Peart as a writer in his own right. I even remember when and where it all started: It was sometime in early 1980; I had just turned 21. On a warm afternoon, in my car with the windows rolled down and the radio blasting, I was on my way to the beach and stopped at a traffic light at a major intersection in town when the “The Spirit of Radio” from the new Rush album Permanent Waves came over the airwaves of a local FM rock radio station. Peart’s drumming especially knocked me out, and I soon got the LP record and found an even greater musical feast to be had: the song lyrics that Peart wrote for almost the whole album.

Read more...
Comments

Hamba Kahle to a South African Son

Hamba kahle in the Xhosa and Zulu languages of South Africa is a commonly expressed heartfelt wish for a deceased person to “go well” on their spiritual journey in the Great Beyond. Another commonly heard English phrase at South African funerals is that someone “ran a good race” during his/her lifetime on Earth, having lived a life worthy of praise.

Such terms of endearment are among the many now being expressed throughout South Africa for renowned musician Johnny Clegg, who passed away at his home in Johannesburg a few days ago at the all-too-young age of 66. He had succumbed to pancreatic cancer.

Read more...
Comments

One Hundred Years of Madiba

Nelson Mandela, in his lifetime, had a way of getting people’s attention. Whether it was living up to his African childhood name of Rolihlahla — “one who shakes the tree” or stirs up trouble — or serving as the first chief of a liberation army connected to his political party, the African National Congress, or going to prison for nearly three decades for his beliefs, or emerging from that prison hell to become the first elected president of a free and democratic South Africa, he commanded people’s attention and could not be ignored.

The same holds true in death. Mandela died at age 95 in December 2013, but less than five years later, South Africa and the world this year are celebrating the centenary of Madiba, the tribal clan name by which most South Africans affectionately know Mandela, their beloved former leader.

Read more...
Comments

Parry’s Way: Journalism as It Should be Done

All the recent obituaries, eulogies and rightful praise for the work of the late American investigative journalist Robert Parry have now moved on by, leaving us only to reflect on the impact that his kind of journalism has had on the mass media field in our time and, just as importantly, where that kind of journalism could and should go from here.

Read more...
Comments

Playing the Soundtrack of Our Lives

There are many contemporary musical artists around whose work touches us deeply, inspires us, motivates us, tells our life stories in their lyrics and songs. We think of them as playing the soundtrack of our very lives.

A select few musicians in the world, though, rise to the status of soundtrack-makers for entire cultures, peoples and nations. Hugh Masekela, the South African jazz trumpeter who passed on recently at the age of 78, is among that highly regarded level of musical giants. His music was the soundtrack of a nation-in-the-making, South Africa, and spoke directly to countless numbers of people around the globe, especially in the African diaspora.

Read more...
Comments

Memories of a Grassroots Man

It has been heartwarming and heartbreaking, inspiring and saddening, all at the same time, to see all the tributes to and news coverage about Native American elder and activist Dennis Banks, in the wake of his passing on 29 October at age 80.

Banks is most well known for having co-founded the American Indian Movement in the late 1960s at a turbulent time in modern history and the many confrontations he led or joined in during that time, most notably the 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, USA. He was a warrior who stood up when his people most needed him, when the times most demanded it, and for that he will always be remembered and loved.

Read more...
Comments

The Boy in the Picture: A Remembrance

A 16-year-old Japanese boy lies face down on a hospital bed, his eyes closed and face partially obscured from view. His back and arms, oozing blood and pus, show the severe radiation burns he suffered during the atomic bombing of his city, Nagasaki, just five months before by the United States. He is still clinging to life and the Japanese doctors keeping him in a bath of penicillin to fight off infection seem amazed that the boy is still alive.

Read more...
Comments

Remembering ‘Dark Alliance’ (3)

High up in a skyscraper overlooking the port of San Francisco, California, Coral Talavera Baca began telling the story of “Dark Alliance” that no one in the USA had yet heard. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon, 15 February 1997, and a TV documentary program crew from Japan (for which I served as coordinator) had her wired for sound and the video camera rolling. It was all going on the record — her first public comments ever in regard to the controversial “Dark Alliance” investigation by San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb that was published the year before.

Read more...
Comments

Remembering ‘Dark Alliance’ (2)

There is nothing like a little police harassment to lend an air of authenticity to producing a TV documentary on the so-called “drug scourge”, and that, appropriately enough, is just what I and a couple other Japanese members of a video production team first experienced upon our landing at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on Sunday afternoon, 9 February 1997.

Read more...
Comments

Remembering ‘Dark Alliance’ (1)

It was late in the afternoon on a September day in 1996, when my wife and I and our young son, then just a couple years old, visited a small retail store in West Los Angeles that U.S. filmmaker Spike Lee had recently opened to promote merchandise from his various films. Being a fan of Lee’s work at the time, I knew his store, “Spike’s West”, was one of the places we had to visit during our brief vacation in L.A. before we returned home to Japan.

As we walked into the store that late afternoon, my eye caught a set of free newspapers sitting on a small vertical rack on the sidewalk just outside the shop. I paused to browse through them. They were local African American community newspapers, and a front-page story on one of them immediately pulled me in.

Read more...
Comments

Peace Be to Brother Ali

As the news spread about the passing of former boxing great Muhammad Ali at age 74 earlier this month, a deep sense of grieving and mourning seemed universal. Not since former South African president Nelson Mandela died in 2013 did we see such a collective sense of loss spanning the globe, and it moved me beyond words.

The comparison between the two men is perhaps an apt one, since Mandela, as a former head of state, was truly a People’s President, while Ali was a genuine People’s Champion in every respect. Both men rose to the heights of glory in their respective fields in their own countries, yet maintained a love of their people and of humanity, and were deeply loved and respected in return.

Read more...
Comments

Bagdikian Remembered

I never met professor Ben Bagdikian in his lifetime, though I had always wanted to. So I did the next best thing: Over the past few years I introduced his classic book The Media Monopoly (the updated version) to students of my own journalism courses at the university where I teach in Kyoto, Japan.

Read more...
Comments

A Place Called ‘Motomenai’

The Japanese press reported widely in early January of this year about the recent death of someone I had known fairly well, Shozo Kajima, of old age. He was 92 years old. He was cited in most of the obituaries as the author of a mega-bestselling poetry book titled Motomenai [Not wanting], published in 2007.

But what most of the media here didn’t report in their brief stories on Kajima were the kinds of things I had gotten to know personally about him in recent years: how he had been among the up-and-coming literary figures in Japan after World War II, how he became a renowned scholar and translator of English-language classics (especially by the U.S. author William Faulkner), how he found a new form of expression in watercolor painting, and how, later in life, he rediscovered his Asian roots in the Chinese philosophy of Taoism and had become known as a respected Taoist philosopher in Japan.

Read more...
Comments

‘A Love Supreme’ at 50

I have given up long ago on making any kind of easily broken New Year’s resolution to mark the arrival of another year, so for 2016 I decided to do something different that will start me off on the right foot and stay with me through the year ahead: choosing my first musical selection of the year.

That, for me, would be the classic jazz album A Love Supreme by John Coltrane. I can think of no better way to start a new year than by sitting down and once again giving a close listen to this magnificent recording that has inspired so many people around the world since it was released back in 1965.

Read more...
Comments

In the Spirit of John Trudell

I had recently bought the newest CD release by John Trudell, titled Wazi’s Dream, but had not yet gotten around to listening to it when I heard the news online that the Native American activist/poet/truth teller did not have much longer to live. Prayers were going around for him, and a few days later on December 8, he departed for the spirit world at age 69.

Read more...
Comments

Healing for the Healer

He is said to be the only person who Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. personally nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Thich Nhat Hanh is a master teacher in the Zen Buddhist religious tradition, an exile from his native Vietnam, an accomplished author and world-renowned peace activist, and the type of person we would all consider to be a good human being.

He is also now, at age 89, bedridden and recovering from a severe stroke that he suffered about a year ago. He has come out of a coma, and with the help of qualified medical professionals and the love of his Buddhist students and colleagues, he is slowly learning to do basic things like move his body and speak words again.

Read more...
Comments

Song for All Fathers

Yesterday (21 June) being Father’s Day here in Japan, it seems appropriate to send out some belated warm wishes of the day — but not only for my own family. This tribute goes out to all the fathers of the world, that is, to the vaunted institution of fatherhood itself.

And there is really only one song I know, amongst all the songs I’ve ever heard in my life, that expresses the respect and love that we send to our fathers on their special day: “Song for My Father” by the late jazz pianist and composer Horace Silver.

Read more...
Comments

An Outpouring Fit for a King

It was amazing to see how quickly and how widely the buzz had spread — in the news media, in social media, on mailing lists, everywhere. Musical royalty had passed on: B.B. King, the world’s reigning King of the Blues, had departed on May 14 at age 89. Tributes and story-sharing seemed to be coming in from every corner of the planet, an outpouring of respect and love for a man whose life as a musician seems to have left few people untouched, myself included.

We all tend to take for granted just how influential such popular figures are in our lives until they are gone. But B.B. King, it seemed, had never been forgotten or taken for granted anywhere in the world. He was reportedly working and planning another tour up until just a few months before his death.

Read more...
Comments

The Long Morning after Mandela

Today, 5 December, marks exactly one year since the passing of former South African president Nelson Mandela at age 95. In death, as in life, Mandela — arguably the greatest statesman of our time — seems to have left his own special mark on the world, and he most certainly has not been forgotten.

Has it really been one year already? These past 12 months have sped by, almost like they were one long morning after Mandela’s final rest. And who could ever forget the dramatic scenes we saw coming out of South Africa in the world’s media back then?

Read more...
Comments

Show more posts >>