Cameron Halsey

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Experiencing The Defiant Requiem

Image courtesy of the Defiant Requiem Foundation.

The Holocaust was a dark time for the world. It was marred by constant death, torture, hunger, neglect and overall suffering. As time goes on, we learn more of the testimonials and the experiences of those that were subject to its atrocities. Through this chaos, we do hear of a few concentration camps that had their own unique aspects to it; Theresienstadt Concentration Camp (otherwise known as Terezin) was one of these camps. Terezin was a concentration camp full of artists, musicians, scholars and craftsmen that together were able to keep their human dignity in the face of despair by doing what the loved, which was creating great works. One of these people, Rafael Schachter, was a musician who organized a choir of fellow Jewish prisoners and with them, rehearsed and performed the Verdi Requiem during their tenure in the camp. This requiem served as their way to gain a sliver of hope in an otherwise spirit-breaking circumstance. This served as their salvation of themselves to not fall into the mental trap the Nazis put them in.

Now, years after their original performance, the Sustainable Symphony, The Defiant Requiem Foundation, and Maestro Murry Sidlin have re-purposed the piece into a compelling concert drama as a tribute to Schachter and his choir’s experience performing in front of the Red Cross and the Nazi SS. In short, the experience was moving and is definitely worth experiencing at least once due to its powerful vocals, rich historical retelling and beautifully done musical accompaniment.

As the attendants were seated, the room went dark and our performers walked on stage and took their positions, all dressed in black and with a stoic expression, we are greeted by Sidlin, who begins to set the tone for the performance by describing the environment and initial experiences of the prisoners in Terezin, giving the backdrop for the performance. As each part of the seven-part performance went on, we were given video accounts from survivors of the Terezin camp describing the feeling and experience of rehearsing and performing the requiem, accompanied by Sidlin and two members of the choir reading the story of Shachter and his thoughts of planning the performance of the piece. All this combined with the powerful vocal choir and four soloists made for a unique experience that served as a history lesson, soulful musical performance and an engaging drama that gave a feeling of no other. As the choir and soloists sang, you could feel the pain, power and defiance through their voices, and served as a way for the audience to be heavily immersed into the performance and story of these resilient people. It simply was moving and passionate, which is necessary for a piece with this much historical and interpersonal weight to it for an entire religious group. Simply put, this performance did much justice and does a great job as an homage to its rather bleak but inspiring origins.

As a musical performance, it is a must-see. As a historical story, it is a must know; and as a drama, it is a great tale of keeping one’s humanity through the deepest of sorrows. Simply, it is an amazing performance that anyone can connect to as a lover of music and as a person overall, and I am glad to have experienced it.

A Night of Shakespearean Greatness

Photo by P. Ringenberg.

When you first think about playwrights and theater in general, one of the first names that always comes to mind is William Shakespeare and his many great works over his lifetime. One of his less known works “Measure for Measure” is rarely talked about and rarely is adapted to the stage by theatrical groups due to his more notable works like “Romeo and Juliet” almost guaranteeing a mass appeal outside of the more dedicated of his followers. So, you could imagine my shock when The Actors of the London Stage decided to do a dedicated show of “Measure for Measure” on UNC Charlotte’s campus. This was a great opportunity to give a bit more spotlight to a less known play and maybe gain a small appreciation to his less acclaimed works. So, with much anticipation and an open mind I sat in the Black Box Theatre and prepared to be amazed.

As the lights dimmed and the crowd settled, we were greeted by our five actors (yes five people comprised the entirety of this play’s cast), where they gave us a quick reciting of the play’s opening and each of their roles in the play. As there were only five actors, they each had a minimum of three characters they had to perform, and while you may think this can be a massive problem, I am happy to say that each actor was able to firmly establish the exact moments of them switching character through well timed voice changes, body language, use of changing places on stage and clothing. They even embraced the fact that these transitions would be awkward or comical and openly acknowledged this in their mannerisms on stage. All of this combined created a visually appealing, enjoyable and sometimes slightly comical (when appropriate), experience for the audience. This self-aware approach to their work made the play very enjoyable and added a nice flair to the performance.

When it came to the atmosphere of the night, I felt like the Black Box Theatre was the best setting for this performance as its closer quartered proximity allowed for the audience to be immersed into the performance. This is key for tragedies as it creates a sense of emotion for crowd as if you are involved in the actions and outcomes that occur in the play. This also was the best due to the size of the cast itself as it would look out of place if five people were on a relatively big stage. It also does great for setting a visual of the spaces in the play itself as most of the scenes are in small rooms, prisons, crowded streets, and small churches. This was a nice touch and showed that the environment can enhance the show.

Overall, this show was a treat to experience and is a testament of this troupe’s talent and history. Keep this group in mind because they simply are not a group to miss as they are capable actors and truly know the flair that Shakespeare had to offer.

A Night of Music With the UNCC Philharmonia

Photo by Daniel Coston.

The UNC Charlotte Music Department showcased their student musicians in a night of musical performances. The night was a glorious one full of prompt circumstance, hard work and talent displayed by the instructors and students involved. As a collective, the two groups played 6 songs to solidify their hard work done through the semester.

Part I: Chamber Ensembles

“Kaiser-Walzer”

As the show began, we were graced by our first group of performers in Rowe Hall, Chamber Ensembles. They started their performance with the “Kaiser –Walzer,” a 1800s piece by Johann Strauss. This piece, in short, was well performed and did a great job as an opening song with its slow and light beginning which invites the audience into the music, but then transitions slowly opening up into a very powerful, commanding and interesting middle which sets the mood for the rest of the night (the fact that these performers dare not be ignored). The song heavily featured string instruments but also didn’t overpower the flute and clarinet that were present in the piece. It incorporated the winds gracefully into the piece and made it feel like they were pivotal to the song instead of just being there (this sometimes is a common mistake of musical groups). It did its job well to open the night and set the precedent of what was to come.

“Baubnern Quintet”

The second and final song for this group was a 2-part quintet performed by a slightly smaller portion of the ensemble group. This performance carried on their talent and skill of their previous song selection, but stood out due to their choice of seating arrangement on stage, which had all the performers sitting facing away from each other and without a central conductor. This was an intentional part of the performance as stated by the groups cello player Andrew Llamas and was done to show that music as an art form is also used to communicate and that we don’t need to face each other in person in order to portray that message. This statement was clearly seen in their performance where everything sounded uniform, interesting and well performed; and was all done with the performers simply just communicating through the music. These aspects together supported a fine statement well made to conclude their portion of the night’s performance.

Part II: Philharmonia

“Symphony No. 63”

The UNCC Philharmonia started their portion of the night with Franz Joseph Haydn’s “63rd Symphony.” This song was a very nice bridge between the two groups keeping the song style familiar while establishing a slightly new tone for them to call their own. This string-only performance was upbeat enough to bring the audience back in while not completely changing the tone of the night and overall set the precedent for their song selections for the rest of the night.

“Serenade”

Their second song was a string serenade by Norman Leyden and at this point, the Philharmonia fully established themselves as the new sound for the night. This four-part piece had plenty of powerful high points, interesting bridges, complex but engaging slow portions and an overall good execution. The part that took me the most by surprise was the last part called “Cakewalk” mostly because it featured a very inviting and light tone and overall was a great way to end a rather lengthy song. I also liked how violins and bass were very intertwined into this piece, which created a great high, low tone dynamic, keeping the performance interesting.

“Elegy & Momentum”

These last two songs, in general, were also performed rather well, but felt like they could have been better placed in the middle of their performance instead of the end. Otherwise, these songs did a great job at carrying the performance and further showcased the skill and hard work of the students involved. “Elegy” was a nice piece that emphasized powerful climbs and quick dips in tone, while “Momentum”I portrayed a slower climb that climaxed in a heavy fall.

Overall both groups gave us a good night of music and I hope that this allows them to only become better musicians and I recommend anyone go to their performance at least once in order to witness this for themselves.

ANIME REVIEW: ‘No Game, No Life the Movie: Zero’

Photo courtesy of Kadokawa, Madhouse and Azoland Pictures.

The “No Game, No Life” franchise has been nothing short of a hit since its original beginnings as a light novel in 2012 and has only gotten bigger over time, where it now has received a manga and an anime series to its accolades. It was loved for its interesting premise of all of the world’s affairs being resolved by playing games (and yes, I mean all), its colorful and euphoric animation, interesting characters and entertaining writing. Now that this loved franchise has laid dormant for a few years on screen, it now has added to its accolades an original movie in “No Game, No Life Zero” documenting the origins of the land we would come to know in the light novel. So does it stack up to its predecessors or does it simply play a dangerous game of being tied to this franchise?

“No Game, No Life Zero” takes place 6000 years before the events of the light novel and anime, and features a more dark tone than the world we know from the original material. For starters the world is in an engulfing war between the different species on earth and shows humanity on its last legs just trying to survive in a world that they should not be able to live in. This world of blood red skies, no sunlight, flesh burning rain, poor air quality and constant destruction has forced humanity into hiding underground with only a hope of a better future. The story in general follows the actions of Riku Dola, the leader of the last living human colony, and Shwi (pronounced as shuvi) an ex-machina (this world’s android race) who was tasked to investigate the meaning of the human heart, in their efforts to survive and end this long standing war.

While this story is one of survival, it is much more varied in its true premise (which I can’t spoil as it is very pivotal to this movie) it also is very similar to its source material; while in the anime games literally serve as the medium to change the world, the movie uses this more as a metaphor of wartime and strategy. With this, it serves its purpose in establishing the world of “No Game, No Life” as we know it and shows a nice contrast to the very happy go lucky world of the light novel.

As a branching story of “No Game, No Life” you would expect to have compelling characters that drive the story from its beginning to conclusion. It is safe to say that the new cast of the movie is on par with their anime counterparts. This is the case due to the movie characters being portrayed as ancestor like characters to the original anime cast, where they heavily resemble the character personality, roles and physical traits of the main cast. While this was a major worry due to the potential of many of the characters simply being the same character in a different skin, it actually serves very well as a building block to how these characters thrive in the world they each inhabit. Riku is very reminiscent of Sora (the anime’s male lead), Shwi is much like Shiro (the anime’s female lead) and Coroune Dola (Riku’s sister) is literally an ancestor of the anime’s princess Stephanie Dola, and all find a way to establish their own distinctive presence as characters. While there are plenty of new characters, we also have ones returning from the anime but as younger more varied versions of their anime selves, like the angel warrior Jibril, where we finally get to see her as the almighty combatant she was said to be in the anime, and Teto the god of games who serves as the narrator for the movie.

In short the smooth and vivid animation of the anime retains itself perfectly in this movie. Even with its dark backgrounds, desolate landscapes and drab aesthetic, the movie still retains its much loved animation style. From great coloring, smooth transitions, fluid movement and amazing effects, the movie is on par with its original material and should be witnessed if you are a fan of the series. Sound wise it is just as great, booming explosions, great music and well done voice acting carry this movie to its apex. Voice wise this is achieved by having the original anime voice actors reprise their roles in this movie (which is a major plus).

“No Game, No Life Zero” is an amazing prequel story to the anime’s events and do a great job at giving fans the rather dark origins of the world we all came to enjoy. In short, all fans of the franchise should find a way to see this movie simply because it is an overall great addition to the series story wise, animation wise and sound design wise that I hope translates to the anime’s much anticipated continuation. Even for those who are not fans that simply love a decent story with good sound and animation, this is also worthy of your time.

A Soulful Sunday with Bassel & the Supernaturals

Photo by Sarah Hess.

Bassel & the Supernaturals is a Neo-Soul band from Chicago that carry a message of love, fun and a personal message of the current events in Syria. Headed by their lead vocalist Bassel Almadani, the band has been able to captivate listeners all around the country with their unique soulful instrumentation (saxophones, trumpets, guitar, bass, drums and flute), buttery smooth vocals and thought provoking lyrics. This combination has gained them a notable following and has allowed them to further their cause in forwarding humanitarian efforts for Syria and had given them the opportunity to perform at South by Southwest’s (SxSW) ContraBanned show, which featured artists from disadvantaged countries and ones spreading an overall message of unity and love, and has granted them featured spots with Al Jazeera, PRI, Huffington Post and Reuters, among others.

For most of this year, they have been on tour around the United States with the mission to connect to their audience, attract more listeners, share awareness on the events in Syria and to spread good vibes in general. That mission has brought them to Huntersville, North Carolina to The Vinyl Pi bar to finish out their tour. The Niner Times was very fortunate to gain a short amount of time to talk with Bassel Almadani, the band’s founder and lead vocalist to discuss his and the bands origins, creative process, tour life and his first time playing in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area.

Photo by Samer Almadani.

 

NT: As you and your band are not as well known, can you please give us a short backstory on you?

BA: Of course. I am a first generation Syrian-American born in Ohio and raised here in the US. My parents and most of my family are originally from Aleppo, Syria, where my father was an OBGYN where he delivered babies in Syria, and America once my parents came over from Syria. Due to my parents being able to leave Syria, we were very lucky to avoid most of the conflict that my family had to experience.

In terms of my growing up, I pretty much had a normal upbringing as an American child but was heavily connected to my family’s Syrian roots through my summer trips there; I loved my trips there.

When it came to my adulthood, I graduated from Ohio State with a degree in Logistics and International Business and worked with Sears and Cars.com in Chicago and I now am a freelancer as I wanted to pursue my music career.

NT: How did you and your band come together?

BA: When I moved to Chicago and started to peruse my music career, I simply was just going around looking for other artists to collaborate with and over time me and my bandmates came together to form Bassel & The Supernatural’s, and we have been together ever since.

NT: Every artist goes through a phase of building themselves up and finding who they are and their desired style. How did you find yours?

BA: Well when I started playing, I was very interested in Indie Folk and its sound, so I originally started playing in that style. After moving to Chicago, I found myself going into venues that primarily featured soul music, and that made me start further looking into it. This led me to listening to lots of artists like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, and molding my sound with soul music to find the band’s current style.

NT: Your most recent release “Elements” continues exhibiting your unique style; how did you keep this in mind when making your album?

BA: Well, our albums in general are meant to give off a jazzy, feel good vibe, while also talking about the experiences I had as a first generation Syrian-American, my visits to Syria, my family’s fortune to be in the USA and to inform listeners about the conflict in Syria that the citizens can’t tell themselves.

NT: I see this a lot in your songs “Lost,” “Sneak You In” and “Aleppo.”

BA: Yes. “Lost” was a song with a dual purpose. For me it was a reaction to a specific event of loss in my family, but also is about loss in general, no matter how severe. “Sneak You In” is my way to transport our listeners into what is going on in Syria now and to peek at the experience of the people there that they can’t tell themselves. “Aleppo” is named after my family’s hometown and is about my summer visits there as a child, and shares my happy memories of being with my family. That is the meaning of “Elements” in general, each song shares each “element” of my life and human life in general.

NT: Since you have been on tour for a while now, what has your overall experience been?

BA: Tour life in general has been fun. We love traveling and through this tour we were able to see major cities and at the same time, stop in cool spots around the country that you normally wouldn’t go to on a normal vacation.

Photo by Bill McCullough.

NT: Has there been any parts of the tour that you all run into problems?

BA: When you have 7 guys in a van, you get a bit car crazy when you travel for long stretches of time and there, of course, are days that are less stellar than others, but we always find a way to de-stress and improve our morale.

NT: How exactly do you do that?

BA: Well, one way is we keep a Frisbee in the car and just goof off in between lengths of the trip between gas, bathroom and food breaks. It goes to show that sometimes all you need is a Frisbee, a parking lot and thirty minutes to just calm down.

NT: How does touring affect you musically?

BA: It actually has improved us musically. We always meet after our performances and discuss what we did well and what we can improve on, which we use on many occasions the very next day to improve our live performances. I feel like this is a major positive of tour life and is one I want to keep. In terms of making music, we usually use our down time to hold jam session and brainstorm new ideas, which is always fun.

NT: Is this your first time in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area?

BA: While I’ve been here to see friends before, this is the first time the band has performed here, but after this visit I want to come back when I am off tour and have some free time, because I find that this city has a lot to explore and do.

NT: Last question, what would you like for potential new listeners to know about your music or how you wish for it to be consumed?

BA: I would compare the music to tea, you have to let it steep before you can enjoy it at its full potential. Listen closely, peel back the layers and let it engulf you in its fullest.

NT: Thank you for your time sir

BA: No problem.

 

Bassel & the Supernaturals is currently selling some custom merchandise, with the proceeds going to efforts aiming to help Syrian refugees. You can purchase their albums and merchandise on their website at https://www.basselmusic.com/store/ .

They also are on SoundCloud and Spotify for your listening pleasure

https://soundcloud.com/basselband/sneak-you-in?in=basselband/sets/bassel-the-supernaturals

https://open.spotify.com/user/basselbassel/playlist/2LguwDgQVin9P7tnQnX4d2

Girl Code comes to UNC Charlotte

Nicole Byer speaking during the UNC Charlotte Girl Code event. Photo by Aleena Oliveira.
Nicole Byer speaking during the UNC Charlotte Girl Code event. Photo by Aleena Oliveira.

As a frequent viewer of both MTV’s Guy Code and Girl Code, I was always left laughing from their witty, but crazy jokes on the habits of both genders. The shows were always flooded with interesting topics from dating, friendship codes, and behaviors that are questionable but happen none the less. Now that the two most staple members of the Girl Code cast Nicole Byers and Carly Aquilino have decided to take their show to a live stage, there is a wandering question that many fans probably asked, ”can they bring their same wit and humor that exists on the show and adjust it to a stand up environment”? Simply the answer is yes, but with a few bumps along the way.

  • Positives

Once the lights were dimmed and the room was filled to the brim (causing some people to be turned away from the show due to being at maximum capacity) Nicole and Carly came to the stage and much like there personas on the show were as raw and raunchy as they possibly could. They were hammering the crowd with well-crafted jokes about weight, life experiences, sex, and even slid a few punchlines about their jobs at MTV and as a TV stars. The crowd was definitely entertained from their great one liners and comedic stories even to the point where the audience was joining in on the fun and becoming part of the show themselves through random outbursts, which were then turned into confident improvised material from both the GC stars (like Nicole roasting a fan about her phone ringing during her part of the set, and Carly joking about the noticeable attendance of single women at the show). This even extended further into a full Q&A session with both of them on stage after the main show, where in true comedic nature played off of each other in order to cram a few more jokes aimed at themselves and the crowd even to the point where I was the target of one of their well-crafted wit. These things made the crowd connect and enjoy the show even more and fitted the atmosphere of getting to know a bit about these two hilarious women. This showed that not only did they stand as a great female duo but also are just as capable of being their own singular acts with their own approaches and methods to get the audience laughing.

  • Negatives

Though the GC co-stars delivered on their well-known zany humor it also didn’t come without some flaws. For instance Nicole and Carly both were both telling some jokes that overstayed their welcome, like the oversaturation of vagina, and fat jokes and general low brow comedy. There is only a limited amount of times that you can joke about the same topics until they get stale. It was also noticeable that the pacing seemed a bit off at some moments it would ramp up then suddenly drop to only return ten minutes later. Though these were problems with the show these are only minor at best and really didn’t detract from the overall show.

Final Verdict

This show is what fans of the TV show wanted, an uncut uncensored episode of Girl Code adapted to a live stage. Nicole and Carly delivered their on air personalities to the stage with great authenticity similar to the show. Even with its small problems it was an overall fun and funny show that was worth the hype. It was simply a very good time.