Bernie Mac: ‘The World Just Got A Little Less Funny’

Bernard Jeffrey McCullough, otherwise known as Bernie Mac, began his career with stand up comedy. He went on from making people laugh in arenas to making them laugh around the world.

His inspiration to make people laugh had come from his mother. “That’s what I want to be, Mama, a comedian,” he recalled telling his mother, who was in stitches laughing over a Bill Cosby programme. Married for more than 30 years, Mac largely shunned life in Hollywood, choosing to live in Chicago, the place of his birth and where he was discovered.

Mac started as a stand-up comedian in Chicagos Cotton Pickin’ Club where he won the Miller Lite Comedy Search at the age of 32, at which point his popularity as a comedian began to grow.

An appearance on HBO’s Def Comedy Jam was the spark that ignited his career in stand up and thrust him in the spotlight and a short-lived talk show later, he was working his way into films. His big break was the role of Pastor Clever in the 1995 comedy hit, Friday. A series of television and film appearances followed and it just wasn’t the black audience that loved him, Mac was one of the few coloured actors who broke through into mainstream entertainment, appearing in the Ocean’s 11 trilogy and a Charlie’s Angels sequel. It was television that he found a new audience with The Bernie Mac Show, for which he was nominated an Emmy and a Golden Globe.

In 2003, he also turned in an impressive performance in a small but important role as Gin, the Store Dick in Bad Santa. He also starred in Guess Who?, a comedic remake of the film, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. He also made an appearance in the 2007 film, Transformers, as the car salesman Bobby Bolivia.

Tributes from co-stars have been pouring as the news of his death spread.

“The world just got a little less funny,” says Ocean’s 11 series co-star George Clooney. “This is a very sad day for many of us who knew and loved Bernie,” added Don Cheadle, another Ocean’s co-star, “but heaven just got funnier.”

“He was just so alive. I can’t believe he’s gone,” said Comedian Carl Reiner. He added that he was “in utter shock.”

“I feel blessed to have shared years of friendship with Bernie Mac,” said Samuel L. Jackson, who recently completed filming the musical comedy Soul Men with the star. “My sincere prayer is that his family will be comforted by the warmth of love from all of us who knew and respected this man.”

Luke Wilson, Mac’s co-star in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, said, “He couldn’t have been a nicer guy. He just seemed like a real family man and just a nice guy on the set, just very kind of normal guy.”

Brad Pitt also paid his respects, “I lament the loss of a ferociously funny and hardcore family man. My thoughts are with Rhonda and their family.”

Bernie Mac died aged 50 on August 9, 2008, after being admitted to a hospital with a reported case of pneumonia. He is survived by his wife, Rhonda, a daughter and a granddaughter.


Two Girls and a Guitar: Zeb and Haniya's Debut Album

Who would have thought that two ladies and a guitar would cause so much stir in the Pakistan music industry? Here is a review of their recently-launched debut album.

The cousins two discovered their inkling towards music at an early age, with Zeb having trained under Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan since 1998, and Haniya discovering music and the guitar at college in the United States. It was here, in one of the abandoned basements of a university dormitory, that songs like Chup came to life. The response they got was overwhelming and the cousins took it from there.

From abandoned dorm basements to coffee shops, Zeb and Haniya have worked their way into record stores countrywide. Their freshman release Chup is a myriad of jazz, blues and rock with a pinch of folk thrown in. But have they matured from their live performances into a field where anything close to a woman is either token eye-candy or the so called damsel-in-distress?

In an outstanding display of chivalry, it was some of the top male musicians in the industry who held the door open for these ladies: Mekaal Hasan, Shallum Xavier, Louis ‘Gumby’ Pinto, Omran Shafique, Hamza Jafri, Sameer Ahmed and Sikander Mufti (from Co-Ven), are just some of the musicians. Fulfilling the duty of brass instruments here is Hildegen Øiseth, an established Norwegian Jazz musician. His trumpets serenade the songs and their lyrics, and quite frankly if you remove his contribution to the album, it would sound incomplete and unfinished. These gents did everything from contributing music to help on production details on this album, and one wonders if there was a case of “too many cooks spoiling the broth” here.

Thankfully, under the careful eye (and ear) of Mekaal Hasan, everything is in proportion. Shallum’s input on the guitars clearly pays off. He doesn’t come in and make everything stronger, in fact the guitars are lighter, carrying the vocals instead of leaving them behind. The same goes for Gumby, who doesn’t come in smashing at the drums, he adapts to the group’s sultry sound quite easily, and the rest follow on. Likewise, each other contributor brings their own style, but adapts it to the group’s.

It was certainly an interesting move to release Aitebaar first and not the title track, Chup, for their music video. This bluesy track is filled with a groove that, although upbeat, reflects the subject of the song. Although the music video to this track is talk of the town, it sadly is nothing but a glorified Khattak dance. Yes, the dance is good, it’s great, and not to discredit the hard work and efforts put in by Saqib, Josh and Omar, but it distracts the viewer away from song which is a shame because this is probably the second best track on the album.

Not to cast as a stereotype, but what girl group album is complete without a ‘girl power’ track? Rona Chor Diya is where the duo attempts to channel the likes of Destiny’s Child’s Survivor or Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive. Thankfully though, the girls don’t break the glitter out or some insane beats for that matter, the track is simple, guitar-based with interesting lyrics. This track is more about empowerment rather than power.

Paimana Bitte is a gem of a track. Originally a Pasthun/Darri folk song, the girls get everything right here. It’s the kind of track you’d want to listen to after along tiring day at work. With its almost lullaby-like vocals and careful trumpets by Øiseth, this track is about yearning and love, and is the perfect number. Ahaan showcases the singing talent of the girls; the song feels like a continuous and catchy sigh and speaks of stealing glances and hearts. She Na Sakay is probably the most upbeat track in the album with an almost swing like feel to it. Kahan is its complete opposite, starting off with a simple drumbeat and just drones on and on. Kabhi Na Kabhi is a poignant track, carried through by the vocals and the smooth and sultry trumpet provided by Øiseth. Chal Diye can be best described as a slow acoustic ballad that soothes the listener into the lyrics.

Though the title track starts off the album, I’ve kept its critique for the last for two reasons. Chup is one of the two songs that defined Zeb and Haniya, and the original version was much chirpier than the one on the album. This is probably where Zeb and Haniya fans will disagree on. Should they have settled with the original track and not tampered with it? Or did the “jazzed up” version live up to the original. To be fair, the group is now releasing their first record and with such talent involved, it would be a shame if the track was left as it is. The previous track suites the smaller environment of coffee houses and colleges, whereas the new track is all set for the big league. The essence of the track is not lost though, which is a good thing. Also with Babar Shaikh all set to direct the video for the track, it will surely be an interesting watch.

The album closes on Ban Key Touri Jogan, a track that starts slow but picks up a very fusion-like sound, showcasing the singer’s tutelage of classical music. Now their act is in the big leagues with the likes of Ali Azmat, Fuzon and Mauj (to name a few) who have either recently released new albums or are in the pipeline — the duo has some heavy competition awaiting them. But they already have good help and support, their tracks are fan favorites on the radio and they attract healthy crowds in their shows.

The album itself does not let down but there is some disappointment in seeing how Pakistani record labels market their bands. If one were to visit Zeb and Haniya’s website, they get a much closer feel to the group’s music than the one depicted on their album. The picture on the back of the album, for example, is a much more relaxed and truer image of the two women than the one on the front — juxtaposed in darkness and big, bold, manly letters. Clearly the record label needs to let their bands be true to themselves.

But a book can’t be judged by its cover and a band (in this case) not by its album cover. Zeb and Haniya are all set to be heard out loud and clear, across the radio, on the telly and on your music players. They will be anything but chup from now on…


A bigger leap for Mankind...

It was part of a challenge and the culmination of a space race. Man’s journey and landing on the moon marked a colossal achievement in the history of mankind — unmatched to this date

On July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on another world. His small step became mankind’s giant leap and for that one moment while man was on the moon, the entire world — which was locked in many bitter self-conflicts — looked up towards the heavens as one in complete awe.

It seemed like a simple thing to do for Armstrong to step off the ledge of the lunar module called Eagle. On the contrary, that step was the result of a decade-long effort put in by Nasa and even cost the lives of potential astronauts. It started with a simple speech and a challenge put forth by President John F Kennedy in 1961, "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth."

Although the Apollo missions had already begun, it took 30 missions and five human spaceflights and three lunar space flights, to get man on the moon. From rocket tests, to aborted mission tests, to preparing the astronauts themselves, the effort put in by Nasa and the American government has yet to be matched in recent years of space travel.

Almost 35 years have passed since the last mission to moon, Apollo 17. It was the December 14, 1972, when the last man on the moon, Eugene Cernan last set foot on the lunar surface and no one has ever graced the surface of our only satellite since then. Budget reductions, faltering economies and mishaps brushed Nasa aside from being the once favorite of American governments, as the nation stopped looking to the heavens for bold adventures and looked around for materialistic opportunities, such as wars and other conflicts. But man’s return to the moon has always been inevitable.

Foundations for man’s return to the moon have been laid since 2004, when President George W Bush called for a plan to return manned missions to the Moon by 2020. Mimicking the space race of the 50s and 60s, the US once again faces competition, and this time not just from one nation.

China has developed ambitious plans for exploring the moon and has started the Chang'e programme for lunar exploration. The first successful launch of the Chang'e-1 took place on October 24, 2007. India too has joined the leagues of the lunar challenge, and several unmanned missions begin with Chandrayaan I originally scheduled to launch in February 2008, but now delayed to September 2008. India hopes to expand from robots to humans and have the first Indian on the moon by 2030. Nasa is taking steps further from just manned missions and is already working on deploying a permanent settlement on the moon in the form of an outpost around the lunar poles.

We all know the first words ever spoken when man landed on the moon, but very few of us remember the last words, as spoken by Cernan on that fateful day in December, "As we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came, and God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. As I take these last steps from the surface for some time to come, I'd just like to record that America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. Godspeed the crew of Apollo Seventeen."

Indeed, the challenge of yesterday, that of the first step that made man leap a giant leap for mankind, has poised man once again towards an even bigger leap — to the future and beyond.