articles about pop culture

Month: August, 2017

Grahamstown’s Water Crisis

Water Drop

One issue that I have been engaged with in the last few weeks is the current water shortage in Grahamstown. This a serious issue, but many people don’t know the full extent of it. I put together an article on this earlier in the term, and in doing so came across some really good resources online for understanding the situation and what students can do to improve it.

First, some background info: The Grahamstown area has been experiencing a drought for the last few months. As a result, Grahamstown’s main water source, Settler’s Dam, is at 20%. The backup water source, Howieson’s Poort Dam, is at 45%. A report in April concluded that at current consumption rates, these dams would only be able to provide Grahamstown with 3 months’ worth of water. That was more than three months ago.

So, it’s clear to see that the situation is serious. But what does it really mean for the community? This can be hard to imagine in abstract terms, but social media and the internet made researching this topic much easier. For example, I was able to track down public statements about the water issue on the Makana municipality’s website. I was also able to find links to water conservation advice online. Additionally, through Facebook I was able to find information on the issue from Grahamstown residents who are being effected by it, like this:

Water update
Settlers 22% Howieson 56%

As you will have seen from Grocott's Mail divers have been investigating both…

Posted by Grahamstown Residents’ Association on Sunday, 16 July 2017

…and then this update, showing that things have gotten worse rather than better:

Please feel free to share this message with non-members, and talk with people who may not have email.

Makana Water…

Posted by Grahamstown Residents’ Association on Sunday, 13 August 2017

The local government’s take on the problem is also available online. You can read the municipality’s statement on the possibility of water rationing here. Additionally, you can check our their earlier statement on the issue here.

For some background information on how Grahamstown gets its water and how these dams work, you can take a look a this piece written by the Rhodes University’s health, safety and environmental officer. And here are some good tips for conserving water.

The municipality is addressing the water shortage by issuing public statements and implementing water restrictions, but these do not seem to be having much of an effect. As a result, a number of Grahamstown residents are unhappy with the way officials are dealing with the crisis.

As you can see, the municipality’s most recent tweets don’t inspire much confidence, especially since they were posted in 2014.

In other words, it’s up to Grahamstown citizens to make a difference in this water crisis. Students can help out by using water sparingly, showering rather than bathing, limiting laundry to one load a week, and flushing toilets only when necessary.

Calvin Harris – Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1

The Scottish producer’s newest album cements his position as a purveyor of pop delights.

Calvin Harris has had an unlikely evolution.

In 2007, he burst onto the scene with 80s influenced dance music he made by himself on his computer. In the decade since, Harris has toured with Rihanna, won a Grammy, and churned out big-room bangers that launched him to a billion streams on Spotify. Somehow, the lad from Scotland usurped the EDM throne — only to now turn his sunglasses-sporting gaze to the pop charts.

His newest album, Funk Wave Bounces Vol. 1, is a well-aimed shot at pop domination. Like every Calvin Harris album, it’s concerned with serving up winning grooves, but it’s a got a wider range of ideas.

The album features guest appearances from seemingly every relevant artist in the 2017 zeitgeist: Khalid, Kehlani, Katy Perry. And that’s just the Ks. The Migos also show up, as do Frank Ocean and Future. Even Lil Yachty contributes a bubblegummy verse.

The result is the undisputed Album of the Summer: not the best, but definitely, as the title suggests, the bounciest. It’s the perfect soundtrack to lazy days in the sun and road trips to the beach.

Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 is proof that in 2017, the lad from Scotland is pop’s king of quixotic delights — and maybe it’s most self-assured craftsman.

Movie Review: Gifted

Gifted is one of two films director Marc Webb has out this year. After his work on Amazing Spider-man and Amazing Spider-man 2, it seems Webb is returning to the subject matter that brought him stardom back in 2009 with (500) Days of Summer: quirky human-focused dramas, with liberal doses of humour.

True to that formula, Gifted tells the story of boat mechanic Frank Adler (Chris Evans) and his niece Mary (Mckenna Grace). It’s Mary that the title refers to. She’s only 7, but she cuts through complex maths problems like a flaming laser sword through butter.

Her abilities lead to turmoil, however, when her mathematician grandmother (Lindsay Duncan) tries to gain custody of her. The result is a lengthy courtroom drama.

It’s fairly typical stuff. Many films have covered similar territory (see Kramer vs Kramer, Good Will Hunting, etcand Gifted doesn’t really throw any curve-balls with it’s story. The film only avoids cliche because Webb is too smart of a director. He takes a subtle approach to the drama, which makes it feel real, if not novel.

It also helps that the performances are remarkably sturdy. Evans puts in a solid turn as Mary’s de facto guardian Frank, and Jenna Slate is charming as Mary’s first grade teacher. Octavia Spencer also brings a fleshed out performance to what would otherwise be a bit part as the Adlers’ neighbour Roberta. It’s the kind of role one could imagine her getting an Oscar nod for had it been expanded, but (in one of Webb’s few directorial missteps) Spencer receives criminally little screen time

But the show is indisputably stolen by 11-year-old Mckenna Grace. Her Mary is quirky, funny, heartbreaking and — most importantly — brave. She might be my favourite film character of the year so far.

All of this adds up to a solid return to what Webb does best. Gifted won’t blow your mind, or deliver anything super original, but if you’re looking for a bit of cinematic sunshine — or if you’re a fan of monocular cats — you can’t go wrong.

Feature Audio

A brief look at what my feature will be about.

Review: 21 Savage – Issa Album

Success threatens to rob the Atlanta rapper of what made him stand out to begin with.

“The problems of failure are hard,” the writer Neil Gaiman once said. “The problems of success can be harder, because nobody warns you about them.”

He’s not wrong. Success can break artists, or rob them of what made them special in the first place. For example, Jay-Z might have recently returned to form, but for years his status as an uber-successful musician/businessman meant that his songs were excruciatingly boring. You can only count stacks so many times.

The same is true for a lot of underdog artists who suddenly find themselves on the ‘inside’. For Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, it took away their unique perspective, which was pretty much all they had. In the case of Nirvana, it contributed in a very tangible way to their front-man’s collapse.

Which brings us to 21 Savage. Issa Album is, as its title suggests, his first album proper, and on it he seems uncomfortable with success. The opening track is called ‘Famous’, and it features 21 insisting “I’m too street to walk around with my nose up”. But it seems like he’s trying to reassure himself more than anyone else.

He can’t be blamed for finding it hard to adjust to fame. His success came quickly, as a result of a string of mixtapes he released over the last two years. They were dark, all menacing synths and snares, punctuated by 21’s stone-cold rhymes about violence and life on the streets. It was a calculated move. As mainstream rap got poppier, 21 instead dealt in grit and grimness.

These mixtapes were largely produced by then-underground producers, like Metro Boomin, who also exploded onto the mainstream rap scene last year. That they sounded gritty added to their charm. Now 21’s music has studio gloss. An army of high-end producers worked on Issa Album, with mixed results. At times, they make 21 sound too tame, even mainstream.

His lyrics don’t always help either. There’s a lot of rapping about clothes and money on this album, and it doesn’t suit 21. He’s also been an anti-rapper: anti-mainstream, anti-consumerist, anti-radio. He wears pop appeal uncomfortably.

This change seems be a result of 21’s success. He’s no longer hustling on the streets. These days — as he repeatedly tells us— his bank account is full and his life is luxurious. In other words, he’s like any other rapper. I’m not a fan of him rapping like this. I like my 21 Savage, well, savage. He’s always been at his best when he’s speaking in a barely-audible snarl over slow-burning horror-movie production.

The best tracks on Issa Album are the ones where he returns to this style. ‘I been hanging with the dead people’, he muses on ‘Dead People’, suggesting that the people he lost in his former life still haunt him. It’s real stuff, full of hurt and regret. What made 21 Savage stand out was always his blunt honesty, that he could examine his own pain on record, no matter how uncomfortable. Unfortunately he does that so little here.

It’s ironic that fame is making it harder for 21 Savage to produce the work that made him famous in the first place. Hopefully success doesn’t spell the end of him.