Prince Vaults Open Up with Jazzy ‘Piano & A Microphone’

A nine-track album from Prince’s vast vault of unreleased material goes on sale Friday, along with a new video highlighting gun violence.

“Piano & A Microphone” is compiled from a 1983 home studio cassette of the late musician playing jazz piano versions of some of his own songs and those of others, record company Warner Bros. said Thursday.

Prince, 57, died of an accidental overdose of the opioid fentanyl in 2016, leaving behind thousands of recordings and videos in the vaults of his home studio in suburban Minneapolis.

The new video, shot recently in New York City, accompanies the album track “Mary Don’t You Weep,” a 19th century spiritual.

It is intended to pay tribute to the hundreds of people who are killed or wounded by gun violence in the United States, the record company and the singer’s estate said in a statement.

Prince in 2015 performed at a Rally 4 Peace concert in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in police custody. The “Mary Don’t You Weep” video begins with a quote the musician made at that rally, “The system is broke. It’s going to take young people to fix it.”

“Piano & A Microphone” hears Prince working through his songs “Purple Rain” and “17 Days,” as well as a version of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.”

It is one of a handful of recordings released posthumously by Prince’s estate, including an expanded edition of his “Purple Rain” album and “Anthology: 1995-2010,” a selection of 37 of his biggest hits.

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Suge Knight Pleads to Manslaughter Over Fatal Confrontation

Former rap mogul Marion “Suge” Knight pleaded no contest Thursday to voluntary manslaughter for running over and killing a Compton businessman nearly four years ago and agreed to serve nearly 30 years in prison.

The Death Row Records co-founder entered the plea in Los Angeles Superior Court and has agreed to serve 28 years in prison. The plea came days before jury selection was scheduled to begin in the long-delayed case.

Knight was charged with murder, attempted murder and hit-and-run after fleeing the scene of an altercation in January 2015 outside a Compton burger stand. Knight and Cle “Bone” Sloan, a consultant on the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton, were involved in a fistfight that ended with Knight clipping the man with his pickup truck and running over businessman Terry Carter, who died from his injuries.

Knight’s attorneys have said he was acting in self-defense and was fleeing armed attackers when he ran over Carter and Sloan. Sloan has denied he was carrying a gun during the confrontation.

During Thursday’s hearing, Knight answered Judge Ronald Coen’s questions, loudly and quickly saying “no contest” when the judge asked for his plea. He will be formally sentenced Oct. 4.

The plea deal calls for Knight to serve 22 years in prison on the voluntary manslaughter count, and another six years because it is a third strike violation.

Carter’s daughter, Crystal, sat in the front row of the courtroom and displayed no visible reaction to the proceedings. “I’m surprised he pleaded out,” Crystal Carter said outside court. “Normally he likes the cameras to be on him 24-7.”

Courtroom drama

Delays, detours and drama marked the runup to Knight’s trial, which was expected to begin Oct. 1 under tight security and secrecy. Court officials had said that no witness list would be released ahead of the trial, and that some witnesses might not be identified by name during the case.

Knight collapsed during one court hearing, two of his former attorneys were indicted on witness-tampering charges, and his fiancee pleaded no contest to selling video of Knight hitting the two men with his truck.

His attorney Albert DeBlanc Jr., appointed by the court five months ago, was his 16th, and Knight tried to fire him and get yet another lawyer just a day before the deal was reached. DeBlanc declined comment Thursday.

While awaiting trial, Knight was also accused of threatening Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray.

Knight would frequently, against the advice of Coen and his attorneys, speak extensively during hearings, complaining about jail conditions, his attorneys and his health issues.

While Coen read legal language about the plea and told Knight he was subject to deportation if he was not a citizen, Knight said “ICE is coming to get me?” to a smattering of laughs.

Prior convictions

The 53-year-old was a key player in the gangster rap scene that flourished in the 1990s, and his label once listed Dr. Dre, Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg among its artists. Knight lost control of the company after it was forced into bankruptcy. He has prior felony convictions for armed robbery and assault with a gun. He pleaded no contest in 1995 and was sentenced to five years’ probation for assaulting two rap entertainers at a Hollywood recording studio in 1992.

He was sentenced in February 1997 to prison for violating terms of that probation by taking part in a fight at a Las Vegas hotel hours before Shakur was fatally wounded in a drive-by attack as he rode in Knight’s car just east of the Las Vegas Strip. Shakur’s slaying remains unsolved.

Knight had faced life in prison if convicted of murder for killing Carter.

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Making, Drinking Arak a Source of National Pride in Lebanon

Every part of Lebanon’s national drink, arak, is infused with tradition — from distilling the aniseed-tinged liquor to the ritual of mixing it at the table, when the transparent liquid suddenly turns milky white as water is added.

Arak is a staple of big Sunday meals. With a sweet taste and high alcohol content, around 40 percent, it’s best consumed with food — lots of it. That makes it perfect for Lebanon’s traditional meze, spreads of never-ending small dishes that family and friends linger over for hours.

Aficionados say arak is vital to digesting the homemade raw meat dishes that are central to a meze. The real impact comes at the end of the meal, when you stand up after all that eating and the alcohol from glass after glass really hits.

But the tradition is facing competition in Lebanon as young generations opt for liquors like vodka or whiskey that are easier to mix and drink — without a meal.

Arak is comparable to Greece’s ouzo or Turkey’s raki, which are also grape-based drinks with the licorice-like flavor of anise. Lebanese say arak is smoother. Many families make it at home, each boasting their particular flavor and kick. Restaurants often serve both commercially produced versions and homemade varieties, known as “Arak Baladeh.” Regulars usually opt for the homemade.

With so much home production, it is hard to tell how much arak is made. Lebanon’s Blom Bank estimated in 2016 that around 2 billion bottles a year are produced in the country, with nearly a quarter of it exported, mostly for Lebanese expats yearning for their local drink.  

At a recent festival in Taanayel, a town east of Beirut, several commercial companies and smaller boutique houses showcased their araks in a celebration aimed at promoting the drink to the young.

Christiane Issa, whose family owns one of Lebanon’s largest arak producers, Domaine des Tourelles, said the drink is a natural digestif. It was a nod to Lebanon’s growing market for holistic and natural products.

“The most important thing about arak is that our grandfathers used herbs to treat illness, not medicine. They believed in herbs, so they chose to make arak with green anise because it has anethole, a compound that aids digestion,” said Issa, the company’s administrative manager.

Some Beirut bars have introduced an infused version of arak, adding a twig of basil or rosemary, to attract young drinkers. Issa suggests watermelon.

Passions run strong over every detail of arak tradition.

It is to be drunk from small glasses — bigger than a shot glass but smaller than an Old Fashioned glass — arranged on a tray at the top of a table laden with meze. A new glass is used with each new serving. Some prefer to drink it in a tall glass.

It is often mixed in a traditional glass pitcher, round with a short beak-like spout. That makes it easy to drink straight from the pitcher when the party really gets going.

Drinkers staunchly debate the best way to mix.

Some prefer half water, half arak — a strong, sweet mix, usually not for the newbies. More common is one-third arak to two-thirds water, to prolong the drinking and the gathering.

The ice cubes are another discussion. For some, the glass is filled with ice cubes first before pouring the drink. Those truly religious about the drink insist that ice must come last.

No one can clearly explain the difference, but theories abound. Some say arak is further weakened if the ice is already sitting in the glass. Others say, don’t question tradition.

The making of arak is a family affair, with secrets passed from one generation to another.

Central to the process is a triple distillation using a still called a “karakeh” in Arabic.

The harvest is in September and October. The grapes are crushed and left to ferment for three weeks. The mix is then put in the lower part of the karakeh, where it is heated until it evaporates and cooled in the top part by a stream of cold water.

At this stage, it is pure alcohol. Anise and water may be added in the second or third distillation. The mix is what makes each house’s taste unique.

Homemade arak usually goes straight into gallon containers after distillation, ready for drinking. In commercial production, the arak sits in clay jugs for a year, making it smoother, Issa said.

“Wine ages but arak rests,” Issa said.

Issa’s father introduced a new technique, letting it sit in the clay jugs for five years before going to market. Her family bought Domaine des Tourelles 18 years ago and now it produces 350,000 bottles a year of Arak Brun, named after the Frenchman who founded it in 1868.

At the Taanayel festival, visitors sipped on the sweet drink with their meals.

Michel Sabat was marketing his new Arak al-Naim, or “Arak of Paradise.”

He said with so many producers, arak can only get better.

“There is a lot of competition here in Lebanon, so those who produce arak have to make sure it is very good quality.”


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Egyptian-French Movie Star Gamil Ratib Dies

Award-winning Egyptian-French actor Gamil Ratib died Wednesday in Cairo. He was 92.

Ratib is widely considered one of the greatest Egyptian movie actors of all time because of his screen presence and personal style.

He acted in French and Egyptian movies, including David Lean’s 1962 epic “Lawrence of Arabia” with Anthony Quinn and Omar Sharif, and Carol Reed’s 1956 movie “Trapeze” with Gina Lollobrigida, Burt Lancaster, and Tony Curtis.

Ratib once said on an Egyptian television show that he was a very good friend of Quinn, that the late American movie star helped him several times to find a job in the movie industry. He later became an icon of cinema and theater.

Ratib was one of Egypt’s top-grossing movie stars, performing in many films in a career spanning 65 years.

He was honored several times in film festivals and picked up many awards, including the French Legion d’Honneur, the highest French order of merit for military and civil merits.


Ratib was born in Cairo, Egypt, in November 1926. He studied law and arts in France and performed in several French plays. In the early 1950s, Ratib joined “La Comédie-Française,” one of the oldest theaters in the world.

He made his movie debut in ‘I Am The East’ in 1945. Later, he played leading roles in such films as Deuxième Bureau Contre Terroristes (1961), Réseau Secret (1967), L’Alphomega (1973), L’Étoile du Nord (1982), and Un été à La Goulette (1996). He lived between Paris and Cairo.

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Thousands of Fans Request Grand Jury Probe of Prince’s Death

Thousands of Prince fans are asking federal authorities to open a grand jury investigation into his death.

The petition to the U.S. Attorney’s Office has been signed by more than 6,000 people. One of the petition’s organizers, Nicole Welage, says more answers are needed about the rock star’s accidental fentanyl overdose in 2016. Welage tells the Star Tribune that the person who supplied the drug must be held accountable.

Federal, state and county investigators spent nearly two years looking into Prince’s death , but were unable to trace the source of the drug that killed him .

Prosecutors have said there is no credible evidence that will lead to federal criminal charges. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has declined to comment on the petition.


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Renovated Cemetery Shows Armenians’ History in Cairo

Renovation work is nearly complete on an Armenian cemetery in Cairo whose graves reflect a 100 years of the community’s history in the Egyptian capital.

Workers have fixed and cleaned up tombstones, statues and busts that sit on top of graves.

The site dates back to 1924, when the Armenian community was granted a piece of land adjacent to an older one. It fused Egyptian, Armenian and European architectural designs.

“There was a period when this place was neglected, and the renovation project was a great initiative because the area was restored to what it once was,” said Nairy Hampikian, an archaeologist and conservation specialist who has overseen the renovation project.

“The first thing we did was remove the dust from all the pathways inside the cemetery. After that the signs that you see over there that were mostly scattered on the ground and covered in dust appeared when we cleaned up.”

Armenians began settling in Egypt in the Fatimid era from the 10th to 12th Centuries and were given a piece of land by Mohamed Ali Pasha in 1844 in an area now known as old Islamic Cairo.

The size of the Armenian community in Egypt would fluctuate, driven by the country’s political and economic situation.

But it was not until after the events of World War I – when Ottoman forces killed as many as 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 – that a large number of Armenians fled to Egypt and other countries.

Turkey says many Christian Armenians who lived under the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Turkish soldiers but contests the figures and denies that a genocide took place.

The Armenians in Egypt thrived in cosmopolitan cities such as Cairo and Alexandria, which were also home to Italian and Greek communities.

Today, the Armenian community in Egypt has shrunk to about 3,000 people, and according to the president of Goganian Armenian cultural club in Cairo, Kevork Erzingatzian.

But the burial ground serves as a reminder of the Armenians’ cultural and religious heritage.

“We found tombstones that date back to the 1830s, 40s, and 50s,” Hampikian said.

Restoration work began in 2014 and is scheduled for completion at the end of 2018. The Armenian Patriarchate of Cairo, with help from donations from the Armenian community, funded the project.

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Che Guevara Poster Artist Looks Back on 50 Revolutionary Years

Fifty years after creating the Che Guevara poster that still adorns student bedrooms around the world, Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick is delighted at its ubiquity, but concerned at its exploitation for commercial gain.

Fitzpatrick created the image in 1968 from a photograph of the Argentine Marxist revolutionary taken in 1960 by Cuban photographer Alberto Korda, and made it available for free to anyone who wanted to use it.

It was quickly adopted by left-wing movements, appearing on T-shirts, posters and leaflets, but has also been used by companies to brand products – something that annoyed Fitzpatrick and pushed him to reclaim the copyright in 2010.

“It didn’t bother me at first, I couldn’t give a hoot who was doing T-shirts,” he told Reuters.

“But when a big commercial company, like a cigarette company, who have literally stolen my image, produce cigarette packs with my image twisted around the other way, left to right, as though that solves the copyright problem, then I have severe problems, because I detest that kind of commercial exploitation.”

Speaking in his home studio in Sutton, north of the Irish capital Dublin, Fitzpatrick recounted how the image was created.

“I did a couple of posters of it, but the one that matters, the red and black one that everyone is familiar with, the more iconic one, that was done after (Guevara’s) murder and execution while a prisoner of war, for an exhibition in London called Viva Che,” he said, referring to Guevara’s death at the hands of Bolivian forces in 1967.

“The Che is very simple. It’s a black and white drawing that I added red to. The star was painted by hand in red,” he said, displaying a large print of the image. “Graphically, it’s very intense and straightforward, it’s immediate, and that’s what I like about it.”

Fitzpatrick said he offered the copyright of the image to the Guevara family, who have not yet returned the documents necessary for him to turn it over to them, and that he may bequeath it to a local charity instead.

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With Metal Skulls and Horns, Turkish Artist Re-interprets Ancient Stories

In a disused hangar in Istanbul, Turkish artist Ahmet Gunestekin uses thousands of metal human skulls and twisting, spiky animal horns to re-tell some ancient myths in a towering, fearsome installation.

Gunestekin says his work “Chamber of Immortality” draws on the Epic of Gilgamesh – the Sumerian king who tried in vain to find the secret of everlasting life, and on the closely related Biblical story of Noah, whose ark some believe landed on Mount Ararat, Turkey’s highest peak.

The centerpiece is an enormous metal skull with a twisting animal horn jutting from its mouth, made up of 11,000 smaller skulls, all crafted by hand. Around it sit two curved walls made of yet more skulls, some of which sprout animal horns from their ears, temples and mouths.

The large skull represents Noah, while the tongue-like horn that spills from its mouth represents animals, Gunestekin said.

“In a way, it shows how the concepts of human and animal are nested within one another,” he said.

The structure, which tool 4-1/2 years and $1 million to create, is inspired by Gobeklitepe, a 12,000 year-old temple in Turkey that this year became a UNESCO World Heritage site.

A self-taught artist, he is known for unconventional techniques to depict oral narratives, myth and legends mainly from Anatolian and Greek civilizations.

“Chamber of Immortality” will travel to London, Berlin and New York after being exhibited in Contemporary Istanbul on Sept. 20.

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‘Game of Thrones’ Takes Top Prize at Surprising Emmys

HBO’s record-breaking fantasy epic “Game of Thrones” stormed back onto the Emmys stage on Monday, winning the coveted best drama series prize on a night full of surprises, including an on-air marriage proposal that stunned the audience.

The other big story of the Hollywood gala, television’s answer to the Oscars, was the huge success of “The Marvelous Mrs Maisel,” Amazon’s story of a 1950s housewife-turned-stand up comic, which took home eight Emmys overall, including the best comedy award.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” — last year’s best drama and an early favorite for more hardware in 2018 — went home empty-handed from the star-studded event at the Microsoft Theater, after winning three minor awards handed out a week ago.

The ceremony hosted by “Saturday Night Live” regulars Colin Jost and Michael Che took on a decidedly political hue at the start, with a barrage of edgy jokes on hot-button issues from diversity in Hollywood to #MeToo and Donald Trump.

The gala also saw several sentimental favorites take home their first Emmys.

Matthew Rhys won for best drama actor for spy thriller “The Americans,” Claire Foy was named best drama actress for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in “The Crown” and Henry Winkler triumphed for supporting comedy acting on “Barry.”

But the coveted drama prize went to “Game of Thrones,” which was ineligible for last year’s Emmys, and series star Peter Dinklage took home the best supporting actor prize for his portrayal of Tyrion Lannister.

“Writing for these actors behind us is the honor of a lifetime,” said the show’s co-creator David Benioff.

“But we didn’t invent these characters. That was George R.R. Martin. The show could not be without the mad genius of George.”

“GoT” won nine Emmys this year, meaning the blood-spattered cinematic tale of noble families vying for the Iron Throne — which returns in 2019 for an abbreviated eighth and final season — now has 47 awards overall.

That breaks the program’s own record as the most decorated fictional show since the Television Academy first handed out prizes in 1949.

‘Mrs Maisel’ breaks through

In the comedy categories, “Mrs Maisel” bested all comers in its first year of eligibility, sweeping the female acting prizes (star Rachel Brosnahan and co-star Alex Borstein) and best series honors.

Earlier this year, “Maisel” won two Golden Globes.

“One of the things I love the most about this show… it’s about a woman who is finding her voice anew,” Brosnahan said.

“It’s something that’s happening all over the country right now. One of the most important ways that we can find and use our voices is to vote. So if you haven’t already registered, do it on your cell phone right now.”

HBO dark comedy “Barry” notched two acting wins — for Winkler and series star Bill Hader.

Politics and #MeToo

The Emmys opened with a daring song-and-dance number poking fun at myriad controversies including the problem of ensuring diversity in Hollywood productions.

“We solved it!” crooned “SNL” nominees Kate McKinnon and Kenan Thompson, with back-up from pop stars John Legend and Ricky Martin — and even RuPaul.

They then yielded the stage to Jost and Che — who let the zingers fly.

“This year, the audience is allowed to drink in their seats. Hope you’re excited about that — because the one thing Hollywood needs right now is a bunch of people losing their inhibitions at a work function,” Jost said, in a reference to #MeToo.

 An Emmy-winning proposal

Looking to boost audience ratings, Emmys organizers said they were hoping to shake up the broadcast — and indeed they did, intentionally and unintentionally.

A surprise marriage proposal from Emmy-winning director Glenn Weiss won over the audience — and the internet.

As Weiss accepted his award for directing the Oscars, he asked Jan Svendsen, who was sitting in the audience, to marry him.

“You wonder why I don’t like to call you my girlfriend? Because I want to call you my wife,” he added to cheers, applause and a few teary-eyed actors in the audience.

Svendsen then joined Weiss on stage as the director got on one knee and formally proposed.

The moment was especially poignant as Weiss revealed his mother had recently passed away — and offered Svendsen the ring his father had given his mom.

Drama showdown

Other big winners included FX’s “The Assassination of Gianni Versace,” which won Emmys for best limited series and an acting prize for Darren Criss, who earned rave reviews for his dark turn as the designer’s killer Andrew Cunanan.

Thandie Newton won the best supporting actress in a drama statuette for her work on HBO’s futuristic western “Westworld.”

“I don’t even believe in God but I’m going to thank her tonight,” Newton quipped.

“Saturday Night Live” won the award for best variety sketch series.

In the emerging battle of traditional networks vs new platforms, streaming giant Netflix and HBO ended in a dead heat at the top — at 23 Emmys each.

Stay tuned for the next episode in that duel… at next year’s Emmys.


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Music Brings Joy to Poor Children

In Baltimore, a free after school music program called OrchKids is being used as an instrument of change for children in underprivileged neighborhoods. In the past 10 years, more than 1,300 children have received free group music lessons, and free instruments, from flutes to trumpets to violins.

The program was started by Marin Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, who said OrchKids also aims to create social change in a city where about 40 percent of the population live in poverty. She hopes that if more children of color learn an instrument that “orchestras will better reflect the diversity of our communities.”

For 15 year old Nema Robinson, OrchKids has given her more opportunities than she ever imagined. Four years ago, the quiet teenager started taking the group violin lessons and quickly progressed. 

Her teacher, Ahreum Kim, grew up in Korea and studied at the prestigious Peabody Institute in Baltimore. 

“Nema’s determination has helped make her a top violin student” Kim said. “OrchKids is doing a lot for Nema, by giving her confidence, the practice of being in front of an audience, and musical skills she can be proud of,” she added.

Nema’s musical journey began when she and her mother, Susan Johnson, saw an OrchKids concert. Johnson was amazed to see black kids performing classical and opera music. “You just don’t see that,” she recalled thinking, “And I’m elbowing Nema and telling her, ‘This is what you should be doing.”

Nema enthusiastically agreed, and soon after started taking violin lessons that have given her the opportunity to play all kinds of music. She is especially proud of being a violinist in the Orchkids jazz band.

OrchKids has been instrumental in guiding many students, some from difficult backgrounds, by providing a place where they feel respected and safe.

“Some of the students come into the class with baggage,” said Kim. “That could be due to poverty, or trouble at home. It is helpful when I learn about their families.”

Nema had a rough start in life as a drug addicted baby. With both her parents in prison, her aunt became her guardian and mother.

“She’s my number one supporter and has helped me a lot,” said Nema appreciatively. She pushes me. If it wasn’t for my mom I don’t think I would really be this good at playing the violin.”

Aside from the camaraderie and the encouragement that OrchKids provides, Nema also enjoys performing. I like seeing the audience, and their clapping and standing up after the performance,” she said. “It just makes my day.”

Thanks to her free violin lessons, Nema was accepted into the Baltimore School for the Arts where she now studies music.

She hopes to earn a college degree in music so she can teach other black children, like herself, how to live their lives on a high note. 

“It doesn’t matter what race you are, you can play music. If it’s your passion then it’s your passion,” Nema said with a smile.

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