Sunday, December 28, 2008

ABBA - Mainland Europe's Most Iconic Pop Group

Thanks, Wikipedia.

ABBA was a Swedish pop group that was a worldwide sensation in the 1970s.

The band consisted of Benny Andersson (Sweden), Bjorn Ulvaeus (Sweden), Anni-Frida Lyngstad Fredrikson (Norway) and Agnetha Faltskog (Sweden).

They topped the charts worldwide from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s.

The name ABBA is an acronym formed from the first letters of each group member's given name.

ABBA gained immense international popularity employing catchy song hooks, simple lyrics and a Wall of Sound achieved by overdubbing the female singers' voices in multiple harmonies.

As their popularity grew, they were sought after to tour Europe, Australia and North America, drawing crowds of near-hysterical fans, notably in Australia.

Touring became a contentious issue, being particularly unpopular with Agnetha, but they continued to release studio albums to great commercial success.

At the height of their popularity, however, both marriages of the band members (Benny with Frida, and Bjorn with Agnetha) failed, and the relationship changes were reflected in their music, as they produced more thoughtful lyrics with different compositions.

They remain a fixture of radio playlists and are one of the world's best selling bands, having sold over 400 million records worldwide.

ABBA was also the first pop group from mainland Europe to enjoy consistent success in the charts English-speaking countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

The music of ABBA has been re-arranged into the successful musical Mamma Mia! that has toured worldwide and had a movie version released in 2008.

All four of the former members of ABBA were present at the Stockholm premieres of both the musical (2005) and the film (2008).

Benny Andersson (born in Stockholm, Sweden on December 16, 1946) was a member of a popular Swedish pop-rock group, The Hep Stars, that performed covers of international hits, from the age of 18.

The Hep Stars were known as The Swedish Beatles.

Benny played keyboards and eventually started writing original compositions for his band, many of which became major hits including No Response and Sunny Girl.

Bjorn Ulvaeus (born in Gothenburg, Sweden on April 25, 1945) also began his musical career at 18 (as a singer and guitarist), when he fronted The Hootenanny Singers, a popular Swedish folk group.

Ulvaeus started writing English language songs for his group, and even had a brief solo career.

The Hootenanny Singers and The Hep Stars sometimes crossed paths while touring, and on one occasion in 1966 Ulvaeus and Andersson decided to write a song together.

Their first attempt was Isn't It Easy to Say, a song later recorded by The Hep Stars.

Stig Anderson was the manager of The Hootenanny Singers.

He saw potential in the collaboration, and encouraged them to compose more.

Both also began playing occasionally with the other's bands on stage and on record, although not until 1969 did the pair write and produce some of their first real hits together, Merry Sixties.

Andersson wrote and submitted the song Hej, Clown for the 1969 Melodifestivalen, the Swedish Eurovision Song Contest finals.

The song tied for first, but re-voting relegated Andersson's song to second place.

On this occasion, Andersson briefly met his future spouse, singer Anni-Frida, who also participated in the contest.

A month later, the two had become a couple.

As the two bands began to break up, Andersson and Ulvaeus teamed up and eventually recorded their first album together in 1970, called Lycka (Happiness in Swedish), that included original compositions sung by both men.

Agnetha Faltskog, (born on April 5, 1950 in Jonkoping, Sweden) had a number one record in Sweden when she was only 17, and was soon noted by the critics and songwriters as a talented singer and songwriter.

Her main inspirations were singers like Connie Francis.

Along with her own compositions, she recorded covers of foreign hits and performed them on tours.

She submitted an original song for Melodifestivalen at 17, titled Redeemed, but it was rejected.

She briefly met Anni-Frida during a TV show in 1968, and Bjorn at a concert a few months later.

During the filming of a Swedish TV special in 1969, Agnetha met Bjorn again, and they were married in 1971.

In 1973, Agnetha starred as Mary Magdalene in the original Swedish production of Jesus Christ Superstar and attracted favourable reviews.

Between 1967 and 1975, she released five studio albums.

Anni-Frida (born on November 15, 1945 in Bjorkasen in Ballangen, Norway) sang from the age of 13 with various dance bands, and worked mainly in a jazz-oriented cabaret style.

She also formed her own band the Anni-Frida Four.

In 1967, she won a national talent competition with the song A Day Off.

When Benny started to produce her recordings in 1971, she got her first number 1 single My Own Town, for which all four future ABBA members sang the backup vocals.

Frida toured and performed regularly and made appearances on radio and TV.

She met Bjorn briefly in 1963 during a talent contest and Agnetha during a TV show in 1968.

Frida finally linked up with her future bandmates in 1969.

She participated in the Melodifestivalen, where she met Benny for the first time.

Benny produced her single Peter Pan in 1969 – the first collaboration between her and Benny and Bjorn.

Later Benny produced Frida's self-titled debut album which was released in 1971.

Frida also played in several cabaret shows in Stockholm between 1969 and 1973.

After ABBA was formed, she recorded another successful album in 1975, Frida Ensam, which included the original Swedish rendition of Fernando.

It became a huge hit in Scandinavia before the English version was recorded.

An attempt at combining their talents occurred in 1970 when the two couples went on holiday together in Cyprus.

What started as singing for fun on the beach ended up as an improvised live performance in front of the United Nations soldiers stationed on the island.

Benny and Bjorn were recording their first album together, Lycka, which was to be released in 1970.

Agnetha and Frida added backing vocals on several tracks and the idea of them all working together saw them launch their own stage act, Festfolk, which translates from Swedish to mean both Party People and Engaged Couples.

After the 1970 release of Benny and Bjorn's album Lycka, two more singles credited to them were released in Sweden, No Doctor Can Help with That and Imagine if the Earth were Young.

Agnetha released her fourth album in 1971 and married Bjorn on July 6, 1971.

Benny, Bjorn and Agnetha started performing together on a regular basis during the summer of 1971.

Stig Anderson was determined to break into the mainstream international market with music by Benny and Bjorn.

He encouraged them to write a song for Melodifestivalen, and after two rejected entries in 1971, they submitted Say It With A Song for the 1972 contest.

The song won third place and became a huge hit in Sweden.

Their song She's My Kind Of Girl was released by Epic in Japan in 1972, giving them a top 10 hit.

People Need Love was released in 1972, featuring guest vocals by Agnetha and Frida.

Stig released it as a single, credited to Bjorn, Benny, Agnetha and Frida.

In 1973, the band and manager Stig decided to have another try at the Melodifestivalen, this time with the song Ring Ring.

Stig arranged an English translation of the lyrics by Neil Sedaka and Phil Cody and in the Melodifestivalen, it placed third.

Stig subsequently named the group ABBA. The members had informally called themselves A. B. B. A. for a long time.

In 1974, ABBA performed Waterloo, its self-penned hit, at the Eurovision Song Contest in Britain and won.

The victory gave ABBA the chance to tour Europe and perform on major TV shows.

ABBA's subsequent hit songs included Honey, Honey and I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do.

ABBA's third album spawned the hit songs S. O. S. and Mamma Mia!

In 1976, ABBA released its Greatest Hits album which contained the hit song Fernando.

The group's next album Arrival was a number 1 bestseller all over Europe and Australia.

It contained the monster hits Money, Money, Money, Knowing Me, Knowing You and Dancing Queen.

ABBA's fifth album in 1977 contained the hit songs The Name of the Game and Take A Chance on Me.

In 1979, the group performed Chiquitita at the Music for UNICEF Concert held at the United Nations General Assembly to celebrate UNICEF's Year of the Child.

Agnetha and Bjorn were divorced in 1979.

The group's sixth album, Voulez-Vous, was released in the same year.

Besides the title track, it also contained the hit songs Does Your Mother Know, Angel Eyes, Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! and I Have A Dream.

ABBA's seventh album spawned the hit songs The Winner Takes It All, Super Trouper and Lay All Your Love On Me.

ABBA broke up in 1982.

Benny and Bjorn began collaborating with Tim Rice in 1983 on writing songs for the musical Chess, while Agnetha and Frida concentrated on international solo careers.

Among the songs in Chess were One Night In Bangkok and I Know Him So Well.

Frida recorded a duet with French singer Daniel Balavoine titled Belle.

In 1987, Benny released his first solo album Ring My Bells.

In the 1990s, he wrote music for the popular Swedish cabaret quartet Ainbusk Singers, giving them two hits, Lassie and Love Me.

He also wrote music for films.

Benny's band BAO released three successful albums in 2001, 2004 and 2007.

Bjorn had a reunion with his old band The Hootenanny Singers in 2005.

Benny and Bjorn are highly involved in the worldwide productions of the musical Mamma Mia! alongside Frida and Agnetha who attend its premieres.

They were also involved in the production of the successful film version of the musical, which opened in 2008.

Benny and Bjorn also made cameo appearances in the film.

In 1982, Frida launched her album Something's Going On produced by Phil Collins.

Frida's second solo album Shine was released in 1984.

Agnetha followed in 1983 with the album Wrap Your Arms Around Me. This included the hit single The Heat Is On, which was a hit in Europe.

In the US, Agnetha scored a Billboard Top 30 hit with Can't Shake Loose.

Agnetha released Eyes of a Woman in 1985 and it contained the hit song I Won't Let You Go.

In 1987 came I Stand Alone which was produced by ex-Chicago lead vocalist and bassist Peter Cetera.

They had a duet I Wasn't The One Who Said Goodbye.

In 1992 Frida became the chairperson of the environmental organisation Artists for the Environment in Sweden. She held the post for three years.

She also recorded Julian Lennon's environmental song Saltwater.

In the same year she married German prince Heinrich Von Plauen. He died at the age of 49 of cancer in 1999.

A year later, Frida lost her daughter in a car crash.

After ABBA, Frida became traumatised upon discovering that her real biological father was a Nazi German military officer Alfred Haase, who forcefully impregnated her mother during the Nazi German occupation of Norway during World War 2.

She has since made peace with Haase.

Roxette's Per Gessle has written songs for Agnetha and Frida.

U2 paid tribute to ABBA in a concert at Stockholm in 1992.

In 1994 two Australian movies focussed on admiration for ABBA - The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Muriel's Wedding.

Evan Dando of The Lemonheads recorded a cover version of Knowing Me, Knowing You, Sinead O'Connor and Boyzone's Stephen Gately have recorded Chiquitita, Tanita Tikaram has paid tribute to The Day Before You Came, Cliff Richard has covered Lay All Your Love On Me, while Dionne Warwick and Peter Cetera recorded their versions of S. O. S.

Swedish metal guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen covered Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! with slightly altered lyrics.

In 2008 all four ABBA members were reunited at the Swedish premiere of the film Mamma Mia!.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Haggis - Britain's Beloved Big Sausage

Thanks, Wikipedia.

One of Britain's most beloved dishes is the haggis, that giant sausage from Scotland.

The haggis contains sheep heart, liver and lungs minced with onion, oatmeal, turnip, spices and salt, wrapped inside a sheep stomach and mixed with stock.

It is believed that the haggis arrived in Britain with the Roman (Italian) invasion of Julius Caesar's time.

However, it is also possible that the haggis was introduced to the Scots by the English invaders.

Scottish poet Robert Burns famously created the poem Address To A Haggis. Every January 25, when the poet's birthday is celebrated in Britain, his poem is read before a haggis is served at any formal dinner in his honour.

The haggis is widely available in supermarkets in Scotland and other parts of Britain, as well as the British diaspora.

Haggis can be served in Scottish fast-food establishments deep fried in batter.

A haggis burger is a patty of fried haggis served on a bun, and a haggis bhaji is another deep fried variant, available in some Indian restaurants in Glasgow.

Higher class restaurants sometimes serve chicken breast stuffed with haggis and this dish is Chicken Balmoral.

Since the 1960s various Scottish shops and manufacturers have created vegetarian haggis for those who do not eat meat. These substitute various pulses and vegetables for the meat in the dish.

In the United States, a sausage known as scrapple closely resembles the haggis.

Sausages which closely resemble the haggis include:

The Danish and Norwegian Garnatalg, Slatur and Lungmush;

The Swedish Polsa;

The English Groats Pudding;

The Dutch Balkenbrij;

The French Boudin;

The German Stippgrutze, Knipp and Saumagen;

The Spanish Camaiot and Chireta;

The Portuguese Tripas;

The Maltese Mazzit;

The Mexican Montalayo;

The Brazilian Buchada;

The Philippine Bopis;

The Romanian Drob;

The Czechoslovakian and Hungarian Tlacenka, Veres, Hurka and Jelito;

The Bulgarian Bahur;

The Yugoslavian Svargl;

The Polish Kaszanka;

The Lithuanian Kepenine and Kraujiniai;

The Russian Kishka;

The Asheh and Ghammeh of Syria and Lebanon;

And the African-Caribbean Jug-Jug.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Florence Foster Jenkins - Queen Of The Sliding Scale

Just came back from a wonderful musical about the life of the legendary precursor to William Hung, Florence Foster Jenkins.

The play is titled Souvenir and is written by Stephen Temperley.

It was staged in The Actors Studio, Kuala Lumpur (which is owned by my relative-by-marriage Datuk Faridah Merican, the First Lady of Malaysian Theatre).

It starred Canadian singer and actress Gabrielle Maes as Florence and Malaysian actor and musician Llew Marsh as her longtime pianist collaborator Cosme McMoon.

This is a brief biography of Florence, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Florence Foster Jenkins (July 19, 1868 – November 26, 1944) was an American soprano who became famous for her complete lack of rhythm, pitch and overall singing ability.

Born Florence Foster in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to Charles Foster and Mary Hoagland, Jenkins received music lessons as a child, and expressed a desire to go abroad to study music.

Her wealthy father refused to pay the bill, so she eloped to Philadelphia with Frank Jenkins, a doctor, who became her husband (the two divorced in 1902).

She earned a living there as a teacher and pianist.

Upon her father's death in 1909, Jenkins inherited a sum of money which allowed her to take up the singing career that had been discouraged by her parents and former husband.

She became involved in the musical life of Philadelphia, and later New York City where she founded and funded the Verdi Club.

She also took singing lessons, and began to give recitals, her first in 1912.

Her mother's death in 1928 gave her additional freedom and resources to pursue singing.

Jenkins had little sense of pitch and rhythm and was barely capable of sustaining a note.

Nonetheless, she became tremendously popular in her unconventional way. Her audiences apparently loved her for the amusement she provided rather than her musical ability.

Despite her patent lack of ability, Jenkins was firmly convinced of her greatness.

She compared herself favourably to the renowned sopranos Frieda Hempel and Luisa Tetrazzini, and dismissed the laughter which often came from the audience during her performances as coming from her rivals consumed by "professional jealousy."

She was aware of her critics, however, saying "People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing."

The music Jenkins tackled in her recitals was a mixture of the standard operatic repertoire by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Giuseppe Verdi and Johann Strauss (all of them well beyond her technical ability), Lieder (including works by Johannes Brahms and Joaquin Valverde), and songs composed by herself or her accompanist Cosme McMoon.

Jenkins often wore elaborate costumes that she designed herself.

After a taxi crash in 1943 she found she could sing "a higher F than ever before." Instead of a lawsuit against the taxi company, she sent the driver a box of expensive cigars.

In spite of public demand for more appearances, Jenkins restricted her rare performances to a few favourite venues, and her annual recital at the Ritz-Carlton ballroom in New York City.

Attendance at her recitals was always limited to her loyal clubwomen — she handled distribution of the coveted tickets herself.

At the age of 76, Jenkins finally yielded to public demand and performed at Carnegie Hall on October 25, 1944.

So anticipated was the performance that tickets for the event sold out weeks in advance.

Jenkins died a month later.

Jenkins recorded nine arias on five records, which have been reissued on three CDs.

The Muse Surmounted: Florence Foster Jenkins contains only one Jenkins' performance, Valse Caressante, and an interview with the composer, who was also her accompanist, Cosme McMoon.

The Glory of the Human Voice contains the other eight arias, all accompanied by McMoon. Murder on the High C's contains all nine arias.

In 2005, a play about Jenkins' life, Souvenir, by Stephen Temperley, opened on Broadway.

It was staged in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in December 2008.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Isabel Allende - Latin America's Hot Mama Of Novelists

Isabel Allende is one of my favourite Latin American feminist icons.

This is a brief biography of her, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Isabel Allende Llona (born in Lima, Peru on August 2, 1942) is a Chilean-American novelist.

Allende, whose works fall under the "magic realist" tradition, is one of the most successful women novelists in Latin America.

She is famous for her contributions to Latin American literature, and her famous novels include The House of the Spirits (1982) and City of the Beasts (2002).

She has written novels based in part on her own experiences, often focusing on the experiences of women, weaving myth and realism together.

She has lectured and done extensive book tours and has taught literature at 10 US colleges.

Having adopted American citizenship in 2003, she currently resides in California.

Allende was born in Lima, Peru to diplomat Tomas Allende, the Chilean ambassador to Peru and Francisca Llona Barros.

Tomas Allende was the first cousin of Salvador Allende, the President of Chile from 1970 to 1973.

The young Isabel read widely, particularly the works of William Shakespeare.

She married her fellow Chilean Miguel Frías in 1962, and became a TV presenter, dramatist and journalist.

They had 2 children.

From 1959 to 1965, Allende worked with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation in Santiago and Belgium.

She also translated novels from English to Spanish.

When her uncle was ousted and executed by General Augusto Pinochet with US backing in 1973, Allende fled to Venezuela.

In 1988, she married American lawyer William Gordon. She became a US citizen in 2003.

She was one of the eight flag-bearers at the opening ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

In 2008, she became an honorary doctor of humane letters of the San Francisco State University.

Allende published two children's stories Grandmother Panchita and Lauchas y Lauchones.

She also worked in Chilean television production from 1970 to 1974.

As a journalist, she once sought an interview with Pablo Neruda, a notable Chilean poet.

Neruda declined, telling her she had too much imagination to be a journalist, and should be a novelist instead.

He also advised her to compile her satirical columns in book form.

She did so, and this became her first published book.

In 1973, Allende's play El Embajador played in Santiago, a few months before she was forced to flee the country.

In Allende's time in Venezuela, she was a freelance journalist for El Nacional in Caracas from 1976-1983 and an administrator of the Marrocco School in Caracas from 1979-1983.

In 1981, when Allende learned that her grandfather, aged 99, was on his deathbed, she started writing him a letter that later evolved into a book manuscript, The House of the Spirits.

The intent of this work was to exorcise the ghosts of the Pinochet dictatorship.

The book was a great success; Allende was compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez of Colombia as an author of magical realism.

Allende's books have since became known for their vivid story-telling.

She writes using a computer, working Monday through Saturday, 9am to 7pm.

Allende's book Paula (1995) is a memoir of her childhood in Santiago, and her years in exile.

It was written in the form of a letter to her daughter Paula, who was terminally ill with cancer. Paula died in 1992.

The Los Angeles Times has called Isabel Allende "a genius," and she has received many international awards, including the prestigious Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, granted to writers "who have contributed to the beauty of the world."

She is also the founder of the Isabel Allende Foundation, which is "dedicated to supporting programmes that promote and preserve the fundamental rights of women and children to be empowered and protected."

Allende's novels have been translated into 30 languages and sold more than 51 million copies.

There are four movies based on her novels - The House of the Spirits (with Meryl Streep), Aphrodite, Eva Luna and Gift for a Sweetheart.

Her latest book is a memoir, The Sum of Our Days.

It was published in 2008 and looks at her recent life with her immediate family, which includes her son Nicolas, second husband William Gordon and her grandchildren.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

About Tampin & Pulau Sebang

Tampin and Pulau Sebang are twin towns.

This article about them is from Wikipedia and The New Straits Times.

Tampin is a town and district in Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia.

It is named for the traditional Malaysian container weaved from the pandanus fronds.

Tampin's town's centre is situated at the Negeri Sembilan and Melaka state boundary.

Pulau Sebang, a small town within the larger town of Alor Gajah in northern Melaka, is merged with the town centre of Tampin.

Tampin has a major railway station in its suburb Gemas, which is the meeting point of the West Coast and East Coast Peninsular Malaysian railway lines.

However, the railway station located closest to Tampin town centre is the Pulau Sebang railway station.

Prior to World War II, there was a railway line linking Pulau Sebang to Melaka City, but it was dismantled by the Japanese colonialists for the construction of the infamous Burmese Death Railway.

Tampin is governed by the Tampin Municipal Council, one of seven local authorities in Negeri Sembilan.

Pulau Sebang is governed by the Alor Gajah Municipal Council, one of three local authorities in Melaka.

A few schools, shops, government buildings and houses sit on the Negeri Sembilan-Melaka border and are thus shared between Tampin and Pulau Sebang.

Prominent Malaysians who hail from Tampin include former Cabinet Minister Datuk Dr Fong Chan Onn (whose hometown is Gemas), singer Khadijah Ibrahim, her elder brother actor Latiff Ibrahim and her elder sister actress Sofea Ibrahim.

Prominent Malaysians who hail from Alor Gajah (of which Pulau Sebang is a part) include journalist Ahirudin Attan, actor Faizal Hussein, former Melaka Chief Minister Tan Sri Rahim Thambychik and former police chief Tan Sri Rahim Noor.

Datuk Ho Koh Chye - A God Of Sportsmen

Malaysian sports recently lost a titan with the passing of hockey lord Datuk Gregory Ho Koh Chye.

The 66-year-old from Seremban who died of cancer on December 3, 2008 was an outstanding Olympian who kept goal for Malaysia in two Olympics - Tokyo 1964 and Mexico City 1968.

Ho honed his skills during his schooldays in St Paul’s Institution, Seremban, and coached the Malaysian hockey squad to a fourth placing in the 1975 World Cup in Kuala Lumpur, the national hockey team’s best ever result to date.

A man of integrity who firmly believed in discipline, spartan ways, meritocracy, family values, diligence, excellence and the spirit of Malaysian-ness, Ho was immensely popular in the sports fraternity and became the chef-de-mission to the Beijing Olympics last August.