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Writer Nick Hornby On 'High Fidelity' And Pop Culture Obsession

Hornby's 1995 novel about a record shop owner was made into a film in 2000. Now it's been adapted and updated into a new Hulu series, starring Zoë Kravitz. Originally broadcast in 1995.

22:29

Other segments from the episode on September 26, 1995

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 14, 2020: Interview with Nick Hornby; Obituary for Joseph Shabalala; Review of the film And Then We Danced.

Transcript

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, sitting in for Terry GROSS.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HIGH FIDELITY")

ZOE KRAVITZ: (As Rob) Desert island all-time top five most memorable heartbreaks in chronological order are as follows - Kevin Bannister (ph), Cat Monroe (ph), Simon Miller (ph)...

BIANCULLI: That's Zoe Kravitz as the lead character in the new Hulu series "High Fidelity," which streams its entire season today. She's playing the same role John Cusack played in the 2000 movie version of "High Fidelity" - the owner of a used record store, who has very strong and specific opinions about music, romance and lots of other things. It's an attention-getting approach to casting, going from a white man to a black woman, but there's a universality to the character's attitudes and obsessive top five lists. They come straight from the 1995 novel "High Fidelity," written by British writer Nick Hornby. We'll hear from him in a moment.

But first, here's a scene from the Hulu series with Zoe Kravitz as the list-obsessed central character from "High Fidelity."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HIGH FIDELITY")

KRAVITZ: (As Rob) Here's how not to plan a career - one, split up with girlfriend; two, ditch college; three, go to work in struggling record shop; four, become owner of said record shop and stay there for rest of life; and five - well, there is no five.

BIANCULLI: This new Hulu "High Fidelity" TV series arrives 20 years after the movie version with John Cusack, and it arrives 25 years after Nick Hornby first published his "High Fidelity" novel. That was in 1995, and that's also when Terry Gross spoke with Nick Hornby. She asked him to read a passage from his then-new novel, showing how Rob and his record store employees, Dick and Barry, judged people by their tastes in popular culture.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

NICK HORNBY: (Reading) A while back, when the Dick and Barry and I agreed that what really matters is what you like, not what you are like, Barry proposed the idea of a questionnaire for prospective partners, a two- or three-page multiple-choice document that covered all the music, film, TV, book bases. It was intended, A, to dispense with awkward conversation and, B, to prevent a chap from leaping into bed with somebody who might, at a later date, turn out to have every Julio Iglesias record ever made. It amused us at the time, although Barry being Barry went one stage further; he compiled the questionnaire and presented it to some poor woman he was interested in, and she hit him with it. But there was an important and essential truth contained in the idea, and the truth was that these things matter, and it's no good pretending that any relationship has a future if your record collections disagree violently or if your favorite films wouldn't even speak to each other if they met at a party.

TERRY GROSS: Well, that's the theory of how his relationships work - you know, you have to find somebody whose taste conforms to yours, and taste is everything. Let's hear how this works in practice. I'm going to ask you to skip ahead to Page 161, when a friend of the main character's, you know, has met a woman. The problem is, this woman doesn't have very good taste in music. Why don't you read it?

HORNBY: (Reading) And as a Simple Minds fan, Dick confides. Oh, right. I don't know what to say. This, in our universe, is a staggering piece of information. We hate Simple Minds. They were No. 1 in our top five bands or musicians who'll have to be shot come the musical revolution - Michael Bolton; U2; Bryan Adams; and surprise, surprise, Genesis were tucked in behind them. Barry wanted to shoot the Beatles, but I pointed out that someone had already done it. It is as hard for me to understand how he's ended up with a Simple Minds fan as it would be to fathom how he'd paired off with one of the royal family or a member of the shadow cabinet. It's not the attraction that baffles so much as how on earth they got together in the first place.

GROSS: Well, Nick Hornby (laughter), is this an obsession you understand, measuring the whole world by taste?

HORNBY: I understand it; I don't necessarily share it, but I've certainly had my moments, I think.

GROSS: How obsessed are you with your favorites in books, records, television, movies and other people's?

HORNBY: I'm always very interested in other people's stuff, and I guess it's something that I want to know fairly quickly. But I don't think I'm alone in this, and I think a lot of men in particular are like that, and they'd rather kind of cut to the chase in conversation and just get people to list things, really.

GROSS: So do you think that the male aspect is the list aspect, you know, the quantifying aspect or just the obsession with taste?

HORNBY: I think the quantifying aspect is very important.

GROSS: Now, I confess, I really am baffled when people get together who don't share the same taste. I mean, if somebody, like, is obsessed with movies and starts a relationship with someone who doesn't like to go to the movies, you wonder are their inner lives compatible?

HORNBY: (Laughter) Yeah, I would say that they probably aren't. I think it probably gets easier as you get older to form relationships and to find points of contact that aren't based on taste. But I think at the times when one is forming relationships, these things are very important.

GROSS: Pauline Kael, the film critic, once wrote in one of her essays that - I think she broke up with someone after they saw "West Side Story" together because he loved the film and she detested it, and she just (laughter) couldn't imagine seeing him any more after that. Have you ever been through something like that?

HORNBY: No, a friend has. Quite recently, they had an argument because a woman described a TV movie as a great film. And you could feel the doubt in his voice, you know, from a very early stage from there after, and it really didn't last very long.

GROSS: Why don't you describe the record store that your main character owns, Championship Vinyl?

HORNBY: Well, it's a rather seedy secondhand store for collectors, really, and it sells pretty well all vinyl, I would imagine. They don't have that conversation, but when I imagined it in my head, it's just rack-fulls of vinyl. It's pretty empty most of the time. So the three guys who work there spend most of their time arguing with each other, and they don't make a lot of sales. And it sells, I suppose, the pop music canon. You know, if Harold Bloom has a canon, these guys have a canon. And it's kind of R&B, new wave, '60s rock - all the kinds of things that rock critics would approve of, really.

GROSS: Plus a little ska.

HORNBY: Oh, yeah, yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Now, some of the customers in this record store are people who, really, virtually have no life outside of looking for rare singles. About one customer, the main character thinks, (reading) I can't imagine telling him anything of a remotely personal nature, that I had a mother and father, say, or that I'd been to school when I was younger. I reckon he'd just blush and stammer and ask if I'd heard the new Lemonheads album.

(Laughter) What made you think of a character like that? Do you find a lot of people like that who seem to have no life and who live in book or record stores?

HORNBY: Yeah, well, it was the thing I guess that interested me about people like the characters in the book, is that what they listen to all the time is incredibly emotive and yet they're very anal about stuff. And so there's this great dissonance between the music and its consumers, and it was that sort of area that I wanted to write about.

GROSS: You know, I find with people who are obsessive about music or books or whatever, that there's the kind of person who just has the list who just has the lists, who just has - well, these are my favorites. I like this; I don't like that. And then there's a person who has just a whole kind of constellation of thoughts surrounding it and for who those lists represent a kind of, like, deep inner life and a rich sensibility. Do you know what I mean?

HORNBY: Oh, sure. I mean, I guess it's the difference between a rock critic and a rock fan a lot of the time. I think music is a terribly hard thing to write about. And people like Peter Guralnick and Greil Marcus, who are capable of these - I mean, they have very defined taste, but they are capable of striking sparks and thoughts off their lists, as it were, whereas there's a sort of lumpen rock fan who just can't do anything with a list apart from know that this is the stuff he likes.

GROSS: One of his early girlfriends back in 1973, her top five recording artists were Carly Simon, Carole King, James Taylor, Cat Stevens and Elton John. And the main character thinks, I can imagine what sort of person she became - a nice person.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Tell me how you chose that list for this early girlfriend.

HORNBY: Well, I guess that was pretty much a composite of the record collections that I saw in girlfriends' bedrooms at the time in the mid-'70s. They were all - one of those artists was always represented in any collection that I saw.

GROSS: You know, an interesting thing is, a lot of times - and I think this is particularly true of boys and men - they want to be the mentor in a relationship. So they'll almost, like, seek out somebody who's younger or at least more inexperienced or uneducated in something so that they can teach them.

HORNBY: Yeah, I think that's very interesting, and I think it's very representative of very common male behavior. And in the book, in "High Fidelity," Rob Fleming spends a lot of his time making compilation tapes for women that he meets. And it's - you know, I guess it's like - in a way, in a rather unpleasant way, it's like dogs and lampposts and setting your mark in some way.

GROSS: (Laughter).

HORNBY: And to that extent, virgin ears are very important to that kind of man.

GROSS: Tell us more about the compilation tapes he makes and how he uses them.

HORNBY: Well, they are a kind of means of seduction. And he meets Laura, who's the other central character in the book, at a club where he's a DJ, and he offers to make her a compilation tape of the music that she's been listening to and dancing to in this club. And so that becomes a very important thing, that he has introduced her to all sorts of things. And then there's an echo of that later on, where he meets somebody else and he finds himself making a tape for her, too, and Laura sees him and knows exactly what he's doing.

But he has very strict rules about compilation types, about what kind of music can go next to what kind of music. And he can't have black music and white music together, and you can't have fast stuff and slow stuff together; he has to build all these little bridges between tracks. So he's very finicky about the compilation tapes.

GROSS: You know, I have to tell you, I've always found that kind of - that male urge to mentor a girlfriend kind of irritating.

HORNBY: Yeah, I should think it is, actually.

GROSS: Yeah. It's like you - like somebody who doesn't want an equal, so someone who doesn't want somebody they can share an interest with, but they want to be able to, like, teach it.

HORNBY: Yeah. Really, you're trying to turn the other person into a female version of yourself, which kind of defeats the point of the relationship, really.

GROSS: Exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Right.

BIANCULLI: British author Nick Hornby speaking to Terry Gross in 1995. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE INTERNET'S "STAY THE NIGHT")

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's 1995 interview with British writer Nick Hornby. His book "High Fidelity," already adapted into a 2000 movie starring John Cusack, has just been remade as a new Hulu series starring Zoe Kravitz in the formerly male leading role. The series premieres today on the Hulu streaming service.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Now, what about your top five singles of all time? Do you have such a list?

HORNBY: I guess the permanent No. 1 is Marvin Gaye, "Let's Get It On," which I think is the greatest piece of pop music ever made. And then the four after that change periodically. But there's always something like "Hey Jude" in there. And I have a residual fondness for "Maggie May" by Rod Stewart. So those three are always there or thereabouts.

GROSS: Now, your main character not only divides pop culture into top five lists, he divides up his life that way, too. And the book starts with, my desert island all-time top five most memorable split-ups in chronological order - and then the list are the five women or girls (laughter) who left him during his formative years. Did you ever find yourself doing that in real life, or is this just an extreme you invented for your character?

HORNBY: (Laughter) This is something I invented for the character, yeah. No, I tend to try and forget as quickly as possible. But...

(LAUGHTER)

HORNBY: No, I think it's something that he would do, and it's another difference between him and me.

GROSS: Now, when you were writing this book, did you have to do any research, so to speak? Did you hang out at a record store or observe certain people who you thought were really close to the character that you created for your book? Or did you just already know all this stuff inside out?

HORNBY: I think, really, I knew this stuff inside out. There's some stuff about women's underwear in there, which...

GROSS: Oh, I was just going to mention that.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: I was just going to - that's a really funny part. I mean, this is a character who is really disappointed because, you know, he finally figures out that women save their best, really sexy lingerie for Saturday nights when they expect to actually be sleeping with someone. But then when you actually move in with the woman, there's these kind of, like, tattered, torn undies all over the radiators hanging up to dry (laughter).

HORNBY: Yeah. I mean, that was something that obviously came from bitter experience. But...

GROSS: (Laughter).

HORNBY: But I did check it out with a lot of women friends, and so that was my one piece of research, was to ask women about their underwear.

GROSS: And did they concur that that was true?

HORNBY: Yeah, they did. Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

HORNBY: I'm getting a nod here from the studio as well.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It's embarrassing but true.

GROSS: This is your - that was your engineer (laughter)...

HORNBY: Yeah, that's right.

GROSS: ...In England nodding?

HORNBY: Yeah (laughter).

GROSS: So how big is your record collection? I'll move the subject...

HORNBY: (Laughter).

GROSS: ...Off of underwear for a while.

(LAUGHTER)

HORNBY: Well, I guess I have 700 or 800 vinyl albums and a few hundred CDs and quite a few tapes, as well, so - I've got to the stage when I have most of the things I want, really.

GROSS: That's actually pretty modest for a - by collecting standards.

HORNBY: Yeah. I'm not really a collector, and I have ditched loads of stuff as I've got older, which Rob Fleming, the guy in the book, would never do. I mean, he'd never get rid of anything - and because he uses his records as a kind of autobiography, whereas I practiced a sort of Stalinist rewriting of history.

GROSS: (Laughter).

HORNBY: So...

GROSS: What do you mean?

HORNBY: Well, so, you know, you sell all the dodgy heavy metal albums, all the Black Sabbath records I bought when I was 16, and they are now no longer to be found in my record collection.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Did you ever have to divide up a record collection after living with somebody for an amount of time?

HORNBY: No. I've always kept things very separate.

GROSS: Now, how do you keep your record collection - just alphabetized straightforwardly?

HORNBY: Alphabetized but with the first names first. So Bob Dylan would be under B.

GROSS: What (laughter)?

HORNBY: Yeah.

GROSS: Why?

HORNBY: Because (laughter) I've always had a problem...

GROSS: (Laughter).

HORNBY: I've always found this problem with certain artist groups like - you know, like the J. Geils Band. If you walk into a record store, you never know whether to go to J or G. And it's firmly under J in my collection. I think it makes sense.

GROSS: Uh-huh. Well, I guess this answers the Sun Ra question. I mean, it would...

HORNBY: (Laughter) Absolutely.

GROSS: ...Help you deal with that.

HORNBY: Sun Ra - there's a band that used to be here called Danny Wilson, and everyone in the record store thought that Danny Wilson was a solo artist, so they always put their records on the W. But it was actually from the Frank Sinatra film...

GROSS: Right.

HORNBY: ..."Meet Danny Wilson." So, again, you see, that's the kind of little problem that this clears up. And I recommend it to all your listeners.

GROSS: Your main character in your novel works in a record store, then owns a record store. A lot of people, particularly, like writers, musicians, often work in book or record stores before being able to make a living as a performer or a writer. You apparently didn't go that route, but what kind of jobs did you have before you actually were able to make a living as a writer?

HORNBY: Well, I was a teacher for some years. And later on, as I started to write a bit more, I was a part-time teacher. And then I got a job working for a very large Korean multinational company as a kind of dogsbody.

GROSS: Excuse me, a what?

HORNBY: An English expression - a dogsbody, where, you know, you just do what they tell you to do. But anything where it was easier to be English than to be Korean, then I did the job. So I did a lot of letter writing and some speech writing and shopping and arranging and all kinds of things like that. I was actually paid very well, and I didn't have to work very many hours, so it was an ideal job. That was the last job I had before I became a full-time writer.

GROSS: Now, did you know then you wanted to write?

HORNBY: I'd always wanted to write since I was about 16 or 17, I guess like most people do. And also, like most people, I actually didn't do a thing about it. Each new job that I got, I just thought, well, I'm going to be a writer someday. And then it occurred to me that I actually had to sit down and do some stuff if that was ever going to happen. So it took me a long time before I sat down and did it, but I'd known for a long time that I wanted to.

GROSS: Well, Nick Hornby, I'd like to end with one of your favorite records. You want to choose a record to end with? It could be your favorite single of all time or something else.

HORNBY: Well, I think I'd choose the favorite singer of all time. I'd like to hear "Let's Get It On" by Marvin Gaye.

GROSS: And defend your choice.

HORNBY: Because it's sort of 3 1/2 minutes long, which is the length that pop music should be. It has more voices than just about any other record since the Hallelujah Chorus. And they're all Marvin Gaye's voice, which is a beautiful voice. And it's a very sexy record. So...

GROSS: I want to thank you a whole lot for talking with us.

HORNBY: Thank you.

BIANCULLI: Nick Hornby spoke to Terry Gross in 1995. His novel "High Fidelity" has just been remade as a new streaming series premiering today on Hulu starring Zoe Kravitz in the role originated on film by John Cusack.

After a break, we remember the leader of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Joseph Shabalala, who died Tuesday. And film critic Justin Chang reviews the movie "And Then We Danced," set in the country of Georgia. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET'S GET IT ON")

MARVIN GAYE: (Singing) I've been really trying, baby - trying to hold back this feeling for so long. And if you feel like I feel, baby, then come on, oh, come on. Let's get it on. Oh, baby, let's get it on. Let's love, baby. Let's get it on, sugar. Let's get it on. We're all sensitive people with so much to give. Understand me, sugar. Since we've got to be here...

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross. Paul Simon's 1986 album, "Graceland," introduced the world to the singing of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. This acapella group was already well-known in its native South Africa for singing both traditional Zulu music and original compositions. The founder and leader of the group was Joseph Shabalala, who died Tuesday at the age of 78. If you ever saw the group in concert or on TV, he was the one wearing the microphone headset.

When he was in his teens, Shabalala left his rural village to find work in the nearby city of Durban. It was there that he started singing in vocal groups with other men who had similarly left their homes to work in the mines and factories. Shabalala's groups used to perform in local music competitions, and they always won. Eventually, they were asked to retire from competition and give other groups a chance. That's when they turned professional.

Terry Gross spoke with Joseph Shabalala in 1991, the year after his group's "Two Worlds, One Heart" album was released. Let's start with a song from that album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BALA UBHALE")

LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO: (Singing in non-English language).

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

TERRY GROSS: Joseph Shabalala, welcome to FRESH AIR.

JOSEPH SHABALALA: Thank you very much.

GROSS: You've traveled such a big distance in your life in terms of meeting different cultures and becoming known around the world. I'm interested in where you started - like, where you lived when you were growing up, what kind of life you had, what kind of work.

SHABALALA: Oh, my God. When you take my mind back like that, I was just on a farm sitting in that hut and then round that fire. I was a herd boy.

GROSS: You were...

SHABALALA: Herd boy - looking after cattle, looking after goats and sheep. Nobody knows that. It's unbelievable to see myself around, including Russia, Japan, New Zealand, Australia. Even my people, even my mother sometimes, she used to cry and said, now you follow your name - because my father gave me a very good name - called Bhekizizwe, which means save the nation. And my mother used to say, now you follow your name. This is something good. It's unbelievable.

GROSS: When you were herding - sheep, was it?

SHABALALA: Yes - sheep, goats and cattle.

GROSS: Did you sing a lot then?

SHABALALA: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Oh, yes, I - that's where I used to - I feel that I have music because all that time, I just composed a new song and sing and sing. Even the (??) guys - that the guys who were working together with them, they used to say, you have new things all the time. You sing new song. I said, no, it just come - it's spontaneously.

GROSS: Would it be imposing to ask you to maybe sing one - the kind of song you'd sing back then when you were young?

SHABALALA: (Laughter). Let me squeeze my mind back. I remember this song I used to sing for my cousin. Oh, my God - oh, that song - just - and the song says, (singing in non-English language).

And there was another song I used to - just to criticize my cousin. (Singing in non-English language).

That is Zulu dance. I was criticizing my cousin because he was afraid of girls. I said, all the time, when you see girls, you just look down like a bride (ph). What's wrong with you? Yeah, he liked that song. But he said, oh, yeah, you criticize me. But he liked the harmony.

GROSS: I want to play something that one of your groups recorded in 1967, and this is "Umama Lo."

SHABALALA: "Umama Lo."

GROSS: What does "Umama Lo" mean?

SHABALALA: Which means, this is my mother.

GROSS: Let's hear it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UMAMA LO")

LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO: (Singing in non-English language).

GROSS: Joseph Shabalala is my guest, the founder of Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

You're known around the world now, and that recognition came at the beginning as a result of the album that you recorded with Paul Simon, the "Graceland" record. How did he find you?

SHABALALA: In fact, Paul Simon, before he left America, he know - he heard about Black Mambazo because when he arrived in Johannesburg, he just named my name. He said, I want to see Joseph Shabalala, the leader of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. I know little bit about Paul Simon, especially the - what to call it? - the show which they did in Central Park with Garfunkel.

GROSS: Oh, right - yeah.

SHABALALA: That one was popular even in South Africa, talking about half a million people who was in there. Some of the press said million of people was in Central Park. And then I used to listen his record from my neighbor called "Bridge Over Troubled Water." And then when I went to him, that was my first time to see him. And then he said to me, Joseph, I'd like to work together with the group. And I ask, him what kind of working? I'm talking about music. I said, oh, you should talk about music to me; that's my life. He's - OK, let's do it.

But that day, I was very hurried because we had a show. And then we talk with him not more than five minutes, and then I arrive to the show. When I came to my group, I told my group that, guys, I was looking Paul Simon straight to his eyes, and I discovered that that man is sent by God to open the gates. I think now this is the time to spread our culture and its tradition. Even themselves, they believe what I say. It takes about - that was February - October. And then October, we got a telex from Paul Simon. He wrote that telex from New York. And he said Black Mambazo, let us come together and practice and record together in London. He sent the demo (ph). He was singing alone. And he was playing and - I think it's an organ. (Singing) homeless, homeless, moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake.

And he was imitating my brother - (vocalizing). And we just laugh. And then he welcomed me to compose - put (ph) Zulu English. And then I composed the song from the beginning, I begin in Zulu, (speaking Zulu), which means, father, we sleep in the cliff. It is very cold in the cliff. Almighty, help us. And then I continue in English - strong wind destroyed our homes. We come together in London. We practice only one day, and then we record. It was wonderful working with a musician. Paul Simon is a musician, pure musician.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOMELESS")

LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO AND PAUL SIMON: (Singing in non-English language). (Singing) Homeless, homeless. Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake. Homeless, homeless. Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake. And we are homeless, we are homeless. Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake. And we are homeless - homeless - homeless. Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake. (Singing in non-English language).

GROSS: What were your first impressions the first time you started singing in the United States with Paul Simon? And you're singing in a really different kind of context than you were used to. I don't even know if you had performed with white people in the audience before. Had you?

SHABALALA: Exactly. That was my first time singing for the large audience, those multitudes of people in Holland in that arena for two days. That was February. That was something new in my mind, even to sing for only white people. It was amazing when Paul Simon introduced Black Mambazo. And then we - they welcomed us with their warm hands. At the middle of the song, when we were singing the song "Nomathemba," which means hope - when we sang that song, at the middle of the song, the people were screaming and clapping hands. They encourage us. And then we discover that, oh, the music is a universal language. It knows no boundaries. People have the - what I call the blood (ph). They caught to this - what I call the melody, the harmony. And then we feel at home.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIAMONDS ON THE SOLES OF HER SHOES")

LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO: (Singing in non-English language).

PAUL SIMON: (Singing) She's a rich girl. She don't try to hide it - diamonds on the soles of her shoes. He's a poor boy, empty as a pocket.

LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO AND PAUL SIMON: (Singing) Empty as a pocket with nothing to lose. Sing ta-na-na (ph), ta-na-na-na. She got diamonds on the soles of her shoes. Awa-awa (ph). Ta-na-na, ta-na-na-na, she got diamonds on the soles of her shoes. Awa-awa. Diamonds on the soles of her shoes. Awa-awa. Diamonds on the soles of her shoes. Awa-awa. Diamonds on the soles of her shoes.

BIANCULLI: We'll hear more of our interview with Joseph Shabalala after a break. Shabalala was the founder and leader of the South African singing group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. He died Tuesday at the age of 78. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRIS MCGREGOR'S BROTHERHOOD OF BREATH'S "ANDROMEDA")

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to the conversation between Terry Gross and Joseph Shabalala, founder of the South African singing group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. He died Tuesday at the age of 78. They spoke in 1991.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Let me play an example of the kind of singing that you're doing now. This is from your recent record. And this track that we're going to hear was produced by George Clinton, the funk star.

SHABALALA: Yeah.

GROSS: And I think it's kind of interesting that a group like yours, which is much more rooted in South African tradition, should have teamed up with one of the fathers of funk, George Clinton. Why did you two come together?

SHABALALA: In fact, I'm a person who like many different things, but I love the way George Clinton put together his music and those noise - (vocalizing). And I said, this guy's like Black Mambazo, and they put their noise in the middle of the song - (vocalizing). I said, no, we must come together and work together. And I first listened his show in Los Angeles. And then after that, I talked to my manager. And then we come together.

GROSS: Do you have very different styles of working?

SHABALALA: Oh, yes. Yes.

GROSS: (Laughter).

SHABALALA: We just put Zulu in that funk.

(LAUGHTER)

SHABALALA: Funk and Zulu.

GROSS: Well, let's hear how it sounds. This is from the Ladysmith Black Mambazo record "Two Worlds One Heart." This is the piece "Scatter The Fire."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SCATTER THE FIRE")

LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO: (Vocalizing). Scatter the fire. Spread the music all over the world.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yo, check this out, man.

LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO: Yabo (ph), you check this out.

(Singing in non-English language).

GROSS: That's Ladysmith Black Mambazo and a track produced by funkster (ph) George Clinton.

SHABALALA: I love when they - what do they call it? - George Clinton's son says, check this out, man.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: And you say it, too, after him.

SHABALALA: Yes. I say, you check this out.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So how do you like rap? I mean, do...

SHABALALA: I like it very much. In fact, I like all beautiful music. But my favorite is gospel. Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah. And on this record, too, you sing something with The Winans, the American gospel group...

SHABALALA: Oh, yes.

GROSS: ...The African American gospel group. Did you hear gospel music growing up? What kind of music did you sing in church?

SHABALALA: Oh, my - now, when I grew up on the farm, I don't know nothing about church.

GROSS: But I know you're a minister now, which is why I'm thinking of church.

SHABALALA: (Laughter) Yes, I repent. In fact, I dedicate myself to God. It was 1976, January.

GROSS: I've always heard about you that you're not very political. Is that true?

SHABALALA: Oh, yes. I'm not political. I'm a Christian man, although I point (ph) some other things, which is I just point (ph) - good and bad things, especially how to be good to God, how to praise God, how to respect, how to forgive each other - which I think it covers everything, like pointing (ph) those people who are homeless. It came to the homeless people, and it came to even those people who are with (ph) - but they are homeless because of - we are just visiting here in this world. Our home is in heaven. We are going to see him, before God. We just remind the people their way.

GROSS: Thank you very, very much.

SHABALALA: Thank you so much.

BIANCULLI: Joseph Shabalala spoke to Terry Gross in 1991. The founder of the South African singing group Ladysmith Black Mambazo died Tuesday. He was 78 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIAMONDS ON THE SOLES OF HER SHOES")

LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO AND PAUL SIMON: (Singing) Na-na-na-na (ph), na-na-na-na-na. Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na-na. Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na-na.

BIANCULLI: Coming up, film critic Justin Chang reviews "And Then We Danced," the controversial film about life and love in the country of Georgia. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUDU PUKWANA & SPEAR'S "CHURCH MOUSE")

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. The movie "And Then We Danced" is set in the country of Georgia and sparked controversy there because of its depiction of a gay love story. Its opening last year was met with violent protests from the right and an outcry from conservative politicians and the Orthodox Church. The movie was directed by a 40-year-old Swedish filmmaker whose roots are in Georgia. It was submitted by Sweden for consideration for an Oscar for best international feature. Film critic Justin Chang has this review.

JUSTIN CHANG, BYLINE: If you're like me and know nothing about the art of traditional Georgian folk dance, "And Then We Danced" will provide an absorbing introduction. Set in the present day in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, the movie stars a terrific first time actor named Levan Gelbakhiani as Merab, a 20-something junior member of the country's national dance ensemble. In the very first scene, Merab, a lean young man with a broad elfin grin, rehearses with his partner, Mary, and the camera follows their bodies as they move with impressive athleticism through a tightly choreographed routine.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "AND THEN WE DANCED")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, non-English language spoken).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHANG: But their instructor stops them and sternly criticizes Merab, saying his body is too soft when it should be as hard as a nail. Also, apparently, the dancer's eyes are much too playful; they should be gazing at the floor, so as to convey a kind of virginal innocence. After all, the instructor reminds them, there is no sex in Georgian dance. The movie will soon undermine that sentiment. But although Merab and Mary have been dance partners for years and are nominally a couple, Merab shows little romantic interest in her.

It soon becomes clear that he has eyes only for Irakli, a handsome young man played by Bachi Valishvili, who has recently joined their dance troupe. Irakli has a tall, muscular frame and turns out to be a more seasoned dancer than Merab. But the two men become friends. And as Irakli gives Merab helpful tips on his dancing technique, any sense of rivalry is soon eclipsed by the intensity of their shared attraction.

"And Then We Danced" is a fairly straightforward drama of first love and sexual awakening that may remind you of exquisite gay romances like "Call Me By Your Name" and the underseen English film "God's Own Country." But if the dramatic beats follow a familiar, even formulaic groove, it's still an engrossing story, thanks to the vividness and specificity of its Georgian setting and the beauty and vitality of the actors.

Levan Akin, a Swedish-born writer-director of Georgian background, is very good at capturing those moments when friendship becomes flirtation, even with a moment as tender as Irakli resting his head on Merab's shoulder as the two ride a bus together. The scenes of the two men rehearsing and, at one point, dancing together quickly take on an undeniable erotic charge. Merab and Irakli are forced to carry on their relationship in secret. It's during a weekend getaway with friends that the two have sex for the first time in a secluded area outdoors, away from prying eyes.

But Mary is hurt by Merab's neglect, and as she begins to realize what's going on, she feels both understandably betrayed and fearful for Merab's future. Homosexuality is legal, but homophobia is rampant in Georgia, where much of the population is Orthodox Christian. At one point, we hear background gossip about a male dancer who was caught sleeping with another man and sent to a monastery, where he was sexually assaulted by priests. That sad story is one of many that director Akin actually heard while researching his film, which he shot under difficult conditions and with tight security. The fact that the plot involved a gay love story had to be kept secret so as to avoid backlash or protests.

For all those challenges, "And Then We Danced" is seamlessly well-made, and its portrait of present-day Tbilisi conveys a striking sense of place. We get an intimate look at Merab's life at home and also at the challenges and limited opportunities that face many working-class youth. Family obligations force Irakli to shuttle between Tbilisi and Batumi, a city hundreds of miles away. Merab divides his time between dancing and working as a restaurant waiter. His parents were once dancers themselves but never managed to do it for a living. Even his ne'er-do-well older brother is a dancer, although he gets drunk every night and often misses practice the next morning.

Dance clearly exerts a powerful grip on the culture, and its unyielding standards of masculinity serve as an effective metaphor for a society mired in years of conservative tradition. But the best moments in "And Then We Danced" suggest that dance can also be liberating. There's a wonderful scene when the two young men are alone and a shirtless Merab dances for Irakli while "Honey," a popular song by the Swedish artist Robyn, fills the soundtrack. It's quite a moment - playful, seductive and quietly subversive. We're reminded that dance isn't just a rigid display of national pride, but perhaps the body's most intuitive expression of love and desire.

BIANCULLI: Justin Chang is a film critic for the LA Times.

On Monday's show, did President Trump really call his top military commanders a bunch of dopes and babies? We hear from two Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters from The Washington Post, Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, did more than 200 interviews for their inside account of the Trump administration, which is titled "A Very Stable Genius." Hope you can join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEW ORLEANS JAZZ ORCHESTRA'S "SOUTHERN NIGHTS")

BIANCULLI: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering support from Joyce Lieberman and Julian Herzfeld. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Thea Chaloner. directed today's show. For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEW ORLEANS JAZZ ORCHESTRA'S "SOUTHERN NIGHTS")

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