'Amandla!' - Weave Music into History     

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2/13/2004 5:02:06 AM
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'Amandla!' - Weave Music into History
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From the ghettos of South Africa and urban America to the halls of political power and riches of rap, two movies opening today at Upstate Films in Rhinebeck mark Black History Month by exploring the many dimensions of African Americans and the tremendous impact that diversity has had on American culture.

''Tupac: Resurrection,'' about late rap star Tupac Shakur, shot dead in 1996 at the age of 25, and ''Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony,'' about the role that native South African music played in the fall of apartheid, both open today at Upstate Films. Like ''Tupac'' and ''Amandla!,'' the screenings this weekend of ''All Power to the People: The Black Panther Party and Beyond'' and ''Girlhood'' are part of Black History Month celebrations at the theater.

As ''Amandla!'' transcends music and South African politics, so does ''Tupac'' tell a story that is much bigger than its subject. ''Amandla!'' could make you cry. ''Tupac'' will very likely impact anyone who has ever watched MTV, maintained a fervent passion or fleeting curiosity for rap music or simply marveled at the cornerstone of American culture into which rap has developed.

Both ''Amandla!,'' the Xhosa word for "power," and ''Tupac'' examine race relations that to a large part define modern society. But neither film ever strays from its objective of storytelling, nor does it ever lose its firm grasp on the groove.

There is something in these two movies for every music lover and student of history, whether a political person or not; and whether or not a fan of rap.

Also, ''Tupac'' has a strong local connection -- co-producer Dina LaPolt, a Los Angeles attorney specializing in the entertainment industry, grew up in New Paltz and was a guitar major at SUNY New Paltz, from which she graduated in 1991. Her interest in Shakur dates to the day he was killed, Sept. 13, 1996, when her study partner at law school became so distressed that she packed her belongings and went home.

''That was the first time I can recall even knowing who he was,'' LaPolt said during a recent telephone interview.

LaPolt has worked extensively and closely with Shakur's mother Afeni on legal issues involving Shakur's music that arose after his death. For the movie, she secured the rights to all video footage and music.

''It was a two-year process,'' said LaPolt, who is also a musician who grew up listening to Joan Jett, AC/DC and the Go-Gos.

''Amandla!" packs a punch that will enlighten and illuminate any knowledge you might already have about the struggle against apartheid. This film, which was screened at the 2002 Woodstock Film Festival, examines the relationship between music and social change in South Africa over decades.

''Amandla!'' consists of striking footage from South Africa that details musical and nonmusical life. Making appearances in the film -- among dozens of musicians -- are legends Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba and Abdullah Ibrahim. Also in the movie is Vusi Mahlasela, who many in the Hudson Valley saw perform in November when he opened up for the Derek Trucks Band at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock.

Director Lee Hirsch, a Long Island native, became interested in South Africa while attending a private high school in Putney, Vt. After being elected student representative to the school's board of trustees, Hirsch found himself analyzing the school's stock portfolio and discovering companies that were under attack for their financial dealings in South Africa, under apartheid rule at the time.

Hirsch undertook a divestment campaign like many rippling across school campuses, followed by a successful student and faculty referendum.

''I was obsessed as a result of all of this,'' Hirsch recalled this week during a telephone interview. ''I was outraged and passionate about the struggle. That's when I fell in love with the music and started to think about how the music was so powerful''

An internship in South Afric

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