SHE has taken tea with Julian Assange, spoken out against homophobia and fracking, and shared the LennonOno Grant for Peace with Pussy Riot and investigative writer John Perkins.
But in SA last weekend, Lady Gaga refused to accredit South African news photographers for her Johannesburg concert, robbing them of the right to a livelihood and the public of honest (un-Photoshopped) images. Those pictures you saw the next day were issued to newspapers by the company Live Nation.
This is not the first time the Gaga organisation has restricted journalists: it also happened on the Austrian leg of her tour, which journalists consequently boycotted. The organisation shows scant real respect for some aspects of freedom — despite profiting from South African free-speech protections after religious conservatives here lobbied for Gaga’s show to be banned.
Pop megastars often attempt to shackle the press worldwide. The artist’s image must remain consistent with her marketing, so interviews are sometimes scripted and usually chaperoned, and photographs are digitally airbrushed.
A tour is a vastly lucrative property, and various aspects — for example, the right to the future revenue from all images — are tied down or sold off before any tour contract is even finalised. Yet few South Africans outside the media will have known of the censorship.
The South African National Editors Forum statement of protest scored few column inches, and headline-writers still drooled "Spectacular!" and "Wow!" after the show.
Gaga is merely another pop commodity, but the regularly supine and fawning attitude of showbiz columnists to such restrictions opens a very dangerous door.
There will be justifiable furore if only sanctioned images from Mangaung are permitted. Yet Gaga’s publicists hang from the same low branch of the evolutionary tree as the thugs smashing reporters’ cameras at political conferences.
All these attempts at control, of course, look positively medieval in a digital era where anyone with a smartphone can grab and transmit images. Yet because of their broader implications, it is sad when few journalists anywhere interrogate whether Gaga’s noisily publicised views on human rights are anything more than another tissue in her carefully managed packaging.
Jazz artists in general love to talk about their music and prefer to play rather than preen. None of this week’s live music will be tainted by such restrictions — and the music is enjoying a flurry of activity before all but coastal venues close down for the holiday season.
ON Friday, singer Sibongile Khumalo performs at the State Theatre in Pretoria at 8.30pm as part of the Mzansi Fela Festival season, which runs until December 15.
As part of the same season, there is an open-air jazz festival at Weavind Park in Pretoria’s Kilnerton between 12pm and 6pm on Sunday, featuring artists from the theatre’s Jazz and African Music Nights, including reedman Steve Dyer, vibraphonist Ngoako Manamela and guitarist Selaelo Selota.
On the same day, the Old Mutual Theatre on the Square in Sandton (011 823-8606) presents a jazz concert featuring singer Andrew Massey starting at 4pm.
Cape Town’s Mahogany Room at 79 Buitenkant Street has music every night between now and December 22.
Full details are available on 076 679-2689. Highlights include guitarist Reza Khota tomorrow; and the pan-African/Nordic workshop ensemble Monoswezi on Monday and Tuesday.
Most unmissable will be a revival of the Big Sound ensemble under the direction of pianist Tete Mbambisa on Sunday from 8pm.
Veteran Mbambisa is a breathtaking pianist whose compositions such as Black Heroes and Umsenge have already entered the canon.
While his recent album, Black Heroes, brought his pianism back to public attention, he can also give masterly direction and voicing to a big band, and this concert offers a unique opportunity to hear that.
Khota reappears on Tuesday at new Cape Town central venue the Alexander Upstairs (021 300-1652) on Strand Street: an opportunity to preview both the leader, headlined for this year’s Cape Town Jazz Festival, and bassist Shane Cooper, the 2013 Standard Bank Young Artist for jazz.