Wednesday, September 22, 2010

She didn't sing "Pink Cadillac"!

Living abroad has a way of making one grab at whatever entertainment opportunities are available. Even in more civilized parts of the world, we've stretched what we consider a good time, because there aren't art-house movie theaters or clubs hosting touring indie-rock bands. This was pushed to its logical extreme in Kabul last night, where, surprisingly, Album and Record of the Year Grammy-winner Natalie Cole played Embassy Kabul. Yes, life is a little surreal here, but that may have taken the cake.

Through some connection that was never made clear to me, the daughter of Nat King Cole is friends with (but I guess not related to) an Afghan-American woman named Sonia Nassery Cole, who managed to make a movie set in -- and actually shot on location in -- Afghanistan. So that movie was having its World Premiere projected from a laptop dvd player onto a bed-sheet, in a big Afghan tent set up on the Kabul Embassy compound tennis court. (This NYT article claims that the military got to see it first, which is a dirty lie.) And because Ms. Cole (the famous singer) knows Ms. Cole (the film-maker) through various Afghan charities, she (I guess?) decided to come along for the ride and sing a few songs at the premiere.

So, we Embassy employees gathered on the tennis court, where a makeshift stage, an insultingly bad PA system, hundreds of folding chairs, and a carnival-style popcorn popper cart were set up for a mini-concert and film screening. Not to be cruel, but were I in the United States, I'm not totally sure I would cross the street to see Natalie Cole perform for free. It's just not my bag. I would guess I wasn't alone among those who turned out for the show. But you have to take your hat off to her for coming to Afghanistan and singing for some pampered diplomats and some less-pampered soldiers (at ISAF tonight). Metalheads and jazzbos alike gave her a standing ovation when she battled through the staticky Embassy sound system and broken backing track to do an a capella version of her mega-hit "Unforgettable." I may or may not be the only person in the crowd for whom the second most familiar Natalie Cole song is her cover of "Pink Cadillac," but I guess she decided that one didn't fit the mood.

In any case, thanks to her. Even though she's not one of my favorite artists, this was definitely one of the most memorable concert performances I've ever seen.

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