Written by Michael David Martin
As a child in the 1970s, comic books were a big part of my life, from collecting Marvel comics to making my best attempt at drawing dynamic covers. In those days, you’d have to walk to a pharmacy and look for the hidden rack of thirty-five-cent comic books. There weren’t many choices, but you’d choose by the cover art. One of my choices during that time period was Black Panther. Although I don’t remember which issue it was, I remember the purchase like it was yesterday. I would let my imagination run wild, gazing through the inked pages of story and action. Even at seven, I knew who artist and Stan Lee’s partner in crime Jack Kirby was. He is well known for the eye-catching art he drew for the Black Panther character and many other Marvel superheroes. When I saw on the symphony calendar that Marvel studio’s Black Panther was playing with SF’s best orchestra, I just couldn’t resist. I also thought what a great birthday present to take for my dear friend John Quincy. What makes this film extremely special is Oakland’s own Ryan Kyle Coogler, an African-American filmmaker and producer who directed this cultural phenomenon. He is known for directing the Black Panther series, Creed, a Rocky spin-off, and Fruitvale Station. On top of watching T’Challa become king and claim his throne as the Black Panther superhero, we all got to witness the San Francisco Symphony perform Ludwig Göransson’s Oscar-winning score live to the picture.
I was excited to attend another packed performance with fellow Bay Area residents on Friday, March 24th. Many came an hour early for a question and answer on the main stage with the evening’s conductor and guest musician. I always keep my eyes open for any extra goodies our Davies Hall friends provide us. Friday nights always hold a special excitement at the hall. It’s a great way to kick off the weekend with a one-of-a-kind Marvel Movie partially filmed in Oakland. Conductor Anthony Parnther, whose last name is one letter away from Panther, had a big personality to match his talents. He immediately took the stage with humour and encouragement, knowing how to get the biggest applause from the audience that only a true performer commands. Mr Parnther’s talents range from conductor, bassoonist, opera singer, producer, storyteller, comedian, and activist. As the performance started, it was time for one of the biggest musical highlights of the night. World-renowned talking drum master Massamba Diop from Senegal, West Africa, was set to make his entrance. And wow, what an entrance it was! His bright orange West African attire added spark while he walked across the stage, slowly playing his fantastic instrument. The range of sound Massamba gets from the small drum is mind-blowing. He uses a combination of hands and a little talking drum wooden mallet. His work is also included on the Black Panther soundtrack, which takes place front and centre just as the drum plays in African cultures. With forty years of experience behind him, he’s recorded and performed with some of the biggest artists, including James Brown, Mumford & Sons, Carlos Santana, and Herbie Hancock.
Seeing this film again for the second time but only now on the Davies Symphony Hall screen reminded me of the film’s power and importance. Futuristic healing, spirituality, and mind-blowing technology can save the humanity of the world. Wakanda is a beautiful place, so far advanced and closed off from the rest of the world yet remains deep in its tribal roots. The energy and excitement took us by storm as drums, strings, and the entire arsenal of the orchestra electrified us. The performance by all players was magnificent and truly uplifting, driven by our fabulous conductor. During intermission, you could see many Bay Area proud residents and even a few in Black Panther-inspired fashion. One of my favourite actors Chadwick Boseman who plays the main character is sadly no longer with us. However, his spirit will remain forever in our hearts, and this movie and its sequel, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” pay him a massive tribute. The night was perfectly executed, combining the immense energy of conductor Anthony Parnther, a standout percussive performance from Massamba Diop, and the always magnificent San Francisco Symphony. Together it was an over-the-top treat for our eyes and ears. The night ended with a positive message from the heart of Oakland, California. One that will surely be remembered by all in attendance.
Anthony Parnther, Conductor
Massamba Diop, Talking Drum
San Francisco Symphony
Ludwig Göransson, Composer
Ryan Coogler, Director
For info on the SF Symphony and tickets go to: www.sfsymphony.org