Charles Bradley, late-blooming US soul voice, dead at 68

In this file photo, soul singer Charles Bradley performs with at the inaugural 2017 Arroyo Seco Music Festival in Pasadena, Calif, on June 24, 2017. (File photo by AP)
Updated 24 September 2017
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Charles Bradley, late-blooming US soul voice, dead at 68

NEW YORK: Charles Bradley, the soul singer whose robust voice and defiantly upbeat outlook won him stardom in his final years after a life of poverty, died Saturday from cancer. He was 68.
Bradley, who for years had scraped by as a James Brown impersonator, had pulled off another battle against the odds earlier this year when he triumphantly returned from cancer treatment.
But the disease had spread to his liver and he recently canceled months of shows. He died at his Brooklyn home surrounded by family, friends and bandmates, his publicist said.
“Mr Bradley was truly grateful for all the love he’s received from his fans and we hope his message of love is remembered and carried on,” his Facebook page said, asking for donations to art charities that support young people in lieu of flowers.
After years of taking odd jobs across the United States and drifting into homelessness, Bradley was discovered by the co-founder of Brooklyn-based Daptone Records, which put out his debut album in 2011 when he was 62.
With a rich, brassy voice that evoked Otis Redding coupled with the body-shaking screams of Brown and a relentless positivity, Bradley at last found commercial success.
“I always wanted this in my 30s and 40s, but I got it at the age of 62. It’s bittersweet,” he told Esquire magazine.
His latest album, “Changes,” figured on several music magazines’ lists of 2016’s top albums.
Bradley found an enthusiastic, and much younger, audience as he was booked for leading festivals such as Coachella and Glastonbury.
A devout Christian who frequently invoked God, Bradley would descend from stage to hug fans and toss out roses from heaping bouquets as he urged listeners to devote their lives to love and racial tolerance.
“Changes” opens with Bradley’s take on the patriotic hymn “God Bless America.” In a spoken intro, Bradley acknowledged he has endured “hard licks of life” but voiced conviction that “America represents love for all humanity and the world.”
Abandoned at birth by his New York-based mother, Bradley spent his early years in Gainesville, Florida with his grandmother before an itinerant life that took him to Alaska, California, Maine and upstate New York, where he was a cook at a mental hospital and recalled harassment by police.
Facing homelessness, Bradley returned in the mid-1990s to New York to reconcile and care for his aging mother.
He lived with his brother Joseph, a tax broker. But the stability was short-lived when Joseph was shot and killed by their nephew — a trauma Bradley turned into the song “Heartache and Pain.”
“I went crazy; I just couldn’t take it. I tried to run in front of cars — I ran in front of everything that was moving, but nothing would hit me,” Bradley later told National Public Radio.
Bradley was 14 when he witnessed Brown’s swaggering energy at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater.
“I saw him and was like, ‘whoa,’” he later said, explaining that he learned to throw all of his energy into shows.
Playing Brown under the stage name “Black Velvet,” Bradley had his break when he was spotted by Daptone co-founder Gabriel Roth whose label specializes in reviving retro soul and funk.
On “Changes,” the title track was a cover of the song by metal legends Black Sabbath that Bradley heard as a eulogy for his mother, to whom he became close before she died in 2014.
Returning to Gainesville to perform last year, Bradley said in a local interview that he saw in his music a way to “help humanity.”
“I want to leave a legacy of myself that the world can say, ‘Charles Bradley was a real person. He loved what he did, and he loved to entertain people, and he liked to give the best.’“


Muslims in China’s main Islamic region fear eradication of their faith

Updated 16 July 2018
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Muslims in China’s main Islamic region fear eradication of their faith

LINXIA: Green-domed mosques still dominate the skyline of China’s “Little Makkah,” but they have undergone a profound change — no longer do boys flit through their stone courtyards en route to classes and prayers.
In what locals said they fear is a deliberate move to eradicate Islam, the atheist ruling Communist Party has banned minors under 16 from religious activity or study in Linxia, a deeply Islamic region in western China that had offered a haven of comparative religious freedom for the ethnic Hui Muslims there.
China governs Xinjiang, another majority Muslim region in its far west, with an iron fist to weed out what it calls “religious extremism” and “separatism” in the wake of deadly unrest, throwing ethnic Uighurs into shadowy re-education camps without due process for minor infractions such as owning a Qur’an or even growing a beard.
Now, Hui Muslims fear similar surveillance and repression.
“The winds have shifted” in the past year, explained a senior imam who requested anonymity, adding: “Frankly, I’m very afraid they’re going to implement the Xinjiang model here.”
Local authorities have severely curtailed the number of students over 16 officially allowed to study in each mosque and limited certification processes for new imams.
They have also instructed mosques to display national flags and stop sounding the call to prayer to reduce “noise pollution” — with loudspeakers removed entirely from all 355 mosques in a neighboring county.
“They want to secularize Muslims, to cut off Islam at the roots,” the imam said, shaking with barely restrained emotion. “These days, children are not allowed to believe in religion: only in Communism and the party.”
More than 1,000 boys used to attend his mid-sized mosque to study Qur’anic basics during summer and winter school holidays but now they are banned from even entering the premises.
His classrooms are still full of huge Arabic books from Saudi Arabia, browned with age and bound in heavy leather. But only 20 officially registered pupils over the age of 16 are now allowed to use them.
Parents were told the ban on extracurricular Qur’anic study was for their children’s own good, so they could rest and focus on secular coursework.
But most are utterly panicked.
“We’re scared, very scared. If it goes on like this, after a generation or two, our traditions will be gone,” said Ma Lan, a 45-year-old caretaker, tears dripping quietly into her uneaten bowl of beef noodle soup.
Inspectors checked her local mosque every few days during the last school holiday to ensure none of the 70 or so village boys were present.
Their imam initially tried holding lessons in secret before sunrise but soon gave up, fearing repercussions.
Instead of studying five hours a day at the mosque, her 10-year-old son stayed home watching television. He dreams of being an imam, but his schoolteachers have encouraged him to make money and become a Communist cadre, she said.
The Hui number nearly 10 million, half of the country’s Muslim population, according to 2012 government statistics.
In Linxia, they have historically been well integrated with the ethnic Han majority, able to openly express their devotion and center their lives around their faith.
Women in headscarves dish out boiled lamb in mirror-paneled halal eateries while streams of white-hatted men meander into mosques for afternoon prayers, passing shops hawking rugs, incense and “eight treasure tea,” a local specialty including dates and dried chrysanthemum buds.
But in January, local officials signed a decree — obtained by AFP — pledging to ensure that no individual or organization would “support, permit, organize or guide minors toward entering mosques for Qur’anic study or religious activities,” or push them toward religious beliefs.
Imams there were all asked to comply in writing, and just one refused, earning fury from officials and embarrassment from colleagues, who have since shunned him.
“I cannot act contrary to my beliefs. Islam requires education from cradle to grave. As soon as children are able to speak we should begin to teach them our truths,” he explained.
“It feels like we are slowly moving back toward the repression of the Cultural Revolution,” a nationwide purge from 1966 until 1976 when local mosques were dismantled or turned into donkey sheds, he said.
Other imams complained authorities were issuing fewer certificates required to practice or teach and now only to graduates of state-sanctioned institutions.
“For now, there are enough of us, but I fear for the future. Even if there are still students, there won’t be anyone of quality to teach them,” said one imam.
Local authorities failed to answer repeated calls from AFP seeking comment but Linxia’s youth ban comes as China rolls out its newly revised Religious Affairs Regulations.
The rules have intensified punishments for unsanctioned religious activities across all faiths and regions.
Beijing is targeting minors “as a way to ensure that faith traditions die out while also maintaining the government’s control over ideological affairs,” charged William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International.
Another imam said the tense situation in Xinjiang was at the root of changes in Linxia.
The government believes that “religious piety fosters fanaticism, which spawns extremism, which leads to terrorist acts — so they want to secularize us,” he explained.
But many Hui are quick to distinguish themselves from Uighurs.
“They believe in Islam too, but they’re violent and bloodthirsty. We’re nothing like that,” said Muslim hairdresser Ma Jiancai, 40, drawing on common stereotypes.
Sitting under the elegant eaves of a Sufi shrine complex, a young scholar from Xinjiang explained that his family had sent him alone aged five to Linxia to study the Qur’an with a freedom not possible in his hometown.
“Things are very different here,” he said with knitted brows. “I hope to stay.”