Saturday, June 17, 2017

Fincho: The Making of the First Nigerian Film in Colour By Sam Zebba

Sam Zebba directing "Fincho" in Nigeria.

Many people have read about Sam Zebba's "Fincho", the first film shot in colour in Nigeria in 1955 and post production was done in the United States of America and it was released in 1957. But majority of Nigerians and others have little or no knowledge about the great filmmaker, Sam Zebba who passed away in Israel on February 27, 2016.

I have decided to publish this comprehensive documentary report on him, comprising his own memoir on how he made "Fincho"; an article on him before he passed on and a memorial tribute written by David (Dudi) Sebba published by www.esra-magazine.com.

What Sam Zebba documented on the circumstances of the events that occurred during the making of "Fincho" can be a fanstatic movie. And publishing it on a Nigerian website is important in recognition of the Nigerian cast and crew. They have made history and we must remember them in the history of Nigerian cinema.

Fincho- Adventure in Nigeria 1955:
Adventure in the interior of Nigeria

One night in 1954, at the home of my London relatives, Boria and Rena Behrman, Boria showed some 8mm color footage he had taken at their timber concession in Nigeria. The Behrman family had been in the timber business for several generations, still in the ‘old country’ (Latvia), and the Nigeria concession was a new extension of their UK firm, Finch & Company. What I saw there was formidable. Giant trees were being felled in the jungle and hundreds of bare-handed African workers were pulling the heavy trunks through the mud.
I realized that this could be a starting point for an extraordinary documentary and perhaps even more than that. For some time I had felt a strong desire to move from the short film, my medium hitherto, to full-length form. If I could find a human story to fit into the tree felling process, perhaps the chance of realizing this was here.
Boria generously said I could stay in one of the bungalows built for the white staff at the concession, and film whatever I wanted. Admittedly, it would be foolhardy to go script-less into the unknown, but therein lay the challenge. And so, toward the end of the Central African rainy season in 1955, equipped with a 16mm Arriflex camera, a portable sound recording device, and a reasonable amount of Kodachrome color film, I set out on a flight to Lagos, the capital of Nigeria at the time, and from there, mostly over unpaved and ill-maintained dirt roads, passing through two enormous clusters of mud huts, Ibadan and Benin City, to the Finch timber concession in the faraway Kingdom of the Olowo (Ruler) of Owo.

The bungalow I was given was spacious, though the heat was unbearable. In the outdoor kitchen, an attendant called “house-boy” or “boy” for short, no matter what his age, was on duty 24 hours a day. Plagued at night by mosquitoes infiltrating my net, I could hear the house-boy in the kitchen slapping his back and shoulders incessantly, hunting the malaria-carrying little devils. He did not have the luxury of a mosquito net, nor did he have a bed.

With time I got used to the heat and humidity, and the mosquitoes at night. I almost managed to enjoy an imaginary air-conditioner before falling asleep - someone had kindheartedly handed me a copy of Sir Edmund Hillary’s and Tenzing Norgay’s "The Conquest of Everest", which kept me cool throughout my stay on the concession.

In Owo I met the Olowo, a big man amply robed in a manner quite inconsistent with the climate. His palace was a large two-storey mud structure painted white, and it seemed densely populated. “Who are all these people?” I enquired. “These are the King’s wives and children,” I was told.
Although I examined everything I saw as a potential focal point for the film’s story, I soon realized that neither the harsh colonial exploitation of the natives nor the social hierarchy of traditional African rulers would be my anchor. It was the tree-felling enterprise itself, and the impact this had on those caught in its advance.

My guide and mentor on the concession was an Englishman named Tony Lewis, the second-in-command at Finch and an old hand in the African timber trade. To the Africans he spoke a broken English, which I thought at first to be his own invention, but soon discovered this was genuine 'Pidgin,' a simplified English language in use there, delightful and humorous, and the only way the three main ethnic groups in Nigeria - Yoruba, Ibo, and Hausa - could communicate with each other. I promptly decided that wherever possible this would be the film’s language.
“I de go” was present tense. “I done go” was past. “I go go” was future. “Make you go bringam” was a command. Just a minute was “wait small.” Dialogue, such as “na whei he dei?” (now, where is he?) “he dei for house,” referred to either male, female, or neuter. Father was “Small Fahda,” while “Big Fahda” meant Grandfather. “Plenty palavah” was big trouble. Great satisfaction: “He de tickle me propa.” Disbelief: “na lie! You think you go deceive me like small boy?” Two Africans talking to a White Man: “Sah. Dis man, he be my brudda.” “Oh, really? Same mudda same fahda?” “No, Sah. My brudda.”

A most impressive man was the concession’s CEO. A WW2 ex-military man with a hyphenated name, Gordon Parry-Holroyd seemed the quintessence of a gentleman and servant  of the Empire. He had a family and a cottage in the Midlands of England, but after the war, preferred the wilds of Africa to life in civilization. He was a mix of tenacity and gentleness, reminiscent of Conrad’s Lord Jim, with a tinge of a "Heart of Darkness".

Slowly the story I was looking for began to materialize in my mind. The protagonist would be a young African torn between the preservation of age-old traditions and the acceptance of encroaching modernization. His final choice would ultimately be his embracing the modern world.
To tell the story, other characters would have to be created. Representing the conservative view would be the village’s spiritual leader, the feared and angry Jujuman. Pitted against him would be the young schoolmaster who champions progress and enlightenment. Into the village enters a white timber extractor, “Mistah” Finch, who persuades the village chief to allow the felling of trees, but is refused permission to hire local labor. Our protagonist, eager to marry his girl but perpetually short of the needed dowry to buy her from her father, starts working for the White Man in spite of the proscription. Called now “Fincho” because he is “dancing around with the White Man”, he becomes something of a leader, many young men joining him. But when new earth- moving equipment is brought in to replace the local labor, violence is about to erupt against the White Man. It is Fincho who succeeds in calming the uprising, renewing the work, and thus bringing about momentous change in his community. He even triggers an understanding between the Jujuman and the schoolmaster.

The film would alternate between scenes of direct dialogue and voice-over narration, and the narrator would be Fincho himself. Many of the scenes would show local color, like at the market or at the Chief’s court, and the awesome tree-felling process would be followed in detail. Some scenes, like Fincho’s engagement in negotiations between the two families, or the naming ceremony of his first-born, were actually written out in detail by the cast and crew on rainy days when shooting was impossible.

It is my conviction that any work of fiction contains, or should contain, a message, a moral if you like, implied or explicit, that makes the story relevant. Writing this account more than 50 years after the event, I would be hard put today to vehemently defend the story’s point of view. Unfortunately, the price of deforestation and the resulting ills to society and to the planet have proven to be much higher than at first conceived, yet sadly the process goes on as before.

Clearly, a lot of thought and time is required to turn a skeleton of a story into a detailed plan, a full screenplay with dialogue written out. Simultaneously a production crew had to be trained, the actors cast, scene locations determined, costumes and props chosen, a story board devised, and a shooting schedule worked out before shooting could actually begin.

The production crew, kept to a minimum, consisted of four young local men who, obviously, had no previous connection to film-making. Samson Orhokpocha, a natural organizer, became a sort of Production Manager. Michael Nwaitabo, whose job was to carry the camera and tripod, became Assistant Cameraman. Sound recordist was Sunday Obende. He recorded the dialogue scenes, albeit as cue tracks only, for later dubbing in the studio. He also recorded the felling of trees, which sounded like heavy cloth being torn slowly, followed after the fall by a symphony of terrified animals and birds. Although sound effects were later added in the studio, Sunday’s work was extraordinary in itself. The fourth member of the crew was Rufus Atangbayila, who carried lightweight tin-foil reflectors to lighten the shadows, particularly in close-up shots. The whole picture would be shot in daylight, so no electric lighting equipment was needed.

Casting was not always easy or smooth, at times illuminating the tribal atmosphere of life deep in the jungle. Early in the production, looking for a suitable Fincho, I found a healthy-looking young man on the concession, named Aladdi. We shot some tests with him, which were sent to a London film lab for development. It took weeks before a print came back, during which Aladdi fell mysteriously ill, and soon died. Rumor had it that someone had wished him dead, presumably over an issue with a woman, and that he had died of a juju. Having been a popular figure in the community, Aladdi’s death was much talked about. One fellow on a trip to Benin City said he had seen him there alive, and another had met and spoken with him in faraway Ibadan. Both reported that Aladdi looked healthy and was well dressed, and would soon come back to close the account with his murderer.

At the compound there stood a large board built of wooden planks painted white, which served as a movie screen, and some distance away was a hut with an old 16mm projector in it. From time to time rented feature films were shown to the workers as a bonus. When the test including Aladdi arrived, I decided to run it for the crew after dark. Word leaked fast, and quickly several hundred Africans assembled there. It was a still, moonless night, and when Aladdi’s image appeared on the board in full color, a terrified hush fell over the audience. Someone screamed, women hid their babies, others fled. “He finally came back,” my crew explained to me as we dismantled the test, “and tonight he will find the man who killed him.”
My remonstration that it was only his image we saw convinced no one. In truth, it was I who felt uncomfortable that evening.
When Aladdi had fallen ill, and I suggested that he see a doctor, he said only a black man could cure him. When his condition deteriorated, and I offered to take him to the
mission hospital, half a day’s drive away, he said, “If I go to a white doctor, I shall die.” I persisted, perhaps too strongly, and when we arrived at the small hospital the only doctor there, a youngish German with a heavy accent, said I should leave Aladdi there for a few days.
After some 10 days without a sign of Aladdi, I drove to the hospital again. “Good zat you come,” the doctor welcomed me, “your man is just now dying.” Indeed, in the ward Aladdi lay dying. “What of?” I demanded. “We gave him every test,” the doctor
explained, “All negative. There is a lot we don’t know about African diseases and Juju. And we cannot perform autopsies because we have no refrigeration. Do you want to take the body back with you or should we bury him in the mission graveyard?” I stayed till after the burial, and when I got back to the outpost, there was no need to say anything. Mysteriously, everyone already knew the sad news.
Whether by power of the Juju or by plain coincidence, during the night of the screening a thunderstorm broke out over the outpost, and next morning half the compound’s thatched roofs were gone. The crew informed me that Aladdi had been there and had found his killer. After that, Aladdi no longer returned to the living.

The role of Fincho finally went to Patrick Akponu, a conductor on the Lagos-Owo bus line, which was actually an open truck. He was a proud young tribesman from Onitsha, on the Niger River. Would he like to work on a film? Yes, he would. Could he read English? Yes, he had gone to school until his father had died, though his education had never been completed. A week later he came to the concession. He wore no shoes and ate with his fingers and he was natural and friendly. While learning his lines, he suddenly exclaimed, “I did this before, in the village school.” “You did what?” I asked. “Shakespeare,” he said. And while I marveled at the sound of this word coming from his lips, he stood up, looked about as if confronting an audience, and said boldly, “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears,” and broke into a hearty laugh. At that moment I knew I was lucky, and indeed it became a pleasure to work with him.
For the role of Fincho’s Girl I found a charming, expressive young girl named Amukpe. Only when I handed her the dialogue lines, it turned out she was illiterate. Her role went to a young vocalist from a band in Lagos, who could read English, memorize her lines, and act them out without effort. Her name was Comfort Ajilo.
Casting the White Man was a bit of a problem, the supply of candidates being so narrow. The only man who looked the part was the concession’s CEO, who, I feared, would decline considering his status and responsibilities. When in desperation I turned to Gordon Parry-Holroyd, he accepted with great pleasure, and filled his part conscientiously and convincingly.
To play the Jujuman I approached the real fellow, who spoke no English. His part, however, did not require it, Yoruba being sufficient, and it would add authenticity to his character. The problem arose when, after several rehearsals of a shot, as soon as the camera started rolling he would freeze completely and just stand still. One of the onlookers, a lean middle-aged man, jumped in to show him what to do. His name was Adebayo Fuwa, and in the end he got the part.
Two cast members actually played themselves - the schoolmaster, Bashiru Abibu, a bright and obliging fellow who invested in his part the same commitment he had for his profession; and Chief Adedigba, the village chief. There were also Mistah Finch’s driver, Gabriel Adebisi, forever busy polishing the boss’s LandRover, Fincho’s Father Pa, George Agho, the girl’s father, Augustine Ihonde, and a white woman on the compound who played Finch’s wife joining him in the jungle, a non-speaking and therefore a non-credited part.

Those were days before zoom lenses, and if one wanted a moving shot, one could only pan sideways or tilt up and down. To heighten intimacy by moving in slowly, imperceptibly, on a close-up or a two-shot, one needed a dolly. We built one, using two bicycles with a platform between them.
Shooting the felling of trees was particularly dramatic. The fellers always knew which way the giant trees would fall, and directed us where to place the camera for safety. Once, however, their calculation fell short. I was filming the beginning of a fall, concentrating on the trunk at the tree’s base and expecting it to fall away from us, when suddenly, amid frenzied shouting, camera and tripod were grabbed away from me as the huge mass above was crashing down toward me. There was barely time to escape when, like in a nightmare, I discovered my foot was stuck in the undergrowth. It was only a split second between the crew pulling me free from my shoe and the mammoth trunk hitting the ground. A Kingdom for a Horse? A Shoe for a Life.

All in all I spent six months in “the interior”. Except for the test with Aladdi, I saw no rushes in Africa, relying rather on the lab reports from London than having the material shipped out. I left many friends in the Kingdom of Owo, black and white. In particular Fincho remained dear to my heart. I sent him several packages and books, and hoped he would advance to a better life than he had had before. This did not come to pass. Within a month or two, one of my letters to him was returned with an official stamp “Deceased.”
The next stage was the editing and finishing of the film. This took place in Los Angeles, where I had an assistantship teaching film at UCLA, my Alma Mater. Editing was made easy as I had kept the entire film on story board, which I had updated daily during shooting. All I had to do now was to arrange the shots in sequence, and fine cut. I rounded up several Nigerian students at the university for the dubbing of voices, and was elated, amid raucous laughter, to practice Pidgin again. The dialogue and the narration of Fincho’s voice I dubbed myself. Even the short Fincho song, words written by well-known lyricist Sid Robin, I sang and recorded with a small Mexican band. As befits an almost budget-less home production, I cut the negative myself.
Film, I believe, can be made more suggestive by the use of images and sounds not necessarily connected to the scene at hand, much like metaphors in language.
When, for example, Fincho and his girl, alone in an empty riverbed, discuss their future, a close shot of a tropical bird overhearing their conversation appears momentarily.
This is not a planned shot in the screenplay, but an editing idea, and
the short clip of the bird is purchased from a ‘stock library’ in the film capital. When Fincho, riding with the timber down the river, reaches the ocean freighter, which he sees for the first time, we hear the big ship sounding its horn. This would not
happen in reality, but the sound effect adds a dimension to the scene.

A kindly Hollywood composer, Alexander Laszlo, offered to compose and record an original score for the film. I was not convinced that a symphonic score was the most appropriate addition to the film, thinking a small combo or a single African instrument would be better. Eventually I was persuaded that a big orchestration would add stature to the film, an assumption I still question in my mind to this day. In any event, I had brought with me recordings of what was known as Lagos Highlife, and Laszlo adapted the syncopated rhythms with his own melody as the leitmotiv of the film, including that of the Fincho song. For the title background sheets, art student Shelley Schoenberg drew actual key scenes from the film in ink and color, to familiarize the viewer subliminally with coming events.

The final cut ran 75 minutes, a bit short perhaps for a feature, but better, I thought, than dragging it out another five or six minutes and slowing down the pace. My shooting ratio (the ratio between exposed stock to that actually used in the finished film) was 3:1, an efficient rate, made possible by the use of a detailed story board, and also by the necessity to be prudent. The net running time of finished film achieved during the shooting period was about one minute per shooting day, not a bad yield at all.

Deeply moved at the time by the enormously popular singer and black activist, Harry Belafonte, I boldly wrote him to ask if he would consider adding an introduction to the film. To my surprise he responded. He would gladly see the film, and suggested that I come to Las Vegas, where he was appearing nightly in one of the leading hotels, and show him the film. Packing a Movieola (a somewhat bulky editing machine with a small screen) and the “work-print” of the not quite finished film into my car, I drove to Nevada. Belafonte saw the film in his hotel room and agreed on the spot to cooperate. We made a date to meet at a small New York studio a few weeks later, and filmed Belafonte delivering a short address I had prepared. He did this entirely on a voluntary basis.

My Nigerian gamble thus worked out beyond my wildest dreams. After the film was completed, a most touching accolade came in the form of an unsolicited letter written by three leading Hollywood figures to the Production Head of 20th Century Fox, calling his attention to my work. The three renowned signatories were screenwriter, Norman Corwin, director Fred Zinnemann and composer Bernard Herrmann. I shall forever remain grateful for their munificence. Lastly, I also deepened a lifelong friendship with the Behrmans, who made it all possible.

Source
Esra Magazine.



Born in 1924, Dr. Sam Zebba immigrated to Palestine from Latvia with his parents when he was 9. He served in the Haganah and in the British Army during WW2. A literary scholar and occasional writer, he was known primarily as a symphony conductor both in Israel and abroad. He held a B.A. and an M.A. in Theater Arts from UCLA, and a Ph.D. in Theater Arts from Tel-Aviv University, where he also lectured. For his Master’s Thesis he made the prize-winning documentary Uirapuru, shot in the Brazilian jungles to music by Heitor Villa-Lobos. In Nigeria he wrote, produced, and directed Fincho, a documentary feature to which Harry Belafonte contributed an introduction. He was Second Unit Director for Mervyn LeRoy in Hawaii and for Fred Zinneman in the Belgian Congo. In Israel he directed the Warner Bros documentary Israel, written by Leon Uris, and featuring Edward G. Robinson. Zebba has written for many publications, among them The Jewish Quarterly, the Hollywood Quarterly, the University Film Association Journal, India Perspectives, and Esra Magazine. Founder and first President of the Israel Writers’ Guild, he also served as Vice President of the International Writers’ Guild. For his doctoral dissertation, it was the Sonata Form in music that led to his perceiving comparable foundations in dramatic literature. A popular version of his structural theory was published in the USA in 2004, titled The 39 Steps of Self-Division. An avid music lover and amateur pianist since boyhood, Zebba studied conducting at Tel-Aviv University, and trained abroad under the guidance of eminent conductors, among them Sergiu Celibidache, Aldo Ceccato, Leonard Bernstein, and Zubin Mehta. Early in his conducting studies he founded, initially at Tel-Aviv University, the Campus Orchestra, and became its conductor and music director, a post he held for over 20 years. As guest conductor he appeared in Germany, Russia, Latvia, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, El Salvador, India, and Korea. With newly arrived immigrant musicians from the Soviet countries, he founded the WIZO Symphony Orchestra, the David’s Harp Chamber Orchestra, and the Rehovot Classica Ensemble. More recently, with a view to creating a platform for highly qualified musicians - retired members of top orchestras and senior music pedagogues - he founded the Emeritus Chamber Orchestra, which he directed. Zebba was a dedicated photographer and a seasoned yachtsman. He lived in Tel-Aviv.
Sam Zebba passed away in Israel on February 27, 2016.
Esra Magazine - Magazine articles
http://www.esra-magazine.com/blog/author/Sam%20Zebba-50.

Sam Zebba leads the Emeritus Chamber Orchestra comprising top-class musicians and budding professionals.

Sam Zebba, writer, filmmaker, musician, businessman and – perhaps most importantly of all for him – late-blooming orchestra conductor – arrived in Palestine in 1933 and remembers it vividly.

“Tel Aviv was a small town and we lived on the corner of Ben-Yehuda and Mapu, which is where the town ended,” he says. “There were a few cars around but transport was mainly by horse-drawn carts.”

Reading Power Station was being built and as a young boy he used to watch as the building materials were transported along the beach by caravans of camels, although the foreman travelled by donkey. Days when he was not at school could be spent on the nearby beach, where one could hire a deck chair and enjoy an ice-cream. The mandate was in full swing and like all the other Jews of the Yishuv, he learned to live with it.

Today he lives in Ramat Aviv with his wife, Tessa, on the top floor of a high-rise in an apartment full of antique furniture, good paintings, including some Reuven Rubins, and musical instruments all over the living room. The piano is covered with a dust cloth but a harpsichord displays signed photos – Harry Belafonte, Edward G. Robinson, Albert Schweitzer – all from his filmmaking days in the ’60s.

After 88 years one would expect to hear about a lifetime of accomplishments, but Zebba’s is especially diverse.

He was born in Germany in 1924 but the family soon moved back to Riga.

His parents were Zionists and he and his siblings were sent to a Hebrew kindergarten and school. In 1932 his sister came here for the first Maccabi Games – and didn’t want to go back.

“My grandfather commissioned my dad to come over and bring her back,” he says. “Instead, he decided we would make aliya ourselves. It was 1933 and with great prescience they realized there was no future for Jews in Europe.

We went by train from Riga to Brindisi to take the boat to Palestine. Even then they did not want to go through Germany.”

After a week on the SS Martha Washington, they arrived in Jaffa. His father quickly found accommodation and Sam was enrolled in the Shalva school and later studied at the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium. At 15 he joined the Hagana and at 18 the Jewish Brigade of the British army, which stationed him in a transport unit in Egypt.

He was sent to an officers’ course in Britain but the war ended soon after and the Jewish Brigade was disbanded.

(Also a talented writer, he has written about his wartime experiences in Esra Magazine, which can be read online.) “Many of us became involved in bringing over survivors but I wanted to study and at 22 I left for UCLA,” he recalls.

He studied theater arts and later gained a PhD from Tel Aviv University.

For his thesis he made the prize-winning documentary Uirapuru, shot among Indians in the jungles of Brazil with music by Heitor Villa-Lobos. During the course of his filmmaking career he worked with Fred Zinneman, Carl Foreman and Mervyn Leroy, as well as the famous stars whose photos grace the harpsichord.

But music was always his first love.

Even as a small child in Riga he had taken lessons with a famous teacher, one Prof. Schubert (not the composer).

He played often with friends, in between helping in the family car dealership.

He never really thought about studying conducting until well into his 50s.

One of his teachers at the Tel Aviv University Music Academy, where he was doing his doctorate, invited him to a conducting class.

“I know you’re dying to conduct,” he said.

After several years of study, including master classes with Leonard Bernstein and Zubin Mehta, he established the Campus Orchestra at Tel Aviv University and was the conductor and music director for 20 years. He traveled all over the world with the orchestra and it is still going strong.

Before starting the Emeritus Orchestra in 2006, he put together an orchestra for new immigrant musicians from Russia who arrived in the early ’90s.

“I met a lot of musicians who came here without knowing the language and were rather bewildered when they first arrived. Originally I invited them just to come and play in my home.

Every week more and more arrived until I realized I had enough talent for an orchestra. We got funding from WIZO so it was known as the WIZO Symphony Orchestra.”

Several other small orchestras were created to accommodate the immigrants who eventually, if good enough, found their way to the Philharmonic and other established symphony orchestras.

The Emeritus Orchestra had a different genesis.

No matter how good a musician you are, at the age of 65 the great Israeli orchestras want you out. Zebba, with the help of Israeli Philharmonic ex-principal horn player and spokesman Yaacov Mishori, collected some top-class musicians who had been put out to pasture and created the Emeritus Chamber Orchestra.

Today, six years later, they perform three times a year.

Rehearsals were, until recently, in Zebba’s apartment but now they have a space at Levinsky College. Performances are at the Chess Center in Ramat Aviv and the Einav Center in Tel Aviv.

Talented amateurs were recruited to make up the numbers, which means the conductor – Zebba – has to perform a balancing act between the professionals and the amateurs who might be very good but have no experience of playing in an orchestra, and are therefore following the conductor and the note-music at the same time.

“We do have the occasional ego problems,” admits Zebba. “You have to have a lot of psychology to run an orchestra.”

If anyone can do it, it’s Sam Zebba – gentle, charming and passionate about his music.

Sam Zebba, 88
From Latvia to Ramat Aviv, 1933

Source Jerusalem Post.

Tribute To Sam Zebba
By David (Dudi) Sebba Category: People Issue No. 184

Sam Zebba ... with the conductor’s baton ‘which made him look like a magician holding a wand’ Below: Sam was second unit director on The Nun’s Story, 1959, which starred Audrey Hepburn and Peter Finch. The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards at the 32nd Academy Awards in 1960.

The critique of Sam Zebba’s last book opens with the following words: “In humorous yet penetrating lines he recreates events which he experienced throughout his well-travelled life.” It goes on to say about him that “he has filled his years with what most people only dream about.”
Sam came to Israel from Latvia (a country on the Baltic Sea between Lithuania and Estonia. Its landscape is marked by wide beaches as well as dense, sprawling forests. Latvia’s capital is Riga) at the age of nine. He served in the British army and the Hagana, going on to study theater arts, directing, photography, conducting, and sailing. In each, his achievements were exceptional. He shot movies in Brazil and in Nigeria, with Harry Belafonte and with Audrey Hepburn. He wrote a doctoral dissertation on Theater Arts. He published books and articles in all the important international publications on art and artists.

He established an organization of authors and artists, turned his home into a rehearsal hall, a place where artists could meet. It was also a gallery for his photographs taken on the numerous occasions he sailed to the ports of the Mediterranean. But, above all, he succeeded where impresarios and giant organizations fail. He created symphony orchestras, one after the other, and gathered musicians around him who loved and revered him.
Sam was a man of means which he always used in order to build, create, initiate, and assist. I saw for myself how he offered a young seventeen year-old boy, who was playing a bass guitar, the opportunity to study contrabass and join the orchestra. “Your parents and I can split the cost of the lessons”, Sam said to him.
There are barely any new-immigrant musicians who do not owe their first musical venture in Israel to Sam. In fluent Russian and with open arms he brought them into one of his orchestras. There was always at least one of the musicians, from any of the orchestras I met in Israel, who would come up to me and ask to send regards to Sam, or to find out how he was, and especially to pass on a message expressing their sincerest gratitude.

Sam was a combination of infinite knowledge, professionalism, industry, humor, wit, and good heart. He was the perfect gentleman - intelligent, sharp-witted and refined. However, one look from him could also be a monolog of castigation. He had charisma and charm that no one, especially women, could ignore. He was always surrounded by beauty, the arts and attractive women.

Sam was a model family man, often spoke about Riga, and invited us into his home. I remember one Yom Ha’atzmaut going up to the roof of his penthouse, from where we could see the fireworks from Herzliya to Holon.

I got my first piano from Sam after his mother passed away and he decided to move her piano, a Grotrian Steinweg from Riga, into our house. My first experience with an orchestra was when Sam asked me to strike the cymbal at the end of a waltz by Johann Strauss.

In the living room, Aunt Hanna once hung a picture of Sam dressed in a tuxedo and holding a conductor’s baton. We were young children, and to us the man in the picture looked like a magician holding a wand. From then on we called him ‘Sam the Magician’. I think there is no more apt appellation for Uncle Sam. He was a magician; he knew how to charm everyone around him, to create and produce, to love, and to sweep along anyone he met.

Rest in peace our beloved Sam. It was a joy to have had the honor of knowing you, to spend time with you, to make music with you, and to be surrounded by your magic and your love.

- Translated from the Hebrew by Norman Silbert.
Time to read his magnificent seven again
Seven of Sam’s short stories on aspects of his life were published in ESRAmagazine. Each is a gem – interesting, colorful, expressive, gripping, and beautifully written. To read them go to the website www.esra-magazine.com and in the SEARCH write in Sam Zebba and a list of his stories will appear, as well as a review on his book. I miss Sam, the contact with him and the honor and pleasure of receiving his wonderful stories.

- Merle Guttmann, Editor

  Aspects of My Life: Selected Images

No comments: