Hola, Cancun!



MEXICO: February-March means it’s time to escape the British freeze and cast out for warm climes. But where in the world would blend white-beach luxury in blue-sea tropical surrounds and syncopate hard play with a soft chill? Cancun met our party-relaxation brief with ease. Sat Bal


The Brief

Week one of our geographic was to be filled with solar-powered parties in a playful but luxury setting. The Hard Rock Hotel in Riviera Maya answered the call like a natural, living up to its rock credentials.

Week two in Cancun required a change in tempo: privacy, peace and a reclaiming of the soul. Where better than the AAA Five Diamond awarded Secrets Maroma Beach in Riviera Cancun? A blissful recovery on a gold platter - around 45 minutes from the Hard Rock.


Hard Rock Hotel (HRH)

A 45-50 minute transfer from Cancun International airport, HRH played to our strengths with its ‘resort within a resort’ concept. The family-friendly Hacienda setting offered a hard-play edge of live music shows and beach frolics while the Heaven complex embraced a more refined adults-only isolation. Combined, the 1,264-room hotel feels vast as evidenced by the scurrying of transfer buggys across the lush palm-lined site.

Adult guests at either resort can wander across to use facilities at either Heaven or Hacienda. Stop press: HRH has announced that from the end of March 2018 Heaven will be managed as a family hotel so it’ll no longer be kids-free.





The HRH mantra is ‘undeniable excess at every turn’ and the pioneers of excess loom large here. Jimi Hendrix, Freddie Mercury, Prince and other legends added a supernatural tinge to the stay, looking down from huge monochrome portraits. Jim Morrison (above) held court in the Hacienda’s Sun Bar, his hair a montage of vinyl records. Elsewhere, Aerosmith’s drum kit and all manner of artist personal effects in display cabinets reminded us why this place is called Hard Rock.



It really is - even down to ordering room service. So enjoy the indulgence of ordering up tea and coffee first thing, despite having a perfectly good coffee machine in your suite. The array of restaurants form part of the package too. Neither will you need to pack your favourite duty-free tipple; all top shelf drinks are complimentary as is the mini bar. Where things do cost, such as spa treatments, your complimentary resort credits will offer discounts.




The Bret Michael's Rock Star Suite


All rooms are well-appointed with hydro spa tubs, a private balcony/terrace with hammocks and complimentary wi-fi throughout. Views range from garden to the panorama of the Caribbean sea with first-quarter prices starting from circa $300 a night to $2,000 a night for the apex experience.

Upgrade to Rock Royalty status and the fun really starts with VIP pool area and your own personal assistant.

The two-bedroom Rock Star Suite (4991 sq ft) and the Rock Suite Platinum Rooftop Lounge (5,166 sq ft) raise the pinnacles of luxury to levels that bona fide A-listers would surely approve of.

Service is willing and warm, on a par with Asian service, across the board.


Beaches & Pools

HRH claims a private white sand beach and invites snorkel and kayak fans alike.

If the beach is your priority we’d suggest spending more time at Secrets Maroma Beach which was more expansive and less busy.

For adults only, the Central Pool at Heaven is just the ticket for sun, lounge, or cool off with an abundance of cocktails. There’s also a semi Olympic pool, cross current rhythm pool - and, of course, the crystalline Caribbean!


Restaurants & Bars



Hacienda offers seven restaurants including à la carte Asian dishes at Zen, Brazil’s best at Ipanema and hot Mexican at Frida. Caffeto is great for an early pastry breakfast or a late baguette grab. Over at Heaven head to Toro for a rich steak, Le Petit Cochon for French à la carte and Ciao for Italian among the five dining areas.   

For drinks, settle down at Heaven’s Martini Bar or the Sun Bar at Hacienda while Float bar invites the pool. At nightclub Club Heaven, live DJs starts the party around 11pm and take it into the early hours.   


Rock Spa



HRH boasts the largest spa in the Caribbean with 75 treatment rooms. On offer is everything from steam rooms to hydrotherapy current pools. The surroundings are among the most lavish we’ve seen and the view from the pools is inspirational. There’s even a yoga temple!


To follow: Secrets Maroma Beach reviewed…

Lincoln In the Bardo - Man Booker Prize 2017


George Saunders is a confirmed maestro of the American short story. In Lincoln in the Bardo, his debut novel, he invites us into a book that conflates a (sort of) ghost story with Buddhist leanings in the historical setting of the American Civil War. By Sat Bal

The novel concerns the death of Abraham Lincoln's 11-year-old son Willie and the interplay between human and spiritual grieving. Saunders’ talent lies in building these disparate worlds such that we suspend belief and buy into his fiction. Thus we begin to accept the motivations of the spirits of Roger Bevins, Hans Vollman and the Reverend Everly Thomas, the principal narrators, whose observations take shape when young Willie dies and is interred in a crypt in their cemetery.

Buddhists see the ‘bardo’ as a spiritual holding point for human demise from which the onward fate of the spirit will be determined. Shades of Dante’s purgatory persist and, while the doom of the spirits feels laden, a hope surrounds the fate of Willie Lincoln. Partly this is because children are not meant to linger by their bodies in the cemetery and Bevins, Vollman and the Rev wish to speed Willie’s spirit on to a more promising destination. Indeed, the story unfurls over one single night.

Their own impedance to the afterlife sees them cast as grotesque mutations with Bevins’ body bearing multiple eyes and severed hands following his suicide. Yet these graphic deformities are attenuated by a narrative that tiptoes around death via euphemisms. A new vocabulary rises up here with a coffins labelled a “sick box” and “matterlightblooming" the flash that signals the next exit while the cemetery is a “hospital yard.”

The author cleverly uses the device of polyphony to introduce the many neighbours of this yard, their names signing off their comments. Sometimes one-liners, sometimes paragraphs, the comments vacillate from statement to conversation with the dialogue occasionally interrupted by a new spirit speaker - or several.

Although there’s an air of detachment with humans unable to see the spirits and the sense that the spirits talk only among themselves, cutting off the reader, the story isn’t without emotional tugs. This is best portrayed when Abraham Lincoln comes to grieve over his son’s body. Wille’s spirit is delighted to see his father arrive at his crypt yet mortally frustrated that his father is unaware of his presence:

Bursting out of the doorway, the lad took off running toward the man, look of joy on his face.

roger bevins iii

Which turned to consternation when the man failed to sweep him up in his arms as…must have been their custom.

the reverend everly thomas

The imagination and compassion that weave this novel together suggest that George Saunders should stick with the novel format and take a break from the short story.


Lincoln in the Bardo is published by Bloomsbury Hardback £18.99

MTV EMA Review


LONDON: An odd MTV EMA this weekend, not least because we didn’t have to board a flight to get there.  Sat Bal stays in London - only the second time in the show’s history that it has been staged here. (13 Nov’ 2017)


But first things, first. On Saturday night MTV transport whisked us through traffic-heavy streets to Trafalgar Square to see U2 perform. In the night chill, The National Gallery gleamed behind us while Trafalgar Square glowed ahead as we stationed ourselves on the outdoor media viewing platform, opposite the slick-looking stage.


Eminem with Best Hip Hop award


Bono soon arrived on stage, an Irish flag draped around his neck, opening with “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” A good start for the crowd of 7,000, winners of MTV’s ticket ballot to be here. The band played its way through anthems “Pride”, Beautiful Day”, “Elevation” and “Vertigo” before performing "One" and "Get Out Of Your Own Way."

"This song is like a protest song against yourself…some of the biggest obstacles we encounter on the way to a better world is often ourselves," explained the singer.


Shawn Mendes


Next, DJ David Guetta protested about the challenges of performing after U2, yet managed to get the crowd whooping to a set featuring spectacular pyros and lasers bringing the show to an end.

The following day the EMA stage was set at The SSE Arena, Wembley. Sunday night opened with Best Hip Hop winner Eminem performing a lavish orchestra-backed performance with guest artist Skylar Grey, of “Walk on Water.” He joined us after taking the mic in a London pub.


Camila Cabello charming the crowd


Our EMA hostess Rita Ora starred in a video skit of herself running through London’s streets- in a dressing gown- to get to the show in time. The video got audience laughs particularly when our mayor appeared, sat at a tube station reading a paper with Ora on the cover, as she ran past him.

U2’s “Get Out Of Your Own Way” appeared on  a video cut of last night’s show in Trafalgar Square and the band picked up the night’s prestigious milestone award, Global Icon. It must have crossed a few minds that much of this audience wasn't even around during U2's rise. Nonetheless, they all arose to their feet  at award presenter Jared Leto's bidding, to honour the band. 

Collecting the global icon award, U2 guitarist The Edge joked, "People always ask: How have you kept your band together? It's four incredibly strong individuals [all with] strong wills. But there has to be a boss. There has to be one leader. One guy who calls the shots. Does the heavy lifting and comes up with all the ideas." He then delivered the punch line: "But I could not have done it without these guys' support. Truly, they are the wind beneath my wings." 


U2 and Jared Leto below stage


One of the illuminating things about coming to the EMAs is to witness the show’s uplifting production. That production was literally uplifting at Wembley thanks to the 20 hydraulic lifts it took to make the whole stage work. The hydraulic raised props and performers to as high as eight metres.

Julio Himede reprised his role as EMA set designer with the stage concept “Olympic field of play” featuring the biggest EMA stage ever built at 60 metres long x 28 metres wide with a programmable LED floor for different LED installations throughout the show. Julio also designed the staging at Saturday night’s MTV Presents Trafalgar Square show with obelisk-inspired structures in the space.

His energies were rewarded by Best Pop winner Camila Cabello whose elaborate musical production featured a hugely choreographed routine that moved through three scenes and incorporated soaring overhead shots, ending in a Havana-style swimming pool. 



Liam Payne (above) got steamy with “Strip That Down” featuring dancers in streetwear moving across an LED disco floor, while perched on hydraulics set to a spectacular LED light show.

The theme got more spectacular with Travis Scott flying in on the back of an animatronic bird over the audience for his performance of “Butterfly Effect,” while Stormzy arrived in a police car that was driven onto the stage for his smash grime track “Big For Your Boots.”


The Killers performed a classic rock performance of “The Man”


Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello drew huge applause but it was Mendes who was crowned Best Artist and rocked his Best Song-winning track “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back” in a constantly evolving light box. Collecting his prize Mendes paid homage to fellow nominees including Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift. "They're people I've looked up to my entire life," he said, visibly shaken.

The newly neutered ‘Best Artist’ title signalled that his and hers awards are out this year in the gender-neutral prizes which take their cue from MTV’s VMAs. Alas, the highly nominated Taylor Swift won no awards this year; his, hers or otherwise.

Host Rita Ora (below) brought in more than 50 dancers in an over-the-top medley of songs from her new album, “Your Song” and “Anywhere.”



Other artists delivering a mix of fan favorite tracks included Demi Lovato with her performance of “Sorry Not Sorry” and “Tell Me You Love Me,” and Kesha’s rendition of “Learn to Let Go.” 


Travis Scott flies above the crowd


David Guetta closed the show with an electrifying performance of his new single “Dirty, Sexy, Money” with guests French Montana, and Charli XCX


Stormzy's arresting entrance on stage


Later, Rita Ora was presented with the first-ever “MTV EMA Power of Music Award” to honour the charitable energies of all the artists who responded to the Grenfell disaster.

Oh – before you leave, next year’s MTV EMAs are to be hosted by Bilbao, Spain.




Shawn Mendes - There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back



Shawn Mendes






Dua Lipa



Camila Cabello



Kendrick Lamar - HUMBLE.



Ed Sheeran



David Guetta









Thirty Seconds To Mars



Shawn Mendes



Hailee Steinfeld



The Chainsmokers – Live from Isle of MTV Malta 2017


Lil’ Kleine - The Netherlands

  1. Tangana – Spain


ALMA – Finland

DaVido – Nigeria

Stormzy - UK & Ireland

Lali - Argentina







Rita Ora – “Your Song,” “Anywhere”

Demi Lovato – “Sorry Not Sorry,” “Tell Me You Love Me”

Kesha – “Learn to Let Go”

Shawn Mendes – “There's Nothing Holdin’ Me Back”

The Killers – “The Man”

Clean Bandit – “Miss You” ft. Julia Michaels, “Symphony” ft. Zara Larsson, “Rockabye” ft. Anne-Marie

Stormzy – “Big For Your Boots”

Camila Cabello - “Havana”

U2 – “Get Out of Your Own Way,” remote from Trafalgar Square

Eminem – “Walk on Water” ft. Skylar Grey

French Montana – “Unforgettable” ft. Swae Lee

Travis Scott – “Butterfly Effect”

David Guetta ft. Charli XCX, French Montana –“Dirty Sexy Money”           

Liam Payne – “Strip That Down”


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