January 5th, 2014
Matt has been on the piano faculty at Berklee College of Music (in Boston, MA, USA) for over 10 years and has developed a POWERFUL set of skills for teaching piano, keyboards and Hammond organ in many styles including jazz, pop, R&B, rock, reggae and Afro-Cuban. He also teaches song writing, arranging, improvisation, and coaches ensembles. Not a keyboard player but interested in Matt’s approach?…no problem. He teaches improvisation and his approaches to groove on pretty much any instrument!
You can study with Matt from any part of the world via SKYPE! Fees are on a sliding scale.
For further information or to book a lesson, CONTACT MATT NOW.
In the not too far future Matt will be posting a series of educational videos.
Matt is involved with many projects as a performer, composer and arranger that range in artistic intention from pure dance party to a combination of that and a hopeful socio-political message.
- For a great Latin and Reggae dance party, check out COMBO SABROSO/LOS FOUR.
- For a deep reggae groove with his message of insightful and positive socio-political-environmental awareness and…CHANGE, check out THE LIQUID REVOLUTION BAND.
Don’t forget to sign Matt’s mailing list if you like what you see, hear, read.
June 21st, 2013
I had the honor of being invited back a third time to teach at Jazz Camp West, June, 2013. It’s such a special happening that I’ve thrown down some blog posts capturing my thoughts on the happenings throughout the week.
In a nut shell, this is a music camp located in the town of La Honda, CA, about an hour south of San Francisco. The whole thing takes place at a YMCA camp nestled in a redwood tree forest. There’s a big open air amphitheater set up as a world class performance stage. Classes are taught in rustic cabins, at the foot of redwood trees or in a meadow….for real! The faculty are top-notch, internationally known jazz musicians AND the people who run the camp (Madeline Eastman and Stacey Hoffman!!) do a ridiculously great job of picking faculty who are hip to the experience, great teachers, and fun as hell people. It’s a music utopia, really. This year was the 30th year anniversary of the camp!
I taught my Bob Marley ensemble and two piano classes, one on how to SWANG, and the other on Blues.
Here’s my ID for the week:
Jazz Camp 2013 Blog entries
TUESDAY, June 25, 2013
I had to look up what day it was so I could put it on the heading of this, my first Jazz Camp blog communication, because I had no idea what day it was. That’s what happens here. Everyone is transported to such a different mental, physical, emotional…and musical space that time barely matters…as long as you’re on time for your next class, performance or jam session. There is little to no cell phone service here which is such a relief. You don’t know how much your damn smartphone rules your life until you are forced to be with out it. It’s such a relief, I’m telling you, leave the damn things at home now and then!
Right now I’m sitting on the porch of my cabin and about 30 yards across a pine needled field there is a group of saxophone players at the foot of a red wood tree, sitting next to a piano with their instructor learning the melody of Cissy Strut (the famous Meters tune.) To my right, through the thick woods I can hear a drumset playing a funky rock beat and to my left, over the hill, I can hear a big band playing a cool arrangement of another Meters tune (one of my all time fav’s) “Pungee.” For some reason at this moment it seems to be Meters-mania. Way off in the distance I can hear a piano player working on some advanced jazz voicing’s. The entire camp is alive with sound, including the sounds of nature, a bird chirping, the wind blowing through the trees.
There’s a lite mist starting to fall from the sky. Except for the very first day, this has been the weather, cloudy with an occasional mist but a very comfortable temp, maybe 75. We’re all glad it hasn’t rained hard. Tomorrow and the rest of the week is supposed to be nice and sunny.
This camp experience is amazing. There are some 300+ ‘campers’ from the age of 15 to 70, most of whom are amateur players, many of whom do perform in their own bands or as side musicians in other people’s bands. The vibe here, with everyone is TOTAL LOVE OF MUSIC from the jazz mindset, and this binds us together in what is developing into a tightly knit group, where there is trust and lots of encouragement.
I would venture to say everyone here is engaged in some sort of struggle: Feelings of inadequacy meeting with what can feel like overwhelming challenges, and there is an open vibe about this, which builds a great feeling of trust and openness. At the same time I would say that everyone here is simply enjoying all aspects of the experience and feeling inspired.
As a teacher, the feedback from the students is incredibly positive and one of deep thanks….after every class, I receive really heartfelt verbal thank yous from many students, something I don’t experience to this degree in my other teaching avenues.
Daily, I get up at about 8, take a shower, walk down to the dining hall, sit on the porch, eat with the crowd, breathe in the fresh air, then take a Casino Rueda (Cuban dance) class! (Taught by Sidney Weaverling and Ryan Mead) Pure fun and sometimes mind bending trying to remember the steps and calls. I’m dancing with ‘campers’ and other faculty who are taking the class. We work hard and laugh a lot. Then I head out to my “How to Swang” class in the Piedmont piano lab where there about 10 digital pianos set up. (Special thanks to Jim Callahan of Piedmont Piano Co. who provides many man pianos placed all throughout the camp…and keeps them in tune!) I take a break, eat lunch where usually an impromptu Rueda breaks out, then head back to the piano lab for my Blues class, which is over packed. Then it’s the Marley class which rehearses on the main amphitheater, which….is a world class, half round, performance space with grand piano, fantastic PA system etc. I have a full ensemble (20 players and singers!) and we’re working towards giving a ½ hour performance on Thursday night. Hard work. Then I take a minute to toss a few hoops, do a few push-ups, stretch on the basketball court. About this time is the open mic session for the campers. It’s the highlight for many of them. They will assemble a group, rehearse and perform one song. For some it’s the first time they’ve performed on a big stage. Again, it’s all LOVE from the full audience, all of whom are in attendance to support their peers. Some incredible performances take place always. You really get to hear people play beyond themselves many times.
Dinner, then the faculty concert. Each faculty member gets to perform one song on a selected night. I performed “Must Be Free” from my Dragonfly Taxi album on Sunday night. I assembled a FULL group of faculty including 3 horns, 3 back up singers, bass, drums and percussion. Let me tell you, the faculty here are all World-Class players, always inspiring. These concerts are probably some of the most amazing live shows I’ve ever experienced. Why? Because it’s all about the ART FORM, be it a jazz quartet simply GOING FOR IT, or a Brazilian vocal vibe, a beat box jam (by Tommy Beatbox….it was ridiculously awesome), a solo piano piece that made me cry (Walter Bankovitch playing a beautiful ode to his Grandmother), and a gospel jam that was off the hook.
Then, at about 10pm, there’s dessert and jam sessions set up in the dining hall (tonight is the Latin jam)…and after that, well, it’s the late night hangs…yes, HANGS (plural). There are any number of pockets of jam sessions going on all over the camp, usually very intimate, out side, under the stars (well, clouds so far), where all kinds of amazing music is shared. One of them is the famous “Golds gulch” jam in honor of the vibes player Michael Golds who unfortunately couldn’t make it this year. Picture a giant rug spread on the ground, a few lights hanging from trees, a small PA system, an upright piano on a piece of plywood, a drumset, bass, vibes and guitar amp, chairs.
Another famous jam area is the “GULLY’ or affectionately spoken in a Jamaican accent, ‘pon the gully side.” We had a wikked reggae jam that night, reconnecting with old friends. The Gully is where many of the amazing crew reside. These are the cool peeps who help run the camp, lifting equipment, running wires, making sure everyone is happy. BIG UPS TO THE CREW!!
AND amidst it all, LOOK UP! Through the red wood trees, to the clear blue sky…take a deep breath, smell the earth.
That’s it for now. More to come!
WEDNESDAY, June 25, 2013
SUN, bright SUN!!
The faculty concert last night: Started with a horn fanfare, (with all the horn playing faculty) kind of a marching band type thing that deteriorated into Ornette Coleman free blowing insanity. Let by Matt Wilson, our drummer Artist In Residence.
I don’t have time to speak about the whole concert, but Matt Wilson played “I’ll be There” by the Jackson 5 on solo drumset. Tuck and Patti (yes, THE Tuck and Patti were on faculty) played a string of tunes: You hear about chemistry between musicians, well, they are like one person. Beautiful and soulful. I describe Tuck’s guitar playing style as something like a spider jumping up and down on a hot plate. Bouncy, lite, grooving. Patti has such a rich soulful voice. I cried a tear during their performance.
Here’s a picture of the amphitheater.
The sound that Jeff and Sandy Cressman and the sound crew accomplish is absolutely pristine. Amazing live production work.
The late night jam, after dessert, I went to the Golds Gulch jam, which, I forgot to mention is honorably presided over by the bubbling and endlessly inspiring piano and melodica playing Jovino Santos Neto. The level of playing is so creative and high from Jovino’s intricate and grooving Brazilian jams, to Glen Pearson’s and Randy Porter’s jazz piano virtuosity (in any and all time signatures), to Ratzo Harris’ bass playing to the drumming of Deszon Claiborne.
Wednesday is a special day at Camp. It’s known to be a kind of break down day for many, where feelings of insecurity meet with mounting exhaustion, but it’s also the day where the entire camp meets at the amphitheater at about 5:30p and we all join a massive Brazilian percussion jam as we all march up a dirt road to the INDIAN BOWL.
It is truly a sacred space, a fire pit in the round. The dining staff sets up a big BBQ and after the walk/dance we eat and settle down on the rustic wooden benches and await the happening.
This year, compared to what I remember from the previous 2 years I have been at JCW was really completely off the hook.
Don’t forget, LOOK UP! Through the red wood trees, to the clear blue sky…take a deep breath, smell the earth.
John Santos sets the tone with his introduction reminding us of our connection to the EARTH, to the ancestors, to the healing powers and truth telling of nature. His words and vibrations are deeply rooted in the Yoruba cultural and DRUMMING tradition. To end his introduction some of the camp faculty children, including John’s two young kids, sang an incredible Yoruba chant with John. So cute and focused! I welled up (for the first time that night), thinking about the loss of connection to nature, and that feeling of deep yearning for that connection, that peace, that truth, that openness.
I think part what happens at the Indian Bowl is that whatever struggles anyone of us are feeling, what ever stresses and insecurities, this ceremony brings us all together with a clear message that we are all in this together, in this life together, that the music has a meaning that is MUCH deeper than how well any one of us can play this or that lick, song, groove etc.
It’s the building of trust.
Then Tuck and Patty. They did a song (can’t remember the name) about bringing heaven down here to earth instead of waiting for it. Just beautiful! Second tear of the night shed…
AND, LOOK UP. listen! The redwood trees, the earthen smell, the birds seeming to literally sing answers to the musical goings on.
Next: Jovino comes forward and tells the yearly developing story of the land of trombonia and how the trombone merged with the ukulele, complete with live trombone choir, ukelele choir and choreography, to make the Bonekelele. Jovino is so god damn funny!
Next, my cabin mate and amazing spirit, guitarist, ukelelist and singer, True (AKA True Born) sang “Ain’t No Sunshine” with upright bass, acoustic guitar, hand percussion. He really delivered the sadness of that song.
FINALE: Terrance Kelly, conductor of the gospel choir, cam forward as the camp bon fire simmered a bit and sang, alone, a string of Negro spirituals starting with one with lyrics, “There ain’t no freedom down here. They take all my chil’ren. I wish I was never born.” He has a beautiful and powerful voice (Paul Robeson-esque) and I’m telling you for the duration of that song in particular, in the dark of night, with the camp fire burning, I felt transported to some slave dwelling on a plantation in the deep south. Third session of tears shed. Just chilling, devastating.
IT’S NOT OVER YET: After Terrance’s last syllable there was silence as everyone absorbed the entire thing, his vocals, the essence of the songs, the birds and trees….applause erupts. Whew!
THEN, the JAM OF JAMS. A couple of percussionists jump on the congas and start a driving Bomba like groove, relentless. Then a small circle of people start singing, anything, together. People break from their conversations to come over and join the building juggernaut of vibration. Feel the heat of the campfire, the heat of the movement, the vocals. You have no choice but to join. Before you know it you’re in the middle of a swirling, sonic, rhythmic cauldron of shared life force vibration. Now, you gotta understand this isn’t some drum circle where people who have never hit a drum before or sang very much or danced very much are being given permission for the first time to do so by some new age drum circle leader. This is a bunch of MUSICIANS who have been detached from the ‘real world’ for 3 days, totally immersed in music, in their struggles, and through it have built a certain degree of trust, not to mention many people who have been coming to the camp for years and know this is the time to let it loose. This is 2 and 3 part harmony call and response vocalizations continually morphing into different shades of tone, melody and rhythm from a bunch of people who are throwing down dance movement of any kind, no pretenses of any kind, just SHARING, group creativity, and everyone FUCKING GOING FOR IT!
LOOK UP, at the stars!! Smell the smoke of the fire as it merges with the redwood tree scent.
Endless rounds of dynamic interchange. Bring it up, bring it down, start a new vocal melody, smile at the person next to you who you haven’t seen before but feel like you’ve known forever.
I imagined that this must be what it felt like to be part of some ancient African drumming ritual that was so central to human life, to really making a connection to the earth, to ancestors. I cannot put it into words.
The jam must have continued for 2 hours, but I had to go after about one because I was slated to help lead the Blues Jam. I took my time walking down the dirt road under the massive star lit sky as the Indan Bowl jam raged on, fading, then coming closer to the dining hall where the blues jam sounds slowly took over. I got in, sat at the piano and dropped into one of my favorite roots experiences as a keyboard player….rocking, I IV V BLUES with a wikked band of pros. Then faculty singer Faye Carol came up and we did a slow blues, oh my, we brought the delta to Cali fo sho.
Then over to Golds Gulch jam and I got my butt up there to jam. I played Night in Tunisia and just had a blast with the other players and the ‘hangers’ at the Gulch. Bed time: about 2:30a
THURSDAY, June 26, 2013
Breakfast at about 8:30, Rueda dance class, and more or less a regular day of teaching.
My “how to swang” piano lab is focused on developing the fine tuned technical control of the fingers so that you can develop the ability to play notes with varying attacks ranging from heavily accented to ghosted. It’s an eye opener for most in the class and very helpful.
My “blues, blues blues” piano class is over full which surprised me! The meat of the class consisted of learning many blues licks and practicing really ‘speaking’ a solo, that is, to develop a compelling story. There’s no better form than the blues to accomplish this.
Marley class: tonight is our performance on the main stage, 10pm. We’ve been working on 6 tunes: Crazy Baldheads, Waiting in Vain, Lively Up Yourself, Positive Vibration, So Much Things to Say, Rebel Music. We had basically 4 hours to put this set together and everyone is really rising to the occasion to learn the arrangements. The past two nights, after dinner, I’ve been meeting with the singers for extra rehearsal time. It’s a 20 piece ensemble!
There’s a basketball court next to the main amphitheater and some impromptu ‘knock out’ games and even a 2 on 2 have broken out. Highlite was when Elio Villafranca and I lined up next to each other for a three pointer.
We shot at the same time and made the shot….2 balls going through the hoop at the same time….AND the camp videographer (Andy Mogg) happened to get it on camera.
Speaking of Elio, we’ve developed a brotherly connection as he’s been sitting in on my blues piano class and I on his montuno class. (Elio is a wonderful Cuban pianist and amazingly great guy…and great dancer!!) Cuba meets the Delta Blues!
After the night time open mic concert the Marley ensemble took the stage. Big up to Jeff Cressman and crew who really dialed in our sound. First thing: we cleared out the first 6-7 rows of chairs. I got on mic to introduce the band and asked the crowd if they were ready….”yeeeeeees”, but I said “not really, until you all get up, stand up.” It didn’t take much for the crowd to jump to their feet, ready to rock. That really changed the energy, to have the crowd standing right in front of the band!
We started with So Much Things to Say and the whole place lit up, dancing, jumping, the kind of energy that’s pure fire, inspired by the sound. We proceeded to really kick butt on all 6 tunes, sounding professional. At one point, just before the last tune during the applause, I threw my hands in the air and started shaking my hands after a few in the audience had started doing that. Then everyone in the room joined in. It looked like some sort of dance choreography. It was simply awesome to look at the crowd, everyone just totally getting DOWN, throwing dance moves. The dub wise on Crazy Baldhead had Gilian Harwin on bass looking like Amlak Tafari (bassist for Steel Pulse), tons of bad ass reggae attitude!
Here’s “So Much Things to Say”: Listen up!
…AND LOOK UP! See the stars all the while!
On to the Golds Gulch jam…..bedtime about 2 or so.
FRIDAY, June 27, 2013
Exhausted. Everyone exhausted, but on a high. Last day of classes. Sad. I took 2 short naps during the day, then a ½ hour one, then dozed off sitting on the hill in front of the amphitheater during the nighttime concert.
Lot’s of compliments from people about Marley concert. And some expressing appreciation for bringing the political, societal awareness into music, it (music) being such a powerful catalyst for change. Many people going as far as saying it was a ‘peak moment’ at camp. Stacey Hoffman, camp co-director, told me why: she loves Marley’s music, with the wide range of content….from the political to the love songs. AND that the ensemble sounded really good, not all amateur. A few people came up to me and said that it’s really hard to get them up dancing and the ensemble did it! Here’s “So Much Things to Say.” (MP3, PICTURE)
Dance concert: There has been a growing element of dance at the camp over the years and Friday early evening features performances in the dining hall, just after dinner. I performed with the rueda group….a dance performance,,,a first for me! And I have to say I was in step and groove the whole time!
The final concert at amphitheater after the dance concert was with gospel choir, Latin big band and True’s funky blues ensemble.
I woke up from my doze-off on the ground during show, ate 4 chocolate chip cookies and powered through till 4am.
Gospel Choir always kicks butt and then all the chairs are cleared for the Latin big band. From beat one, the band sounded great and everyone was dancing. Of course Sidney pulled together a Rueda during the set. It was a blast to improvise the moves a bit (now that we all knew a few of them), the way it’s really done. True to tradition, after the last band, there’s a massive dance jam with a DJ. I have not danced like that for a long time. To start things off the DJ played a some rumba and Sid and Elio did a little rumba dancing with Elio ‘shooting’ Sidney….I love that dance and drum sound, reminded me of my trip to Havana.
After that, no holds were barred. Total let-loose dancing by all starting at about midnight. Old R&B, James Brown, some 90’s rap, Michael Jackson etc. My crew of friends kept saying ‘let’s go to golds jam!’ and another great dance tune would come on and we’d stay. Getting goofy on everyone the whole time. With such a tremendous momentum of love, trust and positivity you can imagine what kind of dance moves were being thrown down! (Does anyone from camp have any picture from this? Please send.)
Finally to Golds jam. A ton of people there, music going off. I got up and did No Woman No Cry, got everyone singing. Then Jovino comes forward saying there’s a style of Brazilian music that’s like reggae, called Xote, I say “cool, and I’ll play drums” jokingly and the next thing I knew, I was sitting at the kit doing my likkle reggae thing. It worked quite well and I was being egged on and encouraged by a few of the drum faculty…an honor. What a blast! Seeds were planted for possibly doing a few tunes or an album of ‘reggae Xote’ with Jovino!
Bed time: 4am. Oh my.
SATURDAY, June 25, 2013
A pristine morning and yet another gorgeous sunny day. Barely made breakfast at about 8:45am. Everyone in an inspired daze. After breakfast, a number of combo concerts starting at 10am. It’s a joyous vibe, with many many pictures taken, heartfelt good byes, lots of laughs, a few tears. The final lunch (BBQ) is time for more good byes, I ventured to find out a bit about the lives of some students in my classes. I think one of the great things about camp is that everyone (except for the faculty I suppose) get to put on a completely different persona, that of musicians, when in their ‘real’ lives they have such different roles in their jobs, in their family lives, etc.
By 2pm the camp is pretty much a ghost town with only the crew tearing down the sound equipment, packing up the cabins etc. There’s a certain sadness that comes with the ending even though every one is looking forward to sleeping in a real bed and getting some serious rest!
IN CLOSING, first, big thanks go out to Madeline Eastman and Stacey Hoffman (and Living Jazz) for their vision and hard has hell work for putting this camp together, now for 30 years. It’s a true institution. Without their leadership and vision, this would never happen.
I have to say that my account surely doesn’t cover everything that happened throughout the week and doesn’t mention all the personal connections I had with so many. I have tried to capture the essence of my inner and outter experience here. Jovino says that to come to camp is to ‘reboot’ your life, to remind yourself deeply of what really matters in life. Here, at Jazz Camp West, we are brought together in the embrace of nature, stripping away the stresses of everyday life (no cell phones, no TV’s, no advertising, no concern for material gain, no hustle), with a deep understanding that music is much more than just music, that is, that it brings people together in joyous celebration. Because of the work we all put in, so that we can achieve a higher level of musicianship, no matter at what level, we reconnect to the things that give true meaning to life: sharing, validation, appreciation, healing, laughing, crying, love and a hell of a good dance move!
One more special: I’d like to thank Syd Williams. He was my pre and post jazz camp host, not only this year but in the past years I’ve attended camp. This gentleman has a HUGE heart and massive love for music. He’s a fantastic supporter of JCW and other musical organizations in the bay area. THANK YOU SYD!
April 4th, 2010
LIVELY UP YOURSELF
December 18th, 2009
A whole bunch of my JA photo’s are here: Jamaica, 2009 Photos.
After surviving the last couple weeks of the semester at Berklee during which time I played many gigs, give lots of extra help sessions, administered exams and did three KILLER performances with the Marley ensemble……I’m in Jamaica! Arrived two days ago in MoBay and arranged a ride with our driver Steve Riviere straight to Treasure Beach for 3 days of much needed R&R before heading to the hard streets of Kingston. (More on Steve below)
Arrived at Treasure Beach after dark and BEAT BEAT as hell. Waking up the next day to 85-95 degree sun, breeze….like you read about. Beautiful. Didn’t like the place we had booked to stay and just threw our hands up in the air and paid for a couple of nights at Jakes Island Outpost!! WOW, this place is truly amazing. Just check out the site.
Here’s a couple of video’s and pictures. Off to the days adventures in relaxation.
Our last night in Treasure Beach took us to a happening at a new hotel called Tiano Cove. It was a dance, live performance, fundraiser, arts and crafts sale, dinner all wrapped into one. The host for the evening is the well known scholar and story teller Amina Blackwell Meeks. She was AMAZING….really had full control of the small crowd and was quite funny at times in her MC delivery but also quite knowledgeable of Jamaican history as she would inject bits of Jamaican folk lore, history (of Marcus Garvey and the Maroons) and bigging up local artists. Also on hand were the Acompong Maroons drum and dance ensemble. The Maroons are a group of Africans who were never enslaved, basically escaped from the slave ships and hid out in the mountainous areas. (There’s a lot more to this story….) With my knowledge of this very significant part of Jamaican history, I knew that this was a rare opportunity to witness a deep part of Jamaican culture.
We departed Treasure Beach the next morning via hired taxi heading to Mandeville where we picked up a public bus to Kingston. Our driver to Mandeville was a man named Garnett Staple. Turns out he works in Boston 9 months a year as a foreman on a landscaping crew!! He is a fortunate Jamaican who has a sponsorship from a Boston business man (they met some years ago when Garnett became the business man’s driver while he was on vacation in JA,) who pays him well to help run his business then Garnett spends the rest of the year in Treasure Beach driving his taxi and spending time with his family. He is quite proud that he is able to take care of his family so well. We had a great discussion with him and explored many realities of Jamaican life:
As we drove through a town named Nain we saw the massive aluminum factory and we were told that it had been shut down for a year due to the recession….a massive loss for the regional economy. Some people have found bits of work on local road crews doing clean up work to get by.
I asked him what Bob Marley’s music means to Jamaicans today and his quick reply was that Marley was and is still responsible for a lot of tourist traffic to Jamaica and this is the best thing. No talk of the deeper meaning of his music and the Jamaican struggles at the time and what the state of such struggles is today.
We were following a garbage truck…..and thought it was peculiar that it was running on a Sunday morning. Could very well be transporting drugs and/or guns Garnett said, one way in which some make a lot of money. We asked him what are the professions on the island that pay reasonably well and are honest. He said that firemen do well, many who are connected to tourism, and farmers, but only those who are farming crops that have not been replaced by imported crops like cabbage and tomatoes. He said that the current minister of Agraculture is working hard to help farmers to regain their market that has become largely devastated by the terms of the loans that JA has taken from the WTO and significant changes for the better are taking place. (At least this is what I assume he was talking about: see the movie LIFE and DEBT.) There are more and more “Made in Jamaica” labels and stickers on locally produced products. This change for the better in agricultural policy was confirmed by some conversations I had in Kingston. Great!
Police, an honest living? They don’t get paid that well but some are well off due to corruption that could be from taking bribes, selling seized drugs and who knows what else. In the end it’s nearly impossible to make any huge judgements about Jamaican society on this. Is it more corrupt than many other? Who can really say.
So we finally arrived in Mandeville and were the first on a bus to Kingston. The busses only depart after they fill up so if you’re the first on, you may have a long wait. Fortunately we didn’t and left shortly on a PACKED PACKED PACKED bus. Made it to Kingston in about 2 hours, getting bounced around a lot, but not a bad ride in general.
Arrival in Kingston is a reality check. We were dropped off on a street corner in western Kingston….thought we would be dropped a the bus terminus, but no. So there we are two tourists with giant back packs in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Kingston. After a minute we walked down to the waterfront where we met our gracious host and amazing percussionist Maroghini.
The streets of western Kingston, where the ghetto life is, is shocking: just a mass of people and corrugated tin, torn down concrete, people everywhere, shops selling anything you can think of and streets covered with garbage. There is garbage pick up, happening around 3am, but it’s more a problem of civic pride, or lack thereof, according to our host Maroghini. People just throw their empty coke bottles in the street, out the windows of cars anytime, anywhere, much the same as I’ve experienced in other ‘developing’ (god I hate that term, as well as the term ‘third world’!!) countries.
Busy day in Kingston. The thing about any kind of doings in a city like this, is that you may start your day with a plan, but it’s quite rare that your plan will actually come to fruition the way you envisioned. For some this may be completely frustrating. I love it, despite it being so frustrating at times. Your experience, whether it will be a great one or a shitty one, boils down your flexibility and how you want to interpret happenings. They say there’s no such thing as a wrong note…it all depends on what you play after the supposed wrong note.
So, we started with a plan to go to the Marley Museum, then to come back and go to check out some of Maroghini’s land nearby, then to perhaps go surfing, then to go to Chinna Smith’s yard to jam. What happened was we went to the Edna Manley College for Performing arts. Great college level school with great facilities. Sarah had to do some important emailing and while we waited I was introduced to the President of the College, Burchell Duhaney, and discussed the possibility of building a connection between the two schools, something that I’ve been pushing for about 3 years now. Some day, I KNOW that connection will be made. While we waited for Sarah, Maroghini and I went to get some take out food for lunch and hopped in his incredible VW microbus….circa 1968 (for real!!!) and drove around the corner to Crossroads….a WICKED crazed intersection in Kingston, stopped at a restaurant, but the line was way too long so we bagged that and slugged our way back to the school through the crazy traffic all in 95 degree sun. No food, but we hungry. We picked up Sarah, then on the way to Marley Museum we dropped into the ___________________ studio and who’s sitting in the court yard but Bungo Herman (pretty much a celebrity in terms of reggae percussion….he’s played and recorded with them all, from Marley to the latest artists.) and Sly Dunbar, drummie from the heaviest of the heavy drum /bass duo of Sly and Robbie. Cool character was he. I complimented him on all of his work from the Peter Tosh years up to now and gave him big big ups for his work a few years ago on an album called “Memories of Barber Mack” (or it might be “Below the Bass Line”) with Ernest Ranglin. One of my favorite albums of all time, acoustic instrumental reggae-jazz. I’ve had dreams about playing with Ernest and Sly……hmmmm, maybe it could happen! Next Bungo comes out of the studio and says, “you want to meet Toots” (you know, Toots and the Maytals.) Uuuuu, yea. So, we met TOOTS for a grand total of about 10 minutes, but wow, a legend. Super energetic. He insisted on doing the Jamaican hand shake where you touch fists together but without actually touching and yelling, “WIRELESS!!!!!!”
Bungo hopped in Maroghini’s van and we headed over to the Marley Museum. It’s 56 Hope Road, Marley’s home. We got there too late for the last tour and we were starving so we sat down at the Legend restaurant and ate some great soup and sandwiches and got to a big reasoning session with Bungo. I asked him for a story of 56 Hope road in Marley’s day and the first thing he said was that there was no barrier, no wall. Anyone could walk in at any time. There were tons of hanger’s on everywhere, many times just total cacophony. Probably wasn’t the best idea for someone so internationally famous, and certainly contributed to the relative ease with which the gun men were able to nearly kill Marley back in 1978.
Then I took a walk around Bob’s house. I’ve been there 3 times before, done the tour, seen it all and even with some privileged access in the past, but to set foot on the grounds where so much of what has inspired me took place, sends shivers up and down my spine. It’s hard to put into words. Marley’s music and life just taps into something completely PRIMAL in me. It’s a combination of true rebeliousness, tenderness, intense longing for something that’s lost in us all.
We piled into the Microbus and headed towards Half Way Tree to drop Bungo off, but got sidetracked at Devon House for some WICKED ice cream where we ran in to the guitarist Chalice. After the treat, we left Bungo to the dense Kingston night and headed over to Chinna Smith’s yard.
Chinna was Marley’s rhythm guitar player towards the end of Marley’s time and I had the pleasure establishing a friendship with him on a previous trip. Chinna lives in a small place near Half Way Tree. You walk through his driveway, with a virtual jungle in his front yard and the smell of copious amounts of chalice smoke permeating your nostrils as you reach the porch. It’s a dimly lit space with a drumset, an old upright piano, Chinna’s fish tank (his biggest fish had died), an assortment of binghi drums. The back wall is covered with posters documenting Chinna’s worldliness and interests: images of Haile Selasie, Che Guevara, Nelson Mandela, Marley, the Melody Makers, Martin Luther King and so much more. There are 5-6 Dreads hanging around and Chinna is sitting on a stool hunched over his classical guitar jamming with the drummie, singer and binghi drummers. I greet him and he jumps up with a smile. Introductions are made and before you know it he points to the piano. I sit down and the musical communication begins.
Here’s a night-time video of the jam that took place at Chinna Smith’s house in Halfway Tree. I imagine that jamming inna de yard (at Chinna’s) is about as close as it really was in Marley’s scene….jamming for hours on end…… Here we are making up some stuff off the cuff. Later we jammed one of my tunes, one of Chinna’s, then we played Song for My Father and after that I was showing Chinna the diminished scale and some dimished licks that he mix-up inna blender!
DANCE HALL AND ROOTS SCENE
I’d say the Jamaican music scene can be roughly split into two streams: the Dance Hall and the Roots/Lovers. Back in the early days of reggae (late 60s’) this music organically grew out of the very jazz influenced ska era and what came first is music in the style of Jimmy Cliff, Toots Hibbert, Buring Spear, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, The Wailers and so many other seminal groups. This is ROOTS, the music I love. It’s punctuated by incredibly melodic bass lines, well crafted verses, choruses and even bridge sections, super melodic lead lines with near orchestral layering of parts including awesome harmony vocals, inner guitar, organ, clavinet and synth lines and very tasty horn arranging. The message coming through the lyrics were sometimes ballistic assaults against oppressive socio-economic forces that revealed the deep awareness and intelligence amongst the people of Jamaica. Other tunes were straight up love songs of all levels from the simple to the sublime. Some of the music was stripped down to an absolute primal core but retained a certain elegance that was able to reveal universal truths in its simplicity.
Here’s a brief video of one of the most popular “roots/lovers” artist of the day, Tarrus Riley…Killer! He did a free show at National Hero’s Park and it was RAINING like crazy, (very rare for this time of year.) That’s Dean Fraiser on alto, leading the killer back band, the identity of which I didn’t find out.
Back in the day a split took place away from the Roots style and the “Dance Hall” universe was born.
There have been volumes written about the Jamaican Dance Hall cultural phenomenon and for this trip I made it a priority to get out and experience it, full watts! I will preface this blog entry by saying that I’ve never been drawn to modern Dance Hall artists and movement so my thoughts and feelings do spring from a certain level of lack of understanding that was certainly deepened on this trip. With this in mind, here’s what I think:
Kingston, 12/23/09. We went to bed at about 10pm for a 2 hour nap then woke up at about midnight, rubbed the sleep out of our eyes and hopped in Maroghini’s van and headed for one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in western Kingston, the border between Dunham Town and Tivoli Gardens. It’s here that one of Kingston’s biggest street dances takes place every Wednesday night from about 1am till the sun comes up. A huge sound system is set up, I mean HUGE. There are two speaker stacks that consist of about 12, fifteen inch speakers stacked 12 high (way over my head) and are wired to probably about 2000 (?) watts of power amplifiers connected to a DJ station with a double CD spinner. I’m not exaggerating one bit when I say that Maroghini’s van was rattling like crazy when the vibes from the speakers hit.
The DJ selects tunes to spin but equally important is his role to get on a microphone and talk up the crowd….or scream up the crowd is more like it. It’s not so much about playing one killer tune after another with a likkle commentary in between. The DJ brings new life to the track by providing commentary every 15-30 seconds (that’s right, seconds). The Jamaicans speak two forms of patois, one is basically English with and accent and with some Jamaican slang thrown in. Then there’s the real patois that is nearly a completely different language that I can barely understand. The Dance hall DJ’s, as you can imagine, speak in full patois, but to the outsider, it really it feels like an assault of screaming. The music is HARD HARD one chord, and even just ONE NOTE patterns embedded in a screaming electronically produced drum beat perhaps with a little repetitive synth line, maybe some quasi singing (sometimes they are called a “sing J” as opposed to a “DJ”). The messages speak sometimes of politics but often are quite ‘slack’ in nature, that is, sexist, very risqué, always trying to deliver the most shock value and egging on especially the women (dance hall queens), so very scantily clad and showing off some amazingly powerful feminine forms, to shake it harder and faster. The dancing: you might just as well be witnessing a pornographic bang scene that sometimes can get down to pure skin. The preferred drink is a particular brand of Jamaican rum that’s called “overproof” and if you spill a stream of it on the ground and drop a match, it lights up like a flame thrower. More fiya!! Some may find themselves asking the question: is it a celebration of culture or some kind of an abuse? I can’t answer that question except to say that perhaps it’s BOTH. Part of it feels cheap and after a while it simply hurts…..and I LOVE LOUD as hell bass lines and constantly get yelled at by fellow musicians on the band stand to turn down when I’m performing. Another part of it feels REAL….there is some kind cultural truth being demonstrated.
We held out at Pasa Pasa till about 4:30 am or so but the massive (JA for big crowd) never really showed up perhaps because of the holiday or perhaps because of recent gang tensions on the rise.
A few days later we traveled to a small and beautiful town in the Western side of the island, Roaring River, for Christmas Eve where we stayed with friends. Starting at about noon on Christmas day a giant sound system was set up….three stacks of massive speakers and mega watts of sound. The video is distorted because the little mic’s on my video camera couldn’t take the volume and the ramped up low end. I had ear plugs in when shooting. This was a big event in the village. The women spent literally 2 days putting together their hair and outfits and the men made sure they had their best jeans, shirt, hat and cologne on. Then as the night wore on the crowd of about 100 – 200 local people showed up….a country version of Pasa Pasa. With overproof rum running the sexy dance hall queens arrived, some dressed a lot more scantily than others, but pretty much all were ready to shake it and connect it to a man’s crotch.
Here’s a slow walk through Roaring River….no matter how far out in the bush you may be, there will be a sound system and probably a domino’s game!
Here’s the scene in Savanna La Mar Christmas Eve. It’s shopping to the max til late, late and EVERYONE’s out. Sound systems everywhere.
GROUND TRANSPORTATION AND GREAT VIBES
I’d like to make very special note to my friend and tour bus owner Mr. Steve Riviere. Steve is an American who fell in love with the Jamaican way of life many many years ago and followed his passion by making the island his home. I met him three trips ago upon recommendation by a friend and colleague in Boston and I always employ his services. Steve owns a large passenger bus (capacity of roughly 20) and makes his living between farming and running tours and transporting tourists in the Montego Bay / Negril / Ocho Rios areas. If you talk to him on the phone you would never believe he’s from the US as his patois and Jamaican accent are a complete and honest part of his personality. Steve is a caring soul with serious street credibility. He knows the entire island inside out and backwards. He knows Jamaican culture, the politics, the music, where to go and where not to go. His bus is VERY clean and his driving skills are seriously impressive……and to drive Jamaican roads they better be! If you strike up a conversation with him you will gather information ranging from where the GOOD music is happening, to the most up to date current events, to local, national and international socio-political commentary, great off the beaten path places to stay and eat, and always a few jokes. If you’re traveling far, make sure you stop and buy him a coconut water or some fruit. Steve is feeling only too much that Jamaica is loosing its centuries old characheristic as being truly rebelious from the times of the Maroons, to Marley, to NOW. State of music in JA today: “Well, it’s a couple of rappers with a beef who shoot to kill, talk all kinda slack but really saying NOTHING…..and all for what…..MONEY!!”
I happen to have a JA cell phone (something I highly recommend that you purchase if you’re going to be around for more than a week and traveling around the island), and even after I no longer was in need of his services, I always would receive random calls from him checking on to make sure I was OK!!
Steve’s company is Tahzan Tours: Sightseeing, Ground Transportation, Translators. You can reach him via email (which he has limited access to): email@example.com The best way to reach him is by phone: 876-362-1441. Check out other reviews on www.tripadvisor.com under the name “Steve Riviere.” Here’s a photo of Steve, myself and Sarah after our 2.5 hour drive from MoBay to Treasure Beach.
August 31st, 2009
Matt has been invited to participate as a panelist at this year’s Moshito Music Conference and Exposition at the Museum Africa, Newtown, Johannesburg South Africa. September 2-5.
“Now entering its fifth year, Moshito as it is known is focused even more keenly on its objective of broadening the business intelligence of music industry professionals in South African and the continent, strengthening business networks for participants and informing delegates, traders and the public about the multifaceted and dynamic nature of the global music industry.” The event takes place from September 2-5.
Matt will be taking part in the session discussions covering the topics of:
“Opportunities of South African music within the US markets. What are the possibilities?”
“How to get in and operate within the music industry.”
Here’s my boarding pass, “MattProfessor Jenson”
It’s 10:30pm in Johannesburg, S. Africa and after a grand total of 18 hours flying time, I’M COMPLETELY COOKED. En route I watched 3 movies and read a few chapters of the Nelson Mandela biography I brought with me. That gentleman is one hell of a transcendent character devoted to the positive uplifting of humanity. I would love to meet him! One of the movies I saw was The Day The Earth Stood Still (Keno Reeves) and that was a very very tantalizing movie to juxtapose against learning more about Mandela’s life.
With some sleep under my belt I’ll be ready to go all day and all night tomorrow. I’m scheduled to do a joint presentation with David Stopps (of www.fmlmusic.com) entitled quite simply, “How to make Money in music.” I’ll be backing him up with my excerpts regarding 2 different models of crowdfunding.
I’ve only seen the inside of the Joburg airport and the hotel so not much to say about this city except that it kinda feels like NYC. It’s HUGE.
Day two at Moshito was a marathon. I decided to walk to the Museum Africa where the event is taking place instead of taking a cab, mainly so I could see some of the city. It’s quite metropolitan, feels a bit like NYC. But reports of muggings after dark are many. In any case, what I’ve seen so far is quite nice.
Here I am with Mandla Makwela, the Moshito Coordinator.
The Museum Africa is a beautiful and large structure in the Newtown arts district. A VERY modern building, funky architecture. The Moshito event is a well organized with vendor booths representing all kinds: various festivals through out southern Africa, SAMRO (the African ASCAP or BMI), Joburg Arts Council, M Audio, a local production and engineering school hoping to become acredited soon, musical instrument makers and more. I had a small booth with the Berklee materials that were send ahead of time which I frequented through out the day to answer questions.
There are perhaps 4-5 well equipped rooms (I mean well equipped with plenty of A/V equipment and staff that know the equipment well and who are very nice and professional!), used for the multitude of presentations taking place. I hit the ground running as I was scheduled to make my presentation with David Stopps (www.fml.com) entitled simply “How to Make Money with Music”. David is a UK based heavy in the world of international arts copyright and has been tour manager for the likes of David Bowie (in the 70’s) and scads of others. (now works with Howard Jones) David lead the session (which was nearly full) with a well organized talk outlining the various income streams for performers and “authors” (song writers, arrangers etc). Then he went into discussion of the importance of the internet and amongst other things, kept saying “get as many email addresses as you can!” I learned alot.
Next I came forward and explained that I am first and foremost a performing musician (not an academic ‘expert’) and got on line immediately and gave real world examples of uses of the internet for artists who have alot together but aren’t that well known yet….that is ME! One of the things that David underlined over and over again was that fact that having a static, non updated site is worse than having a site at all. Many of us musicians get a nice looking site but never update it. Why would anyone want to return to it if it’s the same except for some gig dates changing? I told the audience of WORDPRESS, a highly editable platform (that this site is based on!) that is free. Pens and notepads were flying! I took the audience on a tour of this site and explained the Rebel Tumbao project.
I then proceeded to talk about CROWDFUNDING using www.microfundo.com as an example. Most were pretty unfamiliar with the concept and once I explained it there was great interest. I took the audience through the Microfundo site and used a S. African artist Mavo Solomon (who is running a campaign on Microfundo) as a case study. (I believe no one in the audience had heard of him.) His is a great example of how having a reasonably professional presence on the web with a site, a Facebook, MySpace and Twitter presence made all the difference to the people at MicroFundo accepting him.
We had only a little time for Q&A but we could have gone for another hour as people were very very interested in everything that David and I talked about. This is the first time I’ve been in a position of explaining something I’m trying to figure out, that is, creating a viable performing and recording career for myself using the internet, and I felt very useful in this role and could see this as a possible side gig for myself: doing lecture demonstrations related to using cyberspace to launch and grow a career.
I bought a Flip HD Video cam before I left on this trip and have taken a few vids. Here’s our audience: I was demonstrating how easy it is to post video blogs!
The rest of the day I spent wandering around the conference, connecting with many, answering more questions, talking up Berklee etc. At the end of the day I was approached by two extremely motivated young producers who had heard about the conference last minute and decided to come and absorb as much as they could. I sat down with them answering many questions about Berklee and got on line showing them more about my site, showed them the Rebel Tumbao press kits I brought, showed them how to put one together. After that we went across the street to a cool outdoor indoor club that was presenting showcasing bands. (I got brief video of one band that I’ll put up later. The were great.)
I took a cab back to the Hotel and caught up with David Stopps for a few drinks at the Hotel bar and had a great conversation about our presentations, but then just sat back and listened to some incredible road stories he had about his experiences managing some huge rock bands in the 70’s. Then I went to the hotel lobby to check emails and who walks in but Mandla (conference coordinator and hell of a great guy) with bassist Bakithi Kumalo and Ray Phiri (they both recorded Paul Simon’s Graceland and Rhythm of the Saint’s albums and continue to tour internationally with Paul and many others) and Mirko Whitfield representing South by Soutwest festival in Austin. Somehow we got into a nearly 3 hour conversation plumbing the depths of the human condition, global warming, near death experiences, overpopulation, meaningful music vs just alot of notes, Aparthied struggles. It was quite a sharing. I was exhausted but inspired by the end. That can be the very nice thing about being on tour: because you’re away from your day to day and in a location with a focus on your art, you can really get into some great philosophical and artistic connections with the people around you. Yea!
That’s Uno de Waal, whom I met for breakfast and we walked together to Moshito site.
Whew……what a day! I woke up this morning at about 11:00 am because a group of us, with Mandla Makwela as the wheel, went out to a fantastic club, House of Nsako, and heard two bands, got home at about 3am….indeed the right thing to do. It was great to finally HEAR SOME MUSIC. I knew we were in good hands at this club because there was a picture of Bob (Marley) and Che Guevera on the wall behind the stage. We saw two bands, I believe their names were 1) Cheny Wa Gune (from Mozambique) and Etran Finatawa (Tuareg’s from Niger). I hope the video below captures some of the energy. These two band were AWESOME. Tight, with deep grooves, I mean deep down grooves. The second band, from Niger (the Tuareg, from the desert of Niger, dressed in traditional garb) play a music that is very very meditative and trance like. Only one chord, with the rhythm guitar playing a drone while the lead guitar dances around, answering the long choruses and melody lines. Every song was very long and you just had to let into it, let it get into you and before you knew it everyone was just swaying and gone to another place. David Stopps and myself, all dressed in white(!), enjoyed some local SA beer and, of course, the MUSIC.
Big highlight of the day was the VIP dinner that all the presenters at Moshito were invited to. It was at Gramadoelas Restaurant at the Market Theater and pretty much all the heavy hitters in the Johannesburg arts community were there to meet and greet us. Many provincial government dignitaries were there. I had the great pleasure and honor to meet Mr. Peter Tladi (festival producer, producer, and more who’s been involved in the SA music scene for ?? 30-40 years, now producing the Joy of Jazz fest), Mr. Sam Mhangwane (an equally accomplished festival producer, now producing the Moretela Park festival), Mr. Steven Sack (Director of City of Joburg Community Development, Arts, Culture and Heritage), Mr. Andre le Roux (General Mgr of SAMRO [SA’s ASCAP] and Chairman of Moshito. We had extensive conversation around connecting Berklee to SA….this could well be a fantastic partnership!). I had great conversations with Mr. David Marks (www.3rdearmusic.com), recording engineer and archivist who has taken it upon himself for some 30-40 years to record many of the not so famous musicians world wide and has absolutely amazing historical back log of material. I enjoyed hearing many stories of life and music in the Apartheid era including hearing about how any Bob Marley record that was to be played on the radio had to be pretty much smuggled into the country and carried in paper bags. Bob was completely banned by the Apartheid!). I also had great conversation with Tom Gravlie from Norway (www.Rikskonsertene.no). He has created an amazing program of music education in schools globally, especially in Palestine. Lastly I made connection with the colorful and tattoo’d Bill Botes, working the back end of Moshito and a great help to me. (www.flagmusic.co.za) The food at this restaurant was amazing. I had Ostrich stew amongst lots of other tasties!
My entire connection to Moshito came through a friendship I struck up with a Mr. Dennis Wright when I was in Ghana 3 years ago. Dennis loves my REBEL TUMBAO project and recommended me for Moshito not only to serve on panels and bring Berklee to SA but more importantly to network for touring opportunities for Rebel Tumbao, so no doubt, at this dinner I was able to give the RT press kits I brought with me to some of these festival producers. Some ground work has been laid for RT to tour in SA!
For the day at Moshito I served on two panels, 1) With writer David Chislett (www.davidchislett.co.za). We gave a step by step discussion of how to enter your music and band into the biz on solid footing. Again, I emphasized the utilization of the internet. I explained that it was very cheap and easy to get a domain name and a free Wordpress site which everyone was very excited to know. I also spoke of the importance of knowing why you are entering into this field. When the tough times come (of which there are MANY as a musician), it’s this deep personal understanding and commitment that will allow you to persevere and succeed.
Next I served on a Plenery panel with the outspoken travel writer, producer, manager, Phil Tripp from Austrailia (www.philtripp.com) and the world class producer and engineer Gordon Williams from NYC who’s worked with everyone: Lauryn Hill, Stephen and Damien Marley (Mixed welcome to Jam Rock) and a billion others. We had a nice connection about Rebel Tumbao and we’ll be making a link up back in the states. Gordon knows José’s brother Joe (Claussell). We talked about how SA artists can effectively enter into the US music markets. A lively Q&A followed.
After that session a young bassist named Bright Gain from Nigeria approached me and told me his story: he applied to Berkee in 2000 and was accepted. He got all of his ducks in order and was all ready to hop on the plane and then his visa was denied by the Nigerian government!! 9 years later, more than ever, he wants to come to Berklee. I promised that I’d help him in any way I could. It works very well in his favor that he was already accepted. I’ll be contacting Rich Appleman on his behalf. Check this video:
Also I had the distinct pleasure to meet Ms. Aura Msmang Berton who worked with Bob Marley, recorded at Scratch Perry’s Black Ark Studio in JA (before he burnt it down!), Jimmy Cliff. I wish I had more time to talk to her as she has a tremendously positive vibe. Hopefully today we can link. Yes my sistah!
The night ended with Mandla and myself rolling up to the hotel at 2:30am only to meet with Batkithi and 3 other friends/musicians hanging out on the street talking it up and playing Leo Blanco’s CD on Mandla’s car stereo! (yea, Batkithi played on it.)
MOSHITO!…….a success as reported by Mandla:
The event wrapped up at about 1pm on Saturday. I walked around the conference center and made last minute connections, confirmed plans that were talked about the night before. I got a bit of lunch and Mandla drove me to the Apartheid Museum (www.apartheidmuseum.org) and dropped me off. As you can imagine, it’s an intense place. I only had time to get through about half of it including the special section on Nelson Mandela. It was amazing to see video footage of him, underground, talking about the need for non violent resistance then to speak of violent resistance.
Amazing to read some of the official declarations made by those men: “The White man is the master in South Africa, and the white man, from the very nature of his origins, from the very nature of his birth, and from the very nature of his guardianship, will remain master in South Africa to the end.” WHERE THE HELL DID THESE GUYS COME UP WITH THAT!?
It was amazing to look at photographs of dead bodies killed during protests, amazing to walk into a solitary confinement cell (that many who were imprisoned had to endure), amazing to feel a hangmans noose used to execute many who resisted the Apartheid regime, amazing to follow the events that led to Mandela being released and the process of the complete reversal of Apartheid…..and all of that only a mere 20 years ago! I found out a bit later that the family that provided funding for the museum made millions during the Apartheid era selling skin whitening agents to Blacks….go figure.
Later I went to the 4 band concert at the awesome venue called Bassline. I saw the GREAT S.A. singer Thandiswa, wow, she can sing and perform. I had the pleasure of meeting her keyboard player (forgive me, I forgot his name). He was very impressed to meet someone from Berklee and expressed wanting to come as did Thandiswa. I’ll list the names of the other bands I saw, but also on the stage was the Tuareg band I saw the night before. I bought a beautiful piece of jewelery and a copy of their CD. My terrible French got me through the price negotiations. Only downside: Cigarette smoke in the clubs. Oy! One club had no smoking signs everywhere but that certainly didn’t make a difference. Here are a few vids from the night:
What is the name of this crazy instrument?
My last day, Sunday, took me to the Soweto township, a suburb of Johannesburg. Because of this trip to South Africa I started to study some of its history but didn’t get all that far. There’s nothing like going to a location and meeting the people to learn what really happened. First, my impression of Soweto (and this is probably the impression of many in the world) is that it is mostly a slum on the order of western Kingston JA or the Favela’s of Rio. This couldn’t be further from the truth, not back in 1976 and not now. In our brief time I saw a number of Mercedes SUV’s, a Lamborghini, and many other top notch cars driving around. This certainly is not to say that most live with such material wealth, not even close, but I would call most of the dwellings ‘second world.’ Most housing consists of one storey, perhaps 4 room buildings with running water, plumbing, electricity. There is a big mall and lots of signs of business activity, tourist activity everywhere (…..you can bungi jump between two abandoned water towers, or ride a balloon shaped like a soccer ball to get a birds eye view of the city.).
The reason why this township is so famous is because of a student protest that took place on June 16, 1976. Nelson Mandela was still in jail, but the anti Apartheid movement was in full swing. We visited the church where organizational meetings to plan resistance campaigns would take place under the guise of a church service in session. We visited Mandela’s home (before he went to jail of course). But most disturbingly we went to the Hector Pieterson Museum. On that day in 1976 children (we’re talking 14 years old and up!) from all of the major schools in the area organized a protest march against the Apartheid policy that all classes be taught in the Afrikaans language. (Of course it was more than just that. It was in protest against the entire racist regime.) The children gathered and formed rows of 5, holding hands. They planned to march through the town and meet at a local sports field where they would draw up a letter of refusal. (They never made it.) As has happened in so many other similar situations such as Martin Luther King’s marches in the USA, the police started firing their guns at the children. You may have seen the FAMOUS picture of a boy carrying the body of another boy with an indescribable expression of horror, anguish, anger in his face and a girl nearly air born next to him with the same expression.
The dead boy was Hector Pieterson, the first killing of that day and it was his sister who was next to him. The boy carrying Hector fled the country and was NEVER heard from again. The museum is full of video footage of that march and other marches, of giant photographs of the struggle, of actual protest signs saying things like, “Don’t shoot we just want you to let our friends out of jail,” or “To hell with the Afrikaans.” When you walk into this museum, the struggle against the Apartheid system becomes palpable. I cried, for real, CRIED.
Our guide for the day Mandla, (whom you should be familiar with by now if you’ve read the previous blog entries), was very helpful in answering my many questions about SA history and the anti-Apartheid struggle. He was born in the very early 1970’s and remembers that for three years after that school children uprising there was no school, he did not go to school. The opposing forces were firmly entrenched and no one was going to budge. The S. African blacks, Communists, Coloureds, Indians (for the most part) had way too much confidence in their cause at that point and the believers in Apartheid were driving around in cars with guns and picking off people at will. Wow. The situation was critical for about 3 years and school recommenced but again in the mid 1980’s even deeper protests occurred and school was halted again. Mandla, then a young man, remembers vividly his involvement in the protests. If you go to South Africa, go to this museum.
Throughout this entire experience some very inspiring conversations took place. Here is a summary of these many comments, feelings, analyses, perspectives:
- “The US really has no culture other than money.” (from a colleague from Europe)
- I met a South African woman at a bar who had lived in NYC for a few years and couldn’t believe how hung up American women were with whether or not their breasts were too big or too small or their hips too wide and all manner of neurosis about outward appearance.
- In discussion about the post Apartheid era one knowledgeable S. African said that there was surprisingly little impetus for vengeance toward the white oppressors. The reason why, he said, was, “because we are a singing culture.”
- “Something like 11% of Americans have passports. If more Americans traveled and interacted with other cultures, no doubt they would be much less fearful of allowing the government to provide some social services. They would not think that providing universal health care creates a threat to Capitalism, which most Americans equate with freedom.”
- The secret to living a good life? BE HERE NOW! Don’t get so damn caught up in what was and what could be. Know your inner strengths and inner weaknesses well. Sometimes they are one and the same.
- On a couple of occasions I heard local musicians say that under the Apartheid regime there was so much more feeling of community because of the need to ban together to strengthen the struggle for freedom. There was more meaningful music and openness, respect. Now that the Apartheid regime is ended much of that sense of community has vanished while disconnectedness and individualism has taken over.
This last point causes me GREAT difficulty and ignites in me great efforts to understand and express. I am working on an essay, maybe the seeds of a kind of artists “manifesto” that I’ll be posting at a later date.
LASTLY, I’d like to give great big thanks to Mr. Mandla Makwela. He was a MOST GRACIOUS host on all accounts, always available with helpful answers, guidance, a ride and a smile. Thanks also to the entire Moshito staff for putting on such a great event. I felt that the information presented by all of the invited lecturers/panelists was powerful and most definitely achieved the overall goal of Moshito; to help South African musicians, producers, arts organizations become leaders in the global music market. I had a great time and look forward to the possibility of returning next year!
By the way, if you ever go to South Africa you’ll need this kind of electrical adapter. All the one’s I found here before I left that said “good for South Africa” were missing the part that had the three ROUND plugs, one of which is dead (plastic). You’ll need one that goes from the US plug into the two rounded female plugs that intern has the 3 plug male.