Sunday, 26 October 2008

The Second Gambian Experience Part Seven (Get Back To Where You Once Belonged)

So here I am, sitting with ‘Tufa and Haddy at Banjul airport enjoying a beer…
Everybody seemed to like the chicken thing I concocted except I personally thought the chicken lumps too big but that can be altered for next time I’m out there which should be in November for the gigs.
I haven’t got the dates yet but they’ll let me know the details when they are sorted out.

What a rush… Lamin was out when we called round but Ebrima was in and so we drank tea and chatted as people do as the storm raged outside.
Normally we’d be sitting outside on the long bench seat but the lightning is flashing around our heads and the thunder is rolling over the mountain…
That’s an expression from my youth by the way, back in the days when I had heroes and I suppose that if truth be told then Thunder Rolling In The Mountains was, and is, still a bit of a hero.
Certainly he was one of the bravest of men and definitely one who should be admired…
If you haven’t a clue what I’m on about then look it up, I’m not here to make things easy for you. The Creator gave you a brain so bloody well use it.
Anyway, that’s the past and that has gone, so back to the present.
Ebrima has given me some oranges to take home from his compound tree and I have to admit they taste pretty good. Sort of sweet and tangy as oranges should be as opposed to the sometimes tasteless supermarket stuff that can taste like sugary wet papier mache, but that’s the difference between getting them straight off the tree as opposed to the forced growing that we suffer in England in the name of the Brussels Agricultural policy…
So we pass round the oranges and nuts and drink tea with Ebrima’s wife and with Jacob (See, I did remember) as the storm rages until Haddy comes over with two umbrellas and I say my goodnights and leg it back across the road getting absolutely soaked in the process.
The following day I spend an hour at Haddy’s saying goodbye to everyone.
It was like a conveyor belt with a different face every two minutes for a goodbye handshake or hug…
Even some of the local kids came to say goodbye without their parents.
It really was very touching and I thank you all.
They say it’s the people that make a place what it is and this is certainly true of here.
These people are so welcoming that it is sometimes difficult to get your head round after the usual self important English argy-bargy-ing

‘Tufa had football practice at the same time as my departure so he needed special permission to take me otherwise he wouldn’t get picked for the team so I went half an hour early so he could do both.
It has definitely been another good trip.
I could have done without the cold and the case of ‘Banjul Belly’ but these things happen sometimes and this was one of them and I’ve actually remembered to keep back 350 dalasi for food and drink in the departure area this time as I definitely needed something before getting on the plane.

My usual bad luck at airports is holding and I got pulled on the Gambian side for my Nicorette Inhalitors. Giving up smoking is a pain in the arse but it has to be done and after I’d given them a demonstration and one of them had tried out one of my spares and sneezed himself out of any sense of lucidity (It happens to me sometimes on the first and second drags so I know it occurs) they concurred that I wasn’t a drug smuggler after all. The boxes do have my name on because for me they are prescription items so I should be ok, but they don’t seem to know about these things over there yet.
They will, but its early days for Africa yet. They’re still smoking like chimneys out there.

I met the airport cat again while in departures. It’s a sweet little thing and it begs like a professional… Ok, the prawn sandwich could have been the spur but one king prawn and a lump of bread later it seemed a happier cat and we were chatting away to each other like a couple of old women and then the couple on the next table started feeding it also and I got a break.
The flight back was uneventful except for the two hour delay which puts my car in jeopardy at the car park. Hopefully they will be told the flight is delayed and won’t charge me any excess but I don’t know ?
What I do know is that I’m going to be completely knackered when I get into Gatwick at four in the bloody morning, and then there’s that half mile walk to pick up your luggage…
God, I hate Gatwick Airport !
Hey ! Miracles do happen. I walked through the green light totally clear of any excess whatsoever and I’m not sure how, but that was a first for me as it has never happened before… Previously I’ve gone through green with nothing and been pulled everytime, but since I’m carrying only mangoes and some dodgy sour fruit with seeds in that I don’t particularly like for Haddy’s daughter Fatou, then I know I’m ok.

It’s now early Saturday morning so the M.25 hasn’t yet jammed up with traffic although I’m sure it will later but I sail right on through at a steady 70mph which is somewhat gratifying and get home at 9.10 am.
Meet and greet a couple of grumpy pussy cats and then go straight to bed…
Sod the washing, that can wait.
Aaaah sleep…


I got the dates at the beginning of October, six weeks before the events take place.
First Joy, Nuzz and Grant can't do it because of the way the holiday system is worked in this country so the band is out, but Graeme from Parnassus can.
A week later a poster appears through the post as e-mailing is out of the question courtesy of Gamtel.
One week after that I receive a frantic telephone call from Haddy...
The Semega Janneh Hall is being renovated the week we're supposed to be there so they've been put back a week and the three gigs have now dropped to two but I've got three school workshops now as well...
Oh Gawd !
Much as I like doing them, if I'm on my own when am I going to have time to rehearse with the musicians ?
After some frantic ringing around at my end Graeme now can't do it because of the date change but Joy now apparently can, and that is where we stand at this moment in time.

Checking out the poster I suddenly realise we are working on the same bill as the next African superstar in waiting...
I've seen Jalex (Akuntu) on television and was very impressed...
That lad is good.
For Africans and specifically Gambians from whence he comes, it would be like working with Bob Dylan in 1965 or Bob Marley in 1972 just before they went into world superstardom, but then he comes from Bakau which is where I stayed on my first trip out there and so if he's at home then it's only down the road for him.
Give the lad another couple of years and I reckon he'll be pushing for Youssou N'dour's crown... Mark my words he's gonna be big.

We're far too late to apply for any sort of funding for this trip or to get anyone else involved, but if it goes ok then lets try for the big one next year with funding, plus maybe I could get The Faction out there as well as The N.P.W/Chris Ripple X-perience, plus anyone else who wants to go ?
It's all down to money and who's doing what holiday wise, but let's just see how we get on with this one first ?
I hate the political correctness of the funding system and I know from a previous letter from The Arts Council that because I'm white and doing something in a predominantly black and Muslim country that there are gonna be problems.
They wanted to publish Parnassus' poetry but only black or asian poets...
Well I've got news for those fuckwits.
We live in a predominantly white area of North Hertfordshire so while we might have one or two black members the vast majority are gonna be white.
We don't have a problem with colour so why do they ?
Fuckin' rascists !

Looking forward to it ?
You betcha ass !

Friday, 24 October 2008

The Second Gambian Experience Part Six (The Old Weird America)

Photo's :-
'The Cuckoo is a pretty bird...'
Haddy and Lamin (and Mariama).

My second to last day dawned with sunlight which made a nice change with what had gone before so I’m out at about half seven again just doing some vague writing outside the compound gate sitting on one of those wooden seat come rests that Haddy has, mentally sketching the day and the people walking past while off to their respective workplace.
Some who have met me call out good morning and some other things but the vast majority just seem to be curious about the one obvious outsider in their midst.
It is of no worry to me.
I’m just lost in my own world for an hour or two until Haddy calls me inside for breakfast, after which, I’m back outside for another go, at which point Lamin turns up to say goodbye just in case he misses me tomorrow.
We tell him not to worry… We’ll be over his place tonight for a last visit before I’m off home again, although ‘home’ is a concept that I’m having serious difficulty with at the moment.
Lamin, who I’d previously met with a drum while at Fatou N’jai’s naming day is, I guess, a teacher, coach, mentor… Whatever ? To the local kids who are into music and football for he is adept at both despite using crutches to get around, and we talk generally about my stay and my return again at some point which is definitely something I intend to do and I’m going to miss the local kid’s who play their ‘Cup Final’ next week and then he tells me that Kawsu will be over to see me at some point today.
Now Kawsu is one of the guys I’ve met but I have no idea what’s going on so I just file it in my memory and think nothing of it until, of course Kawsu shows up and tells me that they are arranging three gigs for me for the next time I’m out there and can I bring the band ?
I think ‘gobsmacked’ is the right word although astonished and amazed are probably more accurate but don’t really carry the same weight.
It’s like the guy who translated the word bullshit into rubbish as in the expression ‘you’re talking bullshit’ (you’re talking rubbish).
How was it the translator was the one guy who never knew what the word ‘bullshit’ meant ?
So gobsmacked might be slang and not good English but at least it’s the right word and in this case definitely accurate.
Bringing the band that I’m working with at this present time is going to be next to nigh impossible as who knows what holiday arrangements they’ve all got left but we’ll see what we can do after I get back as unfortunately without the internet access I can do nothing while I’m here ?
Actually, my surprise is quite genuine as soundwise we are definitely a bit abrasive for a country that definitely prefers sweeter sounds but some of them have heard the minidisk that I recorded of us at Rhythms Of The World so they must know what they are getting…
Things are definitely beginning to get interesting.
If I can’t get the band which is likely then maybe a couple of members of Parnassus ?
I’ll see what I can do as two of the gigs are in halls with primary and junior school pupils and a couple of the local outfits and one is outdoors on the patch of waste ground behind Haddy’s compound with some of the older kids and a few local outfits, so Hey ho… let’s go… and I just have this crazy thought of The Nuzz Prowlin’ Wolf crashing into a Ramones or a Johnny Thunders riff on the waste ground outside to a bunch of Gambian kids who like their Rap and Reggae…
Damn… That thought is making me smile… and face it, stranger things have happened though right now I’m hard pressed to think of one ?

I’m cooking again tonight. Chicken this time and vaguely Chinese style with vegetables, chillis and noodles although Lord knows when I’m going to be able to cook it as I’ve promised Ebrima I’ll go and see him in the late afternoon and later I’m due round Lamin’s which is down the street away but I know which compound it is by the sounds of reggae emanating from it…
Well, that’s the plan if the rain holds off.
200 dalasi has just bought us a taxi tip to one of the supermarkets in Westfield, a couple of miles up the road which also has a bank to change up some last travellers cheques so I get the money sorted and the shopping trip done at the same time…
Enough apple juice for the rest of the stay and a couple of bits for the Chicken Chinese which I’m told they are all looking forward to trying.

Mariama’s friend Ida has just come over to watch a cartoon on the television.
It looks a sneaky bit like The Banana Splits to me, but who knows ?
The characters remind me of them even if this thing is set in the middle ages.
A couple of days ago we all watched ‘Babe’ with English sub-titles and followed that with it’s sequel Babe-Pig In The City which I might point out is nowhere near as good as the original but anyway…
Yeah, we watched ‘Babe’ and there were tears among the watchers when it looked like that little pig wasn’t going to succeed…
But didn’t you say that The Gambia is an approximately 87% Muslim country
Chris, and that Haddy’s children and friends are predominantly Moslem ?
Yes, I did… But it would seem that one little pig can melt a whole lot of hearts and maybe it was just me that got the contradiction but they didn’t think anything of it…
Babe was the good guy and he triumphs in the end by being nice to others…
I think that is the only way of looking at it and it ain’t a bad way at that… but that is for ‘The New Weird Gambia’ and not the old one…

The Old Weird Gambia…
The Kankurang comes from that place.
Stay with it and you will understand.
The Old Weird America…
That was the first expression coined by one of the ‘Beat poets’ some time in the late 1940’s and since taken up by authors and writers everywhere but where did the ‘Old Weird America’ come from ?
It came from England, It came from Scotland, It came from Ireland, It came from Wales and it came from France and Holland and Germany and it became by travel and emigration a thing of it’s own…
The Old Weird America like The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow (Yeah, I know it was invented by Washington Irving) and places like that, but there was an older earlier ‘Old Weird…’ with elf and faerie and men who kill swans who turn into maidens and all that strange folk music stuff that is centuries old but that must have come from somewhere... ?
Like Europe perhaps, but who knows ?
What matters is that exists.
It existed when I was young in the songs and nursery rhymes and strangely enough it never went away and exists even now, and even with the advent of the electronic superhighway and instant messaging to anywhere in the world that is logged on, it still exists…
The Old Weird America…
It’s a beautiful way of describing a mythic and legendary past and since I know for a fact The British Isles have a fair bit of ‘Old Weird’ emanating from it then it follows that other places must have their own also, and The Kankurang is definitely a bit of Old Weird Gambia and there it would have stayed except for one little item that freaked me out when I heard it…

Now there’s this cd box set, see…
It’s called The Harry Smith Anthology Of American Folk Music and it contains some of the oddest and strangest selections of old folk music known to the world of music.
It came from (obviously) a guy named Harry Smith who was an experimental film maker, artist and musicologist among other things and who amassed a collection of 78’s of early recorded music and what mattered to him was that it sounded different and not related to anything else that was around at the time and one of the items that you will find on it is a track by a guy named Clarence Ashley entitled The Cuckoo (or Coo-coo) and this track was recorded in 1928.
Now there is an older version of this song to even that one, as it actually appears in ‘Sharpes Folk Songs Of The British Isles’ which would definitely make it seventeenth or eighteenth century by the language used or possibly even earlier ?
This stuff obviously exists out there but unfortunately is known only to a few as opposed to the mass…
So imagine my surprise when a couple of Mariama’s friends started chanting the first line within one of their skip rope songs ?
Now I didn’t get it all, and some of it was in one of their indigenous languages but it was definitely The Cuckoo and what made it even weirder to me was that it was the American version.
Obviously, going back there again I’m going on a hunt for the kids to find out where they got it from if I can, but why the American and not the English version ?
The Gambia was a British colony before independence and there are a couple of word changes within the two versions which give away the country of origin.
Hey ! I’m not an expert on this stuff, I didn’t even know there was an English version which predated Clarence Ashley’s until I looked it up, so how did it end up in The Gambia ?
To my knowledge there are no serious folk music freaks in that part of Fajikunda so could they have got it from one of their school teachers who knows the thing ?
I dunno, but it certainly freaked me and I’m going to have to find out as the intrigue is beginning to get to me.
Anyway, if you don’t own the Harry Smith Anthology, just do yourself a favour and buy it. Give the wife (or husband) a few quid to get them out of the house, dim the lights, pour yourself a cup or glass of whatever takes your fancy, stick cd no.1 in the cd player and press play and then settle down and relax and just let it do it’s work…
I guarantee that when you’ve got through the cd’s you will have more questions than answers.
Will it change your life ?
Well, if music is part of your lifestyle then I would say yes, definitely it will.
I’d known a few of the tracks on it for years but usually in their ‘cover’ versions by modern performers.
Just as a for instance on ‘The Cuckoo’, I’ve got a Tom Rush version and a live Bob Dylan version in my own collection and from memory I know I’ve another by a female but right now I can’t remember who ? (Janis Joplin).
Hearing the originals puts you in a different time frame as all the tracks on it were recorded between 1927-1933 and listening to them (for an old vinyl junkie like me) without the pops and crackles that accompanied the old thirty three and a third format is an amazing experience…
Anyway, do yourselves a favour… Just go out and buy the thing or borrow it off a mate or hire it from your library, but listen to it.
This stuff should be taught in school music lessons and not how to play Wonderwall
as this stuff is more likely to live forever.
The Old Weird Gambia is maybe nearer the Old Weird America or the Old Weird England than some people think ?

Haddy has a cuckoo living in her orange tree in her compound…
Karma ?
Omen ?
Or just serendipitous coincidence ?
By this time she will have read the Greil Marcus book and passed it on to Lamin to read also.
Maybe when I get back they can shed some light on it ?
It’s a strange old world sometimes and occasionally it gets stranger…