Sunday, 21 December 2008

The Third Gambian Experience Part Three (Get Ready).

Pic's from the top:-
I think it's a relative of The Kankurang or maybe one of the twins getting ready for their Al Jolson impersonation.
Proud Parents. Ida, Omar and Amadou.
Sainey (guitar) and Jally (kora).
Hadim (Drums... Well, Djembes actually).
Counting in the kids for Jacob's Ladder.
(I took the top shot and Joy took the rest, completely forgetting to redate her camera...)
Out we roll into another day...
It's all go 'round here.
Rush, rush, rush...
Dry Off...
'Yes, I'm up... I'm just pulling some clothes on... Be out in a minute...'
The twins are off to catch their lifts to school but then I've driven passed theirs and it's about five miles away.
Mariama is just hanging around for a couple of her friends before she too is off.
Sainabou is starting off the charcoal burner for whatever we are eating for breakfast and Pussy is getting underfoot because she wants feeding too before she feeds her brood of four kittens.
'Tufa has been rung to go and pick Joy up but Joy's walked it anyway, stopping to be greeted and to greet all and sundry along the way.
The way that is going I'm suprised she even got here today.
It's amazing how the word spreads around.
Fried fish, a bit of salad and the usual baguette from the shop over the road and that's us done after a couple of cups of tea...
Now all we have to do is wait for the guys to get here and we're back to school again and we're due there at approximately school assembly time which is 8.20 am.
This will be the last of the school trips and replaces the scheduled appointment of yesterday, but that couldn't be helped as pupil's welfare should come first and it did.
The guys turn up just after eight and we all pile into the car and away we go, back up the road, through the potholes, keeping a weather eye out for goats, donkeys, chickens, dogs and children...
All of whom seem to go to school by themselves.
Something which it would seem our little Traceys, Justins, Britneys and Osamas have got out of the habit of doing...
Not that I'm having a dig.
Much !

Anyway, we got there in time, addressed a couple of classes with the headmaster's permission and that's it...
The advertising, short of a projected radio interview which is, or isn't happening, depending on who I'm talking to, is now at an end...
We've done our bit.
The radio station is round about 6pm tonight if it occurs ?
School is over and the next stop is the Standard Chartered Bank at Westfield to change up some travellers cheques and then to hit the supermarket and spend a bunch of it.
I like Standard Chartered as a bank.
Not only am I getting used to their system but the bloke I have to see remembers me from five months ago and when I ask him how bad the rate is ? He tells me that it might be bad but it's one dalasi better than it was yesterday...
'Now if I remember, he has to go off and authorise the cheques before I can join the queue for the counter... ?'
I remember.
But it's painless and he's soon back.
Next time I go in I might as well ask him about opening an account as travellers cheques can be a pain sometimes when they are seriously busy, and it would be so much easier just to queue with the rest of the population.
Still... Mission accomplished so it's off up the main road to Right Price...
(Thank you, thank you, thank you to the British couple back in the departure lounge in July who told me about them)
The thing about this supermarket which I might point out sells wine, spirits and beer (which is always a plus when abroad) is that it sells Golden Virginia tobacco as well and it's a lot cheaper than it is back home... Even in the duty free shop at the airport but that's not a suprise to anyone from the British Isles, is it ?
If it's food we want, then we'll use the one opposite whose name I've forgotten.
So it's ice lollys all round and cans of ginger beer, which in this heat are true godsends and since the guys are all Moslem, makes perfect sense and tastes better than most of their fizzy soda water drinks.
When I first started offering the stuff around it was looked upon with suspicion from those who'd never tasted it because of the word 'beer', but as soon as they realised it's called that because of the brewing process rather than having any alcohol in it (It doesn't) and it's quite refreshing to drink when the weather is warm...
Ok, when it's hot then, but either way it's still a refreshing drink and I seem to have got them all hooked... Family members too.
I know they probably won't drink it if I'm not there but while I am I don't mind buying it for all.
Joy and I are supposed to meet our band members today for a run through and practice session. We've been told we'll be getting some for our set, but in all honesty we haven't a clue ?
It's about midday when we finally get back to Haddy's compound and Sainey, our guitarist to be, is waiting for us when we arrive.
Sainey's brought along his acoustic, which looks as if it has seen better days...
It's battered and scarred all over and looks as if it's going to spring apart at any moment but it's how it's played that is going to matter to us.

When I first got the news that the gigs were on and I'd decided to fly out and do them, I had sorted out a set that I could do solo or with musicians depending on whether I could get any ?
It was a mix of music and poetry and was based around what you can do with a human voice which has to be the most important musical instrument anyway, and to involve the twins and some of the local kids from the village in it if they wanted to be part of the thing.
Oh come on...
Work it out for yourselves, it's all about communication and that makes the voice important.
(I can hear the ego monsters who think they can play their instruments a bit, screaming 'Oh no it isn't' in the background)
Half the stuff I listen to at home these days is foreign and I don't understand a word of it without reading the translations in the cd slick but it communicates and you find yourself singing along with it whether you understand it or not ?
The arrangement with the musicians however, is definitely the key to success but the voice or communal voices, as in a group format, is what makes it popular in the first place as that communicates first and foremost...
Got it ?
So... What are we gonna do then ?
I was wandering through Tescos, as you do, just before Hallowe'en and I saw these skeleton masks on black fabric that you can wear as part of a costume and not only that, but they had the hands too...
So the thought synapsis went into overdrive and I immediately knew what I was starting my set with, and why... ?
(It does help when you wear black on stage)
Sometimes you get the opener and the rest falls into place just like that, and it had done for me
in this case.
I'd previously said to Haddy that I wasn't prepared to compromise my set if I did it and the political stuff was going to remain in, regardless of whether people liked it or not ?
The question was, how to make it 'entertaining' in a totally different society than that we have in the West ?
Would it work ?
Who knew ?
But I was going to do it anyway.
Then, when Graeme had to drop out and Joy came on board I had a co-vocalist and so we could do more musical items.
Generally speaking, within the context of using music onstage, I am more of a minimalist.
Every time I've used musicians, whether with Kocaine, Bass Relief or The X-Perience we have gone for less rather than more, but that probably has more to do with the fact that I'm not a musician.
I can 'arrange' it, but I can't play it.
Still, I'd worked with Joy in two of those outfits so we both knew what we could accomplish together and she was and is still one of my favourite people to work with on stage so I'd shown her my set and asked if she wanted to come on board for any of it and add anything she wanted to the mix ?
She brought up a couple of interesting possibilities including a stunning version of 'Amazing Grace' which she'd nicked from one of my Ani Difranco cd's.
So long as we don't have to do yet another crap version of Bob Marley's 'Redemption Song' like the vast majority of dodgy cover artists then I'll be happy.
The song is great but you can't do a lot with it except sing it badly.
Bob's recorded solo version comes from the heart and you can hear that in his performance, but the 'covers' all come from the head and you can hear it all the time and I really dislike crappy cover versions without a shred of individuality.
If you can't cover it and make it your own then don't try, is my attitude.
I'd sooner do 'Get Up, Stand Up...' as it rocks out and you can do a lot more with it...
Besides which, in this day and age it makes a lot more sense whichever side of the line you stand and when I'm on that stage then I'm on that line...
I might be right or I might be wrong but at least I have the courage of my convictions, and which dickhead was it that uttered the line that 'Politics does not belong in music' ?
You think that line ever bothered any of the 'Greats' ?
Did it ever bother Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, John Lennon, Nina Simone, Howlin' Wolf, The Clash, Fela Kuti, The Sex Pistols, Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, The Staples Singers, Pete Seeger, Miles Davis, John Lee Hooker, Christy Moore, N.W.A.,Tom Lehrer, Public Enemy, Bruce Springsteen, Youssou N'Dour, Joan Baez, Johnny Cash or even the good ol' Grateful Dead who, apart from one track late in their career, never even mentioned political matters on stage and yet because of the freedoms they seemed to espouse with their seemingly 'alternate' lifestyle, were as political as they come ?
And what about those quintessentially English lads from Dartford ?
Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel ?
I think it was Plato who said something along the lines of 'When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake' ?
Perceptive old codger, wasn't he ?
Come to think of it, what about George Frederick Handel who had to come to England from Germany to make it ?
Or Shostakovich, or Stravinsky, or Haydn or...
No, politics has always been part of the musical spectrum... always has been and always will be and as for spoken word artists ????
Now you might not like them all or any for that matter, but what about Lenny Bruce, Lord Buckley, Peter Cook, Lily Tomlin, Richard Pryor, Billy Connolly, Ben Elton, Dick Gregory, Bill Cosby, Robin Williams or Jo Brand ?
Without politics these artists would mean as much as the next winner of 'The X-Factor' which is as close to 'Fuck All' as anybody can come.
I've said it...
Hallelujah !

Anyway, I've deviated somewhat from the script...
Sainey, our guitarist to be, is waiting for us when we get back and because time is short he's invited for lunch and we get to discussing what we'd like to do.
Now soundwise, on his acoustic anyway, Sainey is a typical African guitarist in that the sound sort of rolls from the guitar.
Those of you who own Paul Simon's Graceland or anything by The Bhundu Boys will have more of a clue as to what I'm on about here...
It is a sound common to most guitarists on the African continent.
It ain't a rock'n'roll sound whichever way you look at it and it's certainly not 'rawck' as the old Nuzz Prowling Wolf would have it but it certainly has possibilities...
The problem is that Sainey can't see it.
We run through a couple of accapella versions of things but he is stumped for an arrangement so we'll have to see what happens when our other muso's turn up ?
Apparently we are getting a drummer and a kora player too but they are working until late afternoon and will be coming over later so we keep on trying with Sainey until they arrive which they eventually do at dinner time...
Hadim, the drummer, has two Djembes, and Jally the kora player has brought his 'African Harp' as it is known occasionally and so the five of us settle down to chat about arrangements...
The ginger beer situation is now down to zero but now we're really cooking with gas...
It must have been very difficult for Sainey faced with these two weirdo's from England to even project an idea but now the other two are involved he's coming up with ideas of his own as are Hadim and Jally and we've managed to sort out arrangements for three numbers within a couple of hours.
The problem we now face is that I've got to leave for the radio station interview and the kids are starting their all singing and dancing practice outside while we monopolise the lounge and
that isn't particularly helpful.
Joy says she'll do the radio if I'll take the practice and I would but it's not her name on the poster so on that fact alone it's a no goer...
I'm doing the radio because if I don't it might not be taken as seriously as it otherwise would be, so she can run the practice until I get back which, seeing as the radio station is at Westfield, a couple of miles up the road shouldn't take longer than a couple of hours...
(This is me totally forgetful of the fact that we're on Gambian time).
Kawsu, Lamin, 'Tufa, Haddy and I are the guests on the 'Health' show and seeing as the gig with Jalex is a fund raiser for the youth club to do with the local youngsters sexual health, it seems appropriate.
An hour later than the timing that we've been given, we finally get ushered in for a half hour show.
I'm trying not to be blase about the interview but I've done them before on both sides of the fence as a radio producer and as an artist, and this one was no exception to the rule.
It went reasonably well and Haddy and the guys got their points across well.
The interviewer and the DJ asked all the right questions and I bunged the DJ three free cd's as we left, with a serious warning NOT to play any of them on air unless he's checked the tracks first.
(I'd copied my official release from 2003 and given Joy some recordings that I'd had of her to fashion a release from and it had come together quite well. The other was a live set from Bass Relief at Rhythms Of The World Festival 2007 which we'd always liked as a gig even though the recording could only be considered Lo-Fi and suitable for download if anyone wanted a copy, but we'd printed that on the sleeve anyway and in the absence of anything else between us, it was us with musicians and we were giving it away while we were in The Gambia.
(The cynic in me says that it'll get pirated and bootlegged all over the continent now that we've done that)
All three were live recordings from either club or festival gigs...
These generally have adult audiences and both of us tend to cater to them and we both speak to audiences in the language that adults use and the audience understands and if that means the odd swear word gets used as they do occasionaly in conversation then that is not unusual)
He grins as I leave and says he appreciates the warning...
No problem.
When we arrive back it seems that half the village had heard it on their radio's so at least we'd got their attention...
(Excuse me while I just stroke my own ego for a moment...)
and not only that but a few of them actually came up to me and said that they'd really liked the poem I'd done 'cos it had made them think...
Sometimes it is so gratifying when just one person stops you and says something like that because it means that you have actually communicated something to somebody outside of their usual thought parameters...A different way of looking at things... That sort of thing, anyway...
But to have a good half dozen ?
That has to count as a success, and yeah, I was pleased about it
(Come on id... Down you go boy... Ok, I think it's under control now...)
Sorry, but it seems so strange writing about it that I can't really take it seriously because it does sound so po-faced, but when it actually occurs in reality it really is a great feeling...
You'll just have to take my word.
It was entitled 'A Four Letter Word Beginning With 'F' and if you want to read it for yourselves it is on a site called More Writing and you should be able to get there by clicking on this link...
(And in an absolutely blatant plug to get others to read some of the other stuff, just click on my name while you're on the page and a whole lot comes up along with comments and reviews...
Join and add your own, why don't you ?)
While we'd been away Joy had got pretty much the whole set sorted out except for the one that's going to involve the younger ones and we'll have to wait for them to finish dancing outside before we get them and time is getting on...
Finally Mariama and Ida lead a bunch of them inside to try out their bits...
And it works...
Not only that but it works like a dream.
The sound that I'd heard in my head when I'd first suggested it is just amplified by these kids and their untrained voices.
Ok, the track we were going to use them on is our version of Bruce Springsteen's version of Pete Seeger's 'Jacob's Ladder' which is as gospelly and as raggedy arsed as they come...
Bruce's version is ragged but spot on musically, and the raggedness of his arrangement fits the song like a glove.
We have a lot less in the way of musicians but a hell of a lot more voices and I'd figured that sound wise, one would work as well as the other and after two run throughs we're rocking and we couldn't shut the little ones up...
Ain't it great when a plan comes together ?
Then the parents turn up to collect their children and it slowly quietens down somewhat, but only somewhat, until our three musicians leave us after making arrangements to meet up at the soundcheck at 3pm tomorrow afternoon.
I'm knackered...
'Time for bed' said Zebedee.

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