Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The Third Gambian Experience Part Seven (Drums Keep Pounding Rhythm To The Brain...).

Photo's from the top:-
Fatou N'jai with Mum and Lamin.
Fatou N'jai with Mum.
Joy in pool at Cape Point.
4 shots of drum practice

It's morning again and I've missed the usual wake up calls...
The tinnitus has subsided somewhat thanks to some screwed up toilet roll and some olive oil (It's what we in the West call an 'Old Wive's Trick') and I've got about thirty percent hearing back in my right ear.
Ok, if anybody whispers I can't hear it if it's on my right side but when you have it you learn how to compensate by the way you incline your head and thirty percent is just under half of what it normally is when it calms down so it should be gone and me back to normal, or whatever passes for it, in about three or four days as it gets progressively better by the day until you're back to your 'normal' hearing.
Mine is about 97 percent in the left and 65-70 percent in the right over the constant white noise going on in the background.
At least it's beginning to subside, that's the main thing.
It's not comfortable but it's on the way toward it.
Knock, knock...
"Are you decent ?"
It's Haddy...
"Yeah... Just woken up and still in bed, though ?"
"Can I come in ?"
" 'course you can"
And she did and sat on the bed.
"I spoke to Mariama this morning..."
Oh yeah... and what's the verdict ?"
"She really does want to be a drummer"
"I know... I want to go see Lamin this morning or at some point today... Like officially ! Will you come with me 'cause I want to put a bit of business his way. Remember when he said he'd make me a drum ? I'm gonna take him up on it, but it's gonna be for Mariama so I'd like you there to ok it 'cause I want to do this right. Lamin'll know what I mean, but I want it to come from the village and not just one for the tourists... This one's got to be special. Sorry, but I'm weird like that and it'll make a difference to me because it's heart and soul will come from the right place... If you can get your head 'round that ?"
She smiled... and said "I'll make sure he's in"
"Thanks... What's for breakfast ?"
"There's sausage and egg if you want it ?"
"Race you to the shower..."
Which she won as I got my feet tangled in the duvet and went arse over tit onto the floor...
She was still laughing when she came out wrapped in a towel...
"Ok, my turn... Aaaaarrrgh, it's cold..."

Breakfast of baguette, fried egg, fried or raw tomato and chicken frankfurter...
You can't beat it.
I'm really going to have to check out Tesco's for those chicken franks when I get back as they really are quite moreish.
I forgot the two cups of tea that go with breakfast but if you've read this far then you'll know about them, anyway.
Haddy drinks tea but prefers coffee.
I'd happily have coffee but it would have to be black and it won't do me any good first thing in the morning.
I'd sooner drink it in the evening or at night or by the swimming pool if we can get into Cape Point today... But I've got to check out Lamin first or I'll probably miss him if we wait for the evening as the guy gets about a bit and we're supposed to be going out for a meal as it's me and Joy's last night here.
(Yes, I know it's grammatically incorrect but if you put 'It's Joy and I's last night here' then it sounds awful), besides, who's writing this, anyway ?
I'll give you a clue...
It ain't you.
Right, back to the action...
Within ten minutes Joy has turned up for breakfast so we drink another cup of tea and I tell her I'm just popping out with Haddy to do a bit of business, but it shouldn't take long...
Famous last words.
Lamin is in and so we wait while he sorts himself out...
I don't think he was expecting business callers this early in the day. Ok, it's about 9.30 in the morning but the longer we can stay at Cape Point's swimming pool will be just fine with me.
Lamin is now ready, so I make the pitch...
"Lamin... Do you remember last time I was here and you offered to make me a drum... ?"
And everything was going fine and normal for at least ten seconds until I said it was for Mariama...
He looked at Haddy...
He looked at me.
He looked back at Haddy and said...
"Mariama... ? Little Mariama ?
"Yep... !"
"I knew it... I knew it... I knew it from about two years ago... She had a feeling about her (She's going to be nine on Christmas Day December 25th 2008 if anyone wants to send a card ?)
I've known for some time... What did she say ?"
"I asked her what she wanted to be when she was bigger and she said a musician... Then I asked her what sort of musician and she said she wanted to be the best Mandinka drummer in The Gambia... I asked her what about the world ? and she said, that too... Scary isn't it ? Oh yeah... and when I asked her she said she'd always wanted to be a drummer... Nothing else... Just a drummer"
"Good !"
Good ? Is he mad or what ? Haddy's going to curse him later because I know what she's going to have to put up with. The lad who lives next door to me back in England is learning the drums on a full drumkit and he can be a bit noisy through the wall... and I'm not living with it, just next door to it.
In fairness, the lad (Jason) is doing it properly and taking lessons at school in their music classes and he's getting quite nifty in his rolls and paradiddles and things, but living with it is going to be something else...
I explained why I wanted him to do it rather than me just buy one and he seemed quite pleased.
"You know the drum has a soul, Chris... A Spirit... Because it is made of wood and wood is a living thing ?
"I know... I'd never really thought about it until I read a book by a drummer who explained it so simply that I understood what he was on about implicitly... I mean, I really knew... (The book is ; titled 'Drumming At The Edge Of Magic' and it was written by Mickey Hart and I thoroughly recommend it to everyone who has an interst in drums or drumming) That's why I'm here because I knew you'd understand why I want it done properly and since I have to go back home tomorrow, I'd like to ask you if you would arrange for it to be done properly... If you say yes, I'll send you the money as soon as I get back ?"
"Of course I must do it"
"No problems about her being a girl ?"
"No... She will be a good drummer and it will be good for the drum... and the drummers... It is time"
I didn't like to press for what it was time for, although I do have a sneaking suspicion, so I stood and we shook on it.
"I will look for the wood right away... When I am happy I will slaughter the goat..."
"I'll send you the money and you'll have it by the third day I'm back"
"Thank you. Thank you for coming to see me"
Oh yeah, I forgot to say that they make the drums with goatskin...
Never mind, you'll get over it I'm sure.
I'd not even asked him how much it was going to cost but that isn't an issue, sometimes it's best not to know.
If it's a couple of hundred dearer than those I could buy in the market then so what ?
Do it right and for the right reasons.
The rest is immaterial.
Haddy stood up to leave with me and Lamin asked us to hang on, and he'll come back part of the way with us.
As we stepped out of his compound onto the pathway Haddy said she was just crossing over to the small crossroads market as she'd got things to buy, and so she'd catch us up.
I adjusted my pace to Lamin's (He walks with crutches for those who haven't read either of the previous trips out)
"Thank you, Chris... This is a good thing you are doing"
"Hey... No problem. I just want to do it right, you know ?"
"You are becoming more African, Ebrima..."
"Ebrima ? Some people are calling me that now... But I'll never be an African... I can try and understand it if I have the years left, but I'll never be an African"
"It is Ibrahim or Abraham in yours"
"I know... That's the root, and the root of Ebrima is Ibrahim or Abraham just as you said..."
He'd stopped.
"Do you remember this young lady, she was the one who introduced us ?"
There was a lady in front of us carrying a very healthy looking young baby...
I looked... I didn't remember the lady but...
No !
It's not...
"It's little Fatou N'jai... But she's not so little now.."
The lady (her Mother) laughed..."No, not so little now... Heavy baby..."
"Oh, she looks lovely..."
And she wasn't taking a blind bit of notice of me... Just looking around her with inquisitive eyes...
"Is she a good baby, no crying through the night ?"
"No... Only for food sometimes"
I asked her if I could take their picture and Mum graciously aquiesced.
I'd sent Haddy the picture of her holding the baby on her naming day and so I knew Mum had been given the picture for the family's collection, so I fired off 3 or 4 quickies trying to get her to look my way, but her gaze went everywhere but...
Oh come on... I'm not that ugly... Ok, I'll be the first to admit I'm not Tom Cruise or Johnny Depp but I'm not that bad for a bloke who looks a bit 'lived in', well I don't think so, anyway.
Lamin was stopping off across the road at this point, but he said he'd call on us later, so I gave him what I knew of our movements and we parted.
The whole thing had taken about an hour and threequarters... I knew I shouldn't have quoted anything timewise to Joy, who, when I got back was chatting away quite happily with Sainabou and a couple of other local ladies.
We'll wait for Haddy to get back and then nip off up to Cape Point where the swimming pool keeps beckoning me.

It's past eleven when we finally get to go... Forget rewards in heaven, I'll take mine now thank's very much, and my reward is nearly one whole day spent idly lounging in and out of a swimming pool... Hopefully ?
Haddy doesn't swim so it's just Joy and I for the water but I tell you what... I need this break.
It's so peaceful without the constant visits and visitations and nothing to think about apart from what to eat at lunchtime.
We get our pool tickets at reception and Haddy leaves a message for the manager who is at a meeting currently, that we are back in his establishment and through we go to the pool.
The pool attendant asks me do I still smoke ?
What ?
I'm remembered ?
My God, he's good...
I've only ever been here twice before as a poolside guest and both of those times were over five months ago, so him remembering is astounding but then I'm told the doormen at the big hotels in London can do exactly the same thing even if the guest is only there for a few minutes so why should I be surprised ?
Because I'm in Africa ?
These guys are as professional as they come at Cape Point and I know the manager runs a very tight ship so why shouldn't they be as professional in their jobs as anyone else in the world ?
No reason at all...
And it certainly gives the lie to the contentious bollocks that all white (or black) people look the same to the vast majority of the white (or black) population.
Some things just ain't true... Mind you, the bandana and the red hair probably jogs the memory occasionally as out here I won't go without it, otherwise the top of my head is really going to burn so it's a safety thing as well as a choice thing.
I could wear a hat but I dislike 'peak's' over my eyes. I much prefer sunglasses and a bandana which also helps cover the back of my neck, and if you've ever been sunburnt there, then you will know how painful that can be ?
Three sunloungers, two towels, two small poolside tables to fit between the sunloungers and two ashtrays and we're set for the day.
Awa, Haddy's adopted daughter, comes over to say hello between jobs as she works at the hotel as does one of the security guys who we met last time out, along with three of the girls who work as chambermaids and cleaners and the head waitress from the poolside restaurant who also remembers us from last time.
Awa and one of the girls had been at the first of the gigs and both of them seemed enthusiastic over what we had done and both said they'd enjoyed our portion of the show...
I'm glad I recorded it because listening to it back in the privacy of my own place, back home, always gives you a more honest perspective on it and you can pick out places within the set that do work and also those that didn't.
I'm not saying I don't believe anybody who told us they liked it but I thought it ended shambolically and I want to see if that was the case and people are just being nice, or did we really do a good set that was cut short prematurely ?
Only a listening session without any distractions whatsoever is going to tell me.
One of the reasons I record all the gigs I do (If I remember to turn on the machine) is to listen back and see what I said as half the time the links between items are unknown to me and I've said them.
Yes, the poems and songs seem to come out ok, but it's the joining of them together to make a complete whole that is the tricky part and if you can get that right then you have the makings of a half way reasonable live cd.
I've got one nearly ready to go for when I get back.
Some people think it's an ego thing, listening back to yourself, but it's just a learning curve really. How do you know if you screwed up if you don't listen back ?
After all, most of it is a one chance operation, and also most of the time you never remember the links you have used to get from one poem or whatever to another, so playing it back after the event is the only real way to find out what really works.
One of the cd's that we'd brought with us to give away is a complete set of a gig that Joy and I did as Bass Relief with Olly' (bass guitar) and Adam (saxophones) at a festival in 2007.
It's not the best recorded gig in the live recording canons of all time, but it was a good gig for us, as when you are playing with two musicians who are totally improvising the music as they go along, sometimes the arrangements can get a bit weird, but that gig came pretty close to what I'd envisaged all those years ago when Mark, our previous bass player and I started Bass Relief back in late 2001 and personally speaking, there was only one track we'd played on that day that I wasn't overly happy with, but Olly and Adam and Joy had liked it so we didn't edit it out.
We are a democratic group after all.
Everybody gets an equal vote and majority gets it...
Seems to work everytime for us.

The messages on Haddy's phone are coming through thick and fast.
I've implored her to turn it off while we're here, but at least apart from another 'ping' as yet another message comes through, it's not ringing...
Joy is first into the pool and starts doing a couple of laps before treading water in the shallow end and just as I'm ready to go in, Haddy calls me back and says we've been invited to Hadim's band's practice session at Banjul market tonight and don't forget the drums which are still at Haddy's place since the gig.
I'm up for it if we can do it timewise, but the three of us and 'Tufa are supposed to be going out for a meal together tonight so I suppose I'd better ask Joy ?
My days of diving straight in are over, so I'm going in down the ladder thanks very much as it's not such a shock to the system when you hit the water.
Joy introduces me to a couple of teenage girls she's been talking to who are their with their parents and have not yet managed to get rid of their supply of pens and notebooks that they have thoughtfully decided to bring with them for the local kids schools, and so I suggest Roots Infants as those little ones definitely don't seem to have enough of anything, except maybe talent, a willingness to learn and a lot of charm and the pair of them think that's a reasonable idea, so maybe... ?
We give them Haddy's address and if they want to donate them to 'Roots' then we'll take them up there tomorrow.
A few laps later and I need food so it's out and order my grilled king prawn in lime and coriander glaze sauce with fries and salad, Joy's steak sandwich and fries and salad, and Haddy's chicken and fries and salad... And we get 100 dalasi off the bill for ordering it from the poolside restaurant which is a bonus (It's one of the hotel's deals for those with pool tickets like us).
That prawn dish is absolutely delicious, well, it is if you like prawns I guess ?
and it definitely goes down well with a bottle or two of Julbrew...
I've tried cooking it at home and I can get an approximation but that's all.
Oh well, practice makes perfect and I certainly don't mind practicing.
Joy is up for the market trip and so we ask 'Tufa to pick us up at 4pm which should give us enough time to do both, meet the rest of the band and get a meal afterwards.
Ok, I've got to be honest... We were late and it was all my fault because I'd insisted on a coffee while we were waiting for 'Tufa, but he'd turned up sooner rather than later and then the manager came out to say hello and so we had a little chat and then we got stuck in traffic on the way back to Haddy's to change and pick up the drums, so I was in the doghouse but all was forgotten as soon as we got there.

Banjul craft market down by the sea and the docks with nobody really left but the traders and the last dregs of customerdom.
I used to do a stall on Hitchin market three days a week, so I know how much like hard work it is for these guys, but Hadim and Jally, who is also there, introduce us around and we sit and watch and listen as the drums come out.
One of the guys' little son is there dressed in his (I think Messi plays for Barcelona ?) football kit but that is not what impresses...
What impresses is the fact the little one is one of the most gifted natural dancers that I've ever seen and he couldn't have been any older than four years old.
Amazing !
He danced to everything that they played.
Straight rhythm with just drums or with melody from the kora over the drums, he just swayed, twisted and turned and stamped his little feet, moving all the time until the musicians stopped playing when he'd stop and then starting again as soon as they did.
To say he had magic in his feet is definitely not an overstatement.
Maybe I'm just lucky in the crowd that I fell in with, but what with Mariama and her drums and Lamin's endorsement of her, and now this little one and his dancing...
These kids are so talented, and not only that, their love of what they are doing shines through.
We'd sometimes felt over the last couple of days that we would have to tie Mariama up to stop her bashing out rhythms on Hadim's drums and that was before she'd told anyone about her future dream.
I don't care because I have this vision of Mariama in about ten years time leading her own group out onto the stages of concert halls all over the world and I can already see it in my mind.
I can't hear it yet as I have no doubt that her thoughts will vary as she gets older but she has a singlemindedness of purpose about her, and always has had for the year I'd known her, but now I know where she's going to channel it I cannot say I'm surprised.
A lot of things have fallen into place since she came out with her dream and I understand some of her nine year olds actions a little more now, and as for Haddy, I think she's pleased that her youngest has a dream but it wouldn't surprise me if she was a little worried by it, too ?
When it comes time for the market gates to be locked at around 8pm we are all ushered out so we say our thanks and goodbyes to the band and both Joy and I buy cd's from them.
Their publishing company is in London even though the recording was done in The Gambia so I'll try and do them some good when I get back.
I don't know what yet, but whatever I can do for them, I will ?
I need to stop at a cash machine and the first one is out of order but the second yields results.
Do you want to have a laugh at my expense ?
I put the card in and promptly pressed 100... Me thinking it was English pounds...
Oh bugger !
Even the security guard stationed outside laughed before I managed to get it to cough on my second attempt.
Now I've definitely got enough for the meal.
We're going back to La Mer at Bakau because we know the food is good, and Joy doesn't mind a good bit of fish.
It's delicious as usual and we all emerge a couple of hours later, stuffed to the gills...
I'm definitely going to sleep well tonight, but it's only half a day left before we have to go and I'm beginning to wish I'd come for eleven or fourteen days instead but the cost was a bit prohibitive.
Eleven days was more than twice as much as seven, so I don't know how these things are worked out ?
We drop Joy at the guest house on the way back and tell her to come for breakfast tomorrow if she's up early enough ?
Before I retire I shoot over to Ebrima's compound to give him the last of our Bass Relief cd's.
He's hanging with the boys and I'm knackered so it's only a quickie...
No mint tea on this visit, and then it's time for bed...

Sunday, 18 January 2009

The Third Gambian Experience Part Six (We're Having A Party... Everybody's Swinging...).

Photo's from the top:-
All shots from the wedding reception.
The bride is in the second to last in the middle in the green dress, but someone stuck an arm out...

Is it morning ?
It must be, I can see sunlight.
Half past eight...
I wonder what I've missed apart from the Mullah, the chickens and the hot water ?
Oh well, I'm getting used to cold showers.
Dry off, drag on some clean clothes and venture outside...
Everybody else is still asleep so quietly, quietly does it... open the compound gate and go outside with trusty paper and pen and prop myself against the wall to write a few more notes.
With the best will in the world, this isn't working.
I think everyone else in the village apart from a few teenagers and late to bed youngsters are up and about, and most of them are stopping to talk to me.
'Good morning Uncle 'Chrees'
'I/we really liked your poem about the children and The Gambia...'
'Thank you for your poem about the children and The Gambia'
'You did a poem about Mariama and she's in my class at school'
'That was a lovely thing you wrote about the children...'
Thank you, thank you, thank you...
Thank you everyone who stopped by that morning and said all those positive things...
Truth be told, it set me up for the rest of the day.
I tried to capture something about the two kids and the country in a short, simple little piece and if I succeeded then all well and good.
The only criteria for judging these things is always other people's reactions and it's difficult when you're writing about people that the whole village know...
I mean what if I'd got it wrong ?
I'd been happy with it after I'd written it and apart from one word change it had not been altered in any way, shape or form which is usually a good indication, but you still have that nagging worry that you might have messed up, especially since a. They are only children, b. They are not my children, and c. I'm writing it from the perspective of an outsider who has maybe caught a glimpse of something through the chinks of light that sometimes come your way. But should children be the future of a country then The Gambia will probably be in safe hands if these two ever got hold of it ?
Safe, but probably a bit noisier if Mariama has anything to do with it.
The beauty of the pair of them is in the balances between them as Ida is the quieter one of the pair but should you put them together then they level each other out like a perfectly balanced set of scales... It's just that the decibel level goes up somewhat and more mischief is likely to happen around you.
Don't get me wrong, they're not naughty in the sense that we would use the word in the West, but they are both nine years old and they can both be as lively a handful as any other nine year old can be.
It's just when you put them together then the liveliness factor is louder than the sum of it's parts.
I haven't heard anything from the guys about the money yet and I know I'm going to, so I hope Haddy mentioned it to them because that worry shouldn't be on their backs along with everything else, so I make a mental note to ask her when she wakes up.
There had been some talk last night while I was dj-ing of going to a wedding or somesuch with Sainey tonight, but I'm still reasonably clueless as to what that is about so I must find out about that too ?
Aha... A lifeform...
Haddy is up.
"Good morning... Did you sleep well ?"
"Yes thanks... I slept... Which was more than I did the night before so I think I'm awake now and ready for anything... So long as it doesn't involve any work, thought, or me getting up off my backside to do anything other than eat and drink, I'll be fine... "
She grinned because she knows me too well.
I'd worked with her in England for four years as a colleague and partner, so she should do.
"Have you let the guys know about the money yet ?"
"Kawsu knows, and there is a meeting here at eleven"
"Good... Now what's this thing about Sainey and a wedding ?"
Apparently, Sainey has invited Joy and I to be his guests at a wedding reception held tonight where he will be playing with his band... and can we take some pictures of them playing ?
I'll find out from Joy when she surfaces but I can't see that happening any time soon as that girl could sleep for England when she's tired, and she must be all of that.
Come eleven o'clock we'd breakfasted, the kids are all up and the gang's all here, so can I come in for the meeting ?
Kawsu starts it off..."Chris, Haddy has told us of what you have done and..."
He'd stopped because I'd held my hand up.
"Ok... Look, I only want to say this once without going over it forever... You didn't make any money for the club but it was a brave attempt.
I think, with hindsight obviously, that you bit off a bit more than you could chew when you went for the money but it's an honest mistake to make when you do this sort of thing... I've done it myself so I know what it's like... All I want to say about the money is that you must think about it as a donation to the cause... If I hadn't believed in it then I wouldn't be here anyway so just think of it as a donation to the cause and if you haven't lost anything then you've gained some knowledge and experience for free.
You guy's have no spare money. I know that, but that's all it is... Money.
It may seem important but it's not really.
Happiness, being straight with my friends and peace of mind are a lot more important to me than money, and since you guys are my friends, just take it and welcome to it as I can always earn some more...
I've got to earn some more because I want to come back and do it again... smaller venue and better p.a's next time though, guys..."
And I grinned...
(Please God let the grin cut through the solemnity of the occasion. These people take this stuff very seriously and whilst I understand that and respect it, I don't want there to be any feeling of obligation on their part because it's money)
It's only money"
They all seemed to rise as one.
"Thank you, Chris"
" 's all right, mate... No problem... Anybody going past Right Price at Westfield today please see me before the trip and pick up some money for some ginger beer, thanks ?"
And that is how it ended.
I know it was a huge big deal for them, me getting them out of the hole but they're my friends so why not ?
I also know they are going to feel a bit embarrassed about it but I hope they don't and it passes soon.
There is no spare money in this country so if I can help with what is really a couple of weeks of me working overtime to pay for it, then why not ?
I do overtime damn near every week to pay for some of the finer things in life like jetting off to see Haddy and the kids in The Gambia, a few musical bits and bobs (and my cats tuna treats... Why has the price of tunafish gone up so much... Anyone know ?) so I'm hardly going to miss a couple of weeks of it, but that's the difference between the two countries.
I can do that in England but they can't do it in The Gambia.
All The Gambia has is peanuts and cotton and with the trade tariffs and the Chinese monopolising the cotton trade currently (and making some pretty shoddy crap items... We're talking really cheap and really crap t-shirts which fall apart on the second wash and shapeless jeans and shirts which don't fit anybody properly...) it's no wonder they don't have a stronger economy.
There is always tourism but that's a double edged sword (Torremelinos and Club 18-30 anyone ?)
especially for a predominently Moslem country.
I don't want to see that here and I don't reckon they do, either.
Yes, the money it brings in would be good, but picking drunks up out of the nearest gutter would create a definitely bad impression to any normal tourist let alone a native of the country who just might feel that their country's hospitality was being abused, so I think that's a no-goer, too.
The country is already high on the twitcher's list of places to go and it's not too far down the league for fishing either, so keen bird watchers and fishermen already know about the place but too few others.
It seems to be full of missionary types, the odd charity worker or two and some second homer's as far as whiteface goes, and apart from the tourists very few others, and yet it's peaceful, parts of it are beautiful, the local food is ok, the hotel and restaurant food is very good and the people are great, so what's not to like ?
Ok, it doesn't have a bar at every corner and apart from the hotels and some of the restaurants you can't buy alcohol, but is that really a problem ?
No, it's not really, is it ?
It can be a bit difficult to get around but most of the hotels hire out bicycles, or you can taxi (reasonable) or minibus sort of taxi in a 4 x 4 which most of the locals do as it's cheaper than a taxi.
Ok, that's an experience I wouldn't recommend to any elderly or infirm ladies or gents as it takes a little bit of getting used to, but everybody should try it at least once.
The expression 'rammed' springs to mind.
Or crammed to overflowing...
Something along those lines, anyway.
I've been pressed into service to go and buy the meat for our main meal from the local market as apparently we're having palm oil stew which I've never had before so that's a first, and Mariama has been pressed into service to guide me even though I know where to go, so we walk down together, she holding my hand to make sure I don't get into trouble or fall over or something, so I take the opportunity to ask a question that has been at the back of my mind for nearly a year and I know is at the back of her mother's...
"Mariama, what do you want to be when you get bigger ? I know about the twins, but what about you, what do you want to do ?"
I got the supercilious look that children reserve for adults that ask questions that are going to be unanswered, and so I persisted...
"Come on, Mariama... How can I even attempt to help if I don't know... Come on, you can tell me... You know that you can be anything you want to be, you just have to work hard at school to get it, that's all"
She looked up at me with her big brown eyes as if to say maybe I can trust you with the answer and then she answered the question...
"A musician..."
Ooops... No wonder she'd kept that quiet.
"Ok... That's not a bad thing to want to be... What sort of musician would you like to be... ?"
And there's me thinking along Western lines such as a guitarist or pianist or even saxophonist ?
"A drummer..."
Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrgh !
"A drummer eh... What sort of drummer ?"
"A Mandinka drummer"
"Ok... Well that's probably not impossible... I'm sure there are courses for musicians at some universities... I know there's one in America in Berkeley in California, and I'm certain there's one in England but I really don't know about The Gambia, I do know someone who will, though"
"I want to be the best Mandinka drummer in The Gambia"
Now you're talking...
"So why stop at The Gambia, why not the best in the world ?"
"That as well..."
Blimey ! She doesn't want much, does she ?
"Ok... We'll see what we can do... You know that you have to make sure you get all your school work done before you do any drumming, don't you ? You have to have something to fall back upon just in case it doesn't happen for any reason like accidents or illness..."
"I want to be a drummer..."
"Ok, little 'un, we'll see what we can do..."
And all the while I'm thinking that there's going to be a few difficulties, not the least of which is the fact that in The Gambia I haven't heard of a single female drummer... I'm definitely going to have to find out, and quick, but if that's what she wants to be then why not ? A musician is an honourable profession near enough everywhere in the world but it's bloody hard work and I should know... I've worked with them on and off stage with only one break since 1971.
No sleep, bad food and the temptations are endless, but if you have a talent for the instrument and are reasonably good and you can keep it together then you'll make it, although how far you go is usually with very few exceptions, in the lap of the Gods.
Right... We're here...
Just in time to see the last portion of meat on the stall being sold to the woman in front of us.
Oh well... and back we traipse to the compound.
"Why a drummer... Have you always known you wanted to be a drummer ?"
"Ok, so long as you're sure ?"
I think this news is going to have to wait a little before it's imparted...
"Haddy, we missed it by one customer, they'd sold out to the lady in front"
A taxi is called for as we're now going uptown to the market on the main road and as soon as we get out Mariama leads me up a dead end with no butcher's stall in it.
"It must be the next one" she says, as we reverse our steps.
If there's anybody who wants to know what a crowded market is like in The Gambia then think along the lines of 'no room to swing a cat' and totally claustrophobic...
We got halfway back down the passage when we (and the two ladies in front of us) met a wheelbarrow coming in the other direction toward us...
This poses a slight problem in that there is only room for one person or the wheelbarrow, going in any direction.
After the recriminations have died down it is decided that every able bodied gent in the vicinity is going to have to help lift the two ladies over the wheelbarrow and guess who the second nearest bloke is ?
It took five of us but we managed it with both ladies shrieking as they were lifted over, then I lifted Mariama over into the bloke pushing the wheelbarrow's arms and because I'm wearing trousers, managed to get around and over it by myself, somehow.
After looking back at the queue waiting to get over I wished the bloke luck and he grinned back... "It happens, man"
It surely does...
The second passage off the market was the right one and so we waited patiently in the queue until it was our turn and I lifted Mariama up so she could give the butcher our order.
"Ah... I know this one... And what would you like today, Mariama ? I enjoyed what you did on stage... It was very different to Gambian music"
"Thank you... It's very different to most English music, too"
"Half a kilo of b'iftek and a kilo of meat and bone"
"Ok... What's it for ?"
"Palm oil stew"
"Right... I've put a little extra in... Tell your mother to set another place, I'll be round to help eat it"
"Thank you"
"Cheers my friend, and thanks for liking us"
"No problem... I enjoyed it"
And we made our way slowly back through the teeming crowd.
"So... Is that one of your boyfriends, Mariama ?"
"No... One of Saina's"
Right... Taxi back and relax before dropping the bombshell on her mother is, I think, the order of the day.
When I got back I asked Haddy about the butcher who had obviously known Mariama...
Apparently he was one of Sainabou's boyfriends and he and Mariama definitely knew each other...
What had happened was Haddy had been sold some boney meat when she wanted steak and so Mariama had taken it back and flung it at the butcher... all the while calling his honesty into question at the top of her voice so everyone in the market could hear her...
The meat was changed and an apology was issued and they'd never taken Mariama lightly since.
The mind just out and out boggles...

Joy turns up just after midday...
"You ok ?"
"Yes thanks... I had the most wonderful sleep..."
"Good, so you're feeling fit then ?"
"Why... What's happening ?"
"Apparently we're off to a wedding reception tonight with Sainey's band, if you want to go, that is ? But I have no intention of working at anything today... It's Sunday and I'm going to be totally lazy all day"
"I'm with you on that... Besides you said from Sunday it's our holiday time"
"Right !"
"So what's this about a wedding, then ?"
And so I told her everything I currently knew which was only the bare details but it was enough...
We're going.
Sainey is coming to pick us up later as the reception is the other side of Fajikunda...
The other side of the main road anyway, and I've never really been over that side apart from the butchers in the market, a couple of the shops and the pharmacy.
There's some beer left in the refrigerator and so long as we don't go mad on it we should be ok for tonight.
Stick a quarter of a lime down the neck of the bottle and drink the beer through the lime and you have the original lager and lime and very refreshing it is, too.
Julbrew, the local beer is about 4.7 on the alcohol scale.
It's not strong for a lager beer but it does have a taste as opposed to some of the designer dreck that they drink in England and a lump of lime tranforms it perfectly, although the taste isn't bad for a guy who used to drink lager all the time when he was younger.
After lunch 'Tufa turns up with a dozen ginger beers which are even better in this heat so I peel off enough money to pay for them and give it to Haddy who has probably paid for them anyway (she had) Then he brings in another six bottles of beer and some ice lollies for the kids.
Haddy, you little darling... You thought of everything.
One bottle of Julbrew costs 25 dalasi in the supermarket or 30-35 in a hotel or restaurant and the going rate right now is 37 dalasi to one English pound so it's a better price here than in England that's for sure, and truth be told it tastes so much better than some I could mention...
Fosters anyone ?
How anyone, including a continent full of Australians can enjoy that insipid pee is beyond serious comprehension ?
A nice lazy afternoon just hanging out and doing nothing except shooting the breeze and eating and drinking... Ah this is the life.
I think I'll wait until there's nobody else around to impart the news of her youngest daughter's aspirations to Haddy.
Sainey appears at about five o'clock in a 4 x 4 which Joy and I scramble into and we're off again... The reception is being held about three quarters of a mile into the warren of tracks that comprise the roads the other side of the main road through to Banjul.
The first thing you notice are the amount of holes in the tracks that would definitely constitute an amazing obstacle course for a normal car, but being in a 4 x 4 means you can (just about) be safe as the car traverses the occasional hole at an angle of about 45 degrees.
There is some moaning going on in The Gambia about the state of the roads (tracks) but if the country doesn't have the money to instigate the road building programme that it needs, what can you do ?
Slow and steady and eventually these things will occur. That much I'm sure of and I've only been here three times.
It's no good wanting it done immediately. It'll happen, I'm sure of that but it's a long term thing.
There is no instant solution.
The Gambian President has earmarked it as a ten to twelve year job or so I read in the newspapers, but I reckon the way things are with the world's economies going down all around the globe, he'll be lucky if he brings it in at fifteen but it is a worthwhile project so I certainly wish him luck and it'll certainly help their tourist industry when it's done.
It will also help to keep down the problems caused by malaria as those holes fill with water during the rainy season and those little buggers are a menace to everyone's health, so stopping some of them breeding in the stagnant holes will be a lifesaver for some.
Right... All out, we're there...
Sainey manages to get us safely through the throng where chairs have been thoughtfully provided for us old 'uns.
Mine is next to the stage left main speaker and Joy's is inside of it next to Sainey who's going to be sitting to play his electric guitar as opposed to his acoustic for most of the night.
The rest of the musicians are all drummers and percussionists apart from the two female and one male singers, although one of the drummers is also well versed on the guitar.
This, as they say, is going to be interesting...
The speaker connection is two bare wires stuck into a microphone connection socket which comes out every time a child barges their way through while all the adults step over it, so I move my chair even closer to the speaker...
Interesting... and painfully loud, but the guy behind the desk seems to know what he's doing which after what we'd been through, was nice to see.
I've noticed that musicians here like playing with the treble fully up as well as the bass.
The bass I can handle better than the treble which affects my one eared tinnitus badly and tonight was no exception and it was exacerbated by Joy blowing her whistle that she takes to the Notting Hill carnival every year.
You know what ?
That Sainey can't half rock !
His electric style is totally different from his acoustic.
That African rolling rhythm just isn't there when he plays electric.
It's more akin to the sort of heavy metal blues style like... trying to think for a minute... the late Jeff Healey maybe, or Gary Moore... Somebody like that.
The drummers are uniformly great and as for the singers ?
Jeez, I've never seen a couple of lasses work so hard on stage.
They never stopped moving, either singing or dancing for at least five to six hours and no slow stuff either...
Breakneck tempo after breakneck tempo...
They motored.
As darkness falls I know I'm in trouble and the longer it goes on, the worse it's going to get.
The bride, who appears after the gifts are shown to everybody at twilight, is without a doubt one of the most absolutely beautiful women I've ever seen in my life, and that's a fact.
She looked absolutely stunning... or to use an oft used English expression, drop-dead gorgeous...
A very pretty girl.
Unfortunately, she, like the musicians, never stood still long enough to get a good picture so you'll just have to take my word for it. I tried so often to get her in the frame but either somebody got in the way or she was moving too fast, dancing.
The reception lasted until 10.30pm when the live music outside permit ran out, so that's when it stopped and the dj took over, and in near total darkness and in near total deafness, I tried to make Joy understand that a. I couldn't hear a word, and b. Unless we ring Haddy I've no idea how we are going to find our way back to the main road ?
Half an hour of trying to contact somebody and Joy finally gets through, gives the phone to Sainey who tells her where we are approximately, and poor old 'Tufa is despatched to pick us up. Apparently they were trying to contact us but we must have been in a dead reception area as neither Joy or I had anything register on our phones, and neither had Sainey.
I'll be glad to get back... Total silence is what I now need or I'm screwed.
The noises, whistles, pops and white noise in my right ear sounds like an aeroplane engine when it screams down the runway for takeoff and it's bloody painful when it gets to that state.
I need sleep and maybe the tinnitus won't be as bad in the morning ?
But before I go, I call Haddy over for a word and holding my right ear shut so that the working one gets all the help it can get, I drop the bombshell...
"I found out what Mariama wants to be when she grows up..."
"Did you ? She's never told anyone to my knowledge"
"I asked her on the way to the market..."
"Oh please tell me... What is it ?"
"A musician"
"A musician ? What sort of musician ?"
"A drummer. She wants to be the best Mandinka drummer in the world..."
I saw the eyes widen and the jaw drop, but luckily I was nearly totally deaf at that point so I didn't really hear the "Aaaaaaarrrrrrgh !"
"That's funny... That's what I said when she told me, too"

Thursday, 15 January 2009

The Third Gambian Experience Part Five (Singing Thank You... For A Real Good Time...)

Photo's from the top:-

Sainabou creating foodie heaven.
The Twins: Hassanatou & Husainatou, or maybe it's vice versa ? (Our main backing singers to be).
Joy sorting out her set with Omar & Amadou.
It's A (Wo)Man's World.
Roots Infants having stolen the show...

It was the Gone With The Wind film that came up with that classic quote 'Tomorrow Is Another Day' back in 1939 and that quote has stayed in the universal consciousness since that time and has stuck there...
Trouble is, when you've gone through the night and no sleep is available then the Buddhist text of 'There is no today or tomorrow... Only now' looks a lot more accurate, but I'll leave that up to others to work out...
There is only today and today started a few hours ago but it's a Saturday and the children aren't schoolbound and some of the workers aren't workbound either and so some come over and chat while I'm propped up against the wall outside just writing random notes into a notebook.
I've managed to lose the two coca-cola bottles that I'd bought from the shop opposite so I'll have to sort him out later as there's a money back deal for the shopkeeper and he's going to lose out if I don't but that's not a major problem.
The major problem is what to do about Joy's involvement ?
If she'd stick to what we'd already discussed before we got here then there would be no problem and there wouldn't have been any unpleasantness last night either, but to use another quote 'The Best Laid Plans Of Mice And Men' and all that...
Oh well, if she wants out then that's her decision but I'm sticking to my set for tonight and she can stick to her's if that's what she wants ?
If working together isn't working then work solo.
It cuts our strength on stage but it can't be helped.
Ok, decision made...
On my side at least.
The one gratifying thing is the amount of teenage girls who come over and shake my hand and tell me that they enjoyed what we did last night.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it too, up to the point it went pear shaped, anyway.
Thanks girls... I appreciate it... Even if I do know you were really only there to see Jalex, and if I hadn't been performing then I'd have been there for him too, so...

The family slowly comes to life about 11am when I hear the television go on so I ask Haddy to come over to the shop with me and sort out the missing bottles.
The guy is going to charge me twenty dalasi for the missing ones but since I know I'll probably lose a couple more tonight even if we are performing virtually opposite his establishment, I bung him a fifty note and tell him to keep it or buy his kids something with the extra.
The nice thing about that is that one of them comes over a few minutes later to tell me thank you for the drink and the sweets...
Money doesn't cure everything but I'd much rather be straight with these people than not.
If I don't then it'll rebound on Haddy or the kids at some point and I'm not having that, and fifty dalasi works out about £1.60 English at the current rate as it was then.
I'm not made of money but I do have access to a bit more even if the travellers cheques are now all used up as the few cash machines in the country take Visa cards and I can access it from the hole in the wall just like I do back in England.
Later on, I ask Haddy if the guys know I've bailed them out of their hole, and to try and explain to me what went wrong moneywise, last night ?
No they don't... Yet.
She'll tell them when they wake up and come over later this afternoon but right now she's out of credit on the 'phone.
Well please let them know as soon as possible, as owing money when you don't have it is a horrible place to be and I should know because I've been there often enough myself.
Having said that, there's not a single performer that I've booked who hasn't been paid eventually even if a couple of them have had to wait a few weeks for it.
Apparently there was a big meeting when all the decisions were being made a couple of weeks before I got the original dates and after they'd asked Jalex to appear and he'd cut his fee because it was all in aid of a local youth club, somebody had got hold of the idea that it was going to be a licence to print money.
Basically they thought that nothing could stop them selling out of tickets and the place would be 'rammed'.
(That's an English expression that just means full up, ok ?).
Did they do their homework on who was going to come locally ?
Unfortunately, no.
That's usually one of the things any promotor does before even booking the hall for the event, plus you need posters up in every establishment that will take one rather than in just a few select establishments.
You need total saturation on advertising or things like last night will occur.
It would have been great to be able to sell tickets in advance as well but without an electronic scanner for a hologrammed ticket there is no way that they would have been able to avoid forged tickets appearing, so that was out also.
Oh well, you learn by your mistakes and have you ?
I was assured that she had at least.
One down and seven or eight to go, then.
When it was first put to me that I was coming over to do them way back in July, I'd thought, because that is what we'd discussed, that there was going to be a 'tiered' entrance fee structure.
The kids under 10 were coming at one price and the teens and adults at another, and I was under the impression that it was going to be at the local youth club.
Unfortunately, getting Jalex on board meant that they would probably (and logically) have needed a larger space for the event so they went for the biggest hall in the area and I have to say that it's a nice hall to play, but definitely a bit large for us.
In England, depending on the event, I'm used to playing places with a 300ish person ceiling on the audience and if it's a poetry only event then it's usually between 50-100 people maximum.
The rock club I play on a regular basis has a ceiling of 244 people plus stage and crew and when that's full or nearly full you definitely know it.
It's cozy, and you're close enough to get a reaction from the audience.
I've done a few biggies with a couple of thousand people on all day events but they're always impersonal and you never seem to get the same reaction although the 'Mayfest' which is held in a large marquee is a yearly event and that holds about a thousand and that is one of the few without an impersonal atmosphere, but then I've been to all of them over the last fourteen years whether I've been performing or not and so it's like a meeting of old friends rather than a gig.
Oh well, you live and learn...
I have, and I hope they all have too.

Joy surfaces around midday, walking down the road to the compound from the guest house.
"Have you done all your running about to the bank ?"
"Yeah... Why ?"
"I just wondered what was so important about it... You were talking about it when I got in the car last night ?"
"They lost a packet on the gig last night... I bailed 'em out".
"It's done. They've got the money to pay everybody now and I've got nothing left apart from what's in my pocket but at least they're coming out even... I can get more out of the hole in the wall for me but I can't go mad because the holiday money's gone and I'll be running on empty when I get home"
"I'm sorry about last night... You were right, I went for myself and I should have thought of everyone else"
I don't think she's ever said anything like that to me before, ever...
Certainly not when we were together as an item, so the apology came as a serious shock to the system...
This is a woman who is never wrong... Even when she is.
" 's ok... I did want to ask you whether you wanted your own set tonight... After last night I don't care either way but I'm sticking to what I originally was going to do, set wise"
"No... We'll do it together if that's ok ?"
"Yeah... 'course it is"
"How much did they lose ?"
"Seven thousand, five hundred"
"Christ !"
And she reached out and touched my shoulder with the palm of her hand...
She really hadn't known... She was so bound into the 'respect' and 'blackness' thing that it hadn't even seemed to occur to her that anything was wrong and the look on her face said it all...
"Hey... Don't worry 'bout it. I'm sorry I blew my stack but it had to come out somewhere, now can we get off this subject and sort out what we're doing... Shit ! Hang on a minute... I need paper and a pen... Now !"
"What... ? Oh !"
"Shurrup... Pass me the notebook and that pen... Quick"
And there and then I wrote a poem that had been incubating inside for a little while and not just on this trip out. It had been there last time I came out and it had obviously needed a bit of a gestation period before I wrote it out, but when I'd written it and changed one word I was reasonably happy with it because it summed up, for me anyway, one of the things I liked most about some of the people I cared about out here.
It was about Haddy's youngest daughter Mariama, and Ida, the two nine year olds who were best friends and always smiling and getting into mischief together, but it had something else too... A sort of summing up of what makes The Gambia quite a special place for me because of the pair of them's sunny outlook on life.
Anyway, I hoped it had done the pair of them justice...
Then I showed it to Joy.
"That's really nice... It seems to mean more than just the words"
"Good... That's what I was aiming for... Don't tell 'em and I'll do it tonight and surprise the living daylights out of them... Right... What's your approximate set... How long are we on, anyway ?"
"Dunno... We haven't got the musicians tonight... I thought probably two or three songs and the rest poetry... about seven or eight in all ?"
"Sounds ok to me... What'cha got ?"
And in that totally unprofessional way we have of sorting things out, we arranged our set for the evening, which, thankfully, was going to be starting a little bit earlier than yesterday's.

Round about four thirty in the afternoon we broke for lunch just as the p.a. turned up along with three or four teachers, a whole load of parents, and a bunch of little ones from Roots Infants...
Now I don't tend to do too many gigs in the middle of the road... I have done, believe it or not ? but it is quite rare.
However, we'd got the permit from the local police station to close the road and it was all taking place at the side of Haddy's compound about 40-50 yards away, so we bolted down the food and shot round the corner to watch the first act...
Anybody with children in an Infant school will know what the feeling is like watching their child in a school pageant or show, and even if you're an old cynic like me, watching those kids do their thing does tend to bring a little lump to the back of your throat especially when they've obviously practised it (They only had about 48 hours, remember ?) and they were all foot and note perfect as far as I could see with their dancing and singing.
They were great.
Not only that, but they were a perfect introduction to the rest of the event...
Unfortunately I was now wishing I hadn't bolted the food because the inside of my stomach was beginning to feel like it had a whirlpool beginning within...
Nooooo.... Please no... Don't do this to me... Not now...
"Are you ok ?" From Joy, who has obviously noticed my discomfort.
"No, I'm not... See you in a bit... I hope"
And I was gone.
I managed to miss the songs, raps and poetry from the kids of Abuko School (All seven of them) but I got back in time for the play that they performed afterwards and apart from the odd technical problem (The power kept cutting out on their microphone) I have to say that they amazed me...
These kids... All younger teenagers, produced a play, which with a bit of judicious pruning and editing, would not have been out of place on the old B.B.C's Play for Today if anybody remembers that ?
It was up to date, it concerned Aids and H.I.V. and how it is spread in parts of Africa (even The Gambia is not immune because it does affect everybody if they're not careful) it was happy, sad, witty, serious, and it obviously had a safety message within, and to sum it up...
It was quite brilliant.
48 hours...
That's all the time those kids had to write it, practice it and perform it.
I don't want to pick on any one of them particularly, but the 'class comedian' who I mentioned earlier in the ol' blog, played the villain of the piece which meant that he usually got all the best lines and when his 'phone rang and he took the call (in the play, not in reality) while trying to chat up the father of the girl he wants to buy for a wife while one of his business arrangements falls apart, three simple words that I'd had directed at me on the previous night literally brought the house down...
'Hey... Fuck you !"
The whole crowd just roared with laughter...
Utterly brilliant.
Their names, in case anybody wishes to get in touch and commission a play from them, are
Alhage Drammeh, Omar Darbo, Adama Jarju, Awa Jarju, Isatou Konteh, Isatou Bah and Yankuba Fatty and if I've got this right then Alharge, Omar, Adama and Awa performed the poetry and Yankuba and the two Isatou's performed the songs, and although I managed to miss those, I am assured by Joy, Haddy and quite a few of the locals that the songs and poems were equally as impressive as their play.
They can all be found in Class 9A.
Unfortunately the school is not e-mailable and neither is their Headmaster which is a great shame but there is always the post and then a follow up 'phone call...
Those kids have a serious talent and I sincerely hope that they are encouraged to do more with it.
The problem is that the three things that they did, poetry, song and playwriting do not register too highly on The Gambian school curriculum which is more concerned with Maths, English and the Sciences.
Hey, I'm not knocking it. Most children in England can't spell for toffee, and these days can't string a couple of sentences together without an 'In'it' or any number of other badly spoken terms within (that's 'Isn't It' or 'Is it not', In'it... ? Yeah'tis).
and their mangling of what is a beautiful language when you get into it, appalls me.
Yes, I know I do it myself on occasion, and I do tend to vernacularise it when I write, but that's a writer's privelege... and besides, it wouldn't read like me writing it if I didn't, but that is a conscious choice on my behalf. Nobody else need do it if they don't want to, but I really do think that 'Creative Writing' should be a part of any school's English syllabus, or any other country's for that matter.
Facts are all well and good, but sometimes a little imagination can go a long, long way.
Anyway, those kids had the chance to do something with their imaginations and they roundly impressed the people of Fajikunda.
Their school should be proud of them...
Hell ! The Gambia should be proud of them...
I know we were.
When we made the original offer for any who wanted to come and join us to do so, we gave them carte-blanche to do anything they wanted to do from their own imaginations and they all came up trumps.
No snake eyes in that hand.
Trust... That's all it took.
Trusting them to do the right thing (or is that 'write' thing ?) and in only 48 hours ?
Credit where it's due, and they came through with honours.
Now that is worthy of some serious 'Respect'.

It had just gone dark when we were called to go on.
In part four I wondered what could go wrong with today's gig ?
Guess what ?
We hit the mic' and the electricity went off !!!!!
God ! You have to laugh.
However, we just looked at each other, gave the microphone back to the guy behind the p.a. and asked if anybody had got a couple of torches we could borrow ?
So, by the light of two torches we did the set we'd decided on doing, swapping back and forth and coming together on the songs.
I'd angled mine towards the younger ones in the audience, talking about The Old Weird England as opposed to The Old Weird Gambia, and the people they see on stilts in Banjul market which I believe is a Sierra Leoneian thing or so I've been told, and so I did my 'Giant' poem which I refer to as my Roald Dahl ripoff. It's not really, but the Giant does eat the child at the end and everybody laughed.
The Gambia doesn't seem to have much in the way of what we in England call 'Fairy Stories' but it does have The Kankurang in it's mythic past and so most people got the tie-in with a little explanation, and then I did my new one...
I finished it to silence... and then the applause started up.
Truth be told, when that occurs it's nice but you wish they'd stop because it stops the flow that you've got into...
The audience seemed to appreciate it anyway.
I never did see the two stars of it, but they were probably creating havoc somewhere nearby.
When I released my first cd back in 2003 I'd finished the gig it was recorded at with a duet with Joy on an old gospel hymn from The Bahamas written by a fellow by the name of Joseph Spence who performed with a vocal group named The Pirdah Brothers.
It's a nice simple little thing and it's a great way to end a great gig so I do dredge it out occasionally, and despite all the trials and tribulations of the previous night and losing the electrics on this one, tonight's had been a really nice one and so we ended with it.
I gave a little introduction telling everybody that it was a gospel hymn which means it did have Christian undertones but we meant no disrespect to any devout Muslims or anybody else for that matter, but it was a great song for the closing act to end with and so that is what we were going to do... And for all those who wonder why all my t-shirts have 'The Grateful Dead' on them, they were an American rock band whose music I really like, and this song was one of those that they used to end their concerts with, and now as 'The Dead', they still do (They dropped the 'Grateful' after their lead guitarist died back in 1995) and it's title is 'And We Bid You Goodnight'. It's probably fair to say that Joy, Haddy and maybe the kids and myself were the only people there who had ever heard it by The Dead, Grateful or not, but I knew Haddy's kids had heard my cd...
Here's the first verse...

'Lay down my dear brothers, lay down and take your rest
Oh won't you lay your head upon your saviour's breast
I love you, oh but Jesus loves you the best
And we bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight'.

Ok, change brothers to sisters (at Joy's insistence, but I don't mind) and repeat it for a second verse then just carry on doing the 'And we bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight' bit (In three's) for as long as you like until you repeat the first verse as the last one...
This one didn't end.
The soft clapping in time started on the first verse and the crowd came in on the 'and we bid you goodnight's' and didn't stop so we carried it on until I said 'Thank's a lot, thanks for staying with us, it's been great and we've had a blast... Goodnight... ' at which the applause went crazy but the singing didn't stop...
We left the makeshift stage and still by torchlight slowly made our way back to Haddy's compound, a distance of what ? probably forty yards maximum with the whole crowd following us and still singing...
When we'd got a compound full and no more could get in I dug out the laptop and extension speakers and fired up The Grateful Dead's version... (Cow Palace version for any Dead heads out there) and still they kept on singing... This time harmonising with a recording of an American rock band... and they only ended when the applause came up at the end.
It was then, and still is now, etched upon my memory.
It was absolutely beautiful and if The Dead ever get to hear of it then they should be proud that a cover of one of their cover versions got at least 150 people in a Gambian village harmonising along with them.
It was amazing and also very humbling, and for an old dyed in the wool Dead Head like me it was proof positive that that band really do have the power...
It truly was one of the moments of my life and will stay with me forever, no matter what might befall ?
And you know what ?
For one of the few times at a gig I'd completely forgotten to turn on the minidisk recorder...
I think that maybe that's the way that all our Gods would have wanted it.

Sleep ?
What's that ?
The computer has a battery and the girls wanted their favourite dance cd's played.
An hour later they're still at it when the electric's came back on line and so I played at dj for another couple of hours before everyone went back to their own homes...
I might sleep now.

Now THAT was a gig.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The Third Gambian Experience Part Four (If The Thunder Don't Get You Then The Lightning Will...).

Photo's from the top:-

3x from the soundcheck.
2x from 'A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall'.
1x from 'Welcome Barack Obama'.
Hadim & colleague.
Colleague and Jally.
Famara in suit.
Some of the crowd.
A couple of little monsters.
Joy's 'Cookie Krew'.
Cookie Krew in action.
Jalex in action.
Jalex and Mariama in action.
The gang with Jalex after the gig.
Kawsu and Jalex after the gig.

Must be morning...
I can hear the Mullah again, or if it isn't him it'll be one of his assistants and if memory serves that means it's time to hit the shower before the rising main decides to go cold and then give up altogether in about an hour's time...
Trouble is... I'm knackered and all I want to do is sleep but I know if I don't get up I'll be in bed till ten and that isn't going to do me any good at all...
The rollercoaster starts today.
Ain't no doubts about that...
Now let me tell you a couple of things about me and gigs...
I get nervous before I go on stage.
It's not that crippling sort of stagefright, but it does manifest itself in other ways and so it's always a good idea if I've got something to occupy myself with before it occurs, and it will occur at some point... Usually when I get to the venue or when I've changed into whatever I'm wearing on stage, and what's more, it never fails to happen.
I won't eat immediately before a gig and I don't drink anything apart from tea or soft drinks until I'm safely back home again.
I suppose it's a good thing in a way because when you get blase about things then you usually do a really rubbish performance so it does tend to keep you on your toes when you hit the mic' for the first poem or song or whatever ?
If I'm playing one of my regular haunts in the area I live in England it still occurs, so I guess it's just me ?
If I know a few of those in the audience then it's not quite so bad, as you can guage a reaction by what you've done previously and if you can make them laugh then you're winning, but tonight's gig is an unknown by any previous standards, so a nice quiet day just pottering about doing this and that and any and all inconsequential things, but nothing too taxing in the thought department and since we've sorted out our setlist we know what we're doing...
Well, that's the plan.
A couple of hours later, Joy turns up for breakfast.
She's been up most of the night with Famara, who, by the sound of things, has walked her halfway round the village and stopped in every (non alcoholic) bar for a coffee.
Poor thing.
If it isn't her thyroid playing up neccessitating an operation when we get back, then it's a form of narcolepsy which means she'll be animatedly rabbiting away and suddenly she'll go out like somebody flicked an off switch.
She'll usually be straight back into the conversation within ten to fifteen minutes but it can be difficult, especially for those unaware of her condition.

Something is bothering me but I can't quite put my finger on it and the feeling has stayed with me since we got here but it's beyond me what it is until Joy suddenly says that she wonders if they'll sell all those tickets ?
At that moment the penny drops...
I've seen them, too.
There are rolls of them piled in Haddy's bedroom...
Normally, if I'm promoting or appearing then I've done my homework and I know approximately who the target audience will be.
This time I haven't done any of those things.
I'm just the artist here and it's not my place and until I'm asked then that's the way it stays.
I've met the musicians we're working with and sorted out a setlist that suits both of us but the rest I've left up to other people...
I still haven't a clue what equipment we'll be using for a p.a. as a 'for instance' ?
so a quick prayer to the Gig God to please make sure we've got a couple of half way reasonable mic's, some foldback (That's a stage monitor so we can hear each other properly while we're on stage, for them as haven't a clue what I'm on about) and a couple of mic' stands, as I much prefer it static rather than hand held, and somebody who knows what they're doing behind the sound desk...
It's not a lot to ask but if you could see your way to sorting out any and all of my very (I thought) reasonable request, then I promise I'll be good and I won't deliberately 'wind up' the audience.
I do however, reserve the right to self defence in any way, shape or form and that includes verbally as well as physically...

As soon as breakfast is over Sainey turns up, and we also learn that even though it's friday night, since the gig doesn't start until 9pm we've lost most of the little ones as the vast majority will be tucked up in bed...
We've still got Ida and Mariama but we've lost the rest...
Damn !
To be honest I never even gave that a thought as everybody was going along with it but if I were one of the younger one's parents I would probably be thinking along the same lines...
Damn, damn, damn !
Oh well, it can't be helped and I do understand their concern so no worries and we'll get by with whoever we've got ?
Now I did think we were all meeting up at 3pm at the hall for the soundcheck but the 'doodle' that Sainey had been playing with all day yesterday has now become a fully fledged song... A little tentative perhaps but he's got it now and it surely ain't a doodle no more.
If you check your dates then you will know that a couple of days before we arrived a certain Barack Obama was elected as the new President of the U.S.A. and ol' Barack, being black, has galvanised opinion everywhere.
The fact that a black man has just made it to the top of the heap in the richest and most powerful country on the planet has become a talking point everywhere and not just Britain and the U.S.A.
People are talking about it in The Gambia, too, and Sainey has just written a song about it.
It's a simple little ditty sung and played in that rolling 'African' guitar style but it fits in with what we're doing so why not ?
As soon as we've got the breakfast things out of the way we clear the decks for action and the minidisk is out and ready.
If this song is going to be part of our set and I can see no reason why not as we're all in this together, then we're going to have to have it down to run through with Hadim and Jally when we get there ?
Sainey's confidence is quite high now the others have come on board, and for a septugenarian he's buzzing...
Two run throughs to get his vocals up...
Come on... You're on stage singing it... It's your song and you're happy with it and it means something...
Come on Sainey, sing it like you mean it...
And he does, and we get a recording, but sitting listening to the playback we know there is something missing but the big question is what ?
The song itself is ok but it needs that little extra something to make it stand out and suddenly Joy has an idea if she can remember the wording which she can't...
Oh well, that's that then.
'No it isn't... It's probably still on your 'phone' she says, looking at me...
So, twenty minutes spent going through old text messages (It's suprising how many you end up with if you don't delete that often) and I finally find it...
You know what ?
She was right.
A spoken intro' over a four bar guitar figure and after a couple of run throughs we're ready to record it to minidisk but...
It's lunchtime so we;ll break for lunch and continue afterward.
The problem with cheaper minidisks of which category mine is, is one of mono recording.
You have to make it into fake stereo on a computer programme.
It doesn't sound too bad once it's done but it sounds awful in playback when you don't have the facilities to do it there and then.
Bringing the computer extension speakers gives it a bit more depth but it's still only one channel. Oh well, it can't be helped, we'll just have to make do and we do get a recording.
It's not perfect but it's adequate and I tell Sainey that I'll have to work on it at home when I can get the computer programme I need off a friend (Hi Josh' See you when I get back).

All the guys go off for 3pm to let in the p.a. guy and to put out chairs.
Haddy, Joy, Sainey and I are supposed to be in the second car load...
Which would be great if he would only come back for us but 'Tufa is nowhere to be seen or heard. At 4.30 I tell Haddy that since we've got two musicians waiting for us then I'll get a taxi so she tries 'Tufa again on the 'phone and this time she gets through.
He's coming back for us now.
When we finally get there, Hadim is waiting for us but Jally is nowhere in sight.
Apparently he was there at 3.00 until 3.30 but since the p.a. bloke hasn't arrived and still bloody well hasn't when we arrive at 4.45, he's gone home to wait in comfort and although it's a pain in the arse, I can't blame him.
To be honest I'd probably have done the same thing if I were him ?
We started up a practice session with Hadim just to get Sainey's song in place and that was sorted after two run throughs...
Trouble is without amplification we're going to have to do it all over again when Jally gets back just to balance the sound of Sainey's vocals with Jally's kora.
At 6.30 pm a guy with a small p.a which looks somewhat like a disco outfit arrives.
It turns out he's a replacement for the original one who still hasn't turned up so at least we can get a soundcheck going which we proceed to do.
We've got two unmatched mic's and no stands and no monitors, plus not enough inputs on the desk for all of us and there's only five until nearly the end when we should have about fifteen to twenty on stage but even if we can't mic' up the girls in our 'choir', they are going to be loud enough to compete and probably to drown us out anyway, should they want to ?
It takes a bit of work but we finally get a sound out of the p.a. that we're prepared to work with so now maybe I can relax ?
Forget it !
There's a war going on outside and I can hear Haddy above the p.a.
Shit !
What's going on now ?
It turns out that the original p.a. bloke has finally turned up and expects to be able to just replace our replacement p.a. guy.
He's having a fucking laugh...
But the 'war' is getting louder with people screaming at each other and it's beginning to get on my nerves somewhat, so out we go into the fray...
Please tell me what's going on ?
Turns out that this guy thinks he can turn up four hours late and drunk !!!!!! and run a p.a. and still do the job...
There is no fucking way that after a one and a half hour soundcheck I'm going through that again so do us all a favour and tell the guy to piss off.
He's an unprofessional twat and drunk too, and since it's my head that's going to roll if anybody gets hurt on stage I've always refused to work with drunks in charge of electrical systems...
Too much can go wrong and today's gig is no exception.
Look at it this way...
I've got two or maybe three nine year old's and a bunch of teenaged girls joining us later on that stage and I wouldn't have put my two kids up there, so why would I put up anybody else's ?
That guy is a danger to all of us.
The war is getting noisier and apparently the police have been called as this bloke is accusing our lot of breaking the contract...
He's got to be joking...
"Ok people, listen up 'cause I wanna say something...
One. I don't work with unprofessional arseholes who turn up four hours late,
and Two. I certainly don't work with drunks behind a p.a. desk.
Got it ?
Good !"
To which his reply was 'Hey, fuck you !

WRONG !!!!!!!!!!

I have to mention Lamin who managed to get himself between me and the drunken twat because otherwise I would definitely have taken his fucking head off with the first punch...
I freely admit I lost it and I seriously wanted to punch his fucking lights out.
It probably wouldn't have done any good and I'd probably have been arrested and jailed and all the rest if his friends hadn't killed me, but what the fuck !
Sometimes you don't seem to have an option and this was certainly one of those times...
I'm only ten stone and a couple of pounds soaking wet but it took three of our lot to hold me back and bundle me back inside...
Thank you Lamin, Kawsu and the other bloke who's name I've managed to forget (Sorry), where I was instructed to stay no matter what occurred outside...
and finally, after Haddy and one of the guys went to the police station, the guy was sent on his way...
Jally turned up at nine with one of Hadim's drummer colleagues who immediately blags the larger tambourine and tells us that he's joining us...
Shame that they missed all the fun but we integrate them into Sainey's song and we're ready to go, but they've not even opened the doors yet and won't until Haddy is back from the police station.
It's past 11.00pm when we finally get the nod to go on.
We were supposed to be starting at 9.00.
The all singing and dancing kids who have been practicing all week are on after us and Jalex is headlining after they've been on.
There's going to be a lot of tired people when this is over and that's a fact.
To be honest our biggest problem inside has been trying to get Mariama to leave off her skeleton outfit which she knows she'll be wearing in our first number and to keep it a surprise, but she's excited and it's a devil of a job to stop her from wearing it, but it will spoil the first number if she's seen in it before we go on so it's a constant battle of wills between me and Joy and Mariama.
Thankfully, I've calmed down somewhat and I'm ready to go but I've been like that since 5.30 this afternoon and it's nearly tomorrow right now, but at least I've changed, had a couple of coca cola's to put the sugar level up, and I'm ready for anything...
Ok, I'll quantify that...
I'm ready for nearly anything...
I just wasn't ready for what occurred.

Right... Skeleton suits.
Remember when I said I'd bought three of them.
One for Joy, one for me and the smaller one for Mariama, and I was going to keep the political aspect of my appearance within the set ?
We opened with a guy named Arthur Brown's ('I am the God of Hell Fire', for all those who remember 1968) and his shortened version of Bob Dylan's 'A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall' which is a nice happy song about World armageddon...
But I have to say it was very effective done in the skeleton suits.
Even through the plastic ears you could hear the audible intake of breath of the audience as the muso's riffed and Joy (In skeleton suit) sang the opening questions to Mariama and myself
'Oh, where have you been my blue eyed son...
where have you been, my darling young one ?'
and with Mariama and myself (In skeleton suits) we sang the reply and we're off and running...
Thank God !
Actually, going back to Arthur Brown for a minute.
I'd just like to say that we nicked our whole opening from his idea, because that's his first number when you go and see him live and his makeup and suit are absolutely brilliant... Besides, he's also got a better voice than me.
He just doesn't use the Mother/Father figure to share the vocals as we did, but does it all himself.
So credit where it's due, ok ?

So... A couple of poems, a couple of songs, a couple of poems, a song...
Something is going wrong...
We've got one heckler right out in the back of the hall who keeps calling for Jalex, who isn't even here yet, but is expected soon, plus we've got a guy on stage with us who shouldn't be there, and he keeps dancing round Joy and talking to her while she's trying to introduce her next item and I can tell it's not making her happy, until finally she gives up and just looks at him...
"Looks like she's telling you to fuck off from the stage, dude..."
He finally exits 'cause we ain't gonna, and she turns to me and says "That's it, I've had enough of this...'
Oh, come on...
Where's your attitude gone ?
You'd have floored the s.o.b. back in England, and thrown him off the stage yourself...
What's going on ?
Then the p.a. guy comes forward and asks if we can cut our set short because it's getting late and he wants to get Jalex (Who still isn't here yet) on stage as soon as possible, but we can finish off after he's been on...
Joy asks me what it'll take for me to finish now ? and I think my reply was 'Something more than rifle fire...'
But she's adamant that she's not doing any more, fuck 'em !
Ok, ok, ok... I get the picture...
We'd just finished Sainey's 'Barack Obama' song and I'm not going to let it go like that, so we'll make the announcement and finish with something appropriate, ok ?
Which we do.
It was Richard Thompson's Time To Ring Some Changes, and even in this Joy decides to make things difficult by changing the words which throws me and the musicians all...
And so we bowed out.
But what really hurt was that we were leading up to the kid's bit as the following number featured the twins and we'd be adding to them with every other song and I felt let down because they'd practiced so hard with us and now they weren't going to be on...
Just who the fuck are we and me personally working for here ?
So I went to find Haddy to find out just what the hell they think they're doing, because there is no way whatsoever that I'm going back on that stage at the end after being cut short...
Fuck 'em !
And I went off like Vesuvius did at Pompeii.
I was definitely a pissed off little bunny.
Well... I think I managed to get their attention, because I totally blew my proverbial stack.
Loud ?
You could hear my explosion above the p.a. and I certainly wasn't nice about it.
A couple of minutes later the guy who'd been on stage was ejected from the main gate along with a friend of his.
It turns out that the second one was the heckler and he was drunk... and I was told that the p.a. company shouldn't have let the guy get on stage (tell me about it) and he had no right to cut us short (tell me 'bout that, too).
I work for promotors... I don't work for p.a. companies.

Listen people, and I'll tell you something about people who get up on stage.
One. You don't let anybody on that stage once the act is under way.
Why ? Because they don't have a clue about stage safety and performer safety.
It just isn't done.
Not in England, not the U.S.A, not Germany, France, Japan, Australia or even The Gambia.
You get them off using any means necessary and if that means using a headlock or a guitar wrapped around their head, you do it.
Two. If you have two sets of open stairs leading up to the stage then you position one person on each with orders not to let anyone past under any circumstances.
Three. Once the gig is underway only the performers control the stage, and if it's the performers who are messing about, then the organisers cut the power to the stage.
It's as simple as that.
And it works everywhere in the world...
Nearly everywhere.

I then get the crap job of looking after our musician's instrument's while the rest of the gig gets underway.
Still, someone's got to do it, but truth be told now I want out, and as soon as is humanly possible. So when Joy comes over and accuses me of having a lack of respect my jaw hits the ground...
Lack of respect for this, lack of respect for that...
Whoa !
Hang on just a minute...
Yes, I swore when I hit the roof.
No, I shouldn't swear in front of Mariama or Ida, but who was it who disrespected our musicians
or our choir of kids who were actually looking forward to appearing with us by walking off the stage mid gig ?
Who was it that is so tied into the 'blackness' of the people and the country that they had to disrespect me by quite deliberately screwing up the words just to get their own way quicker ?
You wanna talk about respect then let's talk about fucking respect, but you better have a fucking good think about it before you accuse me of a lack of it.
I came out here at my own expense to do a couple of gigs to raise money for a local youth club because it's run by some friends of mine and I believe in what they're trying to do...
I didn't come for a fucking holiday... It's work, and that's why I'm here... You better start thinking why you're here, cos I'll tell you straight, I don't fuckin' know anymore ?
Sometimes that girl's pompous arrogance gets on my tits and this was definitely one of those times.
When we are on stage with whoever else we are using or who are using us then we are a self contained unit. Everybody else is an outsider.
Anybody WE wish to join us is part of it too, but it's our decision.
That's the way it is and that's the way it always has been and that's the way it always will be.
If you step out of that then you shouldn't be on the same stage.
Yes, The Gambia is different to England but I certainly don't disrespect the people.
Ninety nine plus percent of whom are some of the nicest people I've ever met on this planet, so if I blow up it's because I have a reason to do so and it's certainly not a disrespect thing.
As far as the drunken and late p.a. bloke is concerned, I wouldn't have worked with him in England and I would have said exactly the same as I did tonight.
I dislike that unprofessional attitude immensly and I really don't care who knows it and I won't work with anyone that disrespectful of me that they think that they can get away with it.
I wouldn't do it in England and I won't do it in The Gambia either.
It's a musician stage performer thing.
You know what ?
I spoke to Jalex after he'd been on and he couldn't believe what had occurred.
It just doesn't happen.
Trouble is, it did.

I missed the kids dancing as I was still guarding the instruments outside but everyone told me they were good, so that's cool.
I'm not going to go on about Jalex performance.
The guy is a singer and rapper and is great and not only that, he does it all in Mandinka and it all makes sense to non-Mandinka speakers...
He can dance a bit, too.
He deserves to be a World superstar because he's definitely THAT good.
Only time will tell but he's beginning to make waves in England and Scandinavia and I sincerely wish him luck.
Go and see him if you get the chance, he's well worth it, or check him out on this link
Or you can find him on Youtube and a few other places if you punch Jalex (Akuntu) into google or yahoo or whoever your search engine is, but his myspace is as good a place to start as any.
He's a nice guy, too...
Cut It...
We finally left the hall at about 4.30am.
It was dark but dawn was creeping up on us.
One car and about ten people, so Haddy and I walked it with Kawsu, Lamin and some of the guys, while Joy and the girls, including a very tired Mariama got in the car.
"What's the matter ?"
Like I didn't know.
No answer.
"Ok, I'll try another way... How much did you lose ?"
No answer.
"Haddy, I know you lost money on the gig, so how much ?"
"Seven thousand five hundred dalasi..."
"Have you got the funds ?"
"Ok, keep me awake and take me to the bank as soon as they open and I'll sort it".
As we got to the turn off from the main road, the local mullah started up...
"Come on, or they'll be no hot water left..."
At least I got a grin or maybe it was just a grimace that time but at least it was a reaction

We made breakfast for the pair of us when we got back while the girls went to bed and at nine o'clock I was in Standard Chartered, and by 9.15 Haddy had the funds to pay for the gig.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to bed for a couple of hours...
Trouble is, I couldn't sleep because I was still 'up'.
It's not a drug thing, it's an adrenalin thing and there had been no release.
It would have to go naturally over a period of time and until it had there would be no sleep for the wicked, or anybody else for that matter.
We've got another gig tonight with all the schoolkids if any turn up and this one's in the street...
I wonder what'll go wrong with that one ?
Ah... The perennial optimistic cynic has just surfaced.