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...

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