Sunday, 23 December 2007

MEMORIES OF 2007...

Mhhh....
So many good things happened in 2007. So many things happen all the time. I have heard folks who say they don't watch the news. Why? It is always bad news, they moan. Always sad. Deaths. Bombs. Disasters. Yes that is true; but, life is alot of stuff. The good and the bad. The worst and the best.
Contrasts.
Thats why it is called "life." Can you find a better word?
In this blog I prefer dealing with the positive...the best ...about those who try...
Especially from the unknown world of our main stream, biased media. A media that only reports sensational stuff, ah, if you have been following this blog you can guess what i am trying to say...
So here are my memorable moMENTS of 2007.

1-Africans in London TV on the net:
Beginnings of an interesting future to give Africans a voice through well done internet television.
Directed by London based musician and producer Joseph Adamson. Check out a few clips here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQB2AoXGX0g
And
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMOTPLUF17Y

2-Scandinavia:

New music video release called Dar es Salaam by reggae Oslo based musician, Ras Nas. Ras Nas also runs a website promoting arts, music and literature from the same unknown world. It is important we check and support such websites daily. Power to the People!

3-Kenyan writer Ngugi speaks at London's British Museum:

Ngugi wa Thiong'o
spoke to a huge attentive audience at London's British Museum in June 2007.


Ngugi looked at the power of the Word. Word as a nucleus of speech.
He enlightened us with origins. Backgrounds. The dominance of the English language. Why everyone is striving to speak and use this idiom to the detriment of killing other indigenious languages. He painted some of the main forces involved: history, colonialism, economics, classes, etc.
We, for example, go to other languages instead of our own, to enrich "other" words, rather than our own. Or some of us speaking English as a way "to get modern."
The destruction of identities is the biggest result of this domination.
To me Ngugi's talk that evening re inforced the importance of knowing who you are and where you come from.
I can still remember how quiet the whole hall was. Rewind. Reminder. Respect.

4-The Africa Cup warm-ups
I went to a few matches in London and watched Ghana play (and win) against Nigeria; then Ghana play Senegal ( and drew).

This mixed audience at the match tells it all: Ghanian flag, children, international paparazzi, males and females, etc.

Ghana was popular in all these warm-up friendlies. I was later to hear someone saying " Ghana should win the Africa cup, it would be good for the tournament." Why? Ghana is one of a few peaceful countries on the continent. Ghana is the new haven of West Africa. Ghana. (At the time this was written little did we know Ghana would be trounced in semi-finals by Cameroon, in February 2008).

5- i consider this one of the best expressions of 2007...

"...WE DONT NEED LEADERS. WE NEED EVERYONE TO BE A LEADER."

Uttered by the French/ Spanish singer, Manu Chao, while interviewed by London bi-lingual Brasilian magazineJungle Drums
in October.
My favourite song from this remarkable musician is "Clandestino" where he takes on his best theme (underdogs)by singing about illegal immigrants from different races and places.

6-My saddest moment was the death of my father.

Apart from being my dad, Dr. Macha was the first adult to encourage when my love affair with guitars began as a teenager. He would say things like "learn to play tunes that anyone in the world will like" or "you have very fast fingers, you can become a great player..."
Later, when i began writing and gigging seriously he would give feedback, always, incisive, deep, honest. With the musicalbums he would dissect the harmony, melodies, lyrics, even subtle stuff that music critics usually miss out.
He perhaps saw in me what he would have liked to become. Since his own father, (a fervent, articulate preacher) prohibited his music dreams back in the 1950's after having recorded a few albums.
Yes my father was not just a doctor, but a farmer, wine maker and fantastic guitarist/ songwriter.



My parents as a young couple in 1953, long long before i was born. My late mother also played guitar and sang (in especially) my father's best recordings, of 1958. These two never once discouraged me from being a musician, artist or who I am. Such are good parents. Strange that 2007, was exactly ten years since my charismatic, lovely mother passed away too. May they rest in peace. Amen.

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Thursday, 13 December 2007

Acoustic Live Music at the Blag Club, Notting Hill, West London


Klara CD sleeve pic by Lisa Deurell

These days...
You are probably on someone's mailing list...
I am on several; i get calls and invitations almost every minute: most times one ignores these calls but eventually succumbing, like I did on Tuesday.
Last time i met this Swedish blonde was in the company of the great musician Hukwe Zawose almost ten years ago. Then Hukwe, died.
His nephew,Charles Zawose who accompanied the genius of Mbira Music would also pass away a year later.
...But Klara? Their marimba student... She went on playing...and she has been sending me news about her music; from different parts of the world. I never heard the music of Klara Kjellén.
So I am trotting up the stairs of the Blag Club in Notting Hill.
At the entrance stands an attractive female with the friendliest smile on this coldest London winter evening of December 11th...
"Who have you come to see?"
I am not even aware that i just handed her four pounds. Smiles are magicians.
"Are there loads of acts playing?"
Apparently there are and so, I say: "Klara..."
The fact is I don't even recall how she looks like. Music is that strange.
"She is Swedish."
"Oh, her," the Smile recognises The Subject in question.
"I am also from Sweden..."
Inside are many musicians doing a sound check. A lousy sound-check. Seems to go on forever. As a musician i know the feeling of waiting and checking instruments while the audience is waiting and watching.

The fans : Cesare Rossi and Mara Darwish all the way from Italy.

Time to get a drink. I am staring and sipping my red glass of wine.
Where is she?
As I ogle and flinch from the constant feedbacking of the PA ("testing testing, one, two, three") a friendly guy shakes my hand. He is none other than Johnny Fish...he will be the first Solo act ...on a guitar that sings better than his voice and a voice that brings joy to his brash, straight to the point lyrics. John is genuinely(and truly) the unknown, busy, bustling, London acoustic scene. The scene that only bloggers (and blog readers like you) would find amusing.

Fact is the whole night at the Blag club follows Johnny Fish's punch and tone.
Pete Marshall, the second act, is big in size and height but has a mellow voice that soothes, lulls. Pete is pure soulful singing.

Later, he says he was merely toying with covers, that he has more music i.e. like rest of the musicians here,all have much more than what is being seen or given...
Take the third act. In my opinion wonderful symbiosis of guitarist / singer in one. A Glasgow chap by the name of Shuggie Murphy.

Shuggie's guitar won't just behave itself, though. His fantastic playing is jarred by the fuzzy sounds and everyone starts giving suggestions: it must be his battery ("NO it is new" he corrects)...wrong cables? No. Robert the sound man is busy indeed, and only the last song really gives credit to this man's fabulous abilities.
The only black duet is: singer Deborah Charles and guitarist Barry Vincent; who as a teenager jammed with the great Bob Marleyin Jamaica...
The two have a distinct blues-jazzy-funky sound that ushers memories and nostalgia of the pure sound. Before the invasion of manufactured "music", if you know what i mean.

Not just the sound but the combination of an acoustic rich feminine voice and those well matched experienced jazzy strings of Barry. Barry confesses they did not even rehearse much. (What about if they did?)
Yes it is, indeed, special here and very low key.
And to this is where the lady who emailed me will play. I am re-introduced toKlara by her boyfriend, Tom.
She is leading a quartet.
Most songs are about relationships and the theme is reassurance. Self-explanatory titles: "Patience", "I breathe Without You Now", " They will slow down"...all giving encouragement to a ceaseless, restless soul, about this life.

Klara on keyboards...

My favourite is "Under your skin" which opens up her album of the same name. The beat and arrangement of guitar/ stroke/ drum/ guitar/ stroke/ vocals/ stroke/ drum stroke/ guitar...is quite catchy...
"LISTEN TO ME
I HAVE A STORY THAT I HAVE NEVER TOLD ANYONE
AND IF YOU PROMISE ME NOT TO LOOK DOWN
UNTIL I HAVE FINISHED THE STORY I WILL TELL YOU..."

Musically, the album is as effortless as her live gig. A singer songwriter rich and filled with melodies ("I guess I was a little bit in love" is so soft and sweet and svelte it keeps away my slightly tipsy mood and hunger pangs)...
This is Notting Hill, West London.
I am glad i came to theBlag Club.

Klara and boyfriend Tom (first, left)relaxing with pals after gig.

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Friday, 7 December 2007

LOTS OF CASH RAISED FOR TANZANIAN SCHOOL KIDS......


Progress, we know historically has always been made, through individual initiative. Self-determination.
Depending on governments and dodgy guys in suits, well, i leave that to your own judgement.
Let us speak about these two ladies whose only power is love in their heart and minds...

Aged 18 years, the then GAP student, Katie Martin, with the Tukolene pupils he came to love and eager to help back in 2002 (Photo by Phoebe Bryant).

Before we meet them let me, briefly, get something off my chest.
Charity is something alot of us coming from poor countries (especially those concerned with the way things have been trekking, ashamedly, past 40 years) glare at with total suspicion. Lately, for example, there is absolute loathing amongst us musicians (in the Diaspora particularly)who only get invited to play in small gigs called charity events, whereby organisers claim there is no money, that the hard sweat is for those far away, suffering in distant lands.
(Then you have to get on a self defence over-drive and explain that we boarded aeroplanes, to try our luck, in rich countries, because of that very situation!)
Many musicians are resorting to working in supermarkets as sales clerks, cleaners, security guards, bus drivers, taxi drivers, school teachers, waitresses,elderly care-workers, ( i can go on all day) simply because there are no gigs, no engagements, nobody wants African music at the moment.
Yet everywhere you cast your eye, are people carrying African Djembe drums,folks trying to learn African traditional dancing; African rhythms and songs can be heard in the most minute details, skeleton and veins of contemporary pop music. However, when huge gigs come with alot at stake like say, publicity and exposure; (e.g. the infamous London Live 8, in 2005) African musicians are Uninvited with a capital U.
So, it is with such disdain, I treated Katie Martin's emails and phone calls a couple of months back, when the attractive duo (and her friend Phoebe Bryant), invited Kitoto Band to play at this major charity event. This would be held at the Hammersmith Town Hall, West London, on Friday November 30th...
How wrong was I !!!
Katie Martin was totally, understanding. She paid us a decent fee, made sure everything I demanded discussed, weighed and checked, before committing.
Katie proved that having worked briefly as an English teacher in Africa (Tanzania 2002) she knew poverty, genuinely liked people, sussed the struggle for survival.
For example when i protested that some of the band's friends and fans coming would not be able to afford the £50 per person fee they agreed a £10 charge for them to enjoy the ocassion but minus the dinner.

On stage during the evening, the team of Friends of Tukolene withKiota members address the audience...From left: Vikki Ommanney, Phoebe Bryant, Katie Martin, Nicki Sumner, Pippa Brown, Ericka Hicks. (Photo by Lewis Hicks)

The gig was good, vibes of the evening great, there was colour and an easy going feel about.
They had at least 250 guests and made around £14,000 for school children at Tukolene in Chang'ombe, Dar es Salaam and for Kiota another charity organisation that had joined hands with them to help make the ocassion succesful.
Phoebe and Katie made sure a wide picture of art-forms was represented : Ugandan food, fashion models, photographers, High flyers acrobats (Fab Moses and Emmanuel the Magnificent); and the Kitoto Band.


From left back: Nicki Hutchins (UK: Sax/ Vocals), Oli Savill (Portugal/Percussion), Andre Mathurin (St Lucia/Bass).
From left front:Koko Kanyinda(Congo-Percussion/ Vocals),Christina Binder (Japan/Austria: Vocals),Mutsa Mankona (Zimbabwe/ Dancer), Simone Aquino (Brasil/Dancer) and Freddy Macha (Tanzania/Vocals/Guitar/Perc). Missing, Gwang (Grenada) on Percussion.

Pic by Barry Ayton

We had a hard time with the sound as Hammersmith Town Hall is a huge place and the lesson for these organisers would be to make sure they sort out the technology next time (enough speakers in the massive hall, monitors, adequate cables to avoid fuzzy-fizzy-foozy sounds, etc)...Barry the engineeer struggled/straggled, yet managed to stay calm...nevertheless.
Despite the hitch ( and hassle); people danced, ate, oggled, wobbled and swam in the atmosphere.
And what did Phoebe and Katie say a few days later ?
Will the money collected be useful to the children?
...On my visit to Tukolene in September, the manager Darius Mhawi laid out Tukolene’s future plans. One of the main things he would like to use the money for is ensure that children who pass exams to secondary school are able to continue attending – so Tukolene will be providing successful graduates of their supplementary education with uniforms, fees and home visits to guarantee long-term success for the pupils.
Tukolene would also like to expand its tailoring training by buying more machines to produce uniforms and become a permanent source of income for the Centre.
Did you get much support from authorities, or was it more personal initiative?
Will you do it again?

...Africa Alive! success was largely down to the initiative of family and friends. We didn’t have much support from Tanzanian authorities, apart from KaiRo International which supports Tukolene on a long term basis. If we were to hold the event again (perhaps in 2 years time) it would be fantastic to expand involvement to Tanzanian groups in the UK, and raise awareness of Tanzanian support here.
Do you think charity work is good for poor countries like Tanzania? Some argue it encourages dependent on aid and begging…
The focus of charity work is really important in developing countries like Tanzania. Sharing knowledge is much more important than, for example, building a hall or a school, as knowledge helps people to think beyond their current situation and make long-term improvements. Skills like literacy, manual expertise and business management can open up possibilities for people’s self-employment in communities without resources to spend on training.
Dependency on aid arises mainly where monetary handouts are given without the considering whether the recipients can use the money efficiently; for example providing capital for new businesses without providing business management training or a loan scheme. If aid is focused on improving knowledge first, this is a more permanent way of contributing and generates economic growth within the community without direct monetary aid. Smaller charities and NGOs also stand to gain a lot more and quicker as the funds can be directly applied without going through a lengthy and costly administrative process.
Are you two going to continue your work with these types of projects in the future?
...Tanzania and in particular Tukolene has been part of my life since 2002, and having returned there recently it has definitely become part of my agenda to continue to work to support their projects. We are both Chair and Secretary of Friends of Tukolene in the UK, which we hope will gain charitable status very soon and continue to support Tukolene.
Anything else…
...Tanzania is a beautiful country with amazing people who should be celebrated for their everyday achievements as well as their tourist attractions. If you agree, and would like to know more, please visit www.tukolene.org.

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