Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Adventures in Egypt - The Nile Project - Blog 1

Hello! Welcome back to my blog. I know it's been so long, but this is the best way for me to report on what I've been experiencing here in Egypt and the Nile Project. 

Remember when I interviewed Bay Area based singer/songwriter Meklit Hadero about their kickstarter campaign? Well I was serious when I said I wanted to go!

I am in Aswan, Egypt, located in the Southern part of the country, home to the Aswan Dam, the High Dam, The Philae Temple and the region where the ancient Egyptians quarried the stones used to build the Pyramids in Cairo. The people here are Nubian, the food is yummy, the weather is mild, the internet isn't reliable, I'm sure I am getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, and the River is beautiful. I will be in Aswan until January 29th, then in Cairo for a few days to produce some concerts and then I travel to Israel to visit family.

So, why am I here? I am volunteering for the Nile Project. In a nutshell, the Project is seeking to bring the people of the Nile River (consisting of 11 countries) together and encourage them to rethink of the River as a communal lifeblood and common eco-system. It is an ethnomusicologists dream. Music is wonderful, and it makes people feel beautiful things. But adding an extra level of this kind of community engagement and humanitarian dream is something I couldn't pass up being a part of.

This first of many residencies to come has two parts. The first part, that has just ended, brings together scholars, musicians, scientists, conflict resolvers, engineers, educators, community organizers, etc. from across the globe (Africa, North America, Europe and Asia were all represented). As of today (Tuesday January 15th) most of these people have left Aswan.

The second part of the residency is the music. Starting tomorrow, twenty-or-so musicians will begin arriving representing the eleven Nile basin region. They will write music inspired by the Nile River and perform this music at the end of the month both in Aswan and in Cairo. There will also be an audio recording.

I am here to help in anyway I can. So far I have co-written an article for a English language Sudanese website. I have also had my camera out as much as possible contributing to the facebook and twitter pages.

It has been amazing listening and learning from these talented and motived people from across Eastern Africa. Check out the photos below. They are all beautiful people and I'm looking forward to keeping in touch with them.


This is the most expensive horse ride I've ever been on. I had many hours to kill in Cairo before flying to Aswan, so I decided to take a cab down to the pyramids. They hoodwinked me into riding a horse and spending more money that I should have... but alas, when in Cairo...

The Fekra Cultural Center, where I am staying for the 2.5 weeks

Meeting in the tent

A local musician hanging out showing off his homemade string instruments.

Meklit Hadero (one of the Bay Area founders) and me on the Nile 

Elephantine Island - Populated by Nubians displaced by floods caused by the construction of the High Dam. There are beautiful wall treatments all over the Island.

Downtown Aswan

Arty. One of the Nile Project organizers brought her. She's being fostered and is encouraging me to take her home. There are so many stray dogs in Egypt, for realz, let me know if you're interested. This chicky is a sweetheart. And it sounds like international adoption (of pets) isn't too difficult.

Folks meet on the top of the Fekra Center overlooking the Nile.

The living room of the AMAZING apartment I stayed at for the first three days. 

This is a trashcan. No joke.

Check out this video blog tour of the apartment. Don't laugh too hard at me. I had just woken up. I was trying to be quiet because people were still sleeping and I have a cold :)

Rooftop with the Nile behind

Nile Project co-founder Mina Girgis shares a laugh with Ali Askouri from Sudan (we co-wrote this article together) 

A map of the Nile Basin, covering eleven countries.

In the Nubian village, they also must summon Batman from time to time.

Abeer (Egyptian) and Barbara (American)

Meklit (Ethiopia via USA), Abdi (Kenya) and Lama (Egypt).

Moses (Uganda) and Ezekiel (Kenya)

Awesome wall art in Aswan

All the cabs in Aswan are from the 70s. I love them.

The High Dam, which the USSR helped to build

Jen and me at the High Dam overlooking Lake Nassar. We originally met at a pool party last summer in the Bay Area. She's now researching the social effects of the Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia.

Egyptian FEAST for every meal.

Weaving scarves

Lunch at Anakato Hotel

 Hibiscus sweet tea

Stay tuned for more to come. I will also be posting more photos on facebook. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Videos from a recent trip to Cuba

My brother and his wife recently traveled to Cuba. Other than a tan and a lingering stomach virus, they brought back some really fun musical videos. It sounds cliche, but they said that there really is music everywhere you go in the commercial parts of Havana including restaurants, cafes and bars, and it's not just for the tourists.

I'm so curious to know if these folks get paid and how the scene and community is organized. Do bands play once a week at certain establishments? Do they make the rounds playing with a difference band every night? What's the balance of originals and standard tunes?

So many questions! Anyone have any answers for me?

Below is a band playing at Teatro Tomás Terry in the City of Cienfuegos on the Southern Coast of Cuba. My brother said this was the best band they saw. The sound is a little distorted, but you can still get a good idea.

This is a dance troupe at Plaza de Armas in Havana. A parade broke out down the street following the percussionists afterwards. We figure this is something organized for tourists.

Ages of the musicians ranged from young to old and I'm super happy to see the two ladies in this particular band.

And OMIWOW, I just noticed that the bass player is playing that thing facing backwards. Haha, awesome...

I love the empty restaurant table in the foreground.

I read an article in grad school about how after the success of the film and record Buena Vista Social Club (1999) the music started to revert back to what it was in the mid 20th century since it was seen as supporting Cuban tourism. It seems that whatever modern music that had been happening ten years ago might have not faired very well since from what I can tell, the music in these videos are pretty traditional.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Maunal, Dwayne & Brian: the kids of Lynchdoche Eco-village

Manual at an end-of-the-year Christmas party for a program where kids learn to recycle (he has the best smile)

These videos are super special to me. I arrived in Cape Town from London early on a Sunday morning and headed directly to the Sustainability Institute and Lynchdoche Village, located east of Cape Town in wine country on the way to Stellenbosch.

The sun was out, it was warm and windy, and it was gorgeous country. I didn't really know what to expect from this place, and since it was Sunday, school wasn't in session and it was really REALLY quiet. During the week, these pictures would be filled up with people.

looking north: The crèche on the right (where kids play during the week) and some homes.


Then I heard some music. So I followed it (as I do) and found these guys: Manual, Dwayne and Brian (and Brian's little sister) playing music. Brian lives in the village, I'm not sure where Manual and Dwayne live, but it would be in the general area in small homes. All three go to school at the government run school located in the Sustainability Institute.

Brian's mother Makka runs the guesthouse where I rented a room. She just finished paying off her house (behind them) and was one of the first eco-village residents a little over 10 years ago. (Her tiny two-story home has a solar panel.) Brian is 11 and the oldest out of this bunch.

I love the extension chords leading out of Brian's house. Manual played that plastic trashcan lid like a pro. Brian's guitar was hardly tuned, but he would bar the frets to get a reasonable harmonic sound out of it. I later found out that he had taken guitar lessons, so this kid knows how to play chords and he's actually very musically talented. So he's chosen to play this particular instrument without much tuning. I found that really interesting.

I'm not sure what the first song is, but I imagine that it's a South African gospel tune. This second one definitely is. Gospel is really popular in the rural parts of Cape Town. Brian taught me how to play this second tune "I've got a Feeling" on his guitar. I also went and pulled out my ukulele which he tinkered around with.

Please ignore the fact that I interrupted them at the end, so I could give Dwayne the chance to play if he wanted to. Only now do I realize that Brian says "He can't play!" haha... oops.

This was really sweet though, and a wonderful way to welcome me to this continent/country/city.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Music in Cape Town: Abavuki and marimba bands at Mama Africa

Abavuki live at Mama Africa

In my search for "authentic" African music (which is a dangerous rabbit hole to start down, because really, what is authentic?) I came across marimba bands. Ironically, the place I found the "authentic" Capetonian music was at restaurant called Mama Africa.

Mama Africa is a tourist destination restaurant that serves up pan-African foods and animals. You can get warthog, springbok and zebra there (and yes I did try it, and yes, I did like some of it). The walls are covered with African art and thatch, just to make it as "authentic" as possible. I was warned about this place. I had heard that the service sucked and the food was overpriced. I knew there was music, but I just assumed that it would be cheesy. Every night there is a live band playing for the tourists and most of these bands have bi-weekly gigs here.

But on my last night in Cape Town before heading to Namibia, I ended up there with several other backpackers. The food was actually pretty good and the band playing that night was Abavuki, a Capetonian marimba band. Being the good Ethnomusicologist I am, I had to ask some questions. (No food poisoning this time.)

Talking to Mzwamadoda Matsila, the trombone/alto marimba player, I found out that marimba bands are indeed Capetonian and that the guys in the band do make a living playing music. Our final bill charged each costumer a 10 South African Rand ($1.50) music fee. There were some people at my table that were upset about this. Yikes. I tried to explain to these people that these gigs probably earn the musicians the bulk of their living wages.

The musicians of Abavuki are from the black township of Langa. I noticed that most of these guys played at least two instruments. There were three sizes of marimbas: bass, tenor and alto. The soprano marimba does exist, but they just don't use it. A couple of these guys also doubled on saxophone and trombone. They also switch off playing various percussion instruments. They also ALL sing - with some pretty cool harmonies.

These guys probably play for at least four hours every night. They played hard for us, and I appreciated it. I had a great time. It was much more entertaining than the cover band with a pre-recorded drum track I had heard earlier in the week down the street.

These are not my videos, but are pretty good representations of what I saw. The music is fast, virtuostic, hard-hitting and danceable. I am super glad to have stumbled upon it.

And another:

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Music for Tourists: Videos from Cape Town

I'm going to start rolling out photos and videos from my trip to Africa and Europe. I'll start with the ones that are probably the most interesting culturally and historically, but which I also know very little about.

What I can tell you is that these performances are for the tourists. They were in touristy parts of Cape Town where there was a lot of shopping happening: the Waterfront and Green Market Square. These are folks that get up in the morning, put on their costumes and go dance for tips. And it's nice that they do, because in Cape Town you don't really get a feeling of much traditional culture, it's a very modern and European city.

Tourists were constantly joining these ladies so that they could have pictures taken with them. It was a little annoying as I just wanted to watch them perform. I really enjoyed their interlocking rhythmic and melodic chanting. It was very cool.

I passed them a couple hours later and they were sitting and singing. It was hot, and they were tired. They were cute ladies.

If you know anything about these performances, please let me know.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Follow me in Europe and Africa!

From November 29th to January 15th, I will be traveling in Europe and Africa. Follow me around here.

I'll be going to England, South Africa, Namibia, Scotland and France (in that order, as London as my hub.) I've built this trip around visit my friend Brad in Namibia in the Peace Corps. I figure why not make a whole adventure out of it.