2014 January

Week 7: Namenala

More Recordings

“Sama xarit! Waaw! Namenala! Gej na la gis!” (“My friend! Yea! I miss you! It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you!”)

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Ngor. Photo Credit: Alec Saelens

I will never get used to people telling me they miss me here, especially when the only appropriate response is “ma la raw” (“I miss you more.”) “I miss you,” is a serious statement in the States. It suggests a longing, an intimacy, a distance… none of which are required for the same statement in wolof. I’ll meet someone one day and the next they’ll tell me they miss me. One night, the manager of Sahad’s band told the piano player, another American named David, and I that he was leaving the gig early to see his mother because he missed her so much; “Gisuloo ko depuis suba” (“I haven’t seen her since this morning”) he said. ‘Doesn’t he know that he’s telling this to two people who haven’t seen their mothers in months?’ I thought.

As often as I say “ma la raw,” the truth is I feel as though I almost never get to express I miss you to those I miss the most; my boyfriend, lost in his post-masters job search and pre-loan payment panic, can’t seem to muster the time in his regimented schedule to speak with me; my sister, just starting at her new dream job as a sommelier, can’t yet afford an internet connection; my mother, though we do speak often, can only afford a certain level of attention as constantly swamped with work as she is.

There, to be productive, one must put personal relationships to the side, if only for the time being. Here, there is no other time but the time being. Every conversation is punctuated with “insh-allah” (“god willing”). “Alxamdulilaay” (“thanks be to god”) is an integral part of the landscape: written on buses, cars, and buildings. Every moment is adorned with gratitude. When people are together, they treat you as though this moment is the only moment they may ever have with you. I see this urgency particularly in young men who find me attractive and feel the need to tell me they love me after a only few moments of talking. When people are not with you, they genuinely do miss you. They genuinely miss not knowing when a moment with you may return. It’s an engagement with reality I’m not accustomed to.

“Sama xarit! Waaw! Namenala! Gej na la gis!” Faada of Daara J said to me on his birthday at Just4U. It had only been a week since I had seen Faada last but, as his velvet blazer and flowery scent embraced me for a long, cozy few minutes, I say “ma la raw” and mean it.

Only a few weeks prior, I had finally seen Daara J perform for the first time in the very same bar. They took a break halfway through and this very tall, large senegalese guy came up to me at the bar and said “Yow. Yow yaa aasi?” “Kii? Man? waaw.” “Kaay, kaay” (“you – you’re aasi?” “Who? Me? Yea?” “Come, come.”) I had a moment of pause. ‘I probably shouldn’t follow strangers around in a club,’ I thought. But, when I looked around, I had the realization that I had somehow become a regular here. There were so many people who knew me there that it would probably be fine. So I followed the guy and he led me backstage. “Kii kan la?” (“Who is this?”) says another staggeringly large Senegalese man. “Freddy moo ma ko laaj” (“Freddy was asking me for her”). The second large man moves to the side revealing a seat across from Freddy. I’d never seen anyone with body guards here before. It was very odd to see someone I had become so personally close with be so crowded and need so much protection. I sat down. Freddy’s eyes were closed and his head was laying on his electric guitar so that he could hear it. I could also hear him softly humming. I had no idea why I was there. I felt like such a foreigner in this moment. He finally opened his eyes and said “Ey how are you?” smiling. “Me? I’m wonderful. C’est incroyable le concert. Ca m’inspiree beaucoup, beaucoup. Et toi? Ca va?” (“The concert is incredible. It is inspiring me a lot. And you? How are you?”) “Ah, that’s really nice. It’s you who inspires me. Yea, I’m fine. Would you like to sing?” I laughed. “Bien sur, mais ca va, ca va.” (“Of course, but no worries.”) I genuinely thought it was a joke. “Okay, see you in a minute.”

A few moments later, Mo Fia, Daara J’s studio manager and a good friend of mine, came from the side of the stage and said “kaay, kaay – pare nga?” (“come, come – you ready?”) “non, non – j’ai pense que c’etait un blague! ca va, ca va.” (“no, no – I thought it was a joke! I’m okay, I’m okay.”) “Freddy wants you to sing, right? C’mon, girl.” Mo put his arm around my shoulder, handed me a mic, and pushed me onto the stage. Freddy was standing there alone with his green, yellow and red guitar. He was in a gorgeous suit made from wax (a very colorful type of printed fabric), a black bowler hat on top of his loose, long dreads, and a scarf around his neck. He was singing some of his solo work. I know some of the songs, but not very well. Singing in the studio is very natural for me – improvising is what I do best. Standing on stage with Freddy is a completely different thing. I looked out into the crowd packed with senegalese people; some dancing, some singing, some swaying with lighters. I could see pride and admiration in their faces. I looked back at Freddy and thought that this must be what it’s like to be star struck. Standing next to him in my jeans, nikes, and a plain long-sleeved black shirt, I definitely didn’t feel as though I had earned this opportunity. He looked over to me, smiled and nodded his head. I started singing – I don’t know what. I’m sure it was bad. The dream I was living was too overwhelming to focus on the music. I remember there was one moment when we were harmonizing that was really beautiful, but that’s about it. “Put your hands together for Aicha!” Freddy got my name wrong, bringing me back to reality. I am more comfortable there.

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Performing at Just4U

I’ve hung out with a lot of famous people here before. But, Freddy – he has such a beautiful voice, he is such a talented songwriter and guitar player. On stage, he pushes himself to his limit. He jumps, dances, sings like crazy, raps, beat boxes – all incredibly well. My talent pales in his presence and yet he motivates me so much to work harder as an artist. His belief in me alone feels like a duty. I have to live up to it.

I don’t like to hang out with the other groupies backstage when I go to concerts here. Sure, there’s free food and drinks and famous people around, but it’s so much more enjoyable to feel like one of the many other concert goers who pay to get in because they’re true fans, like me. Also, as someone who wants to record and preserve what’s going on musically in Senegal, it’s a better perspective. I like to hear people speaking in wolof candidly. I like being somewhat anonymous. I don’t need anyone to know that I know the group up there. For the first half of that concert, I sat with my roommate’s brother and a beer singing all the lyrics and taking it all in.

Coming off stage and returning to my seat at the bar, everything had changed. I was no longer anonymous. Everyone wanted to shake my hand. First, backstage, rappers and singers came up to me and started asking me all sorts of questions, taking down my number so that they could work with me. At the bar, there was an even more intense flood of interest coming my way. Tij’s brother told me that everyone around him was asking him how he knows this star. It all felt so false, but it wasn’t. The praise I was getting was really Freddy’s praise. I got to enjoy it by simply knowing him. I got kind of overwhelmed and went back stage again. When Freddy got off stage, he gave me a big hug and said “this is just the beginning.”

As soon as he hugs me on his birthday, weeks later, telling me he misses me, I’m brought right back to that place. I had sung with Freddy a few times since, but, the truth is, I hadn’t been to the studio much because I don’t want to just feed off his fame. I want to meet all sorts of artists, record all sorts of stories, and learn lots of different kinds of music. However when I do sing with Freddy, I feel my heart swell with his talent and passion and faith. I feel like the moon to his star. I am able to reflect, and maybe even absorb, so much of what he gives, but in the end I am just a giant rock yet to be ignited myself. This is why I left studio for a bit – to ignite myself.

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But I do miss him. The other day Sahad was describine how I needed to stop being so rushed – music won’t happen that way. That I needed to hang out more and wait. I am too on top of the business too much of the time. I needed to work more on building relationships. But as he was explaining this, he was talking about me in the third person directly to Alec. We’re all sitting at one table, the three of us alone together, and yet he doesn’t speak directly to me. I don’t think he intended to be belittling, but I do think men honestly aren’t used to relating to women as equals. This week in particular has been rife with a kind of commentary about me personally that I think indicates a certain level of comfort and intimacy I didn’t have with my friends (predominantly male) before. For example, normally at meal, it’s just “lekke lekke leeke!” (“eat eat eat!”) as I slow down my pace. Now, it’s “Tu vas devenir gros si tu manges ca – c’est bien ca” (“You are going to become fat if you eat that – that’s a good thing.”) “Tu as un bon corps mais ca va etre mieux si tu as plus qu’un jaay fonde. Peut-etre mange plus de pate” (“You have a good body but it’s going to be better if you get a bigger butt. Maybe eat more pasta.”) I can recognize that the discomfort that these statements cause me comes from being in a new environment, not because I don’t get this type of remark from men in the States. The other day a very old and close American friend of mine reminded me of that. Perhaps this should be prefaced by saying he is studying medicine, but he asked me why I had never considered plastic surgery when I mentioned that I was probably most self-conscious about my breasts body-wise. The commentary is just different in the States. Either way, I will probably never get used to this kind of sexist behavior.

This is why I miss Freddy after a week. His perfect english and expansive music knowledge aside, he never tells me what to do, he never makes comments about me personally, and there is no interpersonal thread that complicates our making music. He makes me feel at home this way. Same goes for my kora teacher, who’s generosity musically is only matched by how much he withholds personally. Like Freddy, he really wants to see me grow. It’s a rare thing. I’m certainly not their equal, but I don’t feel my identity the way I do with the others. There is no surface level interaction, only the deep plunge into the moment, into the music, with them. We descend into the mystical reality of it all. And they have imparted onto me a true sense of missing them when I am not in that moment, alxamdulilaay.

On Thursday, Freddy left to tour France for 3 weeks. Last Saturday, he invited me to go with him. It was hard to say no, but I know I still have so much work to do here and it wouldn’t be fair to me or my projects to pick up and leave. I do miss him, though.

Namenaleen (I miss you all),
Althea

More pictures of Ngor beach by Alec Saelens:

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earlier: Nit Nepp Jangalekat Lanu 

 

Episode 13 – Adriano Santos

In this episode, brazilian percussionist, band leader and music educator Adriano Santos discusses growing up in Sao Paulo, studying with Ron Carter, and the importance of versatility and musicianship. Listen on itunes!

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Adriano Santos was born in São Paulo, Brasil in 1966. Part of a new generation of Brazilian drummers, he began his drum studies at the age of twelve at Zimbo Trio Music School ( CLAM) in his hometown. In 1988 he moved to Boston to study at Berklee College of Music where he acquired his B.A. in Film Scoring. Moving to New York in 1995, Adriano started his Masters Degree at City College of New York where he had the chance to enjoy ensemble lessons with the great jazz legend Ron Carter. As a professional he has performed with top international artists such as Astrud Gilberto, Gal Costa, Leny Andrade, Luciana Souza, Romero Lubambo, Helio Alves, Claudio Roditi, Nelson Faria, Leo Gandelman, Paulo Moura, Jovino Santos Neto, Nilson Matta, Jared Gold, Yotam Silberstein, Ray Vega, David Binney, John Pizzarelli, Slide Hampton, Harry Allen, Bill Charlap, Cliff Korman, Santi Debriano, Hendrik Meurkens, Dave Pietro, Vana Gierig, Eileen Ivers, Paul Winter and the Boston Pops, to name a few. Adriano is currently performing with the Vinicius Cantuária Group, Matt Geraghty Project and the Afro- Brazilian band Hãhãhães. He has also recorded “Pretty World”, a project produced and arranged by the great Eumir Deodato with Japanese sensation Lisa Ono. Mr. Santos has produced publications in specialized drum magazines and has released a new book through Drummers Collective NYC (where he is part of the faculty) called, “Afro-Caribbean & Brazilian Rhythms for Drum set”. Adriano is endorsed by Vic Firth Sticks, Remo drum heads, Odery Drums and Istanbul Agop Cymbals.

For more information on Adriano, please click here.

Recordings featured in this episode in order of apperance:

Contemplacao” from Adriano Santos’s album “In Session”

A Banda” performed by Chico Buarque

Samba Dance Carnaval 2011

The Chess Players” performed by Art Blakey (Adriano’s teacher John Ramsay worked with Art Blakey for many years

The Shadow of Your Smile” performed by Ron Carter

Aviao” performed by Leny Andrade

From the Lonely Afternoons” from Adriano Santos’s album “In Session”

Coisa Linda” performed by Vinicius Cantuaria

Samba da Bencao” performed by Bebel Gilberto

Brincando com Theo” performed by Vento em Madeira

Mexe Mexe” performed by Fantcha

Immigrant Soul” performed by Eileen Ivers

This episode of the Earfull was originally recorded on August 9th, 2013 and released on January 18th, 2014. The cover art for the Earfull was made by Hallie Bean. I’d like to thank Adriano Santos for sitting down with me and you for listening. For more information on Adriano, please visit his website at adrianosantos.com.  As always, you can find the Earfull on the iTunes music store, and also on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

Week 6: Nit Nepp Jangalekat Lanu

Preface: “Nit Nepp Jangalekat Lanu” means “Everyone is a Teacher.” My apologies for no sounds/pictures this week. They are getting edited and there should be much more available soon!

Dear Internet,

I’ve never had a great relationship with teachers. I did well in school and, sure, there were one or two professors along the way that I deeply admired. And, yea, there were plenty that inspired me and open my eyes. However, most of the relationships I’ve had with my teachers have been tensely neutral or slightly negative. You see, teachers have always struck a very defiant, rebellious nerve in me. It’s an arrogant and childish quality I’m still learning to grow out of. However, it’s also motivated me tremendously, at least academically. ‘Why are all my teachers white middle-aged heternormative Christian men?’ I asked myself at age 14 in boarding school. ‘Moreover, why are all the authors, composers, scientists, mathematicians, anthropologists, philosophers, and sociologists we study also white middle-aged heternormative Christian men?’ I think you see where I’m going with this; before I knew it, I was writing my bachelor’s thesis: “The Hits Keep Comin’: A History of Violence in Popular African-American Women’s Song Forms.”

You can be sure that there were faculty members at Columbia that told me I couldn’t/shouldn’t write about this. There were faculty members that invalidated the subject matter’s value in the academic world. This pushed me even further into the topic and, In the end, I think my work paid off beautifully. These few moments of triumph have led me me to hold fast to my willfulness, skepticism, determination, and rebellious nature. And, yes, a bit of arrogance as well.

But, now, I’m in Senegal. Not accepting the teachings of others could be a fatal mistake. Moreover, places this foreign tend to rapidly chip away at my insecurities and flaws, which are more often than not the same things, and it seems this aversion to teachers has recently been placed under the microscope. I feel as though this quality of mine is getting dissected day in and day out by those who want to be my teachers. For example, my friends Sahad wants to teach me all his spiritual knowledge, explaining that his authority comes from the two years he spent in the dessert examining his Sufi faith. He’ll only teach me in bight-sized doses when the time is right, according to him. We can’t just have a conversation about it. It’ll come when he feels up to it – when I am expecting it the least. But it’s not just Sahad. Kine and Astu, my neighborhood ceebu jen ladies, want to teach me how to dance. Mo Fia wants to teach me how to love, to be open to the world, in a way only he believe he can. Tij wants to teach me how to go with the flow, how to let him take control to my benefit. Ndongo wants to teach me how to be weary of certain Senegalese people, and trusting of others, with caution. MoMo wants to teach me how to ride a motorcycle. All these lessons have value. All the relationships I’m forging by taking these lessons with humility are invaluable. But, at times, I can’t help but feel belittled. Honestly, it’s a bit spiritually chafing after awhile. Can’t anyone just be my friend? Meet me as an equal? Isn’t there anyone who feels we can mutually learn from each other?

This particular line of questioning leads me to one of the first lessons I learned on this trip from Sahad: there is nothing for nothing. People aren’t teaching me solely out of the love and generosity in their hearts: there is something to be gained for them. For Kine and Astu, it’s the fairly benign desire to see the comedy of a toubab (light skinned person) trying to dance like them. But, even with them, and certainly with the others, there is some element of control that is also desired. I have to teach myself how to discern how valuable the lesson is for me versus what they gain from me in return.

It is exhausting to constantly be thinking this way, but I do get relief from one person in particular: Alec. Alec is a 22-year-old belgian korist and guitarist like me. His parents live and work here. Visiting his home is like visiting a western oasis; it’s equipped with a washer and dryer, oven, toilet paper, good coffee… all those things taken for granted that suddenly disappear when you arrive here. Alec and I have discussed that his family lives better than some of the most well-known and wealthy Senegalese, and he is quick to mention that he is not accustomed to the situation he has occupied here in Senegal.

Alec has no desire to teach me anything. Instead, he shares with me and has become my only in-person outlet here in Senegal. Having ears at my disposal for once, rather than the other way around, I often tell him more than I should. Ironically enough, however, Alec may have the most important lesson to teach me right now. You see, when Alec is with the teachers I’ve mentioned above (i.e. most Senegalese people), he is relentlessly open to what they are saying. He is so in his element at the will of someone else’s whims. In fact, he hitchhiked from Belgium to Senegal with very little on his back, so he often didn’t have a choice but to be at the mercy of someone else’s will, and he describes it as the best time of his life.

Being constantly at the mercy of someone’s will, whether they are actively trying to teach me or not, is a struggle for me. However, I can’t walk the streets alone at night. I am thereby subject to someone else’s will if I’d like to go out after sundown, and I’ll never see music if I don’t go out. While my language skills and knowledge of the city afford me some independence, I don’t think I or anyone else would get anything done without relying on others here. It is one of the sharpest contrasts from New York City, where it is possible to  go about your whole day without speaking to anyone. Here, everything is done cooperatively. For example, car rapides (sometimes referred to as ‘rolling coffins’ in wolof) are small, packed, colorful busses that ship people quickly up down the peninsula. To take one, you often have to hand your money into the crowd of people, to be handed back to the conductor, who rides hanging off the back door. Senegal daily life and it’s survival requires daily interaction and trust.

I so badly want to learn how to be open like Alec, to defy my childish ways. However, while there is certainly improvement to be made, I can never be as open as he is. Why? Because I am not a white heternormative man of faith. Alec may not be all these things either, but he certainly passes, and the world just isn’t as dangerous for him as it is for me. I can’t afford to surrender control the way he can. His identity aside, if he doesn’t return home at night, his family will immediately know. If he feels lost or confused, he can instantly return to all the comforts of home. He has a certain type of wealth that affords him an openness I can never have.

Still, I will continue to persevere in my learning of how to learn. I will continue to persevere in my growth as an individual who is less arrogant, less stubborn, less defiant. Ironically, to top it all off, I’ve been hired as a substitute teacher in the music department at the International School here in Dakar. I may also give presentations on music once a month. A nice extra boost of money from time to time is going to help me with my work a lot. But I can’t help but think I am somehow betraying my childhood self, even though I do love to teach. I suppose the best way I can honor that self is by defiantly learning as much as I can from my students.

 

Until soon I hope,

Althea

 

earlier: a Muslim Christmas

The Earfull Episode 12 – Joseph Daley

In this episode composer, trombonist, tuba and euphonium player Joseph Daley reflects on his origins in the island of Montserrat, on his experiences as both a classical and jazz musician, and on the composition process. Listen on itunes!

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Born in New York City’s Harlem, Joseph began his musical studies in elementary school and received high honors and recognition throughout his school years (including the renowned High School of Music and Art), and was a member of the most prestigious ensembles in the New York City school system. During his high school years, he began performing on the Latin music scene – well-known as one of the most powerful foundations of higher musical learning – performing alongside such fine musicians as Rene McLean, Monquito Santamaria, Andy Gonzalez, Alex Blake and many others.

A scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music resulted in his Bachelor’s degree in Performance and a Master’s degree in Music Education and led to a career as an educator in the New York and New Jersey school systems from 1976 until his retirement in 2005. Heavily dedicated to the education of young people to the highest values in musical understanding and expression, Joseph balanced his extensive educational commitments with recording and performing in the ensembles of some of the most provocative musicians on the contemporary jazz scene. In addition to those mentioned above, Joseph contributed heavily to groups led by other major artists including Muhal Richard Abrams, Makanda Ken McIntyre, Jason Hwang and Dave Douglas, and was an original member of Howard Johnson’s groundbreaking tuba ensemble, Gravity. He has also been a longtime collaborator with the highly respected composer/ethnomusicologist and master of non-Western instruments, Bill Cole, a relationship that is still intact.

After nearly 40 years of recognition as one of the consummate sidemen on the adventurous music scene – with remarkable artists like Sam Rivers, Carla Bley, Gil Evans, Charlie Haden, Taj Mahal and so many more – Joseph Daley stunned musicians and fans alike with his brilliant CD, The Seven Deadly Sins, released in 2011. The album also received rave reviews and made several Best of 2011 lists. Featuring his Earth Tones Ensemble (a full Jazz orchestra augmented by six additional low-toned horns, and including a seven-member rhythm section and four special guests), this powerfully innovative music mines the same rich vein of musical expression as that of immortals like Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington and George Russell.

Whether performing with his large ensemble; with his evocative Ebony Brass Quintet; or in the sparer solo, duo or trio contexts; sheer musicality, deeply-hewn emotion and jubilant innovation are always at the core of Joseph’s most singular musical expression. Best known for playing the tuba, Joseph also plays euphonium and valve trombone; but these days his growing reputation as a visionary composer is bringing him worldwide acclaim.

Joseph is also currently a member of the highly eclectic ensemble Hazmat Modine, under the direction of musician and visual artist Wade Schuman. It was Schuman’s paintings that helped inspire the creation of Daley’s Seven Deadly Sins project, which was developed at the McDowell Colony in 2001.

In addition to his Earth Tones Ensemble, Ebony Brass Quintet, duo and trio collaborations and his solo performances, Joseph’s focus right now is on his next recording project, The Seven Virtues, featuring a large string ensemble. He has also designed an extensive series of educational projects for the university level and will be embarking on a series of residency and performance-based projects starting in the 2012/2013 season.

Summing up the purpose and commitment of Joseph Daley…. “If the music I compose provides one with a sense of beauty, inner peace and introspection then I am pleased”

For more information on Joe, please click here.

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Jo with Bill Cole and the Untempered Ensemble (above) and with Howard Johnson’s Gravity! (below)

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Recordings featured in this episode in order of appearance:

Patience” composed/performed by Joseph Daly and his Earth Tones Ensemble on the album “The Seven Heavenly Virtues”

Bam-Chik-A-Lay” Traditional folk song from Montserrat

Field Recordings from “Montserrat – Back Then

Pilgrims’ Hymn and Bach Chorale” performed by Luther College Nordic Choir

Jump in the Line” performed by Harry Belafonte

Outdoor Overture” composed by Copland and performed by Bernstein NYP Live 1962

Salt Peanuts” composed/performed by Dizzy Gillespie

Groove-Time” composed/performed by Monguito Santamria

‘Round Midnight” composed/performed by Howard Johnson and Gravity!

Fuschia Swing Song” performed by Sam rivers

Don’t Wait For The Day of Battle Before Getting Your Weapons Ready“, from Proverbs for Sam by Bill Cole’s Untempered Ensemble, Boxholder Records 2008

Invidia – Envy” composed/performed by Joseph Daly and his Earth Tones Ensemble on the album “The Seven Deadly Sins”

Wispercussion (Portraits of Warren Smith)” composed/performed by Joseph Daly and his Earth Tones Ensemble on the album “The Seven Heavenly Virtues”

This episode of the Earfull was originally recorded on August 24th, 2013 and released on January 9th, 2014. The cover art for the Earfull was made by Hallie Bean. I’d like to thank Joseph Daley for sitting down with me and you for listening. For more information on Joe, please visit his website at jodamusic.com.  As always, you can find the Earfull on the iTunes music store, and also on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

 

Weeks 4 & 5: A Muslim Christmas

Dear Internet,

First, I’d like to apologize for not updating you sooner; this holiday season has certainly proved to be much busier than I expected. The other night, I hear the familiar reggae vamp: “Daara J Family gonna start the fire, Daara J Family gonna take you higher.” And, for the first time, rather than smiling and starting to dance, I think ‘Oh f**********ck.’ Suddenly, I am being trampled by the giant crowd of kids. I look up towards the stage, but all I could see were guards beating people, trying to control the crowd. Christmas eve, which I had spent with the guy singing on stage, couldn’t have felt further away from this New Year’s Day. Well, actually, I suppose it was New Year’s Night. The Daara J crew had implored me to come to this outdoor arena, but being as late as I was, I couldn’t find the entrance. And even if did, I wasn’t sure I would have much luck getting in. Every where I looked, there were Senegalese kids from ages 6 to 30 – on the rooftops, in the trees, on top of cars. I could hardly walk. It had been a long time since I had seen a crowd this big. By the time I finally got backstage with my artist badge, a big guy had fallen on my head from a tree and I had been hit in the face by a firework – not a sparkler or a firecracker, but a big, fully realized firework – followed by kids running away and screaming. I was very lucky not to lose an eye.

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Daara J’s Band

This was my first holiday away from my family. However, if no one had told me it was Christmas time, if I had not seen santas around Dakar, I would have never known. You see,  what I now know its that Christmas simply does not exist for me without my mother. Without her embrace, like a soft, cotton cloud enveloping me gently, paired with the scent of her outstanding cooking on the stove, Vince Guaraldi trio playing alongside a crackling fire, Christmas just isn’t a thing.

Nonetheless, the holiday was better that I expected. Where the holidays are cold and yet bright in the States, the holidays are warm and dark in Senegal. You can hear fireworks going off all month. People party like crazy. Before leaving the states, I expected that I would probably spend Christmas alone, working, like any other day I would have in Dakar (though that is rarely what my days are like here). I figured Senegalese people, since it is a predominantly muslim population, didn’t celebrate the holiday, really. However, pretty early on in the month, I began to spot tinsel and christmas lights and santas. The santas were the most fascinating. Thanks to the internet, I couldn’t help but note fox news anchor Megyn Kelly insisting that santa was a white man. The santas in Senegal may just be her best defense. Rather than just sporting the normal red and white outfit and long, white beard, many santas here actually sport the same rubber mask that, along with the beard, also comes with a white face. It’s spectacularly creepy.

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In the studio rehearsal space

Come Christmas eve, I was at Bois Sakre with my kora, sipping on Cafe Touba (spiced black coffee – half the cup is sugar alone) with the other musicians and technicians at the studio. I sit down with Faada and we sing a bit. His phone rings and he tells his wife that he will pick up fruit in an hour or two. “All the musicians are coming over to my house for dinner. This group has yet to come to my house – would you like to join us?” The next thing I know, I find myself in front of a giant plate of fries, the only woman sitting at the table, surrounded by musicians, Faada, one of my musical heroes, to my right. Faada has a beautiful family – him, his wife, and his 4 children: 3 girls, 1 boy. The 2 older girls love to cook and are serving the group like professionals. Everything is beautifully presented and equally beautifully taken away. Once the meal is done (at around 2 am), Mo Fia and I go the party of a good friend of mine, a well-known rapper named Nix. His family members, numerous and ranging in age from 6 – 90, are all there getting wasted and dancing into the wee hours of the morning. This level of partying proceeds every night through new year’s, which I spent mystified by the constant display of fireworks on a rooftop of a french friend’s home overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by a diverse group of musicians jamming.

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Christmas Eve Dinner

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Faada and his son

While I did get work done these past two weeks, recording often and working on some grant proposals for the archives, I also had a fantastic time watching all this celebration play out. I love going out in Senegal, often dancing to reggae music. When I go clubbing in the states, it’s so hard for me to find a good club where I enjoy the music and can dance freely. If the music is good, I often can’t really afford to be there. If the music is bad, it’s usually really bad and ranting about bitches, hoes, drank, thugs, sex, drugs, money, blah blah blah; a culture that’s been been nourished with empty calories, down to the root. In Senegal, I dance to messages of freedom fighting, loyalty, justice, truth, love, peace. The entrance at these sound systems, which I often don’t have to pay because I’m a musician and musicians just get in for free, is often negligible anyway. Big, hefty beers, are a dollar.

However it all comes at a price of one big contradiction. While, in the states, there’s so much about popular culture that feels negative to me, I can go out and feel generally safe – whether that safety is an illusion or not. In Senegal, I can dance to all these wonderful ideas and yet know that, for me as an individual, they aren’t necessarily applicable to me, certainly in regards to my safety. Just the other night, it was the guard at a sound system that grabbed me by the arm and demanded that I come see him before I left. That would never happen to me in the States. The people I have no choice but trust, can be the ones that turn on me the quickest. You can never to be too sure, but I do feel as though I have found a nice web of protection amongst my friends here, alxamdulilaay.

Now that it’s January, however, I’m looking forward to really getting down to business.

More updates soon!

 

Much love,

Althea

 

The Earfull Episode 11 – Sunny Jain


Happy New Year! In this episode, percussionist, composer and band leader Sunny Jain describes growing up Jain in Rochester, New York, his struggles with the music industry, and his composition process. Listen on iTunes!

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Sunny Jain was born in Rochester, on April 22nd, 1975. In 2008, he founded the pioneering Brooklyn Bhangra band, Red Baraat. “One of the best party bands around. Favorite Live Shows of 2011” (NPR). This past year Red Baraat performed over 100 club shows and festivals across the world, including Bonnaroo Music Festival, High Sierra Music Festival and a special performance at the White House and the Paralympics closing ceremony in London. “Banging out their high-octane fusion they’re irresistible: serial party-starters” (The Guardian, UK).

Sunny Jain is recognized as a lead voice in the burgeoning movement of South Asian-American jazz musicians. His 7 albums have all received international acclaim for their “groundbreaking synthesis” (Coda Magazine), as he brings together the ancient sounds of his cultural heritage, America’s greatest original art form and a host of other sounds.

Jain is also the drummer and dhol player for Junoon, the biggest rock band to emerge from South Asia. In 2011, they recorded the single “Open Your Eyes,” featuring Peter Gabriel, to raise awareness and funds for Pakistani flood victims. In 2010, Junoon delivered a Concert for Pakistan at the United Nations in NYC, for the displaced refugees in the Swat Valley. The band closed out 2007 with a milestone performance at the Nobel Peace Prize concert in Oslo, Norway, playing for Nobel Laureates Al Gore and Rajendra Paucharia. Jain played dhol/percussion in the first ever Indian Broadway show, Bombay Dreams (2004) and made his Hollywood debut playing dhol in the movie, Accidental Husband, starring Uma Thurman, Colin Firth, and Isabella Rossellini.

Jain has performed/recorded with Kiran Ahluwalia, Asphalt Orchestra, Joey Baron, Kenny Barron, Marc Cary, Samir Chatterjee, DJ Rekha, Kyle Eastwood, Peter Gabriel, Grupo Fantasma, Norah Jones, Junoon, Andres Levin, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Marching Fourth Band, Q-Tip, Soul Rebels, Martha Wainwright, Kenny Wollesen, and many others.

Jain has been a recipient of composition and performance grants from the Aaron Copland Music Fund, Chamber Music America, Meet the Composer, Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, globalFEST and received the Arts International Award in both 2005 and 2003 to enable touring India with his jazz group, Sunny Jain Collective. In 2002, Jain was designated a Jazz Ambassador by the U.S. Department of State and The Kennedy Center, for which he toured West Africa. Jain is the author of 2 instructional drum books for Alfred Publishing (The Total Jazz Drummer and Drum Atlas: India).

More about Sunny

Recordings featured in this episode ordered by appearance:

Red Baraat: NPR Tiny Desk Concert

Meri Bhavan” Jain Bhajan

Tom Sawyer” performed by Rush

Round Midnight” performed by the Miles Davis Quintet

Summertime” performed by Ted Dunbar and Richard Davis

Shruggy Ji” performed by Red Baraat

Kenny Wollesen & Himalaya at the Willisau Jazz Festival in 2007

Punjab Wedding Song” performed by Red Baraat

This episode of the Earfull was originally recorded on November 19th, 2013 and released on January 3rd, 2014. The cover art for the Earfull was made by Hallie Bean. I’d like to thank Sunny Jain for sitting down with me and you for listening. For more information on Sunny, please visit his website at sunnyjain.com. For more information on Red Baraat, you can visit their website at redbaraat.com.  As always, you can find the Earfull on the iTunes music store, and also on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.