Compiled by Kayceman
All photos courtesy of Mark Insettta (taken while in Africa)
BRIDGING THE GAP - PART III
Welcome to our final installment of Bridging the Gap. Michael Kang (String Cheese Incident) and Chris Berry (Panjea) have sent back their final transmission from Africa. Inside you will find pictures and words, insight and visions. We hope you've enjoyed our coverage of this landmark event; and we hope you'll go out and see Kang and Berry perform this summer.
On the teeming streets of Maputo is where it all started. Hundreds of could-be Vogue models walking down the streets, a super laid-back vibe, and way-open minds - not to mention a lot of great musicians. I have always felt that Mozambicans were the hippies of Africa.
Kang and I ventured into the ghettos to check out the local traditional groups, which usually consisted of a few Timbilas (Marimbas), drums, as well as a crew of girls who sing and dance. We jammed with several of these groups, and the vibe was always way high and positive.
Off to the north to Inhambane. This was our time to be inspired by the white sand beaches, beautiful waves, fresh seafood, and the music that seems to floating in the ether all around that place.
Nights of jam and exploring took place on the hills overlooking the Indian Ocean. Many songs came and will be born on this next tour.
Kang sets up recording gear
We were asked to do a show at the Dinos, which is the local beach bar/club in the area. We took the opportunity to invite some of our favorite musicians from Maputo (the capital city) to join us. We rehearsed a few hours before the show, and amazingly enough, the show was amazing.
I don't know where all those people came from, but the place was packed and we partied long after the sun came up.
On the way back from our time in the blessed land of Inhambane, we stopped to see the Grand Master of the Timbila, Venancio Mbande. His 23-piece group played for us, and then we got a chance to play with him. No words can describe the music and the vibe, and I think the video that they took will even fall short as there is no way to describe the energy live so I will stop trying.
It was now time to move onto Zimbabwe. Our tickets were purchased and all systems were go until I decided to give my e-mail a quick check before heading to the airport. I was surprised to see that the national newspaper had featured a front page article on me. Unfortunately, the article was very negative and put the fear of Mugabe into a lot of my friends in Zimbabwe, who begged me not to come as they feared for my life. For those of you who don't know, I have a bit of a history with the Zimbabwean government, and they are also not very fond of anyone or anything foreign right now as they blame everyone but themselves (the government) for Zimbabwe's dire situation.
The Minister of Culture had made a serious statement that my friends felt was a direct threat. As it is very common for people to disappear in Zimbabwe by the hands of the government, my friends and I decided we would skip Zimbabwe this time.
The other two countries that were alternatives were Uganda and Tanzania. We flipped a coin to see which one it would be. Tanzania won, but for some strange reason we ended up going to Uganda, the party capital of Africa.
We arrived in Uganda. I became deathly ill, had visions, and decided to become totally sober for the first time in ten years. After about five days, I was able to catch up with Kang and the others only to find that I had decided to get sober in a nation of endless partying. Seriously these people can party every day of the week and do so from sun-down to way after sun-up. We got to hang with some amazing musicians and to jam with adungu (traditional harp) orchestras. We also danced our asses off in many discos that spun local traditional music and plenty of ragga, and we also got to sit in and jam with one of Uganda's hottest bands, Afrigo. Kang and I also got to continue writing and jamming as the house we stayed in conveniently had a mini studio in it.
Before I knew it, it was time to return to the cold-ass streets of New York City, and so here I am, sober and with a few more songs up my sleeve.
We look forward to seeing you all on our May tour, where Michael and I will play all the new material we wrote along with many other musical gems. Seems like we may have a few guests in every city we play too.
Thanks for all the kind words and inspiration.
Continue reading for Michael Kang's final letter...
To all lovers of life currently tuned in... I must admit that it might
be a little difficult to convey to you the experiences of the last couple of
weeks since I last wrote, but I will give you a little taster of my
adventures nonetheless. You know how it is, it's always a bit more
difficult to describe significant events merely in words alone. Admittedly,
these little journal entries are as much for my personal recollection as
they are for your enjoyment. So with that in mind, I'll give it my best!
Kang sets up recording gear
The last time I wrote, we were speeding above sub-Saharan Africa towards
our newly decided-upon destination of Kampala, Uganda. None of us had any
idea what we were getting into, since not a single one of us had been in
Uganda before. I must shamefully admit that my own ignorance of world
geography had me scrambling for the Kenya Airline in-flight mag to seek out
the map of Africa to see where the hell we were actually headed. For those
of you who share my ignorance, look at a map and educate yourselves and
don't feel too bad because there are many different countries in Africa, and
its quite easy to not know where certain countries lie in relation to others. Anyway, now I know that Kampala lies on the northern shore of Lake
Victoria, which is more like a small sea that also has shores in Kenya,
Tanzania, Rwanda, and I think Burundi as well. There's nothing quite like
arriving in a foreign country, not having slept at all, and wondering where
you will end up, etc. However, this is all part of the fun of it as well, I
guess. Luckily, a friend of Chris's in Dar Es Salaam hooked us up with a
friend of his named Victoria, who worked for a NGO promoting organic
agriculture. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a fluent English-speaking
guide and a van to drive around in. After a short drive to Kampala from the airport in Entebbe, we ended up at a hotel in Nsambya, close to the PARTY district right on the
outskirts of downtown Kampala.
The next day we set out to explore what Kampala had to offer, which in a
few words would have to be - one of the most raging urban night-life
scenes I have ever witnessed anywhere. The bars are packed and open all
night, every night seemingly, so the next week was filled with many early
mornings of beer-fueled revelry. It didn't take us long to meet some great
musicians though. We got set up at the house of our now life-long friend,
David Ko, who used to run the national Ugandan lottery. He was a classic
character, to say the least, and he opened up his house to us, which would
become the base of some great musical collaboration over the next week. The
first musicians to come over were some of the members of the band
Afrigo, a band that has continued to hold down a weekly gig at Club
Obligatto for 30 or so years! When we first saw them, Chris and I both
realized that these guys, especially the guitarist and bassist, were the SHIT!!
They played the shit out of the seben, rumba (from Zaire), and mbalu grooves,
amongst others - stuff you just don't really get too much of in the States.
The Congolese guitar style is one of the string players' holy grails I now
believe. It is so butt-wigglingly silky smooth when done right, which
is no easy task. Over the week, we had a couple jams with these guys in our
makeshift studio at David's. Trying to get together to record with people in
Uganda (and other places in Africa for that matter) immediately put us up
against one of the realities of trying to get anything done in this part of
the world - daily power blackouts. People are used to it in
Kampala, but as a westerner with an agenda, scheduling sessions and then
being thwarted by power outages can put a dent in your time table. However,
I feel like I have now been in Africa long enough to know not to try to
"push the river" as Chris put it so succinctly. The rest of the week was
filled with lots of other musical exploration with some traditional
musicians who played Akogo (an mbira like thumb piano), Adungu (the
traditional harp from northern Uganda), enanga (a stringed instrument that
I can't really describe although the end effect is super mind-blowingly
hypnotic!), and ndingeding (one stringed violin-like instrument). Needless to
say, Uganda is a haven for some whacked-out traditional music played on all
kinds of different instruments you have never seen before. We also saw some
SERIOUS butt-shaking at the Ndere Center, a traditional music/dance school,
which showcases many different schools of traditional Ugandan music from all
over the country. My favorite was this girl Betty who could balance up to 13
clay pots on her head and still look as graceful as a gazelle bounding
through a field. Definitely check out the Ndere Center if you find yourself
Now, I would be in danger of violating the international privacy act if I were
to tell you too much about what went on in Kampala, but there was some
classically funny shit that went down in the drunken early morning light.
However, I think the rule of "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" can
apply to Kampala as well.
After all the madness in Kampala, I really started to feel the call of
experiencing the more rural side of traditional life in Africa. The one
thing I hadn't really done was to go hang in villages and chill. However,
with Chris and the filmies leaving, I couldn't resist the urge of seeing
what was really going down in Zimbabwe. When you hear so much about how
fucked up things are in a country, it definitely stirs the imagination and
makes you wanna go see for yourself the reality of the situation. Stories of
fuel shortages, land confiscations, and random bull-dozing of neighborhoods
by Mugabe's henchmen left me somewhat nervous but definitely curious.
Now getting to Zim almost proved a little difficult when we got off our
connection in Nairobi to be informed that our twice-a-week return flight to
Harare and on to Maputo was overbooked and that we faced getting stuck in the
Nairobi airport for a couple of days. The ensuing "negotiations" with the
airline agent were pretty futile, and all of our combined Jedi powers seemed
to glance off of her formidable kung-fu psychic shield extra fortified by
Mercury retrograde. All we could do was stand there and hope for the best.
After weeks of traveling together, the four of us had become pretty close, so
when the agent called my name and not the others' for a seat on the flight, I
was faced with one of those classic moral dilemmas. Hmmm, do I give my
seat to one of my friends or get the hell on the flight? Hmmmm. What
would you have done? Well, call me insensitive or selfish or whatever, but I
got my ass on the plane and decided that I should just pray for the others.
You might call me all kinds of things, but hey, my prayer seemed to work
quite well, because after all that, everything worked out just fine with Chris
getting the last seat on the flight as well! However, we had to leave the
film guys at the airport to sort out their own fate. Oh well, I think they
needed that kind of "experience" to make their adventure complete.
Upon arrival in Harare, I quickly found out that what "they" say usually
is a bunch of propaganda! Immediately, I felt as if Zimbabwe would most likely
be one of the most chill zones I had visited. Not the laid-back cosmopolitan
coolness of Capetown or the sweaty, lazy flow of Maputo, but more stripped-down, bare bones, "I ain't got shit, but I'm still cool as can be" kind of
chill. I guess if your economy faces 800% inflation rates, no foreign buying
power, and gas prices of $7-$10 a gallon, you have some serious economic
problems. However, besides all the poverty, the Shona people are rich with a
cultural strength and pride that I have not witnessed in very many groups of
people. I believe that the dire economic conditions really bring it all
back to their basic needs for existence, good food, family, and a strong
musical tradition to see them through, something I think we can all learn
from. The entire time I was there, I felt as if maybe I was getting a
glimpse into the future of what may become of our rampant growth model when
the gas pumps stop flowing so freely. Except, I think there would be a hell
of a lot more chaos that would ensue if these conditions occurred in the U.S.
In Zim, people are seemingly well trained to survive. I stayed in two separate
villages, and the people I stayed with were super poor but they were all
just really healthy, physically strong, and they knew how to grow good food
The mission I had chosen was to deliver whale oil to a couple different
spirit mediums that Chris knew - something Chris was looking forward to doing
himself. A while ago, Sekuru Mandere had channeled to Chris that whale oil
was a very powerful healing medicine for his ancestral line and that he
would have to go find some and bring it back. This is another one of those
long stories that Chris will have to tell some other time, however.
Somehow, I felt that embarking on this mission was going to really tie my
whole experience together and uncover the true reasons I came to Africa, to
create some new bridges for tribal interchange.
When I got to Sekuru Chidakwa's village in Mondoro, I was on a mission
to retrieve some matare, the local shamanic brew used to talk to the
spirits. Not knowing whether or not this stuff was going to catapult me on
a one-way journey into other realms had me a little nervous for what I was
in for. My Shona isn't really good enough to ask, "Hey, is this stuff eboga
and can you die from taking it?" Faith (and perhaps some naivety) would be
my only guide. Luckily, I think that Chidakwa's wife was not so sure of my
"tolerance" for this kind of psychonautic adventure and gave me a light dose -
probably because she didn't want some crazy Asian guy running around their farm
causing problems. I escaped unscathed but definitely saw the potential for
some deep journeying.
Later that night, after running around all day gathering Chidakwa's
sons, getting the car stuck, eating sadza (my new favorite food), doing
copious amount of snuff (my new favorite form of tobacco consumption), and
returning to the village, we huddled around the fire and the sons started
playing mbira and singing while we all danced. Pretty soon, as the intensity
built, the spirit of Chidakwa's father came for a visit through one of the
sons and all of a sudden, we were having ourselves a real live
possession!!!! The rest of the night was spent in consultation with the
spirit that talks through Sekuru Chidakwa, who offered consultation to
everyone there and answered some of the questions I had posed in my matare
session earlier. Now, I felt like I was pretty far from Kansas, but somehow
completely at home at the same time.
Recording with Locals
Now, I could go on and on about the experiences I had over the course
of the next week, but I fear that it would be like trying to explain Burning
Man and that it might just never do it justice. Recording Chidakwa's sons' mbira group
called the Rustics who were great but so poor that they couldn't afford the
$300 it would cost them to record their songs, running out of gas at night
(which definitely was a reality check on the potential hazards of being
stuck in the middle of nowhere as a potential target for all kinds of
trouble), more snuff (which goes great with cold beer), all encapsulated by
my feeble attempt to divine a quick grasp of the Shona language.
I will say this about Panjea (the cultural center that Chris, Sekuru
Mandere, Rujeko, and Chicomborero and others started in Chirisere), with
continuous energy input and diligence, the proposed idea of creating a
musical and cultural center would benefit everyone that would come through
their doors. I highly suggest a visit Chirisere to anyone who has this kind
of hankering. By the way, Chirisere is an area surrounded by granite peaks
where bushmen eked out an existence as hunter gatherers, leaving their
pictographs on the walls of rock. I could sense the power of the quartz
crystal magic that resonates through those sacred hills, especially at
night when you get ridiculous views of the Milky Way.
Kang with Local Villagers
We were lucky enough to catch a bira after all and stayed up all night
singing, dancing, drinking freshly brewed bira hwahwa, communing with the
spirits, and more or less having a great time in many languages. I have even
been given the new animal totem of "nzou samanyanga" by women at the bira.
I'll let you guys figure out what that means. All in all, I would have to
say that my mission is accomplished for now and just beginning at the
I hope this fires some desire for any of you to visit Zimbabwe. They
could really use the support, and I don't think I have visited too many
places where the culture was as fascinating and spiritually integrated in
what I consider a healthy way. Handei!
I look forward to seeing you all on tour in May, when my new soul brother, Chris Berry, and I will tear it up across America.
Much love always. One family, MK
Continue reading for Part I and Part II of Bridging The Gap...
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Compiled by Kayceman
BRIDGING THE GAP - PART II
Welcome to Part II of Bridging the Gap. Our traveling bards; Michael Kang (String Cheese Incident) and Chris Berry (Panjea) have sent back their second transmission from Africa. In addition to Kang and Berry's words, you will also find an article published in The Herald; a state run newspaper that is heavily slanted to a certain "anti-white" point of view. In light of this, things have not run as smooth as we had hoped. Read on for details.
All is well from our first week in Mozambique - so far it has been quite incredible! We arrived in Maputo and immediately immersed ourselves into the party swing with friends here. Our musical adventures started once we left for Inhambane and Praia Tofo with the express intention of finding the Timbila master, Vinancio in Zavara. Once we got to his house, we were able to convince him to assemble his 28-piece orchestra for a performance a couple of days later. So off we went to Inhambane in search of some Zhore groups to share their dance and drumming tradition with us. A couple days of surf, beach hanging, and writing music at night had us not wanting to go back to Maputo. However, we had to go back to see Vinancio's group as well as to make it to a party that our friends from the National Mozambique Dance Company were throwing with other local musicians and friends. Real quick, Vinancio's orchestra is a mind-blowing fusion of Timbila and dance. Sooooo, off to the party... It was one of the best parties I have been to in a while - food and amazing drumming and dancing by the dance company with Chris joining in on djembe. Now, we are headed back to Tofo to organize a show with us and our local friends performing together on the beach. We will be checking out more Zhore groups on the way and getting everyone to join us for a concert on the weekend. Should be fun! Good thing we are recording this all, cuz it's hard to explain what we are all seeing. Anyways we are off, more to come
Here are the ceremony details. Please make sure you make it clear this is not a festival or concert, but rather a ceremony of song and dance that is very sacred.
Event: 3 day Bira ceremony in Chiriseri
Where: Dindinyongwe, Domboshawa, Zimbabwe
When: March 9-12 2006
We are inviting all respectful people who want to be a part of a Bira that will offer prayers to end the suffering that has plagued Zimbabwe for so long. The ceremony will be held from March 9th to March 12th.
20 different traditional groups and spirit mediums will be invited for three days of ceremony, prayer, and music. The ceremony will take place on the sacred mountain of Dindinyongwe in the Domboshawa region about 1 1/2 hours drive from Harare. People attending from overseas will be asked to contribute a donation towards food, accommodation, and musician fees.
This is not a tourist event but a common prayer between people.
The Ceremony will be hosted by Sekuru Mandere and Chris Berry.
Arrangements can be made for persons who wish to come early or to stay on for further study and or accommodations.
If you cannot be present for the ceremony, we ask that you send prayers our way during the time of the ceremony.
Thanks, Chris Berry
Continue reading for the government intervention in the local newspaper...
In response to the Bira ceremony, a state-run newspaper that is slanted towards an extreme anti-white position published the following article. Tour manager Matt Smith sent me the following note:
I just got off the phone with Michael Kang and he said certain insiders have called them to warn them that there have been death threats put out on their lives in Zimbabwe upon Chris's return. They are stopping for the night to reconsider their trip into Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, Chris will not be going to Zimbabwe; however, Michael may still continue with the trip to help with the Bira in any way possible.
They will be writing a response tonight, and I will forward that when it arrives in my inbox in the next few days.
I spent the day on the phone with the Zimbabwe embassy in Washington, D.C. Although most of the article is fictional spin created by the government, they absolutely see him as a political threat to their society.
This is the article from The Herald:
Controversial Bira Planned
By Entertainment Editor
In what could be a show of arrogance, the American Chris "Murehwa" Berry, the lead vocalist of the Zimbabwean music group Panjea, intends to hold a three-day Bira in Domboshava's Chiriseri area early next month.
The Bira (traditional ceremony of supplication to the ancestral spirits), according to information available, seeks to "offer prayers to end the suffering that has plagued Zimbabwe for so long."
The three-day event will be held in the sacred Dindinyongwe mountains between March 9th and 12th with 20 different traditional groups, spirit mediums, and a few American musicians invited. It is understood that a certain Sekuru Mandere, who is based at the Dindinyongwe Hills where the Berrys own property, will co-host the Bira.
Invited too are people from the Diaspora who would be asked to contribute towards food, accommodation, and musicians' fees.
Probably the only connection Berry has with Zimbabwe is his marriage to Rujeko Dumbutshena and his involvement with the group Panjea as a drummer, vocalist, and mbira player.
Berry, who came to Zimbabwe via Congo-Brazzaville and ended up learning how to play mbira, claims that he was the first Westerner to be accepted among the elderly mbira masters as one of their own.
"I played at a lot of ceremonies where people would become possessed," he claimed. Some of the old ancestors who came back spoke to me through these people: 'What are you doing here? There are lots of misguided people, lost and confused people in your country. They're killing each other there. It's time for you to take what you've learned and bring it to your own country because they need it more than we need it here. That's your job. You're the bridge maker.'"
He further claims that an edict was given to him by African ancestral spirits to make a difference by "launching a slew of new activities to convey his message of justice and peace."
"And so back on his native soil we find him today, preaching an uplifting transcontinental message of hope to contagious dance beats based in the Zimbabwean mbira and sacred Congolese ngoma drum rhythms," one website wrote about him.
Berry, who is fluent in Shona, was not very well known during his stay in the country. Government yesterday condemned Berry's move, especially his claim that the bira was meant for offering prayers to end the "suffering" in Zimbabwe.
"This should not be a surprise and it is not entirely new that a white man would try to use the African way of life to destroy Africans. Remember Bill McLeod used to do the same by claiming that he was possessed by Mbuya Nehanda," Cde George Charamba, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Publicity, said in reference to the late Rhodesian white man, who arrogated to himself the role of a seer and prophet "sent by the spirits to guide and heal the country."
Cde Charamba also said that the involvement of locals who are working with foreigners in parceling out and selling off Zimbabwean culture was worrying.
"Biras are our way of life, our being, our future, and once we surrender them to foreigners, we would have surrendered a critical aspect of what we are. This is an abuse of our culture."
One mbira player described Berry's intentions as "disrespectful."
"It is like a Zimbabwean going to Italy to organize a mass with some Italian disregarding the Roman Catholic head."
Research shows that Berry came to Africa when he was 18. After arriving in the Congo-Brazzaville, he took a ten-day boat trip up the Congo River until he got to a remote village where he stayed and "immersed himself in the culture and music" before coming to Harare.
Following his arrival in the capital, he found his way to legendary mbira master Monderek Muchena's home with whom he stayed and learned from for ten years.
Continue reading for the Chris Berry's response to The Herald article...
What follows is Chris Berry's response to The Herald article:
To: Cde George Charamba (Permanent secretary for the ministry of Information and publicity)
I wanted to clarify my position as I feel I have been misrepresented by the article that was written in The Herald last week.
Chris Berry by William Farrington
Aside from the fact that there are misrepresented facts in the article, there seems to be a misconception as to what Sekuru Mandere and my intentions were in planning this Bira.
We are in no way 'using the African way of life to destroy Africans,' and I am very disturbed by your reports of this being done in the past.
Instead, we are trying to promote understanding and unity as Mandere and I both feel this is part of the answer to world peace. In the past it was the missionaries who tried their best to destroy Zimbabwe's traditional belief systems. I, on the other hand, have done my best to educate people about the importance of traditional ceremonies and the immense importance they hold within African culture and society.
I also believe that it is time to come together and lay our prayers down next to each other regardless of race, color, or creed.
Mandere and I have been conducting these ceremonies for the past ten years, and only good things have come from them. There has been no stealing, demeaning, destroying, or disrespect of any sort. In fact, in this ceremony I was told to go and find the oil of a whale which could be used as a powerful medicine to heal many ailments by the traditional healers in Zimbabwe. It was used many centuries ago by my ancestors for healing purposes as well. I had found the oil and was bringing it back to present to the spirit mediums who had requested it. So in fact something was going to be given not taken.
I in no way believe I have any of the answers as to why things are the way they are, but I do have the right and the power to pray about making things better.
I apologize for any offense that has been taken by our planned Bira. Due to your concern, we have cancelled the function and will eagerly await your response.
Continue reading for Michael Kang's most recent installment...
Well, it's me again, sending out a greeting from high above Mozambique where we have just departed after an amazing couple of weeks of music and dance interspersed with a stay at one of the most chill places I have ever been (Praia Tofo). Where to begin?
After leaving the relatively safe haven of Capetown, I was excited to immerse myself in different surroundings. Upon arriving in Maputo, it became immediately apparent that Mozambique would be a completely different experience. The memories and aftermath of the civil war that had ended in 1992 was still a frequent topic of conversation during our stay. But for the most part, it was obvious that most people believed that things were only getting better for Mozambique. When the Portuguese were "evicted" from Maputo, they apparently left with some vindictive vigor, messing up the sewer systems and spoiling other infrastructure. However, it seems now that things are flowing quite nicely.
The relatively slow flow of my time in SA has definitely been kicked up a notch with the arrival of Chris and the film crew. The camera boys are intent on getting as much footage as possible of traditional music as well as the general "African experience," so off we went to chase our albino elephant. I was definitely hesitant about the proposed schedule of a week in Moz, then off to Uganda for a week, and then finishing with a Bira (traditional ceremonial musical/spiritual Shona gathering) on Chris's land outside Harare (Zim). Luckily, the laid-back vibe of Moz quickly tempered our original breakneck itinerary. After a couple of days of hanging out in Maputo and seeing our friends from the National Mozambique Dance Company who had all been in the US recently, we headed out of town to track down our first target, Vinancio from Zavala and his Timbila Orchestra. Now, even with cell phones and "modern" amenities, the economic reality of the average Mozambican is pretty Spartan. People are lucky to make $100 a month here.
For Vinancio, the reality of having 15 children (at age 72) may have prompted a little more necessity. After we arranged a meeting for him to gather his 28-piece Timbila (a marimba type instrument with gourd resonators) and dance troupe, we headed to Inhambane and Praia Tofo in search of potential. Once we got to this idyllic little beach town with an EPIC right point (never got it with good swell) and ridiculous scuba (manta rays and whale sharks galore), we knew that we were gonna be hard-pressed to leave anytime soon. However, we had arranged for there to be a party with a bunch of musicians and dancers in Maputo over the weekend, so we needed to get back for that as well as to see Vinancio's group.
Negotiating the appropriate fee for getting Vinancio's Timbila Orchestra to perform was quite a cultural exchange in itself. Since they were all communicating in Xhope and then being translated into Portuguese and then English, I am sure that some things got lost in translation. However, the presence of heaps of recording equipment, 4x4 rental truck, and four distinctly non-locals had the orchestra salivating over the prospect of "trickle-down economics" in its truest form. I'm pretty sure these guys needed my money more than someone like Mick Jagger.
The "show" was unlike anything I have seen before. The blend of six timbilas of different ranges, drummers, and various shakers all accompanying their traditional dance is kinda hard to describe. You'll just have to see the video or to go check it out when you make it to Zavala. When they started, the timbilas alone were quite, how shall I say, "robust," as the players pounded out interlocking melodies and counter melodies at breakneck speeds.
The dance, as was explained to us, is a modern expression of when their local tribes were preparing for battle with opposing forces. As it turns out, Paulo, the dance troupe leader, was a bad ass who commanded the respect of all the dancers partially because he was previously an officer in the military and had quite a reputation for having kicked some serious ass.
Luckily, he was pretty amicable and seemed to enjoy our company, especially when we went to the local store to stock up on beer, bread, and a couple chickens. Chris was dead set on finding some of the local moonshine, which they called "ton-ton-ton" (because of the sound that it makes when it drips out of the home-fashioned distiller). Chris is pretty classic in many ways, but the ensuing ton-ton-ton episode is one of the truly memorable moments of our trip. Even though the ttt didn't really seem to interest the palette of our new local friends, Chris happily guzzled from the bottle. That is, until he forgot to put the cap back on and it proceeded to spill in the car, making our 5-hour drive back to Maputo a full on fumigation that makes me gag whenever I think about it.
So back to Maputo, where we had arranged to see some other timbila groups like Timbila Muzimba. We drove into Jardim, a regular neighborhood in Maputo but fully Third World by Western standards, but it wasn't quite as desperate as some favelas I have seen from a distance in Rio. The most memorable part of this mission was the horde of kids that were absolutely captivated by the cameras. They went nuts!
Sooooo, the weekend was upon us, and we were throwing a party at the residence of the Mozambique National Dance Company, which was going to entail food, copious amounts of beer, timbila/djembe madness, and lots of dancing.
I can definitely say that I got to witness quite a few new dance moves that I hope to add to my repertoire. All in all, there was a pretty healthy cultural exchange that happened that night that reinforces my belief that music and dance really is the glue that can bind us all.
Anyways, I hope you get the general gist of our trip. Over the course of the next week, we all just got looser and looser with more surf, diving, playing, etc. We threw another rager in Tofo, at Dino's bar right on the beach with some of the same crew from Maputo as well as new friends from all around. Chris and I even got to test out some new songs for our upcoming tour together in May. There are some gems in the rough for sure.
So that brings us to the here and now, which has been an epic 48+ hours of having to free flow and let go of attachments to any plans. Originally, one of the main goals of this trip for all of us was for Chris to reconnect with friends in Zimbabwe, where he hasn't been back to since 2001. He had invited loads of traditional groups and spirit mediums to congregate on sacred land that had been passed onto him with the intention of hosting a Bira on his property. The prospect was truly exciting because the opportunity to be a part of this kind of intentional gathering was one of the reasons I was drawn to Africa in the first place. We had our tickets to Harare and were all set to go when Chris checks his email to find out that his email announcement of the Bira had provoked the ire and suspicion of Zimbabwe's Cultural Minister, who subsequently published a front page article condemning the Bira in The Herald (Mugabe's propaganda rag). They claim that the "parceling out" of Zimbabwe's cultural heritage at the hands of a white man is quite worrisome. The basic gist of the article was stating that Chris is basically the white devil and should be vilified.
Timbila ta Venancio in Mozambique
Needless to say, given the history of Mugabe's apparent intolerance for Chris and his ties with his wife Rujeko's family, we received the distinct message that it would not be safe for us to show up in Zimbabwe under this much of a spotlight. Many of you may not know this, but Zim is quite intense right now, with Mugabe forcefully taking people's land and bulldozing over neighborhoods of his opposition. There is also quite a severe gas shortage. Nonetheless, I am still trying to figure out a way to get there since it still is safe to travel there, and I will be quite anonymous alone.
Sooooo, after some hemming and hawing, we are on a plane headed to new unforeseen adventures in Uganda. It was either Tanzania (Dar es Salaam) or Entebbe, Uganda, and we actually sat and flipped a coin in a restaurant to see which place to go to. The coin said Dar es Salaam, but upon arriving at the airport in Maputo to take off and the subsequent announcement that we wouldn't be able to get on the flight (the only full flight the entire week!), we made the most spontaneous spur-of-the-moment airport decision I have ever been a part of. Next thing you know, we're off on the next flight to Entebbe. This is where I will leave you all, to wonder what the hell is gonna happen next.
Stay tuned ya'll!
Continue reading for Part I of Bridging The Gap...
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BRIDGING THE GAP - PART I
You likely know Michael Kang as the multi-instrumentalist for the wildly successful String Cheese Incident. And you may have heard of Chris Berry and his band Panjea. Born in LA, Chris learned to drum under the tutelage of Titos Sompa, who eventually took Chris to the Congo to learn traditional rhythms. At age 20, Chris chased a dream (literally: he had a recurring dream of a woman from Zimbabwe singing and playing the mbira, calling for him to come) that brought him to Zimbabwe. Chris went in search of master mbira players, which led him to Monderek Muchena. After studying for a year, Chris was able to perform at ceremonies and became one of the first Westerners to be accepted among the elder mbira masters as one of their own.
Michael Kang 12.31.05
By Swell Hatcher
Chris didn't just go to Africa to learn, he went to live. Like the other mbira students, Chris lived in the ghettos of Zimbabwe where he formed a band with local musicians called Panjea. The group recorded an album that soared to #1 and sold over a million copies, but due to widespread corruption, Chris never saw a dime.
After marrying a native Zimbabwean, Chris had made a life for himself in Africa. Returning to America was not the plan, but life doesn't always follow our plans. At a traditional ceremony, an ancestor took Chris aside and told him that his work in Africa was done, that he needed to go back to his own country and share his music and his message with his own people. Chris and his wife soon relocated to New Mexico where he would re-form Panjea. The band took off, eventually performing for crowds of more than 40,000 in Australia and even being featured on the main stage of the 2000 Olympics.
Chris has already done a remarkable job of bringing different cultures together through music. His goal is to continue bridging this gap and to create music that will allow people of all walks of life to dance, feel good, and to empower them with the knowledge that we can all make a difference.
This is where Michael Kang comes into the picture. After having Chris Berry open a string of shows for String Cheese, Michael and Chris developed a strong bond, both personally and musically. Kang says, "Chris Berry picked up where Paul Simon left off. Chris's music glides across all racial and ethnic lines, making everyone feel at home within the music. The conscious lyrics are a road map for humanity, and Chris is one of the few people able to carry this message to a wide audience."
This connection, along with Kang's love of African music and both artists' socially responsible ethos, has led to a very interesting project. As you are reading this, Chris and Michael have already met up in South Africa and are beginning what can only be considered, "the journey of a lifetime."
As Michael says himself over email:
I am traveling to various countries in Africa with Chris Berry from the band Panjea with the intentions of building musical and cultural bridges with a strong emphasis on co-creating some positive social programs with music as the catalyst. In essence, we will be traveling and recording in the field with various different performers in many different remote locations. Our hope is to record and write music to bring awareness to Chris's multiple philanthropic projects in Zimbabwe, where he is a celebrated artist and performer. Our intention is to record many different musicians in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and possibly the Congo and Mali. We will then use these tracks either as guide tracks or samples in an undetermined future project that will hopefully bring about more awareness of African musical traditions as well as Chris's various social projects in Africa.
While the itinerary is in flux and much of it will be developed on the fly, they are set to start in Ghana, then move to Mozambique, and eventually to Zimbabwe where Chris and Michael will host a four-day ceremony that will include more than twenty tribes. They will slaughter two cows (a very big deal for Africans), play music, and dance for four days. This will all take place on a sacred mountain "given" to Chris by the Shona people of Zimbabwe. As far as anyone knows, this will be the first ceremony of its kind.
Chris and Michael have already embarked upon this once-in-a-lifetime journey that will take the two of them through Africa playing with some of the world's greatest African musicians while recording this trip in both audio and visual formats. Chris has lived in Africa for many years perfecting his trade, and he will now take Michael into that world to meet the critical African players.
Upon returning home in late April, Michael will then join Chris and his band on the road for a tour through major markets. This will be one of several chapters the two of them will write together throughout the next few years.
JamBase is in the fortunate position to receive updates from Michael and Chris as their journey unfolds. We plan to feature emails and photos from their trip, while also asking questions and digging for meaning, helping to bridge that gap between America and Africa and between music and consciousness.
What follows is a direct email from Michael Kang. Be sure to stay tuned to JamBase as we'll be updating this ever-evolving story over the next month.
Continue reading for the first installment from Michael Kang...
From Michael Kang:
Calling all freaks, poets, musicians, dancers and artists far and wide - this means you! Greetings from Capetown where the days are long and comfortably warm, and the water is cccccccoold! Here at the tip of the African continent, the waters of the Indian Ocean mix with the Atlantic and diverse cultures try to make sense of how we are all supposed to get along while we are engaged in this great human "race." Having never stepped onto South African soil, I wondered how it would all be now that the grip of Apartheid has been legally loosened some decade or so ago. Well, in some ways it's not so different than all the race issues we face in the US, except that the have-nots seemingly have very little here. The coloured people comprise more than 80% of the population, yet most are economically confined to living in townships where the government is working at providing more services even though the task of achieving equality seems a rather distant pipedream. The big difference here is that the leaders seem to really want to address the imbalance of wealth.
I have been staying at the house of someone I met at the beach the second day I was here. I had been enquiring as to the availability of bio-diesel in a few random conversations with people that I had met who happened to work in the oil industry. Lo and behold, I get into a post-surf conversation with this guy Eugene, and he happens to be a bio-diesel manufacturer and his wife is an environmental scientist with two kids going to a Waldorf school. They have taken me into their home in Kalk Bay, a little artists' town on the False Bay side of the Cape. It really has started to feel like I have lived here for years. In fact, Capetown is known throughout South Africa as the "chill zone," and the pace definitely reflects that. My days are mostly filled with a morning cup of tea and then I'm off to check the surf at one of 50 or so surf breaks that are within an hour's drive from here. The first day I arrived, I looked at the crystal-clear turquoise water in anticipation of a refreshing dip in the Atlantic Ocean. It was 30 degrees Celsius in the air but a whole different story in the water. In the summer, howling SE winds cause upwelling on the Atlantic side, dropping the water temps to around ten degrees. In other words, fucking freezing - the type of freezing where your hands and feet go numb in about 20 minutes. Needless to say, it has been full booties and hood since that first brutal introduction. As for the quality of surf, I would have to say that Capetown has the highest quality/variety of waves of any place I have ever been. I definitely plan on coming back to SA for the surf alone.
Surfing in Capetown :: Photo by Michael Kang
In a few days, I will be launching into the true reason for my trip to Africa: an in-depth exploration of Mozambique and Zimbabwe with my friend Chris Berry from the band Panjea. We will be seeking out whatever musical gems are on offer in some more remote locations and recording locals with the intention of writing songs with them and more or less immersing ourselves into some of the musical traditions. Although Capetown has some amazing musicians, there isn't as much of a traditional music scene, although a lot of the music I have heard is infused with a variety of different distinctly African flavors. I definitely have some new music for you all to listen to when I get back.
Baboon in Capetown :: Photo by M. Kang
The last thing I have to share with y'all is that I highly suggest all of you leave the Unites States at some time soon to remove yourself from the "psychic net" our government has craftily woven over our psyches. I imagine that I am preaching to the converted, but when you get away to see other parts of the world, it becomes painfully obvious how insane our way of life is in the US. Even though most people will take you at face value when they meet you, it's obvious that the whole world is watching us in disbelief and amazement at the seeming apathy that has stricken our society. The concept of not voting is pretty foreign to most South Africans. I try to persuade the people I meet that there is a silent revolution happening in the States that is gaining strength, but the more I say it, the more I realize that it's time for all of us to really stand up for what we believe in and manifest change. I know that many of us are doing exactly that, and I just want to let you all know that I will be here to help in any way I am able.
Sending love from the tip of the landmass that birthed us all.
Check out Kang with SCI performing "Sometimes a River" from last year's Wakarusa Festival.
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