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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