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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