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One afternoon in Nairobi I met a Rwandan man at Pawa 254 called Brian Gisa. It was to prove one of those chance meeting that would change the course of Journeys #2 – not only in terms of adventures lived, but in returning something to me I had left in Uganda 13 years ago.

Gisa is a self confessed Rasta and for whatever reason we discovered in each other a meeting of minds. Maybe that is a convoluted way of saying that we just got on. He is vegetarian. I am not. He smokes weed. I no longer do. He loves music. So do I. We are from different worlds, different beliefs, but somewhere beyond that is a meeting of spirits. It is something I have discovered more and more on my journeys – that a difference in beliefs is in no way indicative of a difference of spirit.

I think in that I find the biggest failure and misguidance of religious extremism. There is nothing more beautiful than difference in this world, and God forbid that we are all ever the same or believe the same thing. What a sad version of the world would be; indeed, one where nature itself has ceased to exist. It reminds me of an interview I conducted in 2006 with John Gray in which he talked about human beings soon entering an age of solitude due to mass extinction.

Anyway, I soon discovered that Gisa has lived for many years in Uganda and is deeply involved in the Arts in Kampala, and indeed across East Africa.

I told him of my adventures so far on the continent, and also about how deep my time in Uganda back in 2003 effected me. Back then I worked for a summer past Fort Portal near the Congolese border. It was a summer teaching, building conservation works, digging wells – and one grave – and incredibly shaping in the formation of a young mans consciousness. I always dreamed of coming back to Uganda, and the more I spoke with Gisa, the more we jammed on certain ideas, and discussed different possibilities, the more I realized that I had no only to delay my ticket home to Berlin, but that I had to follow the road to Kampala.

I arrived deep into the night and was collected by Gisa and his dear friend Bruno Ruganzu who won the Ted Prize for Uganda recently. That’s Bruno in the middle and me leaning on his wheels!

I hit it off with Bruno and the 3 or us have been something of the 3 Muskateers. They have been tremendous hosts, and its been special to spend time with Bruno before he relocates to Canada after special invitation to Bill Gates’s Hero Program. Speaking of heroes, one of the first introduction they made was to a special human being called Charles Obina.

Charles was abducted as an 8 year old by rebel forces and forced into becoming a child soldier. I discussed with him his history, and choked up at the murder of his parents and family. One of the most powerful things about speaking to Charles is his honesty – his ability to look you in the eye – deep endless eyes – and to tell you with clarity and humility of what he has had to do in his life. As a child. I think of my own journey as a human being, how deep certain scars are, how difficult to address, to dig up, to engage with, to transform – and I marvel – yes marvel, at the power of spirit in Charles Obina. Moreover, in a world where music seems to have become a pastime and a background life choice to many people, Charles represents for me personally many of the things I believe about the potential and inherent power of music. First and foremost, he discovered music young, and after escaping from the rebel forces – and discovering about the death of his whole family – he turned to music. It offered, in a world where redemption is too often a biblical tale, a gateway to redemption.

Charles and I connected and quickly realized that we had to play together. We started jamming and Gisa turned up, heard it, and decided he had to make a concert happen. Using his network of connections above ground and underground, he set up a performance for Charles and I and the very next day we found ourselves performing at the National Theatre, and after some songs joined by a pipe pumping howling wind blowing lunatic of a man with a trumpet and desperate wild eyes. The show was a joy, and it seemed the whole of the Rastifarian community in Kampala turned out. Eventually things turned into a free form Reggae night and the evening was spent skanking to poetry and hip hop and singing in many languages.

I feel within the flush of life in Kampala. I am living on the outskirts of town and by day take a Bodaboda motorcycle into the city, and have twice seen horrendous accidents right next or behind me. I wonder in those moments if I am rolling too hard and life is trying to catch up with me, or if I am at a tempo which life keeps me acrest on its wave. All I know is that at present there is little time for second thought, and that I must trust spontaneity and embrace the path which lays itself out before me.

Finally a few things I am looking forward to:

1) This Friday I play a show at The Goethe Institute in Kampala, so looking forward to this! Thank you Carol, Ken and Gisa for setting it up!

2) Shooting a music video tomorrow for Charles Obina

3) Eating my favorite rolled eggs tonight where my digs are in Bukoto market.

Thank you Kampala!

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Today is Sunday in Nairobi. For the first time since I arrived the sky is over cast, the rain has fallen and the air is pregnant with the scent of Petrichor; the deep musty smell of smoke released from the hot red African earth. I am staying with my old friend who runs the office of the French news agency AFP news. I´ve bonded with his dog Zanzi, who he found abandoned on the streets of Juba, barely bigger than his palm, after her mother died shortly after birth. Sat by the experienced stringer and his street dog, I feel a sense of home, and after 5 shows in quick succession in Nairobi, and 6 weeks on the road, I am grateful to stop.

The opportunity to stop never came while I traveled in China, and its made me remember how important it is to factor rest into your travels. The trouble is that usually there is the next gig to get to, as well as the financial reality that your accommodation is only looked after for the quantity of shows you play. Keep on is the mantra.

It´s been a buzzing week, and I´m glad both for the experiences, and the opportunity to notice my tiredness. I was meant to be going home tomorrow, but some shows and opportunities have come up in Uganda, and it felt the right call for “Journeys 2” to follow the road, and let it lead where it wants to go.

Nairobi has revealed something of is characteristics and quirky qualities during my time here. But that said, a little like my experience in Dar Es Salaam, it has been hard to get a handle on – while simultaneously being inherently fascinating.

Nairobi is dangerous, to the point where many call it “Nairobbery”. Everywhere you turn someone has a story of being robbed, and more often than not at gun point. On the way to play at Choices on Thursday night, I was stuck in traffic for hours and called Rashid the promoter. I said that I was thinking about jumping out and going on foot for the half an hour to walk. I was aware of the dangers, but I´ve also never missed or cancelled a gig under any circumstance. He said in no uncertain terms that I was not to do it. I arrived a few minutes before the set was due to start, plugged in and played.

On another occasion I met an ninety year old gentleman called Irving who had been hijacked the year before. A spirited fellow, he had kicked his assailant in the balls before the second robber knocked him down with his gun.

The reality of the dangers means that there is a strong sense of division in the city. There are gates everywhere, barbed wire fences, security guards and checks. I played one show at Tamambo Village market and it felt like playing inside a fortress, or at least inside the departure area after you have gone through airport security. The venue was essentially a restaurant, I was well looked after, and enjoyed getting to know Jan (the owner) and his band.

It has been the type of show that has been integral to making Journeys 2 work financially, but also the type of show which felt somehow distant from the sense of cultural exchange inherent to the idea behind Journeys. But equally, one wants to fix some type of ideal on to what one does, to make everything work in terms of the vision of what you are trying to do. But life has other plans, and the reality that all these things “outside” your vision, are just as integral to what you are doing – after all you are not traveling in search of a fixed experience, but to experience experience itself. That is one has to be open. And as soon as I had “opened up” to the experience available I started to have a lot of fun, especially jamming with “Danger” who is one of Kenya´s premiere bass players, and Harman, an old guitarist of precocious talent and feel.

The show at PAWA 254 on the other hand was the very embodiment of what I had hoped to discover when setting out. It is an arts community, but somehow transcends this due to its organization, structure, energy and the presence of Boniface Mwangi who is one of Kenya´s most famous activist artists and photographers. Boniface has one several international awards for his photography, and especially his courage in being at the centre of events when the shit goes down – like during the elections in 2008. I´ve spent several days at PAWA 254, interviewing some of the members for the East Africa documentary, or talking a little of Tacheles and my experience there, which many of them are curious about.

One of the most special gigs of the tour, we had over 300 people come along, and it was just a wonderful night, and I felt proud to both be a part of it and also because it was the first music event of its kind there. I must also mention the fellow musician I played with, Winyo, who is one of the great musicians I have played with, but also a man of great power and humility, and a with high pitched laugh which is continually accessed and brings alight the surroundings with is echo.

The show at the Goethe Institute was a special one for me both because of the link to back home in Berlin where I live, but also because on a deeper level, it cemented my connection with German culture. After arriving as a pretty lost and deranged feeling young man back in 2007, it felt like an acceptance into one of its most powerful institutions, which is itself the embodiment of how German culture is expressed worldwide. The gig was was lovely, and the showing of around 60 people could have been stronger if not for the exodus of many music lovers to Sauti Za Basara in Zanzibar for the biggest festival in East Africa. I’d also like to extend my special thanks to Maia Von Lekow who I performed with, please do check out this special woman’s music. Apart from being a fabulous musician, Maia has also opened up many doors for me along the East Africa touring route and all before we had even met. It’s pretty humbling to experience so much as a stranger – thank you Maia!

A highlight of a different nature was the book swap party at Creative Garage. What was special for me was that its intimacy was combined with a genuine insight, discussion and open conversation about art, politics, books, life and art in Kenya – and indeed the wider world. It was special to sit and listen, to contribute and to see how ideas and insight connects across borders and culture. Having wrestled a little with the gated nature of Nairobi life, it was just special to be sitting with a local audience, to be invited and accepted, and to have a lot of fun. Though we set up a P.A there was a mood to abandon it, so I sang the songs entirely unplugged. The highlight for me was the crowds insistence to translate the chorus of “Tell Me Where to Begin”, in real time, into Swahili, and to sing along. That was one of favorite and most special Journeys moments so far.

I have now a few days to rest. I am a little under the weather, I guess the road is catching up with me. I have more to arrange in Uganda, but it may well be a case of just getting there and seeing what happens, we´ll see.

I have enjoyed my time so far in Nairobi greatly, and for my small part, and grateful for the way that music has broken down some of the gates, and allowed me to witness what its people think behind it, how they dance, to witness and listen what they think about, and to hear some of my songs sung allowed by beautiful kind people in Swahili…..for the the record Petrichor is the combination of two Greek words, meaning something created by the mix of stone and the fluid of the Gods….alchemy…..a metaphor to me of music and the capacity of culture to break down gated communities and bring people of different worlds together….

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I wrote a little in my previous post about some of the challenges of managing one´s mind, especially within extreme experience, and the solitariness of solo travel.

Having been through something of a mental wrestle in Dar Es Salaam, I suddenly found myself with a gap in my diary and decided to use it to get a change of scenery. Something I´ve learnt over the last years, is that it is important to allow yourself to get stuck sometimes. But equally, sometimes you have to challenge the space you find yourself in. It´s usually through doing something unknown after all, that you learn a little more about your capacity for self reliance and broaden your understanding of both yourself and the world.

I had heard of a musician who greatly intrigued me living in Bagamoyo called Msafiri Zwose. I had read that he was one of East Africa´s great musicians and decided to try to track him down. Contact was made through Msafiri´s manager and with great kindness an invitation followed, not only to visit Msafiri at his house, but also an evening jam was set up.

I was excited, but also tentative of leaving my surroundings in Dar, which had begun to feel like home. I guess its one of those things, that when you don´t feel completely in control of your mind, you grasp on to familiar things.

My guitar and I had a heart wrenching journey to the bus station in a local “Bajaj” which is motorcycle converted to accommodate passengers. The Bajaj frequently driven by if not kids, then very young men. Like most lads of this age, there is a sense of immortality, or boldness, or dam well devil may care attitude, and the journey was taken half on the wrong side of the road and half swerving just in front of or behind huge trucks who take little heed of these little ant motorcycles on the road.

The advantage of the Bajaj is that it is about half the price of a taxi, dodges the unbelievable congestion of rush hour Dar Es Salaam, and is tremendous fun to boot.

Adventures were just beginning though, and I arrived just in time to be the last passenger on a Dala-dala mini bus heading for Bagamoyo. My neighbour had terrible breath, was of a talkative nature and very entertained by having the company of not just a Mzungu, but a guitar too.

The drive was a couple of hours north and unlike my terrifying experiences as a younger man in Uganda, the driver felt in great control.

In Bagamoyo I stayed at a lovely little lodge called “Funky Squids” which is run by a beautiful lady from Berundi, Arlette, and her husband Sylvain. It was with great sadness that I had to turn down the invitation to play because of my other commitments, but its a great spot which I recommend to anyone – and safe to say, still a secret.

The gig in the evening was was special, not because of the vastness of the crowd – it was a Sunday night – but because everyone there seemed to be a musician. At the end of my set I was joined by players with all types of instruments – from Zezé´s, to Ngomas, bongos to guitars, local “flut“´s to Ndono´s – for a joyously scatter gun version of Kaleidoscopes Collide.

The concert lasted deep into the night, I slept exhausted but content, and then was collected by Msafiri in the morning, who drove me to his house.

I did not know what to suspect. According to Msafiri, Bagamoyo is over a million people, but it is unlike any city I have ever been to. In reality it is a vast village – all dust roads, huts of mud and corrugated iron, ladies wearing beautifully colored and freshly washed local attire, more motorcycles than cars, sleeping dogs, kids playing with sticks, or old tires or just plain chasing little chicks. Completely enchanting, and with trees at ever turn – a city that is as much nature as a city, like some type of utopian co-existence.

Msafiri parked the car and i noticed in the tree in the courtyard (surrounded by well designed, sturdy huts) a fearsome spider´s web with 5 of the hugest spiders – no exaggeration – I have ever seen. Msafiri chuckled when I asked him why he was happy to co-exist with spiders, and he chuckled, telling me they had been there for years and were “part of the family”. Apart from that – he makes his own instruments – and sometimes the spiders are put inside the Kalabash (an organic drum) to eat the insects while it dries.

What ensued was really one of the most special personal and musical experiences of my life. Msafiri´s house isn´t a house, it´s a reflection of a very old African way of living. It is a society of huts, shacks, stye´s, housings, cow-pens, wild trees, farmed land, a music studio and a cemetery for relatives. Between 50-70 family and relatives live in the compound, and each is designated a different area of speciality as part of their contribution. Some of them are fisherman and go out to see on the small vessels to catch the day´s catch for the family. Others are in charge of the livestock. Others in charge of the chickens, keeping the buildings maintained, tending to the farm, collecting vegetables, milking the cows, cooking, instrument building; every task required to run a mini-ecosystem.

I´ve seen a fair few “communes” in my time, but I have never seen one that was actually a living entity that was not “created” but evolved, from the earth up.

Msafiri was very kind and encouraged my interest and enthusiasm. We discussed how one man´s dream is to aspire to a more Western man´s life, while that Western man is simultaneously dreaming of an ecological life. Each is probably unaware of some of the challenges that the other life offers – whether the nucleated living of Western life and its scattered families, or the fear of a drought or a bad harvest which haunts the man of the land.

But most of all, we just enjoyed each others company – two musicians from different worlds, connecting and sharing tales and thoughts.

One thing I noticed as I walked around the sizable compound was how at peace I suddenly found myself. Becoming aware of this – and especially after a few wobbly days in Dar – gave me a sense of well being. I knew that the peace I felt is as a deep a part of me as the wild states of mind I am also prone too – and I felt a sense of deep gratitude to be able to remember this state so soon after my recent low.

It reminded me of the need to keep a sense of the broader reality of one´s life when one is going through a grim patch. In the words of Ben Okri in “A Time for New Dreams”

“It is in difficult times that the great times ahead are dreamt and built, brick b brick, with maturity and the hope that comes from wise action”

From the compound I was invited by Msafiri to watch his band rehearsal.

The room is a hut with with brick walls, bare and imprinted with the gentle sandy hues of time and the sun dried sweat and steam of hours upon hours of musicians sweat. Unlike where I rehearse, there´s no need for soundproofing, no need to lock the door, no need to go underground and isolate yourself from the world. And unlike where I rehearse, it doesn´t sound like a rehearsal. It is formidable, intense, focused, tribal, ancient, instruments, all hand made, and which I have never heard of, droning and toning and compiling rhythm upon rhythm upon one another, texture upon texture, mood upon mood. Upendo the well set female of the group grabs a bongo, places it between her legs and starts shaking, even screaming, pulling rhythms out I don´t even know how to name or describe – but that is besides the point – she has become rhythm herself, as if the deep seat of the earth has opened up and some type of mother spirit, but no, younger and older at the same time, has revealed herself – she is not even her “self” but something other entirely. I am transfixed, ignited and forgetful of myself and just feel part of this rhythm that is older than time, or rather perhaps the very thing that composes time itself. Msafiri is the band leader and the music stems from him, orchestrator, guide and originator, but inclusive rather than dominant, the point at which things begin, continue and then rest.

This is Gogo music, the music of central Tanzania, music I have never heard, the music I have begun Journeys to try to find, witness, experience. And more over I have found it out of the context of my own personal battles. I feel affirmed by the search. The isolation I had felt in Dar – not due to Dar, but my own context – is given shape meaning, radicalized, transformed.

We step into the unknown because it has the power to transform us, because we know we are not complete until the world has tested our reaction to adversity or the challenges it throws up. There is something called discovery and it is something we must never lose, never let slip, give away cheaply. Most of all it is not about discovering things on the outside, though that can be wonderful too. It is about our discovery of ourselves and knowing that if we are willing, new potential is available, new worlds can be found, a deeper self discovered.

Msafiri Zawose is one of the great musicians of East Africa. I don´t know these musicians, I don´t know this music. I know little of its culture or its history. But I say it with absolute authority. Because I know greatness when I see it. I know the highest levels of talent. And when it is married the capacity to allow a stranger into one´s house, then greatness becomes something holy.

In many ways we don´t know the importance of what we give – that it is why it is so wonderful to give. My trip to meet Msafiri Zawose was a re-education into the importance of stepping into the unknown. When you feel unsure, dive in anyway. You can never be sure what life has in store, what helpers or angles await…..or what dam great music for that matter.

——-

Special thanks to Msafiri and his family, to Tim and Hannah for setting up and to Arlette and Sylvain for the hospitality.

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It´s been a mad hatter couple of days in Arusha. First of all not knowing that I was coming here, then getting the invitation to play at The Blue Herron, arriving and then life just taking over somehow.

Everything has passed in such a mad dash. It´s reminded me a little of Journeys #1 in China, when one moment you would be playing deep into the night in Jianghu Bar & next moment a top the Great Wall & the next arriving unslept disorientated in Chongqing and its skyline of dystopian skyscrapers.

Since arriving I met old Blues man Jeffrey and his wonderful partner Martina how have given me housing and a moments recovery at Blues and Chutney. Then a chance meeting with Corina and finding myself out in the bush on Safari. Again a chance meeting with Anne and Josephine and today at playing songs for the kids at St Josephs orphanage, an indescribably beautiful and humbling experience I will write more of.

Then tonight playing at The Blue Heron and it was a warm and attentive audience and a surprise to see people coming out on a Monday night. Special thanks to Beate and Michel for hosting the show.

I´m not one for mentioning everything that happens, i´m after the underlying experiences. But its a little whirlwind at the moment and all I can do is keep up.

There was a lovely younger crowd at the gig tonight too, and it was great to get a sense of some of the local people and what they do. Chris – a bear of a man who ventures deep into the bush to camp, at one with the predators and safe with them as they know each others place in the order of things, Jo who arrived at 19 and has set up a life taking people on horseback into the wild, Martina, a Swedish lady in exile from Berghain and making a new life, and Eddie a young industrialist, building machines despite the torments he knows success may bring here.

Okay, for me, I guess to sleep. I noticed I have a show in Dar Es Salaam tomorrow, so I must catch an early flight and arrive in a new city and tackle its unfamiliar transport system to an address I´m as yet unsure of. We´ll see what the morrow brings. Onwards.

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