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UPDATE 3:

A few more images from the evolving session / blog post! Just a brief catch up for now, and then there will be a final update next week on Tuesday.

We’ve had a great week in the studio and the first 4 songs we have put down towards Journeys #3 are called:

1. Where the Lovers Go
2. The Great Divide
3. Lets Do This Thing Called Life
4. Red Petrochia Scent

The session has been a very organic one. The second session has always been planned for September. Unlike the first 2 EP’s we are not recording this “in the one session”.

I’ve decided on a different strategy partly out of the fact that I just don’t feel in a rush (in myself), but also on a practical level, Journeys #2 is not released for another month, so there is no pressure.

That said i find it really hard to leave songs unfinished! But the energy built up is quite interesting because it feeds back into the writing. I have a lot written now, and ongoing, and I simply have no idea what songs will end up as the final two tracks on Journeys 3. We’ll see!

However, the planning for the traveling side is now developing in its early stages. A huge amount to do. One clue – going East not West!

It’s been a long week and then finished off with continuing my film work. It’s been a busy month on that side too, shooting the Live DVD for Hamburg, a commercial job for Paypal, the video for the first single for local musician Ben Barritt and now into a series of video’s for Universal’s Elias. Great to have the work, busy times. Making it happen, rolling on. At some stage I’ll will write a blog on the challenge of juggling one’s time – let me know your thoughts on the subject!

Here’s a very low light portrait taken of Elias during the shooting on the Sony A7s – the only photo taken as we were bustling away all evening on the video side!

UPDATE 2:

Just checking in from the studio. Things are rolling very well. There is a dance between money and time – something all independent artists understand. But there is a lot of experience in the studio, with both the musicians and the magically positive energy of Chris Van Niekirk who is producing. Here is a little video clip to give you a sense of the music and vibe. It’s a song called “Where the Lovers Go” – its really a little poem set to music. It is about the idea that “culture shock” is something you don’t experience when you go somewhere – but something you experience when you arrive back home. Something I feel quite deeply when I come back from my journeys expeditions. Anyway – a long way to go – but wanted to give you a sense of how things are developing.

UPDATE 1:

The EP is being produced by dear friend Chris Van Niekirk

Dan had a monster day yesterday on the drums. The joy for me is to play with these guys, and the simple truth is that I could not be as ambitious in the Journeys project with out them. Simply put, the playing is off such a high level & the chemistry so strong, that we can roll fast once we get into the studio. It’s not about the amount of time we are in the studio, but the energy within the time.

We are tracking the basic tracks live as usual. It’s a small but wonderful studio this time. The project is not flush with cash, so we are squeezing up, but none the less we are capturing the feeling of liveness which is at the heart of the Journeys music.

One of the most talented individuals I know, Austria’s Herr Dietrich – graphic designer, fixer, experimental jazz guru and most importantly, local hefeweizen drinking partner

You always feel confident rolling with this man, my anchor, rock and old friend Ben Barritt. Ben has just finished his own solo record -very exciting and sounding great. We are doing a lot of creative exchange at the moment, and I shot the first music video for his new record last week:

I’m really proud of the songs on this EP. It’s just exciting to be in a “continual cycle” of recording and released. It feels like I have finally broken down the strict lines between the writing and recording part of the process and the release and promotion. I like things to be ongoing and continual, and finally I feel in the artistic space I have been pursuing for, I guess 13 years

As we play the songs there is a little glowing globe next to me…I’m picturing how the music will find its way into the world, and what visual identity this will give the songs.

Finally – thank you Lucas for some of these shots. If anyone has any questions about the songs, process or releas plans, please feel free to comment below! Right – back to work – a big day ahead! x Jim

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“I found myself playing at the Modern Sky festival because I was independent. Because I was desperate and full of fucking dream. And because of a 1000 nights waking in the ‘wrong’ places, following every lost lead to every place painted in the colours of dead end and nowhere”

NBHAP #1

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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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Dar Es Salaam slowly unfurls itself. It has been for me so far a city of extremes – of the buzz and energy of the gigs, and some extreme bouts of loneliness.

One of the characteristics of Journeys is how to find balance within the twin extremes of the experience.

On the one hand there is the intensity and busyness. Travel requires energy and alertness. Self reliance requires a heightening of the senses. Doing the documentary work requires an eager eye and an intuition of the rhythms of a culture. Stepping on people´s sensitivities is not something Journeys is about – but equally the reinterpretation of a place through the vista of one individual´s mind is something it is about. So there is a weighing of how to conduct one´s self, say, if you are shooting in a predominantly Islamic City like Stone Town.

There are many people met along the way – sometimes strangers, sometimes hosts, sometimes guides, and sometimes someone just hustling you. It has been a privilege of my life to witness how people are curious about musicians – and sometimes this shatters one´s aloneness beautifully and sometimes it invades your needed moments of inner exile.

Another quality which is high in energy demand is the fact that the gigging terrain is very uncertain when playing somewhere in East Africa or China. First of all you never know what the venue is going to be like before you arrive. Yesterday there were serious power cuts in Dar Es Salaam and my host at Makuti, Mzungu Kichaa spent the day hunting a generator and patching up problems so we could all perform. Where as at another show there won´t be a P.A and you will strain your voice over tourists with little conception of the etiquettes of a concert. Or at another, like last night, you will arrive to a venue buzzing and dancing to a fantastic full band with a local singer giving Whitney Houston a run for her money, and then navigate entering the stage as an acoustic artist while simultaneously the Manchester United game starts in the background. Funnily enough – i enjoy all of these experiences – they provide the soul stuff of Journeys.

But then there is the other side. You get exhausted from the travel, the meeting people, the shows, drinking not a lot, but enough to accrue in your system.

The buzzy-ness of the one side of experience is suddenly met by its opposite. Extreme isolation, a mind unprepared to suddenly meet with negotiating itself. The subconscious is a busy place and is always revealing itself to us – sometimes through feelings of well being and flow. And at other times in revealing its amorphous content through its confusing imagery, dumped suddenly and randomly and without an apparent identifying characteristic. What is it bloody saying?!

I often find that my subconscious is suddenly awakened once I get back into isolation. Sometimes there is a simple of joy of having a day off – such as the day I enjoyed in Arusha. But other times, you spend a day in a hotel room on a foreign continent and you have to simply face what is coming up. Those demons who announce themselves and are not as polite as vampires – who at least have the courtesy of requiring an invitation before entering your house.

I had such a day the day before yesterday which inspired my article 10 Approaches to Depression

It was a day during which I felt like Harry Haller, the central character in Hermann Hesse´s Steppenwolf. Or even more so like Hesse himself, who wrote the book in great aloneness after being estranged from his second wife, wrestling with illness, drinking to much in the evening and living an isolated life in a rented flat in Zurich. For an interesting article on Hesse please check the link.

Anyway I will write more about these wrestlings at a later date. For now, it is helpful for me to express and write about my internal journey. For me, again, the concept of Journeys is not about travel, but about the exploration of how one´s mind, one´s creativity and one´s life is effected and shaped by the ongoing march of reality – in all its shapes, forms, and dimensions. Again, to use Hesse´s words:

“There is no reality except the one contained within us. That is why so many people live such an unreal life. They take the images outside of them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself.” Hermann Hesse

For now, I am back in my Harry Haller space – writing after the adventure of a long and eventful evening. I played two shows in Dar last night – at Makuti and Q-Bar. It´s amazing how different 2 shows can be in the space of a few hours – but equally enjoyable in 2 very different ways.

Makuti was a very attentive, seated audience and the other musicians quite simply mind blowingly good. I greatly enjoyed seeing Mzungu Kichaa play. We had met while jamming on stage in Zanzibar and I quickly became aware of what a monster talent I was playing next to. Apart from that he is a man of great generosity and humility – one of those people that gives you great faith to know roams the planet.

The second show was at Q-Bar – filled with mania, buzz, dancing, drinking, howling, shrieking and characters from the underworld. It was a lot of fun.

Finally – a final word on extremity. My whole life i have wrestled with the extremes of life, and more so of mind. For whatever – probably foolish – reason, I chose a life which does not often provide me with the very thing that on some level I yearn for – stability. However, I have found one thing. I have found that by continually saying yes to the extremes of life – yes to the adventure, yes when I feel afraid, yes when I don´t feel like doing something – that life has created in some way, its own balance in me. It is not one I fully understand. But I knew right back since school days that I had an unpredictable mind, that at times I felt deeply afraid of. The idea of an office job terrified me – not because of boredom – but because I feared that other people would witness at too close a hand the insanity I felt. And with having mental illness in the family on both my mother and father´s side, I greatly feared being sectioned. This is something historic for me now – through the choices I have made, I feel a distance to these old, and extreme fears. But what has led to this evolution has been a willingness to say yes to life. And if there is one thing I would say when you feel in a deep hole, or an uncertain space. Say yes none the less. Your feet will lead you to the next place and space – if you let them.

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