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It is a wonderful little cinema. Last week we had a test screening, and I was knocked out at how great the cinema is technically – wonderful screen quality and surround sound. It is also a little symbol for me of the the best qualities of Berlin – bringing the professionalism and comfort of commercial cinema, but to the intimacy and locality of the neighbourhood.

For me personally, it is an important milestone – both in terms of the Journeys project, and in my own personal journey itself.

Everyone who knows me, knows that it was a tough period after losing the EMI deal. Once again, life has shown me that renewal is something gradual, and transformation something that you cannot rush.

The most important things for me professionally during this period has been to safe guard the continuation of my career. Up until my record deal, my solo career had a sense of momentum and trajectory which I had not experienced previously in my musical life.

Losing the deal ground many things to a halt for me – and it was out of this period of facing new realities that the Journeys project was born.

My meditation upon independence and DIY philosophy has been long brewed. Put simply, in starting the “Journeys” project I had no idea what I was setting out to do.

It has been necessary to crush certain fantasies, dreams and ambitions in order to arrive at a state of professional health and stability. My greatest lesson has been that if you let go of certain longings, you can make the space for deeper realities to set seed.

I will go deeper into these ideas in other posts. But for now, I am happy to be presenting the culmination of a curious sequence of events. Buying a camera, heading to the far East with the thought of making a music video while on tour, recording with joy & spontaneity the strangeness of the life unfolding before me, coming home, finding myself at a dead end, working on the footage in the silence, and at the end discovering I’d made a little film….which in turn has become a broader series, and an important part of the Journeys aesthetic.

Sometimes you find the best stuff when you scratch around for long enough in the darkness.

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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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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.

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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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I´ve been greatly enjoying capturing some of the impressions and experiences of the varied African landscape on my travels. One of the boons of the Journeys concept is that it essentially removes the budget needed for making “pop” videos.

If I´m honest I´ve never liked pop videos. I say that in respect to the medium – I´ve worked with lots of great film makers and had many happy experiences, and a good pop video is a wonderful communication for song.

But for me personally, reality is what interests me. Experience, insight, moment, joy, spontaneity, and engaging with unexpected things. Even in my early 20´s my heart would drop when a stylist came on set. Let a pimple be a pimple. There is some illusion that the “fashion industry” governs style. I think the fashion industry hangs on to the coat tails of genuine “cool”. “Cool” is always pre-thought, pre-marketing, always connected to real life, the street, necessity, dynamism.

In any all this is really a distraction. The truth is that in life you simply have to work with what works for you. I don´t make enough money to employ stylists, sets, film makers, script writers, and even if I did, its not my area of interest at this point in time.

But put my in a new country and I find that the videos shoot themselves, and create their own language – one that is not guided by anything other than reality and the little gifts it imparts.

Anyway, I´m working on a lot of ideas as I travel, and collecting some moments along the way. This little video I´ve assembled quickly in my little room in Dar Es Salaam, i hope you enjoy!

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