Journeys #1 was shot during a 6 week musical tour through China. Exploring the country through the unique perspective of a touring musician, the documentary gauges the temperature of modern China.
Author Tim Joppien
Journeys #1 was shot during a 6 week musical tour through China. Exploring the country through the unique perspective of a touring musician, the documentary gauges the temperature of modern China.
Author Tim Joppien
What place doubt inhabits in us? Is it friend? Is it foe? Whatever, it is a companion to all except the steeliest of minds. And even in that case, it is worse for its absence – there is nothing so foolhardy as a mind without, at least, some partnership with doubt. I write of it, because I am within it. I am a fool for the arts, but the arts is a fools path. Or at least it feels that way. I know I am not alone in that. It is an extension of the life of the underground. It is a path without a planned end, or a destiny which you can control. There are points, especially in youth, when there is feeling of indestructibility, where one is convinced that the marriage of will and belief will only have one end. And it is a rite of passage of age, to see certain illusions as what they are; temporary. And in that new space of maturity we learn something of the true nature of life. Of the fact that we are not in control, that things are not fixed, and mostly do not turn out as we hope or expect. Our adaptability to these realities defines us, makes us who we are. We reject doubt. We hate it. Run from it. Attempt to make lists and good habits to dispel it. But often, if we would only chose to listen to it, we find that it has so many answers. And they are so often beautiful. Doubt is alway there before a junction, before a crossroads, before a turning point. It is doubt that guides us – which presents the options, and which, if we allow it to, allows us to chose the right road for our life. As for me, I feel riddled with doubt at this point. Do I have the courage to see this project through? Can we get enough shows to make the Russian journey work? Why the hell is it that life calls me to the deepest Siberian winter at this point in my life? Why journey towards uncertainty in one’s life, rather than to stability? I don’t have the answers to these questions. I just have the doubt at this point. There is no particular sense or order to things. Yet I do know that I must accept doubt as my companion if I am to continue at this point. My project depends on an affirmation of doubt, rather than a negation of it. So at this point, I will continue my little conversation with doubt, and believe that ultimately, he will turn out a friend….
Author Jim Kroft
Well life is a mad old mix at the moment:
- first of all there are a lot of tour dates coming up in October. I am very excited to be playing my first shows in Italy – a festival in Sardinia followed by shows in Rome. I must also thank my friend Dario from Ofen Bar who is an Italian genius and an incredible support to musicians all over Berlin. I can also announce that the final show of the tour will be in his little bar on the 24th of October. It will also be a special sing along night, so if you are going to come, bring your full lungs and be prepared for some acoustic rock n roll!
JOURNEYS 3: RUSSIA
- then there is the small matter of RUSSIA. Yup, Journeys 3 will begin in November. There is an unbelievable amount of planning going into this, and I must say that, after a slow start, things are beginning to develop some wind. Just like on the China and East Africa journeys, there are all types of angels, guardians and helpers coming out from unexpected corners. You all reaffirm my belief that we must have the courage to reach out in our lives and allow the world to help. We find a way. Special thanks to Tim Joppien and Victor so far, for all the effort.
RECORDING THE NEW EP
- next week I am back in the studio with my band and great friend maverick producer Chris Van Niekerk. So far we are 4 songs in. I am really pumped for the new songs. A lot of work ahead but just a great feeling to be rolling, writing new songs, and most importantly bringing them to fruition. How I love the studio! Especially excited for new song “Where the Lovers Go”.
RELEASE OF JOURNEYS 2
- finally Journeys #2 is officially released on the 9th of October SO there is a lot coming! First of all there are 3 new music videos, a new documentary and I will be continuing my journal for Nothing But Hope and Passion
Many miles to walk ahead….! If you’d like to catch up on the documentary from the China trip CLICK HERE!
Author Jim Kroft
I could relate to these curious buildings. I have found myself in the “in between world” of my musical life. Unlike many of the people I grew up with, I have survived in the desecrated environment of the musical landscape. And unlike others, my career has not swelled on the promise of momentum and allowed me any degree of comfort. Things are unstable, and there are few certainties.
My psyche has developed in tandem with these times. When there is the call of activities I am available to it, and of course just grateful for the work. And when times are quiet I have learnt intimately the characteristics and nuances of solitude. But I don’t feel like Camus, “forever a stranger to myself”. I feel in a process of continual education, and I find that the solitude tends to educate me as much or more than than the journeys I am making.
Journeys has many themes and characteristics for me, and one of them for me is to document this period of my musical life. This examination of independence, of self reliance, of continuing when on first appearance the world seems to be telling you to give up.
I didn’t give up. But I did give in. The central characteristic of this time for me is a sense of acquiescence. Of surrender. Of trusting in life. Of dancing to its beat. Of listening to its rhythm. And when the rhythm asks for silence, to allow myself to be silent. Or if to celebrate, to celebrate. Or if to be void, void, inspired, inspired, down, down, reflective, reflective, passive, passive. Of lying down upon the naked earth and allowing the sun to wander across my closed eye with no need to do anything.
I am for the first time enjoying the cultivation of magnificent voids in myself. To feel no need to fill them up. To feel no need to show. I have realised that my musical journey walks hand in hand with my sense of discovery, with my internal journey, with the slow accumulation of a deepening knowledge.
And yet, then I discover something more. That when the voids empty truly, there appears a new rain. And I am finding that each time I empty myself, I find that the next EP will somehow write itself. Sometimes whole songs very suddenly. Sometimes, picking up little ideas that I have written along the last journey.
In this way this journeys time seems to making its own markers. I am less trying to go forward with it as a project – but allowing myself to be available to when it is ready to go forward. The new EP is now written, and it is calling and next week I will start to record it. It feels an important moment. Again a little watershed.
My travel in China was busy, even frantic. Tiring, wonderful, strange. I remember reading the Tao Te Ching on the way over, and at times during my journey. I feel I have gained an understanding of it. And I think so much of that understanding it about not trying to control fate, about accepting time, about not wanting to get to another place.
Many times in my life I have resisted where I found myself. Many of those times were worthy of resistance. They were not good places. I am grateful to my resistance. Even if now I must in turn reject it. I have nothing left to reject. There are no other lives that I yearn. I am grateful for my inbetween-ness. For the pocket of life in between success and failure, and especially in my freedom from those perspectives. I feel a sense of calmness. So often we want to fill up our lives rather than allow them to be filled.
I spoke recently with a friend of mine, a writer. He talked of the freedom of not having to make a legacy. Of not having to prove anything, be anything at all, or to show anything. I have recognised that on some level that happiness is related to this. I am eager to discover more of happiness. To understand its working, as I have understood the workings of chaos and of solitude.
For now, in the distance. I can hear the calling of my path. But I don’t need to walk to it, time is doing that for me. I am in the spirit of acquiescence, and in that within a sense of trust. Life makes its own momentum. At times you have to react. And at other times its okay to wait.
“…..man has to believe, to know, from time to time why he exists; his race cannot flourish without a periodic trust in life…..” Nietzsche
Quotes take from a wonderful little book that Berlin artist/philosopher/maestro Boris Eldagsen gave me called “The Essential Crazy Wisdom” by Wes Nisker
Author Jim Kroft
“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”
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….
East Africa is the second of my journeys. I am learning more about the characteristics of the “journeys” as I go. That is, my perspective and understanding of what I am doing is growing.
It has become apparent to me that though East Africa is as different to China as chalk is to cheese, there are underlying qualities which are shaping my experience. I am learning that “Journeys” has its own nature.
To the casual eye, there are the obvious things. Seeing beautiful places nourishes that human longing to take in the great vistas, to absorb space, to pull out thought from hidden stones in the subconscious, and to feel humbled by the vastness of the earth we inhabit.
Meeting people of every nation, color and creed expands us. It challenges our prejudices, educates our understanding, invites us into the brotherhood of man that is available to all of us, but which we, consistently, as a species fail to embrace.
Traveling shows us the qualities of motion; the buzz of a small plane swooping over Arusha channels our mind not into thought but a condition of being that is about flow and rhythm and feeling. Hiking on Mount Suswa, thirsty under the hot sun and your ill rationed water, reduces your complexity and conditions your consciousness to the the pounding of feet, the meditation of the next step, the simplicity of doing what needs to be done.
I am lucky to be within this project, this moment in my life. But I am also not particularly interested in the casual eye. I am interested in the nature of things under the surface, that´s where the good stuff lies, even when it is ugly, scary and we´d do anything in the world to avoid it.
“Journeys” has arisen out of a multiplicity of events in my life, and I can list them at a glance. My mothers death at 19 somehow leading me to the discovery of music, at first as catharsis, and then as a life partner.
Touring the UK in the back of a white van in the naughties, shivering trying to sleep in it in December from Aberdeen to Cornwall, getting back to London having not made a bean, and knowing there is no musical future for me in the UK.
Arriving in Berlin, crashing my van, getting put up next to the Tacheles in an abandoned building, pissing in bottles and playing night after night and learning that the road to nowhere does in fact lead somewhere.
Panic attacks in Bahnof Friedrichstrasse, knowing there is no past, there is only future, no one to help make it for you, no one to carry you, only just the brute strength we find when we finally learn we are truly alone and ready to rediscover the nature of prayer and to bend a knee and to ask for help.
Getting signed by EMI and making my way out of the underground, touring Europe, fulfilling some dreams, getting to the crest of a moment in which you feel all the yearning and hungering and wandering has finally led somewhere, just to lose the deal on the day of release and to find yourself back in that very same underground and joyous with your friends, drinking a hefeweisen and knowing that yes, this is your life, yes, this is where you belong, yes it is okay to be finally at one with it.
And then stopping because you have given everything, and the only thing to do is to stop. And learning that nature hates a void. Nature is inherently creative. Nature demands the expression of potential, because that is its very nature – the nature of nature.
Life happens. Dreams, shattered and lying disconsolate, slowly start reweaving their own patterns, colors, threads. The patchwork of your life has not unraveled, it has necessarily re-constituted itself.
We deconstruct to reform. We break down to rebuild. We fragment to become more whole than we had previously been.
And the journey continues.
The perspective the causal eyes sees a celebratory gig upon the rooftop of PAWA 254 in Nairobi. It does not witness the conditions needed to get there. It does not see an exhausted figure on the back of a 30 gig tour in 4 countries, on a foreign continent, feeling displaced and under slept and unsure if he can go on at 4pm under the burning sun. Or the moments you wake up in the middle of the night, deep in fragmentation, wondering where you are, what you are, you being for a time transmorgified into something young and afraid. Or the 40kg on your back you take from place to place on the buses, trains, ferries, trucks and taxis of the world to try and do you job.
Everything thing is pregnant with its contrary. The casual eye is the eye with least insight, but dammit, if it sees something pretty I hope it can enjoy it none the less.
But what comes back to me consistently as fundamental to the nature of “Journeys” is the need to say yes to life.
I have been more privileged than many people on this planet. But I´ve also been backed into a fair few corners in my time. And in every corner I´ve been in, especially the worst ones, when it feels like there is nothing left and no capacity to go on, I have discovered 2 things.
First is that we have a strength that we often lose sight of. Man, for all the evils he has committed, did not rise to be the top predator on this planet by giving in. I don´t like to put it in those terms because I feel deeply uncomfortable about how we treat nature. But when it comes to those moments, there is a power in us which we only conceive and intuit when we are really up against it. As Dostoevsky wrote in one of his novels “there is a capacity to endure anything”
Second, that when you are backed into a corner you get to a point that is beyond choice. There is no more time for thinking, there is no more time for analysing, dissecting, discussing, considering. There comes a point when you simply have to say yes to life.
You have to say “yes” to the acceptance that you are in that moment. And you have to say yes to making the tough choice to move forward. You have to embrace the conditions of reality, light and dark, and you have to crack on. One step at a time. And those feet always take you somewhere. And usually, when bound with a yes, to the place where you are meant to be.
I have moments when I cower before my life. I have days when I am exhausted and feel fragmented and I think to the future – of the future I am trying to build for my life through this project – and I would do anything to exchange the adventure and excitement for stability and security.
But in those moments I know that, simultaneously, life is asking me to say yes. To get to the next gig. To write the next song. To shoot the next movie. To take a leap of faith and trust it.
I know that I should have listened to the advice I got in my twenties:
“The music industry will never pick up, it is dead, dying, make a life for yourself while you still can”.
I could not accept that choice. There was a spiritual question at play. I just could not stop doing what I felt what I was meant to be doing, regardless of the consequences.
I gave up some time ago on some ultimate vindication, of some validation that would make it all okay, all worthwhile.
At some point I realized that, for better or worse, this is my life, these are my choices, and despite my failings, I do have the courage to stand by them.
I feel that life is an article of faith. I feel that sometimes being too fixed on where it is going, limits the capacity for life to take you where it wants you to go. I am not in control, and I never was. I am in life, not yet with total belief, understanding or flow, but with the knowledge that this is what is meant for me for now.
And in that way I believe in saying yes to life, in trusting her, in taking her hand and knowing that before my time is up, she will take me where I am meant to go.
So I have understood something of the nature of our journeys:
Say yes to life.
It is never too late to begin. I know of nothing more illusory and unhelpful than the idea that the time we feel we have “lost”, is time we cannot regain. The very nature of creativity is that it is not about the past, or even about the future. It is about the moment – an exploration of it, a celebration, an engagement. What we feel we have not done – what we feel guilty of or frustrated about – needs to be let go of. It is okay to “have wasted time”. It is okay to have avoided starting something because we feel that we have lost so much time already that there is no point in beginning. We have to forgive ourselves of our own frustration if we are to create something.
I believe that creativity is as native to us as our humanity. It is in each and everyone of us, and in utterly unique and individual forms. I have never seen a child who is not fundamentally creative. Somewhere along the line – whether through our education, our parenting, or our society or our collective will to “safety”, it gets eradicated. Or rather repressed. The first step in re-discovering one´s creativity is to be assured that it exists inside yourself. As something from nature, or life, or God. It is always potential, and can never be destroyed.
You are not in control.
Creativity makes us better. It reveals to ourselves our feelings, lets light into the dark places. One of my favorite books is called Mandala Symbolism by Jung. In this book a deeply damaged woman discovers her centre through Jung´s encouragement of her to draw every week a mandala to represent her psychological state. At first the mandalas are simple and childlike – she has never drawn. Over time they become pregnant with meaning, imagery, even a growing technical ability. I believe that creativity broadens our humanity, helps with our problems, leads us to greater health.
The cycle of up´s and down´s is utterly subservient to the creation of a life´s work.
It is not about the amount of time you put in but about the quality of the time. So often we will sit down at our desks when our energy is low, when we have a hangover, when we are tired, after work – and expect miracles to happen. We sit there, the page is blank, our frustration grows, we start being foul to ourselves. We check the internet. Wait. No result. A horrible mood ensues, a darkening. “We cannot do it” and this type of thought comes up. But all that has happened is that we have sat at our desk because we feel that we “should”. And we have chosen the wrong moment. If there is one thing that creativity thrives off it is fresh energy. You have to obey its rules and its requirements. You cannot make art out of ego, you can only make it out of subservience to its own principles. So my advice? Be lazy! Take a rest. Churchill slept religiously for 2 hours every afternoon. He said it gave him two days and improved his concentration. So manage your energy, not your time.
Equally, creativity requires process. I have never tried to write a song. Never once in my life. I am always within writing. Some days this is only single lyrics. Other days a changed chord. Or a fresh seed for a new idea. But I give myself utterly to the ongoingness of the process. It is as real to me as time itself. By giving into the process, you become it. It is not something external, something separate. If we make ourselves available to something – that is doing a little every day – it becomes a part of our fabric, our way of life. Creativity does not want to require energy. It simply wants to be channeled. If one makes oneself a receptacle, a vessel, it will come to you. For instance, if you want to write a book, you simply have to write everyday. Every unfinished book dries up simply because we cease to write. But we have to stop tying to “will” our art. Rather than trying to make it in a month, we have to accept it as a partner into our life. If the book takes a couple of years, its okay. But it will write itself if we make ourselves available to it.
We overestimate what we can do in a week, underestimate what we can do in 5 years.
If you want to improve:
turn off the internet
turn off the phone
don´t answer the doorbell
The history of man has its triumphs, but its over riding characteristic is of brutality, persecution and war. If we are to change things, we must have the courage to explore, discover and express our creativity. A rich life is a creative life. Creativity deepens us and allows us to bring our subconscious into play. In this way our problems and troubles are processed far deeper than in our purely conscious life. Rationality and reason are heralded by man, our progress only possible through the application of “enlightenment thinking”. But look at the state of things. From over-fishing to genocide in Rwanda, to the rise of the Right in Europe to the the destruction of the rain forest. Things are our of kilter. Our creativity is like the mother we have repressed – I think the world is built on the rules of the father. I believe that our capacity to be “at one with the world and nature” lies in the expression and exploration of our creative potential.
Learn to look at a blank sheet of paper not with fear, but with love. It is an opportunity. It is always potential. Writers block is not something that just exists. It is usually a sign. We have become to obsessed with ourselves. We must go for a walk. We must go on holiday. We must read a new book, listen to a record, see a friend, get drunk, howl at the moon, do something different. Allow the world in anew.
Equal to the importance to the acquiescence of the will to “process” is the subjection of the ego to discipline. Process is the way that we allow creativity to breathe – to make ourselves available as a channel or vehicle for that fundamental creativity, of which the universe is just an expression. But to channel something we have to develop the tools to do so effectively. A great song, a beautiful painting does not emerge from nothing. It is an elixir – that is something which induces life. It itself is not something but something which has an inherent transformative power. Art is not something dead, but something living – something which in turn creates and continues the dialogue of the universe with itself. A dance, a ritual, an explosion of the fundamental “yes”. The Hindus understand this perhaps more than any of the other great religions. But an elixir choses its channel carefully. It arrives to the medium which is at the present moment, most receptive, most available. In this way how we live, the choices we make, the discipline we live by, effects our capacity as an artist. Our technical ability, very simply, opens new doors to the universe which were shut before. That does not mean wonderful things do not happen to the non-technician. Someone like Jackson Pollock had as great an effect on art as a David. But the more we develop, the greater our own capacity and receptivity develops.
Quality will out.
On the subject of technical ability I have had a long dialogue with myself. I came to music very late – at the age of 19. I never had the lessons as a child that many of my peers had. I never had the thrust of motivation a teenage boy has to learn his guitar scales so that he can impress a girl. I came to music because I was suffering. My mother was dieing, and I had to find a way to channel what I felt. My musical life was born of the search for catharsis. I am not particularly musical. I never often played a gig where I did not think that the support or headline act was considerably more talented than I am. On top of coming to music late, I also came to music in the worst period of my life. I didn´t have the mental capacity to develop technically because to do that often you need a degree of stillness of mind. It has taken me years to learn good practice techniques, and of this, I am still a novice. But one thing I have learnt. And that is that the more humility you have, the more you will learn. Practice takes time. It takes an acceptance that there is no quick fix. If you try to rush it you don´t develop. You can only improve by slowing down. You have to learn to “be” with what you learn. You have to remove your ego, remove your daily concerns, and you have to be with what you are doing.
Someone will always be “better” than you. But they will never be the same as you. What matters in art is not to be “the best” but to discover “your voice”. As a species we are one. But our variations are infinite. Value you individuality. No matter what any one says, it is unique to you.
One must have the discipline to work, the courage to improve, the patience required to get better.
Technical development is slow. It does not make you stupid, it does not make you incapable.
Great work is pre-existent.
Live with the devil – you will be given hell in creativity. It is a condition of the job that there will be a demon who questions much of what you do. Are you willing to dance with him? Does he really have to be an enemy? Learn to befriend him. He is the one that can make you better at what you do. He is the one that will challenge you. That will cause you to question your work. Listen to him. Communicate with him. Disregard him.
Do not be afraid of a void. As Shakespeare said – “nature abhors a void”. Allow it to be, and gently explore it. In time, and at the right moment, it will find away to fill itself up with something new, something wonderful, something yours.
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.
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!
Author Jim Kroft
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.