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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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I am happy to release today the new video for “Waiting for the Gods” from Journeys No.1

I wrote the song in the year between losing my deal with EMI and beginning the Journeys project. It was a time of stopping. Of allowing the past to settle, and waiting for a new future.

The idea of “Journeys” hit me during the flight back from the US after playing my first shows there. As I drank a little too much red wine I realised that finally I was forming a vision of how to go forward.

Arriving back in Berlin, I locked myself in my room in Neukölln for a week, and wrote the first Journey´s EP.

I wrote “Waiting for the Gods” as the scale of the project began to dawn on me.

“Truth is I don’t know where I’m going next, I look around no view where the sun may set, yet I know these feet must take me far….as evening surrenders to the stars….”

Shortly after recording the song I set off to China in September 2014. Half way through the tour I found myself playing a show in Chongqing, a city of 34 millions people. I came down with a chest infection, and the road to Changsha was long and hard.

Before the show that night, I considered doing something that I’ve never done – canceling a show. I was just feeling really sick, exhausted, and it hurt to breathe.

“There’s a crossroad of which many speak, there’s a devil there I am yet to meet, and I don’t know if I will survive….till I’ve met his gaze with steady eye…..”

I decided instead to take a walk with Ben and just before dusk the light by the Xiang river turned into the deepest, most otherworldly blue. It was a moment to be embraced, and we took 3 takes of the song before the light passed to night.

“There are many miles to walk ahead, flesh is weary, feet have turned to lead, yet our faith is only what we make…..of walking forward hand in hand with fate……

It felt somehow that the song had predicted the moment, and I suddenly felt exactly where I was meant to be. I knew that the show had to go on, and it was one of the best nights of the tour.

…..there ain’t no use in waiting for the gods….

I believe that there are many crossroads along the path of our lives. What I tried to express in the song is that first, one does not have to be afraid of them. Secondly, that sometimes you have to allow yourself to spend some time at a crossroad, in order to understand what junction ahead is right for you.

With love from Nairobi

Jim

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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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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.

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1.

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.

2.

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.

3.

You are not in control.

4.

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.

5

The cycle of up´s and down´s is utterly subservient to the creation of a life´s work.

6.

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.

7.

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.

8.

We overestimate what we can do in a week, underestimate what we can do in 5 years.

9.

If you want to improve:

turn off the internet
turn off the phone
don´t answer the doorbell

10.

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.

Some thoughts on Depression in art

11.

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.

12.

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.

13.

Quality will out.

14.

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.

15.

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.

16.

One must have the discipline to work, the courage to improve, the patience required to get better.

17.

Technical development is slow. It does not make you stupid, it does not make you incapable.

18.

Great work is pre-existent.

19.

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.

20.

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.

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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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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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1.

Deep Lows are a signifier that something is out of kilter or not right. Hard as it is, they need to be listened to and observed. You have to be “within” them rather than looking for an exit plan.

2.

When in a deep low the human instinct is to run. One needs to have the courage to be within this state of mind. Our lows are an opportunity, a guide and educator. In the modern world we often try to compensate the low with sex, drugs, t.v and drinking. All of these are in their different ways distractions or ways of attempting to deal with what the subconscious is revealing to us. We have to be willing to see our darkness as revelation, our fear as a road to insight.

3.

Depression often precedes its opposite – revelations, understanding, a break through, balance. Repress it and you shut yourself off to its opposite. Nothing has taught me more about life than my times of anxiety, un-groundedness, and depression. Do not misunderstand – these times have been scary, frightening, painful and sometimes worse. But if what one seeks is a fuller understanding of life, one has to accept at times partnership with the Devil and take his tour through Hades.

View my documentary exploring these thoughts

4.

A life of understanding is to accept, with the deepest part of your being, the acceptance of suffering. We do not want to suffer and we resist it with all our might. But becoming an adult is about accepting the conditions of life and ultimately a universe is comprised of its black holes as well as its suns. Eye ball reality, go head to head with it, accept its dance. To be at one with its best and its worst is to learn to live, to gain a broader understanding.

5.

Why do we so resist discipline? Of one thing I am certain – that greater self discipline leads to a richer life of the spirit. When in a deep low, discipline provides the root and the anchor. We lose our structure and we become groundless. There are some basic truths. We feel better after a run. A walk clears the mind. Less coffee makes us less anxious. Calling a friend leads to connection. A morning without a hangover is easier to cope with. Drugs make a hole deeper. Learning leads to fulfillment.

6.

We never feel as cut off and as alone as when in a deep low. We swiftly fantasize that we are alone, we believe in the lie that our solitariness is our only reality. Call a friend, reach out. The energy of friendship is deeply transformative and though it can´t solve our problems, it bloody well helps.

7.

All problems that we have have already been tackled before. The greatest illusion is that we are insane, cut off, alone. The opposite is true. Most of what we go through, people have already gone through before. We are not freaks, we are just human. But there is so very much to learn from other people´s journeys – we must use this as a resource.

8.

All the tools we need are within us. When in a low we underestimate both our strength and our capacity to solve problems. I read recently that life is a series of problems that area all solvable. Well said. We have to trust in what is already within us. Sometimes we just have to dig a little deeper to discover that trust. In this way depression can be a motivator – the very thing that brings us closer to our creativity, growth, health, and our capacity to trust – both ourselves and the world.

9.

I believe in the role of creativity. I believe that humans are fundamentally creative. Draw something. Write something. Take a dance lesson. Learn something new. Show yourself that you have the capacity to develop. Accept with joy that doing something badly every day for 5 minutes leads to gradual improvement. And when you see improvement you learn something new about yourself and witness anew your capacity to grow, and to change.

10.

Nothing is as revitalizing as our ability to give energy to others. Our aloneness is smashed by our ability to give. We are part of a cycle – we must be willing to give something of ourselves if we are also to receive. Love is a two way exchange, and does not exist unless we are willing to humble ourselves before it, and to take part in its laws.

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