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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally a few things I am looking forward to:

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

2) Shooting a music video tomorrow for Charles Obina

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

Thank you Kampala!

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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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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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