Tues 11th Nov 2015.
Today we start the actual recording process. The plan is to all get together for breakfast, a short meeting, then to start recording here at Kobokotu Lodge. Hired by the grace of Maty who’s let us have three rooms for the price of two, plus a D1000 (just under £20) contribution to the electricity bill. We had asked for two rooms for the money and were going to put Hadja up in our place, ten minutes walk away; but she’s generously let us have a room for Hadja as well, so that will make things a lot easier, she’ll be more comfortable and she’ll be more part of things too.
The band, plus all the rest of the instruments, arrived in a taxi we’d booked (we’ve still got some instruments here left over from the workshop we’ve just run). It wasn’t our usual driver, Cherno. as he’s having problems (again) with his car. There was therefore the common and tedious problem with the taxi driver wanting an extortionate amount for what should have been a D100 trip. He saw all the gear, was taking it to a tourist place, two white people helped unload it – he put two and two together and came up with the notion of us having/making a pile of dosh. Small argument and then it was sorted at D200 (this is about £3.50 but the budget is REALLY tight).
Further complications arrangements wise as Hadja has to go to a meeting at Ousemanes (her son) school quite a considerable distance away. She got breakfast ready then rushed off and will be back in time to cook lunch she says (and I’m fervently hoping she’s right as I’ll have riot on my hands if there is no lunch and they’ll hate it if I cook it!).
We did the ‘steamed fish’ thing for breakfast (omelette for me and Martin). This turns out to be more complicated than I thought. We had to ‘order’ and then fetch the right kind of fish, ie not Bonga which is the one fish its easy to get, from one of Moussas’ fish women contacts in the small market next to the mosque. (I don’t really understand his objections to Bonga but think it’s because it’s the cheapest sort of fish its very bony, and if it’s possible to get anything else he’d rather we did!) This is a bit tricky in itself as whoever we buy from all the others are pissed off with us. They then have to go and get the fish from the fish market by the beach which can never be done immediately, depends on the tide and can’t be guaranteed to be ready for any particular time! They skin and bone it and grind it into a kind of paste called something like ‘boulet‘ which I can’t pronounce. Hadja wanted the fish the evening before to ‘steam’ it and ended up doing it in the dark last night with Oka holding a torch for her for light. Then we had to buy macaroni (much easier than buying fish that is not Bonga). Then the steamed fish ‘boulet’ and macaroni and various other things get mixed into a kind of sauce. Eaten in or with bread generally. Bread fortunately is easy as Bacarri calls in every day on his way from the bakery (somewhere unknown in town) to his place on the beach. He always has plenty so never minds how many I want. I’ve roughly ordered 8 then 4 every day to correspond with our ‘steamed fish one day then porridge the next’ proposed breakfast menu.
We’ve just had a big meeting where I repeated everything I said back in August about how long it’s taken me to get this organised (nearly 3 years from the original idea and the first mike I bought with the money given me for my 50th!), That there is no money available to pay anyone – including Martin. That this is a big chance for us all. That I’m not trying to exploit anyone (the common misconception, and possible reality for some, being that Westerners come here ‘steal’ stuff then take it back to the West and flog it for loads of money). Everyone listened politely (like they did in August but that didn’t stop us from having some issues before we started with one of them demanding to be paid or he wouldn’t go ahead with the recording and various other unreasonable demands). It also didn’t stop the general complaining over the last two months, when I’ve been supporting them, over housing conditions, distance to fetch water (less than it was in the place they were before but no-one mentioned that), lack of money for fags, attaya etc…
Everyone said they understood. Everyone said various things about hoping it all goes well and that they hope we can all work together with good connection, good understanding, patience, tolerance and with open hearts and minds. No-one (other than Moussa, Martin & Okameo) believes a word of what I’m saying I know; and I don’t believe them either – knowing as I do that the general state of working relationships here (especially in collaboration with Westerners) is suspicion, distrust and jealousy. In general poverty causes people to look out for themselves, backstab others; shoot themselves in the feet by choosing ‘jam today’ over any kind of long-term possibilities and often behave very badly indeed. Ideas of relative wealth are impossible to assimilate. Very few people here believe I have limited financial resources or that it is in fact, extremely hard to make money out of a CD done by a totally unknown bunch of African musicians no matter how talented they may be! It all needed to be said however and we are working together for the good of all so not a total waste of time.
Meeting over we can now get down to actually doing some work. We take everything over to what will be our ‘studio’ area outside Martins room. We have two sets of drums. Bundo is the name for the smaller bongo like ones (although they’re not joined together and are played as a set of three with a thin stick). I have no idea how to spell bundo, just using phonetic spelling at the moment. The taller ‘conga’ type are called Tumba, again played as a set of three and a bit like bougarabous. These needed tuning so they were taken off their stands, the Bundo had their strings loosed and everything was tuned by judicious use of one of the krins as a mallet. We do have a mallet as I’ve carefully brought all kinds of tools over the years but Moussa doesn’t currently know where it is, and this tends to be the usual way stuff gets tuned (ie hit it with whatever is to hand – stones, bits of wood etc..). These are traditional Susu drums but that’s all I know about them, hoping for more info at some point but not holding my breath!
Now everything is set up. I’m not playing on the first couple of tracks so feel like a spare part. Writing and taking photos and videos. All vital I know but I’m feeling a bit detached because I’m not actually playing. Martin has made a recording area with two chairs, the laptop and the interface. He’s set the mikes up to his satisfaction and the musicians are arranged in a semi circle under the shade of a tree. Water bucket on hand so everyone can drink if they need to (this is easy here as there is a tap so I don’t have the palaver of having to sterilise enough well water for seven people. We’ve sorted bottled water for Martin as it’s his first time here and we decided not to take any risks re a dodgy tummy!
The only problem so far, recording-wise, is the big fan palm very near us – it’s rustling like mad – another noise I don’t ‘hear’, like the crickets. Martin is worried it will show up on the recordings. It is in fact a very loud noise now I’ve noticed it. Hopefully it can be sorted out by paying one of the lodge staff to cut off the dead leaves which are the ones rustling. If this doesn’t work we’ll have to use the space upstairs from the ‘restaurant’ area and that will be a lot more complicated to arrange with the lodge. Given that the ‘restaurant/bar area tends to get used as a social space by the family and staff noise will be a lot more difficult to control. We’d also have to agree some kind of timetable in which we could use that and it would be really complicated and quite fraught so fingers crossed!
We’ve now had our first session and it went really well. Looks like we can do it in the outside space as the palm tree sound isn’t a problem. The wind has dropped and also the music is so loud when we’re playing it’s not an issue but we’re getting it cut anyway as money has changed hands (D150 – just over £2, but he will have spent it by now). We’ve done loads of samples and the sound is good and clear. People are getting into the swing of it, getting used to the mikes being present and Martin fiddling around. Moussa is getting the arrangements sorted (they seemed to have forgotten most of them initially but I think it may have been nerves!) and everyone’s paying attention.
I’ve played on the two tracks I’m doing accompaniment balafon for, Toumaranke (our theme song which is based on Yole arrangements) and which I can comfortably play the accompaniment for and sing. Then the Tekhaudi Dequi (Inside the Chickens’ Mouth) track which I’m thinking of as the ‘title track’ for the album’ with the exciting break bit and the rappy bit by Moussa, which I can play but not sing at the same time. Although terrified I have managed not to screw up more than anyone else. Everyone working well together and getting more comfortable by the minute.
Bit of an issue with the fish for lunch (why is it so difficult to get fish in a fishing village!!!?) as the person sent to fetch it by Oka or Moussa either didn’t understand properly, didn’t get it together or spent the taxi money added to the fish price, so it arrived just after we’d finished eating. They had already had fish for breakfast fortunately so it was taken in good spirits and they are going to have it for dinner. We’re eating African style with the main meal – lunch or dinner – whatever people want to call it, around twoish. Hadja is now back and in full control of the kitchen – hooray! When she came over to the recording area she was greeted with great enthusiasm, some of them may only have decided this is worth doing for two weeks of her cooking!
We had a second session in the afternoon after eating and a break (which wasn’t too long and it wasn’t too difficult to get people together to start again, (amazing). Now in full flow. We’re testing Tellamou Tellamou (the track about ‘women who talk too much and are not ‘serious’, with the lyrics I have some reservations about) which I don’t play or sing on at all. It’s sounding great, really rocking along. I know I don’t always ‘get’ the whole context of songs or lyrics and that a lot of the songs tend to be along the lines of ‘advice’ or moral statements but I do feel a bit uncomfortable with the gist of this one which seems to be a critique of modern ‘city’ women. I’ve suggested we balance it with something that offers similar ‘advice’ to men or criticizes men’s behavior – not sure how far I’m getting with that.
Lots of explaining of words/phrases to me by everyone. E a madi, e r wuli o sugi honoho (phonetically written) is a sort of proverb “if someone is in the hot sun you have to call them into the shade‘ which seems to mean “you have to consider what other people need”. Moussa says it means you have to consider other peoples’ suffering/needs. ‘Dom me eli sawo yo’ women who live as prostitutes or bar girls who don’t care about their babies (sometimes they kill them I’m told and they aren’t talking about abortion but the actual killing or abandonment of a baby – seen as a huge crime in a society which values motherhood so highly and sees women as very tied up with the function of ‘mother’) “like birds who just abandon their eggs in the bush”. I don’t seem to be able to get any sense out of this as I didn’t think birds often did this. Which birds I ask? Just like birds who leave their eggs in the bush I’m told!
End of day one of recording. one possible track in the bag, Tellamou Tellamou, amazing as we didn’t think we’d actually get anything recorded today – just test pieces! Everyone tired but happy. We ate what was left from lunch (plus the fish for those so inclined) and boxed up the remains of the ‘steamed fish’ from breakfast plus some bread for the band to take back with them. Moese has a terrible cold so I did a eucalyptus steam for him. This impressed everyone as they tend to think Westerners only use medicine that comes out of a packet (he wanted paracetamol as well which I gave him, fortunately a friend gave me a load of his prescription paracetamol so I’ve got a huge box of it to service what I know will be high demand).
A bit of a chat for me, Martin and Moussa, fruit bats starting to flitter around as we had our technological discussion (Martins’ first time to see them and I love them anyway so big and quiet). Then we hung out a bit with Oka (who’d stayed behind for general chat and kitchen/supply related duties) and Hadja but early bed for everyone. Martin and Hadja stayed up a bit later than us and played some complicated card game that sounded very merry. Sounds like she won quite thoroughly!