Day 5 – Friday 15th Nov 2014..
Today is a half day so that everyone who wants to can go to mosque. Rough night for both of us; me with heavy bleeding, menstrual cramp and headache and Moussa with headache and general discombobulation. He was in and out of bed endlessly. Both of us are very tired today.
Session wise we did a couple of repeats of the last track we did yesterday which M is calling Temedi (literal translation ‘baby girl’ but used as a general term of affection for women – lovers, sisters, friends). I suspect this is going some way to addressing my having asked for a balance to the Tellamou Tellamou track critiquing the way some women behave as it ‘advises’ men to treat women properly. I’m on shakers for this. This is much less terrifying than playing balafon as I’ve played shakers in bands here for years and it feels very familiar. Also I can move around while I’m playing and for me that’s easier.
Then we did some work on Sourima. This is a version of something Moussa was working on with Kamodu last year, I recognise some of the lyrics. We had to do quite a bit of work on this as Kossy was finding the off beat drum parts a bit tricky. Sourima is what the Guineans (or maybe just the Susu) call the Iles de Los, the islands near Conakry. This is the place that Moussa and Oka (plus various other musicians, some of whom I know) began their journey out of Guinea seeking to make their living as a group of musicians. This track is partly about the dangers of the life of fishermen. Oka comes from fishing people. When M and I went to Roum, then to Okas’, smaller, isle (Boum I think but it’s so tiny it isn’t even on the map) a couple of years ago I was struck by the bigness of the sea the smallness of the boats and the skill of the men controlling them.
We had lunch, more wonderful Hadja food. One of the things I enjoy about running workshops, and now this, is not having to try to cook African style or deal with the issues my vegetarianism brings up. Hadja cooks fantastically, deals with my vegetarianism without giving me a hard time or ‘cheating’ by cooking in the normal fashion and then taking the pieces of meat or fish out before serving. I know in a country where most people don’t have quite enough to eat and a lot of people are hungry vegetarianism is weird but I can’t change the way I eat, it’s been too long, and fish makes me feel nauseous anyway. Hadja and I get on really well and paying her helps support her somewhat difficult family situation (her, now ex, husband has some unknown neurological condition and is too disabled to work. He used to be a drum maker. The kids, who I facilitate school sponsorship for, live with him and she visits most days to do what she can). Moussa and Martin (and I’m not sure who else) have gone to mosque. It’s Martins first time and I think he’s a bit nervous. M has helped him with the pre-mosque washing rituals and to sort out a suitable outfit (ie not shorts) and they’ve gone together on the bikes. All very quiet here now.
I’m sitting with the equipment down in the corner. Even though we’ve put Martin in another room due to his ‘snake in the bathroom’ incident there are no other guests here at the moment so we’re still using the plug socket in his old room for the ‘studio’ set up. Everyone plugs their mobiles into the multiple plug socket we brought out and I can charge the laptop there too. At the moment we all have a phone (thanks to donations I received in England), and we have 3 laptops that work properly, including mine (ditto), and two that sort of work sometimes. We’d hoped to do a bit more ‘teaching’ of how stuff works but there just isn’t enough time.
Tomorrow is a ‘day off’. We’re going to the beach for some of it but will then have plenty of time to listen to what we’ve got recorded and plan next week. We’ve done pretty well so far, better than we’d hoped, so have loads of time left to redo tracks if necessary. We’ve decided that M needs to be playing gongo and singing nearer the mike, then we can overdub with krin. His voice gets a bit ‘lost’ when playing krin and that can’t be nearer the mike as its so loud. The technological challenges of limited equipment mean we have to think of creative ways round the issues that come up while keeping the ‘live’ fresh’ feel of the music. Martin is doing really well with this and he and Moussa are getting better at working together too. We’ve only got the Balafon tracks left to do really, then it’s just finishing off everything else. I’ve got quite a bit of video material too so hopefully we’ve got loads to work with.
The afternoon was spent looking at some of the video material with the band after everyone was back from mosque. This was a really useful exercise as it gave people a chance to see how they play and which places they make mistakes in. Bit of an argument between Souleymane and Moussa as M said his tempo was off in something (which it sometimes is, him being the newest and least experienced member of the group). They had ‘words’ but I think it’s got resolved. Shakers are hard. I have more experience than he does at this and he tries to do patterns which are too complicated sometimes so loses timing that way. He’s a bit worried we’ll chuck him out I think! I’m hoping that his ability to write in Susu will help him feel he’s got something valuable to contribute to the group. I’m also hoping that the lyrics will get sorted out and written down and translated! I’ve now given him a book and a pen but think we’ll have to sit down and do it together or it’s not going to get done. A bit of ‘hanging out’ time was good for us all and hopefully tomorrows’ beach day will help group bonding too.
Martin seemed fine with his first mosque experience, hard on the knees he said, which it certainly is. He then mixed the two tracks we overdubbed, both sounding good. A few tweeks are needed on the Inside the Chickens Mouth track (the rap part isn’t loud enough and some of the responses need to be punchier) but this should be easily remedied with another overdub. Generally it’s all coming together well and he reckons he should have some rough mixes done before he goes so they’ll have some promotional material. He’s working really hard, really focused; we’re very lucky to have got him out here!
A quiet evening without Oka who’s gone to fetch Ma and Mohammed for tomorrows’ beach day. I’m excited about this as I’ve not seen them for ages (over 2 years I think) and Ma and I have always had such a lovely time on beach days. Hoping that as Mohammed is a bit older (think he’s nearly six now) he’ll be less difficult than he used to be. Oka says he’s much easier these days. Oka is Mohammeds Omo (which I don’t know how to spell). This is a West African tradition; a child is ‘named’ for an adult the parents know, often a relative but not in this case. (Oka’s name is really Mohammed, Okameo is his ‘street name’ or nickname, associated with football in some way I don’t understand). So the adult and child have the same name and this gives the adult certain ‘rights and responsibilities’ in relation to the child (sort of like a godparent but not quite). It’s an honour to have a child named for you (Moussa has one too but he’s currently in Guinea with his mother and there are some problems between his parents). M and Oka and I used to work with Mohammeds’ father, Saikou, who was one of the original group of musicians who came on the boat from Kassa on the Iles De Los. Saikou was my first balafon teacher. We no longer work together for various complicated reasons but I’ve kept contact with the children and still facilitate the sponsorship of their education via Oka. We used to go on the beach near the Senegambia where we could hire a bucket and spade and buy ice-cream and it won’t be like that. But sandcastles can be made without buckets and we can go in the sea and it will be lovely lovely lovely (ice-cream would be nice though).
Hadja and Martin continued their card playing marathon and M and I retired early. M was then in and out as Baccarri turned up and had some business or other he wanted to discuss I think he’s hoping for some kind of financial ‘help’ from us, for his business and maybe for the festival in February but finances are so tight at the moment. We’ve got nothing at all to give or lend. This is hard as nobody much actually believes that. I’m a Westerner so therefore I must have spare money. People often think it’s just a matter of persuasion. So its been another evening in which M and I didn’t really get any personal time. My cramp is much better however so I’m looking forward to a reasonable nights sleep.
NB – wordpress people – I’ve had some problems with the layout for this – what I want is two pictures side by side without text in the middle of them and I don’t seem able to do this, also I wanted to make the map of the isle de los smaller and can’t – any tips?