Friday 21st November 2014.
A really early start this morning. Moussa out of bed by 7.30 which is very unusual. He’s feeling better physically and wants to get stuff ‘sorted’. We’ve been to our house to look for various suitable mosque outfits for us and Martin. M has found his purple outfit – I bought the material a couple of years ago so he could have some ‘best clothes’ for occasions which demanded it – he wants to lend it to Martin for mosque today. The trousers have a hole in the crutch (this often happens as tailoring here is usually ropy and seams often come undone. I couldn’t find my ‘wedding skirt’ which is my only suitable mosque gear so we then had to cycle to the storage place to get that. We had a moment or two with the twins (I’ve been here long enough now so they don’t scream and try to hide when they see me) then M cycled into town to get a tailor to fix the trousers (the hole being a bit too big for me to fix with needle and thread which is what we usually do) and I went back to the lodge.
Moussa likes clothes, I bring a lot for him and Oka (and anyone else ‘on the list’ – which is quite long). He often gives things away to friends who don’t have so many or just on impulse as he has a generous heart. I notice the band are wearing a lot of the clothes I’ve given him. This generosity can be tricky sometimes as what he has left often has holes in or needs fixing in some way. He doesn’t sew, neither do I, but I can do simple repairs and often have to as life (plus the washing powder) is generally tough on clothes here! Small repairs are inexpensive but often come undone again so it’s easier just to get needle and thread out. I bring clothing (and occasionally freight some with a little help from my friends, but that’s another story) for giving out in general and always leave some so he’s got things to give when people ask. It’s sometimes emotionally tricky however to see someone wearing something particularly nice that I’d given him as a ‘present’ but that’s how he is and I’ve learned to live with it over the years.
I’m feeling slightly discombobulated – partly all this frenetic early morning activity in what is usually ‘my’ part of the day – partly that the whole ‘going to mosque’ thing is tricky for me. I’ve ironed the purple outfit with a travel iron I brought out last year but have never used before, also retrieved from our house. Moussa knew exactly where it was which was surprising and implies he’s been thinking about this. Grand Buba is the terminology here for your ‘best’ – usually Friday – outfit. I don’t know if this applies to both sexes or just mens’ clothes. I’ve only ever bought fabric for women and I don’t have an ‘african outfit’ although I have occassionally been forced to wear other peoples. Everyone who is muslim (which is over 90% of Gambians) puts on their best clothes on friday. Fridays are great clothes-wise, everyone particularly colourful and ‘smart’. If I go out in the streets on a friday I’m careful to put something with sleeves on over the vest top I usually wear here and I never wear short shorts anyway except on the beach. Trousers and shorts are disapproved of in women by the older generation but becoming a bit more common amoung younger women. Hadja, who is very respectable and who I sometimes look to as a ‘model’ for expected female behaviours here – sometimes wears trousers or leggins. I get away with a fair bit being a Westerner and I simply can’t function in well in a skirt. I wear one for mosque and have occasionally been forced into one for dancing or other performance but I can’t change what I’m comfortable in, even for the sake of ‘respectability’.
What you look like is important in West African society, not just for mosque but especially that. People wear white if they can, an impracticable colour that demonstrates you have enough money to pay to have your clothes washed often. All the grand buba I’ve ever facilitated has been dark colours so it can be worn a lot before the palavar of washing, ironing, possibly re-starching (they like their robes heavily starched and ironed here, a LOT of thick shiny fabric). Such wifely duties are beyond me (and I have no desire to learn how) and I’m a bit concerned that todays’ ironing (albeit for Martin) may have created unrealistic expectations in M! African women are generally really snappy dressers and given the fact I’ve never actually got the hang of that in my own culture I don’t stand a chance! Hadja always looks fantastic and never seems to get her clothes dirty or ripped the way I do!
Mosque is tricky for me because of the gender issues. I have to wear a skirt and I’m not a skirt wearer (although I’ve learned to be semi-comfortable in a sarong) so I feel ridiculous and restricted. Real african dress for women actually involves two layers of fabric, or skirts ifi you like, and that’s impossible for me as I get stupidly hot and feel like I can’t walk through the weight of fabric. There’s also the women being in a separate bit so they don’t ‘distract’ men while they’re praying part too, which makes me so furious I can’t even think about it rationally. I go to mosque sometimes because I know it’s good for us to be seen as ‘respectable’. It matters socially, and it makes Moussa happy! I like the energy, the peaceful feeling (like in some churches, especially old ones) but I don’t properly understand all the prayers, actions or rituals. I’m always worried about unexpected menstrual bleeding (which happens often at my age) as its forbidden for women to go to mosque while bleeding (which also makes me cross), tripping over my skirt (which has to be long so becomes a trip hazard) , showing my knickers, or generally disgracing myself/us in some way so it causes me quite a bit of anxiety.
My worst fear is the idea of sitting on my heels in front of some respectable Sanyang matron then moving into the prostrate position with a huge bloodstain on my skirt. Something similarish once happened to me (although not in a mosque and in a social situation involving a lot of men!) and I’ve never really got over it. The ‘lets all kneel and pray together’ part of mosque is a bit like being at a yoga class in terms of being in front of someone with your bum in the air. Only for me I’m wearing clothes I’m uncomfortable in and I feel that every movement I make is being scrutinised and judged. That said the mosque is generally full of older women and they are usually very friendly and kind but my basic personality is ‘sruffy hippie’ so formal occasions like mosque make me nervous. I remind myself that the mosque part of our wedding was fine and try to calm down!
The band were here for 8.30 which seems a bit excessive. No-one wanted breakfast as it was too early. Moussa is now rehearsing them for Lanyi as a 10am start – looks like we might even manage that! A morning of retakes. Everyone is a bit tense as the material we’re now working on is the stuff we’re having some problems with, all the ‘easy’ tracks are done. In Lanyi it’s the singing that’s the issue (sometimes its flat – too flat even by African standards, sometimes it’s in the ‘wrong’ place musically). In Temedi it’s the entry – each instrument needs to come in one by one and some people are too quick so it sounds weird and we’ve redone it and redone it and everyone is sick of it. Writing this I don’t know why I didn’t suggest each person counting 1.2.3 before starting or something, but that’s a very western way of thinking and they don’t generally operate like that. I’m wondering if the lack of breakfast isn’t helping but everyone except me is used to working hungry and loads was eaten at tea break and it was just as bad after so it wasn’t that!
I’m so used to working with African musicians who apparently know everything and who just feel everything and never explain and I often have no real idea where the ‘one’ is anyway. It’s quite comforting to me that we’ve got to work at this. Moussa is just about always spot on every time and this is his music so he knows it inside out. I’m used to just trying to keep up with everyone, stepping into a bit more of a directive role with this has put me way outside my comfort zone (which is quite a small space in this country anyway). Moussa and Oka keep telling me it’s ‘good for you’ and I’m sure it is but it’s a bit nerve-wracking sometimes too. There’s problems with the singing on Temedi and Sino too. Most of these are issues with Kossys’ timing – he either rushes or hesitates. His vocal experience is troubadour style with the gongo and this more disciplined way of working is very challenging for him. He’s one of the youngest also and although his personality is almost totally irrepressible he’s getting ‘told off’ a lot and it can’t be easy for him (or Moussa). There was a bit of shouting at one point but by the last retake of Temedi the energy was fine again.
Well, we’ve done it (we hope). Lunch altogether then we have to get ready for mosque. I went into Hadjas room and she helped me with all the washing rituals. This is the first time I’ve been naked in front of her and she tried very hard to keep not looking at me to preserve some sense of social propriety until I said I really didn’t mind and then it was easier. We’ve reached a new level of connection this time. With fewer people, particularly fewer Europeans, than a workshop group we’ve had a bit more time together. She’s our ‘mother’, M always refers to her as N’ga:mother (even though she’s younger than me and him, this bizarrely doesn’t matter, it’s a social relationship, it doesn’t have to have anything to do with a biological one. For him it’s a way of expressing his respect and affection while being clear there is no sexual interest there). She knows I value her work, everyone raves about her food, she gets paid a decent amount and she feels more comfortable these days about her ‘place’ with us. She and Oka and I work really well together as the ‘kitchen team’. Suitably abluted, skirted and with my hair tied up firmly in a scarf by Hadja (I can never do this properly myself, it always comes out – lack of practise I assume) we emerge to meet Martin and Moussa.
We got a taxi to mosque. We were a ‘purple haze’ as Martin is wearing M’s best outfit, my skirt and scarf are purple and Hadja is also wearing purple – only Moussa, multicoloured as usual, isn’t in purple. Martin was disappointed not to go on the bikes but I explained Hadja can’t cycle and that I couldn’t wearing an ankle-length silk skirt (I’d rip my skirt, my hair would come loose, all kinds of potential disasters). I thought we might see the others, Oka usually goes, but of course Hajda and I were in the women’s bit so we didn’t see anyone and I forgot to ask Martin if they were there. Generally it was easy, I almost tripped on my skirt a couple of times when going from kneeling to standing but managed not to disgrace myself. Hadja had to keep turning my face forward as I kept turning my head to look at her to copy the movements properly and I’m a long way from learning all the responses. (She says there’s a book for women to learn from, called Jenoba – which happens to be my married name – but I’ve no idea where to get one). All those there were older women, Hadja was the youngest by a long way and then me. Prayers over M whisked us into a taxi and back to the Lodge. He’s being careful with Martin so that he doesn’t get into any ‘awkward’ social situations I think. There’s also quite a bit of village speculation as to the exact nature of the relationship between me, Moussa and Hadja (the assumption always being that a man would rather have at least two women if at all possible) so we tend not to hang around and cause more gossip. Hopefully our social standing has been improved by our mosque attendance.
Back at the lodge I went to visit Maty as she came to greet us this morning but we were deeply involved in the recording process and I didn’t have time to talk to her. She was impressed by my mosque attendance and particularly my skirt wearing. The whole family has coughs and colds and they were all lying around in the restaurant area with a tray of medicine besides them. Everyone is surprised and commenting on how ‘nice’ I look – the skirt is beautiful, Kashmiri silk, a wedding present from some friends who trade from there. Hadja and Moussa says keep it on so despite the fact I feel quite uncomfortable I do. Hadja and Oka immediately start playing cards. This is a side of Hadja I’ve not seen before, she likes playing cards and she likes to win (which she does often as she’s good at cards).
Martin, M and I worked for a bit this afternoon although I felt very self conscious so ‘dressed up’ and Okameo is taking a lot of pictures. We did all the vocal overdubs involving me and Moussa, we’ve managed some Syangan M’gangau (a Guinean one stringed percussive instrument). This is almost impossible to take decent photos of – it just looks like a bit of string or a bit of stick in M’s hands, natural pics of him playing it are impossible, I have to get him to pose and take close ups. We’re excited about using this as it’s such an unusual instrument and hasn’t been recorded much (if ever). It sounds great but will probably be quite a mixing challenge for Martin later. http://https://www.facebook.com/65019069663/videos/vb.65019069663/10152316525599664/?type=3&video_source=pages_video_set I’ve just been back to our room and sprayed myself with DDT as it tends to get a bit mozzyish in the ‘recording studio’ corner by about 4ish. There are often a LOT of biting ants in this bit too (although thankfully not today).
There are various insect challenges to almost every part of this country – the Lodge isn’t too bad for mosquitos although I’d avoid the rooms at this end during the rainy season as there is too much vegetation too close so more lurking mozzys and other biting things.There are bees (but not at this end, there’s usually a nest in one of the big trees somewhere in the middle), these can be annoying and buzz around the flasks at tea break (why bees are interested in hot water I’ve no idea). There’s a kind of horsefly/sandfly thing with a really nasty bite but that doesn’t seem to be around at the moment. I’m sure some of the spiders bite even though I’ve been told they don’t and there is at least one kind of very dangerous spider (which looks like a scorpion) as we had it in one of our houses a few years ago. I’m one of those people who get bitten by everything then have a huge reaction but my bite collection isn’t too bad at the moment. Martin has brought the 100% DDT spray as I suggested. None of the alternative stuff has ever worked for me (and believe me I’ve tried most things as I’m not keen on putting DDT on my skin but it’s the only thing that works)!
The bird sounds increase as dusk draws nearer, it’s quieter with just the 4 of us and we don’t usual work this late. We’re usually finished by 4/4.30. We’ve got a fair few bird sounds on the recordings which hopefully we’ll be able to use in some way. I’m not working very well today, my voice is ‘tight’ and I’m not managing all the things M (or I) want in terms of blending it with all the male voices in the group. For some reason I’m feeling very nervous, maybe because the singing is such an issue at the moment. Trying to be a backing singer/backing percussionist/camera person/photographer as well as organise the menu, make sure we don’t run out of charcoal and keep on top of the fish situation while trying not to make too many cultural gaffs is causing me to feel a bit overstretched.
We’ve still got some weird technological gremlin. A glitch is causing latency in anything other than vocals. This means poor Martin has to make all the instrumental overdubs ‘fit’ which then means they take a lot longer to do than if everything was working fine. Everyone is exhausted. We’ve not got it all done but had to stop because we’re too tired, the light was going and the technology won’t work properly! We just about managed to eat dinner then went to bed. Hadja isn’t feeling very well with a cough so she retired early too, no cards for her and Martin tonight.