Archive | February, 2011

canyon climb

23 Feb

Climbing down and up the Grand Canyon has always been a dream of mine, but after inquiring about the food costs (60 dollars for 2 meals), I realize this is a dream far too spendy for me to undertake. Disheartened, I decide to walk around the top, but then I meet Charles, 72 years old, who inspires me to take the plunge by telling me he “goes down and up in one day,” and that if I want to forgo the expensive food I can “always survive on the cafeteria’s 3 dollar bagel and cream cheese.” Convinced, I head for the South Kaibab trail (13 km), walk past all the experienced hikers with their REI gear, me in my long black leather jacket, I look out of place, and I am sure I conjure up a few laughs every time I pass one of these die hard climbers.

The climb down from the rim is slippery due to the snow and ice, but as the descent goes deeper into the canyon, the red rocks emerge; the deep red appears to melt the ice. I walk in silence down the canyon breathing in the serenity of the immense valley that stands before my eyes. I pass an elderly couple in their 80’s, both carrying huge knapsacks. How are they going to make it with such a load? My pace quickens due to the steep inclination, and at this rate, I am sure to make it down before the sun sets. Then I feel a burning sensation in my toe and an ache in my knees. Ugh, a blister! Not much to do about it but concentrate on getting down. Finally the horizon opens up to the amazing blue of the Colorado River, and I know I am almost there. I see the hanging bridge, the canyon cliffs jut out to the sky above the beautiful blue. I wander through the green Maple trees below, pass the ancient kiva and dwelling place of the Pueblo tribe, and follow the river towards the Phantom Ranch Lodge; the only lodge down below. Soon night falls in, out of the dark the old couple finally comes wondering in; sweaty and tired they have made it down after dark, after many hours. The pain in my knees lingers on, and the exhaustion has kicked in. I dread about tomorrow’s hike up. I gaze at the silhouette of the canyon against the night blue sky. One star stands visible from below. It feels like a magical night sitting in the belly of the earth listening to the old, old river, and watching the stars.

The next day I am up early, and on my way. I am instructed to follow the hikers and to go slow. After a while I realize I have to do what my body tells me. I begin to walk fast, and I concentrate on my body and breathing, I fall into a meditative state. Then a helicopter flies in. Was it sent for the old couple? Apparently they were mistakenly told to bring down extra bedding and food. I continue my ascent, and finally I can see the rim again. A big black raven lands beside me and begins to crow. I know he is cheering me on and I feel I must continue at this fast pace. But then I come face to face with the tour group on mule, each pays $550 for the ride! The guide tells old cowboy stories, as the tourists laugh automatically. Its just too Disneylandish, I desperately need to pass about 15 mules to get away from it. Fortunately the mules outpace me, and I am left, once again, to the silence of the canyon. Every turn requires effort and concentration. I walk alone towards the top. I thought I would never make it. My whole body aches, I can barely walk. My body and spirit humbled, as I realize I am more out of shape than a 72 year old. I continue towards the parking lot and see the cheering raven waiting in a tree. Yes, I guess I finally made it.

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Festival Stories

5 Feb

Segou third day, we float up the Niger to the Mangala Camara stage. The opening act starts with regional Bobo music, traditional music from western Mali, where belafon (similar to xylophone) and tam tam drum (gourd with skin) fill the air. I sit next to Abdoulaye, a Malian who works for the festival, and I ask him the meaning of the songs. The first one, he says, is about fishing. I begin to see how the dancers emulate the movements of fishermen, and the dance starts to have more clarity. The men strum on a long drum called a Bongolo and use sticks and hands to drum out the sound. They play their drums with a kind of solemn concentration- very different from the usual enthusiasm of a conga player. Then a beautifully elegant woman called Mama Djoulo enters the stage, “she is not a griot, but an artist.” Abdoulaye says. He informs me that griots are passed down through family lineage and that they sing for money, as opposed to artists who sing for the love of the art. Before only griots were allowed to sing, but now artists are accepted and encounter hardly any resistance. Mama Djoulo sings the “real” story of Issa, a barren woman who wanted a child. She tries for 10 years, but nothing changes, then she seeks the help of a marabout and delivers a child. Next Babenya the talented group from Burkina Faso enter the stage. They are promising young talent with great energy. Give them another few years and they will be West Africas next sensation. They sing of the joy of being invited to the festival, and of cause and effect. Next comes Adama Yolomba with his painted kamel n’goni, red green and yellow. He mixes electric guitar and traditional instruments. His rebellious lyrics advise people to open their eyes or else they will encounter problems, then about guruma, which means stinginess, and how it destroys relationships and communities. Finally he sings about the beauty of Mali, the crowd moves into the arena and groove on the sand. The night sets in, and we move to the main stage to see the famous Toumani Djabate. His calm demeanor camouflages his actual control over the show, similar to an orchestra conductor, he brings out the best of his musicians. The music is fantastic, the drumming is excellent, and the kora sounds are sharp and harmonizing. There is something divine and elevating about his music. Sad to see him go, Ismael Lu has a hard act to follow. His music is mellow, but maybe a little too soft for this evening. He plays his famous song “Africa” and the crowd responds. Finally the Madame Oumou Sangare enters and the excitement explodes. She is accompanied by two graceful dancers, who keep it lively. I wish Abdoulaye were here to explain what she sings, but am content with just hearing her soothing voice. The crowds dance, front row stands knee deep in the Niger river,- it is one big party.

Segou Festival

5 Feb

This is the second night in Segou. The festivals red and yellow lights reflect rainbow like ribbons on the Niger’s surface, as the wind blows the amazing voice of Kasse Mady Diabate, from one bank to another. He is performing on his own after stepping out of the shadow of Toumani Diabate. In a land where singers are passed down through family lineage, it is refreshing to know talent is recognized and singers can move up in the world. Next the gifted Ms. Bako Dagnon, sings her traditional Malian tunes. Then the local musician Bassekou Kouyate (won the BBC 2008 world music award) enthralls with an outstanding performance of the ngroni; accompanied by three other ngroni musicians the combining sound is enchanting. Then the Guinean Diva, Sayon Camara captivates with her powerful melodious voice. Her rhythmic sounds and back up dancers entertain and add to her stage charisma. The tunes range from Guinean griot, to salsa combinations, spiced up with the legendary Guinean djembe. Her bewitching voice reaches across the stands and to the hearts – the crowd loves her and respond with a wave of lively dancing. The night comes to a close as the lights dim off the Niger shore. As I exit, I bump into a Danish music journalist who wants to invite Ms. Camera to a festival in Denmark. There is hope. Lights dim – lights glow, this is the way at festivals.

Festival Sur Le Niger – Segou

4 Feb

Tonight the Malian skies are lit up with more than the stars, this evening on the banks of the Niger, West Africa’s most talented converge to illuminate the night. As the sun sets over the wind blown waters, the Super Biton of Segou open the celebration to a very enthusiastic crowd. They begin with a tropical salsa rhythm and then move to more traditional Malian tunes. (The cultural ties between Cubans and Malians goes far back). Then Neba Solo fills the air with the sounds of the Belafon, and Djembe, accompanied by two energetic male dancers who combine African, salsa, hip hop and break dancing steps, all in one. The dancers stir the crowd, as spectators scream and rise to their feet clapping in joy. As the evening descends into the deep night the Moroccan Gnawas strum their hypnotic rhythms. The sound of the castanets is drowned by the intense drumming, the men move back and forth, and the dance begins to looses its synchronicity as they step into a collective trance. Then the Tuareg strum out the sounds of the desert with their electric guitars; dancers bodies move in slow spiraling elegant motions, arms and hands floating in a wave-like form. Finally Vieux Farka mesmerizes with the desert blues made famous by his father. His sound are promising and set the tone for the days to follow.

Dream City

3 Feb

LA, known for its new age movements and guru inspired eateries! A city with a web of freeways where cars, like insects, whiz around for miles to then get stuck in traffic. Here a person lives half of his life stuck in traffic. And still ‘Nobody walks in LA ‘ (as the Missing Persons song from the 80’s goes) except on treadmills. The city where the cult of beauty is pivotal, the finest examples are worshiped in the temple of Hollywood. The faith is strong and the credo goes as follows: fantasy is true, fake is natural, money is power, poverty is mental , and big boobs open all doors. But what saves L.A. Is its beach culture from Huntington beach to Venice beach, the natural beauty of the shoreline, palm trees and open minded, far-out people. And wasn’t it Los Angeles that really created San Francisco? The dialogue between the two is constant, and reinforcing. All the political minded people seek their refuge in the north. What one is the other isn’t. San Francisco can take itself seriously because of Los Angeles’ frivolity. It follows to ask, where would the US be without Los Angeles? Stuck in some Bollywood wasteland I am sure.

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