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.


31 Jan

Monday’s morning hours dragged us through Rome’s renaissance winding alleys looking for that daily espresso, desperately needed to withstand the endless snake-like line outside of the Vatican Museum. Finally after several espressos and about an hours wait we were allowed in. Entering the lower gallery, a wave of heat and hot air fell upon us, like a wet blanket, the congestion of sweat, odor, and humidity smothered. The complaints of tourists filled the air: “I wonder what this is like in June or July!” and another “We came at the wrong time!” Commiserating we walk on.

We enter the magnificent Vatican courtyard and palace, where popes used to wine, dine and live. The surrounding buildings and gardens are fit for an emperor, or a pope – only a name change. We walk towards the base of the column of emperor Marcus Aurelius. The image of a winged man claims the space, and I wonder if this is mans first depiction of an angel? Then on through the high ceiling halls and into another courtyard that contains the famous Constantine bronze peacocks and pine cone. They imperiously stand perched atop the courtyard in a terracotta colored arch. As we stand watching, we cant help but observe two tourists that suddenly throw their headsets down and walk away from their guide in disgust. Some guides are more entertainers than educators. People get taken even in the Holy Vatican City! We decide to move forward and follow the line of tourists that enter the first gallery of ancient sculpture. In this gallery the highlight is the statue of the Primaporta Augustus, standing in contrapposto pose: an echo of an outstanding ancient Greek sculpture, the Doryphorus by Polykleitos. Here Augustus embodies the idealized form of a commanding Roman Emperor. It is a must see for anyone who loves ancient sculpture, history, or just admires Augustus.

From here we make our way into the map section. Where there are maps from the 15th to the 17th century. There is a current of tourists, I feel a part of a slow moving river. The line gets slower as it seems the tourists take their time in this gallery, and being quiet bored I flow to an empty bench where soon a German middle aged man sits next to me and says “so you like maps too?” I just look at him and smile, no energy to answer. All these people in one room have zapped my energy. I search for an out, and quickly see that the Etruscan gallery is open, and it is virtually empty!

We wander through the exhibition which was once the palace of Pope Innocent VIII (1484-1492) and come across the most exquisite bronze statue from the 5th century BC, the Mars of Todi – a warrior dressed in Etruscan armor. There is no doubt to the Greek influences on his shape, proportions, and features. The Greeks were paramount to the development of Etruscan arts and crafts, and one cannot help but think of the Greeks when one sees the Etruscan exhibition. But the ‘Etruscan’ is also there for those who seek it; in the freedom of their “inexact” proportions, their “flat” surfaces their “harsher” lines and in their “primitiveness.” Perhaps they are the first artistic rebels?

Then through the Apostolic palace where the rooms are painted by Raffaelo ‘the great.’ His signature painting “The Philosophers” holds his audience in awe with so many wise men in one room, while his “Flight of Aeneas” with images of the sack of Troy and Aeneas carrying his father Anchises on his back, transports us back to classical antiquity and to Virgil’s the Aeneid. Then down a few stairs and through many narrow hallways to the somewhat hidden Chagall, Munch, and Riveras to name a few. The Vatican has so much art that these modern art masters become some what of a sideshow left in the dark corridors between the Raffaelos and Michelangelos. Tired and worn out the tourist yawn as they forgo entering the galleries and opt to head towards the highlight, the Sistine chapel. Here tourist take pictures regardless of the constant admonitions from the guards, and signs that prohibit photo shots or videos. This is the only time I have seen tourist not acting like little lambs, here they begin to think on their own, over taken by the beauty, they have to have just one shot of Michelangelo’s divinely inspired creations. I wonder what has gotten into them, is it the cooler temperature, or perhaps they heard the old Roman adage: Better to live one day as a lion than 100 as a lamb? Then I think, this is what people come to Rome for: to see the paintings of a man who did not like to paint. How many can create something so magnificent, beautiful and awe inspiring, while not enjoying what they are doing? The contradiction is binding, and is probably why so many just keep coming back, hoping some day to figure him, Michelangelo Buonarroti, out.

domus aurea

30 Aug

Riding down a mountainous road

slipped and slid over the frozen Alpine

Icy, angry, barren; cold wind of rage and deception

Leaving behind the bitter harshness of the Alps

I followed the sun towards

The smooth land of the Lombards


To the land of demigods; worshipers

Of fine foods, wine, women, and beauty

Down to the eternal city, center of centers

Where emperors walk disguised as Popes

And politicians fear their own crucifixion.


Here where the cult of Victory is all

I rolled my heart down the Spanish Steps

Free for all – even a tourist- but it fell

Upon a local; elegant, tall, dark, and devilish

With a slight snake like walk

And fast shark eyes.


As fins approached I slipped the beating red over my back,

And slid towards safety on the Palatine mound

Felt myself as Aeneas, carrying

The old frail Anchises, out of Troy.

Weary yet eager to found a new life

Between Via Veneto and Via Cavour.


Passed the Forum to the Colosseum

The home to all the pigeons of Rome

They cleave to these ancient ruins,

As reincarnated emperors,

Vespasian, Nero, or Claudius?


Stopped at the Santa Maria Del Popolo

Stunned under the painting of

Caravaggio’s Conversion of St Paul

The shades of chiaroscuro as stigmata

Bled tears in my eyes

His paint, drenched in the divine


Hoping the heat would incinerate

My burning heart, I ran a mile

Down the banks of the Tiber

And aerated the flame,

Left the ashes on the altar of

The Ara Pacis and prayed

For eternal peace.


And now light, and unburdened

I fly like the pigeons

Except I am not a reincarnated emperor

Just a lover

With a fresh new heart, that can fly

Hopefully this time…to the heavens

To that golden shelter in the sky


17 Jun

Also Known As

My lover has an ocean flooding

Through him, filling both banks

East and west of his heart, and at midnight

The descending moon dances on

The backs of wild glistening

Blue dolphins


He pulls the crescent moon down

From the sky and places it in

His pocket and I can see it

From time to time

When we bobble on boats

To the gushing wind.

The wind blows through his narrow

Sculptured cobblestone hips

And I feel I could walk forever

Belted to his slippery sea sprayed slopes.

At times we stand and glance upon

His lost, flame haired love

‘Sofia’ some call her ‘Hagia’ since

She was so loyal and pure.

Even I, can sense her greatness.

And reminiscing we walk

His sculptured arms as pillars

Firmly entrenched around my waist

As he tells me of the love of Hero and Leander

Of Chalcedon, the hippodrome and

Of Meshnun and Leila.

And suddenly he turns me

Spinning under the Sufic wool of his garment

Cosmic mana fills  and I am seized by

The elaborate seductive designs

Of his arched blue kiss.

My lips reach the dome of his thoughts

Grasping towards the heavens

And towards the divine

A timeless sigh is placed upon our souls

He bows before the silence,

Towards the emptiness of the qibla

Surrounded by a bouquet of

Carpets, tiles and the One


And at night his eyes like stars

Invite me to enter the galaxy of

Rhythms and otherworldly dreams

As we waltz to the sound of the ney

On Sundays he dresses in the

Iconic compassion of a passing empress,

Soft gilded purity, seen through the silver and gold

Sustaining tesserae of the Madonna

And where is the child?

He is out sailing ships in his backyard.

He strides ferrys catching disillusioned lovers.

And waits under the bridge with his nets

The cycle of souls lost, regained

The tides of love

Never easy, fair, clean or clear.

And when I stare off into his Seljuk eyes

I see the outline of his soul,

So sharp like daggers, poles, minarets

Protruding from a shoreline of undulating hills

His ‘skyline’ is more beautiful

Than the famous yellow rose itself.


At night I rest my head

Against his belly, his fanning

Breath brings me sleep,

While the call to prayer awakens me

I whisper his name,

Byzantium, Constantinople, Nea Roma, Istanbul!

Groggy I try to hold him but my

Arms cant grasp him he is so vast?!

I fidget to find him, and as

I reach for his turban I fall

Out of bed

Naked , drunk and alone……yet full of awe.

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