Monday, 25 October 2010

Chez Ben Mostafa, Essaouira

I've just found an email address written on a scrap of paper and realized that it belongs to one of the waiters at Chez Ben Mostafa in Essaouira. I took a few photos there just before I left back in June, and though I added them to me Flickr account, I hadn't added them to my blog, nor had I sent them in an email.

If you've ever been to Essauouira, you've probably walked past Chez Ben Mostafa, though you may not have stopped there for a drink or a bit to eat. Everyone has their own favourite spot, and that is our's (my wife Maggie and me, that is.) I suppose that's a good job, really - otherwise it would be even harder to get a seat there, than it usually is! Great coffee (cafe casse for me, nous-nous for Maggie) and good food too - breakfast, lunch, and dinner too.

Anyway, here are photos of some of the team. If you've been there, I'm sure you'll recognize them.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

iPhone near-disaster

I was on the balcony of a little hotel in northern Italy a couple of weeks ago when the chair I was sitting on collapsed beneath me. About 10 minutes later, while I was recovering - I landed right on my coccyx, so the pain was pretty bad - there was a knock on the door, and one of the hotel staff appeared at the door holding my new iPhone 4 which I'd been using at the time.

She'd seen it drop through the kitchen window and went down to the street to see what it was. Switching it on, she saw that the login-in panel was in English, so since we were the only English people staying there, she figured it was mine and brought it up to me. I was still pretty shocked from the fall, so I hadn't even realized that it was missing.

It was totally unscathed - not a scratch, not a dent, screen still intact. I figure that it must have fallen in a horizontal position, and that maybe its fall was broken by first landing on the roof of one of the cars that you can see in the photo

This film below is a simulation, shot using my wife's little Lumix, though the still photo was taken using the iPhone from the balcony. And "No", my wife didn't drop the iPhone again, just to see whether it could survive twice - for the simulation we used a cigarette packet stuffed with a Zippo. As the saying goes, "I may be daft, but I'm not stupid."

Monday, 23 August 2010

Madness at Glastonbury Abbey Extravaganza 2010

A couple of weeks ago a bunch of family and friends went to see Madness play the Glastonbury Abbey Extravaganza. They were really good. I've never been what you could call a fan, but I've liked their music and their whole performance style since their early days. I took my video camera and recorded about half of their set and posted a couple of videos on YouTube. I had them set to Private until today, when I received the OK from the band's own YT channel - MadTubeTV. Thanks CB. (Note to WS - See, I do learn.)

I plan to add a couple more, but for now there's Wings of a Dove and It must be Love on this playlist.

Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel kicked off the evening, and while I didn't manage to record them at all, they were a superb accompaniment to our big picnic. Thanks guys.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival 2010 - Report, Videos, Photographs

I've just come back from the Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival 2010 where Maggie and I had a really great time, listened to lots of good music and made lots of new friends.This year, we were given press accreditation, with what I came to realise were precious Camera badges, that allowed us privileged access right in front of the stages. I shot loads of what I hope will turn out to be great video, though your opinion on that is more important than mine. I lost control of the sound quality some of the time, in the heat of getting better pictures, but I think I've found a way around that, if we get to go again and get the badges again. But enough of that.

The festival opened as usual with a parade of Gnaoui, but this year that was supplemented by a number of troops of Fantasia riders on horseback, led by their Masters, all carrying ancient-looking rifles. 75 horsemen in a circle, hoeses all calm and controlled but frisky with it. Troops approach one another and pull back. The lead Master starts to speak - addressing all of the troops. Then Bang! All 75 rifles fire at one. Wow - took me by surprise.

First up in Place Moulay Hassan after the open speeches were the two Maalem brothers Kouyou - Mohamed and Said, joined after a few gnaoua numbers by the Sukishvili Georgian National Ballet, who were not at all what I had expected. My only past experince of Georgian National Ballet had been tall and statuesqe women in long white gowns who appeared to float across the stage. Take a look at the video when I post it and you'll see how wrong I was.

Here's a YouTube playlist that I'm starting to build. There'll be more music appearing in the coming days, weeks, and (knowing me) months:

This post is work in progress - be sure to check back soon for some new material.

I've managed to crack the problem of posting videos on YouTube in HD this year. I'm using the same camera as before (Panasonic GS400) which records in pretty good quality though not native HD. The secret appears to be to render the clips with a large frame size (1440x1080) and using an AVCHD codec, though this does generate very large files, about 1.0 GB for a 10 minute clip. The resulting quality on YouTube is however really good, and I might re-render and re-post some of my previous years' movies if I ever get the time.

Interview with Hassan Boussou

This year, I was given the opportunity to request interviews with some of the performers. I asked to speak with Maalem Hassan Boussou, since I really love his music, and was lucky to be able to talk with him for 10 minutes or so at the Sofitel Hotel one afternoon. To be honest, at first I found the experience a little overwhelming, but once we got started, it seemd to work quite well. I recorded the interview, which I've added to my YouTube playlist, but I've also included it separately below.

I asked about the importance of fusion to his music and learned that what is most important is the traditional Gnaoua, but that he has mainly started to play fusion since he started living in France where he meets and works with a wider variety of musicians. He would like to see Gnaoua become more recognised internationally and considers it part of his responsibility to help to achieve that. When he plays, he considers the audience to be very important, "a plant must have water if it is to grow" was how he explained that to me. I asked a rather complicated question about the frequent and complex time changes and what I called the 'musical punctuation' that seems to divide up some of his longer pieces, and he explained that such changes of tempo were key to the Boussou school of Gnaoua, developed by his late father, the great Maalem H'mida Boussou. The interview video runs to a little over 10 minutes, and if you speak French you'll get a lot more out of it than if you just speak English. Many thanks to Ibtissam Alaoui, from the festival press office, for translating my questions and Hassan's replies from and to English.


Here's a slideshow of some of the photographs that I took that I have loaded up to Flickr. I took these with my camcorder, which lets me take still photos while I'm recording a video.

Vince Millett

Vince Millet added a comment with links to some great photographs that he took. Just follow the links to these six Flikr slides-shows to get a great sense of the everyday excitement of the Essaouira festival. Thanks for these, Vince.
Opening Parade:

Maâlem Mustapha Bakbou:

Dhafer Youssef:

Maâlem Saïd Ouressan:

Speed Caravan:

Around the festival:


I was able to record a couple of Audio-only sessions from our balcony at Bab Marrakech while I was over at Moulay Hassan with the video camera. Here's the first of them, featuring Maalem Aziz Bakbou with some member of the Armenian Navy Band (among others):

This isn't working, and I'm not sure why. I'll try to sort it out.

My wife Maggie has also wrtten extensively about the festival, and you can read what she says and see her own photographs on her blog here

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Essaouira Gnaoua festival Facebook groups

I've been one of the admins for the i just can't wait for the next gnaoua's festival in Essaouira !! Facebook group for a couple of years and I always knew there was at least one other, but today I was looking around and I found a whole bunch more. I couldn't find a way to create a Facebook supergroup (let me know if you know how), so I decided to list and link to them all here, on my blog. Post comments if you knolw of others, and I'll add them to  the post.

Some of these groups have over 400 members and have good posts, photos, and videos, so, if you are in facebook, take a look and join some of them.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

A long week-end in Amsterdam, March 2010

Last Friday, Maggie and I flew to Amsterdam for the week-end. We got a 7am flight from Southampton airport, less than 10 miles away, getting to Amsterdam's central station by 10am local time - not bad considering UK is an hour ahead.

Once again we stayed at the same little hotel on the Prinzengracht, this time in a room facing onto the canal. The only down side was that it was on the 4th floor, and if you've ever been in a narrow 17th century dutch town house, you'll know exactly how challenging that can be. I'm 6'7'' and on one of the flights I had to limbo backwards to get down the stairs.

Amsterdam is a great place for shopping. If you like hats, the English Hatter is a great place to go. I thought I'd lost my black Kangol 504 so bought another one, along with a black cotton/linen mix in a similar style, though when I got home I found my old one in the loft.

Since it was Maggie's birthday, I got her a pretty little brooch from Laloli, and as I'd bought a number of things there over the past few years, Sandra (one of the three sisters who make all of the jewelery) gave Maggie a pair of silver and pearl ear-rings as a present. Thank you, Sandra, Monique and Marianne.

Go Gallery

In 2008, I went to the Go Gallery to buy a Moon Calendar and discovered Sit's Unwired exhibition which was running at the time, but on my last two trips I just couldn't find it. I must have walked up and down the odd side of the Prinzengracht four times but just couldn't see it. This year, while paying for the Duvel I'd just drunk, I asked the owner of the little bar on the even side of the canal (No. 44, I think) if she knew the Go Gallery, and she said "Oh yes, it's just a few doors down". You know, I'd been convinced that it was on the other side, but there it was, at Prinzengracht 64!.

This time, the gallery was running the first solo exhibition by Michiel van der Born, a young Dutch typographer. The exhibition is called "26 Characters", and features 26 acrylic paintings of all of the letters of the alphabet. Here's the composite view used to promote the show. I currently use this in tesselated form as my lap-tops background.

 I didn't buy one of those, but I did buy "typotalk" (4/15), another piece of his work on show there:

I do love typography and can't wait to get it framed and hung. Here's my YouTube playlist of some good typography videos that I've collected.

The above two images in this post are Copyright © Michiel van der Born.

Speaking of Moon Calendars, I bought the new one and the owner gave me the one from 2009 that I missed getting last year. Thanks so much.

My usual mode of transport in Amsterdam is walking and believe me, I did a lot of it in those three days! It's strange you know, but for such a small and compact city, most of the places I wanted to be were a surprising distance from each other. One day, while walking between two such places, I spotted De Bierkoning, possibly the best beer shop in the world, and certainly the best I've ever been in. Confused by the enormous choice of what seemed like 1,000 different bottles, I plumped for a single bottle of green label (or kleine) Duvel. At 7.5%, it's about 1% weaker than the regular. Cold-filtered and sold in 25cl bottles, it's perfect for drinking ice cold and straight from the bottle.

Yellow and Red meet

That's the title of the piece of glass by Ton Verdegaal that I bought at the Tatiana De La Fuente Art Gallery at Prinzengracht 308a. I'll try to take a good photo of it and post it here. It looks beautiful in our dining room, front-lit, casting a yellow shadow on the wall behind. You can see some wondeful examples of his work, though not my piece, on his web site.

Maggie and I saw it on Saturday while we were walking somewhere and I didn't manage to get back there until late on Sunday afternoon when the gallery had already closed. Not only did the owner open the shop and show me the work while her guest was left waiting, but she personally delivered the piece to my hotel, securely wrapped for air travel and complete with it's certificate of authenticity. Thank you, Sara, for such wonderful service.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival 2010 - June 24-27

UPDATE 4 July 2010

Now that the festival has been and gone, if you want to read my festival report, listen to some of the music, watch some videos, or see some of the photos that I took, just follow this link

UPDATE 10 May 2010

At last, the official dates are now up on the festival web-site, so you don't just need to take my word for it. Here's the image that is currently posted there:

The dates are as I previously posted - Thursday to Sunday, June 24-27, 2010.

I've been in touch with the Festival organisers and am pleased to announce that the 13th Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival will be held Thursday to Sunday, June 24-27, 2010.

The official festival website at is still showing the 2009 dates, and almost none of the links there work, but I'm sure that they will sort that out before too long. The line-up and the updated website are usually posted until late-May/early-June, but they usually update the banner image with the dates round about now. If any of you need to books flights or hotels, and want to confirm the dates, I suggest you call A3 Communications (contact details on the festival web page).

If you can't wait until June and need to hear some gnaoua music right now, you'll find plenty on the playlists here or over on my YouTube channel.