Monday, 10 October 2011

The Talent

When I first started getting serious about making videos and did some research on techniques, I kept on hearing the term 'the talent' - not as an attribute, as in 'so an so' has talent, but as a proper noun, as in 'place the talent there', or 'make sure the talent ...'. At the time it seemed a bit strange to refer to the subject of the film in that way, almost as if no one else had any talent.

In my proper job - marketing manager for a major computer company - I work with many very talented people every day, and I'd be disingenuous if I tried to claim that I didn't have a little myself, but ...

... over the past few days I've been editing some of the footage I took in this year in Essaouira in order to build some DVDs of the preparation and performances of a couple of the groups, and suddenly it made sense - these people aren't the same as most of you and me. There's something about them that forces you to watch and listen to the same bits of their music over and over till you capture it just right, so that you can portray them in the best light. I stand there while they perform and record them putting their soul into it for our sakes, but I'm like a financial derivative, they are the prime assets.

I got to thinking - would people pay to watch me work? Would I entrance then as I put the finishing touches to a marketing plan, of submitted a request to update a web page? I guess you all know the answer.

Anyone who buys books, CDs, movies, or goes to concerts knows this to be true - we couldn't write those books, sing and play on those CDs, act in those movies, or whatever. It's only when you get close to musicians and actors, as I've been privileged to recently, that the truth hits home - talent is not just a subjective characteristic, like beauty in the eye of the beholder, it's something innate. It's what makes them different. It's why we pay good money to be in their presence - whether physically or virtually.

I could go on, but 'nuff said.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Great glass by Ton Verdegaal in Amsterdam

On my last visit to Amsterdam, Maggie bought me a wonderful piece of glass as a birthday present. It was made by Ton Verdegaal, who has a small shop cum studio at Berenstraat 41.

I stumbled on his shop by chance, only to realize that I had bought another piece of his the year before. I'll post a photo of that later.

You can see more of Ton's work on his web site
, but if you plan to visit Amsterdam, take the time to drop in, and see it for real.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival 2011 - June 23-26

Updated 24th July 2011
Updated 5th July 2011

We've been home now for about a week and Maggie and I are really missing being there. We had a wonderful time, met lots of old and made lots of new friends, and, of course, heard some great music from some oustanding performers. I recorded about 12 hours of video, about 6 hours of audio, and took about 1500 photographs - of which disappointingly few are any good. Armed with my press accreditation, I was able to spend time at the Hassan Boussou - Jacques Schwarz-Bart residence in the three days leadng up to their performances. You can read more about that, and see the videos I took here. I'll add all of the videos I post to this Essaouira 2011 playlist, so check back every now and again in case I've added any new ones.

As Maggie has written on her blog - link - it wasn't quite the same out the big Bab Marrakech square, which this year becane an increasingly busy car park!

I loved Brother Jacques' project - Jazz Racines Haiti, both on their own and when they played with Hassan Boussou. Trilok Girtu's drumming and tabla playing - sometimes simultaneously - was a wonder to behold, complemented by Carlo Cantini's mournful violin (see the playlist for a great example).

Between Worlds were pretty good on their own, but when they played with Maalem Hamid El Kasri up on the new Bab Marrakech Bastion, the music entered a different realm. I managed to sneak a short video of them playing part of the old Nusrat Fateh Aki Khan favourite - Mustt Mustt - that I have now posted - you'll find it in the playlist. Humayun Khan's voice and harmonium playing were outstanding.

This set reminded me of the Ali brothers - Mehr Ali and Sher Ali - who played Bab Marrakech in 2006 - before I started to record  music in Essaouira - now they wer really something. We often play thir CD - Qawwali, The Essence of Desire - 4 long tracks, each about 15 minutes - music to take you to another place. After a sound-check, one afternoon, I saw them walking with their musicians - a line of princes, the crowd parting before them. "Where's my camera, where's my video" I thought - well, it's in my head - we all carry one around with us all of the time, and it's moments like that that live with us forever - camera or no.While not a replacement for Place Bab Marrakech, the Bastion is a great venue. seating about 600 on rugs and bolsters, on a slight rise going up from the low stage, all under the open skies with a view over the town to the sea beyond.

Darga were an eye-opener and a very refreshing one a that. while Ribab Fusion, who led out at the closing concert are the band to watch.

The finale of the festival featured four (4) maalems playing together, but what I'd billed as the Battle of the Maalems tuned out to be more of a friendly chat. Each maalem played a solo session while the others stood around, tapping their guimbris, wanting to join in - but that wasn't the plan. The they went round one more time. Only for the ninth and final number did they all play together, but by that time, quite frankly I'd lost it, and can't quite recall much at all and missed part of the recording. All in all though, a good festival with some great highlights.

I lost three pieces of equipment - one on them quite expensive - but was reunited with them all by the end, so "Thanks guys".

Countdown to Essaouira 2011
The 14th Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival will be held this year from Thursday June 23 to Sunday June 26. There are no more details yet on the festival web site, but the dates are now public along with is new banner, so I guess it's safe for you to book your flights and accomodation. I've already booked our usual room in Essaouira.

Maggie and I are applying for accreditation again this year - I let you know how we get on with that.

Update 15th May 2011

At last, they've posted the program for 2011 at

Here're the highlights. I've indicated the countries in brackets, if not indicated, they are from Morocco. I've also added links to the web sites for some of the artists.

You can also download a 56 page Press Dossier as a pdf file . There's a version in French and another in Arabic. Whereas the program on the web site is built using Flash, so you can't copy the text or print it out, the pdf version can be copied and printed. Updated 29/05/11 There's also a version available in English now.

According to the program, there will only be two (2) sets at Bab Marrakech on Friday and Saturday - one at 8pm and one at midnight. Last year, there were 4 on the Friday and 5 on the Saturday - starting each night at 7:30 pm,

The program also talks about a new stage at the Bastion Bab Marrakech not the Bab Marrakech square, and they show a picture of the bastion. The text says that the bastion houses / shelters (abrite) the concerts. At first, I could'nt believe that they planned to hold the concerts inside the bastion - it just isn't big enough for the large crowds that normally go there. Then I saw that you have to pay for the Bab Marrakech stage. Only Place Moulay Hassan and Scene Meditel (on the beach) are free! Can this really be true? I hope not.

Another sign of down-sizing is the absense of the Pepsi stage. I never went there myself, but they seemed to use it for electro-fusion aimed at younger people.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Essaouira 2011 - Maalem Hassan Boussou playing with Jacques Schwarz-Bart's Jazz-Racines Haiti

Just experienced what must be the highlight of the Essaouira 2011 festival - Maalem Hassan Boussou playing with Jacques Schwarz-Bart's Jazz-Racines Haiti. Powerful music - haunting at times - with  virtuoso performances by Brother Jacques on tenor sax, Etienne Charles on trumpet and Milan Milanovi on piano, driven along by Ari Hoenig's fearsome drumming and Reginald Washington's bass. Add to the mix the Oh yes, and Hassan Boussou, of course, who drummed and strummed and blew and sung the whole set together. Truly a night to remember. Thanks guys.

Look out for some videos of this set and the Residence that preceded it on

Update 29/06/2011

I've just got back home from the Essaouira 2011 festival and I've posted a short - 3 minute - extract from the final number of the Maalem Hassan Boussou with Jacques Schwarz Bart's Jazz Racines Haiti set as well as the whole of the second to last number. You'll notice some fur from my dead cat - hope it doesn't spoil the effect too much. The video is available in 720p HD on YouTube and the audio for the longer piece comes from my digital recorder which I'll use whenever possible since the quality is better.

Update 03/06/2011


Hamdouchia extract

Foufou Djenba 2nd last number

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Welcome to Dorothy - our new Northern Correspondent

I'd like to welcome Dorothy who has joined the DaftNotStupid team as our new Northern Correspondent and who will, I'm sure, provide a different perspective on things. Like Maggie and myself, she has a long-time love of African music and has visited Morocco and Tunisia on many occasions. She will be joining us this year for her first ever Essaouira festival, so look out for posts under her by-line.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Bomb at The Argana, Djema El Fna, Marrakech, June 28 2011

We see, hear, and read news about terrorist attrocities around the world nearly every day and they always seem so far away from most of our normal reality that we tend to let them wash over us, sad that it is to say that. Yesterday's bomb at Bomb at The Argana restaurant in Marrakech changed all that for me.

I'm not usually given to writing about topical or political subjects, but this is personal. I first visited the pink city in 1972 and have been back many times since then. Buses may no longer arrive there and the cars are kept away at night, the once-rough ground may be paved over, and there's more light around the food hawkers tables, but Djema El Fna is still the heart and the pulse of the city, always bustling, exciting, alive. The gnaouistas (you can't call them gnaoui) still play their parodies of the true form, the young boys beat their drums and dance, the water-sellers quench travellers' thirsts, snakes are charmed, and young children sit in a circle listening to an old man telling wonderful stories of times past. That is the true Marrakech and it always has been thus, long before the hippies and then the tourists came. Incidents like today's won't stop the Marrakchis and we mustn't let it stop us tourists and travellers from visiting this beautiful city.

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

Monday, 25 April 2011

The Third Man theme

Inspired by an idea from Marvin Naylor, here's a playlist of the The Third Man theme. Enjoy!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Posting HD videos on YouTube

When I first started posting videos on YouTube in 2007, they were audio only - I mastered them using Windows Movie Maker as wmv files with a short text header and trailer and typically they were around 10MB. That year, I also uploaded the wav files (about 30MB each) to Fileden and created playlists which could be played from my blog. The audio quality was usually pretty good - I used a little Zoom H4 digital  recorder with an AT shotgun mike - and almost all of the bandwidth was tajken up with the audio.

In 2008, I got my video camera, and started to record the visuals as well as the audio, but, I still mastered them as wmv and tried to maintain a similar, small file size. While the audio in those files wasn't bad, the video quality wasn't that good. Typically YouTube wasn't able to deliver more than 240p.

In 2009, as network upload bandwidth became better and YouTube relaxed their file size limits, I started to render my videos as mp4 files, now using Sony Vegas Movie Studio, and I tried  to keep the files at around 100MB. YouTube was now able to deliver these at up to 480p, which I considered a pretty good improvement.

Last year, YT upped its limits to 2GB and I moved to a BE broadband connection which had up to 2Mb of upstream bandwidth, so I started to increase the size of the mp4 files to about 800MB for a 10 minute video. Now YouTube could play these in HD at 1080p, but I found that my download speed was no longer good enough, and the videos would stop and start. so I usually played them at 720p or even 480p on a bad day. I also found that I couldn't play them locally any more. VLC would play the first couple of minutes OK, but then would stop showing any video and just play audio. Two steps forward and one step back.

Recently, I discovered that I hadn't done anything with my 2010 recording of Maalem Mahmoud Guinea and Daby Toure, so I edited and mastered one of the numbers, and rendered it in Mpeg 2, producing m2t files, at around 1.2GB per 10 minutes of video. Not only would these play well locally with VLC and QuickTime, but YouTube could deliver them pretty reliably in HD at 720p.

Update: 15 Oct 2011

I've been getting quite a few Google searches ending up on this page, so I thought that I'd add a few details about the setting I use:

Software: Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD 10
Encoding: MainConcept MPEG2
Vegas template: HDV 720-25p - I film in the UK so always work in PAL at 25fps
Audio: 384 Kbps, 48,000 Hz, 16 Bit, Stereo, MPEG
Video: 25 fps, 1280x720 Progressive, YUV, 18.3 Mbps
Pixel Aspect Ratio: 1.000
Aspect ratio: 16:9

I know I could probably reduce the bit rate, but this works, so I'm loathe to change it.

I'd welcome your comments on what works for you.

What's interesting is that I've been using the same camera all for all of this - a Panasonic GS-400, which creates a 12GB avi file for each hour of tape. The high quality is inherent in the original, but it's taken me three years to discover the optimum way of delivering the quality on YouTube. I re-rendered and re-posted one of the numbers by the Korean drummers, Samulnori Molgae, but honestly, life is too short to re-render everything that I've recorded and posted over the past three years. Looking back at some of my old stuff, I cringe a little, but people still watch and listen to them. My most popular video - Maalem Hamid El Kasri - is only available in 240p but has had over 40,000 plays and still gets around 50 plays a day, so I figure I shouldn't worry too much.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Essaouira 2010 - Daby Toure and Maalem Mahmoud Guinea

Here's the music from the set that Daby Toure played with Maalem Mahmoud Guinea the Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival 2010 at Place Bab Marrakech, Friday 25th June 2010. I recorded it last year, but forgot to master it.

Watching and listening to the whole set again (and again and again) over the past few days has reminded me just how wonderful these musicians are. Daby Toure led the vocals on their opening number, but there comes a point where Mahmoud just turns the song into a completely different one, one of his Gnaoua standards. You can see the look of surprise and sheer joy on Daby Toure's face as he realizes what's just happened. I've mastered them all now, so here is the YouTube playlist:

Daby and Mahmoud, if you're listening, I hope you like it. The music was great. Thanks!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Noir: SIT at GO GALLERY, Amsterdam

I was privileged to be given a sneak-preview of noir, SIT's new exhibition that opens today, March 19 at GO GALLERY, Prinsengracht 64, Amsterdam, and runs until the end of April.

noir #6
25/10/2011 Update: I've just received a copy of noir #6 and it looks fabulous. It's printed an really heavy art paper and the ink is soooo black. It's quite big - about 3'x2' - so will need a good space to hang it. I'll get it framed and then post a photo of how it looks in situ. Some prints are still available at, but you need to hurry since some are sold out already.

Unsurprisingly, the work is largely black - and if not as dark as unwired - still pretty uncompromising. noir appears to be about fashion, and the wrath wrought by man on the rest of animalkind in its perfection. The paintings feature beautifuly painted women, animals, and articles of fashion, which, in isolation look totally natural, but the resulting composition is anything but.

If you're coming to Amsterdam, take some time out and walk down the Prinsengracht to the GO GALLERY, but if you can't make it, visit SIT's new noir site. Prices range from about €1500 to €3500, though for those of us with smaller budgets will be able to buy a copy of the wonderfully photographed and produced show guide book, which will be available at €35 from GO GALLERY in the near future.

Many thanks to SIT, and to Faroud and Oskar for letting me take some photographs and publish them here. I hope that you think that they do the work justice. I couldn't get the white balance correct, so I developed the raw images in monochrome

For more about SIT on this blog, read this. See more of SIT's work at

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Moon Calendar 2011 at Go Gallery, Amsterdam

I subscribe to the Go Gallery's newsletter, and today I received a notification that there will be abother SIT (Freaking Sitnie) exhibition there. "Wow!" I thought. "Maggie and I are going to Amsterdam next week. What perfect timing!" Unfortunately not, however, since we leave on Saturday moring (March 19) and that's when they have the opening. Maybe, if I go there on Friday, they'll give me a sneak preview. I don't think I'll take Maggie, though. SIT is always a bit dark, and this exhibition promises to live up to his reputation, and given that it is called 'noir', you should expect it to me even more so than usual.

I still wish I'd bought one of his pieces from his 2009 (?) Unwired exhibition - the one with the pandas. (Strange thing, I just looked at my blog stats, and someone Gooogled 'unwired' earlier today, from Mexico, of all places. )

Anyway, while browsing round the Go Gallery web-site, I was reminded that they sell Moon Calendars, so, in what's become something of a tradition, here's the icon or the 2011 edition. You can buy one for as little as €11.00 from Go Gallery at, or contact
GO Gallery

Prinsengracht 64
1015 DX Amsterdam

Tel. 020-4229580
Fax 020-4229581