Sunday 23 July 2017

Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival 2017

It's been five years since my wife, Maggie Knutson, and I were last in Essaouira for its world-renowned Gnaoua and World Music Festival, but this year we were back again, to enjoy and record the music that we both love so much. We had high expectations for this year's event - Band of Gnawa and Maalem Abdeslam Alikane with Ray Lema, both on the bill again after 10 years - and we weren't disappointed.

I'll leave it to Maggie to provide all of the little details that she's so good at capturing in words - you can read the first of her multi-part blog entry here. I'll use his blog to share the videos and photos that I took.

We've been attending the festival since 2000, but I only started recording the music in 2007, after I found that I needed a way to preserve the unique music that had filled my head for the four days of the festival, but the memory of which decayed in the days and weeks after I'd returned home. I started with a Zoom digital audio recorded and an ATR shotgun microphone, and captured much of what, in my opinion, was the best festival ever. You can listen to those recordings here. Note that while they are YouTube videos, they are audio only.

The next year I came better prepared with a Panasonic GS1  camcorder that worked really well and produced pretty good 720p videos, though being tape-based it meant my luggage was full of blank tapes and spare batteries and chargers. All of my videos from 2008 to 2012 were taken using my GS1, though I added a Rode M3 mic in 2012.

This year, however, I decided to upgrade my camera and bought a fully digital Panasonic HC-V770, which with a 128GB class 10 SD card can record up to 6 hours - enough for a good days shooting. I was able to back each day's videos directly from the camera to a 480 GB SanDisk Extreme 500 solid-state hard drive, so I has plenty of space. If you wonder why I need so much space, the V770 records MP4 videos at 50Mb per second - about 22GB each hour. The V770 battery life is about 90 minutes, so instead of buying loads of spare batteries at £120 each, I bought a £30 Gomadic portable USB power pack which lasts about 6 hours, and can also charge my iPhone. Oh yes, this camera can also take pretty good still photographs while simultaneously shooting movies, as you can see when the Flickr slideshow below kicks off in a few seconds:

Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival 2017

In 2010, the festival organisers wrote to me suggesting I apply for press accreditation, which that year, and the next two years, we received, along with the precious Camera logo which gets you into the press pit right at the front of the stage!

In past years, I had always recorded gonzo-style - right in with the main audience, or from our private balcony at Hotel L'Heure Bleu (rooms 24/34) overlooking Place Bab Marrakech, until 2011 one of the main festival venues, or from Restaurant Bab Lachour, overlooking the Place Moulay Hassan stage. Both of these approaches have their drawbacks. Gonzo puts you at the mercy of the audience, which results in shaky video and voices over the music. Audio recording at distance from the balconies adds a phasing effect from the ever-present wind.

But in the photographers' pit you are so close and you get the real sound of the instruments as well as that from the on-stage monitors - not just the big PA. Fantastic, and such an experience being so close to the musicians and dancers.

This year, however, it wasn't to be. I'd applied for Maggie and myself in good time but heard nothing until a week before the festival, when we received rejection letters; the reason given was that we didn't have official press passes. When we spoke to one of the team in Essaouira, we were told that since so many applications had been made for this, the 20th, festival, they'd needed some simple criterion to winnow out the chaff. So that's what we were: chaff. Over 1 million views on my YouTube channel counted for nothing. But I'm not bitter. There's always next year.

All was not lost, though. On the Thursday that the festival was due to start, I spotted Loy Ehrlich from Band of Gnawa in the street, introduced myself, and gave him a CD of the BoG set I'd recorded in 2007, along with a few others. He immediately dug into his bag and gave me a VIP pass - not for the press pit - but almost as good. Not only that, but when he saw me later that night, he gave Maggie one too. So, a big thank you to Loy Ehrlich. A great musician with a heart of gold.

Enough of the talk. How about some music. Speaking of Loy Ehrlich, let's start with the playlist of the Band of Gnawa set. This starts with three numbers from Maalem Said Boulhimas, before BoG join in. You can click the playlist icon at the top left of the video to select a different video.

The highlight of the festival, for me, Maggie, and some other people I spoke to was the Titi Robin set at Place Moulay Hassan on Saturday night. Titi Robin (guitar and electric mandolin) was joined by Mehdi Nassouli (guembri and vocals), Shuheb Hasan (Sufi vocals), Murad Ali Khan (sarangi), and Ze Luis Nascimento (hand drums) delivering a wonderfully melodic fusion of  the music of four continents. You can get some sense of the experience in the video playlist below. Note that a couple of the tracks have a pronounced bass distortion (my bad) but I believe that the music still shines through. If you like this music, you may want to buy the CD Taziri, featuring Robin, Nassouli, and Nasciemento, available on Amazon here.

At the end of the Titi Robin set Maggie and I headed over to La Plage venue, by way of Sam's Fish 
Restaurant to see  Maalem Abdeslam Alikane and Ray Lema. When we arrived, Speed Caravan were still playing and I managed to video their last three numbers, including one with the wonderful, and new to me, Hindi Zahra. Here's that playlist:

As for the Alikane/Lema set, I was told to stop filming with my V770 after the first number, but I managed to capture most of the other numbers on my iPhone SE (with a Rode VideoMicro mic) or on my Zoom H2 audio recorder which was tucked in an inside jacket pocket. Consequnetly, the video quality isn't great so I have't got a separate playlist for this set yet, but you can find a couple of the videos in my Essaouira 2017 playlist, along with Maâlem Abdelkebir Merchane, Carlinhos Brown, some street music, and a couple of walks. 28 videos in total, with more to come, including more from Alikane/Lema. If you subscribe to the playlist or the channel on YouTube, you'll get notified when I add more.

Friday 30 October 2015

#SOBERCOLLECTIVE at Original Dampkring Gallery

If you're in Amsterdam before 6 December, you should take the time to visit the #SOBERCOLLECTIVE exhibition at the new Original Dampkring Gallery (of certain repute). The chameleon is iconic, marrying the photo-realistic colouring of the Telmoniel artists with the algorithmic precision and dexterity of the Sober Industries team. The combination of 2D and 3D in some of the pieces works really well, giving the impression of an outside/inside view of the same subject.

The huge cat appears to stalk the room. The hand, in Vulcan pose, suddenly appears other-worldly. The 'wheel thing' is hand-drawn, and, like the other paper sculptures, laser-cut. I wish that I'd taken a closeup The chameleon is probably my favourite piece - not surprisingly, it's the one featured on the promotional material for the exhibition. The crab runs a close second, maybe because of my birthday - I'm a Cancer.

These are my photographs from the Sober Industries & Telmoniel / #SOBERCOLLECTIVE exhibition - 16 October to 6 December 2015 at the Original Dampkring Gallery at Singel 395, Amsterdam, Netherlands, but copyright remains with the artists.

Here's a link to these higher-definition images on Flickr. The slideshow will be revealed in a few seconds. I've also uploaded them to Slideshare here.

#SOBERCOLLECTIVE at Original Dampkring Gallery

Below you'll find embedded my Facebook photo gallery of the event

Photographs from the Sober Industries & Telmoniel / #SOBERCOLLECTIVE exhibition - 16 October to 6 December 2015 at the Original Dampkring Gallery at Singel 395, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Posted by John Knutson on Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Saturday 18 May 2013

Morocco 1972

Here are some photographs that I took on my first trip to Morocco in the summer of 1972.

Heading up to Ketama in the Rif mountains

Crops in the Rif
Crops in the Rif

Djemma El Fna, Marrakech

Cindy with her VW bus, campsite, Marrakech

Cindy, Marrakech

Man in djellabah, Marrakech

Koutoubia, Marrakech

Water sellers, Djemma El Fna, Marrakech

Sunset, Diabet
Photographs taken with Zenith E using Kodacolor-X film.

Saturday 11 May 2013

IBM Social Media Aggregator

This post shows an example of embedding widgets from the IBM Social Media Aggregator.

Saturday 27 April 2013

Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival 2013

I saw yesterday that they have posted the line-up for this year's Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival. You can find it here: and the festival's site is here:

Maggie and I won't be going this year. This will be the first one we've missed since I started recording in 2007. In fact the last one we missed was in 2004. This year's line-up looks pretty traditional with surprisingly few sub-Saharan artists, apart of course from the wonderful Yousou N'Dour, who'll be performing at Scene Meditel on the Saturday.

It was a short clip I took of Yousou N'Dour when he last played there in 2005 that made me start recording and then filming in the first place. We'll be very sorry to miss him this year, but we can always look back on this:

That was when Place Bab Marrakech was stil being used. It was a great venue. We were staying in the Hotel L'Heure Bleu, it might have been our first time there and we didn't get the suite with the balcony overlooking the stage until 2007. I took the video above from the roof of the hotel using a little Sony Sureshot - just thought about it just before the end - and didn't post it until 2007 when I started recording audio. 2007, that was a truly great year - perhaps the best since we first went in 1999 or 2000.

Sunday 21 April 2013

Blogger good at stopping spam comments

Update 8 June 2013

Oh you guys! You just couldn't stop, could you? Numerous spam per day, and some getting throuhg to the page. So, I've decided to add an extra step when posting comments - see if the spambots can figure that out.

I originally built this page a couple of months ago when I'd got fed up with checking my Comments folder to make sure Blogspot's spam filter was coping with the increasing number of spam comments. I had decided to switch on comment moderation, but I felt that would make life harder for people with real comments. However  since the spam filter catches most of them, I decided to put them to good use and write this post to show the world how insidious this sort of comment is. I lost that original post due to a mix-up with the Revert to Draft button, but decided to bring it back to life today.

They all have a number of things in common:
  • They are very complimentary - both of the post and the writer - so you want them to be real
  • They are very general - they could apply to almost any post so appear to be real
  • They often appear to be quite well written - so you think they must be real
  • They always point to another web site that is unrelated to your post - often gamling, drugs, holidays, adult sites etc
  • The same comments have often been added to many other blogs - often too many to be real
As an example of the last bullet,  I did a Google search for the following text string  found in one of the spam comments. "I'm assuming    having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny?" was found over 10 million times. Why not try it for yourself with this link? So, all you bloggers out there who accept these comments, don't believe everything your readers say, they probably aren't real. 

Here's what I've collected so far. Most have come in this year.
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Thursday 24 January 2013

CICS on Facebook

Thursday 28 June 2012

Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival - June 21-24 2012

Updated  28th June 2012
Maggie and got back home on Tuesday, and as of today, I've posted three videos from the Omar Hyat concert to YouTube. I've added a plylist below, which wil grow in the weeks and months to come. I'll write something later. Enjoy!

They published the dates for the 15th Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival - June 21-24 2012 - shortly after the 2011 festival ended, so I've waited till now to start this post on the 2012 festival. Earlier today, the organisers held a twit-fest in conjunction with a press conference, when they announced the artists who will be performing this year. The program itself has not yet been published, but they have declared which venues will be used - the same as last year (unfortunately, Place Bab Marrakech will still just be used as a car park. Funny thing is, when I first arrived in Essaouira, back in 1972, we parked our van on some rough ground just outside the Marrakech gate - plus ca change - as they say).

As last year, the two main venues are Place Moulay Hassan and Scene Meditel, on the beach. While it's still largely a free festival, you can buy a “4 day pass” or a “1 day pass” gives access to room in front of the stage at the two major Festival venues. You also have to pay to get into the intimate music sessions at Zaouia Sidna Bilal, Dar Souri, and Bastion Bab Marrakech. Most of these events cost 100 Dirhams.

Anyway, getting back to the festival, here's a list of the artists taken from the festival web-site :
  • Carlou D (Senegal)
  • Djembe New Style
  • Fareed Ayaz et Abu Mohamed (Pakistan)
  • Hoba Hoba Spirit (Casablanca)
  • The Issaoua Brotherhood (Essaouira)
  • Maâlem Abdelkader Amlil (Rabat)
  • Maâlem Abdelkebir Merchane (Marrakech)
  • Maâlem Abdellah Akharraz (Essaouira)
  • Maâlem Abdelouahed Stitou (Tanger)
  • Maâlem Abdenbi El Gadari (Casablanca)
  • Maâlem Abdeslam Alikane & ... (Essaouira)
  • Maâlem Allal Soudani (Essaouira)
  • Maâlem Hamid El Kasri (Rabat)
  • Maâlem Hassan Boussou (Casablanca)
  • Maâlem Mahjoub Khalmouss
  • Maâlem Mohamed Kouyou (Marrakech)
  • Maâlem Mohamed Lebbat (Marrakech)
  • Maalem Mahmoud Guinea (Essaouira)
  • Maâlem Mokhtar Guinea (Essaouira)
  • Maâlem Mustapha Bakbou (Marrakech)
  • Maâlem Omar Hayat (Essaouira)
  • Maâlem Rachid Fadli Ladhass (Rabat)
  • Maâlem Saïd El Bourki
  • Maâlem Saïd Oughassal (Casablanca)
  • Maâlem Saïd Tahlaoui (Safi)
  • Mobydick
  • Musiciens de Bob Maghrib (Morocco)
  • Musiciens de Mayara Band (Morocco)
  • Nasser (France)
  • Oumou Sangaré (Mali)
  • Querencia
  • Soweto Kinch quartet with ... (UK)
  • Sylvain Luc trio
  • Trio Joachim Kühn, Majid Bekkas, Ramon Lopez & les Gnaoua de Salé (Germany/Morocco /Spain)
My, it's tedious, copying and pasting all of these links, so, maybe I'll get around tgo finishing that later.

So, what sounds good to me?

Fareed Ayaz et Abu Mohamed - Quawalli musicians from Pakistan should be good - I saw Mehr Ali and Sher Ali a few years ago, and they were superb. That was before I started to record and film at Essaouira, but I still have a pretty strong memory of them, so I have high hopes.

Oumou Sangaré from Mali is the only woman to be billed this year - a pretty poor show, if you ask me. She's new to me, but she played here in 2003 - musically, one of my favourite years, so I'm looking forward to her.

Musiciens de Bob Maghrib promise a feast of gnaoua-inspired reggae (or maybe reggae-inspired gnaoua) that should awaken my inner rasta, so watch out, folks.

Omar Hyatt always puts on a great show, but what I really like about him is the way he grooves with jazz and rock musicians, so, I'm interested to see who he'll be playing with.

Hassan Boussou with Nasser and MobyDick will give us electro-rap-gnaoua which should be interesting. Rap's not my favourite, and French rap sounds even less appealing, but Boussou is not a man who makes bad music, so, I'm going to hang fire on my opinion - I'll let you all know how it turns out.

I'm quite excited about Trio Joachim Kühn, Majid Bekkas, Ramon Lopez & les Gnaoua de Salé - Majid Bekkas plays a couple of numbers on my 2003 festival CD - Galou is one of my all-time favourites, so this set is a must for me.

Update: I'm very happy to say that though he wasn't listed originally on the web-site, the Press Dosier says that Maalem Mahmoud Guinea will be playing after all. Hurray!

I'll take a closer look at the line-up in the coming weeks and try to listen to some of the musicians who are new to me, but at first glance, it's looking good.

Thursday 3 May 2012

New Dutch Wietpas / Weed Pass - Much Worse Than I Thought!

I was in Amsterdam yesterday and was told the gist of this by a well informed source. Everything he said is as described in the extract below, taken today from the Netherlands Government's website.
My source also said, but this is not confirmed, that an individual would only be able to register with a single coffee shop, preventing both socialising, and the ability to exercise choice as to where you would like to smoke at any given time of day.
A few years ago, they stopped you being able to buy alcohol in a coffee shop, which also prevented mixed groups of people who wanted to both drink and smoke from socialising in the same place.
My source also asserted that the new measures would push drugs back onto the streets, where sales would be uncontrolled, organized by local criminal gangs with power struggles likely to cause injury and even death.

Not everyone who visits Amsterdam and other Dutch cities goes there to smoke. It's a wonderful place that you can enjoy in so many different ways. But all visitors will be effected by this, since the safe streets and canals that they enjoy walking along late into the night will not feel or be so safe any more.

I've been visiting The Netherlands for over forty years and I've always loved the people and the country for their practical, pragmatic, and progressive attitude to life. I'm saddened by this move, but I hope that sense will prevail. Please support the opposition to these changes. If I find a focal point for that, I will append it here.

There's some good, independent commentary here: 

This links to a translation of the Wikipedia Weitpas page, currently only available in the Dutch language.  

Rules on coffee shops to be toughened up

The aim of drugs policy is to limit damage to public health and combat nuisance and crime. This policy is now being stepped up.
The ‘open door’ policy currently pursued by coffee shops will come to an end. The objective is to combat the nuisance and crime associated with coffee shops and the trade in drugs. Coffee shops must become smaller and easier to control. Dutch drug policy needs to become less attractive to drug users from abroad. Coffee shops will be small, private clubs that focus on the local market.
In recent years the trade in drugs has grown in scale and has become more professional and commercial. In response to this, the approach to organised drug-related crime has been intensified.
In order to achieve government objectives, the rules on cannabis and coffee shops are being tightened up:
  • coffee shops will become private clubs, with a maximum of 2,000 members;
  • membership will be recorded in a membership list;
  • the coffee shop will provide members with a membership card;
  • only residents of the Netherlands aged 18 years or older will be eligible for membership;
  • no coffee shop may be located within 350 metres of a school;
  • from now on cannabis with a THC content of 15% or more will be classified as a hard drug.

Membership lists for coffeee shops

Coffee shops owners must maintain membership records. The cabinet expects that drug tourism and nuisance related to drugs will be managed better as a result of private coffee shops. The following rules apply to membership records:
  • the applicant member must be older than 18 years of age and resident of the Netherlands. He has to prove that he fulfills those two criteria by producing a valid identification document and an extract from the Municipal Personal Records Database. The extract must be more recent than 4 weeks;
  • the membership must be longer than one year; 
  • those who are not members may not enter the coffee shop;
  • the maximum amount of members one coffees hop can have is  2000 .

Membership card for coffee shops

The owner of the coffee shop has to make sure he only allows entry to members. Membership can be checked by a membership card (also referred to by the media as “wietpas” (weed card.) The owner of the coffee shop can also check who is a member and who is not.

Membership lists and membership card to be introduced gradually

The new rules will be introduced gradually:
  • the amendment of the toleration criteria (as specified in the Opium Act Instructions) will come into effect on 1 January 2012;
  • the new rules will come into effect in the following provinces on 1 May 2012: Limburg, North Brabant and Zeeland (with the exception of the rule on the maximum number of members);
  • municipalities in other provinces may also choose to introduce the new system as of this date;
  • as of 1 January 2013 all rules, including the maximum number of members, will apply throughout the Netherlands.

Informing drug tourists

Non-residents of the Netherlands cannot become a member of a coffee shop and can therefore no longer use them. This will apply in the provinces Limburg, North Brabant and Zeeland as of 1 May 2012 and in the rest of the Netherlands as of 1 January 2013. Information on the new members’ system are be available at the website
The site will also provide:
  • information on the new rules in 4 languages (Dutch, English, French and German);
  • information on drug addiction, with details of addiction care in a range of European languages;
  • information for municipalities introducing the system. (For instance on communication tools (including leaflets) that municipalities can utilize. This part of the site is only accessible for municipalities.

Minimum distance between coffee shops and schools

There will be a ban on locating coffee shops within 350 metres of secondary schools and secondary vocational institutions. The aim is to introduce this rule by 1 January 2014.

Saturday 24 March 2012

Michan Mijsbergh 'Eat Your Heart Out' exhibition at the GO Gallery, Amsterdam

I was lucky to be in Amsterdam last week and able to catch Eat Your Heart Out - Michan Mijsbergh's first solo exhibition at the Go Gallery. If you are anywhere near Amsterdam before the end of April, you must visit . I was blown away by this young man's (he's only 21) outstanding talent. Don't miss it. Here are some examples, from photographs I took there. Thanks to Oscar and Farud for being so gracious.

You really should click on these photographs to see them full size - the detail is very fine. Sometimes you feel you are falling into the chasms of his creature's faces.