Tuesday 14 October 2008

Friday 25 July 2008

Essaouira 2008 - Interim report

So, its now about a month since we arrived in Essaouira. That long, slow drive down the sea front. Cecking it at the hotel and seeing old friends again. Our first nous-nous and caffee cassee Chez Ben Mustafa, God rest his soul. The excitement and anticipation is tangible. Looking back, was it all worth it? Yes, for sure. I don't think it was a great festival but it was a very good one. Great moments spring to mind: Omar Hayat with his flag holders and the great wailing woman, Hamid El Kasri, Ky-Mani Marler, Samulnori Molgae and their great drummers, but no Band of Gnawa, no Ray Lema, no Mehr Ali and Sher Ali, no Youssou N'Dour. Well, you can't have everything, and it was pretty good.

I took about 20 hours of video and quite a bit of audio and II captured all and have processed some of it and posted it to Youtube. It's given me the chance to listen again to all of the msuic, some of it many times as I get it ready for posting. I worked out that I probably listen to a given piece 8 or 10 times before it gets onto my channel.

My wife Maggie has written a great description of the festival, and much more, over on her blog, so why not take a look?

Sunday 20 July 2008

Group Bana de Marrakech at Essaouira 2008

I know little about Group Bana de Marrakech other than what I've read in the Essaouira festival guide which says (as translated by Google Translate):

The Group Bana is a native of Marrakech and plays in the style of "taktaka" Marrakesh, which is part of authentic arts of the city ochre as the "Dakka Marrakchiya." The group Bana has participated in several regional and national events and poetry evenings.

I saw them play on the Friday afternoon in the little Place Al Khayma and recorded all that I saw and heard. Theirs' is a completely different style to gnaoua - very interactive, both between each other and with the audience, who they carry along - singing and dancing - with long, complicated songs with rhythms that change all the time and which seem to tell well-known stories that everyone knows the words to - except me, of course. Anyway, as a musical and visual experience, it was stunning.

The stage at Al Khayma is only feet away from the audience which really helps the interactivity between the group and the crowd, and there was quite a crowd, filling the square pretty much, as you can see on my videos. I've seen a vidao of them playing at the new stage at Bab Doukkala, and they looked more formal, and more distant, there. I think maybe their taktaka works better in a smaller, more intimate venue.

Anyway, enough talk, here's some music. It links to my Group Bana de Marrakech playlist on YoutTube.

Saturday 19 July 2008

Van churns out another one!

KISS, or Keep It Simple, Stupid, is long-standing tenet in the IT business that I've been involved in for the past 40 years or so. As the title of Van the Man's latest album implies, I'm not sure who's the stupid one - us - for buying it, or him. He says that he's returning to his roots though to me it sounds like he's saving himself the bother of working for a living and is just repeating what he's done before. That said, on stage last year, his performance was great.

I wondered what was going on earlier this year when he and/or his record company pulled all of his classic videos from YouTube. Now I understand. He didn't want us to remember how great he was.

Sorry Van. You need to go back to the drawing board, and reinvent yourself. This just dosn't cut the mustard.

Sunday 13 July 2008

Music in Essaouira

If you think that the only music in Essaouira is at the festival, you would be very wrong. As you walk along its streets, you'll find yourself moving between islands of music: shops and stalls selling CDs - mainly gnaoua, but also sub-Saharan music from Mali and Senegal, shops selling souvenirs who play music to attract customers, and of course the cafes at Place Moulay Hassan, where sometimes the music is so loud that you can't hear the live music being played on the stage just around the corner!

Then, of course, there are the shops selling instruments: some more workshop that shop, where a lone craftsman makes instruments of wood and leather using hand-tools and skills that must have been passed down over the centuries.

Essaid Rhatrhat is one such who not only makes guimbris and djembes, but also plays them and sings as well, as you can see in this 10 minute clip that I recorded in June. I'd spotted his shop on the Derb Ibn Toumert, a little street that links the top end Place Moulay Hassan leading to Place Al Khaima. Younger musicians gather at his shop, to talk and get advice, a new string, or to try out a djembe. They address Essaid as 'maalem' (master), though he's wouldn't call himself that. Still its a term of respect that I think is well deserved.

Just a few minute's walk away, where Derb Yousef Ben Tachfine joins the Mellah Qdim (aka Avenue Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah), you'll find Bob Music, a veritable treasure chest of musical instruments, old and new, from Morocco, other parts of Africa, and from Europe and the Americas. The shop is run by Abderrahim and his assistant Hamid, who you can see in this clip, playing an impromptu set on djembes.

Regular visitors to DaftNotStupid may recognise the music playing on Abderrahim's complex set of interconnected CD players and amplifiers at the beginning of the clip. A free CD to the first person to identify the number (add comment here please, but send you name and address by email to mailto:john@daftnotstupid.com

Getting back to the theme of this meme (I know, I usually call them posts, but I liked the rhyme), you need to ask yourself the question "Why is there so much music in Essaouira?" Is it because of the festival, or is the festival here because of the music? I think the latter. Essaouira is one of the homes of Gnaoua music - it's in the soul and the blood of its inhabitants. If the festival stopped, the music wouldn't. People like Essaid would continue to ply their craft, making their own instruments and playing them for their own satisfaction and that of their friends and families.

While I'm on this subject,I've just counted up the gnaoua groups who played at the festival this year. Of the 28 maalems listed in the program, 13 come from Essaouira, 6 from Marrakech, and the remainder from the other gnaoua centres - Rabat (4), Casablanca (2), Meknes (1), Tangier (1), and Safi (1). While this certainly is partly due to local availability and a desire on the part of the organizers to promote native Souiri talent, it's probably also largely due to the fact that so many of the the Essaouira gnaouis are so darned good. Well, that my opinion. It just helps to show that music runs in the blood down there.

Sunday 6 July 2008

Essaouira 2008 الصويرة playlist

This is a playlist of the music that I recorded at the Essaouira 2008 Gnaoua and World Music Festival which I've posted on YouTube. Enjoy.

Click the little rectangular icon at the bottom, or move your mouse over the bottom of the fram, to see the clip titles.

Wednesday 2 July 2008

Essaouira 2008 Gnaoua and World Music Festival - First Impressions

Maalem Omar Hyatt

I've just come back from another great Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival and will be writing a lot about it and posting some pretty good audio, and new this year - video, of all of the sessions that I saw and heard. Hightlights for me were Maalem Omar Hyatt, Groupe Bassekou Kouyaté, Orchestre National de Barbes, the heavyweight drummers form Korea - Samulnori Molgae, Ky-Mani Marley and Maâlem Hamid El Kasri.

I recorded over twenty (20) hours of video and another 10 hours or so of audio. It's taken me three or four hours to create a 7 minute video clip that I am currently uploading to YouTube, so you can see that I've got my work cut out for the coming months.

Here's the start of a long number that I need to break to pieces because it's so long. It features Maalem Omar Hayat with Franck Vaillant (Drums), Jon Balcke Norway (Piano / keyboards), Mohamed Derouich (Guitar) France / Morocco, Ibrahim Maalouf (Trumpet / Lebanon).

This clip shows the great drummers from Samulnori Molgae:

After the Hamid El Kasri set, Maggie said that Ky-Mani Marley would have to be pretty good to beat it. Well, here's the evidence. Ky-Mani comes out fighting - and folks, there's more to come. Here's his opening number:

The closing set of the festival was back to Sunday, once again, after last year when it closed on Saturday. There were a couple of changes though: the two sets started a little later and were held at Moulay Hassan, not Bab Marrakech. Here's a couple of numbers by Orchestre National de Barbes who finished it all off very nicely, thank you!

Franck Vailant playing with Omar Hayat

Thursday 26 June 2008

Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival - 2008 line-up

Festival dates: Thursday June 26 to Sunday June 29

Updated: At last, the line-up has been posted for the 2008 Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival, and now (20 June) there is a detailed program that's nicely colour-coded to show musical genre, along with the lists of the artists and biographies. Also (18 June), some of the artist listings show the venue, day and time, so you can now plan your festival.

Note that you need to access the site using the French entry point if you want to see the musicians - the English side of the site is still pretty sparsely populated. I've added hyperlinks to the section headings below, so you can easily read more details about the artists. Links to the original French are shown in italics, English translations (courtesy of Google Translate) are shown in normal type.

I've added some links for some of the artists to their web-sites or Myspace profiles, so that you listen to their music, before the event, to help you to determine which sets you should attend.

Artistes World
/ International musicians

Franck Vaillant (Drums)
Jaleel Shaw (AltoSax) USA
Mohamed Derouich (Guitar) France / Morocco
Stéphane Edouard (Percussion) - India
Hassan Idbadssaïd (Vocals / banjo / guitar / Rebab / violin)
Abdenour Djemaï (Multi instrumentalist strings) France and Algeria
Andy Narell (Steel drums) NY
Jon Balcke Norway (Piano / keyboards)
Ibrahim Maalouf (Trumpet / Lebanon)
Fermin Juarez and Nelson Javier Silva (Argentina)

Groupes Etrangers / Foreign groups

Eric Légnini Trio - Belgium
Le Trio Joubran , Samir Joubran, Wissam Joubran, Adnan Joubran, Yousef Hbeisch
3 MA
Justin Adams - UK with Juldeh Camara - The Gambia
Groupe Bassekou Kouyaté
Toumani Diabaté - Mali (Kora)
Diwane El Kasbah - Algeria
Wayne Shorter quartet - USA
Ky-Mani Marley - Jamaica
Orchestre National de Barbes - Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia
Samulnori Molgae - Korea

Groupes Marocains / Moroccan groups
Groupe Darhem
Groupe Berbère Raiss Said OUTAJJAJT et Raissa JAMILA TAMINTAGHT
Groupe Paco Ghiwane
Groupe Wachmin’hit
Issaoua de Meknès
Groupe bana de Marrakech
Kif Samba

Groupes Gnaoua / Gnaoua groups
Maâlem Hamid El Kasri
Maâlem Mustapha Bakbou
Maâlem Mohamed Kouyou
Maâlem Abderrahim Benthami
Maâlem Omar Hayat
Maâlem Abdelkébir Merchane
Maâlem Mahmoud Guinea
Maâlem Abdellah Guinéa
Maâlem Abdenbi El Gadari
Maâlem Allal Soudani
Maâlem Abdeslam Alikane, Tyour Gnaoua
Maâlem Mahjoub Laghnaoui
Maâlem Abdelwahad Stitou
Maâlem Abdeslam Belghiti
Maâlem Saïd Boulhimas
Maâlem Mustapha Gholf
Maâlem Mustapha Hagbel
Maâlem Adil Amimi
Maâlem Najib Gbani
Maâlem Rachid Fadli Ladhass
Maâlem Abdelkader Amlil
Maâlem Saïd El Bourqui
Groupe Baâlil
Maâlem Ahmed Bakbou
Maâlem Chérif Regragui
Maâlem Lahcen Demnati

There will be a number of changes this year with a new performance area (scene): Bab Doukala for the traditional Gnaoua - which will undoubtedly be where Joseph Sebag will spend most of his time.

There was also talk on the festival site about a new venue - Bab Sba, which looked like it would replace Bab Marrakech, but now it looks like that's not going to happen. To read my wife's view on that proposed change of venue, link to Maggie Knutson: Gnaoua and World Music Festival, Essaouira, Morocco June 26-29, 2008

Saturday 14 June 2008

Hold Fire at The Railway Inn, Winchester

I went along to the Railway Inn in Winchester last night to record Hold Fire, a band from Brighton who've been playing togather since 2002. They played a short but powerful 30 minute set and really got the beach party rocking. Super job, guys.

Let's start with their second number:

Here's the finale:

You can find more music by Hold Fire on YouTube and MySpace

Sunday 25 May 2008

Ryan O'Reilly at the Discovery Centre, Winchester

I used to go to school in Newcastle and seemed to spend the best part of five years waiting for a bus at one end or the other of the Westgate Road. We used to tell a joke - "Why are Newcastle buses like bananas? Because they are yellow and come in bunches." I know, its not that funny. What is funny, though, is that I go for months without recording anything, and then I get three gems in one day.

Ryan O'Reilly's business card says he is a singer/songwriter/musician, and if his short session before Polly and the Billets Doux at the Discovery Centre, Winchester last night is anything to go by, he's very good at all three. Here's a couple of his songs, sung with a smokey voice and a lyrics that hint at a life full of experience.


I know I'm not good enough:

If you like these songs, go check out more of his work on his web site or on Myspace or just buy some of his tracks on iTunes.

Rowlie at the Discovery Centre, Winchester

As I mentioned in my earlier post today, Rowlie opened the evening last night for Polly and the Billets Doux, at the Discovery Centre, Winchester. Rowlie is a print maker at the Winchester College of Fine Art, and, if his printing is as good as his singing and guitar playing, he's going to have a very successful career ahead of him. Shades of Syd Barrett, with similar lightness of touch and quirky lyrics.

Well, since I wrote the previous paragraph on on Sunday, I've seen some of Rowlie's work and I'm really impressed. This piece illillustration.com combines a great piece of fantastical artwork with an imaginative use of a virtual magnifying glass. I'll leave the reader to discover how to navigate the site, but take your time - it'll be worth it. I'd love to see the 1600x1400 dip pen and ink original. You'll find more of Rowlie's work on his web site.

The Queen and I:


Polly and the Billets Doux at The Discovery Centre, Winchester

If you were in Winchester last night, you couldn't have had a better time than I had, listening to Polly and the Billets Doux playing live at The Discovery Centre - Winchester's new, intimate performance venue. After un-billed performances by the multi-talented Rowlie and Ryan O'Reily (surely a star in the making), Polly and her band came on to a rousing welcome and certainly didn't disappoint.

Here are a few samples.

When I get low I get high:

The old blues standard House of the Rising Sun, rendered in a way that makes it sound new, all over again:

The set closed with this - look out for Polly playing the lead guitar!

You can buy PBD's new EP CD at any good record shops or, I'm told, from iTunes, or visit the band web site . Their MySpace profile lists their upcoming gigs, including the GLASTONBURY FESTIVAL on 27 Jun 2008 at 13:00 .

A few months ago, I mentioned that I was thinking of getting a video camera. Well, as you can see, I got one and it's really great. Not too heavy but super quality, though you lose a lot when you compress the movie file for use on YouTube. I'll post some more videos and some music mp3s from the show, so keep a look out.

Friday 18 April 2008

nps output webradio

Someone I met in Amsterdam yesterday told me about an internet radio station that played jazz and world music, so, this morning, when I got home, I decided to take a look at npsoutput.com . What I found is a never-ending stream of great, non-stop, music - world, jazz, blues and grooving music too, spread across three different channels. Indeed, three never-ending streams.

Go to the webradio page select the channel (Kies je station) and click the Shoutcast icon and open the playlist file to add the channels to your iTunes. The tracks being played have their titles shown, real-time. There's also a Media player link, if you prefer that. See the playlist on the right nav-bar for access and a display of what's playing now.

I've been listening to it all day now - you should do the same. It's playing an old Miles Davis / Gill Evans track now - sublime.

Laloli Jewellery Design, Amsterdam

I first found Laloli, at Grimburgwal 13, in Amsterdam, last year, when I was looking for something nice for my wife. I bought her a beautiful little enamel brouch, a tiger or a monkey. Anyway, she loved it and then she lost it, so, I was under orders to get her a replacement when I was there yesterday. All they had left was a turtle covered in hearts.

Monique, if you read this, she loves this one too.
Marianne, you'll have to let me know what other animals you make, since you've got a fan, over here.

I also bought a tulip brouch, like the one in the image (Copyright Laloli), but taller and thinner. They lots of other stuff too, including some wonderful gold earings. Maybe, next time.

Do you want to buy a joke?

"Do you want to buy a joke?" That's what I heard this guy say, yesterday in Amsterdam. Really. I was sitting on a bench, in the sun, looking at the canal, eating my chips - the best chips. No, I mean the best. He'd ridden up on a bike and was talking to the couple on the bench right behind me. Intrigued, I turned around and asked him what a joke costs. Good jokes were 2 euro and great jokes were 5. I asked for a good joke, but only had a five, so decided to go for the great joke. To be honest, the joke was good, but the telling was really great. It was the Panda joke - eats, shoots and leaves, respun.

So, when later in the day, I saw the pandas at the Go Gallery, I wondered, "what's with all of the pandas, all of a sudden." I'm not one for signs, so I figure it was just a coincidence, but it makes you think.

Sit at the Go Gallery, Amsterdam

Yesterday I was in Amsterdam for the day and decided to go the Go Gallery and pick up a copy on this year's Moon Calendar. So far, I've had to make do with seeing it tesselated as as the background on my laptop and I was looking forward to seeing it up close where you can see a lot more detail.

How lucky I was to stumble upon Sit's Unwired exhibition, now in its third week at the Go Gallery and running until 12th May. In his latest work, Sit, better known as Freakin Sitnie delivers a haunting prediction of a very bleak future. We all see examples of some of what Sit portrays here, everyday, but we still ignore the warning signs. Visit the Unwired website (select paintings) for a flash screenshow of details from the work. Let's all hope that his visions - if these are what they are - don't become much more real than they are today. I will not be able to forget the pandas. Speaking of pandas, see ...

See a larger version of the pandas

Go Gallery describes Sit in these terms:

SIT (Amsterdam, 1976)
Sit,vroeger beter bekend als Freakin Sitnie, maakte jaren geleden furore inde Amsterdamse straatkunstscene met zijn geheel eigen stijl van scherpeen eigenzinnige schilderijen. Geïnspireerd door illustere comicillustratoren als Simon Bisley, Sam Keith, Todd Mcfarlane en JamieHewlett, perfectioneerde hij zijn stijl. In rap tempo werd hij zeersuccesvol. Zijn werk was overal te zien, tijdens evenementen en inclubs, van Amsterdam tot Kuala Lumpur. Vanaf 29 maart t/m 12 mei in GO Gallery.

Or, when translated by Google, with a little editing by me:

Sit, formerly known as Freakin Sitnie years ago created a furore in the Amsterdam street-art scene with his own style of scherpeen(?) idiosyncratic paintings. Inspired by illustrious comic-illustrators such as Simon Bisley, Sam Keith, Todd Mcfarlane, and Jamie Hewlett, he perfected his style. He rapidly became successful and his work has been widely seen, at events and in clubs, from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. From March 29 to May 12 in GO Gallery.

More details of how Sit approached this work can be found on blakkbyrd.

All images Copyright Sit, linked to on the Go Gallery website, or taken from a review on A Blue Chicken .

Monday 14 April 2008

My charicature

I was in Las Vegas last week and had my charicature drawn by a Canadian artist called Sam Gorrie which bears quite a striking resemblence to what I look like. Here's a photo that I took of it. Sam took all of 10 minutes to draw this!! Cool, or what?

Monday 31 March 2008

Joseph Sebag talking about Gnaoua

As my wife has described (at some length) we attended a Lila at the home of Maalem Mahmoud Guinea on Christmas evening, 2007. Here is a short podcast of Joseph Sebag, talking about Gnaoau music, that I recorded just before the music started.

As you can tell, Joseph, an Essaouira-born Moroccan, not only understands, but really loves, Gnaoua. If you want to learn more, you should pop into the Galeria Aida, his great little shop selling books and some wonderful ethnic jewellery on Rue de la Skala (just off the Place Moulay Hassan).

Here are three of the tracks that I recorded that night:

Monday 4 February 2008

Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival 2008 June 26-29

Update: Line-up posted - see my post dated May 31

For the past few years, the Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music festival ended on Sunday with a big concert in the afternoon at Place Bab Marrakech. Last year, 2007, was different - things started a little earlier in the week and the whole thing ended on Saturday night. Not sure I liked it this way. Sunday just seemed a little flat this year. I had heard that they were tryng to restore the town to some sort of normality a little sooner, or maybe it was just because 2007 was the 10th anniversary.

Anyway, according to the festival website, the 2008 festival will run from Thursday June 26 to Sunday June 29, so, if you haven't done so yet, start to make your plans, book your flights and hotels.

While I'm talking, its worth visting the festival site, just to hear the great Maalem Hamid El Kasri singing that old gnaoua favourite - Chalaba.

If you'd like a taste of Gnaoua and world music, why not listen to some of my recordings from the 2007 Essaouira festival.

Should you be planning to visit Essaouira for the festival this year, be sure to take a walk up the Avenue Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah and stop in at Bob Music, at 3, Derb Youssef Ben Tachafine. Abderrahim OUBELLA, who runs the shop, has just about every Morrocan and sub-saharan musical instrument and he knows how to play them all. Tell him John Gnaoua sent you.


No official lineup has been posted yet - last year these didn't appear until late April/May - but I think we can rest assured that the festival team will put on a great show for us all. In the meantime, I will keep this post updated with names of artists expected to attend, based on other sources of information.

  • Juldeh Camara - One of my Myspace Friends - includes Essaouira 2008 in his list of gigs for this year. Take a listen to some of his music on his MySpace profile. Juldeh sings and plays the riti (nyanyeru), a traditional one-stringed fiddle originating from the nomadic Fulani cultures of the Sahel. I'm looking forward to hear how this sounds when fused with some gnaoua.

  • A rumour is spreading on Facebook that Stephen Marley, one of Bob Marley's sons, will appear. Let's hope that there is some truth in this, but as yet, there's no evidence. Update June 1:Funny thing about rumours is that there's often some truth in them. Fact is Ky-Mani Marley, not Stephen, will be playing Essaouira this year.

Friday 1 February 2008

Van Morrison with John Lee Hooker - GLORIA, etc etc

YouTube may have removed most of Van's music, but you can still find him elsewhere. Not all the classics that we used to be able to listen to, but some pretty good stuff , all the same.

I had posted links to them here, but even that apparently isn't allowed, so, following a request from that nice Web Sheriff, I am removing them. They are still out there, somewhere, as deft googling on your part will show. Sorry folks, but I need to bow out of this.

I'll leave the list of song titles I'd found, unless that's breakingthe rules, too.

GLORIA with John Lee Hooker

Baby Please Don't Go with John Lee Hooker

Brown eyed girl

Till I Gain Control Again - an interesting title given the current situation!

Them with Van Morrison - Mistic eyes and Gloria - old but veeerry good - look at those hep cats in the audience!

Georgia - Montreux Jazz Festival 2004

Have I Told You Lately (with Lavern Brown)

The Band & Van Morrison - Caravan - The Last Waltz

Days Like This - with Brian Kennedy

Saturday 26 January 2008

Van Morrison videos purged from Youtube

As of yesterday, Youtube has not only removed all of my Van Morrison recordings from the 2007 Glastonbury Extravaganza but has also removed many videos posted by other Van the Man fans and has even suspended a couple of accounts of active Van fans. The net result of this is that ALL 35+ videos on my Van Morrison playlist have been deleted. Tragic. (1/9/2010 However, the playtlist still exists as a reminder to us all of what used to be available on YouTube - read it and weep)

New update 1/9/2010 You used to be able to read more of this story at The Bo Bice Underground but that site has also recently closed down, so I've removed the hyperlink.

Searching on this Van Morrison videos removed from Youtube with Google I came upon this, dated 12/13/2007 - Led Zeppelin Concert Clips Removed From YouTube and g4tv.com so we Van fans are not the only ones losing precious and unique musical events.

A new posting on Tim Anderson’s ITWriting blog indibts Websheriff as the party behind, at least, the (was temporary, now apparently permanent) removal of Michael Hayward's unofficial Van Morrison web site. The vanmorrison.net domain name is now up for sale and the site just a front, so I've removed that hyperlink too (1/9/2010).

The question is, are these isolated incidents or part of a concerted effort to rid the world of unlicenced music? Is Polydor just enforcing it legal rights? Or, did Van just have a bad day recently and decided to take it out on his loyal fans - present and future? Did WebSheriff just jump on the bandwagon once they saw the Youtube activity the previous week? Is this the first example of web ambulance chasing, I wonder?

New update 23/1/2008
Arctic Monkeys tribute site has also been served email writs by Web Sherry requiring that they remove

"unreleased ARCTIC MONKEYS tracks from your site immediately"
"a DMCA notification shall be forwarded to you and legal action by our clients' lawyers and the BPI / RIAA shall follow"
They go on to say
"On behalf of the artist's label, we do appreciate that you are a fan of / are promoting the Arctic Monkeys but, by the same token, you must also appreciate that, by posting a pirate copy of the album or tracks from the album pre-release (or linking to a pirate copies), you are potentially causing considerable damage and we are sure that you would not want to be held to be personally liable for all of the lost sales that could ensue"
Does that mean that if we can show that we have been responsible for increased sales, due to our promotional activities, we could maybe demand a share of the profits from the record companies?

New update 26/1/2008 I see from an old story (Nov 2007) on Vintage Vinyl News that Van Morrison, along with Exile Productions and Polydor/Universal, have announced a reissue program that will see all of the artist's albums reissued with bonus tracks. Could this perhaps explain the recent purges, or am I just being overly suspicious?

New update 31/1/2008
My wife, Maggie, has just posted an open letter to Van Morrison on her own blog - powerful stuff.

Thursday 3 January 2008

Xmas Day 2007 Lila with Maalem Mahmoud Guinea

This Xmas (2007), the DaftNotStupid team decided to forsake the craziness of Xmas in England and took their daughter, Lou, to Morocco to indulge in their own Moroccan style of craziness and, without a doubt, the highlight of the eight day holiday in Marrakech and Essaouira was the Xmas Night Lila in the home of the Master Gnaoua Musican Maalem Mahmoud Guinea in Essaouira.

Maalem Mahmoud Guinea

Here's the playlist for the Lila, starting with the first piece - about 20 minutes long. Listen out for the sounds of the carpet-dancing about 15 mins in. I can still see them - just five feet in front of us.

For reasons known only to the young, Lou decided to stay in her hotel room to watch a Harry Potter film (in German) on TV, drinking copious cups of hot chocolate and so she missed this experience BUT she has heard about it endlessly since then!
I (Maggie) am a Christian and I had prayed beforehand for Jesus to prepare the way for us on this holiday and I believe that that is just what he did because not only were we able to contact Mahmood once we were in Essaouira on the off chance that we could meet him, having been bowled over by his performance at the June 2007 Festival of Gnaoua and World Music in Essaouira, playing firstly with his own group and then with Chiek Tidiane Seik, and he not only visited us at our hotel, Dar Loussia (one of the pretty restored courtyard hotels which Morocco has become famous for) but also invited us to a private Lila in his own home the next evening, which was Xmas Night.
We behaved like excited children all that day, so honoured to have met him AND to be invited to his own home, and pinching ourselves (metaphorically) to assertain that it was not all a dream.
The session had been arranged by Joseph Sebag, a Moroccan Gnaoua devotee who owns the Galeria Aida a great little shop selling books and some wonderful ethnic jewellery on Rue de la Skala (just off the Place Moulay Hassan) so that the Japanese photo-journalist Ishida Masataka could record a Lila in session and other guests, including us, had been invited to be part of the audience.
We had no idea what to expect and were already exhausted by our walk along the beach from the small village of Diabet several kilometres from Essaouira, where we had a Xmas lunch of omelettes, fish tagine and fresh bread at the tiny Jimmy Hendrix cafe, once frequented by Hendrix nearly half a decade ago.
But, refreshed by a hamman (lsimilar to a Turkish bath) and a cooked chicken from a street vendor, we set off about 8.30 pm with our guide, Hussein, who is a young apprentice musician being trained by Mahmoud. He is very charming, very handsome in a Rudolph Nureyof kind of way and, as we later discovered, already a gifted musican.
Our common language was French and as we walked across the large square outside the city walls, Bab Marrakech, and into the suburbs beyond, I was secretly delighted that I was able to dig up so much GCE 'O' level French that I thought had been lost for ever.
Mahmoud's house is a modest riad and we entered via a small blue door, squeezed past a scooter in the entrance lobby, took off our shoes and entered the downstairs room, which was clearly a room for entertaining with rugs and long, cushioned couches which faced a cushioned performance area . In front of us was a table with a tray containing jug of water and two glasses, which was, I felt, such a lovely gesture of hospitality.
Mahmoud greeted us warmly, as is his custom, and then pottered upstairs. The sky was clearly visible above us and a long red robe hung over the first floor inner wall, presumably a performance costume. A cowboy film was playing in one of the upstairs rooms, later to be replaced by the tinny ring tones on his young daughter's gadget, which struck me as so incongruous given her father's talent. But there again, that's the young for you.
She and her older brother went outside to play football and pretty soon there was a disagreement and she arrived back home in tears and rushed upstairs, where Mahmoud comforted her and soon she was back downstairs, all smiles and playing her ring tones. She is a very pretty young girl, of Junior School age, with her long black hair gathered into bunches and wearing slacks and a long-sleeved t-shirt with 'girl' embrodiered on it. She had kissed us on both cheeks as a greeting and I was very touched by the gesture.
Then an older brother dashed in, wearing a number 10 football shirt with what I think was the name of a Brazilian footballer player on the back, tall and slender and like his siblings extremely handsome and courteous, with a generously endearing smile.
Gradually, members of Mahmoud's makeshift band arrived - not his regular group but friends who were Gnaoua musicans - and his two young sons, obviously being trained by their father, also formed part of the group. There were about seven playing altogether.
The rest of the audience also arrived: Joseph, Hilal ( a Moroccan designer), a very attractive Moroccan lady and her Italian husband and several of their friends and relatives, plus Ishida and his wife.
We sat on the couches facing Mahmoud and his group whilst they changed into their bright yellow performance robes and prepared themselves for the session. Conversation between performers and audience flowed freely, in Arabic, French and English.
And then the performance started.
I had never heard of Gnaoua music until about ten years ago when a couple of young Gnaoua musicans were playing at our hotel, the Riad Mogadon (woops! Freudian slip - I mean Mogador!), just outside the town of Essaouria, during a previous Xmas holiday . 'You must listen to this!' my husband said and so I did and I liked it but at the time I was desperate to have supper and so we moved on.
Even when we returned to Essaouira the next June for the Gnaoua and World Music Festival, sponsored by the King, Mohammed VI, I still didn't 'get' the Gnaoua music. Eventually, we returned every June for the Festival and although I fell in love with much of the World Music, particularly the fusion music and artists like Youssou N'Dour (from Senegal) and Thalweg (from France) and the Ali brothers and their group from Parkistan, I still found the Gnaoua Music too basic and too repetitive and too noisy.
And then, during the 2007 festival, we were having supper outside, on the balcony, of the Restaurant Bab Lachour and The Band of Gnawa (based in France) were practicing their set and they suddenly and unexpectedly launched into a performance, starting with, of all things, Come Together by the Beatles, with the large audience in the square singing along, and then they drifted into Gnaoua music and I finally 'got' it! Explosive ... exciting ... amazing ... joyful ... life enhancing ... and I was up on my feet and dancing and all the cares in the world just melted away. Then the band drifted back into Come Together and they did this drifting in and out of modern music and Gnaoua music (led by Maleem Said Boulhimas) with songs such as Who Knows by Hendrix and Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin and The Gallow's Pole by ?.
So, when I later listened to Mahmoud's session in the Place Bab Marrakech, I was able to enjoy tradional Gnaoua for the very first time.
Gnaoua music precedes the birth of Islam and is specific to Morocco, having been brought there by migrants and slaves from other parts of Africa by Gnaouai (the artisitic people from a variety of tribes) and has survived down the centuries despite being frowned upon by previous authorities because it was considered un-Islamic. But that has all changed, particularly with the approval of King Mohammmed VI and it is is growing in popularity, not just in Morocco, but throughout the world in both its tradional form and fused with other musical genres (rock, pop, jaz, hip hop etc.) In fact, Mahmoud has a photograph on his wall of the King presenting him with an award last year in recognition of his contribution to the cultural life of Morocco.
What we were listening to on Xmas Night was a Lila (trance session) and the music was very primitive and very rythmic. Mahmoud was playing his guembri, which is an instrument with three strings played like a guitar AND a drum; the rest of the group were playing castanets (aka Garagab, qarqaba, qaraqib, karkabas, karakob - the spelling variations appear to be endless), which are like brass castanets and, and singing and chanting in praise of Allah.
They also call upon spirits of the earth and heavens, so Joseph informed us, and I said that I wasn't too happy about that because I'm a Christian and believe it is a perilous thing to do. And so we started a dicussion about religion during one of the intervals and Joseph revealed that he was Jewish and Halil that he was a Hindu and Joseph said that Mahmoud and his group were all Mulims. We also had a mix of atheists and agnostics and it was really striking that we were all united by the music, which re-enforced my view that music can cut through all kinds of differences and bring us together in not just a shared experience but also in a realisation of a shared humanity.
So much music that I hear in Morocco, including Gnaoua, seems to strike at something deep within, strong emotions of joy and sadness, hope and despair, exhilaration and exploitation that we all share irrespective of gender, age, religion, culture, or nationality. And I felt it particularly this Xmas Night. So, I silently prayed for a blessing on all of us and relaxed into the music.
The muscians were totally focused on their performance and, as they sat on the cushions with their backs aginst the tiled wall and their legs either crossed or outstretched, it was clear that they had a passion for the music and a passion for Allah. In particular, it was fascinating to watch Mahmoud's hands, as small and smooth as a teenagers, working his guembri seemingly effortlessly, and leading the music and the singing. He had the appearance of a man totally at ease and totally in the 'moment' and his two young sons looked like natural successors, in the way that Mahmoud learnt from his father, and his father from his father. A wonderful skill being handed down from generation to generation.
Purists of Gnaoua music get a bit sniffy about the developing role of dancing in Gnaoua music but personally, I love it. The Gnaoua dancing now plays an important role in performances on stage and to see the musicans perform the highly difficult moves (and I can assure you that they are VERY difficult because I've tried them myself) as well as playing their krota, dressed in the brightly coloured robes, with tassles swinging from their hats, is a magnificent sight to behold. Sometimes they dance individually and sometimes as a group, particularly at the climax of a session, when they advance towards the audience. And you think 'I certainly wouldn't want to mess with these guys' because the effect is of concentrated force and power.
Just how skilled these guys are was brought home to me in June while watching a Gnaoua group perform with The Asian Dub Foundation' (from Birmingham and absolute dynamite on the stage) and the Gnaoua dancers did their own version of hip hop and you just couldn't better that dancing. Their versatilty with this fusion music is awesome and highlights the fact that they are NOT support acts but world class performers and more than able to respond to different musical genres.
The title Maalem, by the way, means master and a master Gnaoua musician must be expert in ALL the disciplines: every instrument played, the singing and the dancing.
In Mahmoud's house there wasn't much space for dancing but several of the musicans did dance for a while and I was especially impressed with Mahmoud's oldest son. He had a certain fluidity which promises much for the future. And the younger son, too, obviously loves the whole musical experience. I was also taken with the intensity of joy that was plain to see on Hussein's face.
One of the group performed a trance dance which continued for ten or more minutes. He had a piece of material over his head (the Gnaouans use 7 different coloured clothes, each one representing the 7 stages of the trance session), and burning incense was heavy in the air and he did eventually drop to the floor like a dead weight and lay there for several minutes until he jerked himself awake. Possible some 'trances' are faked for effect but this looked genuine enough. ( Obviously, lots of silent praying from me during this time! I certainly believe in evil spirits and when spirits are being 'summonsed' you just don't know what you're going to get.)
Altogether, the session lasted several hours with breaks for refreshments.
Every so often, Mahmoud's wife (apparently the 'great woman' behind 'the great man') would call one of the children to fetch down some dish or other and they would scurry upstairs, having put their slippers on, and then dash back down, slipping their slippers off before walking on the rugs covering the floor.
I had actually been aware of delicious cooking smells for some time but had not realised that it was for us, so I was surprised and delighted when we were presented with a splendid lamb couscous, which arrived on a large metal platter: a mound of couscous with cooked lamb covered with caramalised onions and thick strips of cooked carrots and courgettes. We were each handed a spoon and thus we ate, sharing the same plate and it was such a liberating experience, again linking us together. (I had really only eaten VERY LITTLE chicken beforehand!) And then we had mint tea, which I don't usually like but this time found it to be perfect after the couscous. The plates and spoons and glasses were whisked away and the performance resumed.
Later on, the group stopped for their lamb couscous and they sat in a circle to eat and Joseph was invited to join them, which, apparently, is considered a great honour.
And with each break, the barrier between audience and performers was put aside and we discussed how the session was going and about the music generally. I also had a chance to discuss Hilal's costume work since I enjoy sewing and embrodiery myself. He was sitting next to me and showed me the many layers of his Indian-style tunic. It was made in a very soft cream linen/silk material with finer layers of Egyptian cotton underneath. He had made the trousers too and all was finished off with hand-embrodiered edgings. (When we return in June for the festival I MUST get in touch with him and ask him to create some exotic trousers for me.)
The music was very loud it has to be said and would have echoed around the neighbourhood, escaping from the open roof, and round about midnight, there was a knock on the door. I wondered if perhaps it was angry neighbours who had been trying to sleep (although on reflection I realise that that would have been absurb) but Hilal declared loudly: "Papa Klaus!" and everyone burst out laughing. In fact, it was a young Morocco man, as handsome as you can get, with long dreadlocks and delicate features and hands with his European-looking girl-friend. They stayed for a while and then disappeared outside. It was that kind of informality.
By the early hours of Boxing Day morning, Mahmoud and his friends finished their marathon session and we all applauded loudly and compliments were delivered to all the players. It had become chilly by then and I had already put my coat on but given that this was December, I think that was pretty good going since we had been sitting under the stars for a long time. We promised to bring Mahmoud a recording of the session (we had been recording, with his permission, throughout) in June and Ishida, who had been taking photographs using a very impressive looking camera, made arrangements with Joseph for a preview of his material. There was much shaking of hands and then we all burst out into the midnight-blue Moroccan sky on what was now Boxing Day, exhausted but exhilarated. (How Mahmoud and his friends felt physically and emotionally after their efforts I hardly dare imagine. They probably need chiropractotors like The Rolling Stones so physical is their performance.)
And Joseph asked me to bring some copies of 'Saucy Shorts for Chefs' and 'Sexy Shorts for the Beach' (paper-back short story collections (I have a short story published in both of them)) to sell in his bookshop when we return for the 2008 Gnaoua and World Music Festival in June (inshallah!).
We, the audience, all shook hands and staggered back to our respective 'homes.'
John and I (TheDaftNotStupid team) repaired to the roof terrace of our hotel with a bottle of brandy and pastries and cigarettes and sat silently looking at the Atlantic Sea and the large semi-circular sweep of the beach stretching towards the desert in the south and the white roof tops in the walled city of Essaouira, with the two resident sea-gulls perched on the wall hoping for some tip-bits, which, of course, they got.
And the next day, a dejected Lou informed us that she had twisted an ankle when she missed a step near her room and so it was business as usual...except that Xmas Night Lila experience is something I will never forget. Although I had taken paper and pen, I had not made any notes at all, but my memory of that night will never desert me. And I have a whole new list of names to add to my daily prayer list.
Maggie Knutson: teacher, writer, journalist and novice photographer. Also member of TheDaftNotStipid team.
P.S. THIS IS MY VERY FIRST BLOG!!! and it has definitely been work in process so it has grown, spelling mistakes corrected and so on during the week but this is probably the final version and, bearing in mind that French is probably the most commonly shared language of those of us who love the music, I shall endeavor to post a French version of this page - just don't hold your breathe, though, because it might take a long time.