• 27 Aug 2010 /  General Blogging

    Hi everyone,

    Today has been really great. We all woke up at around 07h00 and after getting ready went through to breakfast. The food here is great, we are given a full buffet with both traditional Swedish food (breads and cold meat) as well as food that we are used to (eggs and bacon). After a satisfying breakfast, we went for a walk around the grounds.

    amaAmbush Abantwana in Sweden

    amaAmbush Abantwana in Sweden

    All together at the lake

    All together at the lake

    It is really beautiful here, with rolling green fields and a large lake. There is a medieval town and castle within walking distance.

    The students are sharing rooms with 3 girls in one room, 2 girls in the next, and 3 boys all together. I am in my own room all along the same corridoor.

    We went through to the rehearsal room and unpacked the instruments. It is always great to unpack your instruments and play. It gives you a real feeling that you are doing what you came here to do.



    It feels great to play again

    It feels great to play again


  • 26 Aug 2010 /  General Blogging

    Hi everyone,

    We have all arrived safely in Sweden. It is great to be back here so soon, and it is starting to feel like a second home.

    I have with me the group, amaAmbush Abantwana. They are eight of our students selected from the many schools we teach at in Cape Town. We have pupils from Bishops, Herschel, Wynberg Girls, Camps Bay and Pinelands.

    amaAmbush Abantwana

    amaAmbush Abantwana

    Thanks to our careful planning, we managed to get all the marimbas onto the plane without any trouble. They were hesitant to take our djembes on as hand luggage, but eventually agreed.

    After a 12 hour flight, we landed in Amsterdam. We relaxed in the airport for around two hours before taking off for Sweden. After landing in Sweden we were greeted by the representatives of the World Children’s Prize, and driven to where we will be rehearsing and staying.

    Supper in Sweden

    Supper in Sweden

    After a great dinner, we were shown to our rooms.

    I will keep you all posted with videos and pictures each day.


  • 21 Aug 2010 /  General Blogging

    I have spent an incredible five days in Varberg, Sweden working with some of the most accomplished African musicians in the world to run workshops for students from Sweden, Iceland, Norway and South Africa.

    We all stayed in the most incredible accommodation, housed in the jail cells of a medieval jail at the Varberg Fortress.

    Jail Cells at Varberg Fortress


    Inside the jail complex


    My humble abode


    This was my view each morning:

    Here are some of the friends and colleagues that I was working with.

    Soryba Touray and Ross Johnson

    Soryba Touray is in my opinion one of the best djembe drummers in the world. He is a Master drummer from Guniea and has an effortless style of playing that is a pleasure to watch.


    Max Soumah and Ross Johnson

    Max Soumah is also from Guinea. He is an incredible dancer and teaches West African dance to people throughout the world. What really struck me about Max was his relaxed, friendly nature.


    Randy and Amy McIntosch

    Randy and Amy were really great people to connect with. The run an operation similar to amaAmbush in Boulder Colorado called Kutundara, where they teach over 200 students the Zimbabwean style of playing marimbas. I enjoyed many great memories with them, and really felt a part of their family.


    Julia Tsitsi Chigamba and Ross Johnson

    Julia became a close friend over the course of the week. All of the lecturers from Southern African spent a lot of time together. Julia is a master dancer, singer and instrumentalist from Zimbabwe. She is now based in the USA. It was really great to see her in action. To see her website, click here.


    Andreas Akesson and Ross Johnson

    Andreas is one of the most humble musicians you will ever meet. He is an incredible Kora player, and we were lucky enough to watch him perform on multiple occasions.


    Baboucar Camara and Ross Johnson

    Babucar comes across as an exceptionally powerful musician. He has a dark, deep African. He is a master Sabar drummer, and his performances are both rural and raw.


    Kaw Secka and Ross Johnson

    Kaw Secka is a great character. He is a master Sabar drummer currently living in England.

    These are just some of the great people that I had the pleasure of working with during my week in Varberg.

    The reason we were there was to run workshops for the students that had gathered from around the world. Zama and I were to run three workshops a day with each one being two hours long. The students ranged from complete beginners to professional African music teachers. This made each workshops unique and interesting.

    Each workshop was broken down into three sections, Marimba playing, drumming and gumboot dancing. Here are some videos of the results:


    The students were all very enthusiastic and motivated. It was a pleasure to work with them all.

    I would like to thank Peta Axelsson of Zimba Marimba Band for making the whole camp possible. She was the head coordinator, and driver of the whole project. She is an inspiration and mother figure to so many young musicians. It is incredible to work with her.

    Peta Axelsson


    My flights back were crazy crazy crazy. I have never experienced anything like my journey home. In total I flew over 20 000km. Thats the same as flying from the North Pole to the South Pole. It started by driving from Stockholm to Copenhagen.



    This was followed by a flight from Copenhagen to Beijing. I could not believe I was back in China and after clearing customs and immigration again, I had a 20 hour wait at the Beijing airport. I developed a sort of Airport Zen, where I learnt to be completely relaxed, let go of the concept of time, and live in the moment. It was great.

    I then flew from Beijing to Dubai – it is so hot there!. Then form Dubai to Johannesburg and finally onto Cape Town. It was so great to be home.

    I am home for around 7 days, then I turn around and fly back to Sweden to perform with our group of hand selected students – amaAmbush Abantwana. We will be performing the the Queen of Sweden in Stockholm.

    I will keep you posted.


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  • 09 Aug 2010 /  General Blogging

    Hey everyone,

    The last few days have gone by in a flash.

    My flight from Beijing to Denmark was great. I just relaxed in the plane seat for around 10 hours, watching movies and sleeping. I am beginning to really feel comfortable on planes, so I am not dreading the flight back home too much. I will be driving from Sweden to Denmark, then flying to Beijing, then to Dubai then Johannesburg then Cape Town. That is going to be quite an experience!

    Upon arriving in Denmark, Peta was there to meet up with me, together with a Zimbabwean musician, ManLuckerz Makandire. The weather was beautiful, and we drove through the Øresund Bridge to get to Sweden. This was quite an experience, as you travel under the sea for a distance, then come up on a man-made island and onto the bridge.

    We then drove through to Peta’s house, where we had a great dinner. I went for a cycle afterwards, and got to see the sights of Malmö. It is very similar to Grahmstown, being a beautiful university town.

    Ross on a bike on a warm Swedish evening

    After a good nights sleep, we went through to the music academy to meet Peta’s students and rehearse for the concert that evening.

    It was great to meet all the students. They play deep Zimbabwean music, and the level of musicianship is incredible.

    After almost a full day of rehearsing, we drove through to the performance venue. It was similar to the amphitheater at the Waterfront in Cape Town, with the feel of Kirstenbosch. The only problem was that it was poring with rain!

    After a damp sound check, we relaxed back stage, and at around 19h00 the concert started. I was impressed that even though it was raining, and we were performing at an outdoor venue, many people came through to watch. I think people are quite tough here – must be the Viking blood!

    Sweden is a beautiful country with clean air, great food and good people. It is such a pleasure to be here.


  • 06 Aug 2010 /  General Blogging

    Hey everyone. So much has happened since my last post. What an incredible experience this trip has turned out to be.

    The Great Wall…

    On the first day of the conference, I booked on an ISME tour to walk the ‘tourist’ section of the wall. This is known as the balading section. I was excited, but knew that there was a more remote, unrestored section that one can also see, giving a much more real experience.

    Luckily at the request of about 10 fanatic hikers at the conference, the tour operator decided to offer a 6 hour extreme hike over some of the rugged, isolated, non-tourist sections of the wall. I immediately changed my booking.

    The next day, I caught a taxi to the pickup point at 05h30, and was greeted by a smiling tour operator handing me a Mc Donalds breakfast. I met up with the other delegates on the tour, and got to know a lecturer from the US, Thomas Bough.

    Ross and Thomas

    The bus ride was beautiful, and after around two hours of driving through lush green farm land, we arrived at our destination. There was no wall in site, but beautiful green mountains and hills. We started to hike.

    We had a 45 minute hike before seeing our first sighting of the wall. Having listened to the audio book of ‘The art of War’ I am well aware of the importance of being on the ‘higher ground’ in ancient Chinese warfare. This seems to be the aim of the wall. 4000 years ago, China was a farming country, and during the tough winters, the Mongolians and horseback raiders would ransack their villages. By building this incredible wall on the ridge of the mountains, they made an impenetrable barrier across the border of China.

    Once we had hiked to the top of the mountain, we climbed up and onto The Great Wall of China! The scenery was magnificent, with rolling green hills disappearing into the mist. There were no other people, and the group was in high spirits.

    After hiking the wall for around 4km, we came to an out-of-bounds militarized zone. This meant climbing down off the wall, and hiking through the dense Chinese jungle.

    Things got very interesting when the guides took us through a cornfield and the owner started shouting at the guide.

    We then hiked back up to wall and did some rock climbing to get on top again.

    All in all, I had the most incredible day.

    Today I did my ISME workshop

    The whole reason I am here in China is that I was selected to present a workshop at the International Society of Music Educators World Conference. The title of my workshop was ‘African Marimba Teaching in Cape Town, South Africa’.

    I was given a very large room, with great facilities, and a time slot of 08h30 – 09h30. I arrived at around 07h30, and set everything up.

    I started with an introduction of both myself and amaAmbush. I then went on to demonstrate the marimba, shakers and djembe. Next I played a short powerpoint presentation, showing some pictures and sounds of our various performing groups.

    By this stage, everyone was getting quite excited, and I moved onto the interactive section of the workshop. Using Buya Africa as the foundation, we first did a clapping workshop. I then invited the delegates up to play on the instruments. Everyone was dancing and singing and shouting. The South African delegates were ullulating. It was a great climax.

    I then went on to explain some of our teaching techniques and then ended with a final performance of Buya Africa. It was a resounding success.

    As soon as I was finished, I was inundated with Chinese ladies. They were treating me like a rock star. I must have taken photos for around 20 minutes with them. I managed to get one taken with my camera:

    Girls, girls, girls

    I managed to chat to some of the international participants once things calmed down, and have received two exciting offers. One is to do my Masters in music, and the other to give some workshops in Australia in 2012.

    Tomorrow morning I am flying to Sweden which I’m sure is going to be a very different experience. China has been incredible, safe and fun. The Chinese people are open, happy and honest. This has really been an trip to remember.

    Next time you hear from me, I will be in Stockholm!


  • 03 Aug 2010 /  General Blogging

    Hey everyone,

    I had a long and incredible day today. I am really enjoying the ISME conference.

    Welcome to ISME

    We had our PASMAE meeting today (Pan African Society for Musical Arts Education). It was very interesting, discussing the role of education in African Music on the African ontinent. There were representatives from South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya.

    At the end of the meeting we broke away into our separate countries, and the South African contingent unanimously voted for me to be the SA representative to ISME! This means that I will be voting on behalf of South Africa at the ISME Bi-Annual General Meeting on Thursday. I really appreciated the vote of confidence from my fellow South African educators.

    I then made a concerted effort to get to know some of the Chinese delegates at the conference. There are major language and cultural barriers, but with a lot of smiling and a bit of sign language, I was able to forge new great new friendships:

    Ross with a bass player from China

    I then met up with my friend from the previous two ISME conferences, Jesse McCarrol. He is a professor of Music based in New York. He introduced me to his Chinese colleague, and we all watched a concert and then went out for dinner.

    Under the guidance of Jesse’s local friend, we had the most incredible dinner. It consisted of steamed vegetables, vegetable soup, Peking Duck (Roast duck), pancakes, and salad. For dessert we had a Mongolian dish, Deep fried milk. It was a great experience.

    Peking Duck

    Tomorrow I am waking up at 04h50, and meeting the ISME tour bus to travel to the Great Wall of China. I will be sure to let you know how it goes.

    Love to everyone back home.


  • 01 Aug 2010 /  General Blogging

    I have had an incredible two days.

    Yesterday I woke up early and took a bus through to a popular tourist destination, Wangfujin.

    Riding the bus was an interesting experience as you have to read the bus signs in Chinese.

    Wangfujin has an incredible food market. It looked like eating anything there would make one sick. There are meat stands outside in the heat covered in flys, but what takes the cake must be the live scorpions on a stick!

    I also got a chance to take a ride on the back of a bicycle – so much fun!

    Have a look at these population stats:

    1. China 1,321,851,888
    2. India 1,129,866,154
    3. United States 301,139,947

    China has the highest population in the world

    After all that excitement I was feeling a little run down. I think I was exposed to so many germs that my immune system was under strain. I had an early night, and woke up feeling perfect.

    Today was the first day (registration) for the International Society of Music Educators World Conference. It was great to see all the friends that I had made at the conferences in Malaysia and Italy.

    Registration went smoothly, and I spent the day talking to people and planning which workshops and papers I will be attending over the next five days.

    Welcome to ISME

    Everything is so well run and organized. The Chinese really know how to put on an event.

    We had an incredible dinner and concert. I think this is going to be a great week.

    I booked a tour to walk the Great Wall of China on Wednesday, I will definitely be taking lots of photos and will keep you posted.

    Thanks for all the comments, it is always great to hear from everyone back home.


  • 30 Jul 2010 /  General Blogging

    First day in Beijing, China

    What an incredible day I have had.

    I woke up at around 11h00 local time (still adjusting to the new timezone) and checked the internet for the Top 10 things to do in Beijiing

    As I love seeing the nature and spiritual history of a country, I decided to visit the Temple of Heaven first. This is an ancient temple with beautiful buildings and gardens surrounding it. The only problem was that it was on the other side of Beijing. With bravery reminding me of my snowboarding experience in Sweden, I set off hoping for the best…

    I saw on a website that one can take subway 5 to get to this cultural site. I have never been on a subway in my life, and I have almost no sense of direction. I walked out of my hotel, and turned to my good friend, Google Maps.

    I typed in ‘Subway’ and a grid of subway stations popped up on my map. I picked the closest one, and started walking. I had no idea which line it was, but I thought it would at least be a start.

    Google led me straight to the subway station, and would you believe my luck, it was Line 5! After a little internal dance, I proceeded down the escalator.

    Someone pointed me in the right direction, and I was off. The tube was clean and well lit. The people seemed happy and relaxed, with young people giving their seats to the old. I found the whole experience very easy, relaxing and fun. Everything was in Chinese, but the place names were also in English. I arrived at my destination, excited and ready to see the temple.

    The temple is within a large walled complex. The whole area is around 270 acres, and it has many holy buildings throughout the complex. There are also many old trees (some as old as 600 years).

    Temple of Heaven as seen from the sky

    In China, even the trees are symmetrical

    One of the beautiful temples

    After about two hours of walking around, looking at the beautiful buildings and surroundings, I was starting to get hungry. It was around 3pm and I had not yet had breakfast. I found a small restaurant, and had to try my luck.

    There is strange waiter etiquette here. They give you the menu, and then stand and wait for you to order. No time to browse through (and find something edible). I said that I would like the ‘spicy chicken’. My waitress responded with, “Noo Noo, wewwy spicy, you no like”. Right… then I chose the chicken curry. She came back with a large serving of curry with a big bowl of rice. It did seem to contain a lot of off cuts (bottom of legs, lots of grizzle etc.) but it tasted very good.

    After this, it was back to the subway and off to my next destination. I decided to stick to my nature theme, and visit the Summer Palace. This is a beautiful nature area surrounding a large lake. There are ancient Chinese houses and buildings all around the lake at what must have once been their equivalent of our Camps Bay.

    A temple in the distance

    The lake

    Here are some of my thoughts on the smog in the air:

    Click here to here my thoughts on the air

    Tomorrow I will continue working my way through the top 10 things to see in Beijing. Thanks to everyone for the comments, it is great to hear from you. My cell number in Beijing is +8613263168520


  • 29 Jul 2010 /  General Blogging

    Wow, I am in China! I can hardly believe it.

    Beijing is a huge culture shock, it is an incredible experience just to walk around the streets. It looks like this is a city that never sleeps, with heavy traffic continuing past 22h00 and almost all shops staying open. The streets are full of people walking and on bicycles, and the pavements are lined with street food stalls.

    Of course there are the international fast food places everywhere as well:

    Good old KFC

    So my mission this evening was to get some supper.

    I waked into a few restaurants and didn’t feel like they were very clean. The last thing I need at this stage is to get sick!

    I found a clean, well lit, nice feel restaurant, and decided to give it a try. It seems the norm here to have large dirty fish ponds at the entrance of the establishment, with a myriad of exotic sea creatures swimming around. Guess I won’t be ordering the sea food then…

    Going through the menu was like something out of a comedy movie. The dishes included culinary delights such as:

    Spicy ducks head

    Crispy pigs ear

    Donkey meat pancake

    Quick fired yellow cattle meat

    I love this one:

    mmmmm, slightly overcooked balls

    I ended up ordering a pork dish, but only had a few bites as it was very rich. Maybe I’ll have better luck tomorrow.

    A big HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my sisters, Tessa and Julia. Well done on turning 18!

    I think I need to get some well earned rest. I look forward to hitting the town tomorrow to see what adventure await me.


  • 28 Jul 2010 /  General Blogging

    Hey everyone!

    This is the start of a two month long tour with the following schedule:

    Beijing, China – Spending around 8 days at the International Society of Music Educators World Conference. I will be giving a Workshop, showcasing the teaching technique that we have developed in amaAmbush. I am also going to be sure to go to the Great Wall of China, and see the local attractions.

    I then fly straight to Sweden, and meet up with Peta Axelson from the Zimba Marimba band. I will be doing some workshops and performances at their marimba festival in Stockholm. I will be joined by the St. Josephs marimba band as well as amaAmbush performer and teacher, Zama Qambi.

    From there I fly back to China, and then home to South Africa.

    I then spend eight days at home before returning to Stockholm with amaAmbush Abantwana. This is a group of specially selected amaAmbush marimba students who will be performing for the Queen of Sweden.

    As soon as I arrive back in Cape Town after that trip, I board a plane for Johannesburg and then am off to Zambia to kayak and raft the mighty Zambezi River, and spend a few days on a house boat above the falls.

    What an incredible experience this is all going to be! I will do my best to keep you all posted throughout the next two months.

    I was driven to the airport this morning by Tracy at 04h00. Thanks so much. I feel you day must have been as long as mine!

    A nice surprise was that the Parlotones were on the same flight as me. They are heading to do a tour of Germany. I have shared the stage with these guys, so it was great to see them again.

    I am now sitting in the airport in Dubai. It was an amazing experience to  get off the plane and walk into a wall of hot, dry desert air. It truly feels like an oven.

    Love to everyone back home. Hopefully the next time you hear from me I will be in China!


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