• 25 May 2010 /  General Blogging

    Hey everyone,

    Today I find myself jamming just behind the majestic 2010 Cape Town Stadium in Green Point.

    With only 16 days to go till the Soccer World Cup, things are getting exciting in Cape Town.

    Have a read of this letter written by one of the public that attended our recent marimba festival at the Bazter Theatre:

    Hi – I’m including here a letter I sent to the Argus and New24.com.

    There was a Marimba Festival at the Baxter Theatre Friday 21 May (and Sat 22 May).  School students from Cape Town together with the incredible amaAmbush band gave us energetic music and entertainment and we were lifted out of the debris of everyday life into a world of hope, excitement and possibility.


    This was highlighted to us during interval.  A group of students danced in the foyer – so African, so together, so lively that we were entranced.  A man turned to us and said : “When I see this, I feel hope again.  There is so much wrong with our country – crime, government inefficiency, etc.”  We discussed, as all South Africans do, the things that are wrong with our beautiful country and the fact that the ANC had given us so much hope in the too-short expectant years after 1994.  Then they became just another political party where personal aspirations meant more than the poverty in the townships.  We wondered if we, as a people, were simply stupid.


    So,  please, Ross Johnson and the rest of you fantastic people at amaAmbush – instead of self-serving trade unions, instead of politicians and criminals who selfishly hurt our beautiful continent, and those business people both here and overseas who only wish to exploit, and even those of us who, again selfishly, refuse to follow traffic rules – instead of them,

    we appeal to you – take to the streets – organise a mass participation – now! – play your marimbas, dance and sing as you did on Friday night – do it on the streets all over South Africa – we’ll be there dancing with you – remind us Africans of who we are – how energetic, fun-filled, spirited, hopeful and together we actually really are inside – do it during the 2010 world-cup soccer and let the world see what we saw on Friday night.  We are a beautiful people and, thank you, the gentleman who spoke to us and amaAmbush, for reminding us of why we love South Africa.


    P.S. amaAmbush – we know you’re trying to get funding for Marimba bands, especially for those in the poorer communities – do it in the streets and at the airports and invite Zuma to lead the processions – let potential sponsors come to you – they will!

    Wow, quite a letter!


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  • 14 May 2010 /  General Blogging

    Hi everyone

    I am writing this blog from a cold, wet and windy Cape Town.

    I am gigging with Simphiwe and and Mabuti for a tree planting ceremony at the top of town.

    Looks like its going to be an interesting experience!

    We have played our first set, and we are now into the speeches. The Executive Mayor of Cape Town, Dan Plato is here in his suit and Wellington Boots!

    Mayer Dan Plato

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  • 09 May 2010 /  General Blogging

    Hey everyone,

    Today I went to the Palmiet River in the Kogelberg Nature Reserve with my father and brother. It was our first time out on the river this year, and we were keen to introduce Brent to the joys of white water kayaking.

    The drive was great, and after a breakfast at Wimpy, we arrived at the river. It was cold, cloudy and wet – perfect weather for my new dry-top! It is really amazing, I can wear a warm top underneath, and it stays completely dry. I bought one from a kayak shop in Joburg, made by Peak-UK.

    After unloading our gear, we walked down to the put-in under the bridge. The water level was quite low, but this was not a problem, as we were keen to play around in the bottom section of the rapid (Judgement Day).

    My brother Brent at the put-in under the bridge

    My brother Brent at the put-in under the bridge

    We showed Brent how to ferry across the flowing water, and went to play in the hole (a small rapid that can flip you if you are not careful)

    Me playing in a small rapid

    Me playing in a small rapid

    Ross about to do a roll after being caught off guard

    Here I'm about to do a roll after being caught off guard

    Next we decided to do the bottom rapid – Judgement Day – in sections. This involved pulling our kayaks over the rocks on the river bank, to get half-way up the rapid. From here we could do each section.

    Ross and Brent half way up the rapid

    Ross and Brent half way up the rapid

    We scouted the best route through the maze of rocks, and I went for it first.

    Me staying upright after a nice drop

    Me staying upright after a nice drop

    I was followed by Brent, who was doing well until his edge went under, and he flipped, running the rapid upside down!

    Brent looking good just before his filp

    Brent looking good just before he flipped

    Dad did the rapid with style, and it was time to move to the top section of the rapid. I paddled into an eddy and climbed a rock to find the best line.

    Finding the best way down

    Finding the best way down

    I then ran the rapid…

    It all started out well, with me going down some technical sections. I was really enjoying myself, when I hit a rock and became stuck. I pushed off the rock and was hit by a wall of water.

    Before I knew what was happening I was upside down. My head was bumping against the rocks on the riverbed. I could feel rocks pounding my arms and upper body. It was too shallow to get my paddle forward to set up for a roll, so I just protected myself. It was a terrifying experience.

    Eventually after running a significant portion of the rapid on my head, I managed to roll up. By now I was quite shaken and out of breath, but had only run half the rapid. I focused, and setup for the next drop.

    Down I went, rocks and water passing me in a blur, I went through a chute, and flipped again. This time, I felt my kayak jam against some rocks, and I pulled by emergency line. This made me drop out of the kayak, and I ended up swimming the last few meters.

    I pulled my kayak up onto the rocks, and coughed out some water. I took a deep breath to steady myself, then climbed back to where my father and brother were, to watch them try the difficult run.

    Down went Brent, running the rapid flawlessly!

    Brent going down for first drop of the rapid

    Brent going down for first drop of the rapid

    Brent lining up for the second part of the rapid

    Brent lining up for the second part of the rapid

    Next down the rapid was my dad, who did very well before capsizing near the end due to taking the wrong line. We floated at the bottom of the rapid feeling like we had survived a battle.

    By this stage, it had started to rain heavily. It was incredible to see how fast the river was rising. Small sections of flowing water were fast becoming raging currents. This actually makes the rapid better to run, as the rocks are less exposed.

    My father and I decided to run the rapid again. This time, from top to bottom without stopping.

    We walked our kayaks to the put-in above the rapid, had some quiet thoughts, and went for it. It was two minutes of exhilarating balancing, paddling, leaning, edging and bracing. I felt elation, fear, joy and adrenaline. I found a beautiful line through the whole rapid, and shot through the final drop feeling on top of the world.

    I turned around to watch my father slide easily through the most difficult parts of the rapid only to be turned side on by some rocks just after the half way point. Over he went, grinding through the rapid upside down. One failed roll attempt, two failed roll attempts – I was shouting, “Come on dad!” As he flew upside down over the final drop, he made a superhuman attempt to roll, jamming his paddle into the rocks, wrenching it out of his hands. He washed up next to me, paddleless and beaten.

    We now had the problem of his paddle stuck in the rapid!

    My dad's paddle in the middle of a rapid

    My dad

    It was quite a sight to see it pinned in the middle of the white water. It looked like there was a paddler underneath trying to roll upright. After many attempts we were not able to get to the paddle. The river was rising fast, and my dad was getting cold. We made the difficult decision to leave it.

    After walking back to the car, getting into warm, dry clothes and packing up the gear, we decided to have one last look for the paddle. Luckily it had dislodged itself and washed up against a rock. After doing some careful footwork, I was able to retrieve the paddle.

    We all drove home, content after our adventure.

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  • 08 May 2010 /  General Blogging

    Hey everyone

    I am now blogging directly from my Blackberry, so I am able to keep everyone updated with some of the gigs we are doing.

    Today I am playing with Simpiwe and Banzi at a beautiful guest estate called Bakenhof.

    It is the most beautiful day, and I am really looking forward to playing.

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  • 02 May 2010 /  General Blogging

    I am standing at Domestic Arrivals, waiting for the 8 travel weary amaAmbush musicians to appear.

    I am sure that the past 62 days have been a life changing event for most of them. I look forward to sharing their stories with you.

    waiting for the guys!

    waiting for the guys!

  • 10 Mar 2010 /  General Blogging

    Wow, as today was last day in Sweden, I knew it was my last chance to try to ski. I have never tried it, and was sure that I would enjoy it.

    So I was up early this morning, and got off the ship, and started to walk towards the ski-slope. It was such a beautiful day. The temperature was 4 degrees, but after so many days at -4, this seemed like a warm summers day.

    To get to the slope, you have to take a ferry across the river:

    This was an experience in itself, with the crystal blue sky, and clean water. While on the ferry, I made friends with a couple all kitted out for the ski-slopes. This proved to be a great help, as they showed me how to get to the slopes, and how to buy a ski ticket and gear up.

    I decided to snow board rather than ski, as I had no instructor, and I have had a lot of board experience through my kite-surfing. This proved to be a very good choice.

    I had my fathers advice ringing in my ears as I climbed the snow slope, “You have to take lessons or you will hurt yourself”. Well there were no lessons, and no instructors available. At least I was surrounded by skiers, had the right equipment, and was at the right slope.

    Ross all geared up and ready to go!

    Ross all geared up and ready to go!

    I started by strapping my snowboard to my snow-boots, and hopped on a conveyor belt. This carried me about 100 meters up a gentle slope. I felt quite safe as I was surrounded by beginners.

    Ross at top of snow lift

    Ross at top of snow lift

    It was now or never…… and off I went:

    Haha, it was like learning to kite surf all over again – lots of excitement and pain!

    After a few more tries, I got the hang of it. Some guys at the slope said I was doing very well, and gave me some advice. It seems that it is all about edging – same as kite surfing and kayaking.

    What an incredible experience. I would like to thank my new found friend for his help on getting me started on the slopes:

    What a life experience! I am catching my taxi that will take me to the airport in a few minutes, and then its back to South Africa

    See you all soon.



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  • 09 Mar 2010 /  General Blogging

    Hey everyone,

    Thanks for the comments:

    Greg – Yes Zama and the guys have found the Gym. It is open to staff 24 hours a day. A typical day runs as follows:

    09h00 Wake up, shower, breakfast

    10h00 Gym

    11h00 Take a walk into town

    13h30 Back on the ship for lunch and relax

    16h00 Band meets to prepare for first performance

    16h30 – 22h30 Band performs on and off for around three hours in total, having supper between sets

    22h30 Band meets in the mess room for movies, chats with other staff and snacks

    23h30 Sleep

    And it all happens again the next day, and the next, and the next, and the next……

    Sha: Congratulations on your Graduation! I am sure it must have been a challenge in heat, hard to imagine when is is -4 degrees this side.

    Tracy: Thanks for all the support you have given over the past 10 days, I can’t wait to see you again.

    Mike: Thanks for the message. We are now in a routine, and there are not many new things happening, so you will not be missing out on too much. The main challenge for the bands is now to stay motivated for the full duration of the trip.

    Jenni: Thanks so much for the message. I am glad that you were able to find the blog. I have now added amaBush to the tags on this blog, so it should pop up if passengers search according to the incorrect ship program.

    We all love Finland and Sweden. It is very different, and we have found the people to be friendly and helpful.

    I  showed your comment to Mabuti, and he laughed and said that next time you must speak with him. We really enjoyed it when your friend played the pill-bottle shaker, he is welcome in our band any time.

    Peter: Thanks for the comment. Felicity and her band changed ships today, so they will be enjoying a change in scenery.

    Tiana: Thanks for the message and info. The Syncronized Skating was really an incredible sight to behold. Such grace and emotion shown through movement. They must be hard to compete with, as it seems to be such an integral part of the Finish culture.

    To say thank you to the band, the Cruise Director gave us complementary tickets to the guest restaurant. So to mark my final night on the boat, and the handing over of the leadership baton to Toto, we will be having dinner together.

    I have really enjoyed my 10 days in Sweden, and would like to thank everyone that has made this trip possible for me:

    Tracy – Thanks for heading up amaAmbush in my absence, and for leading some difficult gigs. You are incredible to be able to do this on top of your full time job and masters degree.

    Greg – Thanks for being a source of strength, and for helping with the driving in my absence.

    Gavin – Well done for holding the office together, and for both driving, teaching and leading gigs.

    Grant – You must hold the record for the most teaching ever done in 10 days. Thanks for all the substitute lessons and gigs that you have done over this period

    Gill – Our pillar of strength, thanks for being so accurate and reliable, as well as for providing much needed comic relief.

    To my family, and the families of my staff – Thanks for putting up with the late nights and extra hours.

    I see this as the first phase of the tour complete. The next phase will be for the remaining duration of the tour, and the final phase will be getting all players and instruments back safely.

    amaAmbush in action

    amaAmbush in action


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  • 08 Mar 2010 /  General Blogging

    I have been having the time of my life, and have been spending lots of time on land over the past two days.

    I spent the day in Helsinki, and really enjoyed myself. It is a picturesque town, with beautiful churches placed throughout the city.

    Beautiful church in Helsinki

    Beautiful church in Helsinki

    I put my map away and decided to get lost within the city and its sights. I then came across the most incredible sight: an open air ice rink with a show free to the public.

    Helsinki is apparently known for its architecture, here is a picture I took of an interesting looking building:

    Building in Helsinki

    Building in Helsinki

    That evening back on the boat, I asked Zama how his trip was going:

    We then did the trip back to Stockholm overnight, and I awoke to the most incredible day. The sun was out, and the air was crisp and clean:

    My trip is now coming to an end. I have one more day in Helsinki, and then one more day in Stockholm. I will miss the unreal life I have been leading here on the ship. I am also looking forward to coming home, and seeing everyone I love.


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  • 06 Mar 2010 /  General Blogging

    Hey everyone,

    Thanks for all the views and comments.

    Peter: Thanks for the comment

    Dad: I’m glad you enjoyed the Amarula dance!

    Mike: Nice idea, but no food products are allowed to be brought into South Africa, sorry.

    Mum: Thanks as always or the news from home, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Thanks for all you have done to create our incredible family:

    The Johnson Family

    The Johnson Family

    As requested by Greg, I will be showing you my living quarters. We are in a unique position on the ship. We have both Crew status and Passenger status. This means that we are allowed to go just about anywhere on the ship except for highly restricted areas such as the bridge.

    We are staying in guest cabins, while most staff stay in staff cabins. On the plus side, we each have our own cabin, and we all have windows facing to the ocean. The difficulty is that the cabins are designed for one-night stays, so there are no cupboards. This is easily remedied by using one of the beds as a place to lay out our clothes.

    Let me take you on a walk through my world:

    Each cabin has the following:

    1 x couch that converts into a bed

    Couch in my cabin

    Couch in my cabin

    3 x fold away beds

    1 x on-suite bathroom with the following

    - Toilet

    - Shower

    - Basin

    - Towel Rack

    We have a thermostat that literally lets me choose the temperature of my room. Once selected, the temperature is adjusted instantly. So in the night if I am cold, I can choose to put on an extra top, or turn the dial a few notches. I’m going to miss this little luxury back home!

    Any temperature, any time

    Any temperature, any time

    I took another walk into Stockholm, this time to check out the ski slope. It looks amazing, and I will definitely give it a try on our next stop over.

    I am having the time of my life, and the band is doing very well. This trip has been such a great experience.

    Ross on the ship

    Ross on the ship


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  • 05 Mar 2010 /  General Blogging

    Hey everyone, I have added some videos to my previous post, scroll down to see them.

    I find it amazing that two major events that have made world news have happened around me while on this trip.

    The first was the hurricane that hit Paris while we were landing: Click here to view full article

    On Tuesday, high wind lashed France which prompt the authorities to shut Paris’ two international airports for the first time in 34 years.

    Winds gusting at up to 130 k.m. per hour were recorded on France’s Atlantic coast late on Monday, with forecasters saying they could reach up to 160 k.m. per hour.

    This gave us the roughest landing I have ever had, as well as a 9 hour delay at the airport in Paris.

    We have just had another newsworthy event occur around us:

    The ship was all set to leave at its usual time of around 18h00, when the following announcement came over the intercom in a thick Swedish accent, “Departure will be delayed due to conditions in the ice”. There was the expected groan from all the passengers, and life continued as normal.

    I went up to the crew mess to get some supper, and saw that the atmosphere in there was tense. Then one of the crew told me, “The delay is not only due to thick ice, there has been a mid-sea collision involving one of the Viking Lines ships. The ships veered off course from the collision, and the pack-ice froze around them, instantly immobilizing them.”

    Wow this was incredible. What news. We didn’t know if anyone was hurt, or if the ships were damaged. No announcement was made to the passengers about the incident.

    The Amorella, which has the capacity to carry up to 1,313 passengers and crew, collided with a Finnfellow ferry trapped nearby while trying to free itself from the ice.

    Its owner Viking Line however insisted no damage was done to the ship and that there had at no time been any danger to passengers.

    People on the Amorella were requested to move to the front of the boat to avoid any collision impact, according to Mats Nystroem, one of the passengers.

    The two ships “were simply drifting towards each other,” he told Swedish public radio from the stranded ferry.

    Finnfellow passenger Tapio Sippo told Finnish tabloid Ilta-Sanomat that “there was a big crash.”

    Click here to view full article

    Actual picture of the liner stuck in the ice

    No one was hurt and no amaAmbush members were involved.

    I really love that we are experiencing extreme weather even for the locals. You actually feel the whole boat shudder whenever we hit a large ice-sheet. What an incredible experience!

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