• 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

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    Inside the jail complex

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    My humble abode

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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:

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    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

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    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.

    Copenhagen

    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.

    Peace

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  • 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!

    Peace

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  • 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:

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    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!
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    Wow, quite a letter!

    Peace

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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.

    Peace

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  • 17 Nov 2009 /  General Blogging

    Yesterday I had the privilege of seeing, first hand, the new Greenpoint Stadium (Now called Cape Town Stadium)

    It is absolutely beautiful. It looks clean and efficient, and you feel very connected to the field. I was performing with my two Bishops bands.

    The gig was organized by Stuart Scott of Bishops Prep.

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  • 05 May 2009 /  1, General Blogging

    The Cape Town Marimba Festival is coming soon.

     

    This high energy event takes place at the Baxter Concert hall on Friday 15th and Saturday 16th May, with booking through Computicket.

     

    The event is organized by Ross Johnson of amaAmbush, and music festival organizer, Ann Barr.

     

    Cape Town’s top marimba bands will be featured, ending in a mass performance with over 100 players. 

     

    Come and experience the high energy of the African marimba.

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  • 09 Apr 2009 /  General Blogging

    Grand Canyon

     

    The start to the day was interesting. Our Chinese guide said to us, “wake up call is at 05h00, bus leaves at 06h00″. From this, I assumed that I would be receiving a wake up call. The phone rang at 06h10, asking where I was! After getting into my cloths quickly, I dashed to the bus.

     

    We continued to the Grand Canyon for about another two hours. after transferring into an off-road bus, we traveled on a rough road to the canyon.

    It is a truly breathtaking sight.

     

    This is called Eagle point - can you see the eagle?

    This is called Eagle point - can you see the eagle?

    I decided to treat myself to a helicopter ride through the Canyon. It was unbelievable. The feeling of being in a helicopter is incredible.

     

    Tracy – you were right for us not to go in Cape Town. It is exciting and fun, but not particularly romantic (especially after a large meal)

    The helicopter landed on the floor of the canyon, and we hiked to the Colorado River.

    We then got onto speed boats, and traveled upriver, with the canyon walls towering above us.

    After this, it was back to the helicopter, and back to the base camp. That whole experience cost only $170.

    I then went to a traditional Indian village on the edge of the canyon. The TP’s were beautiful, and reminded me of the time I spent in Transkei.

    There was a ‘traditional music performance’, but the musician was so tired and bored that it was not really working.

    I had a delicious traditional American Indian lunch. It was a nice healthy meal of beans, a wrap, a Millie and some meat. It is a rare treat to find healthy food at a reasonable price here. (try $16 for a salad!)

    The Grand Canyon was a wonderful experience. As with the rest of my experiences here in the US, I did not have enough time and quietness to appreciate the spiritual aspect of the area. I would definitely say that America is not as spiritual or religious as Argentina, Italy or Malaysia. Everyone is preoccupied with instant gratification.

    I am so grateful for the incredible experiences I have had here in the US.

    Ross

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  • 09 Apr 2009 /  General Blogging

    Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Las Vegas. It sounds surreal. It is a place you see in the movies, a place that people joke about, a place where crazy couples get married.

     

    This was actually a drive through wedding chapel

    This was actually a drive through wedding chapel

     

    Everything that you have heard about Vegas is true. From the insane street performers to the prostitutes to the mind numbing rows of slot machines. The lights, the sounds, the energy it is all mad.

     

     

    One of the first things I saw, was the biggest movie screen in the world. It took be 8 minutes to walk from the one end to the other!

     

     

    I then went through to my hotel = The Stratosphere! I had seen the building of this insane building on discovery channel. It is a huge tower, the highest building in Las Vegas.

    My Hotel

    My Hotel

    The room was great, with two double beds!

     

    This picture nearly got me thrown out of the casino!
    I went to the top of the Stratosphere tower. Here is the view of Vegas 108 stories in the air:

     

     

     

    By the end of my time in Vegas, I had gambled a total of $1.

     

    I spent a large protion of my time watching other people gamble. My conclusion is that most people are not gambling to make money. If this was the case, many would become dissilusioned after losing a few times. In my opinion, people are gambling for the following two reasons:

    1. To be distracted from the stress in their lives, similar to watching a movie (or for me, kite surfing, rockcliming etc). Gambling can be all consuming, and leaves little room for you to worry about finances, relationships and health.

    This is the major reason why I feel that gambling is destructive. While distracting for from your greatest burdens, it is making them worse. In this way it is similar to excessive alcohol consumption or drug use. I am open to the concept of occasionally doing an activity the requires complete focus. It is much better to do something that while distracting you, is also constructive in some way.

    2. It allows the gambler to feel a range of emotions. It makes them feel alive. In this way it is similar to music or theatre.

    With this, I have no problem with people spending an affordable amount on their ‘entertainmnet’

     

    Love to everyone back home. I will be with you all soon!

     

    Ross

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  • 04 Apr 2009 /  General Blogging

    Hey everyone.

     

    It is great to be back with Heather in Santa Monica. She has been the most amazing friend here in LA, I don’t know what I would have done without her.

     

    Ross and Heather

    Ross and Heather

     

     

     

    After the concert on Wednesday night, a major film producer approached me about recording the music for the next film about Nelson Mandela’s life. That will be exciting. The recording is going to be happening in Johannesburg later this year. yay!

     

    Today I went back down to the beach. It was a beautiful day. I spent some time on the Santa Monica Pier.

     

    For lunch I had Taco Bell. They make really nice (healthy tasting) tacos.

    I then went for a cycle along the beach, and spent a lot of time browsing through the stalls and shops on Venice Beach.

     

    I walked back up to Heathers house, and we left for my gig.

     

    The gig was in a place called Pasadena. The area has a really nice vibe. The place that we played at was called Wine Styles, and is a wine bar similar to Oblivion in Cape Town.

     

    I was playing with the professor in charge of Jazz Guitar at USC, Richard Smith, and one of his doctoral students. It was great fun. The music ranged from jazz to rock, and was so much fun. I also got to play two penny whistle pieces! The audience seemed to like it a lot.

    Thanks so much to Heather for taking this video:

    My love to Mom, Dad, Brent, Julia, Tessa, Tracy

    …and Patches.. RIP

     

    Ross

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  • 02 Apr 2009 /  General Blogging

    Hey everyone

    Wow, what en experience USC has been. 

     

    Last night we did our feature performance. It was well organized and well attended. I was brought to tears on stage when my composition was played. At that point, I reached personal milestone. To have my own composition performed by a top university big band, collaborating with Dizu Plaatjies in Los Angeles, USA. It was a big moment.

     

    Tears of Freedom (aka Ross’s Song) sounded incredible. It was exactly as I and heard it in my head. Thank you so much to John Morgan for his help in orchestrating the brass parts. 

     

    All I can say is wow.

     

    Thank you so much for all the comments you have all been leaving. I really enjoy reading them, and it makes me feel connected to home. 

     

    Dad – you asked whether I am starting to enjoy Jazz more than African music. The element in music that really appeals to me is energy. Traditional music, be it Irish, Spanish, American or African will always be more exciting to me than highly intellectual music.

     

    Tracy – I am amazed at how well amaAmbush is running. You are incredible.

     

    Here is a picture of the stage setup:

     

     

    Dizu and I backstage, getting ready for the show

    I will upload the video of Tears of Freedom as soon as I get a copy. The whole concert was filmed professionally.

     

    Afterwards, we all went out to a mexican restaurant for dinner. I tried some great mexican beer, and ordered a prawn dish called Prawn Diablo. – it was hot!

    The singer in our team from South Africa is Sibongile Mngoma

     

    Thank you everyone that has made this trip possible. 

     

    Love

     

    Ross

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