• 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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  • 05 Mar 2010 /  General Blogging

    Hey everyone,

    I have had a very eventful two days, and am having the time of my life over here.

    Firstly, thanks again for the comments;

    Dad: We have been in contact with the other marimba group. They are doing very well, and both bands have well received. I phone Thulani about once a day, and he is always in high spirits. He says the group is getting along well.

    I will upload some pictures of my cabin over the next few days.

    Our total daily playing time is around 3 hours spaced over 7 hours. This works out well as it gives us ample time to get to the various performance venues on the ship. So the guys are taking the performing in their stride. We are also playing only one high energy set – on the stage in the night club, so they are having no problems with their muscles.

    Peter: Thanks for the message. I am glad that you were able to view the videos. I check often on the other group to make sure that they are doing well. Thulani says that Felicity is fitting into the group well, and is enjoying herself.

    Mom: Thanks for the message and news from home, I will be arriving home on the 11th of March, and the band will come back in early May.

    Keith & Wendy: Thanks for the message, it is great to hear from you! I really appreciate all the incredibly hard work that Grant is putting in to allow a trip like this to happen. Thanks for all the support.

    On Day three, I decided to spend some time outside on the deck of the ship. So I put on the following clothing:

    Thermal pants
    Jeans
    Thermal ski-socks
    amaAmbush Shoes

    Thermal top
    amaAmbush T-Shirt
    Wool long top
    Hoodie
    amaAmbush ski-jacket

    amaAmbush beanie
    amaAmbush scarf
    amaAmbush gloves

    Feeling like Father Christmas, I climbed the stairs from my cabin on the 5th floor to the deck on the 8th floor. (This was actually a long, hot walk)

    As you open the door to outside, there is a rush of hot air that escapes from the ship. You step out into this bubble of hot air and close the door. Then the cold hits you like a thousand needles sticking into any exposed skin. Your hands start to throb and go numb almost instantly, and your lungs burn from the cold air you are inhaling. Your first instinct is to open the door and go back into the warm ship.

    Fully geared up

    I find that the biggest factor to the cold is actually the wind-chill. Standing in a protected area on deck is bearable, but when I walk into an area with a 20 knot wind blowing in my face, it is incredibly cold.

    The reward however is some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen in my life – these were taken with my phone camera:

    Amazing Views

    Winter Wonderland

    Winter Wonderland

    The band played for the South African Ambassidor to Sweden. She came aboard the ship because of the South African theme. She really enjoyed the music, and the band was well recieved by all the VIP guests.

    On day four I had my first excursion off the ship. We were docked at Stockholm, and it felt incredible to stretch my legs and get onto land.

    A view of our ship from shore

    A view of our ship from shore

    As can be expected, it was very very cold. It was snowing, and there was a 15 knot wind blowing. I was loving it.

    I followed the signs to the city center. It was about a 5km walk from the harbor. I just loved taking in sights and sounds of the city, the people and the surroundings. I took a walk through the city and felt like the luckiest person in the world. What an experience. The street is lined with little shops, and resturants, with everyone going about their daily lives.

    I had so much fun in the snow. There was a park where the snow must have been half a meter deep. I was jumping and running and making snow balls.

    There are lots of chocolate shops selling every kind of chocolate in every shape you can imagine. It looked divine.

    Chocolate and sweet display in Stockholm

    I walked to the Stockholm observatory which is on a hill in the city. It was so much fun walking up and along the slope in the snow. I think I would really enjoy skiing.

    Some observations about Stockholm:

    - No beggers or homeless people

    - No visible poliece anywhere

    - People everywhere are shoveling snow. There are cranes in each road, chipping ice off roofs and gutters. There are trucks transporting shoveled snow to an area where they dump it into the ocean. Snow seems to be a real logistical nightmare.

    - Everyone seems really nice and friendly.

    -There feels to be a lot of culture and history in the city.
    It was then time to walk back to the boat, and get onboard. I will be spending more time ashore in both Stockholm and Helsinki over the next few days.

    Each evening, the band plays in the Tax-Free shop – similar to what you find at airports. The shop coordinator asked the group to sing a song about Amarula Cream. This is one of the funniest things we have seen on the boat so far:

    The videos of my time ashore are taking a long time to upload, so I will do them when we get into port. Be sure to check this post later this evening after I have updated it.

    All in all, we are having the time of our lives, and are ensuring that we give each performance our full focus and energy.

    Peace

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  • 02 Mar 2010 /  General Blogging

    Hey everyone

    We were up at 05h30 to get ready and have breakfast before our flight to Helsinki. We were accompanied by the main contract coordinator from the Swedish side.

    Zama about to leave our hotel in Stockholm in all his amaAmbush gear

    Zama about to leave our hotel in Stockholm in all his amaAmbush gear

    We are really thankful for all the gear supplied by amaAmbush. They have made moving around here a pleasure. We have found that as my fellow employee and friend, Gill Young told me, “It is all about layers”. We are finding that if we put on many thin warm tops we are actually able to get hot!

    Ross testing out his gear in zero degrees

    Ross testing out his gear in zero degrees

    Once we arrived in Stockholm, we drove to the harbor, received our crew cards, and boarded the ship. The terminal at the harbor is like an airport, with moving walkways, an announcement system, and multiple terminals.

    Once aboard the ship, we met our Cruise director, Zoltan. He took us on a tour of the ship.

    It is a beautiful boat, even when compared to my experiences on the QE2 and Crystal Serenity. It is very spacious and does not have a feeling of claustrophobia or recycled hotel air as i had imagined. It is clean, efficiant and relaxed aboard.

    One of the first things we did was to unpack and check the instruments. As both sets were packed together and our flight was delayed, I had to tell the contact person how to separate the two sets over the phone. It sounded like this,”You need to find the bass tablet with the darker keys for amaAmbush A, and the lighter keys for amaAmbush B.” This got more complicated when it come to the legs! Everything worked out, and we had the perfect instruments onboard.

    Toto unpacking the Bass Marimba

    Toto unpacking the Bass Marimba

    It was then time to have a rehearsal, and play through some songs. It felt really grounding after all the traveling to be able to play.

    It was then time to gear up, and set up at our first performance area – Arrivals. This is what guests see when they board the ship:

    amaAmbush ready for action

    amaAmbush ready for action

    As you can see, our green tops fit in perfectly with the foliage brought into the ship – thanks Gavin!

    We made a decision to paint our musicians faces to ensure that the band has a true African look.

    Zama 'The Lion" Qambi

    Zama 'The Lion' Qambi

    Banzi 'The Tiger' Moya

    Mzubanzi 'Banzi' Tema

    Sindile 'Toto' Moya

    Sindile 'Toto' Moya

    Thamsanqa 'Mabuti' Msweli

    Thamsanqa 'Mabuti' Msweli

    Our next performance area was in the Ship’s theater. It always feels like night time in here.

    amaAmbush set up at the on-board night club

    amaAmbush set up at the on-board night club

    At this point, the ship departed for Sweden. Our liner travels one day from Stockholm to Helsinki, and then the next day back from Helsinki to Stockholm. The passengers board at around 16h00, and the ship leaves at around 18h00. The amazing thing is that the sea is completely frozen. We are breaking through ice all the time. It is quite a sight:

    Thanks for the comments and for following this blog, it feels comforting to know that I am in touch with the people I care about back home.

    Tracy – Thanks for everything you do back home to make these trips possible for me. I really appreciate the help, guidance and comfort you give me.

    Gill, Gavin, Grant – Thanks for keeping everything going, and maintaining the high standards of the company.

    Love to my family back home

    Peace

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  • 01 Mar 2010 /  General Blogging

    We have arrived!

    What a long journey. From start to finish it took us 38 hours from Cape Town to Stockholm.

    As we touched down, we all looked out the windows to see the beautiful winter landscape. The ground is covered with snow, and everything look amazing.

    As we left the airport, it started snowing, which got the guys very excited. This was Simpiwe’s first time to fly in an airplane. I think he really enjoyed it. The guys were very excited about the snow, and Thulani got me with a snow ball.

    Arriving in Stockholm

    Arriving in Stockholm

    Would you believe that we are taking another flight tomorrow morning? Because of the delays we missed the ship this afternoon, and will now fly to Helsinki to catch up with the boat. We will be up tomorrow morning at 05h30. Good times!

    For supper we had some incredible Norwegian smoked salmon. I could really get used to this.

    Peace

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  • 27 Feb 2010 /  General Blogging

    We are off to Sweden!

    amaAmbush is providing two bands to perform on the Swedish Ferry Cruises – Viking Lines. We will be performing for 61 days on the M/S Mariella, the M/S Gabriella and the M/S Cinderella.

    amaAmbush tour members

    amaAmbush tour members

    On this trip are our following musicians:

    Ross Johnson

    Thulani

    Zama

    Simpiwe

    Toto

    Banzi

    Felicity

    Zwayi

    Mabhuti

    The guys are really excited about the trip, and are looking forward to a whole new way of life for two months.

    I will do my best to keep this blog updated with pictures and videos of the trip.

    Peace

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