The Smith's Journal - May 2004

Home / Words / Journal / May 2004


Space Is The Place

Wow. Went to London's ICA with Chris to see a very far out Sun Ra film: "Space Is The Place". This film is so far from the boring contemporary Hollywooden trash that passes for cinema these days, that it is quite a shock to our 'modern' thinking. And what a great shock that is. Check my review...


Motorcycle Funerals

At a motorway service station today, I saw a curious motorbike and sidecar on a trailer pulled by a car. The sidecar was much larger than usual and had glass windows. A sombre-looking gentleman dressed in long black leather coat got out of the car, which was drawing some attention from passers-by. A slogan on the car read: "For a dignified final ride." along with a website address: - check it out!


Mambesak Group dance at The Strawbale Studio

Today I feel very honoured. A group of dancers called Mambesak Group from West Papua (between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia) were flying in from Holland to perform at a festival in London, but it had to be cancelled due to the park being waterlogged. Not wanting to waste their airline tickets, they came over all the same, but needed a new venue and audience... Helen's brother was helping to organise the event for Friends Of People Close To Nature, and contacted Fabrizia who nobly offered The Strawbale Studio as a performance space. So we assembled on a rainy Saturday afternoon for a special occasion, the first visit to England from this West Papuan delegation. It was great to meet them and introduce ourselves (and apologise for our English weather!) before then leaving them alone to change out of their normal clothes and get their war-paint on!

[ Mambesak Group at The Strawbale Studio ]Wow - what a transformation! Their grass skirts and straw headdresses were just perfect in The Strawbale Studio, an ideal backdrop for the many cameras present (nearly as many as people!). They raised a West Papuan flag (an action for which they could be shot in their own land) and we all crowded around the doorway to give them as much space as possible, and avoid their sharp spears!

They began with the Tifa Dance, which features the large Tifa drum. Their drums are all hand carved and made with skin from the Komodo Dragon which they hunt for food, making use of the skin (nothing is wasted, and no animal is killed unnecessarily). The drums are lightweight as each dancer holds his drum in one hand and plays it with the other, while singing and dancing; no wonder they soon got out of breath!

[ Mambesak drummers at The Strawbale Studio | Mambesak drummers in motion at The Strawbale Studio | Mambesak drummers up close | Mambesak drum scrum |  Trio of Mambesak drummers | Mambesak drums raised up | Mambesak Group performing a spear dance ]

Then came the Monsada Dance, a healing ceremony where they enacted a scene of one of their hunters dying of malaria. A medicine man put saliva on his own hands and then rubbed them down the length of the ill man's body, cleansing the malaria out of him and then hurling the infection away. Then the dancers picked him up and danced with him as his strength returned.

[ Hunter dies of malaria | Medicine man lays on hands | Medicine man beseeches the gods | Mambesak group help the dying hunter | The hunter's strength returns | Mambesak group pick up the dying hunter ]

You can see more photos of the group at their website.

[ Mambesak group lift off! | Mambesak group flying ]

The Lani Singers at The Strawbale Studio

[ The Lani Singers at The Strawbale Studio ]Next came The Lani Singers, a man and his wife playing guitars and singing, accompanied by a very cute young child playing a drum. Their music was wonderfully uplifting: joyous South-Sea harmonies sung over lilting chords, but the lyrics were about tragic events. They've spent more than a year seeking political asylum; the man showed wounds on his ankles and wrists where he was chained up and locked in a toilet for a week in prison, being regularly beaten. The political situation in West Papua since the Indonesian invasion is very dangerous with disturbing human rights abuses and concerns about genocide going largely unnoticed by the outside world. UPDATE: I just heard today that UK Immigration have finally granted them asylum and a place to stay in the UK :-) UPDATE 2: Interpol seeks West Papuan tribal leader living in UK (Benny Wenda)

[ Mambesak Group with sharp spears ]Talking afterwards with the dancers, I asked if their 7-foot long spears had been tricky to explain going through customs. No, they replied, although the clay they use as warpaint was suspected of being drugs, which the customs officers duly sniffed and examined. Then we decided that it was only fair that we should play them some of our music, so we fired up the djembes and launched into a few songs. They joined in and we had a ball. So a good day was had by all, a great chance for cross-cultural exchange.


BBC Filming

The nice people at BBC Training came to film me again, playing and talking about my music. This time I managed to be filmed lying down while balancing deeply resonating Tibetan Singing Bowls on my chest. I look forward to seeing the results... A big thanks to Tessa, Tim and Bizia for allowing us to use their place.

Letter to George W. Bush

Incensed by the American government's highly dubious prosecution of the Greenpeace organisation for exercising their constitutional right to peacefully protest at the illegal import of Brazilian timber from Amazon rainforests, I wrote a brief letter, adding some extra advice at no extra charge:


Drop your immoral criminal prosecution of Greenpeace and instead prosecute those who are illegally exporting Brazilian mahogany.

You still have options. Show the peoples of the world that you accept that you are wrong. Apologise profusely for the way you have bullied weaker nations into submission to your gross capitalist schemes. Abandon your economic and military invasions of other, more highly-developed, cultures. Commit to working with the international community on issues such as pollution, Third World debt, nuclear/biological/chemical weapons, AIDS. Give the terrorists nothing to hate you for and their cause will soon disappear into thin air. Your behaviour is the glue which binds them together in their diabolic plans; be transparent, forgiving and saintly, do not try to fight an enemy you cannot see. Let those who are most noble succeed.

This is the only way to freedom, security and prosperity.

Yours sincerely,
Malcolm Smith


Crop circle

[ Crop Circle seen from atop Deacon Hill ] Inspired by a photograph in the local paper, I set out in search of a crop circle that had mysteriously appeared near the Chiltern Way beside the B655 Hitchin to Pegsdon road. It was apparently in a shape resembling the Vesica Pisces, an ancient fertility symbol used in sacred geometry. After a brief search I couldn't find it, so instead decided to ascend Deacon Hill, as it was such a fine morning, and I was being paid on-call ;-) Some guys were up there setting up ready for a bit of paragliding, riding the warm air currents with the birds (a nice way to spend a Sunday morning :-) On reaching the summit, I turned around to see the crop circle behind me in a vivid yellow field of oil seed rape. Judging by the alignment of the shape, it's clear that this one was no natural phenomena, and had been obviously created by the hand of man, as it resembled a face with a mouth, ears and spiral eyes when viewed from this high vantage point looking towards Hitchin. My photograph is not as clear as the aerial view in the newspaper, but should help to dispel any myths about supernatural forces. Unless of course the aliens were using Deacon Hill as some kind of UFO launch ramp on the thermals...

[UPDATE 2011-06-21: I finally got round to editing this panorama view which includes the crop circle (and here's another photo of it online to prove I didn't just make it up). This view is seen from the top of the megalithic hillfort on Deacon Hill, which is itself pictured below.

[ Crop Circle panorama looking east toward Hitchin from Deacon Hill ]

[ Panorama looking east toward Deacon Hill ]

Drumming session con brio

Later, after 'work', we had a super-high-spirited drumming session, with Ian, Ana, Bizia, Helen, Melissa, Jane, Ruth, Jerry and his son Yestyn. We played our growing set of rhythms with vigour, and had some wonderful jam sessions which brought forth some frenetic dancing! Then we went over some of Molefe Pheto's drum patterns from The Watford Percussion Project, which were absorbed and learned with ease. A final burst of Mamadi Kamara rounded off a hot session. Summer is here! I look forward to taking this to a stage near you... Finally, Rob turned up at the end for some spontaneous dancing with Ana, which I accompanied with tumbao on congas.


Peace In Nature Walks

[ Peace Walkers in the field of beans ] Bluebell Woods on Quiet Lane ]Another glorious walk around the fields, footpaths and woods inspires some random thoughts, some photos of bluebell woods, and a deep yearning to get all my friends out here to witness this beauty together. And so I invite people on the first of many Peace In Nature Walks: "AROMA THERAPY". UPDATE: A Jolly Jaunt was had by all. See you next time!


Another Peace In Nature Walk

[ Peace Walkers amid the rhodedendrons ]Drumming with Tina, Ian, Jane, Melissa, Roberto, Helen, Joe and Jess (some fine shaking!). Afterwards it was such a nice day and inspired by our fine walk yesterday, we persuaded those who missed it to come out for another.

Truth is stranger than fiction

Truth *is* stranger than fiction.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Licence © The right to copy is left with the user copyleft Malcolm Smith 2004-03-03 - last updated 2011-11-25 - links verified 2006-02-12