The Smith's Journal - July 2005

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While it may look like I've not been up to much in July, I've only written these few entries to keep things in perspective because the scale of the past week has been truly massive. Sure, some big events occurred this month, such as Live8 and the protests in Edinburgh, all of which was promptly washed out of our minds by the G8 bombings; but for me these were minor blips on the radar which is suddenly buzzing with clouds of positive energies that dwarf and dissolve such negativity out of existence. A tide has turned and is sweeping headlong up the beach of Life, and how happy I am to be swimming and surfing again :-) This renaissance has been brought about by the Festival of Song Drum and Dance at Cuffley Camp. While last year's festival was pretty cool, this time has opened more channels than I can begin to describe...


Heathrow Dun Dun Rescue Mission

[ Jane and Tony playing dun duns ]"We got 'em!!!"

 O O

Our new dun duns had actually arrived on the Tuesday earlier in the week, but the kind folk at the cargo company didn't phone me, instead choosing to send a letter while my consignment sat in their holding bay at 6 quid per day :-(

To cut a very l-o-n-g story short(ish)... I'd just finished work on the Friday of the Festival, and was all set to start packing my gear and head off. Then I found the letter, so I phoned them and decided on a wing and a prayer to risk a rush-hour dash to Heathrow to get the duns. Two hours later I arrived with only an hour before they closed, only to be told that their computer system had crashed and they could not process anything, so I'd have to return next week. ARGGHHH!!!

I decided to wait there until they shut at 5pm, in the small hope that I could build up enough psychic energy to heal their network in time. After a very painful hour peppered with violent thoughts of storming the building, bribery, etc., which I managed to suppress, I felt like an expectant father pacing up and down in the corridor outside the maternity ward. In total amazement, the computers began working at 4:59pm! The staff rushed through my order, giving me a ticket to take to the other side of the airport. The charges were pretty extortionate: £159.40! I'd estimated their value as £300 which was probably a bit high to be doing myself a favour, but the VAT was only £63.80; the rest was the import duty/handling :-/

So I went to collect them, a painful and drawn out process in itself, involving waiting outside a loading bay for another hour for my number to come up. It was worth it, however! They are ABSOLUTE BEAUTIES! I unwrapped them and made a brief check that all skins were intact, before signing for them and loading up the car.

But sadly, Houston, we have a problem... I was expecting them to be sent in padded boxes or crates, but when I got them, they were just wrapped in jute sacking: sangban+kenkenis in one bag and dununba in another, and the djembe was in another sack but also with a cardboard hat protecting the skin. The guy told me they had come off the plane like that - I thought they'd be in boxes surrounded by padding, not loose in the hold.

The sadness is that although the duns are all fab and marvellous, the djembe head is broken. I didn't notice this on initial inspection, as I didn't take it out of the bag to play it, just looked at the top of the skin, which I noticed was a bit weird but I assumed this might just be from its recent changes in pressure/climate. But tragically the skin has a big wound just below the rim which means that the head is dead and floppy at one side: no bass, no open tone, no nothing. It needs re-skinning, but it's not something I know how to do. Luckily we also got a large cigar of spare goatskins sent over, and a friend knows someone in London who can skin a drum well.) As another friend eloquently put it:

Bl**dy airline companies!! This isn't the first time this has happened!!! The problem is that they just take NO responsibility for the damn problem!! They also have NO respect for beautiful instruments!!! It REALLY gets on my nerves!!!

I'm not sure if there's anything we can do about getting compensation from the airline, as I stupidly signed for it before making a thorough inspection; it took quite a while as it was, just to cut open all of the sackcloth bags to check all nine skins, and there was a queue behind me. I was a bit alarmed at just seeing them there unprotected on a pallet (duns stood up vertically - ouch! - albeit within sacks), but it's unclear whether they had already been removed from crates by someone else. I'm pretty certain that the damage didn't happen driving back, as I carefully wrapped the drums in a duvet and other padding, and the M25 journey home was very slow, albeit joyous: I wrote down a new rhythm that the duns were incanting to me from the boot :-)

I managed to get to the festival just in time for the Opening Ceremony and left the drums there before going back home later that night to pack my own gear (hehe, now I have *way* too many drums to fit in my transport! :-) We are all totally charged with excitement at our new babies. The large dununba is indeed VERY LARGE! I was not expecting that - Mel truly pulled something out of the hat for us there! She'll be getting us in trouble with the folk in the next village complaining about our Drum Telephone upsetting their WiFi :-)

I have acquired the sangban and one kenkeni for my own personal 'research', whereas the dununba and other kenkeni have taken up permanent lodgings in The Strawbale Studio, where they fit right in with the decor ;-)

So on the whole it is great news. My 7-hour Heathrow ordeal could've been better (at the time I swore I would never ever import things again!), but now that I know the procedure, I'll avoid trying to squeeze it in after work en route to a festival, and take a good book with me! Next time I will investigate possibilities of sea mail, to avoid the pressure changes in aircraft at altitude (and because planes suck and are environmentally evil). Regarding future purchases, I know of some other people looking for djembes, and since you get reduced shipping rates when sending more than 100kg, it makes sense to get a large shipment together. A colleague at work even said it only cost his friend £800 to send a 20ft container from Georgia... And I'm not even going to start talking just now about those awesome-looking bolon, gongoma and slit drums that Mel said could also be sent over... (Five headed monster! ;-)

Festival of Song Drum and Dance 2005

It had been touch and go for a while whether or not the Festival would be cancelled due to tragically low ticket sales. This was not for want of more promotion, as the organisers did a sterling job with advertising in all the right places. Luckily we managed to pull through, and what a good thing this was: the world would not be quite the same had this weekend not gone ahead...

The Festival's Opening Ceremony was held in a clearing in the woods of Cuffley Camp, and led by Paul Sandford, a Druid Shamanic Priest suitably bedecked in a cloak and staff. We stood in a circle and linked hands as we chanted some simple (but effective) songs, breaking out into spontaneous harmonies as the energy rose:

Earth my body,
Water my blood,
Air my breath, and
Fire my spirit.

Then we called for Peace in the world, turning around to face North, East, South and West.

Next up came Grizzly Walking Thunder and his posse of Native American Indian flute players and dancers, who entertained us with sublime melodies evoking the wide plains of America. I joined them when they called out for a drummer to play their sacred medicine drum, an honour.

[ Grizzly's posse at Cuffley Camp | Native American Indian flute duet at FSDD | Grizzly playing flute ]

[ Native American Indian dancing | Native American Indian dancing | Native American Indian dancing | Native American Indian dancing | Native American Indian dancing | Native American Indian dancing ]

After the performances, I had to drive back home to pack my camping gear and instruments, get some sleep, and then return early next morning...


Tibetan Singing Bowl Workshop at FSDD2005

This was the first Tibetan Singing Bowl workshop I'd given, and was a fun way to begin the day. We walked into the woods to be away from any noise from the road, and found a nice spot amidst the ancient hawthorn trees. I gave each of the nine people a couple of bowls to play with from my performance set, which were carefully chosen to all form a nice D Major chord together. After talking about their history and basic techniques, we played for a while, enjoying the soothing tones in this peaceful environment. Next, I got half of the people to lie down on mats while the others positioned bowls on their victim's chest/stomach/back/shoulders/legs and stroked/struck them (the bowls, not the people!) to give some much appreciated vibrational healing. This went down very well, with everyone declaring they now want to acquire a large bowl of their own for personal use.

African Harmony Workshop at FSDD2005

Next I took part in Andy Cox's African Harmony Workshop, which was a real joy. He began with some warm-up stretching exercises for our weary bodies and confidence-building icebreakers to build up a good group atmosphere. We then learned two African songs in four parts, which really hit the spot and created instant bonding. As we sang in a circle, Hilary's baby daughter Sophy cried out to be held amongst us, and then fell asleep in Ruth's arms as we drew in close into a tight group. When the song finished we were all totally taken aback at the magic we'd just created, and I suggested that we should sing this during the evening performances (which I was in charge of).

Drumming Workshop at FSDD2005

After lunch, I conducted a drumming workshop, attended by mostly beginners plus a few of our Secret Bass group. This was my first proper opportunity to play our new dun duns, which rocked! It's funny - a few years ago I would have run away at the thought of having to stand up in front of twenty strangers and get them to play African drums. I'd like to thank the Universe for the confidence I never realised I'd gained :-)

Secret Bass perform at FSDD2005

In the evening, our Secret Bass drumming group gathered for our first ever public performance (for some players it was their first ever musical gig). Agents present were:

I began calling to the people to listen by beating a gong and then playing a dun dun solo to start off Ade's Drum Call rhythm. Since we weren't used to playing with duns, some of my signals got lost, but we managed to keep focused. My next major blunder was starting off David's song 'Anye' at double the usual speed for some reason! I've no idea why I did this, as I have sung this song probably 200 times over the past 8 years. I must have put myself off by clapping the tempo first, and then just went loopy; hence this rendition was a losing battle from the start and totally devoid of the awesome spirit it usually invokes. I'll never make this mistake again! Luckily we got back on the case with Afrocubanites and the Gambian rhythm, which ran along swimmingly with all changes executed to the letter.

I started our next song Suley Maniye much too fast, which left us breathless and anxious instead of carefree and joyous. Ruth carved a fine clave over Tony's surdo-style dun dun bassline in the Samba rhythm, before we finished with Fabrizia dancing the Yankadi moves that Melissa Collins had taught, with great success! We even got it captured on video, along with the African Harmony singing which we performed next.

The Naked Truth perform at FSDD2005

After a brief interval to change instruments around, it was the turn of The Naked Truth to play. This was for Ruth and I the perfect environment: acoustic and intimate, having grown sick of battling against technical difficulties to perform in non-ideal conditions to unresponsive audiences. At last we could be ourselves, and Nothing But...

It took a few songs to get into our stride, and the failing light meant that Ruth was having trouble seeing her guitar! Luckily clever people came and shone torches on us like spotlights :-) When we came to play Diamonds, the bowls really hit the spot - DYNAMITE! It was as if the entire forest had taken off and soared away to Another Universe. Over the next few songs we almost thought the audience had gone away; they were so quiet you could have heard a pin drop, and we were dazzled by torchlights anyway :-) A big thanks for such a warm and welcoming reception! Playing flute on White Bird was another highlight, as was Dust which I'd been busy rehearsing all week but without Ruth, instead just practising to tape, so she had no idea what I was going to do...! Always seeking new possibilities, my part featured my bowls turned upside down playing a mesmeric rippling pattern of African polyrhythms.

We ended with the song Angel, and just like last year my DAT recorder's batteries died a few seconds in, so a recording eludes us again! But the moment was so magical I didn't want it to end. Ruth was truly an Angel at this very special gig :-)

Next I accompanied Fabrizia's Bharatanatyam classical Indian dance with my Tibetan Bowls and also naturvangam (Indian finger cymbals). Following this, Grizzly and friends arrived to play Native American Indian flutes and didgeridoo along with the bowls for a few numbers, until at midnight the audience had finally dwindled to just Ian, so we called it a night. (I completely forgot about the Tibetan Singing Bowl candlelit procession which I had intended to stage! :-)

I was by now quite tired after teaching two workshops and performing with five different groups consecutively today, having approached the intensity of my 8-hour bash at Chris's house party. We covered the instruments with a tarpaulin and sheets in case of rain (it was too dark to pack everything away), and went back to the campsite to chat with the hilarious Pagan security guys and then Claire and Jim.


Rain Stopped Play

Next morning the clouds which had threatened but thankfully spared us all of yesterday finally opened with no let up. The morning's workshops were held indoors which was no great loss. For some reason (probably due to my mental space-out following yesterday's non-stop activity), I never bothered to pack away our instruments, and just left out my drums and bowls looking very sad in the downpour. The drums were well-covered by tarpaulin, but the bowls just had a sheet over them. When I finally got round to packing them, there were puddles in each one which needed drying out, although this is not harmful to them. More stupid was the fact that I'd let my cowbells and wooden beaters get wet, resulting in rusty bells. And the lovely white blanket I had laid on the ground underneath my bowls had become a vile grey sodden mess thick with mud and ash from the firepit; this proved an embarassment later at the launderette, having to stealthily fish out gravel, leaves and twigs from the washing machines and dryer ;-)

FSDD2005 Closing Ceremony

Cuffley Tree Gang ] [Cuffley Tree Gang at FSDD |The Closing Ceremony was due to be given by a Dakota-Sioux Native American dancer called She-Wolf Spirit, but she didn't make it, so Paul Sandford took care of the proceedings again in a nice mirror-image of the Opening Ceremony. The energy generated by our circle of linked arms was so intense that Fabrizia felt her hands melt away. I was similarly affected; it was like a massive particle accelerator charging us up with positivity ready to go out into the world and fight the good fight. We agreed to form a group in order to better promote the event for 2006 and bring in more people, to help Carol who organised the whole thing at great personal expense. We could easily accomodate twice as many people and still have acres of woods to wander alone in. We're designing a logo and I shall build a more extensive website, hopefully with a discussion group/mailing list to keep everyone in touch (Claire's cool idea :-)

The rain then magically stopped (!) and the sun came out, allowing us to take down our tents and absquatulate.

Secret Bass Video

Since none of us really felt like going home, Bizia invited us to return to Michael's Folly to watch the video of our drumming and singing performances. Andy Cox, Jane, Tina, Ruth+Shem+George, Bizia and I had a good chortle at seeing ourselves on telly - it's a very informative document. I manage to look daft because as the 'leader', I'm the one making all the obvious blunders, while everyone else is cool :-) Our next performance will be better, as I'll not be making certain mistakes again. Alas, I don't have the technology to put the footage online yet, but the photos are now online.

After walking round the sunlit gardens fresh from the rains, we had a very enlightened discussion about the future of our group. We also planned to start some singing sessions with Andy. It seemed as if we had found paradise, everyone felt completely at peace and filled with joy, free to speak our minds with a new openness and clarity of vision. This afternoon's happiness will stay with me for the rest of my life.

[Wow, did all that really only take three days? The buzz still hasn't worn off a week later; I think my happiness must be terminal... :-]


Drum Casualties

Spent a happy day playing music with Ruth, rehearsing after our gig (not the usual way round!?!)

But sadly we now have two more calamaties, Jane.

Today while I was playing the dun duns, George noticed a split in the kenkeni's skin :-( It is about an inch long curve where the head has a weird bit of skin. I'd not noticed this before, but it will only get worse. I suppose it's OK to just use the other head for now until we can get it re-skinned.

And there's more. Ruth showed me how a djembe is strung and tightened, something I of course should have known about years ago. After an hour trying to reverse-engineer the pattern of threading this under that, we figured it out - amazingly simple when you know how, but it must have taken some kind of divine inspiration by SuperBeings to teach humans how to do it originally. So there I was, going steadily round my djembe, which originally had a *very* flat open tone. I noticed a slight rise in the pitch when I got halfway round with the stringing, but it was still nowhere near high-pitched and not tight at all. Suddenly there was a crack and OH DEAR: the skin has split at the edge where it was already worn, forming a gash about six inches long. It now has a very muted open tone and a buzzy bass, and will soon deteriorate. It was already very old and well-played (including by my esteemed teacher David Oladunni), plus it has been in too many cars without a proper djembe bag (please, everyone buy one to protect yours!), but losing two more skins in one day is a bit silly! Obviously the Universe is keen for me to get to know Seneke (drum-skinning guy) better, as we now have three patients hoping for a bulk discount deal ;-) [UPDATE: Seneke re-skinned them brilliantly :-]


Celtic Festival of Lughnasad

Attended a ceremony with some Druids and Pagans (although not in costume) to mark the Celtic Festival of Lughnasad atop the neolithic burial mounds on Sharpenhoe Clappers (a bizarre outcrop of the Chiltern Hills) along with Ruth, Shem, George, Mary, Jane, Neil, Liam, and other Cuffley campers. I was there largely out of curiosity, having once written a poem called Longing which mentioned this festival (before I really knew what it was all about - I just liked the word). I wouldn't consider myself a Druid, but enjoyed the experience of seeing a different way of relating to the Ancestors. This strange promontory affords fine views to the west, north and east out over Bedfordshire, an ideal vantage point for the ancient hillfort.

We chanted and recited a ritual from the ancient Pagan traditions, calling on the spirit of Lugh and offering gifts of herbs, plants and elemental objects symbolising Earth (salt), Air (feather), Fire (candle) and Water (water). Some eistedfodder (songs, stories and poems) were shared before we called for Peace around the world, especially to the places that need it most. As I was speaking the part of West, I made a special effort to channel energy from our outward-facing circle across the land and sea to Northern Ireland, and thence to America (a Weapon of Massed Emotion directed straight at The White House ;-)

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 2005-06-05 - last updated 2006-12-26