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Archive for the ‘Deep Roots Malawi’ Category

A considerable amount has happened in the last month, so we’ll recount a few of the better stories/the ones we remember the best. On October 6th, we left Namibia for the Lake of Stars (LOS) festival in Malawi. As the LOS film crew, we wanted to gather compelling promotional footage for the festival’s organizers and some live performance footage for the Deep Roots Malawi documentary we’ve been working on. So, we (Adam & Benjamin) spent three grueling days traveling 3,000km overland each way from Namibia to Malawi. Along the way, we stopped in Livingstone, Zambia, home of Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Benjamin, on the edge of Victoria Falls

Benjamin, on the edge of Victoria Falls

You have to take a taxi from Livingstone to the actual falls, which are on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. When we got out of the taxi, I had bananas in one hand and chips in the other. Benjamin had a backpack on and only had room for the bananas, so I proceeded to carry the chips in my hands, which turned out to be a mistake. As we were walking down the hill (Benjamin, per usual, was delivering a long monologue about something academic), an alpha-male baboon climbed over a fence and came sprinting towards us, a little drunkenly as if he were rabid. I began tapping Benjamin and saying there is a really large baboon sprinting at us….Benjamin turned to look at it right as it stopped just a foot short of us. The baboon stood on its hind legs and stared us down, blocking our path.

I, seeing the whole process, had time to plan my actions. Once I alerted Benjamin, I looked at the baboon, turned and ran. Benjamin, caught completely by surprise, looked at the baboon and took at a swing at him with his Nalgene bottle. The baboon dodged his swing and suddenly lost interest in him, instead taking off in hot pursuit of me. After getting about ten yards, I looked over my shoulder and saw the baboon chasing me. In front of me there was a tractor-trailer truck and I decided to try to juke at the truck and fake out the baboon.

Well, I was wearing sandals and running rather quickly on gravel. The juke was an utter failure. I slipped down and slid under the truck in a large cloud of dust. As I climbed out from under the truck and got to my knees, I looked up to this baboon standing over me. At this point cab drivers were throwing rocks at him trying to scare him off, but he didn’t budge. Completely disoriented, I realized that I had chips in my hand, so I threw a shovel pass in the air, and straight out of a playbook, the baboon caught them, jumped the fence in one leap and was gone. I got up and continued walking to Victoria Falls with an insane heart rate and abrasions all over the left side of my body. By the time we got to the falls, I was almost to the point of fainting, not from the beauty of the falls (while they are nice), but from looking at blood dripping down my arm and leg. Long story short, Adam got mugged by a baboon.

Luckily, a day later we arrived at the the Lake of Stars festival in beautiful Senga Bay, Malawi, aptly nicknamed ‘the land of a thousand smiles.’ The set up of the festival was brilliant…the stage backed up to a large rock, a smaller and yet still impressive stage similar to that of Red Rocks amphitheater. The best part however was that the stage was adjacent to the beach. So while listening to music and dancing, people were able to hang out on the beach or jump in the water during the daytime heat. We camped about 50 yards from the beach.

The Lake of Stars music festival in Senga Bay, Malawi

We filmed three days of music, and because we had press passes, we were able to get some great on-stage footage as well as interviews with the musicians backstage. And, since Lake of Stars is a relatively small music festival, there was much more interaction between the performers and the spectators than at other festivals, with several performers during the weekend collaborating for impromptu acoustic jam sessions right on the beach, inviting anyway who could sing or play to join in.

Feeling the rhythm

Feeling the rhythm

It was a pretty special environment, and we felt more connected to music than we have in a very long time listening to those jam sessions on the beach. There were probably about 3,000 people in attendance at the festival, most all who were camping on the grounds. Many of the people were from the U.K., but there were also many Malawians there, as well as Canadians, Americans, and people from other parts of western Europe.

Sunday morning gospel

Sunday morning gospel

During the festival, a cut on Adam’s foot from the baboon got infected and continued to swell until he could barely walk. Our first night there, a guy at the beach bar saw his bandages and inquired as to what happened. Turns out he was a doctor, the festival doctor. With a beer in hand and who knows how many in his stomach, he doused Adam in iodine and bandaged him up. After which, he offered us cigarettes; we said no thanks doc. By the end of the festival, Adam knew almost all of the medical personnel in attendance. Also, throughout the weekend, we would meet new people who would ask what happened to his arm and foot. Often, before he could respond they would say, “wait, are you the guy that got attacked by the baboon? Oh wow, that’s awesome dude. I heard about that last night. Great story!” Then Adam would hobble away…great story…

On our way back to Namibia, we traveled with two Scottish girls who are doing a year of travel around the world and were heading in the same direction. On crossing the border into Zambia, we had to get a cab ride for 20 km to the next town. About halfway into the ride, the driver pulled over. He told us that there was a roadblock ahead and he didn’t have an official taxi license. He said that the roadblock would be removed within thirty minutes, so we waited. While waiting on the side of the road, we became somewhat of a spectacle for the village kids, so we put on a show, borrowing bikes from two kids and racing up and down the street. Benjamin won…but keep in mind, I was injured :).

Finally, a police officer came walking over the hill. He saw us pulled over to the side, and asked the cab driver to get out. They talked for a bit. Finally, the police officer, at the peak of irritation, asked for the cab driver’s keys, jumped in the car and drove off without the driver. While parked at the roadblock waiting for him, Benjamin jumped in the driver’s seat and drove about a 100 hundred yards down the road as a joke…the police weren’t amused. After a long wait at the roadblock and a trip to the police station, we arrived at our hostel three hours later.

The rest of the trip back went pretty smoothly. We went on a cruise down the Zambezi River, where we saw hippos, elon, and crocodiles. It was beautiful. After traveling, 7,000 km, a distance equivalent to Miami to Seattle and halfway back, we arrived back in Otavi ten days later around midnight. The next morning we took twenty-four middle school age kids four hours to the coast for the national marathon.

Sunset cruise with hippos on the Zambezi River

Sunset cruise with hippos on the Zambezi River

We are now in our new apartment in Tsumeb and have been here for about two weeks. We’ll give more details about our home, daily lives and the work we are currently doing in the next update. Sorry about the length of this one. We like to write more than we thought.

Hope you all are well,

Adam & Benjamin

P.S. We’ve been out of the loop…was there some sort of election in the states?

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We’ve spent the better part of the past two weeks readjusting in Namibia and scrambling to get together a trailer to be screened at the Lake of Stars festival in Malawi next month. We’re going over film in Windhoek this week before returning to Rundu next Friday to turn all the content over to our editor, Cedar Wolf. From there, we’ll spend the better part of three weeks working to cut things down before heading back to Malawi the first of October for the Lake of Stars.

In addition to the production updates, we have a couple of key developments for the Deep Roots concept. We are currently speaking with several Malawian businesses to solicit corporate sponsorship and make the leap from Deep Roots as a film to Deep Roots as a registered Malawian music/film production and promotion company. We’ll keep everyone posted as the talks progress, but we hope to coordinate and film at least two music and cultural events in Malawi next year under the Deep Roots banner.

Also, we are happy to welcome the first member of Deep Roots’ staff. Sophia Brillant (sbrill33@uga.edu), Deep Roots’ new project manager, is responsible for artist development, advertising, promotion, PR, blog management and registration of the business in Malawi. If you have any comments, suggestions or questions regarding our projects, please contact Sophia.

More to come soon, so stay with us.

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After five days of overland travel from Malawi to Namibia, it feels good to be home. The workload piles up during eight weeks of neglected correspondence, but slowly we’re catching up on everything. In the process, we’ve coordinated an exciting development.

In addition to screening Deep Roots for the press at the Lake of Stars festival, we’re hoping to schedule a show in the festival’s line-up. This Deep Roots Malawi time-slot would feature some of the talent we uncovered while filming, including performances by Charles Mkanthama, Gasper Nali and the Makambale Brothers. Also, we’re looking to bring up several marimba players from southern Malawi’s Lower Shire Valley.

More details are forthcoming, so stay with us!

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Kenny, Waliko and I have spent the past three days in Blantyre going through footage, making sure we’re on the same page—translations, cultural explanations, film treatment, etc—before we all head our separate ways. For Ken, he’s off to Canterbury to start a new year of teaching secondary school in the UK. For Waliko, it’s back to TV Malawi and the election year turbulence stirring the office. I’ll be traveling around Malawi for the next 10 days, tying up loose ends before starting the overland trek back to Namibia.

Waliko, Kenny & Benjamin

The Deep Roots Team: Waliko, Benjamin & Kenny

From there, our editor, Cedar Wolf, and I will start the slow process of turning this experience into a finalized product. We hope to have a short trailer ready for screening at the Lake of Stars festival’s international press conference in early October, so we’ll be hitting it hard once I get back. After that, we aim to have the full-length feature available by the year’s end.

Thanks to everyone who has kept up with us along this incredible journey, and please continue to check back periodically for updates as we move into editing. This project was the first of hopefully many more to come, so please stay with us as we move from the field and into the studio. Thanks!

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This week, Lilongwe played host to the international finals of the Music Crossroads International (MCI) competition, a unique youth empowerment through music program initiated in 1995 by Jeunesses Musicales International (JMI) that encompasses five southern African countries: Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Since the program began twelve years ago, Music Crossroads has reached almost 35,000 musicians and 750,000 listeners. MCI is comprised of workshops, festivals and competitions to promote the African traditional and contemporary/ urban music of young African musicians. The project aims at creating sustainable musical structures in the target countries, improving self-awareness and social inclusion of young African individuals. MCI promotes the participation of young women in the program and addresses HIV/AIDS prevention through Relationship workshops.
Music Crossroads International

This week, finalists from each of the four other countries convened in Lilongwe to duke it out with the Malawian champions and see who would be crowned this year’s regional champion. On Thursday we sat down with Stieg Hannsen, MCI’s festival director for Malawi. He talked about the evolution of music throughout the region over the past decade, highlighting Malawi’s success in winning back-to-back MCI titles in 2006 and 2007, with Konga Vibes and Body, Mind & Soul respectively taking top honors.

Body, Mind & Soul playing @ MCI 2008

Body, Mind & Soul playing @ MCI 2008

So, today we arranged to sit down with Body, Mind & Soul, the reigning champions and honorary performers for this weekend’s competition. A six-piece band from Mzuzu (Northern Malawi), BMS is led by Davie Luhanga, commonly known as ‘Street Rat’, whose voice places their sound into a league of its own. The band started out as ‘Souls of the Ghetto’ playing reggae music, like many local bands; they won several local awards such as the Kuche Kuche Music Award and participated in festivals such as the Lake of Stars and Hippy Festival.

In 2005 the band felt a stronger connection pulling them towards their Malawian roots. They reflected on the importance of sharing their ancient culture in a modern time and after much thought and experimentation, created a new musical concept that they are calling ‘voodjaz’. It is a subtle mix of traditional rhythms with a jazz feel, creating a bridge between past and present Malawian cultures.

Their first international recognition came in May 2007, when they won the Music Crossroads Southern Africa InterRegional Festival in Harare (Zimbabwe). Most recently, they returned to Malawi from an eight-week European Tour in June/July. Already, they’re scheduled for a North American tour in 2009.

So, it comes as no surprise that BMS blew us away when they took the stage yesterday. I’m willing to bet that within another two years, Body, Mind & Soul will be an established touring act on the World Music scene, one not to be missed. They’ve just released a new album, Kwacha Malawi, which we hope to have up and available for download soon.

Tonight we’re headed back over to Umunthu Theatre to check out the Black Missionaries and see first-hand the new standard to which Harry has raised sound and lighting for Malawian venues. Take care…

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Today we had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with both Peter Mwangwa and his record label, Rhythm of Life. Mwangwa, one of Malawi’s most prominent fusion artists, has made a name for himself in the last decade by combining indigenous Malawian rhythms with international standard recordings to produce uniquely Malawian sounds. Surprisingly, he has found the majority of his audience not within Malawi, but overseas. This highlights a common phenomenon in Malawi, where frequently, many prominent Malawian musicians find success first internationally before becoming recognized in their own home.

Most recently, Mwangwa has turned his attention toward philanthropy and social activism, founding Talents of the Malawian Child (TMC), a program designed to empower the forgotten children of Malawi orphaned by HIV. He works with these young people to teach, form and develop music groups. He records and produces their work, markets their albums and organizes performances for them. The proceeds of the albums go to pay the orphans’ school fees and purchase their clothing.

Rhythm of Life Records

Rhythm of Life Records

Rhythm of Life, a UK based NGO, strives to use music as an instrument of change to empower youth. In Malawi, they support a range of programs, including young artist development, professional recording services and support for Mwangwa’s TMC. They gave a number of insights into the challenges facing aspiring young musicians, from inadequate financial resources to production, promotion and distribution obstacles.

Over the next two days, we’ll be filming some of the best young talent southern Africa has to offer at the Music Crossroads International festival. Stick around to hear more…

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Saturday morning, we caught up with the Makambale Brothers, one of Lilongwe’s most talented groups of traditional musicians. Their unique sound, born from oil-can guitars and bottle-cap cymbals, screams Malawian. We recorded three songs with them, hoping to produce a music video from our short session with them. Afterwards, we were so impressed with their sound that we invited them to open up for the Sangalala Band at Saturday night’s show at Chameleon’s. The show was yet another promotional gig for Deep Roots, and Kenny once again dazzled the audience with his high-tempo stage presence.

Makambale Brothers, Lilongwe

Makambale Brothers, Lilongwe

Yesterday (Sunday) morning, we packed up the Land Rover to drive back to Blantyre, only to make it 10km outside Lilongwe before running into clutch problems. So, it looks as though we’re stuck in the capital city for the week, which isn’t such a bad proposition, as we have plenty of interviews here to keep us occupied. Additionally, Lilongwe is hosting an international music competition this weekend, Music Crossroads. So for our purposes, we’re stuck in Lilongwe during the best week of the year possible.

Today we met with Peter Malata, a well-known Malawian fusion artist. He launched his career as a reggae musician in the mid-1990s, but has since pioneered the effort to blend traditional Malawian beats with contemporary sounds. He, along with his brother Jerry (among others), recently started the Mabingu Band, an experiment delving into the cultural roots of the music associated with Gule Wamkulu

Jerry, who has been initiated into the Gule tradition in the past two years, has been given permission by the society to popularize some of the inner-elements of their music. He and Mabingu Band thus represent the first effort to incorporate the tradition’s music into the Malawian mainstream. We listened to some of the music they’re currently in the studio recording, and the results are sounds that I’ve never been exposed to before—gems waiting to be uncovered.

Jerry (left) & Peter (center) Malata

Jerry (left) & Peter (center) Malata

So, we’re back with Ken’s family tonight, where we’ll be for the remainder of the week. On tap for us in the next couple days are interviews with Peter Mwangwa, the Black Missionaries, Konga Vibes, Body, Mind & Soul, Lester Mwathunga, Harry Gibbs, Rhythm of Life Records, Music Crossroads International, and more, so stick around….

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