Thursday, September 3, 2009

3rd & 4th September - Days 3 & 4, Double bonus blog day!

This keeping a blog business is hard work! Writing it, resizing photos, uploading etc etc

Briefly, we've built an 8 track studio in a room with no lights. It's been a hectic couple of days, so in the words of the late Roy Castle: "Delegation's what you need!".

Anyway, Devon and Paul on the words, yours truly on the photos.


Today was a much more mellow session. Slept a bit later and the cab ride in was quick. Ochieng Nelly and his wife, who we called Madam Nelly, visited us from western Kenya. His playing and his demeanor, even his appearance, are Mississippi John Hurt: Travis-picking, very much like ours, but incredibly mature, and informed by the Benga tradition. Madam Nelly sings throughout but in harmony, as opposed to yesterday's unison-singing with Kamaru. Sometimes she sings above him, sometimes below. They even played a Jimmie Rodgers tune!

Later in the day, Ben sat with both Ochieng and Kamaru - a historic Kenyan collaboration - and worked through a handful of songs. Both gentlemen are in their 70s. Tom, our studio host, and belonging to the same tribe as the Nellys, helped me translate some of Madame's lyrics into English, "Aunt Grace came back from the city. Grace, everyone wants to ask about your new dress!"

After the session, maybe 8pm, we ate whole fish again, this time at a bar behind a petrol station with Swahili news hour blasting.

Meet the Fockers was on at the hotel. Assssssshoooooolle.


and now over to Paul...


Things are getting serious. Buzzing isn't ignorable anymore. Neither is a single stereo out on the board. Steve, the engineer of the local studio at Go Down, was invited in to assist in assembling a multi-track set-up in our little concrete box. Folks sat round, walked in and out, drank tea, Sprite, ate cookies, and microphones got numbers taped to them.

After a while, the necessary folks were hailed back concrete-ward -- a new drummer called Matthew, Odhiambo on bass, Mr, Kamaru on vox, Mr. Nelly on acoustic guit, Devon on electric and vox, and me the same. A few half takes for line levels, but nothing too serious.

Matthew on percussion


Ben Mandelson, one of the producers, said, "Thank you, everybody. Thank you. Everybody!? Shhhh. Thank you." And then he looked at at me: "It's all yours to start." The "Honky Tonkin'" part went ace. The second half -- a Kamaru tune that we force-morphed into Honky Tonkin' -- proved more difficult. Bars were counted. Interpreters called in. And then again. "You listen to HIM," pointing, "and we'll listen to HIM." Theme melodies were concentrated on, rehearsed, drilled, those playing them told, "THAT'S IMPORTANT! PLAY THAT!" Take 3 did it. Sounded like a Benga version of The Band.

Paul Curreri


Then Mr. Nelly. A song about his pal, Jim, loaning him so dough back in the day, bailing him out. Beautiful piece... he and his wife duetted. Devon and I occasionally dove in betwixt lines to harmonize in English, "Jim, we're coming to the city... t'raise a glass and be merry." A short piece, and everybody was smiling. Mandelson conducting.

Ochieng Nelly

Next, a Jimmie Rodgers number, Mr. Nelly leading. But there was an extra bar that proved rather enigmatic. Everybody was counting, often laughing when folks got separated. But time was of the essence, so Mandelson cut the outsider players, stripped it down, got it done, and everyone clapped and clapped.

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