Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Taste of Africa

Dropped in to see my friends from Kanaga System Krush busy editing a long awaited documentary on the music of Mali, West Africa.  Called Life is Hard, Music is Good, it seems likely to set a new standard for documenting African music and the lifestyle that goes with it.

Editing might be the hardest part of this venture six years in the making.  Blessed or cursed, depending on your view, with a wealth of riches in terms of footage captured, a few hundred hours at least, the challenge now is to get it down to a two hour running time.

The editor is Margaret Byrne whose credits include Mary J. Blige and Black Eyed Peas.  Director of Photography David Nicholson had another editing station set up and was busy with P.J., one of the Producers, sorting through and compiling archive footage for inclusion.

Somebody asked me, "what's happening?"
"This is IT! This is what's happening," I replied.

I felt in the middle of a media laboratory involved in experiments with very high energy particles & waves imaging sound & vision.  Collecting, organizing, assembling and reframing discrete moments of time and experience. Cohering to a vision that tells the story of music that keeps a culture together (most of the time), spiritually thriving, vitally and magically alive.  This music, the music of Mali, like all genuine music, transcends hardship to a greater or lesser degree.  Life is hard, music is good.  Editing is hard.  Communicating a musically rich culture is good.

The editing suite spilled out into an outdoor terrace shaded by a couple of oak trees.  A long wood  bulletin board ran the length of one side displaying cards depicting the various people and elements making up the film.  They were vertically divided into categories under the headings of different themes.  Not quite a storyboard but still quite a comprehensive layout of the form of the film.

KSK head honcho Aja Salvatore could be found fashioning a djembe on the terrace when not making executive production or directing decisions.  Aja was aided and abetted by a djembe player from Mali, Seydou who had recently acquired his visa to live here after trying for years.

In Africa, Seydou was almost always on hand to help us out on our musical expeditions.  He
always showed me great respect and friendship once giving me a traditional shirt as I was leaving.  The last time I saw him, about 2 1/2 years ago, I gave him a very basic Brane Power beta blocker, a small quantum crystal radio designed by E.J. Gold.  It's a biofeedback device meant to help cancel the brain's beta waves, ie headbrain chatter that' gets in the way of more relaxed states.  I showed him how he could use it to increase his will power.  I guess it worked!

The temperature was Africa hot.  A little more humid than usual compared to the sub-Saharan climate of Bamako, Mali, and it felt nowhere near as dusty as it gets there but still the kind of hot you take notice of and have to deal with.  But if you've worked in Africa for any length of time then you know how to deal with the heat.

Aja finished shaving the hair off the goat skin drum head he had stretched over the djembe shell then he and Seydou tuned it up.  The only thing left to do now was play it.  Aja started playing one of the more traditional African rhythms he picked up in Segou, capital of the Bamana Empire in thje 16th Century.  Seydou started playing what I thought was a small dun dun (African bass drum) with a stick mallet.  In his left hand he held a metal bell with a metal striker on one finger like a ring.  They worked up a deep African groove that sang through the sedate residential streets sounding like a call to go on a mystical journey.  Some people passing with big smiles excitedly said they could hear the drumming all the way from the top of the hill. 

In Bamako it's common to hear drumming going on somewhere in the distance.  I once asked someone there why so much drumming and he said that they often do it for some particular intention.  To drive away bad spirits from someone or find something that's lost, to change the weather or give blessings at a wedding etc. etc.  Nevada City had a little taste of Africa in their midst.

Aja and Seydou ostensibly intended to test the sound and playability of a newborn djembe - which sounded great, by the way, clear, articulate, tonal and confident.  But I suspect the African ambience they created indirectly fed the editing process by creating a specific mood of the homeland outside of the pixellated and digital electronic quantum world where the documentary was taking shape.

I'm looking forward to mixing the audio.

Here's a preview:


  1. This looks like a very cool movie. As I wrote in an earlier comment, I know just a little bit about African music, but not very much. And what a pleasant surprise to see this "Oz Fritz" guy appear at the end of the clip!

  2. I found this post "fantastic" in the original sense: I believe you have experienced this, but it read like a fantastic travelogue. It felt like reading Burroughs. The pictures you painted here and the trailer, are enchanting!

    I can't wait to see this film! You and Bill Laswell and all of those West African musicians: I think this is something we NEED.

    Thanks for all that you do, Oz.

  3. Thanks for the feedback, guys. I think we need this film also.