Monday, June 16, 2014

Celebration in the Rif Mountains

Continues from here

12/17/13  Ketama, Morocco

Ketama feels like outlaw territory, like it has never been tamed.   A mountain community, people here wearing thick parkas and mountain gear. It's winter here, cold temperature, wind chilling it cooler, snow on the ground, the air feels wet, overcast until the evening when the moon comes out.  The Moroccans in this land appear more native and aboriginal, closer to the root of the original culture, less Europeanized. I get the sense that this is what it feels like in Tibet, the same kind of isolated holy mountain atmosphere. The vibes are strong.  It seems like lightening of some kind might strike at any second.

After a good night's rest, my health fully restored, I ate a full breakfast with Bill and Seloua in the dining area, a spacious open room with a decor looking like something out of a Shriner's Convention.  The food was served at one end, buffet-style, definitely hitting the spot.  Nourished, refueled and in good spirits I was ready for the day.

The morning and early afternoon was spent  making rough mixes, checking recordings and backing up files.  Everything I heard sounded good.  In Ketma I had to learn to communicate with the truck driver who hauled the recording gear.  These crusty nomads, dressed in thick, brown, woolen  djellabas for the mountains had to always be by their trucks in the day in case something was needed. He didn't speak English and I don't speak Arabic or French, but we figured out a way to express ourselves.  Finally, he taught me the Arabic word for "all done" which sounded something like "sofe."

Bill was helping Adam and Seloua draw up a contract that would be acceptable to Bachir and his group whom we were supposed to work with in two days.  They were successful, agreements were reached, Bachir and the Master Musicians of Jajouka were in.

5pm Production Call to go to a nearby location, within walking distance; chop chop, let's go, we're late.  Didn't know about this, but get ready to go in 5 minutes. I'm grateful for a chance to get out of the hotel.  Following Jay down the main street of this frontier town, a boardwalk lined with stalls barbequeing meat, smell of burning flesh, smokey, fragrant in its own way.  Gray, twilight dusk hour, night rapidly descending, brisk walk to keep up while recording.  It's cooling down from whatever warmth the splintered sun gave when it was out.  You can see your breath in the air.  The small recorder soft case drops out of my utility vest pocket.  Two locals pick it up, then try to get my attention, which I ignore while recording.  They are insistent, and return the case, " ah merci beaucoup." Friendly guides in Ketama, and not the last ones either.

The location is for a prelude scene to tomorrow's celebration.  Eric, the DP, has his work cut out for him as he's shooting in a room full of mirrors.  Only one place for the shotgun mic to be out of frame, on the counter right beside the camera.  Long mic cables allow me to monitor on the sidewalk.  Jay listens to the recording as it's going down.  A small audience gathers to watch the shoot, respectfully  quiet.  It's completely dark, but the moon is out now, bright and full, the sky completely clear.  After the interview scene, they film the full moon for a few minutes.

This side street off the main road is very dark, the only illumination coming from the moon.  I'm circling the area recording street ambience.  The darkness confuses things, makes direction uncertain.  Before I know it the production crew has disappeared back to the hotel or wherever they go.  They fade into the mist of night, vanishing without a trace.  I find a guide to direct me back.

Having some tea with Bill and Eric in the lounge, talking music and the day's activities.  Then we get directed to another room across the outside court where I guess food will be served.  Dark, noisy bar vibe, lots of people seated at these huge round tables.  Bill is taken to some people who want to talk to him.  I'm on the other side of the table amongst no one I recognize.  I'm not actually hungry or interested to be there but am staying out in hopes of meeting someone who said he would procure some of the world's best hash for me.  I have a medical marijuana prescription for insomnia.  I was waiting for the medicine. 

Hearing so many tales about how Ketama was like The Big Rock Candy Mountain of the cannabis world, about how this very hotel served as the rendezvous point for major French medical providers, I figured that I should, in effect, be able to snap my fingers to get some then and there.  So I stood up an announced to my end of the table that I would like to buy some hash.  It seemed like no one understood, but fortunately I discovered Jemal, our fearless bilingual driver, sitting to my immediate left.  I explained to him and he translated the request.  Once the message got across, a hobbit-like Moroccan with one of the biggest shit-eating grins I've ever seen and incredibly bloodshot eyes  pulled out a bag with about a 12 gram chunk of fresh blonde hash, not quite  a 1/2 oz.  and said to divide it between myself and someone else.  I tried to give him some dirham, the equivalent of about $30 and was told he didn't want the money.  The 6 grams lasted the rest of the trip used only during off times.

Good hash used judiciously can serve as an effective assisting factor for the mystical function.  Smoking hash in chillums and drinking a cannabis infused product called bhang comprises a key feature of sadhus in India and Nepal devoted to the worship of Shiva, the Destroyer of the World in the Hindu pantheon.  We can examine the role of this assisting factor by looking at 777, Crowley's mystical dictionary.  In table XLIII titled Vegetable Drugs it shows Hashish corresponding with key #2.  Shiva also = 2 so we have some kind of verification for the accuracy of these tables at least in this instance.  Other correspondences with key 2 = the root of the element Fire, Male, Lingam, the Inner Robe of Glory ( Magical Weapons), and the Vision of God face to face ( Magical Powers).

So the mystic using hash introduces an energy to their nervous system related to the element Fire - active, kinetic, hot, which also increases the creative male energy that can get placed toward mystical or theurgic ends.  Crowley exhorts: Enflame Thyself with Prayer and Invoke Often as the primary instruction for contacting one's own Higher Genius.  He's talking about the same kind of energy.  Fire combined with Water can produce a steam engine effect given the right balance.  Knowledge and experience with the 4 Elements of the Ancients: Air, Water, Fire, Earth, including the ability to call forth, to sense and feel the different types of energy at a moment's notice comprises a significant part of basic training in the Golden Dawn brand of magick.


I'm alone in the breakfast room, first one there.  The food is all out.  Three or four long tables are set for the morning rush.  Three very heavy looking Moroccans dressed in similar traditional garb come in, ignore the room full of empty seats and sit right beside me.  Two more come in and join us.  They look like they have serious business and I wonder if they are drug dealers or gangsters, and also wonder why they sit right beside me.  Finally, the one who looks like the leader, the heaviest one, looks up giving me a friendly nod.  I relax.  We leave the hotel at 9:30am and drive up the mountain, a twisting, windy road with a sheer drop one side.  After about a 40 minute drive the van pulls onto the shoulder, we've arrived at the entrance to the villa for today's celebration.  Live music plays as we disembark - two rhaitas, a frame drum, and two smaller drums played with sticks on both sides.  The musicians were my friends from the breakfast table!

The recording equipment gets hauled down a dirt path about a quarter mile to an old stone farmhouse where the music will take place.  The house looks abandoned and unused, unfurnished except for a couch, table and rug that's been set up for the ceremony.  It's cold in the house but fortunately the room that will be the control room has a wood stove.  A fire gets lighted immediately and it warms up quickly.  I have an assistant to help with setting up mics and running cables.  Beside me in he control room the Asmas and Yakout have set up monitors to see the camera work, also a station to charge battereries and to download the SD cards onto computer hard drives.

Set up goes quickly.  A donkey peacefully grazes as I record outdoor ambience in the orchard looking down the small mountain onto the pastures and farmland that dots the valley.  It's very quiet here away from everything else.  The donkey raises his head giving me a look that seems to say "whatever" and continues his business of eating.  His front and back legs are roped together loose enough to walk at a slow pace.

The retired army Colonel who owns the property makes an appearance at lunch.  He looks like he's been through a few battles. A survivor.   Colorful, gregarious, and outspoken he's almost like a mascot for the day.  The Colonel and Jay have a mutually respectful friendship, and he takes an immediate liking to Bill.  He's sharp and quick to suss out the situation.  He would die just a few months later.

A crowd of about 50 or 60, all or mostly male, gathers after lunch.  The musicians walk down the hill to a grassy flat area then break into music while moving around in a large circle, everyone joining in then beginning loud, raucous, group chanting.  It's a celebratory, party atmosphere, shotguns are fired into the air.  Jay dispatches me with the recorder to go amongst them and look like I belong.  They are filming and I'm sure to be in the frame at some point.  So I dance with them while invisibly recording.

The action moves to the farmhouse not long after.  Today's celebration honors the rite of passage of a child that accompanies a circumcision.  The music sounds good in the house, drums loud and powerful, the rhaitas crisp and clear without sounding harsh.  Uptempo Moroccan mountain music, the musicians are tight, one solid, dynamic unit of sound generation.  Without warning before the last piece they move the couch and take up the rugs allowing everyone attending to dance and move about including the musicians.  This does not bode well for a couple of the lavalier mics which had been affixed to the couch.  One of them gets completely destroyed. Not to worry, I did have excellent coverage with microphones from the front, sides and overhead.  We had the musicians stay after the party playing samples of just the drums then just the rhaitas for future sound design purposes.

Packing up went quickly as usual, we were back on the road in no time going toward Jajouka where we would film the next day.  The motel we stayed at, in a small town on the way, had a Spanish style adobe design reminiscent of the American Southwest.  The dining room atmosphere felt more like an English pub minus the alcohol which the observing Muslim proprietors didn't serve.  They did go out of their to specially prepare food to meet my dietary requirements.  The rooms were cold but furnished with space heaters to take the edge off.  A sign on the back of the door was titled 6 Tips To Protect the Planet which I dutifully noted.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Umar Bin Hassan on Alan Douglas

Umar Bin Hassan of The Last Poets comments on Alan Douglas:

Here's an excerpt from an interview with Douglas about finding and working with the Last Poets.  The interview is by Michael Davis and appeared in BAM magazine in 1995.  The full interview is here.


I heard a snatch of material on television one night, and it stopped me
short. It was on PBS, so I called the station, and I got an address and a
telephone number. I called the next day and got a very hostile voice on the
phone. I told them who I was and that I had heard a little bit of their
material on television the night before, and I would like to talk to them
about making records. So he said, "Well, if you want to hear it, man, you
gotta come up here, and you have to be alone." Real hostile shit! So I
said, "Where's up here?" and he made a date with me at 137th Street and
Lennox Avenue. So, I went up there, and it was a schoolyard with two old,
funky basketball courts with rims and no nets. I looked over at one of the
courts, and there was a whole bunch of black guys - must have been 25 of
them - standing there. I got out of the car and walked over, thinking,
"This is either suicide or a great sign." As I got there, the crowd kind of
separated, and these four guys were left. There were three rappers and a
conga player standing underneath a basket. They pointed at the foul line
and said, "You stand there," and they did the material that ended up on the
first album with me. So I said, "Come to the studio with me right now, and
we'll record this. If you like the tape, we'll do a deal; if you don't like
it, you take the tape with you." They thought that was reasonable. They all
jumped in my car, and we went down to a friend of mine's studio on 66th
Street, and we recorded the whole thing in one afternoon. They liked it. I
got whatever money together I could - $1,000 or something - and we did a
deal. I put the record out, and the rest is history.


The, one of them ended up in the joint, so I did the next record, This Is
Madness, with just two of them. I had to use more recording techniques on
the second one because we had less power from the group itself.


Yeah, it worked because of the material. They were all good rappers, but
those first two albums contain the most interesting material. The only
other album I did with one of them, Jalal, was one called The Hustlers


Right, because that was gangsta rap from an objective, rather than a
subjective, point of view. The Hustlers Convention was, essentially, a
toast, which was the original art form that rap came from. The Poets came
out of the old black prison tradition of jail toasts. Jalal wrote that
whole thing from pieces of things he'd been hearing for years. We also did
more stuff, like the toast about the famous hooker, Doriella Du Fontaine,
with Jimi. I was recording Jimi one day and Jalal walked in. I had him do
it for Buddy [Miles], and Buddy got all involved with it and started
playing with him. Jimi came in and said, "Wait for me," and he jumped in on
it. They improvised 13 minutes straight; it was beautiful.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Alan Douglas - Life and Death

Today, with the death of Alan Douglas, the world has lost one of its most important music producers in recent times.  Douglas was not well known except to those in the industry, he was a behind the scenes guy responsible for way more incredible music than people realize.  Music that changed and shaped people's lives.  Douglas is mostly known for his association with Jimi Hendrix.  They met shortly after Hendrix rewrote the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock.  Hendrix got along with Douglas because Douglas was about music - pushing musical boundaries, putting together extraordinary music talent in unique combinations to synergistically create music that had never been heard before.  They had that in common.  Douglas introduced Hendrix to Miles Davis, Quincy Jones, Gil Evans, John Mclaughlin, Larry Young and the Last Poets among others.

This is from Bill Laswell, a friend and colleague of his for a many years,

In 1974 Douglas was asked take responsibility for the legacy of unreleased Hendrix tapes which were getting neglected.  The first release he assembled was Crash Landing which I listened to frequently especially the track Peace in Mississippi, a riff heavy instrumental I would play loud for the neighborhood to appreciate or annoy.

It was Douglas who had the idea to make a trio with Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, and  Max Roach creating a recording called Money Jungle, an undisputed landmark in jazz music.  To my ear, one of the top 5 jazz recordings ever.

Douglas tracked down the Last Poets in the early 60's after hearing them on TV, auditioned them on the street in Harlem then convinced them to record their first record.  The Last Poets became a seminal influence on the rappers in the next generation, and the voice of conscience, anarchy, self empowerment, and street vision in their own.

Alan Douglas created a company, Douglas Communications that published important books by Lenny Bruce, Timothy Leary (Jail Notes), and John Sinclair.  He also produced a record for Timothy Leary called You Can Be Anything You Want This Time Around that included Hendrix playing on it. 

There's a fuller bio of him here, well worth the read.

I only met him twice, briefly.  Once at Campeau recording in New York, and again backstage at the House of Blues in L.A.  Both times he was there to meet Bill Laswell.   In New York he was wearing an immaculately white dress shirt a chromatic extension of his bright white air. He seemed very present and alert and much younger than his age.  I had a strong impression regarding his adeptness at handling subtle energies; the presence of  a major player in the game of life ... now in a different phase of life.

Bon voyage