Takin’ It On Home

current time – 7:30AM
current temperature –
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Mostly Cloudy

current time – 12:30AM
current temperature –
28.6°F (-1.9°C)
Light Snow

It is going to be hard to make the transition from midsummer in Luanda to midwinter in Chicago.

It is also going to be a long, long, long trip.
Luanda-Johannesburg 3:30
Layover 1:45
Johannesburg-Atlanta 17:05
Layover 2:10
Atlanta-Chicago 2:18
Total time (airport to airport) 26:48
Total time (door to door) 30+ hrs


Last Day on Tour

Today (Monday) was our last working day on the tour. The event originally scheduled for this morning was cancelled recently and replaced last week by a performance for the students at the vocational school Instituto Médio Industrial de Luanda (Intermediate Industrial Institute of Luanda).

We played in a large gymnasium with a stage, but set up on the floor in front of the stage in order to be close to everyone.


This was only scheduled to be an hour long so we ran it as a hybrid workshop/performance: two tunes, then 1st blues w/drum call and response, 2nd blues w/melodic call and response, Bebop, questions and answers (w/translator), final tune, Muxima. About two hundred fifty students showed up and were extremely enthusiastic throughout. The questions were good and lots of kids came up afterward for photos with us. I only had a couple of dozen CDs to give out and sign, so they went fast. The event might have been organized last minute but it felt like a perfect fit for both us and the school!

The afternoon session was billed as a jam session and took place at the Galeria Celamar. A nice number of musicians turned out for it. We played with some of them and others just played/sang their own music. It was part playing with each other and part playing for each other. The event started with a power outage that took a while to overcome. Because of that, the first group to play was a septet of women playing large traditional carved wooden drums. They didn’t need electricity other than what they created with their music. Next we played one tune as a quartet, followed by one with Sandra Cordeiro. After that it was a party. A number of singer/guitarists did a song or two. We played again accompanying a couple of singers including one singing Muxima. One of the internationally renowned Kafala Brothers played a few numbers. There were media members filming and interviewing and generally adding to the bustling atmosphere of the proceedings.
In retrospective, this jam session embodied what our trip was about: sharing. We had the chance to share our music, our time, and our humanity with people in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Sough Africa,and Angola. In return, people here generously shared their thoughts, lives and music with us. Simple. Beautiful! Thanks to everyone who helped make it happen. We had a great time.
Angola Press Agency article




Final Rest Day: A Sunday Afternoon in Luanda

Luanda, Angola is one of the world’s most expensive cities, if not the most expensive city, in which to live. This fact is frequently remarked about by the people that we meet here be they Americans, South Africans or native Luandans. The high cost of living is tied to the rich resources found here (oil, diamonds, uranium, …) and the booming economy. This boom, unfortunately, does not include everyone. The distribution of wealth leaves much to be desired and the vast gap between the rich and poor is quite visible on the streets of the city and adds to the high crime rate. We can only hope that in the future the potential of the country will more equitably impact its citizens than it does now.
I took a nice Sunday stroll around the neighborhood of the hotel. We were discouraged from going out like that, especially alone, but I felt a need to get a feel for this place. You immediately see the contrasts that I mention above. There is lots of visible construction going on with cranes everywhere.


There are also a number of beautiful, new buildings already in use.



Basic infrastructure, however, such as sidewalks, is in a general state of disrepair (not to mention the odd smelling water in the hotel).


Many apartment buildings look like rundown tenements.



And something that made my walk seem both safe and ominous, many businesses, even if they were closed, had guards posted outside. Some were obviously armed, a few with machine guns. The civil war is apparently over, but this seems to be a city under siege.

From talking to some people living here I get the impression that this is a hard place to live that quickly becomes oppressive and depressing. Despite this, we’ve met many very nice people. That’s a tribute to the ability of the human spirit to rise above physical circumstances.


Jango Veleiro

Tonight we had an embassy sponsored performance at the restaurant Jango Veleiro. Like all of our performances on this tour it was free to the public. Since we had just been on TV the night before, the turnout was very high. It was a fairly large outdoor dining space but was packed with the 200+ in attendance.

Ambassador McMullen spoke briefly before we began a set that ran over 90 minutes. For this occasion the embassy had engaged a local jazz singer, Sandra Cordeiro, to work with us, so we structured the set around her three tunes. We played five, she sang three including one of my all-time favorites, Brigas Nunca Mais, then we finished with three more. The last one was Muxima (Heart), the Angolan tune that we’d played earlier in the day on the radio. It was extremely well-received and appreciated by the audience and made a fitting and satisfying conclusion.

Before and after we had short interviews with both print and TV reporters. The public represented quite a variety of people and we spoke to quite a few after the concert, including a number of Americans. Everyone seemed happy, as were we. We’ll probably look back at this evening as the high point of our stay in Angola.

Everywhere we’ve gone on this tour we’ve been asked when we’re coming back. The answer is that we don’t know if we’ll ever have the opportunity to return but if given the chance we would love to.

Our adventure is rapidly drawing to a close. We have a rest day tomorrow (Sunday), then two activities on Monday and a departure scheduled on Tuesday. We’ll try to make the most of our two remaining days.
Angola press release

Meeting the Media

Starting yesterday afternoon (Friday), we had three live media appearances in a row. Two on the radio and one on TV. At each one, Adelle has been with us as well as Phil and, for the radio, a translator named Valencia. We also usually have two vans and drivers hauling us and our equipment around. It’s quite an operation!

Yesterday afternoon Michael and I were on Orbita Musical hosted by Elsa Fernandes. This is a radio program that features a wide variety of music. The format for this was a question and answer session interspersed with tracks from our CD. We highlighted tracks that were not pure swing. Swinging jazz does not go over as well here as afrocuban or pop feels, I think. Working with a translator was a little awkward but overall the show was fun to do and it gave us a chance to introduce our music and the Rhythm Road program to a lot of Luandans.

The evening live TV show Hora Quente was hosted by Pedro N’zagi. Pedro seemed like a fun and funny guy and he was very easy to work with. There were initial problems with the amplifier (which never worked due to a faulty electrical adapter which has since been replaced) and the show’s reluctance to let us use drums. Somehow the issues were resolved and the show went on. The format for this show was interesting and worked well for us. Pedro first interviewed us in English then he did a summarized translation for his audience. This allowed for the interaction to occur spontaneously. We played short versions of two of our songs and it was a wrap.

The last of our whirlwind media tour events occurred this morning on the live radio show Bom Dia, Bom Dia. The guests for the show all gathered around an outdoor table with the host. I acted as the band spokesman. We opened the show with a tune. Then Adelle was asked some questions and I was briefly interviewed with Valencia again translating. We closed out our portion of the show with two brief tunes.

Before the show we went over an arrangement of a popular Angolan song that I just added to our repertoire. Someone heard us playing it and requested us to play it on the show. We used it as our closer and it got a rousing reception. We’ll roll it out again tonight during our only true performance opportunity here in Luanda at a place called Jango Veleiro.
Cape Town embassy summary
Mahogany Room article

Colégio Dom Bosco

We left the hotel early today to be at the embassy for an 8AM soundcheck.
The program was for music students from the Dom Bosco School. They also got set up and were prepared to play some pieces for us. At 9 the program began outside in the embassy courtyard with some short speeches. The speakers were Ambassador McMullen, Padre Marcelo from the Dom Bosco School and Manuel “Phil” Mungongo, Embassy Press Specialist.

We talked to the school music director beforehand to see what he wanted to do and arranged an ad hoc program. When the speeches were over we played two songs, the second of which was our blues, On the Blue Line. Next the kids played four songs for us including Ode to Joy as a piano feature. The other songs were more African in style. We workshopped the blues with them but they were by far the most timid group that we’ve worked with so far on this tour. I don’t know if the timidity was partially a language or cultural issue, but it was strikingly different from what we’d experienced in South Africa. The workshop still was fine, since we don’t 100% participation for it to be successful, it’s just better.

We ended with a jam session by offering to playing with the kids. I fully expected them to play some local music, but they played Glory, Glory, Hallelujah and Auld Lang Syne and we all played along adding some improv to their arrangements. To close we played Bebop and with the help of a translator answered a few final questions.


We are somewhere else. Arriving in Luanda, we notice the vast slumscape (musseques) surrounding the airport. Leaving the airport for our hotel, the traffic is highly congested, bordering on gridlock. Street vendors by the dozens wander among the sitting cars selling watches, hangers, CDs, food, shoes, sandals, dog muzzles, purses, wireless internet cards, cell phones, car seats, soccer balls, … and just about anything else imaginable. Brasilian or Brazilian-sounding music is on the radio and Portuguese, not English, is the dominant language. After being in three former English colonies, it seems strange that people are driving on the right side of the road. The driver of our van tells us to lock the doors while inside (I assume because of the high crime rate). It is immediately apparent that the vegetation is more tropical than where we have been (more palm trees). Yes, we have set foot in a different world. Welcome to Angola!


We are met at the airport by Public Affairs Officer Adelle Gillen, who accompanies us most of the rest of the day as we check into the hotel, meet Ambassador Christopher McMullen, get a safety/security briefing and go to dinner. Her ability to speak Portuguese is essential for us to get around as none of us are familiar with that language. We are brought up to speed on the schedule for our stay and our many questions about the country are answered by Adelle, Assistant Public Affairs Officer Daniel Villanueva and Andre. Hopefully we are ready as we have a busy day tomorrow.

There’s No Burg Like Jo’burg

Johannesburg has the reputation for being a rough city with a high crime rate. Cape Town seems to be everyone’s favorite destination in South Africa, while Jo’burg is looked down on as a city of business and little culture. I was not looking forward to going there until our last night in Cape Town when I spoke with a young woman from Jo’burg who explained that the city was undergoing a revitalization. People are moving back into the city, she said, and its cultural life is on the upswing.

We stayed in a hotel on the outskirts of the city in Sandton. This affluent area is where the US consulate is located and where many of its personnel live. The consulate used to be in the CBD (central business district) but was chased from it by the high crime rate and security issues. During our time in the region of Jo’burg, we never had a problem or felt the least bit unsafe, including when we were in the CBD to play at the Bassline.

Our workshops took us to very different programs in very different locations: Davyton, Phokeng-Rustenburg and Soweto. Each program was headed by a visionary who believes strongly in social betterment through music, while the students seem eager to learn, open and motivated. This is exciting in the present and promising for the future.

We had a great time in Jo’burg. My informant was right, this feels very much like a place on the rise.

Soweto +

Today (Wednesday) we had the morning off and our day really began with a workshop in Soweto at the Soweto Youth Music Outreach Project run by jazz saxophonist Khaya Mahlangu.

We heard what some of the sax students were working on and heard a nice arrangement featuring four vocalists before we played two tunes then started our workshop. We ended by jamming with Khaya on Billie’s Bounce and answering a number of questions.

The program is relatively new, but should bear fruit rather quickly since the people running it are top-notch. Good facilities are currently lacking, but it is amazing what can happen when the love and interest for something is there and everyone’s heart is in the right place.


This evening we played a private concert organized by the consulate at a club named the Bassline. This is a well-established club in the Newtown area of downtown Jo’burg. It is a nice spot with good equipment and a good soundman (thanks, Thabo). We played to a full turnout in the smaller of the club’s two rooms which accommodates about 150. The event was hosted by Consulate General Earl Miller and among the guests were Johnny Mekoa and some of the students from the Gauteng Academy of Music. It was great to see them again.

Usually on this tour our performances have been one long set, but tonight we played two and took more time with everything. The concert brought our activities in South Africa to a close. The opportunity to play for such an attentive and enthusiastic audience was a very satisfying conclusion.


The Good King

Today we drove about 200 kilometers from our swank digs near Joberg to do a workshop at Lebone II High School in Rustenburg. The school’s artfully designed campus includes a central, amphitheater styled outdoor space, library, music room, a beautiful cafeteria with excellent food, and all the facilities we would expect in a “western” school, such as soap, and hot and cold running water in clean bathrooms (not to be taken for granted in many of Africa’s rural schools). The student body is integrated, both racially and socio-economically, and there are two dorms to house the kids that don’t commute.

The school is the vision of Kgosi (chief, or king) Laruo and was built on the side of a mountain belonging to his Bafokeng tribe. They were able to reclaim their land after apartied ended and, amazingly, fought for and won rights to the platinum mines within their boundaries. Unlike most of the world’s leaders, the chief lives in a fairly humble home and has applied the wealth from platinum to developing programs for his people, with special focus on education. The school stands as a model for education in South Africa, as does his leadership.





The students here, ranging from beginners to those with a few years experience, were especially enthusiastic about jazz. We did our thang, then listened to them play one of their songs, and finally came together for a New Apartment Lounge style jam on the blues. There must’ve been 16 kids playing including a couple violinists!


Videos coming…