Worldwide Welshman - New Year Orchestra
As a soundtrack to "the end of civilization", I present to you:
Worldwide Welshman - New Year Orchestra
These last few years have been incredible. With the help of my friends around the world, I've taken Worldwide Welshman to Ghent, Amsterdam, L'Ardennes, Algiers (Ethno Algeria), Portugal (Ethno Portugal & Folk Marathon Porto), Catalonia (Ethno Catalonia), Ljublijana (Kavc Festival), Tubingen (Klangfolk & more), Castle Lichtenstein in Germany (Ethno Germany), Koper (Floating Castle festival), Italy (Folktrepo), Berlin (Karneval Der Kulturen)...
I just came back from Ghent, Belgium, where welcomed in the new decade with the biggest Worldwide Welshman band so far, of over 20 people!
This was a follow up of last year when we played in Porto with ten people.
On the way to Porto we went in Red Transit Van, and so the Red Transit Van crew where born, aboud half of whome were onstage with me, of course.
And there were even more friends in the audience
My bandmates in the Belgian lineup of Worldwide Welshman were the organisers of the festival, and they did a great job.
In September 2019 I moved to Cardiff, where I've been working on a brand new band with my brother and collaborator, Sion Rickard. More on that very soon.
Lots of new releases planned this year, so stay tuned!
A year after the release of my debut album, the second album is coming! We'll record it in January in Belgium and Germany. Below is a clip from a recent gig with my London band of our brand new German song, Ich Liebe Sofia a.k.a. Sofia ist Vergeben. This will be on the new album, as well as the other new crowd favourites "Goldfish" and "Special Cream", updated versions of some of our other popular songs, and some brand new never-heard-before songs.
On November 2nd I played this song in Tubingen at Klangfolk, infront of Sofia and all her friends, and then again on November the 4th in Lichtenstein Haus (audio and video from that is on the way). This was the second time she's heard it performed. In summer 2019 I was in Tubingen, and I performed it in front of her boyfrend, in the basement of Lu 15, with Cristobal on sax, Ana Maria on clarinet, Mira on flute, Vilma on bass, Ammar, Sami & Jonas L on percussion (did I miss anyone?).
The idea for the song was born back in 2017, after I visited Tubingen for the first time on my way back from Rila music exchange.
I started 2018 partying in Brno to a balkan band, after playing a set with my own travelling folk collective, Transglobal Troubadours (chucked in some Worldwide Welshman songs, of course). As the new year came in I was dancing in the street with Nemat, a beautiful Palestinian-Jordanian singer and dancer who lives in Sweden.
A few days after Christmas I'd taken the bus to Gent, where we began our road trip to the folk marathon in Brno, Czech Republic. Jonas Malfliet, Joachim Thyrs, Vilma Tavitie and I drove through Europe. Well, they drove, because I still didn't get round to learning to drive. We stopped over in Tubingen, in the house of Steph who I would later meet on Ethno England. We arrived in Brno to meet my brother, Sion, and many friends including my EthnoEngland pal and fellow Transglobal Troubadour, Frankie Archer, Joseph Woods from Jay Sunaway, Susi Evans from the London balkan scene, and many friends from Rila Music Exchange (where Jonas, Frankie and me went in September 2017), Ethno Flanders (also a significant occassion) and Tubingen (my favourite German town).
On the way to Brno, Jonas was called by master accordionist Keiren Alexander, who asked us if we would perform that night. So we made a set in the car. Half way through this video you can hear the Transglobal Troubadours balfolk set, curated by Jonas Malfliet our accordion maestro. In this one we had Jonas, Joachim and Arthur from Belgium, Frankie from Newcastle, Vilma from Finland and me from Wales (singing a Russian song taught to me by Granny Bella).
Another highlights was dancing to, and jamming with, an amazing Israeli balkan band, Gute Gute, who you shoould definietly check out: https://www.facebook.com/GuteGuteMusic. They also make orginal Israeli indie-folk music.
After Brno, Jonas, Vilma and I drove onwards to Pazin, Croatia, for the Trad-In-Etno Mini-Folk-Marathon where we made a lot of new friends who we'd see later in the year. We were joined by our friends Gabriel and Angelika, and Joachim went back to Belgium, and my brother went to Wales via Prague.
This event was the reason I later went to Folktrepo in Italy and Ethno Portugal, and also was lucky enough to host the talented Ray & Luna in London. I say host, they actually spent most of the time with some friends of a friend, just down the road in a property guardianship. My flat isn't really kitted out for guests, or even for me...
I've been living without a fridge or a shower for three years...I put my food in a cooler box on the balcony, and I was by tipping a bucket of water over my head; I use the kettle to heat the water. Now my kettle has broken; no problem in summer, but I need to get this situation sorted before winter.
Above: Rayo De Luna, French-Venezuelan and Turkish-Kurdish-Danish duo. When they played in the Bunker I thought, "I need to bring them to London" so I took this video to show to venues here...and it actually happened! They played in Meyhane, The Golden Hinde, Ravensdale Warehouse and Jam in a Jar.
Across The Sea
I set up "Across The Sea" in order to promote gigs for friends I met on ethnos. The first was in December on the Golden Hinde, with myself, Anna McAndrew, Deda Lera and THE EMBERS COLLECTIVE (but a mini version...you need to see this crew in their full glory, they are quite something).
The second was the best ever, with Old Salt from Gent. I met the main man, Daniel Wall, in Rila music exchange, and I met his band mate Lote in folk marathon Brno. They came to London in February and plaed a sold out show on the Golden Hinde.
but that's another story...
After Brno we drove onwards to Pazin, with two new travel companions, our friends Angelika and Gabriel who Jonas and I met on Rila music exchange. for more magical experiences in Pazin, Croatia.
Then in easter came Folktrepo in Italy, organised by Elisa Mandriola and her friends. She was on the Pazin one and was inspired to make a similar event in her home town.
For this one I again traveled overland with the two members of Transglobal Troubadours who couldn't make it in the winter - Lewis and Helen from Edinburgh. On the way to Italy we played a show in Robinialand, Gent, and in...you'll never guess.... Tubingen, the Epplehaus! But we were interrailing this time, and we went through a new place - Lugano in Switzerland! It is indeed rather expensive.
After the folk camp in Spessa Po, near Pavia, N.Italy, I visited Sofia (my Italian friend from Tubingen) in her home up in the hills, near a pretty town called St Sebastian. Amazing food, amazing place! After a day or so here, I went to Antonio's flat in Stradella to record a version of Easy to Be Happy which will come out on my debut CD (its been NEARLY finished for nearly a year now...it just keeps growing bigger). Then I took a trip to Bologna, where I bumped into an Italian girl who I know from London, then to Rome to stay with an old uni friend, Cristiano.
After a few exhausting but interesting days here, I travelled on an overnight train from there to Munich, then to Dusseldorf to see Gaurav Sinha, my friend from the architecture office where I worked in New Delhi.
Then soon enough it was summer, and I was volunteering on Ethno England. My volunteering mainly involved making a nice painting for the tour poster, which we then neglected to finish in time to advertise the wales part of the show. But, we succeded in taking Ethno England on tour to Neuadd Ogwen in Bethesda (where I stayed with my parents), then Cobalt Studios in Newcastle (where I stayed with my Uncle and Aunty) and in Edinburgh (we stayed in a hostel, but I stayed on a few days with my Scottish ethno friends, and of course bumped into people I know, new and old, as happens whereever I go in this surprisingly small world).
Soon after this my brother and I went by bus to Ethno Catalonia in Banyoles, where we taught a kickass welsh song and tune that always got the crowd going. The best bit was when two of the Algerians, Hamza and Medhi, would jump up and play their Quarkaboe's whilst dancing.
After this we went onto Ethno Portugal. We thought it couldn't get any better, but it did! Portugal was great, I was surrounded by amazing musicans, dancers and all round lovely people...I remember at somepoint getting down because I couldn't pull anyone, and other people seemed to be coping off with each other fairly easily... I thought "how can I be in folk music and dance camp surrounded by beautiful women, yet not manage to 'get lucky'.?"...but the problem was that I was walking around with a big "desperate" sign on my forehead, so after I realised this I felt my luck changing, and I became attractive once again.
Ethno Portugal ended with an epic folk dancing festival in the searing heat. It was the hottest place I've been, up there with South India (I was in Delhi during Autumn and Winter, and left in spring just as it was starting to get hot, so I was spared that experience)
coming up in part 2: Ethno Portugal photos & ethno Algeria!!!
We love playing in Gadz Cafe, Finsbury Park. One time, we met a famous politician who we greatly admire. The Italian band members hadn't heard of him. We requested "Guantanamera" for his wife, as it's her favourite song. Hussain the cafe ower, the regular, our fans and the leader of the opposition and his wife put arms over each overs shoulders and danced around the band, singing along.
Its been a busy time for me in London since my last blog post, which was well over a year ago. Updating the blog part of the website has slipped down my list of priorites.
So, in June last year I went on an amazing and life changing intercultural music exchange: Ethnoengland, which took place in Oxford. These summer camps for 16-30 year olds started in Sweden in the 90s and now happen all over the world, check them out: ethno-world.org.
The England edition was organised by Lauren Spicely and the Tandem Collective, a group of amazing people who are also talented musicains with an environmental & social mission. One of the main focuses of the Tandem Collective is reducing food waste and this came into the ethno as well: most of the food we ate was the stuff that shops, restaurants and bakeries weren't able to sell and had given to the food bank. Obviously the food bank is for people who can't afford to feed themselves and their families, bur we were not taking from them; a lot perishable goods get donated so we took the excess. We were also given fresh curry food everyday from a delicious Indian restaurant whose owner loved the project so gave us food for free (left over from his buffet). Curry every day was amazing for me as I love Indian food.
The festival also looked at mental health issues and the moeny raised went to Mind and other local charities.
This year I went back to ethnoengland, which happened on a farm in Ramsden, in the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside.
The Tandem festival was much bigger than last year, with amazing bands such as Moulettes (alternative rock), Kourelou (greek music), Akervinda (vocal group singing Swedish folk songs), Zlabya (epic bafolk), and many more, including our friends Jay Sunaway, Yakez, Steph West, Sophie-janna. And of course there was the Ethnoband, which I was part of. The best of all was this cracking new band from London called Worldwide Welshman & Beyond. They are of course my brand new band! (and by no means the best, but we were warmly welcomed and had a great time, and we went down very well).
The newest lineup started in February with a charity gig in The Others followed by one the day after in The Hive. The band consists of my Italian jamming buddies Carry & Nicholas on guitars, Elliot on bass (who I met in a mad hatter's ball in West London), Hugo on drums (from Paris), Semra on darbuka (Turkish lady I met in Jamboree), Anna on backing vocals (we worked together in the music department at Linden Lodge school so she joined the band) and, occasionally, New Yorker-tunred-Londoner Benjamin on Trombone and Giusy Cancellara on Violin. A month or so later, on our way to play at the Community Garden in Elephant & Castle, my brother Sion and I met another brass player, Hywel, and invited him to join us in the gig, and he has since become our 7th band member, my brother and Ben being part-time members, and Giusy having left the electirc lineup and joined the acoustic spin-off project (you can catch us on Sundays on the book barge by Granary Square, Regents Canal).
Our biggest and best show so far was when we played in front of thousands of people in the Lambeth Country Show, Brockwell park. The next big show will be in HOOTERNANYS on September the 23rd, which we are understandably very excited about, it being a major venue on the world, funk, indie and gypsy scenes in London.
As well as building the band, I've been working on recordings with a lot of help from Carry, the guitarist from "& Beyond", who is an excellent sound engineer and my co-producer for the upcoming album.
To fund all this, I've been working as a teaching assistant, and for a few months as a supply music teacher, and teaching music classes on the weekend. And we're getting more and more paid gigs which is exciting.
In a few days I'll be heading to Ethnoflanders in Oonstend, and playing 3 shows with them including Dranouter festival on 6th of August! https://www.festivaldranouter.be/
After this I'm heading to Toulouse to join my band in Hugo's aunty's house for a week of music making and busking!
Then on August 20th I'm playing a set of mainly Jewish songs in Selig Court, for my grandmother and neighbours & carers. That evening I'll get the train to Edinburgh to join the Transglobal Troubadours (a spinoff of the Ethnoengland band), and we'll be there from 21st til 24th. And after that I'll be going on the Rila Music Exchange; travelling around the mountains of Bulgaria learning Bulgarian & Roma folk songs, meeting local people, eating goats cheese, jamming, drinking rakia...its going to be amazing!
Thanks for reading!
"Serendipities and New Age Hippies"
The Adventures of Worldwide Welshman in London, Kent, Madrid and Birmingham, August 2015 to January 2016
Small World Festival
After a summer of renting a room in a fairly decent house in Lewisham with great housemates, at what was a low price for London (about £420 with bills), the time came when I had to move out. The lad who's room I was renting was returning from Camp America. But before I get to that bit I must tell you about what I got up too before I moved out, continuing roughly from where my last blog entry finished...
On the last weekend of August, Timestealers played at Small World festival in Hedstone, Kent! Well, I'm exaggerating somewhat…Paul Murray and I played on the open-mic stages. We weren't on the bill. And it wasn't the full band; Nick the bass player was busy with exams and Adam the drummer was busy working and soon going back to Nottingham for his final year of architecture.
Steve Broe the busker, who was helping promote me and getting me a few gigs, said I would love it at Small World, so he put me in touch with Stacey Cohen, who put my in touch with Gaia Knight on facebook, who invited me to do “impromptu jamming” in her Tribal Voices campfire area. Gaia got us in for free on her guest list!
In July I'd supported Stacey Cohen in the Silver Bullet, Finsbury park in a gig organised by Steve. As it happens, I'd already met her and I played on the same bill with when she was living in North Wales, and she also happens to be friends with my cousin.
Paul and I travelled to the festival in Paul's family's small car. The festival's website was terrible, so we had no idea what sort of event it it would be; some hippies in a field getting high around a campfire, a village fête type thing, or a 'proper' festival? Turned out to be the best festival in the world, ever! (the best that we've been too so far at least).
There were a few people getting off their heads on drugs too, but that did not hinder our enjoyment, and it was a better atmosphere than it would have been had everyone been pissed (we did not partake in the drugs however).
We pitched our tent next to these two gorgeous girls, Amber and Lily who turned out to be great festival buddies. We met a chap called Martin who was our other festival friend, also camped nearby.
The music was varied and fun, and very much to my tastes! There was a lot of gypsy-esque (or gypsy-ska-reggae-klezmer-balkan-festival) music from bands such as Mamajerk & the Ladyfingers, Mr T & the Minions, Razzamo, Duncan Disorderly & the Scallywags & La Vera (who is a gorgeous Spanish lady with a beautiful voice who I was lucky enough to end up in the nudist sauna with at one point). I'd say that Timestealers falls into this category. And there were some great violin based pop-rock-folk-world bands such Aelfen, People's String Foundation, The Unsaid Hand (?), contemporary folk bands with Celtic fiddle music like Snuffkin (these were on a lot, on all the stages, with a few different line-ups), some darker, intense string music from My Octopus Mind, some virtuoso Kora playing and West-African songs from Mosi Conde (who I bumped intoin January in Passing Clouds, and who remembered me from dancing to his music at Small World!), some funk-soul-catchy-pop from Fabulous Red Diesel and Corners of The Earth, some contemporary, original & amazingly tight jazz-rock from Thidius, American & English style folk with beautiful harmonies from Him & Her (we had THE BEST jam with these guys outside their camper-van), and political reggae from the amazing Undercover Hippy (famous in North Wales, but surprisingly not famous in the rest of the country). The list of great bands could go on and on. A lot of the bands were from Bristol and Brighton, which seem to have large gypsy-esque/ new-age traveller/ hippy scenes.
Almost everyone we met was a musician. People walked around with clarinets and violins. Paul's trumpet went down very well!
I remember particularly Larry's Lounge which was always full of musicians playing board games, drinking, smoking, and once eating a chicken curry (at a mostly veggie festival) from a dirty oven that sat outside at the back of the tent. There was a piano which I played, and Larry, a New-Zealander who looks like John Lennon, joined on bass sax or bass guitar, along with whoever was about. It wasn't such a good jam actually as most people there were off their heads and hadn't slept for the whole festival. I remember meeting a pretty girl there who played clarinet and had lots of jewels on her face, looking like an Indian gypsy, but white and blonde. That is my image of the festival.
Oddly, it was mainly White British people, and no visibly Roma people as far as I could tell despite lots of gypsy and Balkan influenced music. There could have been people with Romany heritage but I wouldn't know. The bands sung mainly in English, but there was a bit of Spanish and French singing too, and West African languages from Mosi Konde (so there's lots of space for me to add something different with my multi-lingual set when I get on the bill one day!).
My thoughts on the lack of Roma people in the festival were only solidified afterwards when I got chatting to another teaching assistant called Anna Lowenstein at Linden Lodge, a school I worked at for a while. She plays violin in Tell Tale Tusk, and she also plays some Klezmer. In our conversation I discovered that she was familiar with, or part of, the Small World, new-age, hippy scene (Small World is a genius name, right?). She did her dissertation on festival gypsy music and its connection, or lack thereof, to real gypsy music. She emailed it to me but I haven't read it yet.
I bumped into her again in January at the Bucumis Trio gig in Jam in Jar. They played Bulgarian folk music, but most of the band members were not Bulgarian, but they'd studied Bulgarian music in Plovdiv, in a music school which is right next to the Roman amphitheatre that Paul, Swinn and I visited in our Balkan backpacking holiday back in 2013.
One of my personal highlights from the festival was a jam on the Tee-pee Village stage. The stage had no pre-booked acts, but instead was like an open mic for music and poetry, and bands would come on and play surprise warm-up sets there before going to the main stages. The guy who ran it played bass. I asked “can I do something and you guys back me up?” and then not long afterwards, after eating some dinner, I was on stage backed with a drum kit, bass, trumpet, violin and dijeridoo! I sang my usual gypsy-pop covers – Amaritzi Amari, Misirlou, Chi'lett la Yeni, Volare, Llorando se fue, and then Paul arrived and we did another one I've been doing for years, Can't Get You Out of My Head. My voice was knackered already; it became so after the first night (before this I'd been doing a lot of singing in London). I remember singing a very cracked & hoarse but energetic & cool sounding rendition of the Algerian song Chi'lett La Yeni, sitting on a straw bail in the cider tent with Steve Broe, Paul and our festival buddies.
Early in September I went to Madrid for five days with Beccy Swinn to visit Rebe, JP and their friendly bohemian crew.
Beccy & JP filmed me performing my song "Waltz with me Darling" in a pretty town just outside Madrid. Unfortunately my voice was a bit nackered.
Refugee Solidarity March
Discovering the world music and the hippy/new age scenes in London
In September & October I had a full time position as a teaching assistant at Linden Lodge and I went to gigs pretty much weekly. On the 20th of September while the long summer was still going strong, I performed for the second time in Grow Elephant, the Elephant & Castle community garden on New Kent Road. I also did a mural for them with help from some Korean artists I'd met recently and some local children. After it went dark we watched a captivating storytelling band who used shadow puppets in their performance. The pianist and songwriter sang inventive, surreal, tragicomedy songs.
At the start of October I invited one of the Korean artists, Haein, to come with me and see a Chilean Tango singer called Valentina in Bolivar Hall, the Venezuelan embassy (Simon Bolivar is also the person “Bolivia” is named after). I was invited by one of Rae's activist friends who I'd met at the refugee march. It was a brilliant concert, and entirely, miraculously free! (I took with me a pretty Korean video artist called Haein).
The organisers gave out a flyer for an event the following week which looked interesting. It was an anti-colonialist event held at the School of Oriental and African Studies called “1492 Resistance Continues” (this is the date when the Europeans started colonising South America). On the day of the event, I went to Artworks to meet a friend from ICS and we met Mauritian poet and thinker called Khal Torabully who was giving a talk. It was very interesting, also about colonialism, so it fitted with the event I went to afterwards at SOAS.
At the event, I met people from the anti-colonialist movement, which became another recurring theme in my adventures in London, and heard some interesting and challenging perspectives. I have to say that the best part for me was the dancing at the end; although compelling and important I sometimes find 'politics' is too much for me and makes me a bit stressed by filling up my mind with confusion and uncertainty. People are so certain, yet everything is grey and nothing is certain, and what's right for one is wrong for someone else. But this is a topic for another blog entry.
In the SOAS Students Union I saw a lot of posters for exciting gigs. I chose to see “Varldens Band”, who I'd never heard of, and Transglobal Underground with Fanfare Tirana, who I was already a fan of. Both gigs were in Shoreditch.
Varldens Band describe their music as "transglobal roots fusion". The a collaboration between a Swedish folk-pop band of guitars and fiddles, an classical singer from India, a Kora player and singer from Senegal, some British folk boys playing accordion and guitar, a French girl on the bagpipes and flutes and some percussionists. Some of them had decorated themselves with feathers and jewels, and had dreads and exuberant clothing, in the hippie or new-age traveller style. The theme was “no borders” and “peace and love” two other regularly recurring themes in my life. The event was organised by “Celebrate Life” who are followers of Prem Rewat, one of the guru's I'd heard about in India.
A weekend in Birmingham
The Transglobal Underground gig was on a Sunday. On the Friday and Saturday of that weekend I went to Birmingham to see my friend Swinn, and we went to Digbeth.
On 21st October I played my first Starry Starry Nights show in The Star-By-Hackney-Downs, on the same bill as Kerttu Sorumen, Steve Broe (the busker and promoter) and Rosie Sky. I was headlining and it went very well. I met Steve's friend & lodger Arianna Italiana, and we soon became good friends.
On the Sunday of that week I went with Paul, Sion, Kirsty, Rae, Margarita and Tamarugo Jarrold (violin virtuoso) to see the début UK show of Chico Trujio, a brilliant Cumbia/Ska band from Chile that I was introduced to by Guillermo, the architecture tutor who took us to Cuba when I was in first year. I saw a lot of people from the SOAS event too. The promoter of this event was Movimientos, and I think they had something to do with the SOAS event and the Tango event (maybe they were all organised by the same people).
After this I went home for a few weeks and did some busking with my sister in Bangor to help her with her fundraising.
I returned to London on the 6th November to attend Nick Allen's birthday jam/mini-festival in rural Kent. It was quite an adventure. A friendly local offered Paul and me a lift from the station to the part, but as we didn't have an exact address we were dropped off on a verge in the dark, with me carrying a heavy Lidl bag of stuff that I'd ended up not needing but still had to lug around everywhere for the next few days. I'd invited some friends and I was a bit worried about how they'd get there, because I hadn't realised the type of event it was. But Arianna, Steve the busker, and his girlfriend arrived at the same time as Tamarugo, both having hitched lifts from the station. People in Kent are very friendly. We stayed up all night jamming and dancing and caught the early train back to London at around 6am. After catching a few hours kip on Tamarugo's sofa, I went to the Artworks to help run the Easles Art Market while Jos Azawala was in Ghana.
That evening I went to what turned out to be one of the absolute best gigs: Undercover Hippy in The Magic Garden, Battersea (part of the Small World scene). People recognised me from the festival and said hello (my poncho, thick hair, beard, dancing and performing make me quite memorable), and I got dancing with someone I recognised from the Movimientos events. Paul and my new friend Arianna came too.
Arianna and I left really late and I ended up staying on her sofa in Beckenham (which was actually Steve the busker's sofa because she was his lodger). On the Sunday I went out busking on South Bank with Kerttu the Finnish singer I met at the Silver Bullet in summer, also through Steve. After being moved on twice, we set up on the Millennium Bridge at sunset, looking over at St Paul's. It was beautiful.
On Wednesday that same week we went to see some other people we'd met at Small World, The Lyrical Nomads, in a hidden venue called Fox & Phoenix in Finsbury Park. It was a lovely atmosphere and they were good. I met a girl there called Joie De Winter who I crossed paths with again on January 1st in a new-age, tribal, shamanic style jam night in the Ritzy, Brixton. (I was invited there to accompany a Moroccan Gnawa musician called Youness who I met in December). At the Ritzy I made a lot of good connections, including meeting poet Jiten Patel and bamboo flautist Buddhenath who I went on to perform with at the 1st Annual Homeless Benefit Gig.
Street Jam in Camden
I met Javi Perez at the end of September when I was walking past Tottenham Court Road station. He'd just finished busking. He's a long haired, friendly, free-spirited Spanish dude. We chatted and exchanged numbers. He told me about his busking collective, Undergrooveland, and invited me to jam with them sometime.
That time finally came on November 21st, when Javi invited me to a protest in Camden against the council banning his band and other buskers from playing outside the station. He'd gathered together a welcoming bohemian group of musicians, dancers and artists. Rico (from my old band Naughty Magic Simon) was visiting from North Wales so I took him too. When Paul, Rico and I arrived everyone was drawing posters and standing with the instruments in a silent protest. Then at some point Faisal and Muti started singing “we want to sing good music” and Javi added “but the council won’t let” us, and this grew into a choral acappela piece. A crowd started forming and I picked up my guitar and added some Cm, Gm and Fm chords with a reggae rhythm, then soon the drums, bass and trumpets joined in, and we had a street party.
When I'd taken a break and started filming the jam, a girl came up to me in surprised recognition. It took a few seconds for me to figure it out, but then I recognised her and remembered her name (Kenza)! She was a girl I'd met in the computer room in my department at uni and then bumped into again when she happened to move into Rebeca Ortega's old house (I'd tried to ask her out actually but she cleverly escaped that).
People's March for Climate, Justice & Jobs, 29th November
There was a march coming up which we were both planning on attending. Kenza, the freind from uni, invited me to steward with her, so I went to a briefing session with Avaaz in the Christian Aid building in Waterloo, and a few days later I donned one of those green flourecent jackets and stewared at the march.
The decolonisation activists and speakers who I'd met at the SOAS event pushed to the front of the march chanting “we are the wretched of the earth!” and other slogans. I didn't understand at first and found their slogans a bit aggressive, but by the end of the march I understood. They were leading the march on behalf indigenous peoples around the world because these are the people worst effected by climate change and least responsible for it. The speaker from Friends Of The Earth talked a lot about this too. One of their points was that indigenous voices are too often buried and ignored, and even in this event they felt they were not being listened to because they said they'd been promised the front of the march, but Avaaz wanted their block at the front. There was some negotiating, and at one point the SOAS group all lay on the ground in protest. They were very effective campaigners. The most recognisable from this group, who I first saw at the SOAS event, is a stunning Aymara or Quechua lady who dresses stylishly in the traditional Andean Cholita outfit that was so common in La Paz. I never actually got to speak to her; she seemed to be one of the organisers and was always very busy.
I got to see all this happening because Kenza and I were lucky enough to be among the stewards brought right to the front of the march, at the head of a tens-of-thousands strong crowd! My close friends Paul and Swinn were there too, but I only found them at the end.
This was also the first day I went to Passing Clouds in Dalston, the best discovery of them all! It was the Sunday jam and this week it was being hosted by Kanti Quena, a Peruvian, his Bolivian wife, Janet, and their band, Lokandes, the band who supported Chico Trujio! At the start of the jam they praised “pacha mama” (mother-earth), and played some beautiful spiritual music with their five year old son on the drums. It tied in beautifully with the rest of the day. And to make it even more perfect, the Sami singers from Scandinavia who were right at the front of the march singing a traditional chant about mother-earth came to the jam arrived sang on stage!
The serendipity doesn't end there: Lokandes's pan-pipe player, Janet (who I'm sure I remembered from the SOAS event), was actually a student of Adrian Villanueva, the well-regarded Bolivian musician who built my Charango, which I purchased from the man himself in his workshop. Kanti Quena told me recently that Janet is famous in Bolivia too (I've been a few times to the Sunday Jam now so I'm getting to know the regulars).
The jam happens every Sunday hosted by different people and before the live music starts the DJ plays a brilliant global mix which is right up my street, the sort of thing I enjoy listening to on World on 3.
That first night I also met Juan Marcelo, a Chilean musician specialising in Andean music and Spanish rock who'd just moved to London from Spain, and we became friends.
Balkan relief gig at Goldsmiths with Sion, Rae, Margarita, and some cool and gorgeous Germans
On the last day of November I played at a “no borders” event in Goldsmiths raising funds for Balkan Relief, which is a cause I am passionate about. The set was with my brother, as Naughty Magic Simon. An anti-colonialist poet from the group “Sorry We Made You Feel Uncomfortable” raised some interesting points which made me question my beliefs and ideas, and yet again I became confused and worried that I might be guilty of cultural appropriation by singing in different languages and wearing clothes from different cultures...but I spoke to another poet who knows about this and she said I need not worry, the criticisms of “middle class white” ideas that prompted my thoughts were not directed at people like me. Still, my brother decided to pull the “Pub” from the set because he sings that with a Jamaican accent and we were worried we'd be accused of being racist. But we use the Jamaican accent for that song because it is in the Sean Paul style and we like the sound. People sing blues and rock with American accents, so for us it is the same as that.
December: Spaniards & Italians, and selling art in Trafalgar Square
An eventful month: Tuesday 1st of December, I went busking with Javi the guitar genius and another Spaniard called Mario outside Spaghetti House, where Stafano works (he was my housemate at the time, Arianna's boyfriend). Afterwards I stayed and danced to gypsy jazz from Gyps 'n' Progress with some gorgeous Italian Students who'd filmed us for their website. And I had a nice dance with mysterious stranger (as seen in the video below). I remember sitting on the pavement with Arianna and Steffano, and meeting this interesting French-Moroccan guy who liked my 'spiritual' aura and hippy clothes and beard. In November and December I met a lot of students who included me in their documentaries or photography projects about buskers, and so did Javi.
I cut down on working as a teaching assistant and instead tried to be a commercial artist & busker.
Using Unit 2 (The Trunk) in Artworks as my studio in which to mount prints and make paper bags from newspapers, I sold prints and Christmas cards on Trafalgar Square (for a donation, because technically you can't sell things on the street without a street vendor's licence). One of the nicest people I met there was Freddy, an Italian who does big chalk pictures on the floor. https://www.facebook.com/freddystreetartist
When Steve came back from his travels I moved out from Beckenham into a flat in Canary Wharf as a property guardian.
My friends JP and Rebe visited from Madrid on Thursday 17th, and on Friday we went to the Welcome Collection by Euston and experienced a great installation about consciousness (a room full of multi-coloured mist which meant you could only see a meter in front of you) and an exhibition on Buddhism. Rebe and I decided to learnt about Mindfulness and become more spiritual to solve our problems (which seem to be similar). We were stuck about what to do in the evening, but last minute I remembered the “Contact Jam” I'd been told about at the Varldens Band gig, which happens every Friday in in “The Place” - it was very nearby as we were in Euston. We improvised music for the dancers and had a go ourselves. Later on the street in Camden, I bumped into Ipek Ergin from uni! She was in London for a few days for her graduation. Small world.
On the 19th Gareth came down from Sheffield and we saw Star Wars!! it was brilliant.
On Wednesday 23rd I discovered the Elephant's Head, the best pub in Camden: my friend Santi (part of Rebe & JP's friendship group who I went on holiday with last year) was visiting from Spain and Arianna's younger sister was visiting from Italy too, so I arranged to meet everyone in Camden. Just to complicate things, I arranged to go busking with Marcelo too. To complicate it even more, I was in complete silence on the instructions of my singing teacher. Obviously I got quite frustrated and finally gave up on the silence at 4pm, after a day a half.
After some unsuccessful busking, Marcelo, Santi and I went to the Elephants Head to join the Italian girls and Steve the busker. We met lots of other Spaniards and South Americans too. My set with Marcelo went well and we got everyone dancing. We inspired an Andalucian called Al de Luna to perform some of his original Andalucian Reggae songs where were great. We also met Youness and Zacharias, Moroccan Gnawa musicians. https://www.facebook.com/ElephantsHeadCamden/
Here's us all dancing, if the link works...
On the December 30th, after a lovely Christmas in Hemel Hempstead, I went back to London and met my childhood friend Rob and his girlfriend Sally who were visiting from North Wales. At night we went to Camden and I played along with Youness at the Elephant's Head and came up and sang “Volare” and “Habibi” with me in my set, with drums and panpipes too. We got the party started. But straight afterwards I had to rush back to Spiritual Bar where I had a gig with Paul and Sion.
The gigs, busking, jamming, coincidences and fun continue in 2016…
I moved to Lewisham, London in June, and much has happened since then.
I got job as a supply teaching assistant with vibe. Then term ended. But luckily I got a part-time job as a courtyard curator at The Artworks UK, Elephant & Castle. This job and busking help me offset my financial losses and keep me going until September when I'll star teaching again. Its still a net loss in savings, since I've been rather lazy when it comes to buksing, and I only worl Friday and Saturday night, but, I'm suriving somehow.
The Artworls is a great place to work, and sometimes I get to do a few tunes on the stage or serenade people at their tables. Who could ask for a nicer job? Shame its Friday and Saturday nights when I want to be doing gigs.
I also started displaying my artwork in the Easles Art Market every Saturday at the Artworks.
I met a proffessional busker and promoter called Steve Broe, and he's lent me his busking amp and given me a lot of support, including getting me some gigs in the Silver Bullet, Finsbury park, The Old Dispensary and a few other places. We've had good days busking in Shoreditch, Bromley and elsewere.
Somewhere I have a photo of us jamming at a Somwereto party in the Grow Elephant Community Garden, but I can't find it!
Another great person and abolutely world class musician I've me is Shem Jarrold, aka Tamarugo, a violinist who is also learning Indian classical on the zaringy. He came to the first Worldwide Welshman Guerilla Street Jam on South Bank which happened this summer (in July?).
The best thing about being in London has been getting back with my old band, Timestealers. We got together again to prepare for the wedding of our friends Dave and Emma, for which we prepared a multi-lingual, transglobal, two hour set of popular covers and our own Timestealers 'classics' from our uni days. The wedding, in a beautiful family home in the countryside near Towbridge, went really well! Here is a picture of us shaking it like a polaroid picture, in a polaroid picture.
Clockwise from top right: Nick Wood - bass, Jess Rubio - flute, Beccy Swinn - vocals, Paul Murray - vocals, trumpet, guitar, Liam Rickard - vocals, guitar, keyboard, Adam Brown - drums
Just over a week later (last Tuesday night, 18th August) Paul, Nick, Adam and I played a cracking set in Cafe 1001, Brick Lane, as a "featured artist" in the Plugged in Switched On open mic.
Then on August 22nd Paul organised a jam/gig in Hyde Park and we invited lots of friends, including the newlyweds Dave & Emma!! The music and crowd drew passers by too. The other musicians were my regular bandmates and collaborators Paul, Sion and Nick, and Paul's new friends Fraser (cahon) and Simon (beatbox).
Another memorable music moment was when the Timestealers and I went back to Nottingham for a gig supporting Cheshire & the Cat. The gig was good and the crowd reacted very positively, and Cheshire and the Cat were excellent too! But the best part was after the gig when I walked past a Roma accordion player. He was brilliant! He was playing Lambada a.k.a Llorando Se Fue which is one of my standards. I passed him again after eating a kebab with Nick and Paul, and he started playing Hava Nagila, so I had to get out my guitar and join in. He was very welcoming and invited me to plug into his PA, and we got a bit of a crowd. Paul joined us on trumpet. We did a lot of great gypsy pop classics. He's called Sebasitain, check him out if you go to Nottingham High Street. Lovely guy, great musician.
So that's just a few highlights of the life of Worldwide Welshman. Now I'm going off with Paul Murray to the Small World Festival in Kent to play in the Tribal Voices area. Exciting times ahead!
The shorter version and Spanish translation of this blog can be found on http://childfund.internationalservice.org/ translated by my Bolivian teammate, Emma.
Written on Thursday 5th Feb 2015
Overview of ICS Bolivia structure:
There are 24 short-term British volunteers (one who is Polish actually) split into four teams who work with different project partners: Childhood & Youth Empowerment (with Childfund); Volunteer for Inclusion (with Best Buddies), Urban Agriculture (with Focapaci) and the project formerly known as Zebras for a Silent La Paz (although they’re no longer working with the government’s zebras scheme as far as I know).
Each team has two team-leaders, one “Bolivian” and one “British”… I use “” because the team leaders are actually from Spain, Italy, El Salvador, Peru, Bolivia and the UK but are all based in the UK or Bolivia. Each team also has two long-term local volunteers, who are mostly from La Paz, who are students around our age. They are called “coperantes” and they play leading roles in the projects. Since the start of this cohort, more Bolivian volunteers have joined the ICS programme, including my host-cousin who lives in my district, Bolognia.
Every week, one member of each of the four project groups has to create a blog. This week is my turn! In our introductory week, an Oxford educated journalist from Bolivia Express came to the office to give us a communication workshop to help us make better blogs. It was very interesting and inspiring. He said that writing methodically about what you’ve been doing may be interesting for you, your friends and your family, but it isn’t really going to make your article stand out. He said you should think of a subject and write about that. I thought of many interesting topics. Here are a few:-
Blog idea 1: Is the image of a socialist and green Bolivia, projected by Morales´s government, correct?
“Suma K’amaña” is an Aymara saying which roughly translates as “live well”. Some people have attributed socialist and ‘green’ ideas to this phrase, suggesting it means to live in a modest way that doesn’t take too much from the planet or from your fellow humans. The other ancient idea that goes together with modern environmentalist thinking is the idea of respecting “pacha mama” – mother earth.
The left-wing Bolivian government talk a lot about these ideas, but of course some people believe it is only talk and that the government doesn’t act on what they say, or they’re not honest. Others would say that they are doing all they can and that it takes a long time to undo the damage of the previous right-wing or neo-liberal governments. I cannot comment because ICS is impartial, and also I have no idea; it’s all perspective and opinion. But a good article could be written discussing these points:-
–Is Pacha Mama being respected in modern Bolivia, in reality? Most of the country’s income is from selling natural gas (unsustainable), and people rely heavily on cars to get around the city (there are virtually no pedal bikes).
–The Bolivian government claims to be socialist, but how true is this? There is very high inequality, and unfortunately there isn’t a decent affordable public healthcare system (so I’m told). I was interested to learn that there is a new class of wealthy Aymara who live in colourful mansions…once you’re rich, do the “traditional, indigenous” ideals of living well but not too extravagantly go out of the window somewhat (did the ancient Amerindians even have these ideals or has it been attributed to them later)? After-all, whatever our ethnicity, all humans are pretty much the same.
I don’t know any of the answers, I can only speculate. I´d need to do research and interview people, and even then all I’d end up with are a lot of different points of view. And ICS is impartial, so it would be hard to write about this even if I had done the research.
Blog idea 2: Islam in Bolivia
There are two mosques in La Paz, and at least one in El Alto. At a time when a lot of Muslims are being attacked and discriminated against (by radical Islamophobic groups and ‘Islamic’ extremists like Daeash) I thought it would be interesting to find out how the small Islamic community in La Paz are getting on (and I’d conceived other questions such as “what disagreements led to there being two mosques in La Paz?”). But when I rang the bell of Mezquita As-Salam this morning, there was nobody in. So this is not the topic of my blog (but maybe a future blog).
Enough about what I’m not writing about. How about I write about what work I’ve done with International Service, which is probably what you wanted to know in the first place.
Overview of the “Childhood & Youth Empowerment” group’s work
The team I’m in is working in three after-school education centres, funded and part-managed by the Bolivia contingent of the United States based charity, Childfund. After school, many children in La Paz have nowhere to go, and some are locked in their homes for safety. These centres provide a safe learning environment where the children can go after school for further classes, games and fun, educational activities. Some centres even provide day care for pre-school children.
The task of this cohort is to design learning modules for each centre addressing areas specified by the centre. These are: Citizen Security, Leadership & Empowerment, and Nutrition & Sport (this is the one I’m doing with Las Lomas centre). As well as delivering the classes, we should try and package & present them in a way that can be reused easily in the future. We’ve also been asked to do this for the modules that previous cohorts have designed. It’s not sustainable if it can only be delivered once by one set of individuals.
My group´s work so far (Las Lomas Centre – Nutrition & Sport)
I’m working with two young women, one Scottish and one Bolivian, and they both live very near me in our neighbourhood, Bolognia, in the Zona Sur of La Paz. Since we started, another Bolognia girl has joined our team, my host family’s cousin. She’s a vegetarian, which is a little tricky here in La Paz (most people seem to include meat/chicken in every meal, but there are some vegetarian restaurants, and I assume that, like in the UK, food consciousness is growing). It´s a good team and we seem to be quite productive (especially the long-term Bolivian volunteer who is a powerhouse – she studies for her University degree every evening on top of her ICS work).
We’ve written a script about a sweet potato who gets bullied in school by the other potatoes for being different. But she’s helped by a friendly carrot. In episode 2 the carrot gets kidnapped by some gangster onions. This is a puppet show to teach 4 – 6 year old children about “peace culture” values and the benefits of different fruits & vegetables. We made the puppets from card, foam and other bits & bobs. We also came up with some songs, and there will be a dance which the children will perform in a final event. The theme song is currently “Me gusta la [verdura], Me gustas tu” – a new fruit & vegetable version of the famous Manu Chao song. We are focusing on fruit & veg because they are the foods most lacking in people’s diets.
The final event will be a sports day, “The Hungry Games,” which the 8-12 year old group will help plan. The 15-18 year olds will be in charge of preparing healthy snacks and smoothies. The lessons also include games, talking about sports people, drawing activities, planting vegetables, meditation & stretches, and of course practicing sports for the sports day.
We were supposed to deliver our first class in Las Lomas on Monday afternoon but there were only two children so the centre said there was no point giving the class. It was the first day back at school so families were only just enlisting, and there will be more next week. They told us to return the following day and deliver a special two our session. The very productive Bolivian girl in our team planned the session and we arrived on Tuesday afternoon to deliver it, but again there were not enough children – only four and they all had other things to do. So we will have to cram our five sessions into four or just drop the last session. The sports day is going ahead though!
Other than the classes, the whole team finished off a mural done by the previous cohort in Las Lomas on the Monday morning. On Wendesday I went with some of our group to the Avance centre in Chasquipampa (even further out than Bolognia) to draw a mural about citizen security on an inside wall of the centre. I had help from a fellow artist who we drafted from the Urban Agriculture group. He also lives in, guess where: Bolognia! He stays with the other Welshman and the mother of my host-father, in the same complex as our host-cousin who I mentioned before. She helped with the drawing too, and so did a little girl from the centre.
On our Action Friday, coming tomorrow as I write this, volunteers from all four project groups, and lots of local kids, will attempt to paint my wall sketches. The other artist(s) and I do our best to ensure it turns out well, and I’ll try not to be too much of a perfectionist! It´ll be good fun.
And that´s what I wrote for the official blog, although I edited out the "blog ideas 1 & 2" in case they were too political.
The poster for our Action Friday - "the first values fair"
While I was sketching the mural, I popped into the class to play a few songs spanish language songs for the kids
Part of the mural I drew
On Friday 6th, after I wrote the blog, we had our team's action Friday. I was the master-painter of the Citizen Security mural in the Avance Centre. Lots of children and volunteers took part. Everyone came to me to ask what colour to use and where they should paint. I was mixing colours and assingning parts to different children and volunteers. Everyone did an excellent job, and they were very careful and thorough. Their bits were better than mine to be honest!