Keri Chryst Jazz - The French Connection

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Nebraska - Hastings High School and Middle School

Posted by Keri Chryst on November 4, 2013 at 2:45 PM Comments comments (1)

Nebraska - the Great Plains. 

To a native Frenchman like Philippe Petit it's as exotic as the plains of Africa.  Flat vistas and nothing but corn and cattle as far as the eye can see.  Still, it's not the scenery that really sets it apart - but rather the people.  These no-nonsense warm hearted midwesterners welcomed us from the get go to the point where in no time at all we felt like family.



A typical day starts at 7:15 am where we meet in the dining room of the Kensington - once a fancy downtown hotel and now a lovely residence for older adults.  They've generously leant the school their guest rooms on our behalf, and here Philippe gets his first taste of a typical American breakfast served hot and to order.


We're picked up around 7:45 by one of two band directors - either our host Command Sergeant Major Rick Matticks, or his esteemed colleague Erin Beave - and taken to either the Middle or High School to get the day started.


From there on we're shuttled around from school to school, and group to group - sometimes working with young singers, or jazz bands and with an occasional Q&A with the French classes from grades 6-12.


Each day is packed with rehearsals and coaching sessions - including a trip to Hastings College to work with their jazz band - all in the interest of preparing everyone for a big bang-up U.S.O. style concert on Saturday night to celebrate Veteran's day and raise money for the Wounded Warrior project.


The kids are amazing!  Well prepared, great singers and players - largely thanks to their wonderful teacher wo do such a good job with them year round.  Props to the choral department's: Deb Dowling, Kylee Bruce and Kristen Janda at the Middle School, and Tim Canady (with the help of Douglas Singer) at the High School.  I'm a sucker for quality kids singing out in harmony, and found myself in tears of nostalgic joy at least once a day ;-)


Mr. Matticks and Mr. Beave do  a great job with the bands too of course, and Jeff, Philippe and I worked with them all - singers and players alike - mostly on how to get things really swinging by playing with accuracy and especially with a lot of feeling.



Cameroon Chronicles - Day 7 (yes, 7!) - Douala - R&R and Grilled fish

Posted by Keri Chryst on March 4, 2012 at 10:25 AM Comments comments (1)

Sleeping in!!  What a luxury after this hectic week of bouncing around the Cameroonian countryside!  That said, I'm on such a schedule, that I decide not to overindulge, and rather make arrangements to join Mignon and Mathias to make a visit to the local artisinal craft market before heading to lunch.


I hate to say it, but unlike some of the other similar markets we've visited here and in other countries, this one kind of gets me down.  I feel hounded from all sides by overly aggressive salesmen who seem to think that just because I'm a foreigner, I have money to burn.  But I already overspent in Togo last month, so I'm really only here to see if anything new and unique (and CHEAP!) catches my eye.  I come up with a few extra gifts for nephews (which will remain nameless for the time being until they're delivered into their hot hands) and another unique musical instrument for myself, and am pretty pleased to get out of their for less than 12€.


We swing back by the hotel to pick up Jeff and head out towards the port where we're meeting local Consul, Ed Ghallager, to have excellent but reportedly quite affordable grilled fresh fish at Le Paquebot, a restaurant that also comes highly recommended by the Ambassador.  The first pleasant surprise is that we also run into a few of those high-powered business men I mentioned being part of our appreciative audience from last night.  This is cool, because I was very curious as to just who these guys are, and I'm glad to have the chance to speak with them more at length to learn about what it is they're doing here and just why it is that a performance like ours can make such an impact around here.  For us, we feel like we're "just doing our job", so this kind of enthusiasm intrigues me and I'm curious to know just what sort of a need it is we're filling.


But our host (and the fish!) are waiting for us, so after a quick exchange of contacts, I join the others for a most delectable selection of grilled sea bass and sole, served with plantaines and deliciously fresh french fries.  And the company is at least as good as the fish, as Ed regales with tales of his service in the armed forces as well as his more recent stints in Public Diplomacy.  It turns out that Ed has recently arrived in Cameroon from his previous posting in Paris, of all places.  He's says he's happy to put in a good word for us back home to see what he can do to help us line up some work for the local cultural programs in France.  This is a much welcomed offer, since the Africa Regional Services office we've been working for is just separate enough from the main Embassy, that we don't seem to really be on anyone's radar over there.


We linger over lunch for several hours, and then take Ed up on his offer to swing by his house for a drink and some more relaxation time.  The consummate host and tour guide he drives us around a bit to show us around his new home town, and then we get to see how the other half lives here in Douala.  After another hour or so though, it's time to head back and finish catching up on that rest (and on emails, and on uploading photos... etc. etc.).  The internet connection at the hotel is pretty decent, so I actually manage to Skype with my mom and sis back home, which is quite a pleasure.  We've got one more event in the morning before flying out tomorrow evening though - so bath and bed are high on the list for this evening as well.



Cameroon Chronicles - Day 6 - Douala - French Institute - Rockin' the House!!

Posted by Keri Chryst on March 3, 2012 at 9:45 AM Comments comments (0)

We show up at the venue dressed to kill and are pleased to be greeted by the Ambassador and his wife once again!  They came down for a conference yesterday, and actually made a point of sticking around so they could attend our concert.  I'm flattered!  


We're introduced to a few other dignitaries, et al, and then are whisked back stage where we find our friends from Bantu Jazz and Kundé - themselves all decked out either in jazzy, or traditional gear.  The dancers/percussionists are particularly impressive as they warm up together and I dare say perform some sort of pre-show prayer ritual.  Serge is absentmindedly doing a little dance step, and I casually mention that I look forward to dancing with them on stage and that "You may be surprised...".  He perks up, and offers to show me the step he's doing, and I, always eager for an excuse to shake my booty, jump at the chance.  It takes me a few turns to get my feet to agree with my brain (there's a little issue with a beat that gets dropped, and having to start again off of the same foot...) but they seem pleased and impressed at the speed of my progress.  So, it's on!  Now that they're aware of this facet of my "talents", they're psyched to take advantage of it later on stage.  Fine by me!


So - First up - Bantu Jazz.  They surprise us by taking the "slow burn" approach to warming up the room.  Long chords from the keyboard, low bass notes, and randomized percussion sounds slowly build into a series of songs that are a complex mix of modern western sounds reminiscent of jazz and rock fusion that combine with vocals in and rhythms from their local traditions.  I have to say, in a way I'm pleased, because I had been unconsciously "concerned" that if they started with the kind of ruckus they'd played for us earlier, then they'd be a tough act to follow ;-)  In this case though, it should work out well for Jeff and I to take it up a notch as they pass the torch to us, and then invite them back to rock out with us in the end.


But first things first - the Kundé folks join the Bantu Jazz on their last "opening act" number.  The dancer-storytellers have surprised us as well, decked out in bright colors and covered with skin-whitening clay... one of them makes his entrance by literally slithering onto the stage from under the curtain... I think there's a lot more going on here than we could possibly be aware of, but the language barrier keeps us somewhat in the dark.


Then it's our turn.  We too play on the element of surprise.  I decide to forgo the use of language at first - using only gestures and facial expression to incite them to sing along with us on "Duke's Place".  Apparently, the communication is perfectly clear, and they jump right in and seem to be having a ball!  We've decided that at the French Institute it makes sense to do a mix and match of our French Connection repertoire while being sure to also pay homage to our first National Ambassador of Jazz - Duke Ellington.


By the time Bantu Jazz joins us on stage, we've got them in the palm of our hand!  So I make an on the spot executive decision to switch the order around a bit, and get them rockin' to "Route 66" with the help of Quamé (keys), Patrick (bass), Serge (percussion/vox) and their leader Calvin on drums.  After that, it's time to bring Serge forward to let him show off a bit - during the rehearsal, I'd sensed his itching to scat, so I draw him into a "scatversation" on the Miles Davis classic "All Blues".  For one, I'm thrilled to be singing this song in public, because it's one of my favorites from when I was just learning about jazz... and then Serge's scat, seems to be taking on a mind of its own... as I hear the audience responding to his syllables with laughter and other commentary, I realize "he's actually saying words!".  I have NO idea what he's saying, but do my best to play along and keep up the illusion of "conversation"... much to the audience's delight!


We eventually get around to inviting the rest of the percussionists and dancers up to join us to "Take the A Train" (audience participation obligée!), but it's definitely time to give them a taste of their own music and language and show that this cultural exchange is a two-way street!  Serge and Calvin launch "Meyé Massé" - "I Am Proud" and we take turns singing the beautiful text in various languages.  I'm responsible for the English and French translations, of course ("I have reunited with my brothers, we have returned to the source, we shall feast together, I am proud!") but musicians and audience alike are pleased at my efforts to sing a few words in their own language :-)  


Somewhere in the middle of this hullabaloo, I'm pulled aside by the dancers who are eager to put me to the test again on these newly acquired danced moves.  And the crowd goes wild!  Really - I can't wait to see the video and the good pictures that the Embassy folks took (my photos didn't capture it as well) - apparently, this was the high point of the collaboration for the evening!


"Meyé Massé" goes on for awhile, then we wrap it up with "Work Song" (again, very cooperative audience) and good ole "Sweet Home Chicago" to send 'em home singing.  A few closing remarks from Embassy staff and the head of the French Cultural Center ("You are welcome to come back any time!") and then we're whisked off for some meet and greet in the lobby.  My hand is shaken and pictures are taken with enthusiastic audience members from all walks of life - from everyday people, to dignitaries to high-powered businessmen from Europe and India.  


Amy Banda from STV grabs me for a quick and enthusiastic follow-up interview ("If we asked you to come back to Cameroon in 2 weeks, would you?" - "Of course!!!"), and then the other journalists descend, and I'm faced with a circle of about 5 or 6 folks, including our new friend from this morning, Carole Leuwé from Nostalgie.  They're all chomping at the bit to interview me about what just transpired - they're particularly fascinated by the strength of our collaboration with Bantu Jazz and Kundé and can hardly believe that we'd only just met earlier that day.  I tell them that this is a first for me to be surrounded by so many of them at once ;-)  then do my best to graciously respond to their questions and comments.  I see that I'm not the only one under the magnifying glass here either, as I catch glimpses of our Embassy hosts, and other musicians being caught in the glare of the albeit friendly journalists' regard.


All good things must come to an end however.  It's time to say goodbye to our new musician friends, as well as the Ambassador who'd gone out of his way to hear us again tonight.  The local Consul for the city of Douala, Ed Ghallager, extends us a most welcome invitation to join him for lunch the following day, in the interest of helping us fully benefit from our much needed day off.  We're looking forward to that, but first things first - we go and get dinner in a local restaurant with the Embassy gang and together celebrate another unqualified success!



Cameroon Chronicles - Day 6 - Douala - Morning Nostalgie Radio & Bantu/Kund? Rehearsal

Posted by Keri Chryst on March 2, 2012 at 4:25 PM Comments comments (0)



Why do these radio programs start so early!?  Sigh... Thanks to our friend Lydia Hall from Comoros, I've taken to packing breakfast bars and other snacks with me, and have found that this buys me some much needed sleep & prep time in the morning, rather than paying for the overpriced (and not included :-/ ) breakfast buffet at the hotel.


So, we show up at Nostalgie Radio (yes, it's related to your favorite station in France ;-) bright and early, and are greeted by the warm and welcoming Carole Leuwé.  This is one woman who does NOT need our presentation on Web Presence and Music Entrepreneurship - I already recognize her name and face because she found me on Facebook two days ago and dropped me a line to let me know she was looking forward to our visit!  Now that's both classy AND savvy!


She introduces us to Falix Fetue, the main host of this morning's program, and manages to scrounge up a cup of tea (thank you!) for us before we hit the air waves.  They make us very welcome in the studio and ask us questions about our professional history, and what it is we're doing here in Douala - and they generally help us make a good pitch for our concert this evening.  We sing a couple numbers live on air which get them snapping, and before we know it, we're being bustled out to head on to the next event.


A little while later, we pull up in front of the French Cultural Center where the folks from "l'Equipe Du Sud" cultural organisation have gotten a great head start on set-up.  We do quick sound check, and immediately obvious that we're in good hands, technician wise (phew!) - then it's time for show and tell!


We're introduced to the gentlemen (no ladies!?) from Bantu Jazz and Kundé groups, both part of "l'Equipe du Sud".  As has become our habit, we ask the folks of  to give us a little demonstration of what they typically do, and I also suggest that if they have a song they think I could learn quickly and sing with them, they should give that some thought.  


All of a sudden, this velvet-seated western style auditorium is filled with an over-layering of raucous and infinitely complex Cameroonian rhythms!  Once again, Jeff and I are pleased to realize that we will have NO problem working with these guys :-)  And they're on the case as well!  While we're sitting there listening, Serge and Frank come over bearing a piece of paper with a short neatly written text, including a French translation.  They've figured out something that should be fairly easy for me to sing with them and are eager to make it happen.  Yet another sign of the professionalism we'll be encountering throughout this day/evening.


So, they finish their exciting ruckus, and we jump up to rally the troupes for the shared rehearsal.  We throw out a couple of titles to the bass and keyboard players, and they seem to be ready to deal with some jazz standards.  The percussionists seem to have disappeared from the stage in the meantime though, so we take a few (20?) minutes to sort out a few classic jazz tunes we'll be doing with just the rhythm section.  A quick run through of "Georgia" and "All Blues" and I'm immediately assured that I'm in good hands.  These guys have a sense of musicianship and nuance that will make us ALL look good together on the band stand :-)


Then we've gotta get the rest of the gang back up to sort out the big group numbers.  It takes a little back-and-forthing to get clear on what we're asking for during the percussion breaks et al, but once they get it, they've got it!  We hardly even bother to run through the more straightforward blues tunes like "Sweet Home Chicago", 'cause it's obvious there's nothing to be concerned about.  So, inside of 35 minutes, we've sorted what we'll be doing with them on our end.


Now, it's time for the other end of the exchange... What will we be doing of theirs?  Jeff decides to sit this one out "This is your thing, Keri".  Ok, fine.  So, they start up the percussion ensemble, and sing through the text a few times.  I'm having trouble feeling exactly where it is in the rhythmic cycle I'm supposed to make my entrance, so I ask them to be really clear and give me visual/physical cues when it's my turn.  We struggle a bit around this idea, and it's clear that I'm not quite making the grade yet... and then I'm given the key : "Voici le temps fort!" ("Here's the 'one'") - Serge shows me where the cycle starts (not quite where I thought it did!) and all of the sudden, the rest falls into place!  (It reminds me of one of those ah-ha moments I had when struggling to learn an Ella Fitzgerald scat where, once I accidentally breathed at the same time as her, the whole rest of the phrase suddenly made sense!)


So, now I know where I am, and where the "temps fort" is, and the rest is a piece of cake.  I sing "Meyé massé" - "I am proud" - with them for a bit, and then we agree, like with the American blues, that the general free-for-all will be obvious once we're on stage together, and we don't have to work out all the details in rehearsal.


Now to catch up on some more of that rest before the sun goes down and conserve our energy for tonight's high-profile show!




Cameroon Chronicles - Day 5 -Entrepreneurship Workshop, Travel, and a late night TV Interview

Posted by Keri Chryst on March 2, 2012 at 6:10 AM Comments comments (0)

10 o'clock start for the workshop with local musicians at the Alliance Française where we had the concert last night.  They've brought together about a dozen guys (no ladies!?) with whom we're meant to talk about the Entrepreneurial side of being a musician today.   A lot of the same issues are raised as were in both Lomé (Togo) and Yaoundé (Cameroon).  These folks are hungry for resources to better their skills both from a technical perspective on their instrument, and from a music business point of view.


We do what we can in the short time we have to fill in at least some of the blanks in their knowledge - mostly giving tips and principles that might help them further their research and exploration on their own end.  (Give a man a fish vs. Teach a man to fish) We draw on some tools we've developed, including the presentation on "Web Presence" and my new Venn diagram about the music business ;-) 

It turns out there are a bunch of singers in the room who are dying for a lesson... but unfortunately it wasn't anticipated on the program, and we've got a really tight travel schedule today, so it'll have to happen some other time.  In fact, ever since the enthusiasm at the vocal workshop in Yaounde, it's given me some ideas about more efficient ways to get some basic vocal technique knowledge to these folks who simply don't have access to teachers and good resources.... More on that some other time...


We're rounded up promptly at 12, so we can head out on the road.  First a "quick" stop at what we've heard is the best craft store and café in town - the PresCrafts & Prescafé!  At PresCrafts the price is right, there's a large selection and things are displayed in a nice inviting environment. 

I've been keeping an eye out for some good hand-made musical instruments throughout these tours, and finally find what I'm looking for here!  I flash on a particularly originally-shaped shaker that's been made out of the horn of some kind of bovine.  Very cool!  Mignon tries to tempt me into a djembe drum, or a large basket - offering to ship them to me through the diplomatic mail... but I decline for the time being.  I've overspent in Togo as it is!  Still, I pick up a few trinkets for the family while I'm at it, and am pleased at the relatively low number that shows up on the bottom line of the receipt in the end!


Though there were coffee and croissants at the morning's workshop, we haven't had what I'd consider any "real food" today, so we agree to help support the Prescafé that's come highly recommended by the Peace Corps and Fullbright folk (Betsy & Erica) we hung out with last night.  We'd been warned however that service can be slow around here, and this place is no exception. 

So despite the tastiness of the fresh folory juice and the honey and homemade bread which accompany a simple but yummy omelette, the wait has got us a bit behind schedule.  Enough so that we'll have to pass on the trip planned to a local museum.  This is a shame, but a somewhat understandable tradeoff for having added the gift shop visit.


So - now it's back on the long road to Douala... did I say long?  I meant Looooooooooonnng.  Not only is it naturally long, but with traffic and road work, it proves even longer than anticipated!! Having learned my lesson in the car the previous day, I situate myself so I can focus out the front window and not confuse my inner ear overmuch.  Mignon is sharing the bench with me, and agrees that it is surprisingly easy to feel queasy on these roads... it's not so much the curves, as the bumps.  But we're forewarned enough to take some necessary precautions, and I for one manage to stay relatively comfortable.


It's a long ride though - long enough for us to get bored enough to start talking philosophy and "bucket lists" and other get to know you subjects (a rather pleasant side-effect of long journeys, to my mind!) - and what with the delays, it doesn't look like we'll make it in time for the live interview at STV scheduled for 7pm :-/  We try calling the studio to see if we can reschedule, but for some reason we're not getting through... and then eventually 7pm rolls around, and we're still on the road... and we haven't heard from STV either, so we wonder if they've even noticed our absence!?


After our valiant driver, Valentine, wrestles his way out of several frustrating traffic blockages, we eventually make it into downtown Douala, closer to 9pm at this point.  We decide to just show up at the TV station, in hopes that though we missed the chance to go live, we'll still have an means to tape something that they can use on the air the following day.  I'd more or less anticipated that we'd probably be going straight to the station, so I'm dressed and have my hair done already, and my make-up's where I can get to it easily... so while they're sorting out what crew is available I do a quick transformation job on my face (after all, the make-up crew has gone home for the evening at this point!).


Fortunately, there's a short window of opportunity before the next live program is broadcast, and the journalist Amy Banda is on hand with a small crew - so with little to no preparation we're able to jump before the cameras and answer a few questions and play a tune.  We're here to talk about music and our upcoming concert tomorrow night.  Ms. Banda seems to have some deeper questions on her agenda however and wants to know about the economic and political implications of our work here.  After stumbling through a few blind-sighted attempts at a response, we're "saved by the bell" as they realize they need to put in a fresh tape, and we have to start over.  Phew!  On the second round of questioning, we're more ready to handle it, and more importantly - to play a little music for them!


So, short story long... we do manage to record something decent which they should be able to cut together for a short spot throughout the day tomorrow to let people know about the public concert at the French Cultural Institut.  So, after a very long day... mission accomplished!



Cameroon Chronicles - Day 4 - Travel to Bamenda & French InstituteConcert

Posted by Keri Chryst on March 1, 2012 at 11:25 AM Comments comments (0)

The early bird gets to Bamenda in time for the concert... Our generous hosts have come to realized that they pushed us awfully hard yesterday though, and make arrangements to postpone the interview planned at the radio station "Hot Cocoa" in Bamenda.  It's a shame to pass up on the opportunity for publicity, but I must say I'm relieved.  


I curl up in the back seat of our 6-seater van (actually, it probably seats 8, but there are "only" 6 of us) hoping to get some much needed sleep.  The coffee I had with breakfast isn't helping though, not only is it keeping me awake, but it's set my stomach into a potential for queasiness on these bumpy and curvy roads in the hills of up country :-/  The landscape is beautiful - hills and green galore (the Switzerland of Cameroon, we're told) - wish it weren't so confusing to my inner ear to watch it go by ;-)


I'm still a bit nervous about my voice too - between the concert, the lengthy lunch conversation, and 3 hours of workshop, it got a LOT of use yesterday.  I'm still snorting heavy duty cortisone in my nose, and though it's calmed down, my cough is still lingering.  Still, after a 6 hour drive, and MANY opportunities to get to know each other better, we arrive in Bamenda relatively unscathed, if a bit worse for wear.


Despite a bit of discomfort from motion sickness, we elect to go straight to the venue to check out the scene before checking into the hotel.  The folks at the Alliance Française are ready for us, and the sound set-up is already in pretty good shape.  We make a few adjustments to light and sound, then head on to the hotel for a couple of hours of rest before the show.  (Did I mention "exhaustimigated"?)


We're taken back stage to a little "green room"... I'm still sucking away on lozenges, worried about what shape my voice will be in... it's feeling a bit rusty, and it's just the two of us tonight - no local artists to share the load with - so I've got to be on for a full two hours.  We've decided to divide the show up into two sets - the first set of "The French Connection" stuff (this is the Alliance Française, after all) and the 2nd set for an homage to Duke Ellington and our "Roots 66" set (we were hired by the U.S. State Department after all ;-) )


And it's US that's in for a treat - we make our first attempt at a singalong on the 2nd tune, and this is the loudest and most enthusiastic audience so far when it comes to audience participation!  Not the teeniest bit of hesitation!  So, that sets me at ease right away for the rest of it.  I manage to manage my voice a bit, being careful to dose it out on an as needed basis, favoring a bit more head voice than usual.


But by the time the audience is on their feet to shake their booties to "Sweet Home Chicago" I've thrown all caution to the wind and let her rip a little more.  I'm pleased to find that as long as I'm conscientious about some of the more salient points of good vocal technique, my full range is perfectly intact, despite my initial reticence.  Phew!  What a relief!


So, the crowd has gone wild, and I'm proud to say that it is a couple of gray-haired white folks from the U.S.  who are the first on the dance floor (full-bright scholars, no less) ;-)  Though, to their credit, the folks from Bamenda are only half a second behind - a hootin' and hollerin' and shouting for more!  I dare say, we've hit the mark once again, and are quite satisfied with a job well done!


Drenched in sweat, and pretty wiped out, I almost duck out of the invite to go to dinner with the Peace Corps volunteers and Fullbrighters... but the promise of a real meal outweighs the draw to my hotel room bed, and I decide to go along for the ride.  Jeff's not feeling so hot though (a trend that persists throughout the trip - poor Jeff!) and bows out, much to his regret. 

We spend a couple of hours at a local restaurant where Mignon and I and the two young ladies Betsy and Erica gab together over a huge plate of a local specialty called "Poulet D.G." - "The Managing Director's Chicken".  I believe it's safe to say that this is the Cameroonian equivalent of General Tso's chicken - though the chicken is delivered in bigger chunks and still on the bone... there's a certain combination of sweetness, spiciness, and friedness that when coupled with it's illustrious name make me think of the myths surrounding the American-Chinese dish.  It wouldn't be Cameroonian if it weren't served with plantains however - yum!


So, I have no regrets about having chosen to stay out.  We have some great conversation, and great food... and since tomorrow's start is scheduled a little later, I even still have time to get a full 9 hours' sleep.  Phew!

Cameroon Chronicles - Day 3 - Yaounde - Radio, Kids Concert & Masterclass

Posted by Keri Chryst on February 29, 2012 at 6:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Happy Leap Day!  I figure since the 29th only happens once every 4 years... it's kind of like a gift - out of time, so to speak.  And this is certainly a day "hors norme".


It starts with an early call (8:30) to head over to a local radio station KalakFM for a quick and dirty interview.  We are immediately impressed by the hosts of the show Alphonse and Else whose réparté is clearly well practiced and dynamic.  Their energy wakes us up and gets us wanting to bubble over with excitement along with them.  They ask some good questions too, and get us to sing a little something live over the air.  Short but sweet though, within 20 minutes we're out of there, and thankfully have time to go back to the hotel for a bit and chill before our next engagement.


And what an engagement!  We arrive with a touch of trepidation because we've been told we're going to a rehabilitation and treatment center for children with physical disabilities (whether congenital or acquired) - we're afraid it might be a tough crowd, though we're eager to do what we can to bring a little light and levity into this kids lives.


It turns out our worry was for nothing - once again we've been brought to a top quality facility where it's immediately clear that these kids are NOT wallowing in despair for their discomfort and disability, but rather they are well cared for, bright eyed and EXTREMELY enthusiastic to get a chance to participate in a live music event performed by these exotic Americans - something we're told they usually only see on TV.


Before we hit the stage, we're taken to meet Mme Grace - the head of the facility.  We sit comfortably in her anteroom which proudly displays large photos of the pope, and the president of Cameroon.  I'm sure to take a picture with the pope (so to speak) to send back to my grandfather who will be extra proud to know that I helped serve his faith through our shared vocation of jazz music :-)


The kids have the time of their lives as we "Take the A Train" down the "Route 66" via "Georgia" and "Chicago, Chicago".  We throw in a couple of French tunes too, assuming that they will understand the language a bit better (though many Cameroonians are Anglophone as well).  And after the big performance I am LITERALLY flooded by a gaggle of little kids, ranging from about age 3 to 13 who all want a hug or a hand shake from this mysterious white lady who brings music from afar.  It's quite overwhelming, but I am extremely happy that we have shared a moment with these kids and brought them a moment of respite and joy that we're told they will remember for a lifetime (and I believe that!  I still have VERY vivid memories of the various entertainers who came in to perform for us when I was growing up in the isolation of the Saudi desert - their music was an oasis to us, never to be forgotten!).


But they day is far from over and we still have duties to attend to - so we make our exit amid the rush of kids still eager for contact with us.  Jeff wants some rest at the hotel, so Mignon and I go to a lovely little restaurant down the street that overlooks a gorgeous little park and she grills me on my life and times.  I probably shouldn't talk so much, in the interest of saving my voice - but she gets the conversation going, and I can't help waxing on about my passions :-)


We go on so long that before we know it, I miss the window for any real down time, and we head straight on to the next venue where we'll be giving a masterclass on "The business of the music business".  This is always a touchy subject since Jeff and I both feel like we're barely managing to make a living at this as it is... still... we do have a fair amount to say on a couple of the major points regarding musicianship, stage presence and the importance of cultivating one's network of contacts.  I give a quick overview about basic principals of web presence, and our new friend Glen from the Embassy steps in as well to share some experience and advice on getting press coverage and exposure through media channels.  Perseverance and striving for excellence are some of the watch words of the day.


But these folks, mostly amateur and professional musicians themselves and also hungry for what we have to offer in the realm of technical skill, so after a couple of ours of blah blah about the music industry, we break off into groups - Jeff takes the instrumentalists to give 'em a shot in the arm to beef up their knowledge of chord progressions and some alternative ii-V-I cycles for the blues.  I head upstairs with the singers to give them a crash course in understanding their body as an instrument - working with the respiratory system, and giving them more awareness towards freeing up their vocal mechanism for more flexibility and power.  They are all clearly very appreciative for the information, and only regret that we have such a short while to do it in.


But not to worry - now that we're all clear on the importance of the internet and of cultivating one's "professional garden"... we exchange contacts so that we'll be sure to stay in touch and they can feel free to ask follow up questions as they come along.  


All in all, today we get the sense that this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship - collaboration between us and these local musicians.  


But by now we're "exhaustimagated", as I like to say when the work "exhausted" seems just too short to make my point ;-)  So a quick dinner of some DELICIOUS fresh grilled fish at The Bunker restaurant and nightclub... then back to the hotel.  I've agreed to meet some of the musicians for drinks at 10, which is in about 5 minutes now.  But hopefully it won't be long before I'm off to BED.  We've got an ULTRA early call and a 6 hour drive ahead of us tomorrow... so... time to call it a night!