Grimis Presents: “I Am the One” with the Okari Singers. PLUS April Benefit Tour/Documentary Screenings
April 4, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Grimis, Andover Youth Services and recording engineer Tom Blanford are currently putting the finishing touches on what will be a two-disc record called ‘Grimis Presents: I Am the One featuring the Margaret Okari School.’ Later this month (April 2011) we will be touring the northeast with our friends from Andover Youth Services to promote and sell the record. At most shows we will also be screening a documentary about our trip. The money raised from the record will be going to the Okari Foundation, which funds the Okari School’s many projects. The tour dates are below. We are so excited about this tour. Pete is flying in from Portland, Andy is meeting us in Boston from Brooklyn, and I will be coming up from Louisiana. It’s going to be a great batch of gigs for a great cause.
April 26, 2011
Downstairs at the George Sherman Union
Doors @ 7:30 pm Free to BU students +1 guest. Outside guests inquire at email@example.com.
Sponsored by the Society For Professional Journalists. Grimis will also be giving a talk and screening our film earlier in the afternoon at the BU School of Communications. Email Elizabeth Mehren at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on the afternoon screening.
April 27, 2011
158 Ludlow St.
New York, N.Y.
Grimis (9:45pm) with Basement Band (8pm)
Our good pals Basement Band join us at Pianos. This show will feature a screening of the documentary between the two band’s sets.
April 28, 2011
Ten Forward Art Space
13 Thames St.
$5. Doors @ 8pm
An intimate film screening and performance at our pals Starlight Girls’ art space in Bushwick.
April 29, 2011
The Western Front
343 Western Ave.
Doors @ 9pm.
An evening with Grimis. Film screening and concert.
April 30, 2011
Old Town Hall
20 Main St.
Grimis with opening act Casey McQuillen
Sponsored by Andover Youth Services. AYS Founder Bill Fahey will speak before the show, the film will be screened followed by a set from Grimis. This is AYS’ main Okari Foundation fundraiser. Those attending are encouraged to dress up! Suits and slacks would be swell! We’re making a night out of it!
May 1, 2011
8 North Winooski Ave.
Grimis @ 9pm
Grimis closes out the tour at one of our favorite spots–Burlington’s venerable Radio Bean cafe. All ages, great coffee and cakes, super music all night. Grimis will be performing from 9-11.
January 4, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Andy Doherty and David Tanklefsky played a great holiday show in Cambridge, Mass. under the name of Grimis (thanks to our pals Steven Brickman, Andy Burke and Jeremy Black for sitting in with the band) and sold the Okari Sessions EP at the show. It was great to share the hard-copy CD with our friends and family who hadn’t yet heard some of the music we recorded in Kenya. Thus far, with the help of Andover Youth Services, we have raised mroe than $600 for the Okari Foundation, which benefits the Margaret Okari School and its teachers and students. That goes a long way. Thanks to those of you who have purchased an EP and stay tuned for more music from Kenya. A full-length record is on the way in 2011!
December 9, 2010 § Leave a Comment
I finished up mixing the four tracks for the EP about a week ago. It brings back memories of the challenges of the whole process that make this record truly unique; unpacking all the equipment (each microphone, cable, etc.) in the security line at each airport along the way and explaining what everything does and why I’m bringing it to Kenya, waiting for the rain to stop so we could begin recording agin, rushing to finish recording the choirs on our last night before sound of the crickets outside overwhelmed the sound. Working on these tracks from start to finish has been a truly rewarding experience. I hope you all will enjoy them as much as we have.
- Tom Blanford
December 5, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Watching the lion creep into the high grass
His gaze turned to the gazelle then the water
Buffalo then the zebra. I know why love gets
The store clerk at the gas station
Outside Narok told Bill
He looked like Steven Segal and
Knew of Massachusetts because
Of the Bee Gees song. “God
Willing I will one day come to
America but I will not go to
Virginia. It is not safe for men,
Have you heard?” No. “It is the
Home of Lorena Bobbit.” We leave.
He mimics Antonio Banderas from
‘Desperado’ shooting off an imaginary gun.
In Kenya the poetry returned.
And I must place the poems in
Accordance with all the things
My soul has known and let go of.
December 3, 2010 § Leave a Comment
I’ve begun working with Andover Youth Services on the initial CD that’s going to be released of Grimis’ work with the Margaret Okari School singers. A limited number of EPs are going to made available in our hometown of Andover, Massachusetts over this holiday season. They will be sold at the AYS Christmas Tree Lot at Andover High School. I will let you know the exact date when I find out. The CD will contain the Grimis songs that we performed with the Okari students. Then, once more mixing is finished, we will have a full-length record with lots of traditionals, Gospel tunes and other songs for you to purchase sometime in 2011.
In addition, I’ve started working on a short film about our trip to Kenya. The hope is to release that in conjunction with the album. Here’s a piece I wrote about the first batch of recordings being made available.:
No one would have blamed Andover Youth Services founder Bill Fahey, his brother-in-arms at AYS Glenn WIlson or his son Colton for simply saying goodbye to their new friends at the Margaret Okari School in the village of Kisii, Kenya after their week of conservation work and youth outreach projects and heading back to Massachusetts to get on with their busy lives. But that’s just not the way AYS rolls.
When the kids at the Okari School, most of whom have been orphaned by AIDS, finish middle school, it’s no sure thing they’re moving on to high school. Even if they do well on their end-of-year 8th grade exams. High school might mean traveling a distance that just isn’t feasible or it might mean living somewhere you just can’t afford. So to have a high school right in their village would greatly improve the educational potential of the graduating class at the Okari School. Obviously, it’s a long way from Andover.
So when Bill left in May he made a promise to the students that he’d return with friends to record an album of the terrific student singers to help raise money to build a high school in the village. These guys dream big. And then they pack 400 pounds of musical instruments, recording equipment, T-shirts and art supplies into surfboard cases, buy plane tickets they can barely afford, cram everything into a Toyota van that might topple over and they set to work chasing down the big dream.
And that’s pretty much how my friends and I ended up 8,000 miles from home 40 miles down a dirt road turning a canvas tent of a guest house into a makeshift recording studio. You are about to hear just a small bit of the music we recorded with the students of the Okari School and there’s a lot more to come.
Four Years and White Apples and the Taste of Stone are Grimis songs that I wrote in the last year and a half. They explore some polyrhythmic percussion patterns that are sometimes found in African music. I wouldn’t pretend for a second to have more than a surface understanding of the continent’s musical history and vocabulary but we thought the rhythms of these songs might be identifiable to the Okari students. Still, the melodies were likely not familiar to their ears and the students dove into the challenge of our music with a passion and enthusiasm that was wonderful.
Melanie is a fanciful tune written by our friends Mark Brickman and Al Joseph. While the verses have a nursery-rhyme like quality (“Melanie my niece/went down by the geese/How many eggs can you lay?), the chorus at the end of the song veers into the transcendent (“Dreams come from your heart, little darling”) and to hear the students sing it all around school that day, while walking to their dorms or sitting in the dining hall, it took on a whole new level of meaning. And one kid came up to me after recording it and said, “What is a Nantucket?”
The Okari singers’ talents really shine through when performing their own traditional songs, many of them Gospel hymns or traditional chants which often have a dance component as well. During our trip to the school we recorded more than 30 songs ranging from intimate duets to boisterous songs of spiritual struggle and triumph sung by full choirs. We also recorded a number of songs about Kenya by Michael Wambua, a friend of Bill’s from his first trip to Kenya, with Grimis serving as his backup band. But you’ll hear all of that in due time. We are planning a full-length record and film screening for sometime in 2011.
Another thought on what brought us to Kenya. In 2004, at the end of my tenure on the AYS Youth Council, about two dozen students and the AYS staff drove down to the beach at Pomps Pond late one night and my peers and I were presented with wool hoodies. On the back of the sweatshirt was a drawing of a tree and beneath it a quotation: “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” I had somehow misplaced this sweatshirt–castaway in one of many moves in recent years from dorm rooms, hotels, hostels, loft apartments. While I was back home for a day packing my belongings for Kenya I shuffled stuff around in the back of my closet and found that shirt again.
Here we are six years down the road. Still chasing down dreams. Still planting trees.
November 17, 2010 § 3 Comments
My time in Maasailand is dwindling and my new friends are making the final days truly count. I have recorded several choirs in the past few days. Many of the songs are traditional Maasai songs and some gospel songs. It has proven very difficult to find a perfect venue for recording. There are constant high winds in this area that shake the tin roofs of the buildings causing a thundrous roar and the windows only serve their fundamental purpose of viewing but not as a barrier to wind or outside sound. I’ve decided that these elements will just make the recordings more “real” and “true” to the nature of the songs as this is the environment in which they have always been sung. At least that is what I will think to ease my mind during recordings. The choirs sound wonderful, though. The songs are beautiful and the voices are wonderful and unique to my ear. I enjoy watching the kids imitate traditional Maasai dancing while they sing with their heads bobbing. It seems hard for some of them to refrain from dancing while they sing.
Joseph took me on a fantastic motor bike ride after a long and loud church service (9:30am – 3:00pm) that I had to witness from outside for the health of my ear drums (The Maasai know how to rock a church). The ride went from the west side of the Ngong hills in the Great Rift Valley, where I have been living, all the way around to the east side and back in a big circle. It was amazing to see the differences between the two sides. The western side is cast by a rain shadow, as the clouds hit the eastern slope of the hills, so it is very dry and arid with a lot of dust and cacti. The eastern side is so green and full of plant life with many plant nurseries sprinkled about both side of the streets. I have been reading Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa, her autobiography on her time living on a coffee plantation in the early 1900′s at the eastern foot of the Ngong hills. It was great to see the area that she was writing about almost 100 years ago and how much it has changed since. Joseph told me that he wanted just to take a ride and “relax our minds” after a long week and that he wanted me to see all of the contrast in geography around his home. As we were nearing home at twilight he stopped the bike and pointed to some cliffs. He had remembered that I told him that I really wanted to see a baboon before I left and as I watched, I saw that the cliffs were covered with baboons climbing down rock cracks and jumping quite a distance into the trees and back into little caves in the cliffs.
I thought that I had a pretty good grip on what day to day life was for the Maasai until I got tossed a curve ball yesterday. I went for a walk with Joseph’s neighbor, Victor, to the valley across the main road. We stopped at an acacia tree with walls of shrub built up around it up to the branches creating a large tree-dwelling with a small entrance in the back. On the way in I saw that the outside was littered with various animal bones. This dwelling was for the Maasai warriors during their stints of eating a diet of just meat and blood to gather energy and strength in preparation for the hunt of lions. There were little tent-like structures for sleeping made of sticks and grasses and a shelf in the branches made from sticks and brush where the meat would be kept away from animals. In the side was a small fire pit where they would cook all of the meat. After a short time there we continued to the cliffs where Victor brought me to a cave large enough to fit for or five people. The floor of it was covered with green leaves to serve as bedding and there was a place for a fire on the side. The cave overlooked the dry valley below. I could have stayed there for a number of days comfortably but, after a little while of taking in the view, Victor said that we should go to his house for a cup of soup. We went for soup.
When we got to Victor’s house I met his father, draped in a traditional Maasai blanket with ear lobes stretched and hanging low. He was carving the wood that would eventually be given to Joseph’s wife Cecilia to be covered in bead work and sold as a talking stick. We sat outside near a shroud of trees for some shade with a black cauldron, bubbling green, over a fire in front of us. There were some other men there waiting for the soup to boil down and to be consumed. They kept adding water and waiting for it to boil down further. Eventually they deemed it ready and began taking objects out of the boiling broth. Victor asked if I wanted to eat some meat and I said “Yeah sure, i could eat a bit of meat.” The first thing lifted from the pot: A goat head with skin, eyes, and all except for the hair that was removed earlier. The pot also had a couple other goat parts, maybe an elbow? and several pieces of the roots of the acacia tree. Victor’s dad grabbed the boiled goat’s head and a knife and slit the head right down the middle and peeled the meat and skin off to both sides until it was just a skull left. He carved up the pieces of goat and started to hand it out. I decided this was an experience that I would not have again in the near future so I joined them and ate some of the meat. I ended up tasting the meat of a goat face, some goat skin, and a piece of goat tongue that made my mouth water profusely. After the meat was given out and all parts were consumed (I watched as a man took the eye balls out of the skull and toss them in his mouth), the men prepared the soup with a stirring utensil that they spin with the palms of their hands and two pots, pouring the broth back and forth many times. Victor told me that it would be very strong because it is filled with many good medicines. He told me it would wash my blood and give me lots of energy, it is what the men in the tree-dwelling would eat to prepare for their hunt of lions. I thought, “That is awesome, I have to try this stuff. I already ate some goat face, now let’s have some goat’s head soup!” I couldn’t help but think of the time Dave told me that he was listening to a Rolling Stones album entitled “Goat’s Head Soup” and I thought it was such a dumb album title and that they had just made up a gross soup to be edgy and “rock n’ roll.” Boy was I wrong. Sorry for doubting you, Mr. Jagger. We sat for a while and sipped on the green broth, which was quite strong, but I found it tolerable. After I finished Victor told me I would find that I will feel much more energized, I should pee straighter, and that I should feel that my blood has been washed. I did feel a bit strange a while after having the soup and I will be keeping tabs on my energy levels for the next few days, though I did find Victor passed out in the manyatta about an hour after drinking the soup.
The Maasai have been wonderful to me and have given me so many stories to tell and experiences that I will always remember. They have told me that I am part of the family and that I, and any friends, will be welcomed back any time. The kids even gave me a Maasai name: Leshan, which means “born in the rain.” I will miss all of my new friends and family but I also look forward to heading south on Sunday to South Africa. I can’t imagine that it could match my time in Kenya, but here’s to hoping it will be. I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving in the U.S. This will be my second Thanksgiving out of the continent. The first one consisted of falafel, mashed potatoes, and green beans. So try to save me some leftovers this time around.
November 15, 2010 § 1 Comment
The kids were more than willing to help when Tony begun prepping the walls in the soon-to-be art/music room in the new building at the Okari School. They did an awesome job and at the end of painting the walls they cleaned the brushes without being asked.
They school had hired local workers to build the new building. The furniture maker here was working on a half dozen large tables. It’s an interesting concept to have the tables be made on site. In most towns in rural Kenya there would be a section where you would have a handful of furniture makers shops all in a row, working with no electricity. At the end of the row would usually be a small lumber shop, selling the materials they would need. It reminds me of the way chairs were made in Paris a long time ago. They had all of the specialists working right near each other; a wood worker here, wood carver there, finisher here and upholsterer there. It’s quite efficient.
Our driver, Alex, was with us for most of the trip bringing us safely from one place to the next. Kenya doesn’t have the same infrastructure as we’re used to in the USA. Many of the roads are rough, clogged with slow moving and poor running trucks, and too small for their heavy use. Passing is done regularly. Coming within seconds from a head on collision is the way of life. Drivers communicate through a language of horn honks, hi-beam flashes and strange hand gestures I couldn’t figure out. When you come to a township in rural areas there will be speed bumps in the middle of the fast moving road, usually with no sign to warn the driver. I was thankful to feel relaxed with Alex at the wheel.