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jamie catto road-journal -- the second world tour after "1 giant leap" -- this time it's "2sides 2everything"

Saturday, November 27, 2004

day 1

Woke up feeling gummy but well rested. Sekou our local fixer met us in the hotel breakfast 7800cf (£8!!) and we began to discuss our schedule. Ben is ill upstairs and said he needed a day off so Josh did his best to film the meeting. It’s times like this that realise how implicitly I trust Ben and no one else to film what we do. Nothing in particular wrong with Josh, it’s just Ben knows exactly what we need covered.

It turned out that Touareg country, where Tinariwen are from, is a flight away at £100 each (not in the budget!) and the Dogon which is amazingly picturesque and indigenous is a 800km drive. Oh well. Maybe we’ll just send Josh there with his camera. He’s itching to be asked.

However, loads of good news as far as Bamoko artists is concerned so we set off to meet some people to set up some sessions, introduce ourselves, and get the lay of the land.

First stop was a courtyard full of djembe drums in all stages of creation, from the chopped tree trunks piled high at the back, to almost drum-shaped lumps being savaged by the younger, unskilled apprentices with their L-shaped choppers, to older squatting figures smoothing and finessing the drums ready for the skins. Around all these figures there were little kids picking their ways among the shavings to bring home bits of firewood in grubby buckets.

Next, at one of the Academy des Arts, buildings constructed under the order of the old President who made centres for the young musicians and storytellers of Mali to live and grow in their arts together (a wonderful long term view that given Mali’s superior musical tradition has paid off massively!) we met, sitting under a shady tree in the 40 degree heat, the Father of Mali Ballet who explained how Mali dance is full of spontaneity and the rising of spirit and how too much order and steps ruins true dancing. The Boss of the place said he’d consider us coming back to do a session with all the young musicians and we went to find some lunch, but not before bumping into an old story-teller friend of Sekou’s who introduced us to the three women behind him as if they were his three wives. “I sleep two nights with her,” he said pointing to one, “two nights with her,” pointing to the next, “and sleep two nights with her,” to the last. “But one night,” he finished “I sleep alone. I must get some rest!” They all hit him and made gestures of denial to me.

Having worked a bit at the hotel, organising spread sheets for our pernickety company accountants, (one for Hotels, one for Sessions, one for Cash etc) and arranging my numerous lists into colour co-ordinated bliss, it was suddenly dinner time. Duncan had met a cool looking guy called Musa in the street as he was looking for us and had arranged to hear him sing at The Savannah restaurant this evening, so off we went, only to find no singer, dreadful boney-M house music and gorgeous waitresses with silver wigs. We ate dinner in animated conversation until he turned up as we were leaving and we said we’d see him tomorrow. Phew – day 1.

Friday, November 26, 2004

dunkan and djami

My head was absolutely fried when we left for Mali this morning. I’d dropped Indy at school, and even though I’m seeing her in 24 days, the separation trauma floored me and I howled all the way home into Jessica’s arms. She’s used to it. I left her half an hour later amidst packing boxes and gaffer tape. Lola Mae was doing her best to help the workmen but at 10 months all she could do was get confused about how she’s stuck her fingers together with the tape. She was sitting there trying to work out how to get out of her predicament for ages until we rescued her and kissed our goodbye’s.

When I got to Ben’s brother’s flat where he and Duncan were ready to go I was sobbing again. All caught on camera. How embarrassing. I remember feeling nothing for Duncan on that level when he cried as we left for Senegal last time, I just though ‘this’ll be good footage!’ Well maybe it will be.

My mind was distracted pretty soon by a deep discussion with D about how we were making the film. I was arguing that the kind of info I envisage being in the ‘War and Peace’ chapter, and the ‘Rich and Poor’, mostly the kind of stuff Naomi Klein talked about yesterday in her interview and Noreena Hertz (my old school friend) gave us last week. That the people of Iraq are paying us back the money we lent Sadam to buy weapons from us which he used on them, pretty sick. That foreign aid dictates that Senegal, for instance, has to sell us all their companies, peanut farms etc. if they want aid from us. How Peru couldn’t afford to spend the money it needed to on clean water because of the money they were paying us back and so a cholera outbreak occurred killing thousands…etc etc.. D rightly worried that that info in isolation isn’t enough , it’s how ‘people’ everywhere are behaving and becoming that is the point, NOT the usual liberal West-bashing. I agreed but maintained there was some stuff that just had to be in there nevertheless. There are 2 sides to that one.

On check-in we were hit by Air France for £475 excess baggage, 34kg over we were. There’s been some wrangling over this in recent contractual meetings as I put no provision in the budget for this. I texted our Company contact Sue ‘First Blood – Air France £475’. And when we were on the plane I started worrying about whether we’d made the right decision about having no carnets this time. When you enter a country with expensive looking stuff you usually give a list to customs to show you’re leaving with what you came with and aren’t selling it on the black market and fucking up their economy. Last time declaring all this stuff usually created more delays and problems so we thought we’d skip it this time, but in my exhausted mind I linked this to us also have zero permission to film in these places and wondered if we were going to get everything confiscated before we got off the ground.

We got to Mali in the dark of night and that warm, sweet rush of African air hit me in the face as they opened the plane doors. The smell lets you know you’re far from home, a kind of sweet, air-conditioned, echoey smell. The queue was massive and we stood there bent under our massively heavy hand luggage, cameras, computers, tape stock etc. getting ready for the long, African wait. Suddenly, out of nowhere a grinning face appeared brandishing a handmade sign which read ‘Dunkan and Djami’ – we were so happy there was someone there to look after us and this guy was gorgeous! He whisked us through passports and out of the airport to two waiting taxis. As we left the air-conditioned building again the usual sixty helpers crowded round the trolleys each trying to justify 1000cf by resting a finger on a bag between the arrivals hall and the boot of the car. It happens every time and is not really aggressive but it still freaks me out a bit being so crowded out.

It was so exhilarating driving off into the Mali night towards the hotel. We’d made it with no bag or equipment losses, no panic attacks, and immense optimism. OK, as usual the first hotel ‘La Dafina’ wasn’t quite for us (even though it was recommended by Damon Albarn from Blur) and it was a bit of a number extricating ourselves from the booking, but eventually we were in the Sofitel and looking for omelette. I realised as we were checking in that I had no cash for the drivers and asked the hotel staff if they could front us the money and put it on our bill which caused a slightly edgy conversation later with Josh, our camera 2 for this leg, who’s lived in Gabon for the last three years and felt he had to remind me that white people lording it over the workers here, and asking for money for cabs which would probably be a sackable offence, no food for their families etc for a month, was iffy. I said I didn’t think I was doing that, I was only asking if they could put the money on my bill or take my passport or something, but anyway, good to have someone reminding us/me that we guests in someone else’s culture.

The vodka was £5 a shot though, more than both cabs added up. 2 sides.