Carried away by music

Cameroonian band and owners of Le Massai restaurant

Yesterday at 1PM I was invited to play some music in an African restaurant called Le Massai, a 5 mins walk from my hotel residence. When I showed up with my guitar in hand, a band of Cameroonian musicians were sitting round a table waiting to have a short jam session. The friendly owners of the restaurant introduced me to them, and told me to sit between them and, music maestro! I felt a little overwhelmed as I wasn’t at all sure what we were going to play together, but after 2 or 3 mins of tinkering around, we found some common ground and improvised harmoniously all together. It was great fun, entrancing, pleasing, different, exotic for me, and seemed to please the clients and the owners too, who requested ”more!” as soon as we finished our first song.

The owners of the restaurant had seen me with my guitar the previous evening – I had met Rachel and Grace there for dinner at Le Massai before going to Rachel’s house for a BBQ party. They were instantly very enthused by my apparent musicianship and immediately invited me to come to the restaurant the following day to play for them. After the jam with the musicians, I chatted quite a while the two owners who were very pleased with the performance, they offered me a drink, and I was even told come to the restaurant whenever to hang out or eat for free. I spent the earlier part of the afternoon with them, helping them close for lunch and speaking about all sorts of things, such as the benefits of travel, the release music can offer people, etc…

The band also were very enthused by this different sort of jam session, gave me one of their CDs, and insisted on having photos taken of us all together. They were a trio – two percussionists, and one guy played what I can best describe as a hand made mini steel guitar. It made a fantastic sound – unfortunately I do not remember the name of the instrument as it was very difficult to pronounce! Anyway, what a great afternoon full of new discoveries and musical treats!

Goziéval, the carnival in Gosier

I went back to the room to put my guitar down, and could here the drumming and energy of the Goziéval, Gosier’s very own carnival beginning to sound from the town’s streets. I headed out there late afternoon, watched the parades, followed some, went up and down the town’s center… The West Indies carnivals are full of stands which sell sweets, bon-bons, popcorn, candy-floss, lollipops, sodas, beers, and these special cold treats which consist of crushed ice and colorful flavored syrups served in plastic cups. And of course, there are the famous snack stands, which sell Agoulous, regular sandwiches and the infamous Bokits – very filling and delicious sandwiches made with deep fried bread. All these stands sell their treats at incredibly low prices, and people munch on the snacks as the groups parade by. I have never in my life been to something so unique.

The groups that parade by are always full to the brim with energy, rhythm, sound, percussion, lively dancing, incredible costumes. One large group which I followed with much enthusiasm boasted recycled costumes – hats made with plastic bottles, belts made with bottle caps. I thought this was very representative of island culture. If the beat of a particular group really gets you going, you can decide to follow it and let yourself be carried away by the music.

BBQ party

These past days I have met Rachel’s housemates and fellow ERASMUS friends – all doing really interesting things like medical studies, english teaching jobs, being part of travel associations… It is really nice to meet fellow keen travelers and hear their takes on cultural differences, political observations, fun tips and advice on what to visit, who to meet, what to do with your spare time. It is also heart-warming to see all different types of cultural backgrounds and nationalities blend together so well – this is one of the things I appreciate so much about our generation: the eagerness a lot of us have to travel, communicate, understand and learn about each other.

I have another week left in Guadeloupe – next Monday I fly to Martinique, the final destination of my incredible tropical journey…

Is this for real?!

Buddhist temple in Paia

It was on Tuesday night that I was invited by Ras to go to a ‘special concert’. I wasn’t really sure until that night what type of concert it was, so when I got into the car with Ras and our neighbour Poney, who had invited Ras and I from the outset, I asked what kind of music we were going to be listening to.

Poney said ”Oh no, it’s not a concert, it’s more of an exclusive jam session”. She went on to explain as we drove up the Maui mountains, that this jam session was hosted every Tuesday in a house that belonged to a married couple. The guy who owns the house has a renovated garage type thing, where he has special guest musicians show up all the time, namely Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, and others!! Wow.

So when we arrived, there were about 10/15 people there, and the room looked like something out of a 1960’s movie. It had couches, peace symbols, Buddhas, incense smoke, many many guitars, drums, amplifiers, maracas, keyboards, posters, disco balls, the works everywhere! I was very warmly welcomed by Divino, a long haired bearded man who owned the place. He even greeted me to the jam by waving sage incense around me before they started making music! There were weed pipes and joints being smoked away all over the place.

After about a 20 mins tuning session, maybe another 20 people showed up. Mostly hippie looking men and women in their 50s. There were a few youngsters about my age around too.

When the music started I was absolutely blown away by the quality of sound and the professional experience and talent that came out of these instruments and singers. The songs they played had a kind of Santana sound to them. It was all improvised – there were a few covers, namely Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick In the Wall’, which was truly excellent. Divino acted as a sort of chef d’orchestre, as well as playing his twelve string guitar, and would signal when the tone should go down or up, or would go over to one musician in parts and really get them fired up.

It was an amazing experience, to see and participate in this. I was only a guest, and was not asked to go up and play guitar or sing, but I never would have had the guts anyway. This was a level of musicianship that I have not yet attained! I played along with a couple of djembés I found lying around a few times, but that was it. And even that felt awesome because I felt part of this amazing band!

I didn’t take any photos or film – I really wanted to – but I did not see anyone else do this, and I figured it was way too exclusive an event to just start snapping shoots at people.

At the end, everyone gathered by holding hands, and there was a small speech given by Divino. He thanked ‘Mother Maui’ for all this great energy, and all the love and talent that reigned throughout the night. It was like a blessing ceremony, or similar to saying Grace before a meal… Something that I am not at all accustom to, but that fascinates me nonetheless. It was very hippie-ish, but hippie-ish in a kind of 30 years ago kind of way, which I thought was so much fun. I am very happy to have had the opportunity to witness something like that, and to perhaps be part of it again!

I met a younger guy there, a 22 year old dread-lock hippie looking boy, green clothes, who lives on nothing, and spends most of his days hunting and picking fruit in Maui’s jungles. He said that he would be able to help me out if I ran out of money and didn’t have any food, which was nice of him. Anyway, his name is Crafty. When I heard his name, I thought wow… so, I’ve come to this amazing place with this person called Poney, and have been greeted by the chef d’orchestre with great connections called Divino, and met a young hippie who can get me free stuff called Crafty…!

I couldn’t help but think when I was back in my bed that night that all this sounds like something out of a book! All the characters are named carefully to suit their different roles. So then I started asking myself whether I’m actually insane, and just inventing this whole Hawaiian adventure in my head, because I’ve been dreaming about it for so long. LOL.

Settling in

It was a stunning day today in Maui! Sunshine, warmth and good vibes!

Yesterday evening I met Ina, Brendan’s boyfriend from Samoa who came to the yoga shala to pick up a few things from Brendan’s room. He is a surf instructor and is in the process of trademarking his own surfing brand called ‘Boobie Shack’. (Contrary to what you may think, ‘boobie’ actually refers to the boobie bird, a bird with flippers and a rare capacity to dive into the water from the surface of the water. Most birds have to dive from a few feet high…) He has cleverly chosen the word ‘boobie’ to attract attention, and is doing very well. His logos are awesome. He said he would give me a hat, and surf lessons for free!

Ina's jeep

We got talking and as soon as I mentioned I played guitar and sung, he insisted I come chill with some of his Polynesian friends and have a little jam session with them, Polynesian style. So we jumped into his yellow open-air Jeep, and we cruised up to his friends’ place with loud music blazing! He gave me the half of his delicious dinner wrap, which I ate on the way. Such a friendly guy, he kept asking me if I was alright, if I was warm enough, if I needed a drink and that he had some carrot juice in the Jeep if need be! LOL. He has such a positive friendly vibe to him.

After a 20 mins cruise up the hills of Maui, we arrived. Their chill room was mind blowing. I was stunned at what a great spot this was: very spacious, with plenty of couches, cushions, soft carpet, a large fridge and a big TV. He mixed his ‘Kavah’ – a Polynesian drink which is essentially a mix of roots and water, placed in a very large wooden bowl (bucket size) in the middle of the room. He explained that it acts as a sort of muscle tranquilizer, and that it relaxes you without you feeling out of control. At first I was a bit apprehensive, as I am admittedly with anything like that. However, once I began drinking this muddy water, I realized that the stuff was completely harmless and actually made me feel great. Relaxed, mellow, optimistic and completely in control of what I was thinking and saying. Aaaaah, very nice.

part of the chill room

Four people joined us in different successions and drank Kavah with us: a Samoan lady with her 9 year old daughter, a Fijian and a Tongan. The two dudes played guitar and sang with us. It was one of the best jam sessions I’ve had in a long time. Everyone in harmony. I played along with them when they played traditional Polynesian songs, and fell in love with their soothing music.

Two things struck me as I listened to them discuss and talk:

One – the Fijian guy was talking about a friend he was concerned about who had developed a bloodshot eye and bad health symptoms. He reckoned it was because he drinks spirits instead of just sticking to beer. He said he didn’t understand why people drink spirits, and even asked me if I knew what spirits were… He explained that those things can’t be good for your insides, and probably effect your liver and other internal organs. The other guys all nodded and agreed as they sipped the Kavah.

Two – Ina was talking about how this group of very loud Americans from Las Vegas had come into the surf shop to get lessons. He described them as wearing lots of make up and wearing small revealing bikinis. He said that they were loud and rude and kept ‘throwing money’ everywhere, demanding for receipts and special care. He said, and I quote, ”these girls had tight bodies, and their boobs were up to here – it was disgusting”. I was expecting him to say ”they were hot!”, but no…

So, here I was with these older Polynesian guys (in their 30s), playing excellent music and very happily imbibing their culture of respect and positivity. The talked of respect for elders, how Jack Johnson was such a good man, how we should organize a BBQ next weekend and watch the rugby World Cup.

These are the moments that I have been waiting for. This understanding is what I have been searching for. I feel so at home with this culture 🙂