Bangladesh

We’re in one of the poorest, most congested countries on earth. What a trip! The people are so nice you can’t believe it. There is virtually no tourism. I took our bandleader Charlie out for a trip since I had been scoping the scene for a few days. I started by taking him on a little boat ride to the slum across the lake. I had been told not to go in there so what do I do? I went in full camera, video, wallet and an entourage of young kids, some who were swimming in the massively polluted lake w hand just crossed. We didn’t ask for the extras but I guess we were interesting and they were not begging so we let them come along.

It was just minutes before we met an English speaking teen who invited him to his family’s pad. I knew it would be interesting and I had never been in a Bengali household or even close. Twas very cool indeed. As we walked into their estate we first saw a lady cooking outside over a fire and then there were ducks and baby ducks and then the beach littered with kids as well as garbage. Lots of fishermen, presumably relatives or neighbors.

Charlie started explaining to a quickly growing crowd of people what we do while took pictures of the area. It was pretty cool as everyone had smiles on their faces yet very sobering seeing that kind of poverty first hand.

It wasn’t but 5 minutes later and Charlie had the whole gang singing some call and response and clapping on 2 and 4. after about 15-10 minutes we decided to head on our journey for some clothes shopping not far a way. The temperature was over 100 F so we jumped on a Rickshaw for a few minutes to get to the shopping street quickly so we could hydrate before we ended up dehydrated white boys. After getting some water we realized that all the clothing stores were closed even though it was Sunday. The embassy staff told use that Sunday was their Monday but in some hoods they forced a change in that policy to reduce traffic and with all the obviously starving kids and infants we had seen, we decided to load up a rickshaw with fruit(mainly Litchi, Bannana’s and mango) We hired a guy to pedal us and a young sidekick (8 years old?) around for an hour so we could check out the city and go to poor places and hand out food. Our target was children. Our driver really only spoke a few words of English but he figured out what we were up to after a while and really helped us out. Our sidekick really stepped up his game as well when he got some food in him and he too realized what we were doing so he was helping out along the way. Our First stop was a small group of really young kids and it was pretty obvious they were hungry.

The next big stop was about 1k further. We spotted some hungry ones pretty close to our hotel. A crowd grew rapidly and soon Charlie was playing flutes w a local flute builder and I was playing drums with 2 rocks on the the bell of the Rickshaw. You really couldn’t find even one stick in this city. It was all used for firewood for cooking. The crowd started to block traffic and we had finally had to split after about 10-15 minutes. We also fed quite a pile of kids! What a great feeling! I know you can’t feed them all but we kept it micro in a way.

Our next stop was a fruit stand. We had to replenish out fruit supply and our sidekick was really starting to dig this operation. He started warming up to Charlie at this point as you can see in the pics.

Our next stop was the mother slum and I had been there before and knew they really needed food. The driver stepped in and helped distribute the fruit.  We are talking some really poor people that really needed food for their baby’s and kids. Muslim moms are not usually  posing for the camera but they were so happy they were asking us to take pictures, so I did. Here are a few from our final stop.

Here is a video below of our whole day for those who want a more complete picture of our day. Turkey next, and not just the big cities, we will be near Syria and will be thinking of Maher Arar! Cheers Jon

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“Halfway point wrap-up” by Adam Birnbaum

As of today we have completed our programs in India and Sri Lanka and are enjoying a much needed off day in Mumbai before heading to Bangladesh.

The differences between India and Sri Lanka are surprisingly stark. This was evident from the window of the plane before we even landed in Columbo. Sri Lanka has managed to preserve much of the natural beauty of its land and does not seem nearly as overcrowded as India. This has a strong effect on daily life. India, at least in the cities we visited, was one frenetic struggle after another to outrace or outhussel the next guy. This was quite taxing even in the short time we were there. Everyone you encounter is grabbing your luggage from you trying to earn a tip, selling you junk on the side of the road, or offering you an insider’s tour of whatever you happen to be staring at (always as a gesture of goodwill at first, and then only later revealed to have been for an exorbitant fee). This freneticism was only compounded by the unrelentless heat and humidity, incessant traffic, and enormous swarms of people everywhere you go.

In Sri Lanka the pace is slower, the traffic sparser, and the aggressiveness much toned down. We noticed especially in the children at the clinics a reluctance to speak or participate at all which was quite a far cry from the aggressive tone that pervades Indian culture. This slower pace was much appreciated after the first week and a half of the tour. This is not to say that Sri Lanka is some kind of idyllic paradise. All along the streets we saw trash piles on the ground, often accompanied by groups of cows grazing over them. We also saw a large stretch of barren land along the coast on the drive to Galle that had been devastated by the tsunami of 2004, still yet to be rebuilt almost 6 years later.

However the visual highlight of the tour for me so far was the Lighthouse Hotel in Galle, situated above a bluff of rocks overlooking the ocean. Here the sound of waves against the rocks is a constant soundtrack to the views from the balcony of endless ocean. It’s the kind of place you can just sit and stare and completely lose track of time, which was the perfect prescription after the freneticism of that first stretch in India.

-Adam

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Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka (Colombo) May 29th

Right off the plane were heaps of duty free stores; the thing was they were selling stoves, refrigerators, washers, dryers and any other large appliance you can think of. I was wondering, “do you carry this stuff on?” The other thing that really stuck out at me was a sign at immigration saying “possession of illegal drugs carries the death penalty” We had a bit of a hard time getting into Sri Lanka. We sat in front of customs for about an hour while our expediter and Jasna negotiated our entry. I think they finally called the big guns at the embassy and had an official letter faxed over guaranteeing we would leave with all of our gear and not sell it. The customs agent was just being a dick because he could see that we had an entire tour booked. Why would we spend thousands of dollars to travel across the world to sell some old drums, a baby bass and a keyboard?

Immediately after leaving customs it became very clear that Sri Lanka was a cleaner, more relaxed country than India and the streets were relatively quiet; the drivers did not honk every 5 seconds just for the hell of it. It reminded me or Surinam because of the Dutch influence mixed with a Caribbean vibe and because there seemed to be many religions such as Buddhism, Hindu, Muslim all living in harmony. As far as weather goes; Hot and humid. Very Humid!

Our hotel in the capital of this civil war ravaged country was one of the coolest hotels I have ever seen. I will try and post a few pictures to give an idea; very elegant and friendly with an espresso bar in the lobby, witch in my book makes a 5 star hotel 6 stars! Especially since it was open until midnight! They were also sporting a kind of close encounters of the third kind type of artwork next to the lobby.

I was really on a sleep deprivation deal when we arrived at around 2:30 pm and we had a gig in the hotel at 7pm so decided to drop my luggage in the room and bolt for food. The first place I found was a seafood restaurant in the hotel and since we were on the water I would test the seafood scene. The joint was closed but I talked them into making me a quick meal. I simply requested something with rice and seafood with a local twist and boy did it ever pay off! This was by far some of the best seafood I have ever had. It was a stir fried rice with prawns, squid and crab and then a special spicy coconut sauce on the side which could be applied to taste. It was certainly spicy and I immediately found the chef for a bit of guidance on the recipe. Rice and veggies, in palm oil add fish and soy sauce for the stir fry and then, garlic, scallions, fine chopped onions, Cumin, Curry leaves (not found in most Indian curry’s) coconut milk, tumeric, chili’s, mustard seed and optional Ginger. You pretty much don’t need much coconut milk in the sauce and the chili is to taste. One other note; it may be that you can quickly fry the seafood in a separate vessel and then add to the stir fry at the end to avoid over cooking the seafood.

It was at this joint that I scoped a beer menu and found out that there is a local brewery and this would mark our first chance at drinkable beer since embarking on this long journey. After this amazing meal I hit the hay for an hour so I could make it through the gig. 3 hours of sleep and a flight from India was not going to cut it.

The gig was in the hotel and outdoors in a beautiful setting under just a roof. The crowd included locals, hotel guests, embassy workers, military, animal trainers, local musicians kids and even a bunch of crows in the trees behind the cabana; they were very excited when we did a popular Sri Lankan song about peace that was made famous by the Gypsies, a local band.

May 30th

Our day started out with an early morning hit at the worlds only US embassy owned private clubhouse. It was a property bought by a lady that had embezzled big money out of the US government via the Embassy. When she was caught they seized the property and made an exception to the rule that the state department can’t own recreational property. In our case it was used for an early morning music workshop for local musicians. There were quite a few good musicians that attended and we even had a few of them join us on our gig later that night. After the gig in the evening at the hotel Charlie brought it to our attention that the Gypsies were playing a private party in the hotel just 100 yards away so we crashed the event! The guitar player that sat in with us knew the band so he had them play the song we covered. It was pretty amazing that they would end up at our hotel the same night we were playing. Anyhow they sounded really good, it was almost an African meets Mexican and Andies flute vibe. Kind of 12/8 but also strait 8th, for all the musicians reading the blog.

May 31st (Galle)

We are off to Galle bright and early. I think 8:30 is when we left. Galle is a coastal city in southwestern Sri Lanka and it took us about 3-4 hours by van. We managed to make an interesting stop for an orange coconut, which is my favorite color so I had to try it and it was delicious!

The trip was absolutely beautiful yet kind of a bummer as we passed through the tsunami hit coast. It seemed like things were fine until about half way down to Galle it became very apparent that they were hit hard and were still recovering. We even stopped by a memorial for the tragic  train accident where the tsunami wave took out an entire train of people. I think it was somewhere in the thousand people dead range. Really too bad since this area is not even in a direct path of the wave. It seems to have wrapped around the island or something.

We arrived at the hotel at 12:30 on the nose just as our culture officer Glen had predicted. I thought the cinnamon grand hotel was kick ass but the Lighthouse hotel we checked into in Galle was absolutely breathtaking! Just one big art museum perched on the bluffs above the open ocean.

We did a gig at a medical school later in the evening and it was a tough sell but we finally won the crowd over. It was perhaps one of the most terrible sounding concert halls I have ever played but despite the sound quality we managed to salvage a concert out of the ordeal.

After the concert we tore the gear down and opted for local food rather than the hotel thanks to the advice of a local. Perhaps the dean of the medical school who was keen on jazz? After driving around in search of “lady hill” a hotel with some of the best local food, we finally located upper Dickson road where the 19th century mansion resides. The restaurant was closed but the chef decided our group of 6 was big enough to fire things up again. We climbed up 4 flights of stairs to a little bar with an open air view of the city and the ocean. We were joined by our culture affairs officers, Glen Davis and Aruni his local assistant. Glen and Aruni turned out to be some of the greatest people one could have hoped to be working with overseas; they both seem to really believe in what they do and Glen is a great yoga teacher and ex-literature professor. We shot the shit and drank some good local beers for a while the food was being prepared; basically chilled out and enjoyed the lizards and awesome views. The food arrived and was completely amazing! Prawns, Currys, sambals  etc…all cooked in the local style.

After the meal we were all pretty tired so we headed back to our own castle. I managed to slip in some night photography as the hotel had placed big candles along the beach and the waves were crashing nicely for some good long exposure shots. After a good half hour on the beach I turned in and it seemed like as soon as my head hit the pillow it was time to get up again.

June 1st (Galle)

I guess I wandered down to breakfast around 9:30 am and fueled up for some beach walking as we had the day off until 12:30 or so. I saw some interesting animal life including little speedy crabs, chip monks, lizards and a whole migration of hermit crabs. They seemed to be trucking down the side of the hill towards the beach as if they had been feasting up at the hotel all night and were returning to the sea for the day. I bolted away from the hotel beaches even though the place was empty and met some local cats. Some kid I met helped me acquire a red coconut from a tree on the beach. I tried climbing it as well but realized after getting a third of the way up that coming down was going to be a bit tricky and my backpack was making my center of gravity a bit shady for tree climbing.

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“Concert in Hyderabad, India” by Charlie Porter

Our first concert of the tour was in Hyderabad, India at the Taj Krishna. We began the concert with a song titled “Initiation Song” which is an adaptation of an Australian Aboriginal Wongga tribal melody that is used to initiate secular ceremonies. The original melody (voice) is accompanied by didgeridoo and clapsticks. I harmonized the melody and then added a bridge, interlude and a variation of the melody in the mixolydian mode.

The concert was a great success. I will post some more videos soon. Enjoy!

-Charlie

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“Catching up…” by Charlie Porter

Wow, so much has happened since our last blog! In addition to some new tour footage (food, scenery, shopping, sights, and more taxis!) we have some footage of our concerts in Hyderabad and Kochi and some special footage from a performance of Kathakali musicians and a Kathakali actor! There is so much to blog about as well. Unfortunately, we did not have internet access for the last few days, but now that we do again, I’m going to start catching up by posting a vid of some footage from Hyderabad. Concert footage coming soon!

The last week has been amazing! More posts to come, very soon! Jon will be uploading a bunch ASAP as well.

Charlie

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“JFK, New Deli, Hyderabad” by Jon Wikan

May 21st 2010 New Deli (scroll down for video)

Our flight to New Deli was quite smooth despite a few mess ups by Delta airlines who could not seem to handle the task of processing 10 bags that the band has to shlep halfway across the world. All together our flights ended up being around 16 hours thanks to sitting on the runway for several hours at the congested JFK international. Door to door including a stop in Amsterdam I suppose it was about 21 hours. We were met by an expediter just inside immigration which earned us a spot in the diplomat line. Within 5 minutes we were moving on to baggage claim. Adam and Jasna’s suitcases where both missing, however all of the gear arrived safely. The guards at customs gave us a bit of a hassle but Charlie and I broke out some gear and played the Indian national anthem. Nice applause and away we went no more questions asked! Within a short while we were perched in our hotel restaurant for some overpriced Indian food. At this point it was 1am the day after we departed JFK. 9 ½ hours ahead of New York time. Why the half hour? I have no idea but it messed me up at first.

May 22nd 2010 New Deli

After a semi decent 6 hours of rest I was awaken by the sound of horns, motorcycles and cars. I looked out my window and I was looking at one of the busiest freeways I have ever seen. I thought “wow, 4 star hotel, business class room with a major highway within rock throwing distance”. I had to wonder why they would put their guests that arrived that late against the freeway. Later that evening I would be told the hotel is completely full to capacity and that I could not move after being promised a quiet room. I began explaining to the front desk man in my slightly persistent/urgent tone that that another night of not sleeping was not going to work at all for me. Suddenly there was a room across the hall from mine and porter joined me for a quick transfer.

The band met for a full on world class breakfast. We embraced the local cusine and had the chef fire us up a Dosa platter. I am not even sure what it is but wow was it good! Especially with masala tea. We would say “chai” tea in the states but chai means tea in India so we are essentially saying “tea tea”. So this marks my commitment to spread the word and start calling it spiced tea or Masala tea. Masala just means “any number of spice mixtures ground into a paste or powder.”

Scott and I decided to take a little foot journey after breakfast and get some cash as the hotel was not giving us such a good deal on currency and I am pretty current on my currency markets. The rate outside of the hotel was so good that we would save enough to buy several meals per $100 that we exchanged and that was a good enough reason for me to walk several blocks in 100 degree weather. That few blocks we walked was almost surreal. Within a few minutes we acquired an “entourage” of young kids begging for money. All I could really offer them was a magic trick or two and a courtesy thank you in Hindu. Then I asked them for money; it didn’t work as well as in other poor nations. I became very clear that the Indian nature was to wheel and deal for anything and everything weather it be in a shop or jockeying for a spot in line. One thing we learned right away was the people here are more than willing to jump in front of you in a line but being from New York we layed down the law right away. A little whistle to grab their attention and gesturing to the back of the line seemed to do the trick. I also noticed kids would steal your luggage cart if you turned your back for a second although they didn’t seem to bother you if you already had luggage on it. It was just unreal the amount of activity in a few blocks. It made New York’s China town seem pretty sleepy! Ladies hauling off construction debris and cement on their heads in 5 gallon buckets. People sweeping up piles of plastic bottles and trash in the street and burning it. Little 3 wheeled cars, motorcycles, bikes just driving like complete maniacs; and the horns were out of control. It made mid town New York sound like the quiet car on a train or a library. Scott and I even had to dodge a car going the wrong way on a one way 3 lane highway. I got the sense that New Deli was pretty much lawless as far as traffic goes and I have a new understanding of why New York cabs drive the way they do as many cab drivers come from this part of the world. Lines on roads just do not matter, plain and simple!

After our little outing the band hired a driver for the day. It would be about $20 each to have our own van and driver for an entire day so off we went. Our driver; I don’t remember his name but I nicknamed him Avis since his tag said Avis before his real name which was kind of difficult to remember. We went to the parliament building, the Indian gate and the lotus temple. We also had a nice meal, did some shopping and picked up some art and even found a great espresso joint where the employees wore orange shirts that said “more coffee” on them. The most interesting thing of the day was driving in the craziest, busiest traffic in the world. I mean, I could believe how many people they could fit on a motorcycle, let alone how dangerous it is to fit a family of 5 on o small motorcycle. I have started a photo series that will be dedicated to odd motorcycle cargo. On this day alone I have snapped some good shots of some pretty interesting stuff! I suppose the one striking thing about India is the huge gap between rich and poor. I saw entire family’s living under pillars along side the main highways. At least I am assuming they were living their or maybe just having a picnic with the family in the middle of two highways and dressing the kids for the occasion. It seems poverty is a big big problem in this part of the world. Even in busy shopping areas the urine smell was so strong our eyes would burn when walking in some areas, especially when there was some construction going on as there was some cover.

By the time we arrived back at our hotel it was around 8-9 pm and we were all ready for bed; the jetlag has been kicking our asses hard. Jasna and Adam still had not got their suitcases and they were wearing the Charlie Porter Quartet t-shirts Charlie had made for us. I fought the tiredness until about 10:30 and that was it for me.

May 22nd 2010 6:45 am

I awoke around 5:30 but kind of hung in bed for a bit before hitting the grand breakfast again before our final flight of the week which would get us to our first destination of Hyderabad in the south eastern region of India. It is now Monsoon season so I figured it might be at least interesting. The airport was of course interesting! And after checking in a man came up to Jasna to notify her that a piece of Jazz at Lincoln Center luggage was found sitting outside on the curb. It turns out it was mine. I had been tending to someone else in the bands suitcase along with my entire drum set. Ooooops! probably not a smart move with security being tight after the Mumbai bombing. After some run around and id checks and inspection I was allowed to head to checkout with my suitcase. A lovely little fellow with  uniform came up and wisked us off to the front of the line and checked us in. I slid him a few hundred rupees, since he essentially saved my ass from missing the flight! The flight was a dandy! We had a really decent Indian style meal on the plane. It seems airlines are starting to care about food again which is awesome if you ask me! Cheers Jon Wikan

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“Get in my Delhi!” by Charlie Porter

The Delhi Arch

After starting our day off right with an amazing breakfast spread (with a good dose of dosas!), we spent our day off today in Delhi driving around with our cool taxi guy, Dinish, to do some shopping, sightseeing and do some more good eating. Even though we have not heard any live Indian music yet, I’m telling you that I heard music when I bit into that Masala Dosa this morning!

our taxi driver in Delhi

Dinish, our taxi driver in Delhi

Delhi is fast-paced and there always seems to be something going on and a million people everywhere you turn.  It makes New York seem a bit tame.  People often remark at how crazy taxi driving is in New York…well, these people have obviously never ridden in a taxi in India. I have a whole new appreciation for the training that our Indian taxi-driver friends in New York get over here in India. Forget about lines in the road, forget about seven car lengths, and forget about even looking where you are going- the car honking is like some kind of sonar system. With signs on the backs of cars that read “Please Honk”, you can tell right away that honking over here, as compared to New York where you get can get fined for honking, is quite welcome and appreciated!

Baby on Board!

Looking forward to rehearsing a bit tomorrow in Hyderabad for our concert on the 22nd. For now, off to shed and then off to bed!

Below is some video footage of our time in Delhi today- enjoy!

-Charlie

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