Monday, July 27, 2015

入境隨俗 (When in China…)

Great Wall of China
Emperor's Chambers, inside the Forbidden City

The quest to experience music around the world continues, this time in Beijing, China. Months ago, my good friend the trumpet player Pete Dragotta and his wonderful wife Janet visited me in Taiwan from Guangdong, China and the idea came to us to do a gig in Beijing.

Unfortunately, after months of work permit complications and visa-chasing, Pete was unable to make it. China would have been a solo venture had it not been for my mother, who decided to come with me and make China a two week trip that took us from the mountains of Sichuan to downtown Beijing!

Imperial Garden, inside the Forbidden City
Hot pot!
Temple of Heaven, 天壇
Shanliu Traditional Village 
China was, in a word, captivating. These are fecund times for this country, which is changing so rapidly socially, economically, and culturally. Beijing, now a sprawling metropolis, seemed to perfectly fuse the ancient with the modern. 
Beijing National Stadium (Bird's Nest designed by Ai Wei Wei, one of my favorite artists/heroes)

Here are some photos and video clips of our gig at Jianghu Bar (江湖酒吧), with Li Tieqiao (saxophone), Yu Miao (guzheng), and Da Huai (bass). This was my first time playing with guzheng, the traditional Chinese zither, on a free improvised gig, no less. 

From left to right: Li Tieqiao (saxophone), Me (drums), Yu Miao (guzheng), Da Huai (bass)
It was an honor playing with this great musicians, all of whom exhibited uncanny listening abilities and an overall trust in each other's musical choices that gave this gig a true sense of confidence and spontaneity. 

Pre-gig dinner! Tofu and fish, fried squid, lotus root, and hundred year old egg (that's that black stuff on the bottom left!)
Free improvisation - Experimental Music 實驗音樂

We also visited the Sichuan Province, which was so different from Beijing it could have been a completely different country. 
Jiuzai Valley National Park 九寨溝, "the valley of nine fortified villages), in Sichuan, a whole day's drive from the city. Some of the most beautiful, pristine scenery I've ever seen, it is one of the largest nature reserves in the world. Pictured here is Mirror Lake.

Tibetan folk singer.

China is home to over 50 distinct ethnic groups, including the Zangzu (藏族), this is because Sichuan Province is located very close to the Tibetan border, and the influence on the local village culture is very apparent. Here, you can see Tibetan prayer flags hanging from houses, fences, and bridges.
Tibetan prayer wheel. The water spins the wheel, sending a prayer to heaven with each rotation.
The people who live in the mountains are very reliant on the yak (pictured below) to help raise crops and provide milk, hide, and meat (and the occasional photo op).

Just a routine yak-washing.
It was incredibly tempting not to hit this giant drum at Jiangzu Village, a traditional village which is home to the Jiang ethnic group.

Bamboo flutes :)
Me and the cool kids: Alice, Victor, and Max. All growing up in different parts of the States, with parents from all different parts of China. Had a blast hanging out with this rascals.

(Fashion note: I had just bought that scarf at a nearby artisanal market. Its design is typically Tibetan, and is super warm for that cold mountain terrain.)

Not exactly the Taiwanese-style 蔥油餅 (green onion pancake) that I love so much, but definitely a warm, tasty treat for the bus ride. 

Noodle-tossing. The Chinese equivalent of pizza dough tossing but somehow more physics-defying. 
Leshan Giant Buddha, the largest stone Buddha in the world, in Chengdu. 
Another incredible performance. This scene is an homage to Sun Wu Kong, the Monkey King, from the classic tale Journey to the West, in which a mischievous monkey deity is commissioned to bring the Buddhist scrolls from India to China.  

This peacock jumped out of its pen, strutted beside us, and then struck a pose. 

Sichuan is the panda capital of the world, with over 3,000 giant pandas living in the wild. Here is an adult giant panda at the Chengdu Giant Panda Research Base.
More pandas!!!

...and a red panda, just for good measure. :)

A special performance combining acrobatics, drama, and other ridiculous feats (like manipulating a wooden puppet to write impeccable Chinese calligraphy on an elevated canvas). 
My absolute favorite, 變臉 (face changing), a Sichuan folk performance tradition in which actors dance while swiftly switching masks. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

I got in!!!

Two weeks from now marks the two-year anniversary of me leaving New York City. At the time, I was planning to live in Tunisia, travel, study French and Arabic, play music with some fresh faces (see previous post to see some of them!), and teach English for one year before returning to New York to resume business as usual.

A lot of you might be wondering what I've been up to since then--and why I'm in Taipei instead of back in New York City. The truth is, I got to do all of the above and more--including some serious soul-searching. The more countries I saw, the more music I played, and the more people I met who had different stories and struggles, the more of the world I wanted to learn about and experience.

Most of all, the desire to leave an impact wherever I could--not just on the musical/artistic level, but on the societal level, became indelibly burned into my conscience, and as much as I longed to go back to New York, I knew it wasn't time until I figured out the next step in figuring out how to accomplish this.

So, this little chick drummer decided to try her luck in the big world of public affairs. First came the heart-wrenching decision not to return to Tunisia and instead expand my perspective from a totally different continent. Then came the dreaded GREs, followed by another transoceanic move, across the Pacific this time, to Taiwan. Daily 8AM Mandarin classes (as rewarding as it has been daunting). And of course, graduate school applications, a process that brought me to the furthest edges of my ontological threshold and back again!

Finally, 10 months later, I've been accepted into my dream school, Columbia University, in what has always been and will always be my dream metropolis--New York City. At the School for International and Public Affairs, I'm planning to study cultural diplomacy, non-profit management, and social activism in a global context. I hope to answer questions like: How do we ensure that artists continue to have places to live and work as the world urbanizes? How can we educate a new generation on the plurality of cultures and languages that confront us in a globalizing society? How can the arts be used as a tool for social advocacy? (It goes without saying, of course, that I'm planning to continue playing music the second I set foot on dry land. Some things don't change.)

I find it so fortuitous that this journey has led me back to where it all began. I've made so many amazing new friends throughout this entire process, and I have also seen how profound and unwavering my relationships are with my close friends and family, many of whom have supported me through some very difficult moments.

So there you have it: I'm coming home, everybody. You have no idea how excited I am to see you again. :)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

397 Nights in Tunisia

Hi Everyone!

I know Dizzy Gillespie had never been to Tunisia when he wrote the song that made the country famous among jazz musicians, but I gotta say...he was missing out. The people are so warm, the country is so beautiful, and the culture is so rich and complex.

Most of all, the music wasn't like anything I had ever played before. It was a challenge adapting the drums to what Tunisians call "Oriental Music," but entering into this completely different music tradition, with musicians from such a different background, was enormously rewarding.

Since I'm long overdue for an update, I'll just go through some of the highlights:

Atelier Om Ezzine: A music and dance workshop in Mahdia, a coastal town near Sfax. Mahdia has its own folk dance and song, called Om Ezzine, in which the townspeople gather and dance in a circle. Here, we were performing modern renditions of Tunisian folk songs, including Om Ezzine.

String orchestra. The man in the scarf is Mohamed-Ali Kammoun, one of Tunisia's premier composer-pianists, and the one who took me under his wing. Amazing jazz arranger and pianist.

The backdrop was hand-painted by local high school art students. It was gorgeous!!!

Les trois chanteuses, et moi! Miriam, Eya, and Wiem.

Mohamed-Ali Kammoun Quintet @ Theatre Municipale de Sfax: Mohamed-Ali Kammoun took me to Sfax, his hometown, where I had some amazing Spaghetti a la Mer, met his adorable little boy, and played with this quintet. My nametag said Tiffany Ojala, as did the announcer. 

Mohamed-Ali Kammoun, keys, Marouen Allam, bass; Jihed Khmiri, percussion; Hichem Badrani, nay; Hamdi Makhlouf, oud. 

Eau Secours! (100% Water): Now this was life-changing. Not only did I get to tour around Tunisia, but I got to go to Jordan and Palestine with this amazing contemporary dance troupe. The dancers were from different countries: Tunisia, Palestine, France, Egypt, Algeria, and even Brazil. 

In good company: Me, Abdelaziz (dancer, Arabic teacher, extraterrestrial), Hiba (dancer and Palestinian activist), Amira (singer, actress, dancer, super talented), Mich (sound engineer extraordinaire), Leila (frantic assistant), Marion (dancer-fieeeerce.), Vito (yoga guru and dancer), Asma (dancer, enigmatic and super intelligent), Larbi (dope. super dope.)

My homies Haythem, Yasmine, Asma and Bruno. Some of the most beautiful (inside and out) people I've ever met. 

From Jordan to Palestine. Just two more checkpoints....oh well, might as well take a selfie!

The show dealt with the important topic of water shortage in the developing world, especially in Palestine, where water is being siphoned out of Palestine into Israel, and is completely under Israeli control. Check out the trailer (click here)!

Crossing the border from Jordan to Palestine, a few of my friends and I got detained. Strangely, the Israeli officers were more interested in why I was living in Tunisia and traveling with this motley bunch than they were about the round turtle shell-shaped cymbal case on my back, which never fails to raise eyebrows at airport security. We eventually passed through, however, and even got to go to Jerusalem for one day. 

First gig: At Restaraunt Mansoura, in Kelibia. Kelibia beach is probably the single most beautiful beach I've ever seen (I don't have photos, unfortunately, but seriously, Google it.) At this restaurant, you can actually sit outside and sit with your feet in the water while eating top-notch seafood. 

The poster was dope too. 

Orchestre Nationale de Tunisie @ Theatre Municipale de Tunis: Yes, I got to play with the National Tunisian Orchestra! Nightly rehearsals, large ensemble, Arabic/French/English invective flying all over the place. It was a blast :)

Other Photos:

La Tunisie!