Saturday, December 22, 2012

Woody Guthrie

Hooray!  Reminds me of the scene in the Yellow Submarine when they get George Harrison.  Or of MTV in the 90s.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


2 recent gifts to friends

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

He Just Keeps Walking

(don't stare too might get car sick)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Old drawing, new coloring

Awhile ago I redrew a background painting I liked from an old cartoon...might have been from Tom and Jerry, I don't remember.  Finally I bought a digital tablet and am starting to learn how to color with Photoshop.  I haven't used it too much but know there are tons of new possibilities available.  Being able to undo things at will is an assuring thought.

Here's a scene from Jack and the Beanstalk.  I've also been trying to think more about using tone and value with composition to direct attention to certain elements.

I think this drawing is pretty simply composed, where everything surrounds the center of the image.  The tall kettle drops down to the flat bowl and down the falling loaf of bread, across the butter to Jack pearing at the giant and the golden hen.  The hen and eggs are the lightest object in the drawing making it pop a little.  I should color the plate a little darker than the hay.

I colored the top drawing more recently than the bottom and got a cleaner result.  Every element in the drawing-- the house, grass, bushes, fence, were separated onto different layers so I could color them individually, without affecting the others.  But on the bottom drawing I colored the entire image as a whole.  Everything has a thin halo of light because I didn't want to color over the lines (wasn't taking the time to detail). 

A lot left to learn.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

It's about time

ECOWAS agrees to send troops to northern Mali.

Via email correspondences with some friends at the University of Bamako I was assured that their day to day lives haven't been affected too much by the recent governmental woes, sporadic reports of violence in Bamako, or all the nonsense happening up north.  I haven't heard from friends in Yanfolila in awhile but I imagine they would report the same, being much further removed from everything happening.

Much needed countermeasures provided by the much appreciated World Service here and here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mt. Baker

In August I took three trips to Mt. Baker.  One was just a day hike where I took this panorama, a second was to ice climb in the cracks you can see in the panorama, and the third as a hired gun to drag some Vancouverites up the north side -- the right skyline of the mountain in the panorama.  I listened to them bicker with each other all day, no one died, and they didn't even tip me.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sunday, September 23, 2012

K7-22: Tata Diakite

 Not much to say except here's another good one from Tata.  You'll notice two things about it probably pretty quickly, besides not having the album cover:  1) The song titles are the same as the last one (plus a few new ones) and 2) for the most part the songs don't sound at all alike except for lyrics.  As I alluded to in that previous Tata post, Te Djama is more similar to the good ol' Wassoulou pop that we all know and love: drum machines, synthesizers, soft harmonizing backing vocals, and keyboards.  The Laban album has a more organic sound that I prefer, but I love this tape nonetheless.

By leaps and bounds my favorite track on the tape, and perhaps one of my favorites in all of the Wassoulou music I've heard is this version of Djama.  Aside from Tata's vocals being amazingly dynamic, wandering up and down through the melody, I love that little keyboard hook that persists throughout the song.  It almost seems to draw out the beat it's on, momentarily stretching time between the notes before twisting at its apex and dropping back into the poppy rhythm that drives behind Tata's beautiful singing.

For the record, some of my other top favorite songs are Sarama (also Tata on Album du Laban), Mani Jin Dala (Oumou Sangare on Bi Furu), Diarabi Nene (Oumou on Moussolou), Anka Maliba (Djeneba Seck on Tigne), everything that Kagbe Sidibe has ever sung, and last but not nearly least, Wassoulon Foli (Sali Sidibe).  As I started writing this list I realized that it would end up being quite long.  Also everything off of Dayele by Doussou Bagayoko, who I'd marry in a second given the chance.  I'm also quite fond of Fourou by Satta Kouyate off of Dakan.

I just saw a few new videos from Doussou on youtube...anyone have that album?

Yikes!  I can't believe I almost forgot.  Dielaban Tile by Doussouba Traore used to play on repeat endlessly.  Another amazing song from Wassoulou.  I'm pretty sure all the songs I mentioned above (minus the Oumou songs) can be found somewhere on this website.  I just don't feel like digging up the links.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012


My final days in Bellingham were quickly approaching and I anticipated that San Francisco's dense neighborhoods would be less accommodating to building another instrument, so I took the opportunity last week to build another kamelengoni. I had one full antelope skin packed away from a trip in 2006 and a gourd from a trip in 2008. To date I've made 4, not including the assistance of that which I made with Sekou. Two of them broke; one had a tiny, thin gourd from a farm in North Carolina and the skin on the second one ripped under the tension of the bridge, leaving me with the mid-sized gourd from 2008 ready to go.

Making the instruments is pretty simple. The most difficult part of the entire process is getting the materials in the first place. Finding gourds of an appropriate size in the states is challenging (my efforts were unsuccessful, although I did get smaller gourds from farms in Florida and North Carolina that would be good for soku/njarka).  Anyway, here are some photos of the process with brief descriptions.

Step 1: Assemble materials. 

In a clockwise direction starting at 11: Antelope skin, high guage fishing line for strings, wooden bridge with holes drilled for however many strings you want (I did 6), bamboo rods to insert under the skin/on top of the gourd, upholstery tacks to secure the skin, neck with guitar tuning keys to tune the strings, gourd with top cut off and insides scraped out, 2mm accessory cord to counter-tension the bridge against the taught strings, fabric or cord to tie two of the bamboo handles to the neck (see below where I just used 1mm cord), knife and razors to shave the skin and make small incisions for the bamboo rods.

If I were a better wood worker/had better tools I'd smooth out the cuts when attaching the guitar keys.

                                    Full dry skin (blocks to keep it from rolling for the picture)

Step 2: Finding the area of skin you want to use, cutting it, soaking the skin, cleaning it, and ripping off some of the under-layers that prevent it from being as elastic as possible.  

I have never found a good method for getting those layers off, nor have I really searched.  I just remember with Sekou tearing off those layers, and it's incredibly hard.  I change out the nasty water and soak the skin overnight.  Sekou wrapped our skin in a plastic bag after it had been soaking and buried it overnight.  The thinnest part of the skin tends to be around the shoulder area and neck and and if you can get off those under-layers it will almost be transparent in parts.

Step 3: Attaching the skin. 

While the skin is still wet, align it over the hole in the gourd and tap in the first tacks to anchor the skin.  Then in a star pattern, stretch the skin over the gourd, pulling as hard as you can and tapping in more tacks.  Other methods would be to thread some cord through the fringes of the skin, like a draw-string, and pull the skin taught underneath and then start to plug tacks in.

Step 4: Insert the bamboo rods.

The bridge will eventually sit in the little square that is delineated by the four rods. This time around I aligned the rods that run perpendicularly to the neck a little further back on the gourd but usually put them about half distance.  There is no particular reason to do this, I haven't noticed a difference.  If you align it closer to the neck and therefore pluck the strings closer to the bridge it might have a twangier sound, which could be nice.

Step 5: Secure the parallel bamboo rods to the neck.

Since I'm a rock climber I like using climbing cord whenever possible and tying climbing knots.  You could even use a series of rubber bands to secure the rods, or tape, or whatever you want.  These two are important because you hold onto them to play the instrument.

This is what the ngoni looks like so far (below).  Eventually the skin dries around the gourd and becomes crispy again.  You can trim the skin to make it look neat but I liked all the directional lines created by the edges of the skin and on the top (couldn't get all the layers off, which is the difference between the colors on the skin).

Step 6: Attach and secure the bridge.

This step is a sequence of back and forth between the strings and the cord used to counter-anchor the bridge.  First I loop cord around the head of the bridge and the butt of the neck that sticks out of the bottom of the gourd, angled back.  Next I thread two strings through the bridge up to the guitar tuning keys and tune them till they're fairly taught.  If needed I'll adjust the cord because even though it is capable of holding hundreds of pounds of force, it has some elasticity to it and eventually will be pulled forward. 

Step 7: Tune the rest of the strings and finalize the bridge attachment.

The light purple cord on the left and right of the bridge doesn't really do much after the bridge is pulled into place from the front and back, but initially it helps keep the bridge upright as a left or right string is tuned tight.  Again, since I climb and like knots I get overly-fancy with the finishing touches.  Something much simpler will work.  The black spot on the bridge is a spot pickup available at guitar shops, commonly used to amplify violins or other acoustic instruments.  It gets really good sound.

And the finished product:

It takes a few days to fully tune the thing, since the nylon strings continue to stretch.  Eventually they max out and it will stay in tune and taught.  I like the strings to be super taught to get good harmonics that add little "pings" among the other notes played.  I've tried using guitar strings but don't like how they sound.  I also bought a pack of six strings and used every one of them.  It might have worked better to only buy one guage so they have mostly equal tension and don't sound like plucked rubber bands.  If anyone tries let me know!

Here's a good alternative video and perhaps more "authentic".  His final product looks like what you see in the big market in downtown Bamako.  I guess mine is in the style that Sekou puts them together.


Here's my new house and it's amazing view:

Monday, July 16, 2012

More shorties

Here are some more of the look and see type of thing, whereby I come up with an idea* late at night and then see if I can make it work.

First up:  I was recently gifted some cool software and tried two things at once, which I had yet to try animating: 1) a walk cycle (from 2 different angles), and 2) layering different elements on top of each other (in this case I used colored construction paper cut-outs filmed separately and layered on top of my guy strutting down the street).  It worked out pretty well and now I hope to expand on that and start doing some cooler, more sophisticated animation to the limits of my abilities. 

Next, I found some really cool work by some folks named Kijek and Adamski and tried to copy one element from their animated video, Noise.  Again using a series of colored construction paper cutouts turned out to be fairly simple.  Someday I hope I have the vision to do something like this music video, which was done so simply with markers and paper.  I think they said it was something around 2000 drawings.  Check out their blog.

Then I tried to apply another of the classic principles of animation: overlapping action/follow-through, and secondary action.  My original intention was to use some of my new software to separately animated every element of the flower-faced guy (below), and so started with his flowery eye.  The video first shows the rough idea of a ball with a fox-tail floating in space and then cuts to an actual flower with a leafy tail (not the best design).  There were some slight hiccups with the software and I didn't move too far along with this.

I used a series of poses from a figure drawing class and animated between them to (unintentionally) create a semi-erotic sequence of the buxom model moving between poses.  (The first few drawings are hideous).

Over the past few years my drawings evolved from single subject, limited background type of thing, into more developed (not necessarily good) multiple subject, negative space filled compositions.  I'm hoping that my abilities in animation will follow suit.  Everything I've done so far are simple, single element tests.  I'm still trying to wrap my head around making a full-on composition with at least a main subject/action layered over a background element, with camera sweeps and sound, which is to say an actual cartoon.  Even the action in more abstract sequences where there is no defined character or primary subject are boggling for me to even attempt.

On another, more musical note, I was browsing some of the fantastic African music blogs out there and noticed I'd been excised from their blog lists.  While somewhat disheartening, it makes sense.  I no longer regularly post cassettes and suppose I clutter their neat lists.  Some of you may have noticed too that a significant number of those amazing blogs have been excised themselves by Blogger for apparent copyright issues (or to avoid an issue at all).  The word on the street is that sites can be shut down at a moment's notice.  Just another way to keep us living in fear I suppose.  Some people just don't like to share.  Anyway, it's not my intention to completely cease posting K7s, just that I'd rather write about other things for the moment.

And finally, I have a solicitous ad for internet Classifieds.  If any of you out there are in a position to assist my effort I would be greatly appreciative.  I'm looking for a Research Technician position in any of the following fields:  Developmental/Cell Biology, Genetics, Global/Public Health, Epidemiology.  So far I've flooded Seattle, New Orleans, and Chicago with resumes to no avail.  I have foot-soldiers helping me out in the Bay Area, Milwaukee, and Salt Lake City as well.  (I speak French and Spanish too for you folks overseas!).  Send an email if you are able to help.


*or borrow one

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Cat Slaps

It's been quite awhile since I've done any work on this cartoon, mostly because the more and more I learn about animation the worse this becomes.  There isn't enough action, the breathing scene is too long and confusing.  Some audio would help, too.  Regradless of how I feel about it I did learn a lot in the process (pre-flour sack and pre-Fat Lady).  Here is where it stands so far:

And here are some stills from the movie:  First, a smear drawing as she whips her head around to scream at the second cat with the end of that movement following in the second drawing.

A little more overlapping action with her hair swinging, delayed after she stops turning, would have been better.

Here's another smeary drawing, after she thumps the second cat up and down and kicks it off her toe.

The final (thus far) scene is strangling and punching from the point of view of the woman.  It was fun drawing all the hand movements, but I drew them mostly separately as key poses without really thinking of fluid movement.  All the balls and bands in the hands only helped me to get proportions as close to correct as I could, then they turned out to look kind of cool so I kept them in every drawing.

We'll see what happens...

In other news, check out this trailer and making of video I found.  I can only dream of being able to put something like this together.  Not that I'm particularly attached to the story of this cartoon, but the variety of animation that he uses and the overall feeling is awesome.  And my biggest challenge is having a story at all, let alone enough of a story for a feature length anything.  It's one thing to be able to draw halfway decently to make a mildly funny scene move, but it's an entirely different skill to have anything worth telling people by way of pictures and an interesting and engaging story.  Anyway, check it out:

 I couldn't find the "making of" on youtube and blogspot won't let me put a vimeo video up, so here's the link if you're interested:

Friday, May 4, 2012

K7-22: Sekou Kouyate

When I initially started posting digitized tapes of West African pop music I waited for the right moment to post my recording of Sekou Kouyate, whose image (until yesterday) adorned the top of this blog.  While the moment right now might not be significantly more right than any in the past, it is as good a time as any to finally post Sekou's tape.  What's more is that this session was recorded probably within a week or two, five years ago in Yanfolila, Mali (May, 2007).

At the time I spent several hours everyday with Sekou doing anything from eating lunch, talking with Papa Sidibe's friends at the garage next to the market, playing checkers with Ancien Coulibaly's family at home, playing kamelengoni for a few hours everyday, and talking about music all over about a two month period.  Together we built an instrument for myself (he did just about all of the work) and we started hammering out songs, which are typically just any number of variations on central rhythms/melodies.  Sekou barely spoke a word of French and I spoke even less of Bamana, so communication involved a lot of hand-waving and head-nodding-affirmations implying that we understood each other or at least had a vague enough idea to start piecing together whatever was being expressed.  Over the two months, with the help of some in-betweeners, we were able to learn quite a bit from each other.

In total I learned rhythms in three tunings.  He taught songs by playing them and expecting me to figure it out and jump in when I could, which worked out more often than not.  Sometimes what he was playing was just too crazy to be able to just "figure it out" and Sekou had the incredible ability to break the song down to it's most base parts and play them over and over until he was numb (thanks Sekou).  Once I could finally fall in sync with the rhythm, he'd start throwing out variations on top of everything and screw me up.  Everyday we'd run through every song we learned, and the list grew everyday.  Meanwhile all the kids at the house would be running around screaming, crying, dancing, fighting, playing soccer.  Ancien would be dozing, laying down next to his handheld radio on a mat under a thatch canopy to protect from the direct sun, donkey's screaming themselves hoarse, women pounding grain into powder or scrubbing clothes on a washboard..

Meeting Sekou was just as lucky and random as meeting the person who introduced me to him.  I had some Senegalese friends in Bamako whose neighbor had moved to the city from Yanfolila, in the southwest corner of Mali, and the largest town in the Wassoulou region.  I initially heard donso music exploding out of the blown speakers of a Taxi, then told the neighbor from Wassoulou that I wanted to learn about donsongoni music and the instrument and to make recordings (even though I had heard the donso musicians wouldn't let you record them, (but I really think they would if circumstances were right)).  At the time I really didn't know much about the kamelengoni (pictured below) or have much interest in it, even after having listened to some of the remastered Oumou Sangare albums and known about Issa Bagayoko and Kokanko Sata, whose pop/dance music didn't really resonate with me (although the Honest Jon's release of Kokanko Sata's album is awesome acoustic music).  All of a sudden this friend was on the phone with one of her friends in Yanfolila and said that I would be coming down and needed a place to stay.  His response was "what do white people eat?".  By some glorious moment of chance this neighbor had called Papa Sidibe, who turned out to be one of the most genuinely kind people I've ever known.  It was through Papa I was eventually introduced to Sekou Kouyate, a local player.  (Here's Papa at work).

Sekou plays in the older, original style of Wassoulou kamelengoni which is more similar to stuff heard on Coumba Sidibe's early tapes, or Alou Fane and Sali Sidibe, Bintou Sidibe, Allata Broulaye, and Oumou Sangare, and even  Seydou Kamara as well (who is newer), rooted in the hunter's mystique and power.  A little more straight ahead driving rhythm than newer players on records like those of Djoss Samake, Souley Kante, Nabintou Diakite, Mariam Sidibe, or Doussou Bagayoko to name a few, whose are more melodically driven (by more strings) than straight hard rhythm.  Maybe analogous to country-blues versus slick Chicago blues, who share a direct line, like that of Wassoulou kamelengoni versus Bamako kamelengoni, which was influenced by other cultures mashed up within the city.

Sekou's fast personality translates directly to his playing style, too.  He drives it fast and hard and his variations and solos are sitting right on top of the beat.  He's up in your face and stepping on your heels if you can't keep up.  Even the dancing style that goes with both donsongoni and kamelengoni music is fast and light off the ground.  Watch the dancers a few minutes into this amazing video provided by Ngoniba, dancing during a donso event; they kick their heels into the air on the accented beats and shuffle their feet to every single triplet the ngoni player can roll out in-between, kicking up clouds of dust, almost floating above the ground.  It also reminds me of a bull setting it's hooves before a charge, kicking up dust right before it explodes with pure energy, the moment the dancers drop out of the spotlight in the video.

 That Sekou electrified his instrument does not make him unique.  His little speaker spit out a grungy, distorted, gnarly sound that had an amazing effect (not entirely distinguishing by itself, either).  I had been playing with him for weeks, unplugged at Coulibaly's house, before the first time I heard him plug in at a party (using someone else's huge sound system powered by a generator, under a mango tree.  A crowd of at least a few dozen people, lots of children, circled around us on a dusty street corner and the one spotlight suspended on a branch of the mango tree illuminated all their eyes and teeth against the pitch-black night.  Sekou gave me a small speaker that could thankfully barely be heard over his, as I played next to him and Solo, who ground out the rhythm on the metal tube (they called karinye).  As people danced inches in front of us, dust would obscure everything until the girl returned to pour water down on the ground to keep anymore from kicking up), and my mind was absolutely blown.

The recording I made was two months after we started to play together.  Day to day it was just me and Sekou, but during performances Solo Sidibe, Sekou's tube player, came to play.  I'd run into him around town too but when we talked about recording he was rather reluctant to be recorded.  The day I was going to record them, Solo went to work in the fields chopping mangoes for the market.  So Sekou scrambled to find Yoro Diallo (not the famous one), who used to play the tube with Sekou (but wasn't as good, according to Sekou).  We made the recording out of the normal milieu that Sekou would play, meaning there was no audience beyond me recording, and Papa and Ancien watching as Sekou and Yoro played for over an hour inside an unfinished, open ceilinged mud-brick house with fresh and old donkey shit everywhere.  That place had amazing acoustics, though.  I think the unfortunate part of recording in isolation like this was that Sekou wasn't influenced by dancers, who could push the musicians into playing more intensely so that they dance more furiously (watch the video above and tell me you wouldn't feel intensifying energy as a musician or dancer).  I made the decision to record in this setting, without background noise, because the microphone I was using would pick up everything that made a noise, drowning out the instrument with children screaming and crying, donkeys hee-hawing, and men greeting each other, endlessly asking about each others family and work, as they do.  To balance the sound with the limited equipment I had at my disposal (Sony Minidisc MZ-RH10) I had Yoro sit a few feet further back than Sekou (who did all the singing), and put Sekou's speaker in front of him, closer to me, to balance all the sound...again, not the most natural setting.  But listen to the recording and you'd never know, because it's clear that natural or not, these guys came to fucking play.  It is, afterall, their profession and trade.

I don't know how many people besides me, if any, Sekou has taught to play.  We played on instruments with 6 strings, while most modern pop musicians have at least 8, and I've seen up to 14 (although at that point the playing becomes to melodic that it can start to sound like kora music to me, exception being someone like Vieux Kante who plays many strings but maintains fundamentals of kamelengoni music).  Sekou's set up is pictured below.

From what I can tell the electronics he rigged up are mostly homemade.  The pickup that sits on the bridge-piece that anchors the strings against the head of the gourd looked to be made out of the metal disc inside a digital wrist-watch, with wires soldered on to connect it to a guitar chord input.  The cord plugs into the 6x D-battery pre-amp that looks to be home built, too.  This is then wired into the grungy stereo speaker that spits out the fuzzy sound.  The neck is made from a broom handle, although mine was a straight bamboo-ish type stick.  The guitar-style tuning heads were carved from the same type of wood and a the holes were burned through the neck with an iron rod that cooks red hot in a bed of coals.  The skin is from antelope and the cross bars supporting the skin and those that you grab while playing are made from bamboo too.  The bridge is just a piece of wood cut to shape with smaller holes burned through in two columns of three strings (or however many total).  I used 3mm climbing cord to anchor my bridge from the sides and rear, while people used all sorts of other alternatives, from metal wire to cotton string (common in the Bamako market).  The strings themselves are typically high gauge nylon fishing line.

I think kamelengoni music naturally creates a feeling of a sort of country-bounce, trotting and skipping down a dusty road, with quick jittery flurries of melodic rhythm.  It is when the little fills and quick fluttery variations are thrown on top of that base, trotting rhythm, which can already be complexly organized and timed (off syncopations, staccato rhythms, with muted and open strings playing against each other) that keeps the music endlessly interesting and individual to the player; no one plays the instrument the same.  I think it was in either an interview with or an article by Graeme Councel that I read about how important and encouraged improvisation is throughout Mande music.  What I like about Sekou's style is how spaced-out it can get during the obvious extended and improvised sections of his dance music.  He'll keep a root rhythm going, just hammering out the muted rhythm like someone could clap on a bass string, while at the same time he let other strings drone and play out into overtones, or use harmonics to pierce space.

Enjoy the tape!  And it also just occurred to me that some of you may have missed Aichata Sidibe's great cassette that I snuck into the end of an unrelated post about art.

Here is some other interesting info about Sekou. One thing that occasionally made conversation difficult with Sekou was that he had a severe speech impediment; he would stutter harshly through some sentences.  Someone described Sekou as being too quick.  While he may have struggled in some conversations, he was flawless while singing and playing music (I don't understand Bamana well enough to know what exactly he's saying, but I can't hear any stuttering).  I attribute this to something I saw him do one day.  While sitting at the garage on a market day as well as the day of a performance, Sekou sat down with a half-gourd (a bowl) and a tied bag of fresh cow milk.  No one seemed comfortable explaining the whole thing to me, and I'm not sure if it's because they thought I wouldn't understand or if they were actually uncomfortable talking about spirits and other mystical realms for which Mali and much of West Africa is partly known.  What was explained was that Sekou takes the gourd and milk out to the forest to protect himself.  That coupled with him wearing leather bands around his biceps and waist, and wearing a leather-bound mirror around his neck, I'm willing to believe it.  It's not inconceivable to think he may have made these trips to the forest in part to aid with his speech, as his profession was public performance.  (Anything people had to say about wearing the mirror was: "If you see someone wearing a mirror around their neck, be careful").

Sekou's father is fairly a fairly well known griot among people in Yanfolila, and Sekou was frequently hired to play in some of the surrounding villages.  He wanted me to play alongside him for his performances within Yanfolila, which I did about 4.  Every time peoples' reactions were the same: "what the hell is this guy doing here?".  I think the party of French bird hunters were most upset because they wanted an "authentic" experience.  (The soccer field on which we played was behind their building and the field was littered with feathers and bones).  For performances outside of Yanfolila, in the villages, he would leave so suddenly.  He and his rhythm guy Solo Sidibe would ride bikes miles out into the forest to a village to play for a night and come back pretty haggard in the morning.  It would have been wild to travel to a show with him but I never did.
Back to Sekou's father/family for a moment: one day I was asking about Sekou's family history and we didn't have anyone to help translate between us as we got into the gritty details that were harder to express beyond vague hand-waving.  What I took away from that conversation was that Sekou's family (not just in name), played for some important people in Kankan back in the day.  If you listened to the music program about Mali on Afropop's Hipdeep website, you'll remember professor Cherif Keita telling us that after the Mande empire had passed, Songhai royalty and nobility were groomed in Kankan, Guinee before going up to the northern territory.  Perhaps Sekou's family were involved with the royalty around Kankan at the time.  Or, less appealing but probably more realistic is that maybe Sekou didn't understand my question and told me that he grew up in Kankan and his dad moved to Yanfolila (not very far away and the main road goes straight there).  When I returned to Yanfolila to visit Papa in 2008, I was trying to track Sekou down and I eventually learned he was somewhere in Bamako playing for money.  In order to track down his brother, wife, and kids in search of some sort of contact info, it was easiest for Papa and other friends to first ask for his locally well known father, who was a respected griot, and then inquire about Sekou.  Some people liked to joke and say, "Ah, Sekou? You mean Jeliba Kunjan" as they erupted with laughter.   (The Griot with the Big Head...but his head really wasn't that big).  Unfortunately none of his family had a phone number or any way to contact Sekou in Bamako.  Recently though, I talked to Papa on the phone and he told me Sekou came back, but I've yet to talk to him.  Before I returned home in 2008 I left a small guitar amp and spot-pickup with Papa to give to Sekou, which would be as equally transportable but significantly louder than his set up that I saw. 

Some day I would love to go back and visit, coup or no coup (there was a recent coup d'etat in Mali).  I still keep telephone contact with Papa and other friends from the University of Bamako when I was working in the HIV lab.  They tell me that aside from all the news about the recent coup and the declaration of Azawad independece, their lives haven't been affected too severely.  A few were even happy to see then president Amadou Toumani Toure get kicked out of office just a few weeks before he was going to step down anyway for the next round of democratic elections.  While symbolic, I think it was just silly timing...forcing out the president just weeks before a scheduled election?  

I am also fairly skeptical about how this is all going to pan out in the long term.  I get the impression that the lingering presence of coup leader Amadou Sanogo foreshadows continued activity.  And at first he was asking for help to push back the Touareg, and now he is rejecting any assistance from ECOWAS?  Doesn't make sense (the stated reason to throw a coup was dissatisfaction with the amount of resources invested in the Malian military to defend against the occasional Touareg unrest in the north, as well as widespread corruption and inactivity of the governing body).  The most interesting thing to me about the Touareg's recent push is how it came to be in the first place.  The Touareg have felt marginalized since Mali's independence in the early 1960's and would occasionally launch a "rebellion" to no significant effect.  This recent push and march to take over the northern territories in Mali and officially declare independence was made possible indirectly by the late Lybian dictator Muammar Gaddafi.  The Touareg have supported Gaddafi in return for his support for their movement.  And now, even in death Gaddafi was able to destabilize a country thousands of miles away, connected by vast expanses of desert.  The Touareg took control of abandoned Lybian weapons caches stashed throughout the desert to help arm their independence movement and reinvigorate it enough to overwhelm whatever Malian military was in place (not much and poorly equipped, hence dissatisfaction and eventual coup), and to take over the entire northern territory of Mali, down to Timbuktu, which is collectively known as Azawad (their political/"rebellious" name is the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad).  

We can thank the Berlin conference, who sliced and diced that great African cake into what it is now!

Anyway, if you've read this far you're very patient.  Hopefully you got something out of it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Doctor Jean's Hoodoo Emporium


I haven't "produced" much lately.  Though I did finish a sketchbook and started a new, third book.  Each book seems to take on a consistent style by the end of its life.  My first book was filled mostly with imaginary composed scenes; weird people doing things somewhere, short comics and other "complete" illustrations.  My second book was composed of mostly practice and working on drawing basics.  A lot of it was still from imagination but worked on different styles of people, facial expressions, animals, perspective.  And now my third book is starting to take on the personality of mostly observation drawing-- people I see at bars, cafes, or on the street, a tree, and my hands.  So far for this book imagination drawing is less attractive to me, and much less addicting than trying to draw live people.  I like the pressure of having sometimes only 15 seconds to try to capture someone's pose before they shift weight from one leg to the other, or walk away completely.  There are many starts and stops as that person waiting in line decides to go somewhere else just as I've drawn a shoulder and the curve of their upper back.  It's even more exciting trying to draw people without them catching you looking at them again and again as you draw their brow ridge or double-chin while they read the news and sip on lattes.

Here are two drawings from the end of my second book, the second being screen shots that looked fun to draw from a Jimmy Stewart movie that I saw here:

 I've also tried my hand at Japanese/Chinese brush painting with black ink.  Overall I'm satisfied with my first efforts, though I think I have much work to do.  I searched for sumi images and just tried to copy those, except for the second one below; I made that one up and tried a Van Gogh style sky.  Either way I'm hoping painting with varying degrees of black and grey will eventually translate to my miserable watercolor efforts (explanation below).

I bought a small piece of art from Marcel, who runs Doctor Jean's Second Coming Hoodoo Emporium, during a recent trip to New Orleans.  He wasn't so thrilled with people taking pictures, but I wish I could show what he had at his little stand down by the water, somewhere near the cathedral on Royal St in the French Quarter.  While rather pricey for what they actually are, his pieces looked amazing.  He transferred photographs of blues musicians and old jazz musicians onto rotten pieces of cabinet and door that he stripped from his rotting house (from hurricane Katrina).  The wood had amazing texture because of the damage and the chipped paint, so I think the trick besides having an interesting photo/drawing to transfer, is finding unique looking wood.

The technique is simple and is essentially this or that:  Print out whatever image you want using a laser printer (important).  Using Liquitex Gloss Gel (regular or heavy), coat the surface of whatever you want to transfer the image to, press and smooth the image onto the surface, and let dry completely.  Then once dry, wet the back of the paper and rub off the paper gently.  It should just flake off, leaving your image on the transfer surface.  If you've got $150 dollars laying around I suggest calling Marcel to check availability of his Billie Holiday piece of cabinet.  It looks absolutely amazing, and is probably the size of a standard piece of computer paper...but rotten wood, instead.  Too bad his website doesn't have any images, only a phone number.  Here is my sketch of the Buddy Bolden photo I bought (also on a piece of cabinet).

Hoodoo is essentially the American Southeast's adaptation of voodoo, taking folklore and magic from African slaves and Native American culture to make their own mysterious brew.  According to Marcel, the aforementioned artist in New Orleans, Doctor Jean was a well known black Hoodoo Doctor, making remedies and potions to cure or kill anything.  As his renown grew, so did his wealth and property and slave work-force, until eventually his tangible power was too threatening to the white Southeast political bigwigs and they took it all away from him.  Marcel didn't envision becoming a land-grabbing slave owner, but only to pay homage to the original Hoodoo Doctor who was admired and feared across Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, and to evoke all the African American mystique and pride that came with the name Doctor Jean's Second Coming Hoodoo Emporium.  Anyone have any more info.  Surprisingly hard to find on the net.

Whenever I'm feeling motivated I attempt to watercolor paint, which pretty harshly illuminates how little I know about painting.  I'm happy with the watercolor images I posted here, but the majority of what I make are pretty terrible.  I need to figure out how the pigments interact and how to control the paint.  This week I'm getting together with Paul to learn a thing or two about color theory, and hopefully some watercolor technique.  Click his name to check out his site.  His illustrations are amazing, and to see him draw in person is intimidating.  Efficiency is his game, rarely a single wasted line leaves his pen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Coffee drinkers

Sleeping fat cat

Orcas Island

Card players and winos

The Public Market

More coffee

Imagined observation