Making Music With The Mother Of The World

It’s already been a month living here in Cairo, the Mother of the World. Between flat-hunting, a new job, and reorientating my brain from jungle jungle to urban jungle, there’s been little time for music. But as the clamor of the first few weeks begins to settle into a routine, my thoughts start to turn towards the creative possibilities of being here.

Cairo-Zamaelk-View
The old and the new; the view from our flat in Cairo.

Plenty of free time and, to be honest, little else to do in Borneo led to something of a renaissance in my attitude to guitar playing. I refound my mojo and began to push myself further into the wonderful world of fingerstyle. A few months ago, the path was clear; continue in that direction, composing new songs that broadened the palette of my skills at arranging and playing, continuing to incorporate more and more of the African styles I admire, and finally wrapping it up into a little album of tracks that might sound like Pink Moon had it been recorded in Guinea Bissau rather than the English countryside. A nice little fantasy, and also a path predicated on staying in Borneo for another two years.

Now in Cairo, the possibilities are far wider.

One plan I definitely want to embark upon is learning to play the oud. I’ve always loved the instrument, and after seeing Moroccan oud master Driss El Maloumi at the Rainforest World Music Festival this year I vowed that if I ever came to the Arab world I’d learn to play one. Less than six months later the opportunity already presents itself. Walking about the streets of Cairo I’ve seen several ouds stuffed into their ugly duckling carry cases, and in the old part of the city there is a beautiful school in which to learn. I’ve no illusions at mastering the great repertoire of Arabic oud music, but hope to get just enough to compose my own songs on the oud and perhaps play a little lead.

Driss+El+Maloumi
Driss El Maloumi

Of course, the other big change from the wilds of Borneo is that suddenly I am somewhere with a wide and exciting music scene. I’ve already seen a couple of great gigs from local and international artists. But there’s more than a chance to hear other artists, there’s also a chance to be heard. It’s been a long while since I graced a stage in any serious way, but here there’s an opportunity to inject a bolt of sheer terror through my nerves and perform in public again. Much more enticing is the prospect of sharing said stage with other musicians, and perhaps even forming a band. From the little I’ve seen there appears to be an openness to fusing different musical traditions, and there are plenty of musicians about. I’ve already made friends with a cellist and we’re planning to try out a few ideas together come January. Let’s hope that’s just the start.

I definitely want to make some more records whilst I’m here. But it could be that my LP has a few more colours than just guitar and voice – perhaps a taste of my own oud playing; perhaps some further flavours added by the musicians I’ll meet whilst living here.

Unfortunately between all of these grand plans I’ll also be forced to make a normal living and all in probability sacrifice six weeks of 2016 on the altar of some serious professional development (and not in a musical direction). It is fun daydreaming about the different possibilities my music might take. In fact, I’m certainly guilty of too much fantasizing and not enough doing. We’ll check back in at the end of 2016 and see if any of these pipe dreams have amounted to anything.

Making Music With The Mother Of The World

Field Sounds

I began writing this blog entry in Borneo, but I find myself finishing it somewhere else entirely . . .  

Field Sounds 2

 

After two years living in Sabah in the north of Malaysian Borneo, a new job means it’s time to move on.  We’ve been lucky enough to have spent our time here in a magical place; the quiet little kampong of Menumpang. This tiny village by the sea has been our home, and living in our wood-walled house by the beach I’ve rediscovered my muse, mojo, or whatever you want to call it, and thrown myself back into writing songs and playing guitar.

I’ve spent an awful lot of time sitting on my porch of an afternoon or evening here. As I compose, I’m continually recording snippets of music on my laptop or phone, and over my time here I’ve amassed a library of hundreds of different ideas; riffs, chord progressions, melodies, song demos. Listening back to this work there’s one constant.

Nature.

Anything I recorded at night is accompanied by the chopping buzz of cicadas, the repeated tok of the nightjar, and sometimes the laughing of a gecko. During the daytime, the birds are most prominent; the constant bickering of the sparrows, the added music of ioras that nest in the tree above, and the cooing of the doves. When the tide’s up, the waves on the sand underpin it all.

Occasionally domestic flavours enter the mix; my wife’s singing Vietnamese folk songs as she does something industrious or conversations in broken English when our neighbours come visiting. Once in a while, a motorbike trundles by at no great pace to be barked at by the dogs. Bur the human touches fail to break the tranquillity.

If you’ve watched and listened to any the videos I’ve shared on this blog you’ll have a sense of the inspiration that the natural world has provided whilst making music in Borneo.

Well, that’s all over now!

I finish this blog from Cairo, Egypt, which looks as though it will be home for a while. The new soundtrack is the unceasing hubbub of one of the world’s great cities, the hawkers, the competing muezzins, and dizzying cacophony of car horns. Energetic and intoxicating, exploring the musical treats Cairo might have to offer is high on my list of things to do. And a completely different tapestry of field sounds will be accenting the recordings.

But when I trawl through the old sound library to see if there’s some song idea that could be expanded upon, I’ll hear those natural field sounds, and realise wild Borneo will forever be in my music.

Sabah, Borneo & Cairo, Egypt

December 2015

Field Sounds