Archive of posts tagged with "lifey"
July 23rd, 2014
It’s been *crickets* here on the blog for a while, and the main reason is that I’ve been spending more time behind a tractor and less in front of a laptop. And loving it.
I don’t spend very much time on the tractor, actually, because the work I do at Belmont Acres, a 5 acre farm 5 minutes from my house, is always a varied mix of seeding, weeding, transplanting, watering, harvesting, and other forms of ongoing and ad-hoc maintenance. I’ve learned tons about farming in the process, and spending so much time doing physical work, outdoors, with simpatico people, all the while attending and responding to the forces of nature — and gnoshing on fresh vegetables — has made me substantially healthier and happier. I’m pretty sure humans were made to do the kinds of work that farming involves. In its way, agriculture simply seems like a particular (sedentary) approach to hunting and gathering.
But I’m sorry for the silence in this space, especially since I have continued to publish things about music that may be of interest here — and to teach my favorite class in the world, Technomusicology. And I intend to share a bunch of that stuff here very soon. (Famous last words, I know. Also: the sorriest sort of blog post is the apology for not blogging, so enough already.)
A bit more about Belmont Acres: the farm is run by a lovely family who live down the road, and the farmer, Mike, has turned the operation at this long-farmed plot of land — allegedly since the 17th century, though you wouldn’t know it by the rock load — from an oldschool corn-stand into a place that grows a great variety of vegetables without the use of pesticides or other “conventional” farming methods. (Belmont Acres is not certified organic, but our growing practices are concerned with sustainable, food-web-friendly agriculture.)
Last year, Mike and crew grew over 120 varieties of vegetables, and this year we’re on par for a similar showing. (And people say the farm looks as good as it ever has. You can judge for yourself.) This week alone you’ll find the following at the stand: beets, bib lettuce, new potatoes, fingerling potatoes, broccoli, cucumbers, zucchini, artichokes (!), green peppers, green beans, faro and caraflex cabbage, garlic, scallions, sage, parsley, oregano, chard, and Tuscano kale. (For those who are local, you should come check the place out, pick up some of the freshest food you’ll find in the vicinity, and say hi. The stand is open Tues 3-6pm, Fri 2-5, & Sat 1-5, and we’re located just across Blanchard Road from Fresh Pond.) They even let me indulge my enthusiasm for abundant, delicious “weeds” like purslane, which has now appeared in shares as well as on the stand.
Though I haven’t written much about it on this blog, I think that supporting small-scale, sustainable agriculture like that practiced at Belmont Acres is one of the most important ways of nourishing our food system and our families and communities, and I’m just delighted to be so directly involved, getting my hands dirty in a way that feels so wholesome. I haven’t blogged much about it — or anything, recently — but I hope to find the time to share a lot more from this new realm of fascination and commitment. I suspect some of you may see a kinship between my work on music ecologies and my interest in food webs.
To whet appetites, or at least give a glimpse, allow me to present a convergence of sorts — a farmey soundscape I cooked up last month as a brief demo for my class. It’s not an accomplished work, or even a finished one, but it does offer a sense of the sights and sounds of the place (the smells I’ll have to leave to your imagination):
belmontacrescape from wayneandwax on Vimeo.
March 24th, 2014
Today marks five years with Charlie in the world. That’s five years full of her sweetness and smiles and sensitivity and boundless love.
As Becca recently recounted, a few months before Charlie was Charlie, we were very afraid that we had lost her. I’m still struck by the sadness of the thought of that little life-that-could-have-been lost, even in the abstract, but to imagine that we would have had to live without Charlie the concrete, the joyful and kind and utterly delightful kid we’ve gotten to know over the last five years, well, that’s just unthinkable.
So, to our dear Charlie, who we are so happy to have in the world, and who may or may not one day see this bloggy birthday card…
Here’s looking at you, you adorable dandelion gatherer, foraged flower muncher and pizza devourer, wearer of wonderful hats and funnier faces, jam enthusiast and sourdough steward, all around cutiepie and light of our lives, you just keeping being sweet little you <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
February 6th, 2014
Last month, Nico and Charlie each made their own sourdough starters — the yeast + bacterial cultures that have been used to leaven bread since…leavened bread (which predates sliced bread, by the way).
Nico began hers the simple, local, wild way: just take some flour — in our case made from Western, MA wheatberries we milled at home — and add water, more or less in equal parts (to make a thick batter), then give it a stir or two every day and sometimes a little more flour or water.
Charlie’s was similar in composition but included a spoonful of beer trub, harvested from the bottom of a carboy of a recent batch of ale — to give it a sure kick of (commercially-cultivated) yeast and to see whether it might otherwise effect the process (of fermentation) or the product (the bread).
They also both contained what Charlie — and then all of us — began referring to as “finger yeast,” which we think may contribute another key source of wild microbes. Here they explain the process, with some gentle prodding (and some useful prompts c/o Christina Agapakis, synthetic biologist, science blogger, and infamous maker of “human cheese” [who blogged about us here!]):
Perhaps predictably, Charlie’s culture got off to a quick start as the “beer yeasts” went (back) to work doing what they do: munching carbs and belching air and alcohol. Within a day Charlie’s starter was bubbling away and smelling boozy. The yeast still seemed to want to make beer! And despite making things quite bubbly very quickly, the beer yeast seemed to be making a thinner and, ironically, less vigorous starter. Nico’s took a little longer to grow, but after 3 or 4 days of stirring and feeding, it began to build steam, and it more quickly took on the sour notes — rather than beer notes — we were hoping for. When fed, it would also puff up a lot more than Charlie’s, which was more likely to pool.
Eventually, both starters got to a place where they seemed ready for a test run — sufficiently sour and ready to go to town on some fresh flour — so we baked a loaf from each of them a week or so ago in order to compare and taste our homemade sourdough.
Our bread recipe was a synthesis of some variations on a few approaches we’ve been trying for the last few months: Peter Reinhart’s, Chad Robertson’s (and Michael Pollan’s remix), and Jim Lahey’s popular “no knead” recipe (which, crucially, helped us first get our feet wet, or hands sticky). Notably, though they’re all different in various ways, all involve a long/delayed fermentation and relatively little kneading.
Our own approach mixes as it departs from them all. We’re totally into starters and soakers and long fermentations and low kneading and hearty country loaves, but we’re hardcore about ingredients: we’re using 100% whole wheat flour (a lot of so-called whole wheat loaves are actually 70/30 or 50/50, with plenty of refined white flour to up the gluten ratio to better trap air and make the bread bubbly & springy); we’re also making “lean” breads (as opposed to “enhanced” with fats or sweeteners) and we’re trying not to use any active dry yeast — just flour + water + (homegrown) microbes + salt. It’s a challenge — for many, it’s long been a holy grail — but it feels elemental. And rewarding. Even when a loaf comes out flat, it still has amazing depth of flavor.
After mixing up their own soakers (water + flour, to help soften the bran and begin enzymatic processes) and starters (essentially, 60 grams of their cultures + 200g flour + 150g water) the night before, and letting them each go to work for 12 hours, they woke up and mixed their final doughs the next morning.
I baked the loaves for the girls while they were at school, scoring each one with a first initial, and they came out just lovely — and were even tastier than they were beautiful.
We’re still not sure why Charlie’s didn’t get as nice an oven-spring as Nico’s — may have been the beer yeast, or the hydration, or my kneading (which needs improvement). But both she and Nico — and Becca and I — were very happy with the results.
We’re looking forward to future experiments with microbes — maybe future videos too. It’s been fun to learn about all this stuff together, and we hope some people might want to copy our experiments and share theirs with us. We’ll do our best to keep you posted on future things a-brewin’.
In that vein, while we’re here, I should note that — indeed, as is speculated with regard to the intertwined history of brewing and baking — Nico and Charlie had already made their first homebrews before their first starter cultures and loaves of bread. They began with a base of cracked & milled (but not malted) spelt, water, sugar, and preserved fruit, mixed to their own proportions —
Rather than going totally wild with the microbes, though, in this case they each used some trub to get things started. And I can attest, as the sole guinea pig several days later, that their very-small-batch beers (micro-micro-brews!) were not bad: a bit odd, a tad flat & a touch sourish, but nonetheless, beery.
Here’s to feeding ferment.
January 19th, 2014
The girl that made me a dad turned 6 on Friday! Amazing.
Watching Nico grow & change & stay the same, each year feels richer than that the last. What a treasure.
Here’s to another wonderful year — and many more to come.
<3 <3 <3 (ps -- Take your time, jam on, & keep swinging for the fences. You know who you are ;)
November 20th, 2013
We recently enjoyed the fruits — or fruiting bodies, to be precise — of what has to be the yummiest and funkiest Kickstarter I’ve supported to date: loGROcal’s Sustainable Mushroom Farm in Austin, TX.
The “Gourmet Oyster Mushroom Kit” I got for my $25 pledge arrived in the mail about a month ago. After following the simple instructions — mostly, misting a few times a day — tiny mushrooms began to emerge after just a couple days. In less than a week, they grew to full size, and we savored them sauteed with garlic and broccoli rabe, tossed with a little linguine. Check the progression–
Growing mushrooms at home is something we’d love to be able to do with more frequency. Since we happen to generate a good amount of spent beer grains and coffee grinds, all we really need to do is master the inoculation process. Oysters are easy because they aggressively colonize the medium, preventing less desirable organisms from taking over. Apparently, there are other good contenders too (like shiitakes), and we look forward to giving it a go on our own this winter.
The other cool thing about growing some oyster mushrooms in our own kitchen is that I recognized them readily the next time we went for a walk in the woods!
Thanks to the loGROcal dudes for getting us started, and congrats on successfully kickstarting their venture down in Austin!
April 9th, 2013
We had a lovely time in JA. It was especially nice & easy thanks to our local hosts and longtime frens, Sara & Marvin, who in addition to leading our party round the island, convening some great crews of friends & colleagues, carrying us to this party and that beach, and being total sports about hanging with our large fam, opened their home to us — a sweet perch in town, complete with mangoes in the yard!
Like any Kingston hosts worth their salt, Sara & Marv made sure we made it to Hellshire Beach our first weekend there, where we had our fill of oysters, lobster, and fried fish —
We couldn’t resist a likkle dip, the first of many on the trip —
That night we hit up Rockers Sound Station’s Rock Ur Soul Sundays, a dubwise session held at a spot called the Dub Club way up Jack’s Hill. It was a wild & windy ride, but the payoff was an incredible vista and some good, heavy vibes. It was a serious system, frequently exploited by the selectors who mostly withheld the massive bass for maximum effect. And when it dropped, bomba… While we were there, and this is hardly surprising, we were treated to an Italian guest selector wielding a single turntable (and the mixer & airhorn, of course), playing tracks with lines like “African or British, Italian, Japanese / it’s important that we share in love and harmony.” Amazingly, I found the session archived on Ustream! —
But we only got a couple nights in town. Most of our time was spent up in Portland at a far more leisurely pace. When we finally made it to the other side of the island, after threading mountain turns for a few hours, the first thing I saw was some graffiti nodding north & repping the THUG LIFE (G-UNOT!) —
We stayed in an amazing place called the Belmount, an exquisite little spot on the San San peninsula, overlooking the Blue Lagoon, Monkey Island, and San San Beach —
Pretty sweet at sunset too —
Here’s from the other side of the house/peninsula —
And don’t get me started on the plantings and flowers and such. But I will share one great moment: on one walk around the yard, I noticed a flower that had been choked by a small vine, so I snapped the vine and gently unraveled it and the flower opened right up, as if in some act of magical gratitude —
Belmount is just down the road from Frenchman’s Cove, so we spent a couple days in the special spot where the cool river meets the warm sea and a swing hangs from an almond tree at just the right height —
Of course, we also pilgrimaged to Winnifred Beach, maybe the most perfect natural beach I’ve ever seen, so well captured in this epic panorama shot by Sara —
Of course, we had to stop for some post-beach jellies (& about a dozen other fruits during the week) —
Becca had her first otaheite apple in a decade, and the girls their first ever, so that was sweet —
If only we could plant one of these things up in Cambridge…
Of all the delicious and alien fruit we sought out and encountered, I discovered I’m a sucker for almonds. Sea almonds, I believe. And more the trees than the fruit, which I didn’t get much a chance to try. (I did bite into a freshly fallen one I found on the beach, which had a tart, pear-ish taste and an almost avocado feel. Pretty good, but it wasn’t ripe enough.) I hadn’t noticed before, but almond trees totally proliferate in Jamaica, both as wild beach majesties and squat sculpted lawn ornaments —
They have great teardrop leaves, which turn orange, then red, and drop gently from the trees —
This ol’ struggler provided crucial shade at Frenchman’s —
While this one in the Belmount yard has orchids growing out of it!
I was even enamored of the morbid beauty of fallen almonds being dismantled by beetles —
But enough about trees. That’s enough, I’m sure. Thanks for watching! Since I’ve had you here this long, I’ll leave you a couple parting shots I can’t resist leaving out: a herd of goats running the road —
Special thanks to Charlie 1.0, driving above, and Fern, not pictured, for making the whole dang thing possible. It was a Jamaican vacation I’ve always dreamed of — and to be able to introduce Nico and Charlie to the place this way was wonderful.
March 15th, 2013
I’m thrilled to report that tomorrow morning I’m headed back to Jamaica for the first time in a couple years. It’ll also be the first time in a decade for Rebecca, and the very first time for Nico and Charlie. I can’t describe how excited I am to see their faces upon having a cold jelly, a sun-ripened banana, some ackee & saltfish, and other likkle wonders of the place. We’re very lucky to have the opportunity for a multigenerational vacation (Charlie 1.0 and Fern will be there too), to have dear friends in Kingston to receive us (bigup Sara & Marvin), and to have a lovely time ahead of us, both in town and up in Portland, arguably the most beautiful corner of a beautiful country.
Our vacation will no doubt stand in some contrast to the all-inclusive tourist-traps many college students and other folk are looking forward to this Spring Break. And so it seems as fitting a time as ever to re-run an excerpt from an ol’ “Jamaica Blog” post about our experience of an all-inclusive in Ocho Rios some 10 years back. (This was first published on 25 Feb 2003, so, yeah, still lagging a bit. Soon Come ;) I don’t feel like quite as strident a critic of other people’s experience of Jamiaca as I did 10 years ago, but I think it’s useful to register (and re-register) my experiences, aesthetics, and prejudices all the same. And I have to admit that the questions i raise at the end remain trenchant and recurring ones for me. We’ll see whether I have anything to say about all of that when I return next weekend.
L to R: sour sop, naseberry, naseberry tree, at our friend kush’s place, just outside ochi
after four weeks of living in jamaica, becca and i finally got a chance to spend a few days outside of kingston. becca was asked to speak at an internet forum being held in ocho rios by the ministry of utilities. for her part, she was provided accommodations at the hotel where the conference was to take place, the renaissance jamaica grande, a subsidiary of marriott, the largest and most prominent all-inclusive resort in the attractive coastal town. (ocho rios stands third to montego bay and negril as a tourist spot in jamaica.) despite the pre-packaged feel we suspected the hotel would have, we were both looking forward to spending some time on a beach and taking a little holiday. moreover, we were curious about the hotel, wanting to compare our experience in jamaica so far with the jamaica that most tourists are shown. we were glad to have a complimentary chance to check it out.
since i was conducting workshops at the american school on thursday, i decided to meet becca in ocho rios later in the day (she left at five am). i had planned to take a bus from kingston, which seemed to be an inexpensive and interesting prospect. it turned out, however, that one of the companies at the conference was offering a cruise departing at 5:30 that evening, so i chartered a taxi to get me there quickly (the ride can take well under two hours, depending on traffic and the driver’s desire to tempt fate). driving in jamaica is quite an experience. never mind the wrong side of the road problem, which, for the passenger (being a driver, i assume, requires more adjustment) quickly loses its jarring effect. taking corners and passing cars in kingston is often enough of an adventure. taking corners and passing cars (sometimes several at once) as one winds through the mountains, pedal to the floor, is a more grueling experience.
my driver was an excellent driver, which did a little to assuage my frequent fear of hurtling to my death. i don’t think he ever let up on the gas so long as he could accelerate, which meant down-shifting — not breaking — and speeding up around tight corners, getting as close as possible to the rapidly traveling (though never rapidly enough) car ahead, and passing caravans of slower cars if possible. that said, my driver did an impressive job. he was easily the fastest car on the road (no one passed us anyway), partly because he knew the winding road so well that he traced it incredibly efficiently. i asked him how many times he had driven this route. “how many times? nuff times, mon. sunday, tuesday, and wednesday of this week.” i got the point. he had been driving twenty-years, probably with this kind of weekly frequency through the mountains. he got me to ocho rios in the time he said he would (two hours), which was rather fast considering the thursday afternoon traffic.
having, towards the end, grown a bit nauseated by the twisting, turning, and lurching, i was not looking forward to a cruise. but it was refreshing and reinvigorating to pass through fern gully (a cool, damp stretch of road, surrounded by ferns on both sides, and covered overhead by a thick canopy of trees) and then into town, sun still shining. i shouldn’t skip over the beautiful ride by focusing on the dangerous driving. the roads through the mountains have granted me some of the most gorgeous glimpses of grand jamaica i have ever beheld. from kingston, you pass through spanish town (with its central-but-abandoned colonial-era courtyards) then you ascend into the hills, where before long, the vegetation grows denser and the air cooler. soon enough, you are driving along high mountain roads through bamboo forests. here and there people sell fresh fruit, mostly mangoes and otaheite apples. then the vegetation recedes a bit, villages spring up, and the descent begins. fern gully makes for a fitting cool down in the final stretch before the coast. once through fern gully, ocho rios springs up fairly quickly. dancehall reggae fills the air from several directions as soundsystems (advertising that night’s dance or a particular record store), cars, and vendor’s carts take part in an informal soundclash (the dancehall term for a competition between soundsystems). the jamaica grande is located right on the beach and right off the main road. i paid my driver JA$3000 (US$60), which is the standard fare for the journey in a taxi (the prices dive for buses: JA$125 – 250, or US$3-5), and not a bad price considering that my stay at the hotel would cost me nothing.
i met becca at the aptly titled “fantasy pool,” which, i noticed, was cleaned every morning by a shirtless dread, the stella-got-her-groove-back type. the cruise left from the hotel dock. (you really never have to leave the hotel.) it was not worth the breakneck pace of the drive through the mountains, but it was a good introduction to the culture of the jamaica grande (not, mind you, the culture of jamaica. oh, no. this was an entirely different animal). we shoved off with twin speakers blaring lovers rock at us, a little heavy on the treble, and set off down the coast to dunn’s river falls, a famous waterfall nearby. it was a nice enough view from the boat, but not quite worth the trip. still, the sunset was lovely, and then the stars. and the rum punch (white overproof rum mixed with water and syrup) hit the spot. the water got very choppy and we had to head in early because some people, myself not included (remarkably enough), were feeling ill. we cruised back into the hotel bay and camped out in the calm waters while a man entertained us all by eating fire, ripping apart a coconut with his teeth, and lifting up women by the belt with his teeth. then there was a limbo and a beer-drinking contest. i kid you not. participation was lackluster (we’re talking about internet service providers here), especially since the prizes were promotional company-logo polo-shirts. “hey, that would look sharp on the golf course! or on casual friday!” thoreau says beware any enterprise that requires new clothes, especially promotional polo-shirts.
the rest of the jamaica grande was less impressive than the boat ride. for an expensive resort, the lack of quality was astounding. the all-you-can-eat buffet was practically inedible, though becca and i knew quite well (and confirmed on friday night) that there was absolutely astounding food to be had around town. they couldn’t even put out fresh, local fruit or juice, never mind fish, bammie, and calalloo. (world of fish on james avenue, a short walk from the hotel, is not to be missed. even so, one is lucky to see another white face in the vicinity, especially after sundown.). it seemed as if, in truly contemporary jamaican fashion, everything was imported. the beach was a flimsy, artificial-looking strip along a stale bay. white girls aged 10-18 walked around with their hair in complimentary braids. a high percentage of guests — over half were american, and there seemed to be an inordinate number of italians this weekend — could best be described as resembling whales or lobsters, and there were plenty of lobsterish whales. the music and “culture” were completely canned. consider, for example, the dinner-time serenade of a smooth-jazz-ish reggae band doing lionel richie covers or the friday night faux-naughtiness of doing the limbo and conga-line-dancing to the lascivious sounds of trinidadian soca (“turn it around and push it back in” [repeat ad nauseum]). compare this music with the dancehall and roots reggae pounding away, day and night, in the center of town — just a stone’s throw away. to the detriment of their own experience, and certainly their cultural horizons, the all-included set miss out on the vibrant local music scene as much as they miss out on ochi’s culinary delights.
it would be incorrect to call the hotel’s bizarre mix of cultural signs a representation of jamaicanness, for the mix was too messy and the focus too vague. to be more precise, we might talk about the hotel’s “projection of caribbeanness,” which struck somewhere between exoticism and familiar fun. one wonders how much the presentation is fueled by the guests’ actual desire or by an assumption on the part of the proprietors (who are american) that such is the experience people desire. i am sure it is more of a push-and-pull than any supply/demand model could attempt to explain. still, i can’t help but feel cynical about the phenomenon. don’t get me wrong: i hold no delusion that there is some “authentic” jamaica to be found and presented, oyster-like, to fat, ignorant american tourists or to naive anthropologists or to reggae lovers. the real jamaica is, of course, all of the jamaicas anyone imagines. the projection of the idyllic and carefree jamaica creates some serious tension when compared with, say, the reputation of jamaica as the country with the highest murder rate. (the tension jumps out of the little pink booklet of dos-and-don’ts that the hotels distribute to guests.) for all of the fantasy, one always bumps up against the stark reality of poverty, of desperation, of hunger. but perhaps not if one never leaves the hotel.
i am deeply interested in the concept of authenticity, at least partly because i recognize that it operates on my own perception, my “reception,” or interpretation, of various texts, cultural and literal. i also see the way it plays into other people’s ideas about life and art, essence and appearance, soul and race. it is good to confront oneself about what one deems to be real and why. what is involved in such a value judgment? what kind of assumptions undergird the determinations we make, the reactions we have, especially to cultural materials (e.g., music, film, advertisements, language, social practices)? examining the way that i react to music that i deem to be authentic or not, and asking myself why and how i confer authenticity to something, is usually an edifying experience. the conversation about hip-hop, including and far-exceeding the lyrics themselves, is pervaded by the question of what, or more often, who, is real. i am curious about how authenticity is communicated in sonic terms — what are the musical signs which convey the real? i wonder how it works as a psychological process — is it a kind of elicited empathy? i wonder about the negative ideas that often travel with things deemed authentic — how are one’s ideas about race, about the inherent differences and aptitudes of groups of people, informed, reinforced, or challenged by the experience of the “real” in music? i wonder whether by making the machinery of authenticity more visible, i can challenge people’s complacency about their received knowledge. i wonder whether happy italian tourists give a damn. i doubt it.
me & naseberry tree, in a quieter and prettier (if less “grande”) part of ochi
February 26th, 2013
Our 5yo brought this home from school this month. I don’t know where to begin.
I mean, obviously the last one takes the cake, but I’m also tickled by the first choice students are given: an airplaine vs. a picture of Martin Luther King talking. Hmmm, which one?
Admittedly, I’m finding it tricky to introduce my little girls to the sorrows and horrors of racism, but somehow we’ve got to do better than this. Come on, Cambridge. #smdh
February 22nd, 2013
I’ve already fallen behind on my goal of reblogging our ’03 Jamaica Blog in sync with this year’s calendar. But since I don’t plan on re-running every single post (and since you can still see them here), I haven’t built up too huge a queue yet. Speaking of queues, the following re-post is one of my favorites from our time in Jamaica, expressing vividly — including a handy visual aid! — our deeply frustrating encounters with Jamaica’s bloated bureaucracy. Given the topic, I shouldn’t make you wait any longer. Here goes…
i left my pro-tools system in cambridge because i thought my laptop would be sufficient for organizing sound and creating music here and because the system would have been way too much to carry (the mixing board itself is not big, but the computer it runs on is). during my second week here, however, it became clear that the pro-tools system would be indispensable to my efforts. there is a good amount of interest on the part of many artists down here to collaborate with me, which, as far as i’m concerned, creates some rather ideal circumstances for trying to understand the musical choices that people make and why.
late last week, upon his return to cambridge, charlie fed-exed me a large suitcase containing the pro-tools mixing board, the computer, mouse, and keyboard. we received a note saying that it was being held at customs at the airport, that we needed to bring a number of mysterious forms with us, and that charges would begin to accrue if we did not pick up our package within one week. remembering our awful experience running back and forth between various ministries to get our visas extended, becca and i were prepared for the worst. we made sure to call both fed-ex and customs ahead of time to make sure we would have everything in order and would not be sent home from the airport (an expensive cab ride that we would rather not have to repeat). we were told that all we needed was the notice itself, some identification, and plenty of cash (“be prepared,” was, i believe, the way they phrased it).
we took a taxi to the airport and went to the customs office, but it turned out that we needed to go to a separate fed-ex facility a bit down the road. upon reaching the building, we were waved into the parking lot by a man in a bright white-shirt gesticulating rather frenetically. not knowing whether he worked there or not, but assuming by his clothing and his officiousness that he did, i handed the papers to him, which he was grabbing out of my hands at any rate. he flipped through the pages, already printed in triplicate, and mumbled things like, “oh, this is very bad,” “you will have some trouble,” “you will need three copies of this,” and so on. it soon became apparent that he did not work there but was offering to help me out, bypassing official channels (he introduced me to a “customs official,” who was dressed similarly, but had a badge, and who claimed that if i attained a c-79 form inside he could get me my package within a week — not a promising agreement). to be honest, i was not sure whether these guys were telling me the truth or just trying to get some money from me. it seemed totally plausible that they could guide me through the bureaucracy and get me my package faster, but at the same time i didn’t want to be taken for a sucker, especially when such valuable belongings were at stake. taking my papers back, i told them i would try my hand inside, but thanks for the help. they said i would be back. they were right.
we went into the building and joined the queue. a security guard approached us and told us that we would indeed need three copies of the first form. no one had told us this when we called, of course. and where could we get copies made? outside, he told us. of course. at this point, i became deeply distrustful of the entire place, feeling that everyone was in collusion, but i wanted to get my computer, so i went back outside while becca stayed in line. after a few i-told-you-sos and a few JA$20 coins, the man went off to make the copies for me (through the back of the same building), leaving me with his customs-officer partner. the freelance “officer” again offered his services. i complained about the system here: the impenetrable and illogical bureaucracy, the corruption, the chaos of it all. he told me matter-of-factly, and a bit pridefully, that there was no avoiding the system. fair enough, but i was not about to support its messy outgrowth if i did not have to. i got my copies and walked back toward the building, knowing full well that i may have to come back out and swallow my own pride.
i rejoined becca in the queue, which had not budged. the customs office was small: two window-partitioned cubicles, a long desk opposite them, a small desk wedged between a cashier’s window and a room with a mirror-plated door, and, across from this, another door opening out into a large, cardboard-box-filled warehouse. the path that i would take through this small room over the next hour was stupefying in its zig-zag pattern, its redundancy, its absurdity. this is bureaucracy at its worst: too many people doing too little and exercising every bit of power they have at every opportunity. i went to each spot at least once, had to present my passport at nearly every checkpoint, and never knew whether people were dealing with me on the up-and-up. i understand that such a system of checkpoints and paperwork is in place to limit the possibility of theft or the smuggling of contraband into the country. nevertheless, i feel the need to illustrate the surreality of the experience, which made last week’s travels, or travails, between the ministries of labor and national security seem like a cup of tea. so pardon the detail. (see becca’s diagram for an intricate pictorial representation, whose colors paint the experience as more cheerful than it was, of our customs house wanderings.)
we finally reached the end of the first queue, where i submit my papers, including the three additional copies i had procured (which, in fact, turned out to be quite necessary). the man behind the window checked my passport, put a number of stamps on a number of things, signed within the stamps, generated a several carbon-copy forms to add to my pile, and accepted JA$300 (about US$6) for his labor. next, i was sent to the adjacent cubicle, where i re-presented my passport and papers, which were stamped a bit more. the man behind the window collected a copy for himself (at each stage, some paperwork was generated and retained) and gave me a carbon-copy form, the famous c-79, to fill out. the same security guard who sent me back outside was very helpful in assisting me with the form. from there, i first went to the warehouse door, presenting one copy to a man who would fetch my package, and then to the other side of the room, to a small desk where a young woman once again verified my identity, took more copies, generated more forms, and sent me back to the warehouse door to get my package. there the suitcase stood in pretty good shape (much better than the dented cardboard boxes which littered the place and frightened me with the prospect that my computer had experienced similar handling). the next stop was the long desk, where someone would determine how much i had to pay to bring my computer into the country. at first, no one was there and it seemed that we may have to wait for some time, especially if the fellow had gone to lunch. fortunately, someone emerged from behind the mirror-plated door soon enough. the clerk asked me to open the suitcase so he could inspect its contents. there, under a pillow and surrounded by foam, was my computer, the mixing board, the peripherals, and, in a little stroke of genius by charlie, a copy of the no substitute cd. the clerk quickly reached for the cd, saying, “this fellow looks familiar,” giving me the chance to explain that i use this very computer to make my music, that my name is actually wayne marshall, that i’m into dancehall and rap, etc. the whole tenor of things changed after this exchange. i told him he could keep the copy of the cd, if he was nice to me, and he seemed grateful and cooperative. he totaled up the tax to JA$700, and sent me behind the mirror-glass door to get yet another new form signed by a woman inside. next, i went to the cashier’s window to pay the charge. the cashier was already listening to “no substitute” and seemingly enjoying it. a co-worker in the cashier’s office was surprised by the opening track with its dancehall rhythm and amused by the wayne&wax name. (oddly enough, wayne is quite a popular name in jamaica. i have probably met and/or heard of at least twenty to thirty jamaican waynes.) after paying i was sent back to the long desk, where my papers were validated once again by the same woman who was digging “no sub” in the cashier’s office. she did some more paperwork and then sent me back across to the second cubicle i had visited. there i was given a final carbon-copy form, which would get me through the security at the door. at each of the two security check-points i gave the guard the proper copy of the form, and my passport, and we were finally done. we got in our cab (we paid the driver to wait for us) and headed back into town in time to make our third meeting of the day.
it was a long and harrowing day. carrying around a couple heavy bags, loaded with computer equipment, tired me out and gave me a splitting headache. when we finally got home, we took cold showers, had a drink on the porch, and tried to relax a bit. we made ackee and saltfish for dinner and watched the local news. given the day’s events, i was extremely amused by an excerpt from the morning’s parliament meeting. the permanent secretary of finance, speaking on a problem with some inter-government accounting in nigeria, explained that “nigerian culture does not lend itself to good record keeping.” “sometimes,” he continued, “you cannot get an original invoice.” the irony of this statement was just too much for me at this point in the day. i cracked up laughing. i must admit that i am a little apalled by the degree to which many jamaicans — especially those working for the government or some other sprawling corporation — not only accept but naturalize the thick bureaucracy here, as if proper paperwork is innate to “jamaican culture.” as if anything is. surely, the british are responsible for these structures: how better to keep the reigns tight on colonial control than to regulate the most mundane comings-and-goings through a labyrinthine process, subject to the arbitrary exercise of power along each rung of the ladder. though the brits officially took their leave in ’62, it seems that jamaicans have adopted many of their practices and structures uncritically, sometimes with pride.
shortly after the news, i began to feel quite ill: my headache worsened, i got the chills, my joints began to ache, my nose grew congested. i was overtaken by flu-like symptoms. my worst fears kept whispering, “ackee-poisoning,” but i was pretty sure i just had the flu, or some similar stomach-bug. forced into bed before 9 pm, i spent most of the night tossing and turning, feeling my body slowly recover. i got a chance, with all my restlessness, to listen closely to kingston’s night noise. as the cars on hope became less frequent and noisy, the dogs began their all-night barking. they were joined a little before sunrise by the crowing of cocks. soon the cars began again, and by about 7, the kids were arriving at school next door, filling the air with the sounds of play. had i felt at all able to get out of bed, i would have made more recordings (the dogs were especially impressive last night). [2013 note: hear recordings of these sounds at this re-post.]
the most disappointing result of my sudden illness was that i was unable to attend a wayne marshall sing-alike competition at a nearby club. my jamaican doppleganger has made quite a name for himself with his sing-songy style, and i would have loved to see a room of people trying to judge who sounded most like the “tr-true-true” wayne marshall. talk about life in triplicate: here was the chance to see a dozen wayne marshalls! supposedly, wayne marshall himself was to attend, and i am sorry i missed the chance to bear witness to such weirdness and to meet the other mr. marshall. at some point, perhaps in the not too distant future, i will get a chance to cause a little trouble with my name, confronting wayne with his american double, and really get underway on some mobius-strip-style research. alas, last night was not the night.
ps — I’ve still never met the Jamaican Wayne Marshall in the 10 years since this post, despite no small number of mutual friends or offers to introduce us. Someone needs to rectify this! Also, can an ethnomusicoloblogger get a disambiguation page or what?
February 6th, 2013
Here’s another ten-years-gone re-post from the initial instantiation of my blog, back in 2003 when Rebecca and I moved to Jamaica for six months of doctoral research — and, as a side gig (if one deeply intertwined with my research), a series of digital music workshops in schools and prisons.
What I’m going to do in this case is cobble together and remix two overlapping posts by yours truly and my “companion on Hope Road” — detailing a trip to a nearby high school where we conducted one of our first workshops after moving to Kingston, exactly 10 years ago today. Mainly, what I want to share here are the ebullient sounds of students at St. Andrew High School for Girls freestyling about an upcoming teacher’s strike — and working up some first-time beats.
Howard Campbell is a teacher at St. Andrew High School for girls, just down the road from us in Halfway Tree. He is the head of the computer labs and the coordinator for all kinds of technology education at St. Andrew. We met him at the Harvard-Jamaica Association meeting where he had come with his friend Marvin, not because they were from Harvard or cared at all about a Harvard Alumni Association, but because they were educators interested in our project. In fact, it seemed that from experience both Howard and Marvin had learned that top-down organizations, such as the association we were forming and the school system in Kingston-St. Andrew were not the best way to get things done. They encouraged us to start from the teachers in the schools if we wanted to get in and start working. After seeing Wayne’s demo, Howard offered St. Andrew as a good place to start. Yesterday we went to St. Andrew for the first time.
At 8am we had a class of 4th formers (10th grade). We were to do a demo with them in this period and then a workshop with them from 10-11 in the computer lab. When Wayne got Fruityloops up on the screen and started talking, the class was polite and paid attention. Once he hit the first kick drum, they began to look really interested. And as soon as he put up a little hip-hop beat and then turned it into the grindin’ beat, they were hooked. (Side note: from Cambridge to Kingston, it seems that kids everywhere are loving the grindin’ beat and banging it out on their desks. Way to go Neptunes.) They started dancing in their chairs when he showed them how to make some dancehall. Next he made a song with the class, getting a few brave souls to make some noises and sing a bit and putting it together into a dancehall rhythm:
[2013 Wayne here just pointing out the obvious reference here to “In Da Club,” another ubiquitous song at this time.]
At 9 they reluctantly left for their next class, seemingly a combination of a particular attachment to Mr. Campbell, interest in what Wayne was doing, and dislike of whatever they would have to do for the next hour.
At 10, girls piled in and sat one or two to a computer. Wayne managed to hold their attention for a few minutes to repeat some basics. And they got started. I was glad I had watched Wayne so much and messed around on Fruityloops myself because there were too many questions for Wayne to handle by himself. Girls went at different paces and made every kind of music from dancehall to techno. As they would run into trouble, Wayne would go to them and give them a few pointers to keep them moving in a good direction. At 11 they were all still going strong. Howard came and told us that it was their lunch period, but if we didn’t mind, they could stay. We didn’t mind. Most of them stayed through most of their lunch period and came away with some pretty good little songs.
Cue 2003 Wayne:
the workshop proved to be quite productive, if a little cacophonous at times. (half a dozen computers blasting beats together in a small room can create quite a sound clash, to use the local term; headphones are helpful). through their own predilections, and the contingent curve-balls of the creative process, the girls came up with some diverse stylings. “catherine’s rock rhythm” (as she titled it), probably takes its name from the “dirty-guitar” sample that, unfortunately, is missing here since i seem to be missing it in my own sound bank (i am converting it to mp3 on my laptop today, away from the school). nevertheless, it puts a strong foot forward with its bouncy bed of techno–not the most popular genre here but one in which a couple of girls decided to create.
sydoney and zelieka collaborated to create a rhythm that, while borrowing from the neptune’s ubiquitous grindin’ beat (in the third and fourth bars of each six-bar, AABBAA phrase), almost defies category with its future-funk, electro-slanted hip-hop.
and “shanika’s hip-hop beat” is, quite honestly, one of the illest things i have heard in a while. not bad for a first try!
we went home to have lunch and do laundry. at two o’clock we headed back to the school to do another demo–this one for an afterschool music club, which seemed like an appropriate audience. howard told us on the way down hope road that a buzz was already passing through the school, accelerated in part by my famous name. we had some time to see the grounds before the music club meeting, so howard showed us around. most impressive was a front courtyard where girls were hanging out and waiting to be picked up from school.
one group of girls stood in a circle under a tree, coaxing a makeshift rhythm out of an empty coke bottle and an igloo thermos. they were DJing, laughing, dancing and exhorting each other. it was an absolutely wonderful moment of improvisation and collective music-making. as howard (with his video camera), i (with mic and laptop), and becca (with her digital camera) moved in for some samples, it was clear that this cipher was no rehearsal. these girls were not only creating extemporaneous raps in DJ-style, they were humorously riffing on the topic of the hour: the imminent teachers’ strike and the small holiday the students would enjoy.
as the girls waited for the beat to begin again (having located another empty coke bottle), one called out for them to freestyle, dubbing the day “freestyle friday” — a reference to a popular segment during a music-video program on BET. the seamlessness of this reference in the context of the girls’ play is another testament to the fluidity of cultural forms here: hip-hop and other american exports are absorbed and spun back out, sometimes more and sometimes less like a copy. today was no copy. the girls may have assimilated the hip-hop term for in-the-moment rap, but their form was strictly dancehall. [Indeed, though I didn’t realize it at the time, they were closely riffing on a beloved Shabba ranks routine.]
hear the distinctive 3+3+2 dancehall beat, the staccato, end-rhyme style of the vocals, the chorus of gun-shot-big-ups that follow the first good rhyme, the “booyaka” refrain — more onamatopoetic gunfire — that cracks everyone up. listen closer for the topicality of the text: “ting-a-ling-a-ling / school bell nuh ring / go and mek the teacher buy the bling-bling.” the call to give the teachers some money to buy jewelry and other nice things [but also basics, like “dumpling”] is at once a crack at those not providing for their teachers and a good-natured ribbing for the teachers themselves (who are either impoverished or greedy by implication). and lest one think these students are disappointed about school being cancelled, they dispel any such notions with a “no school” celebratory chant.
back to Bec for a sec:
“No school, no school!” was the main refrain and the main topic of conversation. Why? A nation-wide teacher’s strike is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday as a demonstration of dissatisfaction with the wage increase that the teacher’s union and the government have negotiated. Here, as in the U.S. but on a more extreme scale, the teachers are drastically underpaid and their work undervalued. Howard takes the problem quite seriously and is an active participant in organizing some form of peaceful resistance. He is clearly a caring and beloved teacher. He supports programs like ours as a way to move education forward in Jamaica. He is just the sort of person one would want to see standing up for the rights of teachers because it is teachers like him who demonstrate how much a teacher’s work is worth.
And I’ll pile on just a little more:
many of the students were worried about the strike, including a number of them pursuing a rumor that howard, a clear favorite at st. andrews, would be resigning. as various girls ran up to greet him after school, howard assuaged their fears and pointed out that, although he may be “on strike,” as they could see, he was still at school, and well into afterschool hours. as we continued walking through the grounds, on our way back to the computer lab, we came across a girl practicing piano in a large performance hall that stands in the middle of the campus. i got a little of her rendition of beethoven’s moonlight sonata on my laptop, a chord of which ended up in the song i created with music club, who decided to do their own little version of sean paul’s terribly popular, “gimme the light.” [n.b.: fairly horribly harmonized — or not at all, really — on my part]
after the demo, which was received positively, complete with (in true jamaican style) some fairly formal and very charming thanks from the music club’s spokesperson, i went back to the lab to collect the tracks that the students had created in the morning so that i could post them on the blog. at four o’clock on a friday afternoon, the lab was full of girls making music, most of them new. very promising indeed.