Banjo Earth: China – Chapter 14 – “Stoke the Fire” (blog)


Dali –

I begin the morning once again by blogging, coffee, and hanging out in the courtyards of the hostel. It’s energizing to see all of the activity of these travelers making plans and having breakfast before their journeys. We’ve got some really cool things planned for today, and I’m excited to get it started. After breakfast I head into town to make a couple of purchases. I need to find some sunglasses and a hat, or hoodie. The hat is to keep my head from the impending cold, and will also operate as afro control, keeping my curly mop in check. The sunglasses I could not find, but I did find a beautiful, hand-made, hoodie from a local craftsman.

Out and about in the Old Town, Dali

There is a lot of really gifted artisans and craftsmen living in the Dali area. Leather-work is big here and you will find the most beautiful belts, bags, and clothing that you have ever seen. It is all extremely well made and expensive, but well worth the price. Even though haggling is expected in this part of the world, I gladly pay the man full price for the hoodie, because it is his art and craft. As an artist myself, I respect the time and skill it takes to create something of value. Thus, with no haggling of price, I hand the man his money and walk off with my new blue hoodie.

The blue hoodie

We have a recording session set up today for the afternoon and evening with my friends Josh Dyer and Kirk Kenney, whom I played with at Sun Island on my first night in town. They have become quick friends as we share a love of music and many other basic philosophies. Josh has offered us to come stay at his place in a small mountain village to record. He has also arranged for a Mongolian musician/singer to join us, and for a traditional ethnic dinner to be made.

Enjoying our time with Kirk and Josh

We meet Josh at the hostel and have a beer to discuss life and our plans for the rest of the day. We secure a car to take us there, then follow him on his motorcycle to the village. It’s nice to be getting out of the old city and exploring some other parts of the town. The village is quite primitive, and the street is extremely narrow, so our driver drops us off at the gate to the village and we walk the rest of the way.

Get some fresh country air

The place is amazing! It is an old style courtyard compound with branches of the house surrounding the center. One side of the house is over 100 years old and is still happening with the same wood with which it was constructed. This will be the studio. There is lots of space and the room sounds incredible. As we get set up, the musicians start arriving. I redo the rhythm guitar tracks I did the other day because Josh’s guitar and the room sound so much better than my previous attempts.

Laying down some rhythm tracks in the makeshift studio

I track down Reuben and Desert Waltz, as I feel those two would be best suited for the Mongolian player. His name is Gawa, and he is a consummate musician. He is well grounded in the traditions and skills of his native past. Yet he is fearless and adventurous in his willingness to embrace and try other music. I play Reuben with him for a while, then let him listen to the recording we’ve made, and we begin tracking. He is quite nervous as we all stare at him and Ben puts a video camera in close proximity, but he performs quite well and the sounds he made are perfect for the track.

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Gawa doing his thing in the studio

We then come down for dinner made by a local Bai woman, the main native ethnic group of this area. The food is so delicious, and the company is a lot of fun. Meat dishes, cucumber, lotus root, potatoes, and rice, accompanied by red wine and whiskey combine with great and fun conversation. We converse about the state of music in China and America, and Gawa gives us a little throat singing lesson. After this fabulous meal, we head back into the studio to put some Mongolian singing on the track. It is exactly what I envisioned, and even better, and gives this song the Banjo Earth magic that it needed. I’m really excited about how it turned out.

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Deliciously cooked meal made by a local Bai chef
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The chef…she’s yelling at me to get out of the kitchen!

Post recording, everyone gets their instruments out and the jam commences. We play so many different tunes and styles, and play well into the night. Sad songs, happy songs, Mongolian songs, American songs, and new songs we make up on the spot allow us to foray into all kinds of musical worlds. We play well into the night, laughing and jamming along the way. It all eventually winds down, and we brush our teeth with my hippie toothpaste that I got in Arizona, and fall into bed. What a great day this was! The food, the music, the mountains, was all just right. Huge thanks to Josh for having us to his place and arranging all of the magical things to happen. Peace through Music. Community through Creation.

Peace through Music. Community through Creation.

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