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FLASHBACK: Swaziland Chronicles - Day 3 - Afternoon Jam/Rehearsal

After lunch, we're scheduled to work with Bholoja's band in preparation for a public concert the following evening in Swaziland's premier venue "House On Fire"... and this is when it REALLY starts to happen!!

Originally Posted by Keri Chryst on October 6, 2011 at 7:00 AM

Bholoja suggests Keri try a DIFFERENT kind of improvisation ;-) ( Left to right: Cosi, Li, Keri, Bholoja )

Afternoon Rehearsal

Jeff suggests we start with "Jaywalking", one of Bholoja's compositions that he'd played for us earlier during the show and tell. I jump on the mic with one of his two back up singers - his sister Li standing next to Cosi. Once the band (including Jeff now) has set up the two-chord groove, Bholoja starts noodling around vocally and then nods to me to do the same. We trade off scatting for a little, grinning while working out the kinks of crossing over between our two idioms, yet it's really not that difficult for either of us. He then picks up what's obviously a pre-composed lyric, and I listen and wait to see what the other girls are gonna do, and when.

Kickin' it Freestyle

Little by little Jeff and I both start to get the sense of structure for the song (as well as the lack thereof) and chime in as needed to either reinforce the harmony, or take a turn on a solo. Jeff plays a few killer solos that have the band eating out of his hand.

Personally I'm having a ball just grooving on the backing vocals with the other ladies - but then Bholoja throws me a curve and wants me to sing (with words!) about the theme of this song "Jaywalking". This is a whole new ball-game for me... I've done lots of spontaneous composition (scatting) and I've written lyrics... but this was a first for me trying the two together at once! But the vibe was so generous and open that I was utterly willing to go for it and ended up singing a little story which even turned into a new little riff for the song. Not only was it a joy, but... it sounded good too!

Free-styling Lyrics on a song I've never heard!?! So liberating! ( Left to right: Cosi, Li, Keri, Bholoja )

Spontaneous Composition

Ok - first collaboration in the bag... "So now what?" Bholoja's band kind of look at each other - no one's quite sure what to do next. Someone starts a riff, and Bholoja turns to Cosi and tells her to start singing. I'm not 100% positive, but I'm getting the impression that whatever's being created might just be entirely spontaneous - not a pre-existing song (we later find out that this was true - but it was so normal for them, that they hadn't even thought it worth mentioning). Cosi noodles around her new theme, and then settles into a short phrase that could easily serve as a sort of "refrain" and Bholoja, Li and I chime in with a spontaneous and rich 3-4 part harmony for it. I am finding that I am SO in my element, it's exhilarating!

Sweet Home Chicago

After making our way through our new collective composition "l'Temba" (meaning "hope") Bholoja turns to me and Jeff to say "Okay, let's do one of YOUR songs now... how 'bout that one about Chicago?". So, Jeff takes about 90 seconds to "explain" (without words) a 12-bar blues to the bass player... and we lay into "Sweet Home Chicago". After a brief pause to explain some hand signals for the stop-time section, everyone takes a solo... guitares, basses, keys... then Jeff throws the ball to Bholoja saying "okay, now it's your turn to do your thing on OUR music!". Bholoja steps up to the mic in his signature gentle manner and starts freestyle singing in Siswati... We're not quite sure what he's saying, but every once in a while, we hear the word "Chicago" thrown in. He give us a sign, and we go back into the refrain. Did I say everyone takes a solo? Miracle of miracles, for the first time ever in our lives we witness a drummer actually shy away and refuse to take a solo ;-)

So that's 3 songs in the bag, but we're performing in a premier venue the next night to what promises to be a packed house. So, we put our heads together - "Something Africa-style!" Bholoja indicates to the bass player, who rolls into something vaguely reminiscent of one of the tracks from Paul Simon's "Graceland". Bholoja then launches a lively refrain, including a coordinated hand-gesture for choreography, and me and the girls jump in with the harmony again. "And now, it's time for YOU to sing in OUR language, Keri!" We've been at it for awhile now, so I've come to know the drill... I take the refrain (forgive me for the quasi-phonetic spelling!) "Ulibambe linashoni'langa" and twirl it around through the harmony, playing with the rhythmic and melodic possibilities. I trust that their grins mean I'm doing alright (rather than botching their native tongue overmuch!).

Radio Siswati

In any case, there are good vibes all around as we run through each new song 1 more time just to be sure we're on the same... uh... page? Hard to say that when it's mostly an oral tradition... but you get my drift. By now it's rolling around to 5pm, and we've been pretty full on since 9, and quite tuckered out, but apparently they're waiting for us at the local radio station to pre-record an interview for a 6 o'clock time slot, so we rush off once again. The interview goes rather smoothly, and as we're driven back to our hotel for a much deserved rest, we have the distinct pleasure of hearing ourselves (and my CD) touted over the Swazi airwaves :-) One last thrill to end an overall intense and exciting day!

Mugging in front of the poster the Embassy has posted downtown ;-)


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