19 April, 2013

Take me out tonight where there's music and there's people and they're young and alive

I have just had a completely surreal evening, one only possible in a city like Nairobi.

The evening started rather badly with heavy rain around 18.00 just as I was leaving home to go into town centre. As a result, I was caught up in a massive traffic jam in which I was at a standstill for 20 minutes. I only managed to get out of the jam by snaking across lanes at 90° from the traffic flow between enormous lorries that were, luckily, completely still.

Once out of the jam I took a back road into the city centre where I quickly found my way to the Alliance française. I wanted to go see a puppet show by Théâtre MU. It was the very moving story of a child soldier somewhere in Africa who had escaped his tragic ordeal and overcome his tortured inner feelings through the art of puppetry. Indeed, the whole story was told with wooden puppets playing the main protagonists. I really wanted to go see this show because the child soldier phenomenon seems to be a recent plague in several conflict-ridden African countries. I am still discovering the continent and wanted to hear this story from somebody who had lived through this ordeal.

At 20.30 I was out of the Alliance française and ready to go join a new group of singers I have just started singing with in Nairobi. This small group used to be led by Stuart Tibbs who just left Kenya to go back to the United Kingdom. I had met Stuart on the production of A marvelous life last month and he had persuaded me to go take his place as the only tenor in the group. The choir rehearses once a week; singers take turns to host rehearsals and the host provides dinner and drinks before, during and after the singing. Needless to say, the concept of this singing group is completely in line with my personality.

I had asked the lead soprano Cathy Sampson to send me directions to tonight's rehearsal place. During the puppet show, I had received a text message, which I opened after the show had ended: the choir manager Diane Skinner was giving me directions to a house in a certain area of town. I had already been to that area so I knew how to get to it from city centre. I took out my Nairobi map to find where the exact roads were and off I went.

Arriving in the residential area, I was surrounded by darkness because the roads were unlit. I found the road intersection I was supposed to go to, turned the corner and found myself in front of an enormous cast-iron gate with lots of guards around it. Puzzled, I paused for a while. I then turned towards the gate to find myself in front of the residence of the British High Commissioner to Kenya. The guards asked to confirm my name; I seemed to be expected. I drove in with the car into the gravel alley, parked the car under a tree and was ushered into the residence by one of the guards.

And suddenly there was light! I walked through an impressive wooden-floored hallway flooded with light; I went straight on to where I could see people through a door on which I knocked. It was the dining room, also flooded with light, chandelier hanging from the ceiling, candles on the table, table set for 10 guests, waiters serving wine, a buffet of curries. And to greet me to the table was the British High Commissioner himself: Christian Turner. To my surprise, I found myself in front of a delightful young man of my own generation.

What followed was delicious food, an intense hour of sight-reading new pieces, meringues for pudding, tea and coffee in a beautiful setting. The evening turned out to be extremely pleasant after all.

There is a light that never goes out
The Smiths, WEA

Photo: Linh H. Nguyen

18 April, 2013

Out to the woods away, we'll hunt the stag to bay

Read here how I found myself being the game of an interesting hunt.

Foresters sound the cheerful horn
Henry Bishop
The singing club, The Hilliard ensemble and Paul Hillier, Harmonia mundi

Stag hunt: David Hoffman

05 April, 2013

I like simple tools

What made us so hungry that we literally wiped the plates clean at lunch time during a research workshop in Northern Vietnam? Read more here.

Simple tools
Ry Cooder, Pull up some dust and sit down, Nonesuch