Oct 2007: Brian Kramer Workshops & Festival in South Africa
Just returned from almost three weeks in South Africa (Sept. 16th till Oct. 4th) for a tour & series of workshops, and my head is swimming! So many amazing experiences and connections in just a short span of time… Conducted a two-day workshop in the underprivileged township area of Potchefstroom with over 40 local musicians. These workshops—titled Empowerment through Music—are an initial step by the Dept. of Culture to bridge gaps between Africa-Africans with music and was the first of its kind here. The response was great & I got to share experiences & music with some very bright, talented, young men and women who never get the chance to shine. We jammed together and went deep into the cause and effect of trying to make a difference with music, what holds one back, when to let go. Dozens of children from the poor township area where the workshops were held curiously gathered to see what was happening and joyfully danced to our improvised music!
Two tracks were recorded at the University’s studio for a promo CD using a local band headed by a stunning guitarist Medupi Mapitsa who attended the workshop as well as a few other fine artists. A pre-recorded track I did for this event (Cross Boundaries) with me & the great world-bluesman Taj Mahal was also included. We had six hours to record, mix, finalize details and get out to the manufacturer in order for it to be ready in time for the event! I then had the honour to present the final CD to the Mayor of Potchefstroom at a media event arranged during the festival.
The Brian Kramer Band was invited for the 10-year anniversary as their first ever International act to grace the stages of Aardklop National Art & Culture Festival (3rd largest is SA) & performed/jammed with some local African favorites: Sara Theron and Andries Botha on the main stage. Also got to hang & jam with incredible local artists like Capetown’s DNA Strings. It was a real blast!
This was a great privilege for me to learn firsthand and experience a culture I have been dreaming of visiting for almost two decades and also use my music in a profound way. I feel as if I have been preparing my whole life for this. As an outsider I saw only the passion and intelligence of the young African people I got to meet and share experiences with. My natural response was to embrace these strengths that I perceived in them & they were very open and appreciative of just the simplicity of being treated as equals (which they are!).
Music is a precious gift to cut through the barriers and layers of the inequality I have witnessed and heard about that still lays just below the surface in South Africa. Music is color-blind and reaches far beyond the limitations and illusions that suppress, these were the tools I had to offer through my own experiences…
I will hopefully return in 2008 to continue the next phase of this project which will allow me to create more opportunities for some of these local artists to be heard. I already have a vision and a plan and with the help of the local community these small steps can serve a great purpose in providing one simple thing: options.— Brian Kramer
Aug, 2007: Taj Mahal in Sweden
Just an amazing experiance to hang out with Taj Mahal during his tour of Sweden Aug. 2007. I was his support act for a few gigs & we had the time and opportunity to get deep into conversation over 3 days (man, Taj knows so much damn stuff! music, politics, history, food...), spend a full, relaxing day fishing on a beautiful luxury boat floating down the river. And finally recording a track together in the studio!
Taj has been a hero of mine since I was a teenager as well as a huge influence musically and it was a surreal moment for me to have him sitting beside me with guitar in hand effortlessly playing to one of my songs.
The song Cross Boundaries will be part of a mini-CD I am producing for the Aardklop National Arts Festival in South Africa where I will also record a few tunes with local musicians and it will be given to the festival patrons for free before our performance.
I also hope to use the track on my next CD release... This song was written/inspired after my first conversation with Toumani Diabate where we spoke of music’s universal connection and how it brought musicians like himself, Taj & me together way before we had met face to face.
Taj is a very gracious & down-to-earth guy... He also just happens to be one of the greatist living World-Bluesmen of our time. I can hardly believe I actually kept my shit together in the studio!
PS, three fish were caught...— Brian Kramer
Nov 4, 2006: Brian Kramer & Toumani Diabate Live at Berns Theater
I was first introduced to the sounds of the West African kora in 1998 when I was on tour with Eric Bibb. Eric had then bought a copy of the just released CD "New Ancient Strings" with Toumani Diabate & Ballake Sissoko. We immediately made it our music to digest on the road and would use it as a source of inspiration before every performance.
As I took this wondrous music in, it began to effect the way I played & heard strings. This music became a part of my daily life…
…May 2006: Lovely spring afternoon, I casually stroll into a small local, central Stockholm guitar shop... No one else is there… As I'm fiddling around on an old National, a bunch of French speaking musicians come in & after a minute one of them picks up a guitar, comes over to me & starts to play a sweetly picked African groove to my slide thing... Lots of smiles all around... No one speaks a word of English except for a fellow I assumed was the tour manager, so I asked what group it was & he said it was Toumani Diabate's band (they did one show the previous night, which slipped past me...).
I told him of my admiration & he said he was just up the street at the hotel & would I like to meet him? So there I am all of a sudden in his hotel room & I remember that Eric Bibb recorded a few tracks with him recently, which gave me a little common ground then it struck me as I recalled that just about all we used to listen to on the road for two years was the brilliant New Ancient Strings recording of his.
Listening to the Kora, HIS kora changed the way I touch the strings on my guitars. I felt like the past, present & future were all wrapped up and entwined in that very moment in time.
We talked of how music transcends everything and can make connections such as this possible & of other friend in common. He is planning to come back to Scandinavia later in the year & we spoke of possibly doing some recording (time permitted).
November 2006: My wife informs me that she saw a poster for an upcoming concert with Toumani in town. I send him an email reminding of our meeting and he gets back to me right away. We talk on the phone of a possible recording and we are in communication as he gradually makes his way on tour through Scandinavia towards Stockholm. When he arrives, he invites me to the beautiful Berns Theater and in the dressing room we catch up & start to play our instruments…it is wonderful! He then says “OK Brian shall we go to sound check?” One hour later I hear myself being introduced by Toumani and find myself on stage next to this amazing artist who influenced me greatly! I was in such a zone that I don’t exactly recall what happened as we played, but folks assured me that it was great and it worked!
So, looks like now I may be going to Mali next year…
To be continued...— Brian Kramer