Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Jessi's film is on the way!!

Last year we were visited by Jessi Mariglio, travelling the world collecting poetry and the stories of poets. Here's the preview... so looking forward to the doco, it's going to be amazing!!

Sunday, March 15, 2009


"Oh," said my roomate Maite, "do you know they are thinking of having you in the show?" And so it was that five hours before we were due to go on stage, I was asked to perform as part of the big show that they'd been heavily rehearsing for weeks. The reason for my last minute inclusion? The show fell 10 minutes short of the 50 minutes it needed to be. And so they'd looked around and seen that they already had the components of another song: a poet who hadn't yet earnt her keep and some 'idle' (yeah right) musicians.

Thus it was that at 10 am on Saturday myself, Yao the guzheng (chinese harp) player and Steve the violinist from the Urban Soul Orchestra took over one of the hotel's conference rooms. Normally it would be difficult to write, arrange, rehearse and rebalance the complicated components of a piece for voice, gusheng and violin, all in around 2 hours. Add to this the fact I'd never rehearsed or performed a poem to music before. But somehow we pulled it all together (musicians are amazing people - have you heard me say that before? I shall say it again. Musicians are amazing and talented people and they're good at making poets sound good.)

After a rushed brunch and catchup in town with friends Tom and Paul, I had myself waved through security and pushed my way importantly through the WOMAD plebs to the dressing room with my newly minted backstage/VIP pass. I'd borrowed a dress from the tour manager, Natasha,and 'borrowed' makeup from Maite. So I thought I was sorted - but I wasn't prepared for the attack of nerves that hit as I got up on stage for the sound check and noticed people were already reserving spots.

We were on the Brooklands stage, the second biggest stage of the festival, and by the time we hit the stage after a very busy and complex soundcheck, the crowd streched back beyond the trees - estimates range from 6,000 to 10,000 people. By this time I was feeling wheezy, nauseous and wondering if I should go take a precautionary shit. I wasn't the only one striding around backstage nervously waiting but I was probably the most surprised, as it had been a while since I was nervous before a performance. But this was WOMAD. This was BIG.

Luckily, despite disastrous visions of freezing on stage or having a vocal chord twang, I managed to pull the poem off and was surprised at the warm response afterwards. I'd really tried to 'act' my poem - there's this thing of inhabiting the 'character' of the poem, then of pushing your emotions out at the audience. Musicians do the same thing with their instruments - it's as if the brain inhabits your fingers. For me, I was pushing my mind out across that huge crowd while trying to ignore the fact they were a huge crowd. But really, it felt amazing, in retrospect. Probably the only time I'll ever feel like a rock star. And we even had a CD signing and media interviews afterwards!

WOMAD day 1

Last year, I met a guy called Gareth at a 'creative entrepreneurs' event and swapped cards (as you do at such things - promising to get in touch and then usually forgetting as other things rush in to occupy the mental space). Gareth however followed up with an email the next day, and soon I found myself recording 'Chinglish' (the poem) at his studio.

A few months later a rough track appeared in my inbox, and then notice of meeting about the People In Your Neighbourhood project. I wasn't part of the live stage show, but my track (voice mixed with violin and chinese guzheng)was on the CD, and so I was invited to go along for the ride when the band went to WOMAD. And so it was that this weekend I found myself in a van full of musicians on a 7 hour (that's with LOONG breaks)drive to Taranaki.

The drive down was fun mainly because, if you are going to spend 7 hours on the road with a bunch of complete strangers, having a professional DJ in the back of the van helps a lot, as does a flamenco guitarist. As does, er, a Navy musician with lots of 'blue' jokes. Around an hour in I got over introducing myself as "hi, I'm track number four" and really started to chill out.

We reached the 'Naki well before dark, checked in at the Devon Hotel, offloaded gears (easy for me - the only instrument I needed was my voice, and even that I didn't need I thought). I met my roommate Maite who's almost the same size as me but whose powerful voice had so impressed me at the Auckland concert the night before. Then it was time to head on down to see WOMAD's opening acts.

WOMAD is an institution in the 'Naki. I went for the first time last year, and remember sitting in the audience soaking up the ambience and plotting how I could come back this year for free or at least for less than the full price. (I'm so Asian). At the time I thought I might be able to wangle a media pass or somesuch. I never dreamed that I could be part of an actual show. So you can imagine the thrill as I hung that little artist pass round my neck, only to have it taken off me ten minutes later - we were short, and someone who actually needed to perform needed it more than me. Never mind. I still got my wrist bracelet, guaranteeing me entry into the smorgasbord that is WOMAD...

Picture this, then.

A huge sweeping park. 7 stages, large and small(ish), all with different "feels" because of their setting. Food. Craft stalls. And lots of people who are revelling in the relaxed vibe (or in the case of the teenagers, positively buzzing and hyperactive in that way that only 14 year olds can be). And as the sun goes down the lights come up on the stages and some of the world's best musicians come out to play.

And late, late, after the musicians on stage have finished, it is time to jump on the artist bus back to the hotel for more hanging out with those rare birds, musicians, jamming, singing, flamenco dancing....

Saturday, March 14, 2009

signing in from WOMAD

I'm at WOMAD in Taranaki, an annual feast of music, arts and dance from around the world. Spent most of yesterday in a minibus with some crazy musicians (rapper/DJs/flamenco guitarist among others), stopping for kai in Otorohanga, and a sunstruck jam session in Te Kuiti, before finally reaching the 'Naki where we spent all evening soaking up the vibes at the festival.

In 10 minutes I'm due at a rehearsl for our show, People in Your Neighbourhood. Will try and backwrite some of this blog later.