Friday, December 19, 2014

Havana Health

With all this talk of what Cuba will gain with more open relations with the U.S., perhaps we too can gain. Maybe they will share the secrets of their healthcare system with us, since the Cuban population has a higher life expectancy than U.S. citizens despite a GDP per capita almost 9 times lower.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Kudos to Che Obama for putting an end to the fallacy of our foreign policy approach to Cuba.  While this is PROOF that Obama is a is also nice to have a policy towards Havana that wasn't put in place when Eisenhower was in office.

You Don't Protect My Freedom

A great piece on the faux worship of American troops:

No American freedom is currently at stake in Afghanistan. It is impossible to imagine an argument to the contrary, just as the war in Iraq was clearly fought for the interests of empire, the profits of defense contractors, and the edification of neoconservative theorists. It had nothing to do with the safety or freedom of the American people. The last time the U.S. military deployed to fight for the protection of American life was in World War II – an inconvenient fact that reduces clichés about “thanking a soldier” for free speech to rubble. If a soldier deserves gratitude, so does the litigator who argued key First Amendment cases in court, the legislators who voted for the protection of free speech, and thousands of external agitators who rallied for more speech rights, less censorship and broader access to media.
Wars that are not heroic have no real heroes, except for the people who oppose those wars. Far from being the heroes of recent wars, American troops are among their victims. No rational person can blame the soldier, the Marine, the airman, or the Navy man for the stupid and destructive foreign policy of the U.S. government, but calling them “heroes,” and settling for nothing less, makes honest and critical conversations about American foreign policy less likely to happen. If all troops are heroes, it doesn’t make much sense to call their mission unnecessary and unjust. It also makes conversations about the sexual assault epidemic, or the killing of innocent civilians, impossible. If all troops are heroes, it doesn’t make any sense to acknowledge that some are rapists and sadists.
The same principle of clear-eyed scrutiny applies to law enforcement agencies. Police departments everywhere need extensive investigation of their training methods, qualifications for getting on the job, and psychological evaluation. None of that will happen as long as the culture calls cops heroes, regardless of their behavior.
An understandable reason for calling all troops heroes, even on the left, is to honor the sacrifice they make after they die or endure a life-altering injury in one of America’s foolish acts of aggression. A more helpful and productive act of citizenship, and sign of solidarity with the military, is the enlistment in an antiwar movement that would prevent the government from using its volunteer Army as a plaything for the financial advancement and political cover of the state-corporate nexus and the military-industrial complex of Dwight Eishenhower’s nightmares.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


Just signed up for Obamacare!

Surprisingly easy and user-friendly. It only took me approximately 30 minutes.

This status will change drastically if there are glitches in the system that affect my coverage, but for now: Thanks President Obama!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thessaloniki: Sailing to Byzantium

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
-W.B. Yeats, "Sailing to Byzantium"

Of course a train will also do.  In the wee hours on a Friday morning, Marianna and I set out from Athens to Thessaloniki via train. Salonika, if you will.

Thessaloniki is named for the sister of Alexander the Great.  Legend has it that Thessaloniki was a mermaid, and after Alexander the Great's demise, she would sail to ships to ask the captains for news of Alex.  If they replied that he was dead, she would sink the triremes.

The ride was bleary-eyed, sustained by cake and filtered coffee as we swept past the morning mist.  I dug deep into the cinnamon and sand of the spice planet of Dune-- a fine Hanukkah gift from the Bene Gessarit.  Marianna was Dancing with Dragons.  I would steal a glance at her page when she left for the bathroom.  It was a calm train ride that I would have been happy if it never ended, and we spent days riding the rails--just reading away.

Over and over with Paul's floating awareness the lesson rolled.

But arrive, we did to old Byzantium.  We caught a cab to the apartment of Marianna's friend George. His modernist space had a nice view across the city.  We were staying there, and he was staying at his girlfriend's place.  We sat out sipping coffee and chatted of his girlfriend Eleni's desire for a cat.

We ventured out for a walk along the sea wall through the fog down past the Tower of the Undying.  No dragons, alas--just an old Turkish fortress on the waterfront.  The White Tower.

Starving, we made our way to to a souvlaki place.  Apparently, as I learned Thessaloniki and Athens have a tiff over the meaning of "souvlaki."  One place it means "gyro", the other simply a sandwich.  Whatever, the gyro was amazing.  I had my chicken gyro in a baguette with tzatziki.  It was succulent and delicious.

We trekked it back, and spent the night watching Workaholics before passing out early.

Saturday morn Marianna and I made our way

down through the city to the sea--past Alex and his horse to get some cappuccinos out on the Strand.

Some Nigerian fellows were hawking a reggae show and bracelets.  Marianna told me not to talk to them, but I ended up chatting one up.  He was a funny fellow.  We spoke of Nollywood.  He said to me: I only respect four people in America: 1) Barrack Obama 2) Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson 3) You 4) Your princess.  Then he smiled and tried to hawk a reggae bracelet to her.  Why don't you get her a bracelet? Because I bring her pearls.  That got a smile as he left.

Polish comes from the cities; wisdom from the desert.

If wishes were fishes, we'd all cast nets.
-Paul Atreides, Dune

And fish come from the sea. And Bougatza comes from Thessaloniki,

We caught up with George and Eleni, and made our way to Yanni's for a famous Thessalonikian dish: Bougatza.  Bougatza is a Thessaloniki specialty of filo dough stuffed with spinach (savory) or vanilla cream (sweet).  The vanilla cream variety get another level of sweet, with a heavy top layer of nutella-style spread.  For a full covering, add a layer of dusting from confectioner powdered sugar and cinnamon.

The full covered sweet bougatza is divine.  A complexity of flavors ranging from the chocolate-covered filo to the vanilla cream to a heady cinnamon finish.

It was a filo feast.

Thankfully, we kept walking after lunch.  We walked right into a protest.  Greece has been roiled by them as it comes on the anniversary of the death of a student.  I have heard a bit of the story--that one of his compatriots, who was in jail for robbery was on a hunger strike to be able to attend university classes.  In short, it was a bit of a mess.  I was glad to be out of Athens.

We walked past the protest in Thessaloniki I grabbed a few pics of the protest, and the anarchists in the mid-ranks.  This Yank got a few curses from bandanna-clad anarchists for snapping some pics, but it was all pretty civil.

MK's pic
Marianna and I made our way to the wonderful Museum of Byzantine Culture.  The museum was a fascinating, well-curated exhibition on Byzantium.  It looked at the Eastern Roman empire's rise and fall, and shined a light on the world that existed in Byzantium from Constantine to the Empire's fall to the Ottomans in 1453 through basic life, jewelry, funerary customs and art.  I am always amazed at jewelry, and how timeless it always is.  Fashions change, but only so much.

The art was most impressive.  I usually think of the Byzantine stuff as a tad too goyish for my tastes, but some of the other pictures were spectacularly effulgent and reminded me of Klimt's work.

Marianna and I were most impressed with the printings, which had to be done in reverse for proper printing--and in exquisite detail.

Overall, the museum was very well laid-out.  Very well designed and very accessible

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
-W.B. Yeats, "Sailing to Byzantium"

After the museum, we walked along the seascape and met back up with George and Eleni by the end of the sea wall

 We caught a bus up to The Wall-- built for Byzantium, not the Night's Watch.  We watched the lights of the city come on, then made our way to a cafe on the hilltop to warm up over some red wine.

We walked down throw the maze alleyways of the Old City, until we stumbled upon a restaurant of Crete cuisine that was one of our evening options.  George said that he had looked for the place before, but when he looked for it he was never able to find it.

We sat out under vine leaves and heaters, and the waiter brought us Creten rakija (kraki in Greek) to warm us.  Dinner was utterly incredible.  It was a Crete feast. the contents of which have since been digested and forgotten.  But it was damn good.

George and Eleni
We passed out early from the long day.  The next morning, we walked through the morning fog to a yacht club cafe.  We sipped cappuccinos among the Sunday morning brunch crowd.

After coffee we hoofed it through the city to visit a famous Thessaloniki taverna.  Unfortunately, the place was full with Sunday family dining; fortunately, we managed to convince the taverna to set us up a table outside under a tree.  We were met by a mutual friend Elias, who had an internet exotic pet site.  He sold snakes, rats and cockroaches.  He had over 100,000 cockroaches.

We drank retzina--Greek resin wine mixed with coke, and dined on incredible fare.  Garlicky tzatziki with fried zucchini, horta--a collard greeny-ish Greek veggie and salad.

The main courses were equally delicious.  There was a lamb brisket and aubergine stew, kokoresi--lamb intestines filled with all sort of lamb stuffing, and a delicious roasted chicken dish.  It was a dagla (Greek siesta)-inspiring nap, which Marianna and I took on the train back to Athens that evening.

All and all, a pretty wonderful weekend in Thessaloniki.


Greek brunch of grilled spicy sardines & salted, lemoned herring with red onions and cilantro over fava paste with red onions & capers. I am a lil fishy swimming in a Greek sea of olive oil, lemon and garlic.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

If Eric Garner were white...

‘We need not risk our national honor to prevail in this or any war’

Sen John McCain, a victim of torture, had a very eloquent response to the release of the Senate Intel Report on Torture.  His speech is worth a watch, and a reminder why I long considered him a man of honor.


You know your shit is legit when it is plagiarizable! There exists a gastrodiplomacy papermill! Anyone want an essay on gastrodiplomacy?

I will write you one at half the price of Elite Academic Essays.

h/t Sam Chapple-Sokol for this gem.

From polling lips to God's ear

Or at least the ballots of Israeli voters.  Labor-Livni bloc would trump Bibi.  Granted, Kadima beat Likud in 2009, and Bibi still ended up occupying the Iron Throne because of coalition politics, but I pray that won't happen again.

Ljubav (The Cup Song)

In my heart there lives the hope that love will win over all. In my heart there is a place for all people, for all who need love.

These are the words in Bosnian sung by Jelena Milusic with the kids of a Sarajevo orphanage, in a music project created by the incredible Sabina Šabić and performed at the one and only Sarajevo War Theatre. This is the original video of the kids performing Ljubav (The Cup Song):

Thanks to YouTube, The River Singers Community Choir based in Vermont, found it and performed the Bosnian song Ljubav:

Keep some kleenex handy for this stirring reminder of how music can connect us.

Saturday, December 06, 2014


A good reminder that Zionism was much more than the narrow-minded Israeli Right Wing that perverts the movement today: Meet the worst anti-Zionist


Great video by DJ Plainview (Russell Sticklor) tying the words of RFK following the assassination of MLK to the present situation today.

 RFK's full speech is here:

RFK delivered the speech in Indianapolis, and his words are believed to have helped keep the city calm as other major metropolitan areas convulsed into riot.

Dictatorship of the Palateriat

An interesting article on the palates of dictators.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Bibi's Israel

This is Bibi's Israel:

Netanyahu shaped a different, darker Israel: In his own image by Gideon Levy

Benjamin Netanyahu will be remembered as one of Israel’s most important prime ministers, second only to David Ben-Gurion not just in the length of his time in office but also in the mark he made. Ben-Gurion was the founding father of the first Israeli kingdom, of the dream. Netanyahu is the founding father of the second kingdom, of the dream’s shattering.
Netanyahu is the shaper of contemporary Israel. It is a great injustice to compare him to one of his predecessors, Yitzhak Shamir — a featureless man whose creed was inaction. Netanyahu did a great deal; he influenced and he decided, he shaped and determined.
It is also unjust to view him as a cynical politician. He was one of Israel’s most ideological prime ministers ever, who could turn his extremist doctrine into the zeitgeist of the entire state.
Even when he hid his beliefs, he did so in order to advance them. Netanyahu never believed in peace with the Arabs — and he removed peace from Israel’s agenda. He never believed in the rights of the Palestinian people — and he destroyed the two-state solution. He genuinely believed that Jews are the chosen people — and he brought Israel closer to a future apartheid state modeled on his beliefs, including in its constitutional aspects.
Can one imagine a more sweeping success? Can one think of anyone who did more to advance his own worldview?
One of his predecessors made peace, another made war, but none of them was as influential as he. Pre-Netanyahu and post-Netanyahu Israel are two different states. The historian’s son made history, he can go out on top: He has guaranteed that he won’t be a mere footnote. History will remember everything about him.
Once upon a time there was an Israel. An Israel that spoke about peace and believed in it, even if it did almost nothing to achieve it; an Israel that was democratic, at least for Jews; an Israel that respected the other countries of the world and took them into account; that knew its size, the limits of its power and the boundaries of its influence.
Once there was an Israel that subdued its racism and was ashamed of it; that did not alternate only between rivers of hate and waves of intimidation. Where Arabs were not only suspicious objects and where war refugees were not only “infiltrators.” Where Judaism was not only for ultranationalists and the flag was not waved only by the settlers. Once there was hope, but it disappeared; someone severed it.
Netanyahu shaped a different Israel, in his own image. He was the prime minister of fear and hate.
Try to think of one positive mark he left, one significant way in which Israel is better after him than it was before him. Now think what a long road the state has traveled from Menachem Begin’s first resolution as premier, to take in a handful of Vietnamese “boat people,” to the last resolution of Netanyahu, Begin’s successor in Likud and in office, to enact a third version of the diabolical anti-infiltration bill. Think of the long road from banning Meir Kahane’s Kach party from the Knesset, including by Likud MKs, to the competition today among Likud MKs to introduce the most racist bills.
The darkness has emerged into the light, the margins have become the center and ultranationalism has become politically correct. Kahane lives: From his place in heaven, he can look with pride and satisfaction at the state Netanyahu has fashioned. From Kahane’s perspective, the state is surely on the right track, galloping toward the implementation of his doctrine.
This is not nostalgia for a past that never existed, nor is it an overly gloomy picture of the present and the future. Israel has changed. It’s a different place in which to live. It is more arrogant, more destructive, more aggressive and less democratic — toward minorities, both national and ideological; toward the neighborhood in which it lives and toward the world as a whole. It is more hated, and rightly so. It is a worse place.
Netanyahu is not prophesying Israel’s destruction, but he has done more than a little to bring that destruction closer.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Justice in America

Forgive my ignorance, but what does it take for a Black man to get justice in America? There seems to be a "trend" that if you are a Black man killed, it must be your own fault. I am really at a loss.

Dear Black America, it is really your fault for the cross that is burning on your front lawn. You should have not provoked the Klan so....

Charlie's Journey

I travel a lot.  A bit of an understatement.  I haven't had a true fixed residence in almost 2 years.  I have been to over 70 countries.  I literally live on the road. Beyond being internationally homeless, I run cultural diplomacy programs around the world.

I was in Samarkand, Uzbekistan one cold night, and wandered down to the dining room for its warmth from the fireplace.  There were two gentlemen sitting in there already.  I sat down and we got to chatting.

The first was a British-Canadian fellow, who was coming from Pakistan and heading to Afghanistan.  He also had Turkmenistan, Burma and North Korea on his upcoming travel itinerary.  Not for the backpacking faint of heart, by any stretch.

The second fellow was a bushy-bearded fellow named Charlie.  He had biked here.  From the UK up past the Arctic Circle and East across Central Asia to China.  He was now on his way back.  By way of Capetown.

Yes, he was continental cycling.

I was just touring the 'Stans with a five-girl bluegrass band, and suddenly my epic journey did not seem so far.

I was stunned.

This man had biked his way across Europe, across Central Asia all the way to China, and was now heading back by the southerly route.  He had been on his bike for about two years at that point, and figured he had another two years to go.

In Laos, Charlie had been through a harrowing crash in that almost took him off a mountain; in China, arrested as a spy; through a world of punctured tires and adventures.

We sat drinking beer out azul blue pottery tea cups as the fire crackled.

I was beyond impressed with his journey.  It takes a man of real grit and determination to bike the Silk Road.  And then through the Middle East and Cairo to Capetown.  And back up.

We ate the house meal of rich lamb soup with dollops of yogurt in the broth.  The hunks of hot lamb warmed we weary travelers.  The soup-cooked vegetables were soft enough to cut with a spoon.  The crusty round Uzbek bread with little black sprinkle spice on top made for proper dipping fodder.

Charlie told stories of riding horseback across the Central Asian steppes.  Of unenviable situations with gruff drunken Kazakhs bent on having you circumcised.  Of a world of adventures without compare.

The next morning I had tea with Charlie in the courtyard.  He was about to head out on his seemingly-endless journey.  We sipped black tea out of the china blue cups, and ate candied melon rinds.  I drizzled the honey syrup in my black tea.  We bade farewell, and I wished him well on his way.  Vaya con Dios, were my last words to him if I remember correctly.

I followed Charlie's journey across the Middle East and down through Africa, through every joy and malady possible.

After a journey of more than 43,000 miles through over 60 countries (and Hundreds of Unwashed Faces), Charlie recently made it home.  He faced war, herds of charging elephants and the endless road until he biked his way back.  There and back again, if ever there was a journey.

Congratulations to Charlie Walker for the completion of his incredible journey.  It is a road few else in this world will ever see.

I salute your courage and determination for choosing the road less traveled.  Welcome home, Charlie.

For more on Charlie Walker's incredible bike journey around the world, visit:

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

RTW w/ Charlie

Honored to have crossed paths with Charlie in Samarkand, Uzbekistan and shared a night of drinking beer out azul tea cups:

Cyclist who wanted to see the world on the cheap finishes epic four-year journey after riding 43,000 miles through 61 countries - the equivalent of TWICE round the planet 

  • Charlie Walker, 27, cycled through three continents on his second-hand bike 'Old Geoff' despite 'not being a cyclist' 
  • He visited Arctic Circle, far east Asia and southern tip of Africa, after wanting to see world in a 'cheap and slow' way During trip, he was chased by elephants, arrested in China and had to run the gauntlet of a war zone in Mozambique 
  • Travel writer returned home last week to his home village of Bowerchalke, Wiltshire after 1,606 days on the road 
Here is the full article in the Daily Mail

A lotta windmills...

Paul’s Travel Map
Paul has been to: Argentina, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lesotho, Malaysia, Mexico, Montenegro, Morocco, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Palestinian Territory, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saint Martin, Serbia, Serbia and Montenegro, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tibet, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vatican, Venezuela, Vietnam, Western Sahara, Zimbabwe. Get your own travel map from Matador Network.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Things that I am thankful for (IV)

Things that I am thankful for: working with brilliant, creative partners.

 On the Next Level Serbia program, I got to work with Hip Hop dance legend Jorge "PopMaster Fabel" Pabon and the brilliant Anshul Gupta of Stand 4 Productions.

Together PopMaster Fabel and Anshul created this fantastic dance masterpiece that showcased Fabel's unmatched dance skills along with Anshul's creative gifts.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Things that I am thankful for (III)

Things that I am thankful for: BaulBeats

I work on the Next Level program--a State Dept project that partners with UNC's Department of Music to implement.

During the Next Level India program in Calcutta, we created space for musical fusion between Hip Hop and Baul Music--Bengali Folk Music.

During the collaboration program, the velvety smooth MC Purple Haze connected on a soulful level with the Bengali Banshee Malabika Brahma--an alumni of the State Dept program OneBeat. The outcome of their collaboration came to be known as "BaulBeats," a new musical style that we are still exploring.

Together with Sanjay Bhattacherjee and DJ 2-Tone Jones, they performed a BaulBeats rendition at a concert at the American Center in Calcutta.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Things that I am thankful for (II)

Things that I am thankful for (II): the Hawaiian-Venezuelan collaboration session.

Levantine Public Diplomacy ran the Aloha Venezuela project to bring Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar legends Keola Beamer and Jeff Peterson, and Kumu Hula Moanalani Beamer, to Venezuela. On the first day in Caracas, we connected with the Grupo Eduardo Betencourt at the U.S. Ambassador's residence.

The residence has been vacant for almost 4 years, in wake of Venezuela and the U.S. pulling their respective ambassadors. Yet the place became alive with the magical sounds of Hawaiian-Venezuelan collaboration.

In the collaboration, we were joined by two OneBeat fellows Manuel and Omar. Together, we filled the residence with the beautiful sounds of cultural exchange.

Following the jam session, we had a bit of gastrodiplomacy with an incredible Venezuelan-style Hawaiian luau, and sipped fine Diplomatico rum.

Friday, November 28, 2014


Things that I am thankful for (I)

16 Tons

Things that I am thankful for: 16 Tons. I put together a project to send the Grammy-nominated Dulcinea Dellas to Brazil for the World Cup. This was done with a dream of having Della Mae play at the spectacular Teatro do Paiol in Curitiba.

The old gunpowder depot-turned-theater has some incredible acoustics, and this Quixote took on the Windmill of getting the Dellas there to play. The thing that this PD Knight Errant is most thankful for is the behind-the-scenes warm-up, when I am the only one there to take in the practice session and have my own private concert.

 This is the video of Della Mae performing 16 Tons at Teatro do Paiol. It was incredible. But the most incredible song was when I had it to myself-- hearing the song bounce of the walls of the empty gunpowder depot.

The Art of Stillness

An interesting talk by Pico Iyer on the art of stillness.

Interestingly, I find my stillness when sitting on a long bus or train ride. I can just sit and stare out the window at life going by without the distraction of the internet, just kept company by a book or my music. Not so much a plane because there is the distraction of the tv monitor, where I catch up on pop movie culture. But when I can sit and stare out the window for hours across the lush countryside of Bengal or Guatemala, or wherever, I can reconnect with past places and past journeys--and there I find my stillness albeit while in motion.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Hip Hop Diplomacy

The Avid Listener has a great 4-part series on hip hop diplomacy and the Next Level program (I, II, III, IV).  

Help Sanjay's Jungle Music School!

Hey musical friends and humanitarians! Help support Sanjay Bhattacherjee's wonderful project to teach tribal youth in West Bengal! His school only has two guitars, which are shared among 35 students. Help bring more music to this incredible jungle music school!

Gastrodiplomacy, with a side of pumpkin pie

Almost a century ago, the U.S. tried to export Thanksgiving as an international holiday.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Nation Doesn’t Know If It Can Take Another Bullshit Speech About Healing

From The Onion, the nation's only real news source: Nation Doesn’t Know If It Can Take Another Bullshit Speech About Healing

WASHINGTON—In the wake of a grand jury’s divisive decision not to charge Ferguson, MO police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, a weary American populace told reporters Tuesday that they are not sure if they can take another bullshit speech about healing. “If I have to watch some politician, law enforcement official, or pretty much anyone regurgitate the same meaningless platitudes about setting aside our differences and coming together as a nation, I might just lose it,” said Atlanta resident Samantha Hubbard, echoing the sentiment of hundreds of millions of Americans who are uncertain if they can stomach even a single empty call for respect and civility. “I honestly don’t know if I’m physically capable of listening to another community leader recite the same unbearable garbage about how it’s time for an open and honest dialogue. I swear to God, if I hear even one goddamn person assert there’s more that unites us than divides us, I will immediately blow my brains out.” At press time, the nation was particularly apprehensive at the prospect of a bullshit speech that declared words were not enough.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Matuto's Africa Suite release concert

Cultural diplomacy friends in NYC, check out Matuto's "Africa Suite" EP Release Event at Joe's Pub on November 24.

On their American Music Abroad tour, Matuto toured Mozambique, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Senegal. Each member of the band was tasked with writing a song for each respective country.

This is the outcome of that cultural diplomacy project! Here is a vid from the Ivory Coast track:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The whirlwind

Once again, I am at a loss for words.  The incredible Next Level Bangladesh program has just concluded, with a thunderous performance at Shilpakala--the national auditorium of Bangladesh.  

The Next Level Bangladesh artists and NL Dhaka Academy gave a flawless performance that put Dhaka on the map as the hip hop capital of South Asia.  

The NL program gave legitimacy to a burgeoning hip hop community, and gave them a huge platform on which to showcase their immense talents.  They went from the backstreets to the biggest performance hall in Bangladesh.  Fully packed beyond the brim auditorium, with a mob outside trying to get into the show.  Hall filled with tv crews and print media. 

And they flawlessly rocked it. 
And the collaboration with legendary Bangladesh Baul singers was one of the finest cultural exchanges I have ever seen or heard.

This residency was a dream-come-true for the Dhaka hip hop community, and they rose to the challenge and seized the moment. The NL Bangladesh team was incredible, and truly got the most out of their students.  They legitimized hip hop in Dhaka. 

The team members Asheru and Jocelyn even met the Nobel Laureate Dr. Mohammud Yunis, who publicly welcomed them at an event.  He literally stopped the event to welcome the Next Level Hip Hop Artists to Bangladesh, and invited them to speak about their experiences in Dhaka.  

Our students had their parents coming to their first shows ever.  The NL Dhaka Academy was an opportunity like no other for the Dhaka hip hop community, and they made the absolute most of it.

Already some of our Dhaka artists are being invited to perform and discuss the NL Bangladesh program at the Hay Festival, Bangladesh's premier literary festival.
And the partners we had were peerless.  The indomitable Team Dhaka of the US Embassy to Bangladesh was the best team we have worked with yet.  The embassy went above and beyond.  From the ambassador on down, this post exceeded all expectation.

The program was a stirring reminder of the universal nature of hip hop, and its ability to connect communities like no other form of music that exists.  Hip hop diplomacy is what jazz diplomacy once was--and I am so proud to be a part of a program that is nothing short of the next generation of the famed Jazz Ambassadors program.

Following the conclusion of the program, we left Dhaka. Two member stayed on in Dubai for a few days, and the other two went home to America.  I had a 7 hour layover, so I left the airport and joined Amirah and Asheru for some humus, kebabs and hookah in Dubai.

I returned to the airport and caught an early morning flight to Athens via Istanbul, where i am presently lounging with my Greeek girlfriend Marianna at her lovely apartment.  I presented her with a lovely pearl necklace from Bangladesh's famed pearls.  I was met in return with homemade stuffed peppers filled with rice, raisins and pinenuts, and homemade spanakopita, and apple cake for dessert.  

I am taking a few days to relax after the whirlwind that was the NL Bangladesh program, with its unending traffic and overflow of emotion from the incredible program,

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Dear Leader would like to sing with you

Umm. Yeah, so I was just at Pyongyang--a North Korean Restaurant and Karoke bar in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Kimchi, bibimbap and endless visions of the workers' paradise.

Juche and gastrodiplomacy at its finest.

All the North Korean waitstaff also doubled as a karoke band, and put it down on the drums, bass, sax and synthesizer. I did a duet on the karoke, it was epic.

It was all fun and games, until a rowdy band of drunken Chinese fellas took over the karoke stage. But we made friends over soju, and they did a love song in honor of our group, so it was cool.

My head is bursting with surreality.

PS: Thankfully, Prof. Mark Katz was able to smuggle some photos out of Pyongyang. He really put his life at risk to get such evidence out of Pyongyang, and should be commended for it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Rest Day

I spent the evening in a pearl market, watching the Chinese and the Bengalis duke it out over strands of pink and grey pearls. Two of the oldest, savviest bargainers going head-to-head. It was a mercantile meeting of the civilizations.
The night ended with me scarfing done a supernaga chili burger. At first the clerk didn't want to sell it to me.
"Too hot," he said.
I replied not to look at me like a gora, but rather as a light Desi.
The burger was H.O.T.
It was a fiery nirvana.

Dhaka streets

Riding through the naked, unclogged streets of Dhaka in a van full of a Jew, a Hindu, a Muslim American breakdancer artist and three African-American hip hop artists.

Sounds like the beginning of a good joke.

The rarity was the empty streets.

The streets of Dhaka could swallow a car.  Swallow you up whole.  Potholes like endless valleys.

It is so packed it takes an hour and a half to go 10k, only 6 miles.  That isn't even rush hour, just a normal day.

The Honorable Asheru recommended a rickshaw lane.  I upped it to an elevated rickshaw lane.

Built by the Dutch for good public diplomacy.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Rabin, I remember you

This is slain PM Yitzhak Rabin lighting a cigarette with King Hussein after they signed a peace deal between Israel and Jordan.

And then I think about the chickenshit, chickenhawk leaders that Israel has today (Bibi, Yvette, Boogie), and I want to light up a cigarette myself :(