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 :(

Sunday, November 02, 2014


Nationwide blackout.  City-wide strikes.  The distinct possibility of armor-plated convoys.  And me, running a hip hop academy.  Looks like it is time for this public diplomacy knight-errant to ride again.  I live for this shit.