Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Definition of Sustainability:

"Pleasure, freedom, health"

- Wendell Berry, says Jonathan Smales
"Sex, really, is a function, right? It's like eating and breathing.. but behind that is pleasure. Pleasure is a state of living, it's actually a spiritual state in many ways. What we're chasing after is fulfillment and satisfaction, but what we're being fed constantly is dissatisfaction..." Sam Roddick , founder of Coco de Mer.

"Right now, socially, our creativity has been completely and utterly limited by what has been force fed to us..." Sam Roddick

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Happy Clappy

(the Kirtan singer is Karnamrita Dasi. She studied for four years with Pandit Vidur Malik and Tarun Krsna Das.)

So, I find the hippyness of this challenging, but this is interesting to me for a couple of reasons.

Mainly, it looks like these people are having a really good time. In the middle of the video many of them are jumping jumping jumping.

I've never seen anything like it. It's a bit like Jewls' ecstatic dance at Buddhafield, except that this is ecstatic singing.

  • the call and response thing
  • a tight core crowd who assert the norms and bring their friends in
  • a good bunch of musicians, and 
  • a caller with just the right touch leading the crowd into wildness seem to be the thing.
And they all feed each other. The caller, the singers, the musicians, the crowd, the dancing, each part brings the others up and it goes Off.

The least ecstatic thing in singing sessions is learning a song. That's just pretty boring. Getting to sing it once you know it is the great payback.

With the call and response format you don't have to learn the song, you just follow and get lost and taken up, up and away. So it's more fun, right?

But. The Indian thing. What do those words mean? They're almost certainly cantations to Hindu deities.

So, I wouldn't proudly get up on stage in London and try to get everyone singing to Hindu deities. We're not Hindus.

So can we take the form out of its Hindu context??

Monday, 21 September 2009

They've made a film about my job!

Ok it's not actually my job but I spend a lot of my time going to things like this pulling out the wheat from the chaff and finding things that we can offer to regular Londoners rather then Swedish hippies...

Monday, 7 September 2009

After the Death of Carnival and Merrie England: An Epidemic of Melancholy

“Beginning in England in the late seventeenth century, the European world was stricken by what looks, in today's terms, like an epidemic of depression,” writes Barbara.

“In 1733 Dr. George Cheyne lamented 'the late frequency and daily increase of wanton and uncommon self-murders, produced mostly by this distemper,' and speculated that the English climate, combined with sedentary lifestyles and urbanization, 'have brought forth a class of distemper with atrocious and frightful symptoms, scarce known to our ancestors, and never rising to such fatal heights, and afflicting such numbers in any known nation.' … A hundred years later, little had changed: '[Nervous complaints] prevail at the present day', claimed a contemporary, 'to an extent unknown at any former period, or in any other nation.'” p129-130.

“The disease grew increasingly prevalent over the course of the twentieth century, when relatively sound statistics first became available, and this increase cannot be accounted for by a greater willingness on the part of physicians and patients to report it. Rates of schizophrenia, panic disorders, and phobias did not rise at the same time, for example, as they would be expected to if only changes in the reporting of mental illness were at work.” p131.

Barbara cannot ignore the overlapping timing of the suggested beginning of the epidemic of depression, and the end of widespread festivities in Britain, over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. She poses the question:

“Could this apparent decline in the ability to experience pleasure be in any way connected with the decline in opportunities for pleasure, such as carnival and other traditional festivities?” p132

The rest of the chapter is a fascinating exploration of possible answers to this question, concluding:

 “There is no evidence, though, of an innate human need for communal pleasure, which, if thwarted, leads to depression or other mental diseases. Obviously, millions of people forgo such pleasures without developing clinically recognised disorders...” p148
 “There is, however, an abundance of evidence that communal pleasures – ranging from simple festivities to ecstatic rituals – have served, in a variety of cultures, as a way of alleviating and even curing depression.” p150
The immense tragedy for Europeans, I have argued, and most acutely for the northern Protestants among them, was that the same social forces that disposed them to depression also swept away a traditional cure. They could congratulate themselves for brilliant achievements in the areas of science, exploration, and industry, and even convince themselves that they had not, like Faust, had to sell their souls to the devil in exchange for these accomplishments. But with the suppression of festivities that acommpanied modern european “progress,” they had done something perhaps far more damaging: they had completed the demonisation of Dionysus begun by Christians centuries ago, and thereby rejected one of the most ancient sources of help – the mind preserving, lifesaving techniques of ecstasy.” 

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Ecstatic Pottery

Malidoma Some describes the process by which women in his home village of Dagara, Burkina Faso, make pottery.

"In the interests of producing something that is an extension of their wholeness, the women will begin by chanting and singing together, echoing one another. The work is not in the form of a production line, even though a production line would have yielded more than enough of these practical containers. Nor do the women work alone. Each person has clay. They are seated in a circle, and they chant until they are in some sort of ecstatic place, and it is from that place that they begin molding the clay. It is as if the knowledge of how to make pots is not in their brains, but in their collective energy. The product becomes an extension of the collective energy of the circle of women.

"I have watched this process unfold countless times. The women can sit all day in front of two dozen mounds of clay, doing nothing but chanting - until the last hours, when in a flurry of activity all kinds of pots come forth. Imagine a job where two-thirds of the time was spent chanting, and one-third was spent in production! The product of work here, the pot, embodies the intimacy and wholeness experienced by the women over the course of the day. The women understand that is is necessary to reach that place of wholeness before they can bring something out of it."

The Healing Wisdom of Africa, p67.

Family games in Dagara, Burkina Faso

"On a sunny afternoon, the village gathers in three distinct groups. THe first is the group of elders or grandparents. The second consists of the children and grandchildren. The third group is made up of the remaining villagers, the adults. Grandparents are seated each on a stool in one tight, straight row, dressed in their best clothing, and the children as posted some sixty to ninety feet away. Someone intones a song, and everybody, including the children, sings.

"But the kids, as they sing, run toward the row of elders, each one selecting a grandparent and focusing an eye on him or her while singing and running. As the song ends, these children crash into the laps of their chosen grandparent. Some collisions are mild, others a more rough, but the overall impact is sweet and loving. After the crash, the children return to their position and start all over again. Every time a crash results in the fall to the ground of the elder and the child, they are out of the game. If, after the third time for boys, or the fourth time for girls, there is no fall, then the child must switch to a different elder.

..."It  is not a competition, yet everybody looks forward to the crash, and everybody is happy whether there is a fall or not. Very rarely does a grandparent fall as a direct result of a grandchild jumping on him or her. The interesting thing is the bonding that it permits, and the fact that it becomes the subject of talk long after it is over. Gradually, children don't distinguish between different grandparents. Every old person comes to be known as Grandpa or Grandma. Reinforcing this idea is the general party that follows the crashing ritual, which the entire village takes part in. Here each child dances with a grandparent while everyone spurs them on with great excitement. The party with the very old and the very young is very exciting to watch.

"These examples suggest that what is required for maintenance and growth of a community is not corporate altruism or a government program, but a villagelike atmosphere that allows people to drop their masks."

Malidoma Some, the healing wisdom of Africa, p94-5

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

And Wuseli, 'Village of the Loonies'

"'They're loonies', I thought to myself. We were as nonplused as the audiences must have been watching us. Maybe it was a form of revenge.

"I looked closer.

"I saw a man dressed up as a monkey, with an orange fez on his head, swinging from the branches of a nearby tree. Monkey-man! He was blowing a policeman's whistle as he swung from the tree. The elders were still shuffling and hooting around, but I noticed that one of them had a long cotton tail dangling between his legs. And if one of them didn't have a horn, he blew on the end of his walking stick, making the sound of the horn just the same. And slowly, very slowly, that village was going wild. And a little millet wine helped; no doubt about it. Blow the roof off. "Not too much now," said Brook, knocking it back. Shuffle, hoot, shuffle, hoot, shuffle, hoot. Everything, everything to the rhythm of the crazy horns."


"And when you returned their sounds, they looked as if they could kiss you. It meant you understood... 'Come on! Come on!' they called us to dance. So we ventured into the circle of dancers, laughing. Shuffle, hoot, shuffle, hoot. Take it easy! they said. Keep the pulse! they said. Then you can hoot! And it went on for hours with the Village of the Loonies, the village who dance in trees, elect a silly Chief, miss their noses with warpaint, fall off horses, collect paper flags and policeman's whistles, make slapstick love, forget the names of their gods, make up new ones every day, forget they exist, forget misery, laugh, laugh at the discovery of themselves, at every limb and waggling tongue - everything is funny, everything.

"The people were wise.

"They understood the wisdom of craziness."

(Conference of the birds, John Heilpern, p216-7)

And the Peulh

This should probably be on the singing blog. Also from Conference of the Birds by John Heilpern:

"But it wasn't just the incredible sight of the Peulh. Even in the poor conditions, they were making music, miraculous music that seemed to come from another world. Swados was on her feet the instant she heard it. She knew the Peulh sound went to the heart of everything she was searching for.

"There, in one sustained note - a sound held for so long we weren't even aware of a voice behind it; a sound pure and simple, effortless - it was as if the whole meaning of everything that is so unintelligible and mystifying about life had somehow been shown to us. From where or how, I didn't know. But it was there, and it was as if the sound had a life of its own. The sound merged with others, vibrating. It was as if the sounds weren't human. They were beyond art, beyond culture, beyond everything except dreams. They were beautiful. They were beyond the human."

I'd like to visit the Tuareg

From 'Conference of the Birds' - a fantastic book about a group of actors in the 60s, including Helen Mirren, travelling around Africa trying to find a universal language for theatre that is beyond words.

"And to our astonishment, the field was suddenly full of leaping Tuaregs. Without warning, the men dashed into the centre of the field and started leaping up and down. It was a dance, a jumping-up-and-down dance. They rammed a walking stick into the ground and jumped up and down with such force that the earth vibrated. I couldn't believe it. It was as if they were using pogo sticks. They were going crazy! They were taking off! They were FLYING!" (p116)

Running of the Santas

"Maddened beasts stampeding through the streets. Huge crowds come to view the spectacle as brave young men play chicken in front of them. Everyone is in awe, inspired by the ferocious display of sheer, bestial power.
Yes, it's the annual Running of the Santas."