Danca...."dance for all the pain that never wept..." (play audio track at bottom of post)  

Gotta share this, people... it's my rewrite of a Brazilian song called "Danca" by Chico Cesar....a quick recording in my garage, one man band style. Still not polished, as the life of a busy father isn't, but alive it is in my heart: 

"Fingers from a tiny hand outstretched                                    
A gun, a breast, a stone, a flower pressed
The human plan that broke the clan, amnesia
Hosana in the highest, angels watching in the sky
Dance as all the beauty slips between the fingers grasping for the moon

Dance if you are broken, dance if you remember
Dance among the tears of all the tribes
Dance if you can stand it, dance if you are human
Dance upon the failures and the gleam
Dance with falling Pueblos, Dance with what we’re given
Dance as all the beauty slips away
Dance upon the graves, the bones of ancients dawning
Dance beneath the dust of Wounded Knee

Here the fires are burning, stars are burning
The way, the street, the ash, the path is worn
The moon, the boon, the net, the tide is weary
Fairies watching high above the town
The mud, the glitz, the blood, the gold, the young, the old, the stories that we’re told

Dance into the jungles, dance at what it’s come to,
        Dance for what you dream and will not see
Dance for fallen daughters, your ancestors, your fathers,
        Dance for all the pain that never wept
Dance for all your anger, dance amidst the strangers,
        Underneath the falling tower ships
Dance amidst the bombing, dance the spirit’s (devil’s) calling,
        Dance into the dirt from whence you’ve come"

Ancient foods: Apache red grass 

      Today, friend and ethno-botanist Richard Felger and his colleague Gregg Dugan came over with potted plants of the native Apache red grass.  We spent the cloudy morning planting 22 plants in our yard here in the forest outside of Silver City.  Why?  These researchers and botanists have been studying and working with plants they think could help transform our agricultural practices and help with some of our global energy, water, economic, and ecological crises.  They have been helping local farmers plant these grasses, and encouraging local restaurants and chefs to cook and bake with the grains, all with promising success.

         These are native grasses that, according to some Apache experts, were the most commonly eaten seeds/grains among local Apache groups due to their tastiness and easy of harvest and processing.  Protein content of these grasses are 50 - 75% higher than in wheat.  They are perennial plants that need very little water, no tilling, and don't need to be re-planted every year.  According to Dugan in the attached article, 10% of the world's economy goes to tilling alone.  For many of us to begin learning to grow or gather, harvest, and eat some of these traditional food plants could have a huge effect not only on some of the problems we face, but on our connection to the land that supports us, and on our heath as well. 

          Felger has also been a huge advocate and driving force behind the renewed movement of harvesting and eating the mesquite beans that grow wild in the Southwest.  This nutritious, delicious, and readily available food has been a staple for people in this part of the country for many centuries, and has only recently been "rediscovered" by many New Mexicans and Arizona residents. 

          My interest in wild plants of this area, and in alternatives to the modern agricultural food model lit me up to find out about this project.  So happy to have these beauties growing in my yard, and to have had the generous help and important knowledge of Richard and Dugan!  

Bringing the wild drop home 

        What a lovely night in my home town, Silver City, punctuated by an awe-inspiring late-night lightning show.  Finally pulling together a local house concert CD release, with the help of friends and percussionists Gabriel Feldman, Josh Stretch, my brother Peter and sister Maria on guitar, vocals and percussion, and the grand finale of Monica and Martha with the surprise Sorsonet dance....what a treat!  Together we pulled-off the almost-full orchestration on the new album Wild Drop, and shared it with a packed living room of 75 people or so in the early throes of the summer monsoon season.  My parents in town for the occasion, my oldest sister Erica, old friends I've known since I was a boy, all those eyes and hearts bouncing and reflecting the music, the drum, the sound back and forth like an invisible crystalline ping-pong ball. 
         And isn't this what music is for?  Bringing us together in the comfort of our homes, on our own turf, to laugh, to cry, to feel the emotions of being a human, in all its glory and sorrow?  Later, talking with Josh, still in the thick of our collective grief over our lost little sister Ella, we echoed that sentiment back and forth: that we are here to wade through the joys, the sorrows, the grief, the ugliness, and the magic, without averting our glance; without trying to avoid pain or even to transcend it. 

         It seems that sometimes modern music has become just a "feel-good" filler, here only to distract us and get our minds off our troubles.  Yet even "singing about our troubles", digging into them musically, as Zimbawean great Oliver Mtukudzi has talked about on multiple occasions, can offer the magic potion of diffusing tension.  We sing for our losses.  We sing for our joys.  We sing for fallen daughters.  We sing for babies born.  We sing for the hopelessness of our current situtation.  We sing for the hope we feel anyway.  We sing for broken dreams.  We play the drums when we are lost, when we are depressed.  We play when we are exhilarated; when we are joyful.  Music is our magical friend, always in our shirt pocket, ready to help; ready to accompany us on any flowering, glorious, or devastating part of our journey as human beings. 

          I give thanks for the music.  Thanks for my town.  Thanks for people coming out to be together and to support music.  Thanks for the drums.  Thanks for the songs.  Thanks for the dancing.  Thanks for the mysterious language, friend, companion, and community organizer that is:

to California and back....  

      Whew!  What a trip.  And what a journey.  Deciding to leave my family for two and a half weeks to teach at Buckeye Gathering in northern California, and then play 6 events in seven days, sharing my music in backyards, living rooms, libraries, in central California oak forests around a fire, a Bay Area metropolis, Los Angeles city sprawl, Topanga mountain curves...meanwhile battling the misgivings of putting that extra load of temporary single parenthood on my amazing wife, Lexa.  And through it all, I am blessed, and we are blessed;  my life giving me the imperative: you must share your music now! 

     This house concert opening has been the one clear possibility this spring for how I can make a decent living for my family at the moment... a challenge I have struggled with for many years, and often ridden that edge of making enough money.  And now I find myself singing this music that comes from a mysterious source, through my heart, and into the hearts of others in comfortable and welcoming homes, in fire-lit backyards across the West.  And at the same time, making a decent living.  Such a gift that I will cherish for the moment and give thanks for. 

      Some highlights of the trip were the Elderberry song, given by an Elderberry tree to a man in Santa Barbara, CA.  The other half of the song was given to a woman in Toronto by a different Elderberry tree.  A visionary named Jon Young was in the right place at the right time to meet both people and see that they carried two parts to the same song.  The two parts were sung together by hundreds of teary-eyed, elated women and men in a forest in northern California at Buckeye Ancestral Skills Gathering.  Some of the significance of the song was obviously understood by these people so moved by this occurrence.  As I hear it and sing it, it reminds me so much of the spirit calling mbira songs of the Shona people; of the spirit-calling West African drumming music: a magical intertwining that does not come from the human mind, but rather from nature; from spirit.  And all this time borrowing this magical music from traditional cultures leads us to this moment when two trees give a song of such power directly into the hands of.....Us: the humble, stumbling lot of orphans searching for a place to belong, battling through the disorienting madness of modern globalized civilization seeking the tiny unfoldings of the possibility of cultural regeneration.  And the tears fall......and the song makes it way across the land....

      And in Sebastopol, a friend met under unlikely circumstances hosted a concert in his backyard under live oaks around a fire spun by many and sung into life.  The music accompanying me swirled around the fire, and then my friend and host, Randall, joined me on mbira-style guitar to help crack open the moment....later in the night, he and I played traditional mbira songs together, and for the first time in the U.S., I saw the spirit of the mbira music climb inside people and animate their figures around the fire, kicking up dust, spinning and jumping, singing, dancing, laughing, and completing the circle of music and dancer, fire and smoke. 

      Two unexpected concerts came to be in Menlo Park, thanks to the generosity and open heartedness of Lena and John, and in Fullerton, CA, thanks to connection with friends and more welcoming famliy in Sylvia, Sean, Maya and family. 
craaaazy Friday traffic on the way to my Fullerton house concert                                                                                       craaaazy Friday traffic on the way to my Fullerton house concert

       So many hearts opened up along the way.  Strings, voices, drums, songs, eyes.  New friends came to listen, came to dance, came to play, came to learn...a special treat of Robin and Ira in the bay area getting inspired to learn the mbira-style guitar parts to my song "Something Whole," which was definitely the song of the trip (see attached mp3), and then show up at my next concert to play it with me! 

                                                                                                                   Topanga walkabout kids!

       Then Topanga offered me a chance to get out into the forest, taking a group of local home-school kids on a nature connection walkabout in those beautiful mountains.  Such a gift after so much driving and moving to slow back down to the pace of nature...to drop back in, hang with kids, see all the plants so familiar, yet "wearing California clothes," as my friend Doug Simons says.                                                                                                 Mariposa Lily (blooming everywhere near Topanga)

And finally, a sweet concert at my dear friend Antonia's house to help celebrate her birthday.  So many old friends from my teaching and university days in southern California showed up for sweet reunions. 

        So grateful to be sharing my music in a way that works....in a way that connects...in a way that comes through...in a way that heals.  Thank you everyone for coming and supporting, for shining back at me, for sharing, and for participating.  Until next time, California.   :)

Forts in the woods 

Recently on a trip to Ruidoso, NM to visit my 5 year-old daughter Grace's grandma, I got to experience again the magic of forts in the woods.  We don't have a TV, so often trips like this staying with relatives end up being unusual opportunities for our daughter (and us!) to watch TV, and for us to remember what it's like to have one in the house.  After a while of that, Grace and I ended up building a cool fort out of cushions and blankets in the living room.  Then I said, "let's go build a fort in the woods!," and she happily agreed.  After hopping across the creek with her on my back, we propped long sticks and small logs up on some fallen brush, and then proceeded to pile tons of pine needles on top while we sang a song she made up: "putting pine needles on the fort, putting pine needles on the fort...."  Twenty minutes later we had a fort to remember that could just fit the both of us, and could successfully transport us into that heart of ancestral human experience of making a shelter out of things that nature provides, and then climbing inside that new precious portal into our past and future, and mostly importantly, our alive present.  Long live the pine needle fort!

Arizona house concerts sweet like citrus (does that mean sour too? :) 

Just back from a quick house concert tour of Arizona: 3 nights by three campfires in 3 backyards under 3 trees (an big ash tree and two mesquites); beautiful people with glowing eyes, powerful connection through magical music in the breezy firelight...last night in Tucson, 45 people were counted on Nick and Jessica's patio, sharing the music, which was taken up many spiraling notches thanks to Geneva's harmonies and accompaniment on several mbira-based songs (here's a youtube video of the two of us playing my new song "Taireva" based on the ancient Zimbabwean mbira song) . What a treat. So many thanks to all the people willing to go out on a limb to host and attend an unfamiliar format for live music...and yet, isn't it the most familiar? Long live the house concert! 

Wild Drop is done!! 

Whoohooo!  Almost a year later, the album Wild Drop is finished.  I'm really proud of this one.   Lots of work, time, energy, collaboration and magic went into this album.  Cello playing by Orien McDonald, harmony vocal by my sister Maria Casler, tons of instruments, and an amazing job done by sound engineer Joe Victor.  Here's a couple pictures he took in the studio.  Buy the album!  Check out a concert when I'm in your town.  Love!