Home, Earth and Beginnings

Lately, I’ve been hearing drums all around me.

There’s prominent drumming in Paul Simon’sGraceland” album, which I can’t seem to turn off these days. There’s drumming in “Rhythm,” a short and excellent documentary that features my friend Neelamjit, the finest tabla player you’ll ever hear, at least here in Vancouver. And there was nothing but drumming in the Cultural Olympiad event, “Sound of the Ocean,” a show by the U-Theatre from Taiwan.

When I first sat down to write this post, I thought I’d start off with a brief history lesson on drumming. I tossed the idea after I realized a history of using our hands, complete with opposable thumbs, on a surface to make  noise dates back to when we were primates far from the savannah, making music in the trees. That, and show me a culture that has never practiced rhythm in its history. So the best I can do is write about what happened when I watched and listened to “Sound of the Ocean.”

The show began with each performer silently walking on stage and taking their place in front of their instrument. After about five minutes of this, you’re on edge because you know what’s coming. But you’re still unprepared for the wave of sound that hits you out of the silence when they first touch their sticks to the drum skin. I’m not blind or deaf but if I were both, I can’t imagine it stopping me from experiencing some part of a drum performance like the one I watched. Each move the drummers took was a means to an end: the beat of a drum.  But the movement that was created was more like a dance than a gesture. And you could feel the power of the vibration of the drum in your seat and through the balls of your feet.

At one point, there were 15 people on stage, each of them drumming in perfect time. They knew the music and count inside and out. But watching them, you would never know when the rhythm or tempo was going to change up. When it did change, it happened in perfect sync. You know that feeling you get when you say a word at the same time someone else says it too? Jinx! It’s like that, multiplied by a thousand – a silent little victory inside your heart.

Huang Chih-Chun is the music director and drum master at U-Theatre. He tells us

“the changes in loudness remind us of the adaptability of water that flows downhill, willingly complying with the slope. The silence stands for the largest drop, and it’s also the moment of not knowing. The drumming remains unbroken despite intermittent strokes. But the intervals are not made of silence; they are filled with the primordial sound “om,” which in Buddhist cosmology fills the universe.”

I think I want to see more drumming. Watching those beautiful performers exercise perfect rhythm made me feel grounded and connected to everyone else in the room who, for all I know, were all thinking the same thing: “I know this sound. It reminds me of something from long ago – it speaks of home and earth and beginnings.”

K’Naan’s Cultural Olympiad

knaanpub1My birthday is coming up (it’s Saturday, February 27 and thanks so much for the card, by the by) and you can imagine my surprise when my Special Lady, Michelle, told me we were going to see K’Naan at the Orpheum Theatre. Needless to say, I was pretty darn excited.

Brief tangent: if you haven’t taken in a show or cultural event at the Orpheum, please do it soon. The place is as spectacular as it is intimate.

I will venture a guess and assume that 72% of visitors to this online news magazine know about K’Naan. Whether you do or not, the 10 minute video below acts as a pretty darn amazing introduction to one of the world’s most important artists. Enjoy!

Full disclosure. K’Naan is a sell out. Or so a handful of mangey protestors argued as thousands of fans excitedly lined up to see a young man who defines himself as “made in Somalia and raised in Toronto.” Recently, K’Naan signed a lucrative contract with corporate up-and-comer, Coca Cola – some folks argue this goes against his truly humbling, authentic, “man of the people” image. I will admit, combining a Coca Cola sponsorship with a stopover at the Olympics (the Cultural Olympiad is sponsored by Bell) amid chatter that artists are being “muzzled” by sponsors complicated my shining opinion of K’Naan.

When the protestors approached Michelle, though, things weren’t so complicated. Her argument went like this: Look. I’m not saying that you don’t have a point. But really, at the end of the day, K’Naan’s message is positive, empowering and inspiring. Through his songs he tells a story of forgiveness, respect, tolerance, and hope. Why wouldn’t we want this message to spread through any means possible, reaching individuals it otherwise would not have? Coke is powerful – take the example of GreenPeace, who tried for 15 years to have greener refridgeration technology approved in Canada. Coca Cola, in an attempt to be more environmentally sustainable, was able to get their climate-friendly vending machines and coolers approved for use in Canada in just one year, in time for the 2010 Olympics – opening the door for approval of green refridgerators and coolers. Instead of working against the man, it is often so much more effective to work with the man to effect change.

Michelle and I, being superawesome nerds, developed an evaluation rubric for the concert based on four categories – each category is worth five points. Here we go:

Edutainment

A good amount (like, 30) of parents brought their kids to the concert. In the lineup – amidst the inarticulate, yet passionate, protestors – I struck up a conversation with a little one (and her dad, because I’m not creepy) about the concert ahead. She said she was excited because her class watched a documentary about what K’Naan is doing in East Africa to raise awareness about women’s rights, child labour/poverty and the overall plight of people who live in “the hardest place on Earth.” He also told powerful stories and shook his ass like a maniac. Recent findings show kids love stuff like that.

Final Score: 5/5.

Dancibility

Rap concerts suck. There. I said it. Unless an artist has Timbaland mixin his pop-fresh beats live on stage, well, it all just sounds like muffled talking to the thump-thump of the base. And people can’t really dance to such sounds. Especially white people. And, let’s be honest about the crowd, this was/is Vancouver. But this was not a rap concert. It was a delightful hybird of rock/hip-hop/spoken word/stand up comedy with interludes of musical poetry. Whether he was whispering quietly to the audience or “lighting this mutherf*ckin’ joint” everybody could dance…to the best of their ability.

Final Score: 4/5

Creativity

Still moved by K’Naan’s amazing, humbling ability to wear his heart on his sleeve, this concert truly ran the gamut of sensation: from the hilarious and ridiculous to the tragically sad. Few people on this planet can honestly live up to the title of “Rapper, Poet, Philosopher, Storyteller, and Rock Star” – if he were the kind of guy to have business cards, K’Naan would have the best ones ever.

Final Score: 6/5

Authenticity

Here’s the deal. Sell-out or not, the part of the concert when K’Naan told the feeble VANOC official that he’s “not finished playing” – whether this came about because of his “mood” or his penchent for counterculture or his subscribing to African Time, this part of the show was delightfully authentic. I was not without my reservations, as K’Naan needlessly name-dropped Bob Marley and, to all the fans out there, here’s a piece of advice: when someone is singing/talking about their dead childhood girlfriend who left this world in the most terrible of circumstances, well, it’s not supercool to cheer about it. Idiots. Finally, Coke-fueled or not, seeing that many people sing to Wavin Flag was the most authentic thing I’ve seen during these Olympics. Building community through music? Check! Well done, K’Naan.

Final Score: 5/5

With a total score of 20/20 it’s pretty clear that K’Naan rocked the Orpheum. More importantly, though, in a world where most of us have lost faith in business – just ask Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management – perhaps it’s not such a bad thing to have K’Naan, a poetic champion of the people, as a collaborator with the biggest business on Earth. After all, change takes a community…

- Written by The Bornks!

Olympic Neighbourhoods: The North Shore

As a key media outlet for the 2010 Olympics, the Daily Gumboot is excited to bring you our “Olympics Neighbourhoods” series. Here’s how it works: each week, Managing Editor, Kurt Heinrich, and Editor-in-Chief, John will profile a different Vancouver neighbourhood with a specific focus on things that might interest out-of-town visitors who arrive in The Couve for the Olympics. We will do this between now and the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver and the story will be told be the Gumboot’s editors asking and answering the five questions below. These are the straight goods that you can’t get from VANOC, the Ministry of Tourism or the City of Vancouver. Let’s get to it!

Your Olympic Neighbourhood this week is…The North Shore!

1. Where is this neighbourhood exactly and how do I get there?

JOHN: Do you like boats? I hope so, because getting from Downtown to the North Shore means crossing one of two bridges or, if you go car-less, taking the Seabus to Lonsdale Quay. Here is an interactive map that really ties it all together.

2. Why should a tourist/traveler be interested in it?

JOHN: People from the North Shore will tell you that this community represents the pinnacle of a “West Coast” lifestyle. Truly, no other place in the Lower Mainland possesses the combination of nature, suburbia, urban-chique, and small-town-friendliness. This is the place where a traveler can realize the purest of West Coast experiences: catch a gorgeous view of the cityscape over a steaming cup of fair trade, locally roasted coffee and then move on to a day of skiing, golfing and kayaking or mountain biking and then wrapping it all up with a micro-brewed pint of delicious beer. It’s a beautiful thing.

3. What good and/or unique things are there to eat?

JOHN: I defer to Kelly White’s performance for this one. But, if you’re like 72% of our readership and sneak peaks at the Gumboot during free moments in your cubicle at work, then you might not be able to watch the video. If this is the case, there are, allegedly, super-popular, must-try cheese sticks at the Queensdale Market and the mysteriously fantastic sandwich makers at La Galleria in the even more mysterious Edgemont Village.

4. What can I do for fun in this neighbourhood?

JOHN: Ummm…everything! Again, I encourage you to watch this in-depth video about the secrets of the North Shore. Of all the places that Kelly took us, the Lynn Loop was the most inspiring. It reminded me of being back on Vancouver Island (where I grew up) and the idea of being able to do everything from a two hour round trip to an overnight camping excursion where, according to the locals, “you need to know what you’re doing” is what makes Vancouver an absolutely unique urban experience.Check out trails and a full list of other west coast activities here.

5. What are your three favourite things about the North Shore?

KELLY:

1. Being so close to trails and forest so that anyone can get away from the hussel and bussel of city life and enjoy the fresh air on weekends.

2. The friendly community-feel of the North Shore~ residents care about their community and it shows.

3. My favorite outdoor summer festvial, Caribbean Days! Every late July, Waterfront Park hosts a Caribbean Days event with music, a parade, food, and a beer garden. It’s the one event I never miss every year, it is awesome!

JOHN: I wholeheartedly agree with Kelly’s answers above (although I didn’t try the pizza at Taylor’s Crossing), but will just add that my Aunt Julie Ann lives in North Vancouver, so I’m always happy to visit her and get up to some shenanigans.