Thursday, February 10, 2011

What's doing in Sierra Leone?

Freetown, Sierra Leone, is pretty heavy with history in two directions, having once been a primary departure point for African slaves (via the Portuguese) and later, in 1787, being settled by 400 freed slaves and African-Americans, under the guidance of British abolitionists. After that community collapsed in violence two years later (a "misunderstanding" between Europeans and Africans? The devil you say), it was tried again in 1792, and — well, that's about all I know really, and anyway, this isn't meant to be a history lesson. Let's just say it's still there, despite the French, the British, the diamonds, and Charles Taylor.

Freetown, hanging in there

Why am I telling you this? Because a good friend is in Sierra Leone for a spell as a doctor with a volunteer organization that shall remain nameless, and she passed along a rough story a couple of days ago that I thought I'd share. If you're squeamish you might not want to read on, though it's not all that graphic. The upshot is I won't be complaining about healthcare here for a while.

Would probably win a duel with a motorcycle

Anyway, her first couple of weeks there were uneventful (other than the Harmattan), but then...

"One of my volunteers was mowed down by a motorcycle in a remote part of the country! My worst nightmare! It was night, when we're not allowed to be on the road (for safety reasons — driving is not good during the day, but impossible at night). Fortunately, two other volunteers were in the same town as the injured volunteer, though he didn't know that at the time.

As I've told you, there's a large Lebanese community here — especially Lebanese/Sierra Leoneans, who although never having been to Lebanon retain many of their terrific qualities of hospitality and caring. The Salones (Sierra Leoneans) are naturally the same way, being very friendly and caring people. So the combination of the two peoples can be very interesting, and certainly proved helpful that day. A Leb/Salone picked up the volunteer (who was profusely bleeding) and took him to a gov't hospital, which I'll describe in a minute. Somehow the word spread like wildfire, and the two other vols showed up at the hospital — thank goodness, because they ended up sleeping with the injured one, and providing the necessary care to him...a head injury, he needed neurological check every two hours throughout the night. I was on the phone continuously between them and the doctor treating the vol. To make a long story short, the volunteer, apart from a bad head injury that required two wounds to be sutured (and that neurological checking), had multiple cuts and abrasions all over his body, and probably a broken ankle (or at least some torn ligament).

[note: italics mine. – mw]

But here we go. The wounds were sutured without any anesthesia, and by the light of the volunteers' cell phones, since there's no electricity and no generator there! And the volunteer, with his open wounds, was laid on a bed where there had been blood spilled by a previous patient! Yes, this is Africa. They do the best they can, but it ain't much. When I arrived at the "hospital" the next day I almost fainted...I've seen bad in my life, but absolutely nothing like what I saw there. The volunteer is a great kid, and really sucked it up, and did all that I told him. Got him out of there, to Freetown, cleaned him up and gave him appropriate exam and treatment, which is still ongoing.

But everything here is such an effort that all my time has been taken up by this event. I've looked into helicopter medevacs for him, etc...but nothing yet, although it's very much in the planning stages. And there are several SL doctors in Freetown that are quite good and have been trained in the U.S. It's just that there is so little in the way of equipment. Tomorrow I'm getting him two CT scans (head and ankle) — price is $500 for both! Get that! (note: I think that's cheap? Or, I dunno, expensive?! –mw) And the hospital — also a gov't facility, is absolutely the worst (even worse than the one in Bo [note: Bo is Sierra Leone's second-largest city, pop. about 215,000. –mw]) that I've ever seen in my life...bare beds with 6-7 people lying in each one...and if there are no family members around to help the patients don't eat, they lie in their own filth...I won't go on, you get the picture.

I took a brief nap today and am sure happy to be back in Freetown; took the volunteer and the driver for shawarma and felafel at a Lebanese place, where I had a terrific conversation, all in Arabic mind you, with the old man, the owner. So that's been my's just very dicey when you can't do what you know you have to for injuries."

Soldiers of Fortune, Zebulon, Wed Feb 9

The Voice asked about some heavy jams last night, so I went and, you know, told that.

Mike Bones, post-show, not his assigned seat

Kid Millions, post-show, his assigned smile

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Jordi Wheeler, Spectacle Theater, Mon Feb 7

Third time's a charm (but then, so were the first and second). Another core member of Up Died Sound, a band itself not so very documented but modestly exploding with ideas, lit out on a solo hike. I wasn't even sure I'd be writing about Jordi Wheeler's set till partway through his somewhat troubled first song, when he realized what I was already thinking and killed an unnecessary percussion track, leaving just a song, a good one, and after that just songs (though not this splinter) — hermetic, whispered but not quiet by purpose, a few first on piano, stained-glass notes (and starry films behind him) illuminating the dark room, his percussive left hand the only rhythm needed. After a while he switched to acoustic guitar, still seated at his piano, for a few more songs, bedsit in nature but sophisticated, the señor even threading in a Spanish figure on — is guitar still his home instrument, can anybody tell? He returned to piano for another flourish, further smearing, really just banishing the question. Bent over his instruments he looked like a less mannered Peter Jefferies, though this night Jordi was clearly tithing in the parish of Syd Barrett (while John Cale hovered offscreen).

Don't blame the camera

As with a lot of veteran artists (Wheeler was in the Occasion, one of my favorite NYC bands of the early ’00s), this set seemed as much about corraling a wealth of ideas and impulses (like herding cats — and speaking of, the supportive crowd was filled with musicians) as showing off the songs. Which I'm looking forward to hearing again, even though the next time could be completely different.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Hiro Kone, Zebulon, Wed Feb 2

Felt good to get out after a week and half with the flu (or flus, you know, just lucky I guess), and I celebrated with electric holy water.

A short walk from work through the glazed donut that is Williamsburg (key difference: glazed donuts often filled with something) to Zebulon, where Hiro Kone (a.k.a. Nicky Mao of Up Died Sound, ex–Effi Briest) was making her maiden solo flight. Could that be true? I saw her accompany the 1923 silent Salomé in November, though that isn't quite solo. The few times I've seen UDS her ideas were prominent, so the night was not without measured anticipation (J agreed). Her set — five songs, six? All of some length and considerable presence — established a unique language and (not uncommon for a first gig) (if it was), with it, she had plenty to say. She started with a hand drum

before moving into steady frontierwork along the Korg/Nord axis, evoking Alice Coltrane's devotional music of the ’80s in tone and spirit, only less narrowly focused and in an open relationship with dance music. That last aspect might get her miscategorized (because what are you if you can't be categorized?), but this is psychedelic music at heart, a different state of mind its goal, or states, goals.

Man it's hard to get good photos at Zebulon

What kept me thinking of Coltrane mère was the way whole choruses flared out of already rich orbs of brightly opaque synth, a real instinct for contrast and shape, the way her music moves outward and sometimes diagonal, just always with some sense of further (like, small-p progressive).

The only song I recognized is the sublime "AION A" (which you can just have). One song pulsed with a 5/4 (or was it 4/5, what order do they go in again?) pillow-thump and one crisp clack to mark the darkness; a bit of Laika, or Richie Hawtin loosening up with a color or two, but mostly just like Hiro Kone. Kind of a long set for first of three, but that didn't matter, it was one of those sounds you just wanna let alone for a while, so despite what I'd heard about Pillars & Tongues, and knew about Highlife (Sleepy Doug Shaw), I headed out, happy, blissy.