Friday, September 28, 2007

Boston, New York, London, Seville (WOMEX), Dakar!

In 2006, I met music manager Stephen Garvan at the FARWest music conference. Stephen loved my music and said, "I think you are very talented. Why don't you call me and we'll brainstorm about your career?"

For six months, I chased Stephen via email and phone as he bounced around the globe. When I finally pinned him down in Idaho, the main thing he said was, "You have the talent and the drive to Go Global, but you are acting too small. You're playing locally, going to local conferences, staying too close to home. Instead, go to WOMEX, the annual world music conference in Europe."

Well, that all sounded well and good, but how? Like most indie artists, it's not like I'm swimming in an ocean of cash! I signed up for the next FARWest conference, but his words percolated in the back of my brain. Then one day, an email notice came through that all World Music Coalition Members were eligible for a huge registration discount for WOMEX. Impulsively, I registered, figuring the most I would lose is $200.

My October registration 3 months away, I had no idea how I would get to Spain, much less organize babysitting for the kids, or paying my way upon getting over there. More percolating. Then one day I thought, "Hey, maybe I can earn some money en route by performing in cities where I have a fan base." I conjured up a dream itineray in my head .. a show in Boston, New York, and then my beloved London before going to WOMEX. And then, I couldn't go all the way to Spain without heading a mere three hours south to Dakar, Senegal to study sabar! Maybe I could collaborate with some musicians there too!

Online at Expedia and Orbitz and Cheap Tickets, the multiple flights of my Dream Itinerary kept costing about $4 - 5,000. Ouch. Maybe I'd just go directly to Spain ... if I could get there at all!

More percolating. Then one day, a friend told me about Travel Portfolio, an excellent agency in Sherman Oaks ( who had found her some great last minute round trip prices to France. So the next day, I called them and gave them my ultimate Ashley Goes Global Dream Itinerary. "We'll look into it and get back to you with a quote," said the cheery British travel agent.

Two hours later, she called back sounding flustered and excited, "You won't BELIEVE the price I managed to find for this!," she said. Having dug in with a bunch of insider travel agency sites she'd come up with a grand total for 7 flights (LA to Boston, New York to London, London to Seville, Seville to Madrid, Madrid to Dakar, Dakar to Chicago, Chicago to LA) for a mere $1700.00!!!!????? She couldn't guarantee that the deal would be intact after the weekend and I had until 5pm book it.

$1700?!!! That's a lot of money, but for SEVEN flights?! It's tough to go directly to Dakar and back without it costing about $2200. I called my husband, who said, "You've GOT to do it!" I called my friends and they all said, "You have GOT to go!!" so I did it. I booked it. And now, two months later, tons of the details have fallen into place. I'll be sharing the bill in Boston with a brilliant Malian kora player named Balla Tounkara, then on to New York to play at Googie's Lounge in the East Village. For both shows, I am hiring an excellent guitarist from NYC named Francis Jacob. Then in London (a whole glorious week in my favorite city in the world!!) I'm performing with some old friends and a new guitarist named Phil Stevenson. Long term allies are setting up brainstorming meetings with some UK record labels, too.

In Spain, I'm sharing a hotel room with a dear Italian friend I studied opera with in Bologna, Italy 20 YEARS ago named Luisa Cottifogli. Luisa, by a wild coincidence, has evolved into an INSANELY amazing world music singer ( Cannot wait to see her. Who KNOWS who I will meet at WOMEX. I am not performing officially, but I can network, listen to amazing music, learn and grow on the business side of things.

Finally, Dakar. Through MySpace, I met DouDou NDiaye Rose's eldest son, sabar master Djibril NDiaye Rose. He emailed me that he never imagined a Western woman would be able to sing mbalax like I do and said he prayed to God that one day our paths would cross and we might collaborate. Well, what do you know? I'll be in Dakar in November! He just emailed yesterday that he's arranged for us to record together and is setting up for us to film a video for the song while I am there. How cool is that?

On top of that, my dear mum friends in Los Angeles have rallied to help my husband by picking up our 7-year-old daughter for two weeks in a round robin schedule, my sister has offered to have her for the second two weeks and teach her independent study, and a very generous mentor / sponsor (who prefers to remain anonymous) is helping me fund the trip. It's going to be amazing!

I'll be staying with dear friends and living simply to keep costs low. Yes!

So thank you, Stephen Garvan for pushing me to think Global! And thank everyone involved in advance for your support and encouragement. May the path ahead be full of wonderful magical sweet surprises! And to you who are reading, remember to think Big!!! You never know....!

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"SABAR TOUBAAB" video seen 60,000 times on!

En Francais...
Récemment, j'ai signalé un clip vidéo de YouTube de moi faisant un solo sabar pendant une show a Los Angeles. C'était un solo très impromptu. Deux dames déjeunantes m'ont demandées pendant le show "Où sont vos danseurs? Nous avons dit à nos amis qu'il y aurait des danseurs!" J'ai expliqué que l'argent n'etait pas assez grand pour des danseurs mais pour EUX, je ferais un petit solo moi-même. A la fin du show, j'ai signalé au joueur parlant du tama, Magatte Sow "Tambour pour moi et je fait un petit solo." Il a fait, j'ai dansé, ils l'ont aimé, et ma amie, Lynette a l'attrapé tout sur le film.

Quelqu'un a a trouvé cette video, signalée lui, et il a été vu maintenant par presque 58.000 personnes. Incroyable! Bien plus incroyable est que puisque j'ai co-ecrti une chanson pour Youssou NDour que s'appelé Boul Bayekou, et parce que je peux danser aussi, Youssou m'a piloté à Dakar pour préparer avec ses 7 danseurs sénégalais pour deux expositions: un au théâtre de Sorano à Dakar, et puis à son énorme exposition annuelle chez Bercy à Paris devant 20.000 personnes. C'était l'une des choses les plus merveilleuses que j'ai jamais faites. Merci ainsi ! Il y a une vidéo de moi et Aziz Faye quand nous avons danse pour Youssou au théâtre de Sorano ci-dessous…

En Anglais...
Recently, I posted a YouTube video clip of me doing a sabar solo during a show at The Skirball Center. It was a very impromptu solo. Two lunching ladies asked me during the show's intermission, "Where are your dancers? We told our friends that there would be dancers!" I explained that the budget wasn't big enough for dancers but for THEM, I would do a solo myself. At the show's end, I signaled to talking drum player, Magatte Sow, "Drum for me and I'll do a little solo." He did, I danced, they loved it, and my friend, Lynette Wich, caught it all on film.

For the first six weeks it was on YouTube, 250 people per week were watching it. I was so excited! After a month, the viewer count had reached 1,200 and I thought, "Cooool!"

The one Monday, I checked it again and was stunned to find that number had jumped to 10,400????!!! I was totally puzzled and sure that it had been a mistake. Almost all of my other clips were growing in views at a normal rate, so why the jump?

Then Tuesday night Malik Sow (Magatte's dad) called to ask, "So, have you seen yourself on" No.

Turns out, is the #1 portal of news and culture for Francophone West Africa. Someone there spotted the video and decided to post it on the front page!! They gave it the title "Sabar Toubaab" which made me burst out laughing, as it means something like, "White Person Dancing Sabar." ("Toubab" can also mean "Western person" or "Non-Senegalese person," depending on the context in which it is used). It is now no longer on view directly from the website, but as of today over 55,000 people have watched it! There are a ton of comments below, too, that cover the widest span. Most are positive:

"how great that she shows such interest in our culture"
"look at how nice and modestly she dresses!"
"well done!"
"she must be Spanish"
"No, she must be French"
"No, she's English!"
"Frankly, I'm Senegalese and she dances better than me!"

Also, some negative ranting ones, too (yikes!) that inspired tons of counter-comments. The whole thing is like a Wonderful Crazy Cosmic Joke!!! Here is the direct link, if anyone wants to see the page:

I'm tempted to make myself a T-shirt with "Sabar Toubab" on the front and wear it in the streets of Dakar!

P.S. Crazy to think that this + writing a song (Boul Bayekou) for Youssou NDour + doing a solo at his December concert in LA equaled Youssou inviting me to Dakar to rehearse with his dancers for two weeks and then perform with him both in Dakar and in front of 20,000 at Bercy in Paris! Here is another video clip of me dancing for Youssou in Dakar... there's another blog about it at my page!

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