Arriving in Africa. Darkest Africa, The Congo! Home of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and The smell of Napalm in the Morning….I was exhausted and a bit loopy after two long flights. I forgot to fill out immigration forms. Ah well, I’ll just get ’em when I get into the airport. They always have those forms by the immigration lines. Except here in The Congo.

How we are used to relying on the system. Here there was no system. Just officials telling me, “ok we get you forms, not to worry!” So I was starting to really worry! I didn’t know the name and address of the hotel. Immigration won’t let me thru until I tell him the name of hotel. Oh, I’m in the only 5 star hotel in Kinshasa. Our promoter had said someone was going to meet us and walk us through custom–not to worry–but I cant remember the name. He needs the name of the hotel.

Luckily I speak enough French.

Just when it seemed that I was going to have to come up with some serious “airport tax”, I ask them to see if someone is out there waiting for me. They sent a runner–seems like they had tons of runners available, like 10 people for each job–and sure enough, in a few minutes ‘Bernard’ showed up. “Are you Farrrrred? Ok ok come with me.” And just like that I was through.

Strange though, Bernard did not offer to help with bags, had no helpful hints or friendly conversation, and walked fast so I had to race to keep 3 paces behind him. We walked out to parking lot where a beat up van with driver was waiting. I followed him to back of van, thinking it was time to put bags in back of van. Oops, no, Bernard is just takin’ a piss! So sorry. Hospitality!

So we are off to Kinshasa. It’s night, the 8 lane road is a dirt road. Packed with traffic. And potholes. You’ve never seen such potholes! It was an obstacle course. Traffic routinely had to head over into the opposing lanes just to navigate huge 5-foot potholes. Dusty dirty, noisy. Fires lit everywhere, overturned trucks on fire… Mad Max for real. But still LIFE … MUSIC! EVERYwhere! African groovy music singing and high tricky guitars cranking from everywhere. People walking with bundles on their heads and music. Dust and music. Food and music!

… and just like that we stopped. Bernard and driver just pulled over and told me to get out. And get my bags. Oh shit! I’m thinking, this is it, kidnapped within minutes of my African experience. Luckily or unluckily they just were transferring me to another car, where happy Ashaf drives me on into town. Not sure why or how this was all supposed to work, but all I could do was be cool and hope for the best.

Ashaf was nice, chatty and offered me drugs and women in the first few minutes of the ride. Eventually we hit the paved road–oh the luxury–and we arrived at the hotel. Nice decent hotel; luxurious probably back in the 70s but still fine, just fine. Phew. The promoter is there to meet us, and, after asking how I am feeling, wonders if I can meet with the folks who have arranged a private concert for me. I head up to shower and shave and change. Back down in 15 to meet the nicest folks, who take me out to eat at the restaurant where I will be giving my solo concert. Whoa. A few streets and pot holes later we enter a walled compound. Barbed wire and guards and the most luxurious beautiful stylish Italian restaurant I could not have imagined. WOW. And the food and wine and service and and and…. friends and safety and good things. Here of all places.

After a day of logistics, everything takes a long time in Africa, so be patient and calm–it will work out, probably. And this time it did. Good sound system arranged after I insisted and maintained a slightly uptight attitude. And they came through with a lovely little PA and set up for our concert and jam session.

My concert was packed and all had a ball! I was able to really stretch and play my faves. La Catedral, Recuerdos, some of my own tunes, some Sor with improvised cadenza, some Turina and then we turned the cats loose and had a good old fashioned jam session.

After a few days rehearsal we gave our final concert – a celebration concert with Singer Mama Africa, 2 balaphonists, 2 sanza players, 4 percussionists, 6 horns, drums, bass, Corey Wilkes on trumpet, myself on guitars and our leader Ernest Dawkins on Alto. What a glorious mess! However, with long rehearsals and good vibes, it all worked magically. Groove unites! And wow what a groove to work with these musicians.

Thanks to all the incredible musicians and our hosts, The Congo is amazing and I hope to return soon to teach some jazz and perform. I am writing this as I sit on a plane to Santiago, Chile where I will serve under my mentor Paquito D’Rivera as assistant artistic director of the first international jazz festival in Frutillar, Chile. In addition to performing with Paquito, leading a children’s concert and leading jam sessions, my group The Flat Earth Ensemble will perform the headline concert Saturday night.

The next adventure awaits in COLD MOUNTAINOUS Patagonia!

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