Tales from the Gypsy Trail...2010

India- week one
by Cam Neufeld on Friday, 23 April 2010 at 12:31 ·

Its been an amazing week , and I have experienced so much in a short time that it is hard to know where to begin…… I suppose it is amazing that I am here at all considering I must have had one of the last flights out of London before the volcano in Iceland …. So there I was on the plane to Delhi and suddenly realized I didn’t have my passport or credit cards , and of course wasn’t allowed to leave the plane , a bit of a nightmare scenario , fortunately someone went to look for it and managed to find it before the plane left ,big sigh of relief ..
My contact in Delhi,( Johar Ali Kahn, Hindustan classical violin master )picked me in Delhi and we drove in his old car through the packed streets , really has to be experienced … the heat, noise , incessant honking , cars within inches , cars driving the wrong way , bikes , tuk tuks , cows , always cows….. at one point the car over heated and Johar had to go for water….. eventually arrived and Johar convinced me to come with him that night to Surat , a 19 hr train ride. The crush of people at the station was so great and the heat so intense that the thought of travelling that distance made me want to bolt from the scene and I was cursing myself for agreeing …. In the end was an incredible time , arriving in Surat the next day and being treated royally by all since Johar has star status here , a whole group of students whose sole task seemed to be catering to every whim… played four concerts with Johar , along with a tabla player and harmonium… even though I really didn’t know what I was doing , Hindustani classical music has a large improv component , so I managed something and everyone seemed to like it , playing Indian style with legs crossed and the scroll resting on my foot takes a bit of getting used to! Lessons with Johar every day and long talks about music….he really is a master of that style and I learned quite a lot from him.
I am now in Jodpur , staying at Yogi’s guest house, very charming and I feel like I can relax for the first time since coming here, getting to know my way around town, finally understanding the currency and what things should cost. Spent the day climbing the walls of the fort in 46 degree weather, I think I’m starting to acclimatize… and this evening Kalaji, (who I met through Niton Harsh , a folklorist here in Jodpur), a Kamayacha player from one of the villages came to my room today and we spent an hr playing some music together, he spoke no English but together we spoke the universal language of music, he was really an incredible singer and player….he comes from one of gypsy musician caste’s , was most certainly the highlight of my trip so far, in a way has fulfilled my reason for coming here . Tomorrow I start Ravenhatta lessons with with one of the acknowleged masters of the instrument…
So in spite of feeling like every person I’ve encountered has managed to scam me; you wouldn’t believe some of the things I’ve fallen for….I think my resistance was weakened through sensory overload; the heat, poverty, pollution , relentless noise and the mass of people everywhere caused my judgement to falter….., there have been some really nice moments as well …
Take care dear friends and family,
I will write more soon
love Cam
Secrets in India

Secrets in India
by Cam Neufeld on Thursday, 29 April 2010 at 04:51 ·

I'm not sure how this happened but a few times now I have involved in some sort of clandestine activity, where I have to pretend to be doing something other than what I am really doing... starting with the hidden jam sessions with the engineering students in Surat... the film maker in Jodpur who whisked me away to a private party on the pretense of giving me a ride to my hotel , away from the director of Rajisthani folk music studies.. wants to collaborate on a music project but some how this had to be kept under wraps... the young woman on the 7 hr bus ride to Udaipur , with sister and mother sitting ahead of us as chaperons , telling me of her secret love , a man from a different caste, whose name I was not to mention, and I had to pretend not to be getting all of her personal contact info... and to be careful of the boy sitting behind us who disapproved of us talking together.....
One of the great Bopa ravenhatta players came to my hotel in Jodpur , convinced me that instead of having a lesson in the hotel room , I should come out to the village about 20 k away... that sounded interesting , so the three of us , his friend was there as well...jumped on his motorbike and headed out thorough the crazy traffic ,curiously, the police stopped us and I'm not sure what the discussion was about but it involved me somehow, (I'm surprised how little English is spoken here..) I just said OK and we were able to go.. made it to the village, quite beautiful in the desert... had a really good session with ravenhatta and make a nice recording of part of the Epic of Pabaji.. only part because the whole thing can last 7 days!! My problem now was getting back to the city because I needed to do some booking and also had promised to meet some people...there had been some heavy drinking through the afternoon and it was now getting dark , eventually were on our somewhat unstable way , motorbike also running poorly , no lights.. kind of nervous now , on major highway, heavy traffic, (the traffic here has to be experienced to be believed!) good luck was on my side as the bike broke down compleatly and I escaped under heavy protest to a rickshaw back to the city...
Now in Udaipur, have found Kisha Ram Bopa , the person who made my ravenhatta , and am studying with him every day, it's fantastic , he's a great player and a good teacher as well...
More travellers here , so its nice to talk about travel , went to yoga class this morning and the whole class was from Canada... all 6 of us, can't say the class was all that good but was entertaining ....
Thats all for now
hope you are all well
Love from India
Freedom India

Freedom India
by Cam Neufeld on Tuesday, 4 May 2010 at 02:58 ·

I never did get used to throwing garbage into the street or peeing randomly against the nearest wall and it was always a bit of a specticle to see 5 or more people on a small motor bike including babies... All this and more was decribed to me as " freedom India" Another common phrase is "in india anything is possible " I've decided that the way to freedom in India is to by a motorcycle, preferably an Enfield , and take my chances on the road, this is always the way I would like to drive but haven't been able to...
Now in the airport in Dubai , so quiet ,clean and very few people ,seems strange . It's been an incredable 3 weeks ; the last 5 days I've been playing ravenhatta with Kishna Ram ,usually about 3or4hrs a day , he seems to think I'm making progress and sometimes I have to agree ..I have enough technique now that I can pusue it when I get home , so I really feel I have acomplished what I set out to do in that most romantic of Indian citys, Udaipur.
Spent a wonderful evening with a very good sitar player and his son ( also great sitar ) and his daughter , a clasical Hindustani singer. He was teaching me to find the beauty in the raga and how to connect the notes in Indian style , very nice ..
As usual , there is much more but that's all for today..
Now it's onward to explore the delights of Turkey , in particular, Istanbul , in my mind the most exotic of all cities..
Take good care friends ,
Love Cam
Istanbul: city of cats and wild gypsy nights

Istanbul: city of cats and wild gypsy nights
by Cam Neufeld on Friday, 14 May 2010 at 02:56 ·

The contrast between Istanbul and India is remarkable; after an overnight bus trip from Udaipur to Ahmadabad on a sleeper bus , which ended up being a bit of a misnomer, considering it was supposed to be air-conditioned (wasn’t) and although I was lying prone , the regular lofting into the air, the heat, constant swerving and incessant honking, maintained my alertness through the night , everywhere people sleeping , dogs and goats and shantytown scenes to leave a last impression . The Ahmadabad airport is the most inefficient airport I have ever encountered and I was glad I was there 4 hrs in advance. A billboard in the airport : “ Your sacred space is where you find yourself again and again” Joseph Campbell … Make this your sacred space.. Advertise here... I found this amusing…
Dubai airport was so clean and empty that is was a bit eerie but was very relaxing , not enough time to leave the airport but nice to have a bit of time to watch the sheiks and the veiled women….
I have fallen in love with Istanbul ! It’s a beautiful city full of music and bazaars ,streets packed with people till all hrs of the night, incredible food,amazing number of cats and cat lovers, and I have the most gracious hosts imaginable ,thank you Tom and Hande! The first day arrived I had a tour with Tom of the city , managed to get a gig at Molly’s café, stumbled on a Gypsy festival , roving bands creating an amazing cacophony of sound and I had the sense of entering an ancient world where Europe and Asia have come together to create a remarkable culture.
The rest of my time here has been a blur of events; been playing on the street and meeting many people , managed to get on a tv show with Okan Bayulgen , who has been described to me as the Jay Leno of Turkey, has millions of viewers , and somewhat ironically , espoused a philosophy that life exists on the street not on the tv or computer screen, which is why I was on the show , as a interesting part of street life. Never imagined that I would be playing at 4 in the morning in front of a large studio audience for one of the most popular tv shows in Turkey. Its quite funny to have this minor celebrity status; I am constantly stopped on the street by people who have seen the show and invited in for tea and to play a few tunes in cafes as I wander the city streets.
I’ve been studying Turkish music and apparently I have the basics now to pursue it on my own; the makam system is very interesting in that it employs a different intonation system which give Turkish music it characteristic sound , of course to master this will take a lifetime but perhaps it can be a flavour that will inform my playing.
I will be very hard to leave this city but the Balkans are calling and I will soon be making my way west.
Take care friends, I will be thinking of you..
Love Cam
Masters in Madrid

Masters in Madrid
by Cam Neufeld on Thursday, 17 June 2010 at 12:57 ·

It's dificult to decribe the impact of seeing much of the best art Europe has to offer in three galleries and going to 3 concerts of incredable flamenco music in two days . Elation and dispair , agony and ecstasy are only the beginining , it was probally too much but I am fully satiated at the moment and was exactly what I needed in terms of inspiration ... sometimes an overdose is the only thing that will do
The three galleries ,del Prado ,Reina Sofia and my favorite, Museo Thyssen -Bornemisza are in close proximity , so great to find works of my favorite artists ; Kandinski ,Chagall ,Klee , de Kooning, Pollack ,van Gogh , Cezanne , Matisse , the list goes on and on ..... large collection of the Flemish masters that I particularly liked.....
Since flamenco music is primarly gypsy in origin , I felt the urge to come to Madrid and as luck would have it , there is a huge flamenco festival taking place . A chance meetig on the subway with Amir John Haddad (check him out online) on my way to a concert was very nice ; his performance was in a club close to the concert hall and did' t start till later , he is a great guitar player and a fantastic show of flamenco fusion ....the passion in this music is really incredable , I think there is much to be learned here..
Thats all for now
My love to all
Swimming in Seine

Swimming in the Seine in Samois(Django pilgrimage)
by Cam Neufeld on Tuesday, 29 June 2010 at 15:16 ·

I can't imagine more great guitar players assembled in one place all dedicated to the style of music known as hotclub or gypsy jazz.. For six days le pomp (guitar rythmn) was heard nonstop in concerts, campgounds, restraunts , and bars in the beautiful french town of Samois , with an asortment of violins , accordians , claranets and one lone oud to add to the mix .. the number one tune being played was of course Minor Swing and we (Philip , Jordan , Zoe and I ) joked that it was in continual play somewhere in Samois.. As this was my final destination I tried to listen to the music with an ear to all the other styles of gypsy music I had encountered , Rajastani , Turkish , Balkan , and flamenco ... and I do believe there is a through line here ; it resides in a type of gritty flavour that one can hear in all this music . Although I don't hear much of this sound in gypsy jazz there were a couple of noteable exceptions in the playing of Tchovolo Schmitt and Fapy Lafertin , quite exceptional! The weather was perfect , hot and sunny , daily swims in the Siene to cool off and endless jamming ...... what could be better? I am so inspired by all the great music and with out a doubt the spirit of Django lives on !
France is an interesting country ; I don't understand how the country can function with the kind of ineffecency one finds everywhere but as the woman at the hostel explained ( incert French accent ) "here in France we like things to be difficult , because it is more fun that way" I had a little difficulty in seeing the humour this morning when I almost missed my plane (Im writing this on the flight to Montreal ) I was on the train to the airport when there was some kind of accedent and the train couldn't go through so there were suposed to be shuttle buses to take everyone to the airport.. of course did not materialze.... the available cabs were immediatly taken with many arguements and much excitment, I couldn't bring myself to enter the fray , eventually we we all herded to another place a few hundred meters away and one bus showed up for what now had become a large mass of people , all desparate to get to the airport , pushing and shoving ensued and a couple of fistfights as well so I thought it best to clear out and forage a ride on my own , teamed up with a young Canadian couple , started flagging down cars on the street to see if they would give us a ride but no luck . Fourtantly found someone who called us a cab and miraculously was able to make the flight ; perhaps a small event but the amount of confusion and the difficulty getting information was remarkable , all good fun ......??
It will take me some time to absorb and intergrate all that I have seen and heard in 2 1/2 months of travelling and researching , what I am looking forward to now is a period of writing where I use as influnce and flavours all the music I encountered ..... Thanks to all the kind and remarkable people I have met on this journey , I know that for many our paths will meet again... Love to all
(apologies for the spelling)