My first trip South by Southwest was a whirlwind of delicious food, Southern hospitality and fantastic music. I was also fortunate to get to know so many wonderful international musicians on a more personal level. Though many were huge celebrities in their home countries, their humility and genuine interest in Rockstar Diplomat really blew me away. I interviewed over a dozen artists from 10 different countries and had several jam sessions. You can see the highlights here:
I had an early start prepping for the two artists I would interview at my Airbnb. Tribu Baharu were born to be cultural ambassadors for Colombia. Armed with the African-influenced Champeta music, they arrived ready for a fun interview, increased by the fact that I had spent three years living in their home country. They showed up about an hour late, which having lived in Colombia, I can tell you is pretty standard. I had put a large pot of coffee on to brew, which scored major points with my new Colombian friends.
We chatted about Tejo and Soccer and all things Colombia before sitting down. I was surprised at how on the ball they were, humorously pretending to interview each other at particularly funny parts in the interview. At one point they put me on the spot to learn some Champeta dance, a feat that I tried to stumble through. One thing Colombians appreciate is having an open heart and mind toward trying new things, so after my dance attempt, I put them on the spot to join me in a harmonica jam, which they were happy to oblige:
Next up was Qawalistan, a group that combines traditional Pakistani Qawwali music with Classic Rock from the U.S. The Pakistani troupe had planned to show up right on time until I told them the Tribu Baharu interview was running over. It was clear from the beginning that they wanted to get right to business in talking about their efforts with the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan. This was my first interview where the subjects were playing the role of bother interviewer and interviewee. It was clear they had certain points they wanted to emphasize but I finally managed to ask them few of my own questions. They showed up ready to jam, but jamming was more difficult than I anticipated as my harmonica was only in the key of D and we searched around before finding a suitable melody to jam on.
We got a sweet pic afterward that totally should be their next album cover.
Many musicians have a pre-show ritual that helps them get pumped up and focused for a performance. When I played in bands, that varied from having a whiskey and soda on my own to practicing alternate picking with a Thrice song. Backstage at SXSW, I had the opportunity to observe several artists in pre-show rituals. The singer of Liniker e os Caramelows did yoga stretches along with some vocal warm ups. DakhaBrakha gathered together in costume, their icy gaze not straying from each other. The most interesting pre-show ritual I witnessed was with Vox Sambou. The 7-piece band huddled in a circle, football style while their frontman, Vox acted like a priest, blessing them with positive reinforcement and clapping them on the back. After the band took the stage, Vox looked a little drained. Sipping a drink, he came up to me and asked if I knew why his band wore red shirts and black trousers.
Vox launched into an impromptu history lesson about his county. When Haiti gained independence, the white color of their previous flag, which was French, had represented European influence and was subsequently cut out, leaving only blue and red. Another incarnation of the new Haitian flag used black and red, which had roots in traditional Vodou and Maroon societies.
The ideological foundation for the Haitian Revolution can be traced back to the Bois Caiman Ceremony, where an educated slave, Dutty Boukman and a priestess prophesized the slave rebellion, slaughtering an animal and suggesting that those who took part in this “blood oath” would be impervious to the bullets of the French. This blood oath still has a big cultural significance in Haitian culture and is the reason Vox told me his band wears red shirts and black trousers. While telling me this story, Vox’s band took the stage and started warming up the crowd. After what seemed like nearly ten minutes of the most detailed accounts of Dutty Boukman and his trials, the energy of the band and the crowd had reached a feverish level. As I was just about to ask if Vox should make his way to the stage, he set his glass down and looked me dead in the eyes, “now you know something important about the history of Haiti and how something as simple as one color can be so meaningful.” I thanked him for the amazing history lesson and thanked myself for being party to one of the most impactful pre-show rituals I have ever witnessed.
This morning I met the biggest rock band in Venezuela, La Vida Boheme for a 9am interview. I was actually surprised they had made it out into the lobby as they had a performance slated at 3am the night before. A couple of the members were half-asleep, but after I started talking to them in Spanish about Rock Argentino, Borges and Grunge music, I had their attention. I was in talking about their recent relocation from their hometown of Caracas to Mexico City as the situation in Venezuela became too unstable for them. The last straw prior to them leaving was their manager being kidnapped and killed, something I did not want to dwell on. Instead we talked about how welcoming Mexico has been as their new home and how Mexican culture has a history of welcoming immigrants and refugees from around the world. The guys were quite humble for a band that has won several Latin Grammy’s and has a huge following in Latin America and they invited me to their concert showcase later that evening which I tentatively agreed to. (Later, when I showed up at the showcase, I got a big hug from each of the members, like we had been old friends for years).
Later I had an interview with Mariana Vega, a Venezuelan-Canadian singer who recently won a Latin Grammy for Best New Artist. She was incredibly nice as we talked about a variety of issues from life in Venezuela to being a Canadian immigrant. Next up was Vakeró, a Dominican rapper who has a really compelling rags-to-riches life story. His attitude and way of speaking (in my 2nd language nonetheless) was kind of intimidating. But to my surprise, he was interested in doing an improv vocal collaboration and we played a couple songs together that might have worked as a better ice breaker had we don’t them from the beginning.
I finished the day with some deliciously tender BBQ brisket that I knew was going to be perfect when the cook asked if I wanted a “lean or marbled” cut (marbled of course!).
Wyoming is no stranger to harsh winter weather. For ski and snowboard enthusiasts like myself, this can translate into massive snow dumps and powder days. There have been three large snowstorms since we arrived in December, contributing to Jackson’s above average snowfall.
With dozens of snowplow drivers working around the clock, Jackson doesn’t usually have problem with massive snowfalls. It’s the high winds that make things difficult. Because we live on top of a hill, I’m often faced with the Sisyphean task of digging out my car and driveway in the morning only to have it snowed back in again when I get back home that evening.
I luckily made it out snowboarding yesterday which was one of the best powder days I’ve witnessed. There was over a foot of fresh snow over the entire mountain for every run, the whole day. When I got home, the winds had picked up so much it felt like our roof was going to fly off. The sound was deafening and our flickering lights did not reassure our cats that the world was not coming to an end. Sources report that wind gusts reached 90 MPH, which wreaked havoc at the ski resort, knocking down power lines and leaving some 4,000 people without electricity. Lucky for us (and our electrically heated house), our village of Kelly didn’t lose power for more than 30 minutes. And now we are bracing ourselves for another storm front rolling through in the next 48 hours.
I was lucky enough to grow up visiting my grandparents in Jackson, WY nearly every summer. The raw nature and wilderness I experienced from a young age instilled a respect and awe for Mother Nature. Winter in Jackson provides some prime wildlife viewing which I’ve been fortunate to capture with a newly acquired zoom lens. Enjoy!
I’ve spent 4 of the past 7 weeks in Peru and Cuba (with a stop in Miami) getting some great footage. I’ll be posting more updates as I’m piecing it all together. In the meantime, enjoy this jam after an interview I did with Miami’s Dangerflow.
Just finished up my interview with Lena Tarasyuk, a Ukrainian-born singer and travel blogger who lives in Copenhagen. We met at the TBEX 2016 Conference in Stockholm and put together this interiew between sessions. Take a look:
A few months ago, I made the decision of converting my personal travel blog into a cultural diplomacy project. I signed up for the TBEX Stockholm Conference in order to get feedback on my project, learn new skills and network/collaborate with like-minded bloggers. It was fortunate to have the conference exceed all of my expectations. TBEX is a semiannual conference bringing together entry-level and well-seasoned travel bloggers as well as travel companies and industry professionals.
This conference was held in Stockholm, Sweden, from July 14th to 16th, 2016.
Each day began with a keynote speaker, followed by three 50-minute break-out sessions. The sessions were broken down into categories of Content, Commerce, Community and Business and were led by successful travel-industry speakers. You can see the Full Agenda here. I was lucky to follow a variety of video content and community-themed breakouts.
Here are the 9 Most Important Things I learned at TBEX Stockholm 2016.
- Plan to Arrive Early. Every blog I read suggested getting to the host city at least 3-5 days before the conference. TBEX offers free day and overnight tours with local operators that not only allow you to take in the host country but get to know some of the conference attendees. You also do not want to miss the kick-off party.
- Sign Up Early. When I signed up for TBEX 2 months before the event, nearly ALL of the free tours were completely full.
- Stay Late. There are also post-conference tours that TBEX offers. Unfortunately for me, my 2-month sign-up found all of them full. Regardless, I stayed 1 extra day in Stockholm and had a great time hanging out and getting to know some of the other travel bloggers better.
- Stay Close. I stayed in a moderately-priced hotel that was a 15 minute-walk from the conference site. This was MUCH cheaper than the Radisson Blu hotel that was practically on-site but there were times when I needed to drop off conference swag or change clothes for going out to events right after the conference that would have been really difficult if I had stayed further away.
- Network! This seems obvious but I was surprised at how many people were often eating lunch alone. I jumped at every opportunity I had to talk to somebody new, whether it was tea, lunch or on the evening events. Just don’t chat someone up in the bathroom! (true story).
- Talk to the Breakout Presenters. I showed up early to a breakout on Live Streaming with Shawn Smith of The Mobile Pro and had a really helpful conversation with him. Outside of presentations, most speakers are happy to meet new people so don’t be afraid to hit them up before or after their presentations.
- Bring 100 Business Cards. I brought 200 business cards and handed out only 60 or so. There’s just not enough time to meet that many more people. Having space to write additional info on your card or including your photo is really helpful for helping people remember who you are and what your blog is about.
- Do Speed Networking With Sponsors. Every afternoon, TBEX offers 10-minute “speed networking” sessions (think speed-dating for organizations looking for blogger talent). Although my site was not ready for sponsorship, I met with several sponsors to pick their brain on what they might be looking for in the future. Though I had only set up one appointment beforehand, I managed to talk to other sponsors because most are there all day and constantly have open times during speed networking.
- Don’t Rely On Any Meal But Lunch. I chose my hotel because I knew it had a killer breakfast buffet. The lunch at the conference was good and they even provided special meals for those with dietary restrictions. Although for evening events where people expected a more substantial dinner, there were often only appetizers and did NOT provide any dietary substitutes. (Opening party had a ton of dairy stuff I couldn’t eat). The best thing you can do is make sure you get a filling breakfast and dinner on TBEX conference days.
I ended up rushing to throw this together less than 48 hours after we wrapped because I was so excited with how the interview went. I met them at a nearby studio that was jam packed with various percussion instruments as well as a Hammond A100 Organ from the Fifties. We talked and jammed for a few hours and had a really good time getting to know each other. I’ll be cutting together the epic jam that we did as soon as I have time to properly mix the 4-track audio.