Saturday, October 29, 2011

Above & Beyond

Johnny:  Djibouti

It’s my belief that music has the power to make a difference, to bring people together.
It has the power to reach the most youthful and pure part of the human spirit.
Photo by Staff Sergeant Renae Saylock USAF
Throughout our travels, I have had the great fortune to meet others who share this belief.

The US soldiers at the Navy installation in Djibouti, Camp Lemonnier, were supportive of us and our music before we even touched down.  They provided us with equipment, attended each and every master class and performance, sketched pictures and took photos of us during our concerts, and basically made us feel at home at every turn.
They even invited us to play at Camp Lemmonier.  Their first order of business was to introduce me to the embroidery wizard.  Seriously, this guy of Filipino descent was like a character out of Harry Potter movies.  He had my last name custom-embroidered (FREEHAND!) in less time than it takes me to say it... he even spelled it right!

I am always amazed by what humans are capable of when they are so skilled at their craft that it becomes as natural as breathing.

To some, spreading good will and striving to make positive change comes this naturally.

Meet Command Sergeant Major Rick Matticks, a great guy:

CSM Matticks honored us by giving us his coin, a momento that I will certainly cherish as a special memory of my time at Camp Lemmonier and a symbol of our continued friendship.

We played a concert following the Khaki Ball, where many service women and men were honored and promoted.  In the air of celebration, we played American songs and even fielded a few requests with new guest vocalists.  We ended the evening with a giant jam on the undeniable “Mustang Sally” with the resident band “The Horns of Africa.”
See those guys with us in the photo below?
This is what great service men look like.
I am proud to know them.  I am grateful for what they do each and every day.
I am honored to call them friends.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


So we've been back in the States for a week now and as the jet-lag fades, I'm starting to get back into a routine of practicing. This was something I didn't have any time to do on the road. We were constantly moving and when we weren't, I was lucky if I had the energy to post blog entries while horizontal. As I type this into my iPhone, on which I wrote and took photos for the whole trip, I realize that I miss writing these entries about all the beautiful and wondrous events on our tour. It's funny, as soon as I got back, I ventured to all my favorite ethnic parts of NYC. I went to Chinatown, little Italy etc. and coaxed my friends to leave our lovely Upper West side neighborhood, because as I exclaimed, " There's a whole city out there ". We went in search of exotic food and drink, it was clear that I was hooked on the excitement of seeing new places, new things.
I have to admit that NYC is an amazing place and It felt good to be home with my loved ones. You can really feel like you've travelled to other exotic locales by just hopping on the subway and going downtown.

I started missing the Middle Eastern food right away and went to my favorite Falafel place after a rehearsal. It wasn't the same, but I was transported by those flavors back in time to our trip and imediately so many impressions that came to mind.

The sights, sounds and smells of the Middle East are intoxicating, exotic. I miss the sound of the call to prayer heard five times a day; dawn, midday, afternoon, sunset and evening. I had never heard that in person before and it reminded me of the church bells that I would hear every day. I grew up next to the Church on the Hill and you always knew what time of the day it was, by counting the tolling bells. What both have in common for me, is that they bring you into the moment and listening to the beautiful sounds of the voice or bells, gives me a sense of presence.

The whole tour seems like a dream to me now and only when I look at the pictures can I start to remember it all and put the trip into perspective.
I am looking forward to sharing some things that changed my perceptions of the Middle East, how we were welcomed and recieved.

Friday, October 14, 2011

I Wish You Love

Danny; Cairo, Egypt

We woke up this morning and drove back to Cairo from Alexandria. Before we left, I had enough time to have breakfast at our hotel on the terrace overlooking the Mediterranean sea.

We stopped halfway back at a rest stop that had some strange inhabitants.

The drive back went through an area of Egypt that is know for farm raised fish, organic farming, produce for export and wineries etc. It's a very lush area and it is the first farm land that I've seen since I've come to the Middle East.

We got back to Cairo and had enough time to rest for an hour before we had to go to the outdoor stage for our last concert in Egypt and out final concert of the Mid East
Musical Overtures tour. The outdoor concert sponsored by Mobinil
wireless, was an underground music festival featuring five Cairo alternative rock bands and us. Before we played, we had enough time to walk to a Nile river boat cafe for a snack. I wasn't sure why there was a horse in the parking area of the festival, then again it didn't surprise me after all the goats, sheep, donkeys, chickens, roosters, etc, etc, that I've seen in the streets, on this tour.

I told Johnny that he should ride the horse on to the stage;)

Eating on the Nile with Mike Hanke the US Embassy PA officer. He and Sarah took such good care of us and made our trip to Egypt so enjoyable, safe and successful. They did an amazing job!

We got back to the concert and did a couple of media interviews before taking the stage. There was a great Cairo band playing when we got there and it was great to hear the fusion of Arabic traditional instruments and modern rhythm section. Before we started, people were milling around and waiting for us to go on stage.

We got our gear set up on stage and I wondered how this young hip eclectic audience would receive us and our music?

We started to play abd the young crowd moved towards the stage and by the time we were playing our third song, Johnny had made his way off the stage and into the crowd. He had them singing along individually and as a group. People were dancing, holding up lighters. We saw a band and group of fans yelling to us, they had been at our workshop. The energy and enthusiasm of the crowed was surprising and not the same vibe I had seen during the other acts. There was so much interaction and participation. By the time we played the last tune, everyone was really dancing & rocking out. You could feel the excitement and joy of the people, like they had been waiting for a moment to dance and let loose. There has been so much happening here since the revolution and there is such a youthful positive vibe in this city. I felt very emotional watching them having fun and celebrating. Sharing the music and fun made this the most wonderful half hour! We got the biggest welcome and made so many more friends tonight. We thanked them from the stage for the honor and pleasure of being here in Cairo with them this evening. I love Egypt and the Egyptian people. I can't think of a better way to end our tour. There is so much history, culture, heart & soul in this land and I am truly changed by being here during this amazing time in their quest for freedom. Egypt, I wish you peace, stability, safety, freedom and most of all, love.

The Night Before Last

Danny; Alexandria, Egypt

Last night we played for an amazing crowd of Egyptians! It was at this old theater that is now a cultural center.

The place had the best vibe and we
had so much fun on stage. It really was one of the most exiting experiences we've had. At one point during an early rock and roll number, everything seemed black and white on stage, it seemed like we went back in time. The old theatre, the audience and the music sent everyone to a place of oneness, a single awareness, joy.

Johnny told the audience that we were honored and blessed to have come to play for the people of Egypt, of Alexandria. There is a special spirit in this city and in the hearts of it's people.

Students from the American center that is sponsored by the US Embassy and Consulate in Alexandria, did a documentary if our whole day. We told them that we came with open hearts and minds and we were changed forever by their country and their positive energy. We said our goodbyes and promised we would comeback someday.

Where Old Meets New

Danny; Alexandria, Egypt

Yesterday we played Damietta at the cultural center which sits on the bank of the Nile, where it meets the Mediterranean sea. There is a beautiful old bridge on the river that was designed by the same man who designed the Eiffel tower. It was originally in Cairo and was floated down the Nile to Damietta, where it is now a bridge museum library.

The cultural center had a small cement theater in the round, outside in their court yard. We had some great young musicians and dancers join us during the concert.

We had a great time with the crowd and made lots of friends who have since sent us pics & warm wishes on Facebook. We packed up our gear and drove 3 hours to Alexandria.

We got to Alexandria late in the evening and you could smell the fresh sir and scent of the Mediterranean. The next morning we woke up early to play at a facility in the Alexandria library.

We did a workshop for a few local young Alexandrian bands. We played
for a while and then they played for us. At the end we all played some tunes together and again we made so many new friends.

We love Alexandria, there is an amazing spirit here and it is reflected in their music. The vibe is wonderful and the people made us feel so welcome. After the workshop, we were given a private tour of the library. It sits across from the sea on a beautiful plaza and you can see young people hanging out enjoying life in this beautiful city.

The outside of the library has representations of every type of language notation from around the world. The large ball is a planetarium and there are all sorts of concert halls and antiquities museum in the facilities. The inside is so amazing that the pictures I took just can't do it justice. I suggest that you go to their website, which is one of the most interactive and amazing sites I have ever seen! See more at;

We finished our mind blowing tour of the library and had time for a quick bite on peace plaza. There are 12 Palestinian olive trees planted there as a reminder of peace.