PLUNKY & ONENESS

JOURNAL OF THE TOUR OF FRANCE

Plunky & Oneness of Juju Tour de France March 2006 In November2004 our group, Plunky & Oneness of Juju, played in Paris for the first time. Now, 18 months later a DVD called “Live In Pairs” is being released and we are going on a mini- tour of France to promote it and to push for more touring in the coming months. Sunday, March 19, 2006; on the plane at the Richmond Airport. We are finally on the plane, finally ready for take off, finally on our way to Paris! If we can judge by the dues paying, the number of delays and planning re-adjustments that we have had to endure to get to this point, and if you truly get what you pay for, then this tour should be nothing short of “da bomb!” Just today for example, my luggage was overweight and even after trying to re-pack and redistribute the tonnage I still had to pay $25 extra. Then our flight from Richmond to Newark was delayed, jeopardizing our making the connecting flight to Paris. But I am confident we will make it. I have been anticipating this trip, this return engagement in Paris for the past 18 months. In November 2004 we had a triumphant premier at the New Morning, a jazz and progressive music venue in Paris. In had been a sellout, earth-shaking gig which was filmed for television and a DVD release and could launch a new phase of my career in France. We were supposed to go back a few months later in March of 2005. Then it was postponed until May. Then we were supposed to play at some festivals in July, but those dates were cancelled when the promoters balked at paying the plane fares during the high price season. In November of 2005, my French connections opted to invest in a large concert by the funk group, Brass Construction. Each of these delays was disappointing. Over time they had a cumulative effect, eroding my confidence and my energy. I had for many years thought that if I and the group could perform the way we do at my gigs in the states, we could be a smash hit in Europe. And because my past European club dates have, in fact, gone so very well, they have in some ways spoiled me, making me want to devote all my efforts to touring abroad. It is a case of like the old song says, “How you gonna keep’em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree?” Touring in France and the major music cities on the continent has become my focus and my goal. So in December 2005 we confirmed the booking of this date, March 21, 2006, at the New Morning and added weekend dates in Marseilles and Montpellier in the South of France. The plane takes off. Then two and a half weeks ago my French connections, Reynald, Samy & Daniel, called me to say they wanted to postponed this three date mini-tour until May or June because of poor advance ticket sales, poor winter weather and several unfavorable business conditions. One of the main reasons for doing this tour was to support and promote the release of a “Live In Paris” DVD of our last concert at the New Morning; and now the manufacturing of the DVD’s may not be completed on time. Upon hearing about yet another postponement, I was livid, disturbed and disappointed again. The band members were knocked for a loop. And the Frenchmen couldn’t understand why I was so upset. They said, “The tour is not cancelled, it is only postponed!” I had to explain to them that each person in the group has other jobs, gigs, families and other things to do besides being on call for me. Changing plans repeatedly or at the last minute undermines their confidence in the business. I was offended and the band was hurt that their personal plans would be adversely affected. After a couple of days of wrangling with management and the promoters in France and struggling with budgetary and personnel adjustments, we decided to do the tour anyway; but with a 50% reduction in the budget and cutting musicians from the touring group. It was tough. But all that is behind us now as we land at Newark Airport to transfer to our flight to Paris. Flying into a major city at night, you get the picture of an amazing light show on the ground: arteries of lights, sparkling jewels decorating the darkness on earth; awesome arrays of light decorating the night; sparkling colors like pre-arranged patterns of manmade stars. Car lights snaking in slow motion, like glowing blood cells moving through arteries. I enjoyed a futuristic wow moment seeing the light show as we approach our landing sight. This is like Sun Ra’s Outer Spaceways, Incorporated! I wonder if I will really do want to do this live performing/ touring group thing forever? This trip should help me know… More will be revealed. Touchdown! Then on the plane flying to Paris. Interesting synchronicities: In the Richmond airport we met Lonnie Liston Smith who was just arriving from Paris, having performed the night before on a show with the Temptations. Also, I spoke of the phone with Drummie Zeb, an ex-student of mine who performs with The Wailers. He tells me they are performing in Paris on Thursday night and wishes me a successful tour. I tell him I will try to go see them in Paris. It seems that Richmond, VA is “representing” in Paris this week. Flight landing notes: From above, the patterns of our real estate development and lifestyles become apparent. Schools, recreation, neighborhoods, transportation centers are sited and arrayed and create interesting and discernable patterns. Early civilizations that created giant land drawings like in those in South America may have indeed used woven fabric and heated air to fly high above the earth to see those paintings. So man may have been flying for centuries. We’re going from Richmond to Paris to perform; flying across the ocean to do a gig in the time it takes to drive from Richmond to Atlanta. Airplanes may be becoming the new transit for the masses, like buses. Flying and travel in general bring people closer together, makes us more familiar, more like family. Pretty soon all gigs may be local gigs! Tuesday March 21, 9:00 AM In my hotel bed. We got through French immigration and customs with no hassles. Unfortunately, one of Asante’s suitcases did not arrive. We got to the hotel, checked in and rested a bit before going to Radio Nova to do an interview. After that I ate and crashed. The next day, Tuesday, was cold and rainy so I spent the day resting, and Asante made himself a costume out of a towel and hotel bed linen, like he was a member of P-funk. We went to sound check at 4:30 PM and worked with the sound and tech crew until 8:00 PM. We ate in the dressing room. Then we painted up our faces, dressed, and did the gig. The audience at the New Morning was very enthusiastic and intensely into the music and the show. I can definitely see possibilities for success here and in other progressive markets in Europe. Before the show I finally got a copy of the new DVD. I ripped it open, watched the documentary portion and I was completely blown away! That’s all I can say. The documentary opens with footage of the Martin Luther King March on Washington and the “I Have a Dream” speech. Then it continues with an extended interview of me. During the course of the 26 minute documentary there is rare archival footage of James Brown and his group with Bobby Byrd singing and Bootsy on bass; footage of Maceo Parker, Pharaoh Sanders, Fela Kuti all interspersed between shots of me walking around Paris and Plunky & Oneness of Juju playing live. The documentary is serious and of such a high quality technically that it is quite impressive! Our show was tight and we rocked the house! The audience demanded two encores and we ended with Asante and Corey, and finally Asante soloing them into a frenzy. They wanted yet another encore but I said that was enough. After the show we had a stream of visitors to the dressing room, including Patrick, the director of Nocturne Distribution, who is distributing the DVD and CD release in Europe. He seemed pleased with the performance and he said he was going to have some of his people come to the show in Marseilles on Friday and he himself would come down to Montpellier for the show on Saturday. After the show we came back to the hotel in the middle of the night and went to bed. 3:30 AM Thursday Morning in my hotel room. The next morning we got up and had breakfast at the hotel and met a group called the Crawford Brothers, a gospel group from Upstate New York also staying in the hotel. They performed last night at another venue in Paris and are doing gigs in France and Holland over the next few days. We exchange contact information. They say they come to Europe several times a year, most times for a week or a weekend and for some one-nighters. We spent the day in and around the hotel because it was again cold and rainy and we could all use the rest. I did an interview for a publication and another for an Internet TV site. I met with Daniel, the manager, Patrick, the DVD producer and we talked a little business. Tonya, Muzi and I ate dinner at a restaurant next door to the hotel. Muzi and I shot pool. Then I crashed until 3:00 AM. Now I am up and not sleepy… Thursday 5:00 PM in my hotel room. I finally fell asleep around 4:00 AM. I got up at 8:30 and did my yoga, even though at the start my body was so sore I wondered if age or arthritis is catching up with me and beating me down. After breakfast and Internet work and some more rest; I took a bus and a metro to go sightseeing. I walked the hell out of myself. I walk around Paris (the city of light and love) And I think of you I see posters and ads for haut-couture I see you in those fashions looking so alluring I wish you were here Friday morning in the room before leaving for Marseilles. We are a modern day menagerie, a troupe of troubadours, traveling from place to place to entertain, share ideas and amaze people. I wonder if it is worth the energy, the hassle and the concerns, boarding planes and trains, with bundles of instruments and costumes and artifacts from abroad. The circus is coming! Wow! What logistical complexities – just to entertain a few folks. But in this modern world what happens in the media is important, often more impactful than what happens on the stage. We’re here getting media coverage and we’re releasing new media product. On the high-speed train to Marseilles. We got out of Paris without too much hassle. We checked out of the hotel. Both Tonya and Asante had phone bills that they contested because they were using phone cards that they thought were toll free, but they were running up charges on the hotel phone. The hotel just waived the charges, which totaled about $100. We took two minivan taxis to the Lyons Station in central Paris. In the confusion of loading up, Muzi left his suitcase in the hotel lobby and had to go back to retrieve it. It was a good thing we left with an hour to spare, so he had enough time to get back before the train left. We have way too much luggage! We all agree that we could have brought much less stuff with us: fewer items of clothing, fewer artifacts, just less stuff. I am the main culprit though. I have one large suitcase of clothes, an even larger one with my sound effects processors and stands for my horns; plus my three saxophones, my briefcase, and my video camera. I have to have helping hands every time we move. I left one suitcase at the hotel in Paris until we return on Sunday, but I still have five things to carry and keep track of as we go for these two weekend dates down on the Riviera. The high-speed train is a double-decker and it whisks us across the French countryside at 160 miles per hour. Still, even at that speed, the ride is relaxing. The Central France landscape is beautiful. Muzi says parts of it remind him of the mountains near Roanoke, VA. But the villages here are quaint and European, like the pictures in French grammar textbooks. The farmhouses and barns are all tan with clay tile roofs and they are aging gracefully. Trees and shrubs fence the parcels of land into neat rectangles. An ocean of flatlands, hills and valleys is punctuated by an occasional river, lake or train whizzing by in the opposite direction. A pensive and restful mood settles over the group and the whole train car… Could we live in a cozy farmhouse out here in the middle of France? Or in Italy or Ghana or Venezuela? Probably friends, family and familiar things are too important to us. Maybe the two of us would be enough for us, at least a short time. This is too far away from it all. But, boy, it is beautiful to pass through! It would be great for a change, for a week, but maybe no more than two. It could be a vacation spot. A rustic, isolated spa-like visit for relaxation, sex, meditation and longing to get back to our normal. I think I want to spend my old age doing what I know and on the go as much as I am able. But then I’d like to think I could be content wherever there is beauty, comfort, access and you. Saturday afternoon on the train to Montpellier. (The gig last night was da bomb!) We got to Marseilles at 2:00 PM and the weather was sunny and warm. Finally a spring-like day to contrast to the wintry, dreary mix in Paris. Marseilles is too cute! Much more working class than the vibe of Paris. But Marseilles is right on the coast, the Riviera, and its port area and beach are breathtakingly beautiful. Tonya, Corey and I took a drive through the city with the wife of the promoter of the show here. We also drove over to and along the coast and we stopped to take some pictures and to ooh and aah at the views of the Mediterranean Sea, boats, cliffs, and the old buildings that border the beach. On a little cliff above the shoreline there is a large, impressive statue and monument to the Africans who came across the sea to Marseilles. The city is 2600 years old. And the Riviera is all it is cracked up to be! We got back to the venue in time for the 4:00 PM sound check. The Cabaret Aleatore is a standup, black box space in a converted tobacco warehouse. The facility is part of a growing arts center, which has artists’ studios, a theater space and indoor and outdoor exhibit spaces. The venue is super funky with lots of high-tech gear, lights, sound and decorations. Sound check lasted until 7:30 PM. It was thorough and effective. We walked to the band house, ate dinner, changed clothes and went back to the venue for the gig. My French management and promotion team had been concerned about getting an audience for this gig. Advance ticket sales had been paltry. But we ended up getting a really good audience, 573 paid plus 75 comps in a venue that holds 700. With guests, press and crews we were near capacity. From the stage it definitely looked like a packed house, with at sea of smiling, grooving, mostly white faces from the edge of the stage all the way to the back of the room. The audience got into the music almost from the start; but they got more and more exuberant as we got funkier and funkier. By the end of the show and two encores, it was clear that we had triumphed and earned many new fans! The night was revelatory. I had an epiphany or at least a series of revelations while lying in bed after the show: I could parlay my music, my experience, my history, my catalogue of recorded works and my current French connections into a successful, touring, music-selling career over the next few years. With my political/ spiritual bent, I could be marketed as a new Last Poets, Gil Scot-Heron, Pharaoh Sanders, Michael Moore, progressive act and media personality. Young people could be drawn into our fold through hip-hop beats and my words. My show can be educational and engaging and enlightening and entertaining. I can use high-tech innovations for my stage shows and recordings. I have three DVD’s that can be used for promotion. With all these things going for me, I could aspire to become an elder, cultural icon a la Fela, Bob Marley, or Manu Dibango or George Clinton. After the Saturday night gig in Montpellier. Tonight’s gig and this mini-tour have demonstrated to me that this thing could happen! The performance tonight was quite good; we were a hit again. The venue, Le Jam, was small but well designed with great sound and tech. Roy Ayers played here the night before. The likes of Archie Shepp, Dave Holland and Lonnie Liston Smith all play this venue, which is connected to a music school. We had no stands for Asante's conga drums but we improvised by using a platform for them. He was in fine form and he enjoyed moving the audience with his polyrhythms. Tonya had three keyboards and she had fun using all of them to work her show, manipulating the middle of the music, keeping it mellow, jazzy or funky as the songs required. She was super! Corey and Muzi were locked and grooving hard like Prince. The mostly college-aged, young people in the audience were genuinely into it. We were teaching them the songs as we went along. The longer the night went on, the more they got into it and the more they wanted. It was really cool to watch and make it happen! After the show, I met with Patrick, the distributor who had come down from Paris and I think he was impressed and is being won over. He seems committed to committing resources to the promotion of the DVD project and by inference I think he will help with our touring and other future projects. I inadvertently left his business card on the table in the dressing room and I forgot to give him a copy of the new album, but both those things can be corrected. We have the pieces in place and our foot in the door over here. We have a distributor, product, management, a good act, good songs, good press and an Internet buzz. Now we need a strong booking agent to complete our team. Ideas and things to do: § "Sax Machine" proclaims the headline of the review of our show in the Marseilles newspaper. A great concept, ad slogan or song title. § How about props for one or two of the songs in the show; i.e. Plastic for "Plastic" a see-through flat sheet of Plexiglas, maybe with transparent people silhouettes? § Thank you notes to the venues. § Get press, videos, pictures and recordings from all the gigs. § Pick one song from the live DVD as a video. § Try to get television airtime for the DVD and documentary: BET, TV One, African Television Network, etc. § A new beginning or ending for the documentary segment to make it a doc film? § Use the DVD's for multimedia displays and projections at all gigs where possible. Vibe to use as the intro to the documentary: Art meets science near the same place where music is magic. The musician can be a minor character who plays a major role as change agent in the development of culture. The journey to become an impactful musician is similar to that of becoming a doctor, a teacher, a griot, a statesman, an ambassador, a wizard or a mystic. A musician can be part all these things. The way begins with study of the craft, history and culture. It continues with the development of greater self-awareness through introspection and meditation and the journeyman can be aided by guidance from a teacher or mentor. The candidate is steeled and completed through experience, work, travel, observation, experimentation and repeatedly renewing the entire process. A musician must travel, reach out, accumulate unique experiences and information and re-synthesize it all into a whole; then a share it all with others to educate, effect change and positively influence the culture and the people - using music as and to convey the message. Plunky video shots to use: In Cuban receiving a Santeria blessing; in Cuba playing with Folkloyuma; in Brazil visiting the Christo Redentor statue, then soaring in a helicopter; performing with the choir at First Baptist Church; teaching children; on stage; at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris; playing NY Times Square; walking along the beach… On the plane back to the USA. On Sunday we took the high-speed train from Montpellier back to Paris. We checked back into the Mecure Hotel again for our last night in the City of Light. From the bathroom window, Muzi's and my room had a great view of the Eiffel Tower with Parisian rooftops and buildings in the foreground. Muzi wants to come back in the future and reserve that room, #722. Later we went out to dinner at a restaurant called Thanks Charlie and had a great meal - my best ever in Paris. After that I went to Samy’s office/studio to try and change our plane seats online; but to no avail. I went back to the hotel to pack around 1:00 AM. Samy gave me a big suitcase with wheels to replace the big one of mine that has been the bane of the equipment moving all week because it was super heavy with no wheels. I made arrangements for two vans to pick us up at 6:45 AM to take us to the airport. I took some more shots of the Eiffel Tower from the bathroom window and finally got to bed around 2:00 AM. The wake up call came at 5:30 AM. I woke the others and we got downstairs just in time to meet the vans. We loaded up all our stuff for one last time in Paris and headed out into the dark, wet streets of Paris to the airport. We arrived early, 7:30 AM and our flight was not until 10:50 AM. Continental Airlines ticket windows didn’t open until 8:00 AM. We were fourth in line. I was able to change Muzi’s and my seats to a window and an aisle. We went through the security checkpoints without incident, except for the fact that Asante had a ball peen hammer in his carry-on bag. They searched him thoroughly both coming and now leaving. He went back to baggage check-in and put the hammer in his drum case. We ate a light breakfast and then had to wait an extra hour before boarding at 11:00 AM and taking off at around noon. The flight was smooth and not at all uncomfortable. After this tour I have become a doctor of musical divinity, a Ph.D., Dr. Plunkenstein. I have earned my degrees through the school of living, performing and dreaming music and dues paying. The school of mystic musings. The school of sacrifice and meditation and Hatha yoga and positive partying. I have bestowed the degree upon myself. Though I am “just a f*#king musician” as I was once told by an angry club owner, I am also a producer, a critic, and empathizer and a counselor; and, I can justify my existence and my luxurious life by giving and sharing my energy and my spirit to audiences who will listen and to all those who seek me out or cross my path. This tour has “bought” me another six months or so… Before it, I wondered if each gig might be my last and if it were pure folly to continue to pursue this career in music. I am a lot like George W. Bush in being tenacious to a fault, committed to staying the course at all costs, believing in the rightness of the calling and the cause. Those of our ilk take pride in our steadfastness and the fact that we could be martyrs. I hope and pray that I can attain and maintain balance and openness. That I can be a satellite dish receiving information and inspiration from the universe and then re-broadcasting it to my neighborhood and other parts of the known world… I am amazed at how events can so dramatically influence attitude; even with so much study and training for self-control and actualization. I am amazed that small things and trends can get me down or make me pessimistic about the future, especially when I have so many years’ experience with receiving so many miracles! When will I get to the point that I have enough faith not to worry? Maybe I enjoy creatively working out worst-case scenarios that never come to pass? This tour was a miracle! Another in a long, awe-inspiring line of just in the nick of time, life-saving miracles. It almost didn’t happen at all. Then it was going to be postponed, again! But against all odds, it did come to pass, right on time to inspire me to keep on keeping on. As if God nodded his head to say, “Yes you can and you should stay on the path!” I hope the others in the group, my fellow musician travelers, have also benefited. I know we all have bills waiting to be paid; and families that have allowed us to take the time away from the day to day to go for the gold and the goal. Beyond the money made, and the in spite of having to physically lug things around, I know my band mates enjoyed themselves, enjoyed making new audiences happy, and enjoyed expanding horizons. I have had a group now for over 35 years. I have gotten to the point that I am kind of an institution through which a number of younger musicians get training and experience and then move on ever upward. I am like Roy Ayers, Lonnie Liston Smith, Pharaoh Sanders, Art Blakey, Gill Scott-Heron or at least I am trying to follow in their footsteps. I want to do some major touring, play bigger venues and have my show grow in size to be like George Clinton & P-Funk, James Brown, Sunny Ade, Fela Kuti, the Wailers, Maze, Earth Wind & Fire, Prince and Kool & the Gang. Is there enough talent and time? Time will tell. Back at home. The plane trip back was long and tiring but not really that bad at all for me. Tonya had cramps; Corey was wedged in a middle seat on the long trans-Atlantic flight; Muzi had to prepare himself mentally to go to work the next day and Asante still had an over an hour’s drive after we finally got to Richmond. But even with long waits and delays and an 8-hour flight plus a connecting flight, the trip back was cool. Corey said, “Let’s go again next week!” We’ll see…