Monthly Archives: May 2013

This is Kabul

I really haven’t seen much of Afghanistan, only the largest city and capital, Kabul. Kabul is pretty unusual by western standards of course, but it also seems pretty secular by middle eastern standards. There are women on the streets with their faces uncovered, which i rarely saw in Jordan last year.

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I didn’t see people doing prayers all the time and the call to prayer was not as pervasive as in other Muslim countries i have visited. It feels like the west has been tentatively embraced, if somewhat untrustingly. However, the feeling is that anything could happen when the remainder of the NATO troops move out at the end the year. It may not be safe for the festival to be held again.

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Kabul is a sprawling city with about 4 million people and not much highrise. theres not many large gardens or parks but there are lots of small gardens and trees in people backyards which they seem to obssessively water. It’s really dry and dusty up here, it’s at 1800m. The fine dust gets in everything.

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NATO Black hawks and Chinooks (helicopters) fly over every few hours, which you get used to. It was a reminder of the military presence here, as was a convoy of three of these huge trucks yesterday, at least twice the height of a normal car with a machine gun turret on top…

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There is quite a lot of poverty but not more than I’ve seen in southeast Asia or central America. The small scale reconstruction after all the bombing was interesting to see, people straightening steel rods and breaking stones with hammers to build new buildings, heaps of new construction going on. Very slowly it seems, lunchtime is very important and everything stops for however long lunch takes.

Last night, the festival crew had dinner at the home of some ex-army aussies that work in private security. It was a flash house with quite cheap rent by Australian standards ($1500 per month) and I’m talking 3 story, marble floors, 3 living areas, a rooftop and about 6 large bedrooms. I guess there’s danger money to be made, I think they ‘look after people’ working for NGOs.

This morning Jase and I went for a walk to a couple of fortresses, the first was a British one guarded by two boys with AKs, they seriously couldnt have been older than 16. Anyway they let us look around for US$10, the whole place was strangely deserted considering it is the highest hill near the centre of Kabul. I took some cool photos and buried some stones a Melbourne medicine woman gave to me to help heal the land.

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And here’s a couple of pics from a Persian looking fortress on the next hill….

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There was a great 360 degree view of Kabul from the top of the English fortress, here’s a video…

We walked through a bunch of busy streets but in the side streets, all the homes were quiet and seemed empty. It was a bit eerie and I could imagine a million hidden eyes watching us but who knows really. Sometimes a guy would walk down the street yelling out to all the houses. Jason told me that how workers advertise their services to the householders.

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I didn’t have any money until the last day or so when I borrowed some off Travis the festival organiser, so when I got asked for money, I could honestly say I didn’t have any. We spent a day cruising round doing missions with Qais, a guitarist in local metal band District Unknown, who helps with festival business. We went to a couple of local markets but I don’t know, I haven’t had much luck at local markets in poor countries, it always seems like piles of mass produced chinese crap, just like in a western mall. We found a nice scarf place and spent a few dollars on some afghan scarves.

Jase and I went to a local grocery and bought veges to cook everyone a couple of vege curries. It cost us about $5 for enough food for 6 people. The old guys in the vege shop used medieval balance scales with lead weights and we bought almost every type of vegetable they had. The produce was definately ‘organic’.

It was unusual walking around the streets, I guess a typical Afghan would get similar stares walking down the street in Melbourne. Some cute street kids on the way back from the fortresses yelled out a combination of “Hello, how are you” and “Fuck you motherfucker”… equally endearing to me.

Last night I had an amazing jam with 2 of the guys from the District Unknown, i was messing around with DnB beats while they played with bass, guitar and filters overtop, we recorded a few things, hopefully the synth/guitar player Sully who recorded it puts something cool together. It could have been that we were pretty high and it sounded better than it was…

Qais with Craigus' bass

There are absolutely no road rules, no lines, and roundabouts are the funniest, both sides of the road go round both ways. We had traffic jams on the way to the airport and had to go through about 8 security checks, multiple unloading of gear, unpacking pockets, explaining that it was music gear not bombs and yes, that knife was small and a gift. I am a difficult person to travel with, I have a lot of shit in my pockets, I have a hole in my foot, and my belt broke on the last afternoon so my pants were constantly falling down, all the way back to Melbourne.

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The people have been 90% friendly and honest, that I have met anyway. I guess the only thing that seems dangerous about this place are the number of assault rifles, they are everywhere. It’s legal to own a handgun or shotgun here. What can I say, this is Kabul, check out some of my photos….

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Thanks for your continued interest, please feel free to share with anyone interested in this beautiful wartorn place… And if you have any questions, just comment below…

Peace,

Craig.

Back to Start!!

Party shenanigans and Saturday: Last day of the festival

The party for festival bands, DJs, crew and guests started quite formally with drinks and a buffet dinner at the outside bar of a fancy hotel called the International Club. Due to the nature of the guest list, this quickly devolved into cheesy pop, rock and dubstep debauchery with almost everyone being thrown in the pool, ending up with wet people in various stages of undress ripping up the dance floor. We eventually had to pull the pin on the sound system when people started getting electrocuted, wet wasted people and dodgy Afghan electricity definitely don’t mix. We continued celebrating well into the morning at Travis’ house (the festival founder) and with a few hours sleep, got ready for the last day of the festival. Here’s a couple of pics on the way to the festival venue; this guy (1st pic) was pulling this generator along behind the car going about 50 kmph. Attached to the wooden cart in this typical Kabul street (2nd pic) was a very cute donkey.

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Fortunately none of the 3 acts of the last day needed a drumkit which basically cuts sound work in half. A local rock band Morcha did an acoustic set; Jase, Travis and I created live breaks and drum n bass (1st pic), then the festival headliners, Masala Sound System, went full drum n bass and tore the crowd a new one (2nd pic).

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Jase and I decided to totally change the speed and feel of our show the night before and didn’t really have time to practice the new style. Fortunately it magically came together and the crowd reacted really well, we didn’t know if they would get it but perhaps the rock guitar that Travis added won them over 😀 I don’t think I have ever played bass so fast and furiously, it was all recorded so I look forward to hearing and possibly remixing it. What an experience. The venue gave the crew a bunch of flowers each… awwww!!

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Last night the crew were in a state of serious zombification, 5-6 days with very little sleep, a lot of work and some incidental partying. I was having trouble standing but still felt really happy and grateful to be here and be involved. I’ve learnt a lot about festival sound production and what works and what doesn’t. It has totally flown by, a completely surreal experience that I wouldn’t believe was real if I wasn’t here right now. I just slept for 16 hours so am starting to feel human again.

After today I still have 3 full days to explore Kabul and the surrounding mountains. From the brief glimpses I’ve had it looks really beautiful, snow capped mountains and ancient stone buildings and temples.

This eve, I went looking for a money machine that would accept my bankcard but to no avail. I’ve been here without a phone or money for 7 days now and just wanted some cash so I can taxi around and see things. Apparently it’s not safe for foreigners to walk around so a local guy that lives at the guesthouse gave me and a Dutch journalist a ride to try some different money machines (ATMs). We went to 3 different supermarkets but my card wouldn’t work at any of the ATMs. Each supermarket has a couple of guards with AK-47s. The first market we went to was very new because a suicide bomber blew it up a few years ago. A security guard checks everybody for concealed weapons or bombs. When we came out of one, 3 unmarked military vehicles full of NATO troops went by. Jules, the dutch guy I was with drew this pic just now.

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These white trucks have electronic jammers on the roof so that people within about 50-100m can’t use mobile phones or infrared switches to trigger bombs. We couldn’t get the car unlocked because it uses a infrared key so we had to wait ’til the military truck was out of sight. All the troops were very interested to see two foreigners in the street in Kabul but they didn’t stop.

There are unofficial rules about what you can and can’t take photos of, mostly so that you don’t get stopped and get your camera taken. No pictures of women, no pictures of people with guns, police, army or UN troops. I broke all these rules (discretely of course!) and got away with it.

At dinner tonight the Uzbekis invited me to visit Tashkent, the capital of Uzbek and play some music with them, they leave early in the morning. Maybe one day I will visit, they say it’s very safe with an iron-fisted dictator running the show. Tomorrow it’s all about jamming and exploring Kabul, it’s 3500 years old. I’ll let you know what it’s like 🙂 Thanks again for your interest!

Post 5: Kabul…

Peace,

Craig.

Thursday: Rock day and Friday: Relax and party day!

There are some great bands in Kabul, particularly District Unknown, a hardrock/metal band…

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I’m not normally into metal, because I find the technical side of it can quickly become annoying and wanky but these guys were great, really dynamic and lots of energy changes. And lots of stage diving 🙂 They were a step up from most of the other Afghan rock bands, some of which were pretty good. I heard lots of fantastic drummers.

There were 3 other bands that played that were also great. White City are a punkrock band of 3 expats, including the founder of Sound Central Festival, Travis (Aussie) on guitar, and Ruth (English) on bass and lead vocals, and fuck can she sing.

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Travis and Ruth both work on a bunch of other projects, obviously have a lot of compassion for Afghanis, and a dedication to the local rock scene. 

The day ended with a great funkrock band called Tears of the Sun, from Uzbekistan and were the most professional; they didn’t complain and soundchecked really fast.

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Tears of the Sun are staying at the same guesthouse as me so I planned to go drinking with them last night. The festival crew were totally exhausted, however, so we relaxed at Travis’ house and celebrated the large part of the work being done. I guess I can hang out with the Uzbekis at the after party this eve.

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Today (Friday) is the holy day here so there is no festival action scheduled. We are setting up a sound system at a place called the International Club, a big beautiful old hotel, to host a party for festival crew and guests. Just DJs will play so there will be no real audio work after we set up the sound system. Jase and I are going to sit around the pool and write extra beats for our Band named SU gig tomorrow, we’re opening for a Polish rock/drum n bass band who are the festival headliners and are closing the festival.

I am feeling pretty good despite the last 4 days of work and drinking, it really is true that when you are doing something you love, you have boundless motivation and energy. I can’t wait for the party tonight and the chance to just chill and chat with all the great people I have been working with for the last 4 days.

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Thank you for your time and interest!!

Post 4: After party and last day of festival…

Peace,

Craigus.

 

Tuesday: Womens day and Wednesday: Arts day

Sound Central Festival 2013 is being held at a place called the Institut Francais Afghanistan (IFA) which is a French arts and theatre compound. There is heaps of security on every building I’ve been into, really high walls, lots of guns and barbed wire. The actual compound is awesome and the amphitheatre seats about 550 and then there’s more space outside. The whole place has been really busy for the past 2 days of the festival which is great and there were heaps of local and foreign press.

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Of most interest to people covering the festival was Womens Day, the first day of the festival. Apparently Afghan women are still quite tentative around men so the festival organisers made a day just for them. Because I was doing the onstage audio, I was one of the few men allowed into the venue, all the press, bands, performers, and of course the audience, were women. Many of the audience girls got up on stage and read poems they had written. The highlight for me was when local rock band White City played near the end of the day and the girls went crazy. Their teachers were telling them to sit down but they wouldn’t listen, they were up jumping around and dancing, having the best time. It was beautiful to see. Another interesting section was a fashion show (that wasn’t on my schedule!). The girls wearing the latest Afghan fashions did an amazing job of walking backwards and forwards across the uneven stage strewn with piles of cables and wires in the highest high heels imaginable. I guess the broken streets of Kabul create professional high heel wearers out of these girls…

The first 2 days of the festival sort of ran together. I had four hours sleep, met a thousand people, and drank duty free whiskywith a bunch of people from all over the world; mostly Afghans that lived elsewhere and have come back since the Taliban left. Kabul seems safe although there is an unofficial curfew and everyone seems to go home when it gets dark. There are heaps of AK-47s, about 10 people at each street corner holding one or slung over the shoulder. Some people live in huge big houses with heaps of rooms. Away from the festival the hospitality has been amazing, beautiful meals every night and friendly fun people. I’m staying at a guesthouse called Weiss, I don’t know where it is. Here are some typical Kabul street photos…

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At the festival, I’m a sound technician on stage making sure the bazookis, cellos, tablas, guitars, basses, flutes, drums, computers, and microphones all work, are plugged in and the audio sent to Jase. He mixes it all for the audience and I try to tell him how the musos want the sound on stage. I don’t know if that makes sense to a non bandy person. Here are a collection of power leads, the types of plugs and voltage is all pretty random here. Below that is the IFA sound desk, it’s a digital desk which is pretty fancy but a bit of a headache for Jase to begin with… That’s our official mascot, Guts, on top of the desk.

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I played bass with a local rock band this arvo called Pit Panther Party and the kids went mental. No one could hear anything on stage and we made it up on the spot but whatever, the real rock music and metal bands start tomorrow. The most popular hard rock/metal band in Kabul, District Unknown, play tomorrow, last year they had the first ever stage diver in Afghanistan, this year I heard they are gonna be the first onstage guitar smashers, look forward to that. I can play one song with White City when they play again tomorrow because their bass player/singer wants to jump into the crowd and go mental for one song in particular. I learnt the song the other day so that should be lots of fun. Here’s some pics of White City playing for the girls, it was awesome…

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I set up mics and mixed for a bunch of kids who were rapping over tunes they have made, then I DJed while another bunch of kids danced and did some insane breakdancing and acrobatics. A couple of kids were doing backflips off the stage, it was cool as *&%$. Jase and I played to warm up for our Saturday gig (we’re opening for some polish pop band… or something…), and while we played, heaps of kids were skating on a makeshift skatepark right in front of us. I wish I had photos of that, I’ll try and find some…

I’ve gotta go to bed or I’ll fall down, but I just programmed some crazy sounds from Mars, see how they sound tomorrow morning through the amphitheatre sound system.

Post 3: Rock day then relax…

Peace,

Craigus