Oulaya's Wedding in Switzerland Tonight by Cyrus Moussavi


TONIGHT in Bern, Switzerland, our film OULAYA’S WEDDING plays as part of the incredible Norient Music Film Festival 2019. Co-director Brittany Nugent is on hand to present the film. This festival looks incredible — every film looks like a project I’d want to pursue with Raw Music International. Plus it’s in a squat in the middle of the city, with communal dinners and warmth and a supportive curious attitude, from reports on the ground. Be sure to check out the whole lineup and try to catch these movies.

Meanwhile, I’ll be in TUCSON tonight with the Mississippi Records / Raw Music International US Tour 2019. Full dates in the post below!

ON THE ROAD by Cyrus Moussavi

Sold out show in Seattle and a very packed and steamy room in Oakland. Long drives, but our trusty minivan has a tape player and Eric brought along a briefcase with dozens of Mississippi Records tape compilations, so we just watch it all go by to the greatest sounds I’ve heard. A lot of Sun Ra, a cosmic hangover from seeing Marshall Allen and the Arkestra two nights in a row in Portland. Tonight is ATA in San Fran, proper weirdo old SF venue from what I’ve heard, and tomorrow is Los Angeles. Thanks to those who already came and saw the show and talked with us and shared stories. If you’re out there in the future towns, please come out and spread the word! Full dates in the post below.

Mississippi Records US Tour 2019 by Cyrus Moussavi


We’re hitting the road with Mississippi Records and Olvido Records! For the month of January we’ll be driving thousands of records across the PNW, Cali, S. West, West, South and Midwest, stopping at record stores and putting on a Mississippi Records slideshow/film series/music set/record sale in the evenings. Please come check it out, and spread the word! Meanwhile, I’m looking into buying vans from halfway across the country…

Here’s the info:





  After over 220 dates in Europe and only a very small handful in the USA, Mississippi Records is taking it's road show to America for the first time. 

The show features -


  A psychedelic film / lecture / slideshow that attempts to tell the entire history of recorded music (In America) in just 90 minutes. It features great unseen film clips from the Mississippi Records archives.  Presented by Mississippi Records founder, Eric Isaacson. From recordings of the first star in the universe being born all the way to the dark ages of the 1980's, many stories will be told.


   Great short music clips spanning the globe.  Some beautiful Cambodian music, Kenyan acoustic guitar music and even the great Digital Jesus.  


   Before and after the show, DJ Golden Wilson (Olvido Records, Chicago) will set the mood with music from all over the place. http://olvidorecords.com


    Cheap as you'll ever find them Mississippi releases.  Over 30 titles available, while supplies last.


JANUARY 5: SEATTLE @ Northwest Film Forum

JANUARY 7: OAKLAND @ The Octopus Literary Salon


JANUARY 9: LOS ANGELES @ Zebulon Café Concert



JANUARY 12: TUCSON @ EXPLODED VIEW gallery/microcinema



JANUARY 15: MARFA @ Crowley Theater

JANUARY 16: AUSTIN @ Sekrit Theater



JANUARY 19: ATLANTA @ Plaza Atlanta



JANUARY 22: KNOXVILLE @ The Pilot Light

JANUARY 23: NASHVILLE @ Bastion Nashville

JANUARY 24: LEXINGTON @ Lexington Film League

JANUARY 25: BLOOMINGTON @ Pictura Gallery at FAR Center for Contemporary Arts

FEBRUARY 1: CHICAGO @ International Anthem HQ

Sundance 2019 by Cyrus Moussavi

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This deserves a much longer post, but I’m on the way to the airport, headed to Burkina Faso for an archival project (what?). I just have to say I’m proud of the small group of dedicated, creative friends who made this scrappy film, and the “talisman” and inspiration we all followed, Lonnie Holley.

”Matt says this festival is the highest of the high,” Lonnie said to me and Brittany when we called him with the good news. “Yeah, that’s pretty true” we said. “Well, we sure went through the lowest low to get there,” he sad, and cracked up.

I guess it couldn’t happen any other way. Crazy!! Props to Aaron Lowell Denton for the poster. More soon!

ALSO: THE WIRE — I admit I read this magazine all the time and don’t know half the artists they’re talking about (which is great). Feels strange to actually be the half that people won’t know in this headline about the film.

Don't Sleep (Usiende Ukalale) by Cyrus Moussavi

In 2016 I traveled through portions of western Kenya looking for surviving players of the Omutibo style of guitar. Last year, we co-released three albums alongside Olvido and Mississippi Records of Kenyan guitar music. And last month I made it back to Kenya to deliver vinyl copies, respects, and royalties.

I spent the majority of the trip filming a documentary about Olima Anditi (more on that below). So I only had 2 days to hit the homes of 7 musicians spread across a considerable distance on bad roads. Thankfully I was with my old friends Timothy Lusala and Naman Obuyi, people I’ve worked with over many many years. They understood the mission and where everyone lives. So we hit it hard, dropping in after a couple years to make good on old promises.

Some beautiful moments — Many artists were surprised to see that the record actually came out and that I had shown back up again. I made bootleg CD versions in the market (burned with professionalism and style by my friend Gucci….more on that below) and brought copies of the music so they could actually listen to these songs after so many years. The release by George Mukabi, for example, contains music by one of the most beloved guitarists in Kenya. But these songs are almost entirely unavailable within the country, the copies destroyed or lost or existing only in multi-generation tape dubs. The tracks we used were sourced from collectors in the US and Europe. We felt it important to repatriate this music as well as release it in the west.

Omari Machio, whose song Usiende Ukalale became the title for the record, had recently suffered a stroke and was struggling to pay his medical bills. The royalties showed up at the right moment. He read a Muslim prayer and gave us copies of his entire CD discography in return.

I had met and recorded with Jimmy Bongo in a rush on the last day of the trip in 2016 — just two songs, one take of each, and then a mad dash to the Eldoret airport where I somehow ran onto the plane without going through security. This time we had a bit of time to talk. He was surprised to hear that both of his songs made the compilation. He’d been getting restless at home, his eyesight deteriorating along with his savings, and he was glad that people were listening to his music. They’re my favorite recordings from the trip:

We drove three hours to meet Johnstone Mukabi again. The music of his father, George Mukabi, inspired this whole project in the first place. Johnstone’s grandson Ronny was graduating from kindergarten and there was a festive spirit in the air and two tiny kittens playing on the couch when the whole family returned to the familiar bright silver shack (I edited a whole film of footage from the trip in 2016, staring at these homes and people for hours and hours while piecing it together, and so I remember backgrounds and children and non-starring characters with far more clarity than I would have if I was just returning cold…it was a joy to see how some of the kids had grown). Johnstone had added a TV and antennae since we were last there, and was excited to finally have some CDs to sell when he performed (the CDs overall were more popular than the records).

We were in a massive rush, but Sukuma Bin Ongaro wouldn’t let us leave til we’d had dinner with both of his wives. The red suit was new, and he said his career had been revived now that he was singing gospel (pics at top of post).

Fanuel Amimo was recovering from a long illness. His home region of Butere, known even in the old songs for hooliganism and thievery, had been beset by a murderous gang called the 42 Brothers. We stayed past dark visiting him, and had to book it at top speed down dark roads through a place called Mayhem Junction to reach a safe place to rest.

Shem Tube and his wife Mama Jessica had shrunk and the kids had grown. As Shem pointed out, the black cow that sat in the rain the last time we filmed was looking fine and healthy.

This trip was hard— no time, no sleep, age and bad living wearing down these old musicians (and myself). From freezing Chicago, it feels like worlds away. I need to spend more time thinking on it. The pictures help. I hope someone in Kenya is listening to this music.

35mm Film Mistakes by Cyrus Moussavi

I destroyed so many rolls of film on this trip, tired and moving fast. This roll survived a lot — torn off in the camera, changed in a semi-dark bathroom, jammed in a gaff-taped tube and carried to Chicago where I accidentally process it E6 instead of C41. But these blown out fragments probably catch the feeling better than a proper shot. Zanzibar and the beginnings of Kenya.

Last Minute Guitars by Cyrus Moussavi

A good story and a special thank you: I’d like to send out a special thank you to Alex Hsu, Mark Ligon, and Rick (last name unknown). Last time I was in Kenya, the great Peter Akwabi made me promise to bring him a guitar. Those are easy promises to make when you’re about to board a plane, and I said “Sure, next time.”

My partner in these projects, Gordon Ashworth, had also promised a guitar to the Tanzanian musician, radio host, and researcher John Kitime.

Far too late in our preparation for our trip to Kenya and Tanzania, we admitted to ourselves that we were two guitars down. We couldn’t show up without them.

We checked a couple shops in Chicago but they were $$ and we’d used up our small budget on tickets and Malarone. I searched Craigslist and, in desperation, just started sending random messages asking if people would consider donating their guitars. The first person I wrote to wrote back saying:

Cool project.  I would be happy to give you the guitar. I googled your name and you seem like a good person.  I live in Bucktown. 

Well shit! I sent a few more messages, and someone else wrote back to say:

Hi Cyrus -- Yep, the guitar is still available. And I'd be more than happy to donate the guitar, however. I do have a request, I organize a group called The Chicago Materos where we meet each Saturday to talk and share about topics ranging from culture, travels, to politics... while sipping on Yerba Mate.

Would you be willing to join us this Saturday and share some of your traveling / filming stories?

So that Saturday I took the bus to Bucktown where Rick gave me a nice Fender, then to Fullerton where a musician named Mark gave me a guitar case, and then to Lincoln Park where I met Alex and the Chicago Materos, a group of Mate-loving people from all over the country and world, and talked about music. A beautiful day. Carried those instruments home on the bus, off to O’Hare, onboard to Dar Es Salaam, on to Kenya, and all the way across the country via bus to Kisumu and on to the countryside. They were much appreciated. Thank you Alex, Rick, and Mark for giving me some faith in humanity!! And if you are a lover of Yerba Mate in the Chicagoland area, be sure to check out Alex’s new venture, Matee, here.

Kenya Recap by Cyrus Moussavi

I stopped posting in Kenya, but I didn’t stop writing. This was intentional — calling out for Olima Anditi on national radio suddenly turned up attention across the country. Reports about Anditi started pouring in, and some of them were disturbing.

The leopard-skin-rocking O’hangla star Tony Nyadundo called in to say he knew of Olima’s whereabouts, but that no one could see him ‘til Tony returned to Kisumu. We started to worry for Anditi’s safety, despite constant reassurance from our Kenyan friends and colleagues. Was he alright? Was he being held ransom? It’s not every day the white (err, brown?) man comes from abroad and starts calling for you on the radio. Had we made an already vulnerable person more of a target?

Fred from Nam Lolwe radio became a close friend and collaborator. He wasn’t worried. “No one will harm Anditi!” he said with his good natured grin. We drove up and down the lake together searching.

Finally, after a particularly long and fruitless day a full week after our arrival in Kisumu, Fred called us from the radio station. It was about 9pm. “Come! Anditi has arrived!”

And there he was — a little smaller, missing a couple teeth since I last saw him in 2016, but with a new suit and smiling, looking fresh. Even more startling since he’d just taken an 8 hour bus journey from Migori county, near the border with Tanzania. He’d been listening to Fred’s calls on Nam Lolwe for days, had even memorized what Fred had said. But he was broke and without phone and couldn’t find a way to come to Kisumu or notify us. “I had a dream Jairus was coming,” he told Fred (Jairus is and has always been Cyrus when I speak with Olima).

That morning he had gone to Migori town to play at the market and make some dough. The people of Migori felt embarrassed that they “had” Olima while he was being called in Kisumu. So they put together a collection and bought him a bus ticket to town. Somewhere along the way he picked up a young minor league grifter named Dave, sharp eyed and besuited, who appointed himself as Olima’s official chaperone and wouldn’t leave ‘til I paid him. Fred brought Olima directly into the studio for an interview and live music, a big win for him after all his help.

Olima spent the night with a pastor with ties to Migori. The next morning we joined them and began filming our movie. And that’s when the story really kicked off. Now to think on it, see what fragments and shards we managed to record, and start editing it all together…

Still Searching by Cyrus Moussavi

Olima Anditi is not to be found. Everyone has a theory about where the man is currently playing, but not one agrees with the next. His phone was stolen a while ago, making a call impossible. And our car is missing a wheel…

We haven’t given up. At the gold mining town on Lake Victoria, another old musician suggested we go to Olima’s favorite media — the radio. Blind, traveling all the time, Olima’s portable radio is always to his ear. So yesterday we hit Nam Lolwe, a nationally broadcast Luo language FM radio station— one of Olima’s favorites.

A little apprehension at the station at first — who are we and what’s our mission. Fair enough. “Sir, I don’t know how to say this… I’m obsessed with the old musician Anditi, and I came to make a film about his travels and give him some royalties from our last recording.”

They’re fans of Olima at the radio station — they even have his name on a poster on the wall. Fred, the program manager and a popular host, bright eyed and with an amazing laugh, opened up and we shared stories about the old man. Fred had searched for him once, too, with no luck. “If he doesn’t want to be found, he will not be found, but we will know the answer once we call for him on my show.”

On the air several times yesterday, the hosts called out for Olima, saying some Europeans are after him. I sat next to Jacob and wondered what kind of problems this would create for him and for us. It’s impossible to tell. The only reason I felt comfortable moving in such a public way is that the idea came from Olima’s friends, and our Kenyan colleagues all reassured us that it’s the best way.

In the moment, with the calls from listeners pouring in, it felt promising. Listeners suggested that he could be in Ahero, Bondo, or Ndori. Others said he was back in Manyattta, the Kisumu slum where we started our search five days ago. There was a very strong lead for Mamboleo — a guy called to say he ate lunch with Olima there yesterday. But when we finally got in touch with the dude, it turned out their lunch date had been a month ago…no wait two months ago? Maybe it was dinner? A bust.

The station agreed to let us know if they got any real leads, and we left for the bus station. Jacob figured that the matatu (commuter bus) touts would know Olima’s recent movements. Matatu is his main form of transport, and everyone knows him along the bus line. Steven, our friend and fixer, asked us to wait while he sorted things out in the hectic bus terminal. Soon we were joined by a guy named Marine who crushed my hand in greeting and told us he protects the terminal and the main travel lines. No doubt. He moved with authority and people got out of his way. He knows Olima, and agreed to ask his men to keep an eye out.

Another order of business at the bus terminal — making local copies of the Olima Anditi record we released last year. I want to give copies to the artists to sell themselves, and I want to have the CDs produced locally. Steve, our man, has a guy in the market with a CD burner. We weaved through stalls, got hassled and cajoled, dodged buses with Jamaican sound-system-caliber blow horns attached, and finally made it to a small tin shop with metal grating in front. I looked through the bars and, incredibly, recognized the person sitting behind them — Gill Gucci, a rapper I’d met while filming the first Raw Music episode in Kenya back in 2010/11. Gucci! He’d left the rap game and gone into the CD burning business, finally making a decent living for himself off music. We talked about Total Vibez studios where he used to rap, and he promised to make me some CDs. Check this old post to see Gucci back in 2010…

And so we continue to look and wait and wonder what’s going on. It’s not normal that it takes so long to find someone everyone knows…

Searching for Olima Anditi by Cyrus Moussavi

Back in Western Kenya. I’ve spent so much time traveling up and down these roads searching, sometimes despite myself and for reasons I can’t quite articulate, for old guitar players. I’ve imagined a movie about the traveling blind guitarist Olima Anditi ever since we met in the last days of 2010. He remembered me by the feel of my hand the next time I saw him, in 2016. And now, in 2018, traveling with copies of his record (a co-release with Mississippi Records that came out in late 2017), some royalties, and the trustiest of Raw Music collaborators Jacob Russell, I planned to finally make the film.

But it’s 4 days of roaming these dusty roads and no sign of the old man. The musicians with whom he used to live said he got up and left one day three months ago. His phone was stolen a few weeks prior, and they haven’t heard from him since.

“Are you worried?” I asked. We were sitting in the dark. No power, a storm brewing, lightning flashing outside the tin shack. “We’re not worried. If anything happened to him, everyone would know. Olima has many friends.”

Indeed. As we travel around, everyone has stories of the last time Olima came through town. They point us further down the road, or in toward the lake, or even, after a long day of travel yesterday, back to Kisumu where we started. Our whip this time is not of the highest quality. An old Mazda van that mercilessly devours gas (and gas is EXPENSIVE out here). Yesterday, the front left wheel fell off twice. Once in the middle of the market town of Akala, where we’d met Olima last time, and once at the very end of the night, in a muddy parking lot in the Railways Estate, after 200 km on rutted roads. We left the car behind. Packed up our bags, got on some motorcycles, and rode home to try again today. We’ll place a call for him on the radio tonight, hoping he hears. He lives with a radio glued to his ear, after all. I’ll see if they’ll even play some songs from the record. For now, some photos from the road. I’ve been paying more attention to the hand painted signs and logos after traveling in Tanzania with my friend Gordon. Here’s some of what we saw (but not what we felt or smelled).

“Olima lives like a bird,” my friend Hannington said when we started this search. So we keep looking.

Dar Es Salaam by Cyrus Moussavi

Dar Es Salaam. Warm light, kind people, murky sea, charcoal burning, good chicken, bad fish, palm trees choked in smog, controlled dancing to very loud music. Inspiration from the artists, photographers, and musicians at Nafasi Art Space, and some fine time spent with John Kitime, a musician, collector, historian, radio host and more, who never stops, but who did pause, briefly, to tell us about captured German soldiers and newly unearthed biographies of our favorite guitarists and Tanzanian copyright law. We saw the Dar premiere of Wahenga, a moving film about John and the current state of Muziki Wa Dansi in Tanzania, directed by our friend Rebecca from Nafasi and the Tanzania Heritage Project. The film was projected on a sheet and blasted through a sound system in the famous DDC Kariakoo social club/bar in the middle of Kariakoo Market, which buzzed around us. Drank Konyagi atop the Hong Kong Hotel (directly across from the Rising Sun Hotel), and later, when the hotel closed, ran down ten flights and caught a cab to hear John and his band play their all-night Saturday set by the Indian Ocean, swatting mosquitos and shuffling softly trying to mimic the music lovers (and plain ol’ lovers) on the dance floor. This old music is called Zilipendwa, meaning “Those who were once loved.” In Wahenga, John takes offense to the past tense. The musicians live, and on a few dance floors in Dar Es Salaam last night their music was joyously and actively loved.

Sometimes I wanna dance by Cyrus Moussavi

Here’s the finished video for Sometimes I Wanna Dance, a single from Lonnie Holley’s new album MITH, coming out on Jagjaguwar on Sept 21.

It’s a harrowing record — takes you all the way down through the muck of American history and then out to space where you peer into a satellite reflecting bright shiny and fiery visions of the future, and at the very end Lonnie brings you back to the Atlanta street corner where he lives and works. There we built a juke joint from scratch, invited a host of people we met while filming in and around the city over the course of the preceding two weeks, put together a blues band led by none other than Atlanta keyboard legend Eddie Tigner, served up some food and asked people to dance out to Lonnie’s take on 80s keyboard soul.

We were graced by the presence of Edeliegba Senior Dance Ensemble, as well as some incredible young Atlanta musicians and artists including Nesha Nycee (say it twice) and filmmaker Colbie Fray, who helped shoot and also appears in the final video. Mid-shoot, Lonnie paused to break it down for the gathered crowd — a 20 minute improvised sermon about rising waters and the need for uncompromised black creative voices. DIG IT.

Sometimes I Wanna Dance by Lonnie Holley

Director/Edit: Cyrus Moussavi

Producer: Matt Arnett, Brittany Nugent

Camera: Charles Autumn Miller, Cyrus Moussavi, Colbie Fray

Color: John Peterson, Moonshine Post

Extra Special Thanks:

Edeliegba Senior Dance Ensemble

Mr. Eddie Tigner and band

Thank you: Ceera Sade, Riniece (Ree Cee B) Bradford, DJ CoCo, Keenon Rush, Matthew Harris, John Dierre, Tiffany LaTrice, Arthur Ford, Barbara Price, Ms. Ebony, Diana Stevens, Theresa Howard, Nesha Nycee, @Huggntreez, Chad Crowley, Sandi Kloosterman, School of Humans ATL, Home Grown Atlanta

Portland and Seattle Screenings by Cyrus Moussavi


Summer came and went and I was too geographically displaced to notice.  I spent April in Berlin, May in Athens, June in Tbilisi and Turkey, July in Atlanta, and have finally arrived in Chicago. Along the way, we made a short film with the great Lonnie Holley, my favorite living artist and a true visionary. More from that shoot to come. I'm still recovering from our three week shoot in the American south.

Next week it's off to the Northwest for two screenings of Oulaya's Wedding. I'll be there with Hisham from Sublime Frequencies for a conversation after each show:

Sept 4, Portland Oregon, 7:30PM at Clinton Street Theater

Sept 5, Seattle Washington, 8PM at NW Film Forum

Please spread the word and say hello if you make it out!

Johanias Kiunya RIP by Cyrus Moussavi

RIP Johanias Kiunya
Nov 1947 - March 2018

I met Johanias and his son while filming in western Kenya in 2016. A soft spoken and gentle man, he came over to Shem Tube's house and performed this track after we had finished recording with Shem. It was late afternoon, between thunderstorms. He'll be buried tomorrow, March 17.

Sending condolences to his family and friends, and remembering his lovely music today.


Johanias Kiunya
Mungu Nisaidie (God Help Me)

I have experienced many problems
And now I am really crying
Friends and family you better pray for me

My neighbors, I am tired of your daily noises
I admit I am wrong, but go tell the elders
Personally, I don’t hate anybody
Even wrong doings I cannot revenge

May God himself help me
Until the time of my death

My neighbors surround me with evil
Even my good deeds, they have now rejected
Now I better pray to Almighty God
Even if they do evil, it’s upon them

Personally, I don’t hate anybody
Even wrong doings I cannot revenge
May God himself help me
Until the time of my death.

Translation: Hanningtone Steven
Video and Edit: Cyrus Moussavi
Special Thanks: Naman Obuyi

Johanias and son

Johanias and son

Shem Tube, Johanias, Naman Obuyi

Shem Tube, Johanias, Naman Obuyi

Shem's yard, where we made this recording between thunderstorms

Shem's yard, where we made this recording between thunderstorms

Rapasa live at Barbes, NYC by Cyrus Moussavi

Rapasa, a young nyatiti player from Nairobi, visited NYC recently, and some of my musical friends helped get him a gig at Brooklyn's Barbes. Here's some video, featuring Nathan Okite (guitar), Courtney Hartman (guitar, banjo), and Sam Reider (accordion). More words coming soon. I'm off to Sundance for reasons still not fully clear to me. 

Caldera by Mehdi Qamoum & Courtney Hartman by Cyrus Moussavi

Mehdi Qamoum (Morocco) & Courtney Anne Hartman (US) met at the incredible OneBeat music exchange program in Caldera, Oregon. On Mehdi's way back to Morocco, we linked up at Crown Finish Caves in Brooklyn where they composed and performed this song.

Mehdi plays one of my favorite instruments, the guimbri, used to induce trance-states in gnaoua music. Courtney's instrument will put you in a trance, too, as we all know.

Here are the lyrics in Arabic. I asked Mehdi to translate to English. He said, "I'm trying to translate, but it's not the same. You understand?" Certainly.

Mehdi Qamoun - Guimbri
Courtney Hartman - Guitar

Film by Cyrus Moussavi / Raw Music International

Audio mix by Jacob Blumberg


ومالي ومالي 
وماليي وهيا مالي 
ويامالي شوفو واش جرالي
وهيا مالي شوفو واش جرالي

تمنيت كون مشيت ما يمشي صديقي
تمنيت كون مشيت ما يمشي صديقي 
وحشك في قلبي ذوب ليي قليبيي 
وحشك يا مسير ذوب ليي قليبيي

ومالي ومالي 
و ماليي وهيا مالي 
ويامالي شوفو واش جرالي 
وهيا مالي شوفو واش جرالي

تمنيت كون مشيت ما يمشي صديقي. تمنيت كون مشيت ما يمشي صديقي 
وحشك في قلبي ذوب ليي قليبيي 
وحشك يا سمير ذوب ليي قليبيي

ويامالي شوفو واش جرالي 
ويامالي شوفو واش جرالي 
وهيا مالي شوفو واش جرالي 
ويامالي شوفو واش جرالي 
وهيا مالي شوفو واش جرالي 
وهيا مالي شوفو واش جرالي

Merry Christmas from Burma / Iowa by Cyrus Moussavi

Burma and the Burmese diaspora is really active on Facebook, and this Christmas carol from our trip across the eastern part of the country a couple years ago is suddenly getting a lot of love. 

This clip was shot as part of a motorcycle trip through the very Christian (Catholic and Baptist) mountain regions of Kayin (formerly Karen) State and southern Shan state. We were on a search for music traditional and otherwise in a region rarely visited by foreigners. We found both, and a lot of Christmas spirit.  

When I returned to Iowa mid-winter, a chance encounter in a pizza joint led me to a community of Karen and Karenni refugees and migrants from these very same villages, living in Waterloo and working in meat packing.  They helped me translate some of these videos, and invited me to church services, lunches, and New Year's celebrations. I recognized some of the Christmas songs, first heard in the lush Burmese highlands, displaced and rearticulated in the dead bleak Iowa winter weeks later. Radically different contexts, but a common sense of longing and refuge in the church.

Here is a short film, one of my favorites, that resulted from this collaboration with the Iowa Burmese refugee community. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to our friends in Kayin State, Iowa State, and all places between and beyond!

RIP Charles Duvelle by Cyrus Moussavi

Charles Duvelle signs a record for Hisham Mayet at his home near Paris, summer 2016. Photo Cyrus Moussavi

Charles Duvelle signs a record for Hisham Mayet at his home near Paris, summer 2016. Photo Cyrus Moussavi

Charles Duvelle

(1937 - Nov 30, 2017)

We lost a great one.

Charles Duvelle was a musician, composer, photographer, and musicologist (don't call it "Ethno!") who recorded dozens of albums across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

A child of French colonialism (literally), he was born in "Indochina," as he called it. He didn't return to France until age 9. "Dirty, cold, and without color" he said when we asked him to describe the Marseille of 1946.

Duvelle didn't stay long. He spent much of his life traveling, first organizing local radio archives across Francophone Africa, then recording albums for France's Disques OCORA label.

His approach was innovative in both technique and humanity.

"Sound is a whole: The sound which is performed outside has to be reproduced as it is. Organ music is recorded with natural reverberation in a church, because this is its normal environment. But if someone is normally playing any instrument or singing outside, it’s better to keep recording outside instead of in a closed recording studio."

And so Duvelle ditched the studio and began making recordings outside, capturing the energy  of performances as much as their sound. Listening back decades later, you feel you're there. Sometimes he moved amongst the musicians with the microphone and his Nagra 3 during a performance.

"I had to behave not only as a witness but as a musician—using the microphone like a musical instrument."

"[This] situation was complicated—and exciting at the same time—because it needed more intuition, mobility, communion with the musicians, and adapted skill to control together the microphone and the recorder. I felt a bit like I was improvising with a music instrument, or behaving as a video cameraman—trying to transpose the vitality and truth of the musical scene into a really good musical recording."

Duvelle's second innovation was in presentation.  This music wasn't readily available in the "west," and people weren't sure how to approach it. Duvelle packaged and released the albums in elaborate cloth binding with detailed notes. 

"I had the money, and I had the desire of having beautiful products. And also, I wanted to attract so-called “refined” people with popular traditional things. So I thought that this music should be treated as well or better than the Deutsche Grammophon series [preeminent German publisher of western classical music]."

Today people are putting out "deluxe exclusive" impossible to afford reissues of music from all over the world. But at the time, treating this music with respect, as a commercial product and also as pure art, was unheard of. 

"Many kinds of world music—particularly oral traditions from Africa—were unknown, just because they had no means of being disseminated worldwide. Collecting part of this fantastic potential and publishing for the first time such new music was of course quite exciting.

But for whom—the public? I don’t know who is the public! Maybe some pop musicians, some jazz musicians or even 'serious' contemporary composers. The Beatles, at that time, one of them was interested. Serge Gainsbourg—have you heard of this one? He went to see me several times, and he was also quite excited by different kinds of African music."

Last summer I spent two long days with Duvelle. Brittany Nugent and I came along with our friend Hisham Mayet, co-founder of Sublime Frequencies. Hisham grew up on Duvelle's records, and felt kinship with Duvelle's rejection of dry academic practice in favor of spirit, energy, humanity. Hisham and Charles were finishing up a book of Duvelle's photos, and we were along to film the interviews and add a few questions of our own. 

Duvelle was charming and gracious, spending hours showing us his immaculately organized music collections, scrolling through a lifetime of photos and videos on his little laptop, remembering with a wry smile and humor run-ins with greats like Rakotozafy. He even cooked us lunch, served up with bottles of rose and bemused questions about US politics. 

"What would you be doing if we weren't bothering you today, Charles" I asked at one point. 

"Playing piano like every day," Duvelle said. 

Yet another thing that made him unique in this world of musicology. The man was a musician first, and it was when talking about music that he was at his most insightful and eloquent, transversing generations and cultures in a few sentences:

"I don’t like writing music. I think this system has produced so many kinds of beautiful music, but it limits new possibilities of creation. This is why I am so attracted by oral traditions of creation and communication. As I told you, I like to improvise music. I can build an organized and structured music without the help of writing, just because I am used to it. 

Also, today there are so many means of recording and editing music through digital techniques that writing has lost a lot of his power. In that respect, it is interesting to notice that the great Asian civilizations—Indian and Chinese, for instance—knew how to write long before Western civilization, but did not use any writing system to play or transmit their refined art."

He said it with his glint and his smile. Then he sat at the piano and improvised.

Listen to some of Duvelle's work here.

Thank you to Hisham Mayet for bringing us along last year. Thank you to Charles Duvelle for the warmth and the music. 

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Tourin by Cyrus Moussavi


Preparing to hit the road with Group Doueh. Here are the dates for our film screenings. Dates with only Group Doueh playing are in the post below.  We've got a bunch of new sounds and images to share, including a very limited live recording by Group Doueh with silk-screened covers by the artist Shawn Reed. Check it!