CHANDIMAN, MONGOLIA: A long-song. The syllables are stretched out and belted across the steppe. A story takes days or months to tell. One of the most stunning experiences of our journey across Mongolia. More about this session here.
KAKAMEGA, KENYA: May, 2016. This is one of my favorite songs from the recent Kenya recording trip. Like all the best recordings, it was an accident. We went to visit John Nzenze, an originator of Kenya's electric twist music. He told us about the shows he's played around the world, the women he's met, the opportunities stolen from him. But his arm was broken -- he'd fallen off his motorcycle -- and he couldn't play. So he took us to see his neighbor, Jimmy Bongo. Jimmy played with the Bongo Boys and the legendary Equator Sound Band. He'd recently lost his eyesight, but after a few minutes at the guitar the old songs came back. I don't know the name of the backup singer, but I'm trying to find out. I don't know a lot of things, in fact. We only got to record two songs, and no interview. Tired, ill, and ready for a break from the countryside, I'd booked a flight to Nairobi for that afternoon. A mistake. I'll be back. Enjoy the Curser....
KAKAMEGA, KENYA: May 2016. The great Sukuma Bin Ongaro, one of Kenya's most celebrated guitarists, gave up playing when he found God some years ago. Resplendent in a shining suit and gator shoes, lounging beneath an oil painting of himself in younger days, he explained, as neighbors and family gazed on admiringly, that the acoustic guitar we brought him was no good. He hadn't played one since secondary school. He was strictly an electric man. And of course there was the matter of the Lord... We don't know what convinced him to change his mind, but days later we returned after he called, promising sound. In an unfinished mud home a couple hours from Kisumu, Sukuma had arranged a full band and a sound system powered by car batteries. We danced and ate and hit the road as a hellish storm took over the region. Not before he bust out a Gospel rap for the kids -- "Ongaro-dot-com, Ongaro-dig-i-tal" became the catchphrase of the trip.
BUNYORE, KENYA: In May 2016 I traveled around Western Kenya looking for the remnants of omutibo music, a glorious rhythmic acoustic guitar style invented by George Mukabi in the Luhya areas of Kenya in the late 50s. Shem Tube led the band Abana ba Nasery, famous for their interlocking guitar parts and swagger. Tube is now a very old man, living at his ancestral home. We recorded with him, his son, two friends, and endless neighbors and friendly animals in the middle of a rain storm. His voice quavers as he reinterprets classics from decades before.
ULAANBAATAR, MONGOLIA: This one isn't about music but I'm posting because Jacob and I were really impressed with Shijir and her drive and outlook. We were working on the longer Raw Music episode and broke for a couple days to make this for the Wall Street Journal's series about young girls around the world, Girl's Life. The dumplings they made here were some of the best we had on our trip.
ULAANBAATAR, MONGOLIA: The great morin khuur (horsehead fiddle) player Dashjamts and his musical partner Altan-Tsetseg Sedee jam at home Mongolia's capital city. This was our last day in the country, and Dashjamts treated us to vodka shots, stories of the countryside, and hours of music on multiple instruments.
PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA: Arn Chorn Pond and Seyma Thon are social activists and musicians in Cambodia. We spent the night at their beautiful home on the Mekong River, and woke to a morning jam session of pre-Khmer Rouge classics. The Golden Era. I still hear Seyma's voice singing this song in my head.
LOM SAK, THAILAND: Khun Narin's Electric Phin Band. I saw a YouTube video of these guys years ago and it blew my mind. What earthy psych jams. What was that instrument? And where did the marching drums come in? It was a dream to travel to Lom Sak and, with the help of a young French anthropologist named Edouard, finally see Khun Narin's band rock out in real life...Here's a video for CNN's Great Big Story:
PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD: A Trini hip hop classic and a song I listen to all the time. Make It Hapn is one of the only rappers in Trinidad who refuses to rap Yankee. He raps in full Trini cadence and accent about shit that really matters to people. Probably why he's beloved around town. Shot this with legendary Chicago hip hop video director and Raw Music brother D.Gainz on his first day in the country. That street party at the end was random, just your average Friday Trini lime that became part of the shoot.
DIYARBAKIR, TURKEY: On the way to Iraq by bus, I stopped in Diyarbakir for a few days to learn about Kurdish culture on the Turkish side of the border. The Deng Bej house was old man HQ -- the guys would shuffle in in the morning and drink tea, smoke cigarettes, talk, argue, bullshit, and SING GLORIOUS IMPROMPTU A CAPELLA SONGS until dark. A good vibe, though they thought my earnest translator was a devil.
The singer in this video is Saeed Khan, the songbird of Diyarbakir, as he calls himself. He's widely considered the most talented Deng Bej artist in the area.
The Deng Bej house, it is reported, has been destroyed in the most recent (2016) attacks by the Turkish government on Diyarbakir. I trust these old men got out safe. They are wily guys, and you don't make it this long in Turkey's beleaguered Kurdish zones without some serious survival skills. My dream is to go back and see them properly when the shelling stops.
NYC, USA: Mongolian Heavy Metal is a concept that seems to sell itself. Nature leads Tengger Cavalry, the world's greatest (and only) marauding Mognolian metal band. We met when I was preparing for my trip to Mongolia, and when I returned, we made this video for CNN's Great Big Story.
KAREN STATE, BURMA. On the road to Hpapun in Karen state. A traditional Karen mandolin (kana) song...
KAREN STATE, BURMA: My favorite performance from our Raw Music International: Burma episode...read more about it at the blog
PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD: Ran into Calypso stars The Incredible Myron B (of Ebola Scare fame) and Mistah Shak outside Kaiso House in Port of Spain. They dropped this little extempo. To me this is the roots of freestyle rap battles.
PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD: Covering everything from underground roots reggae to Soca stars like Farmer Nappy, below:
YANGON, BURMA: Our latest from Burma, for Time.com:
UKRAINE: The full NBC episode from Ukraine.
Our first episode for NBCNews.com, from Iraqi Kurdistan:
KISUMU, KENYA: The great blind Luo guitarist Olima Anditi, shot at his home in the Manyatta slum.
KISUMU, KENYA: The intro to the as-yet-unreleased first episode of Raw Music
More videos, especially from Kenya, at our YouTube Page: