Thursday, October 16, 2008

When the Night

Aaron Nazrul just released his first video, "When the Night" from the album Butterfly Man, which is out on my Lit Fuse Records label. This is the quintessential East Vancouver block party! Check out the Youtube link:

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Two Weeks' Notice

October 1 2008

Friends – how strongly can I possibly urge you to become engaged citizens and strategic voters? I find the current antipathy towards strategic voting completely baffling. Human beings do everything strategically, if it carries risk. Try crossing the street non-strategically, or taking something out of the oven non-strategically, or navigating non-strategically to get to a destination when you’re running late. Work with the world as it is, while continuing to envision the world as it could be.

In two weeks Canada has a chance to strategically say goodbye to Stephen “Neo-con” Harper, and yet the polls say he is heading for another win. Remember that feeling of revulsion and confusion after the 2004 US elections when Bush was re-elected and the entire world had a collective gag reflex like WTF!?! I’m dreading that feeling on October 15th, but I don’t think it’s too late. Stéphane Dion is a very courageous and principled and intelligent politician, and yet Canadians seems to be turning their backs on him, why? Because he looks like a wimp? Are we that shallow and masochistic? I very badly want to have Dion as our next Prime Minister in two weeks, and for those of you who are quibbling between the three parties of the left, you must realize that there are only two choices for Prime Minister. That said, Stéphane Dion has clearly come out in support of electoral reform. That means if he wins, we could soon have a much more fairly representative system for electing MPs in this heavily left-leaning country with its heavily right-leaning current leadership.

And if you are in the Lower Mainland, I can tell you right now that Vancouver Quadra (pretty much everything West of Granville) faces a close race between the Liberal candidate, my mom, and the Conservative candidate, who is a UBC law professor currently salivating at the prospect of putting 14-year-olds in jail for life. If you have free time, my mom’s campaign needs volunteers, people to distribute flyers and knock on doors and make phone calls, and especially people to volunteer on Election Day. If you want to help, please go to her website and follow the links to volunteer: . She won the bi-election in March by only 151 votes, so here is a perfect example of where your individual effort will make the difference between one party and another taking the prize.

Finally, if you haven’t heard it yet, I recently wrote and recorded a rap song about the election, called “Bounce”, which I invite you to listen to now. If nothing else, it’s definitely good for a laugh.
Here’s the link to download it:

To Arms!


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Credits Due

September 6 2008

Friends and Voyeurs,

Back from Holland, back from Ireland, back from Scotland, back in England with the rain on the cobblestones outside the (free Wi-Fi) pub window, and in a few days back to Canada to count my lucky stars.

How many stars? My stars, so many stars! In the end "The Rebel Cell" was reviewed seven times at the Edinburgh Fringe by various magazines, newspapers, and websites, which resulted in six four-star reviews and one five-star review, as well as two award nominations, one of which we won! The Rebel Cell won a "Spirit of the Fringe Award" for being one of the most ground-breaking shows at the Fringe in 2008, and, as the award presenter put it, for "bridging the rap generation gap". If you want to read up on the critical effusion, the reviews are all posted on my website under the "Rebel Cell" link.

Another interesting development is that we've caught the attention of Andrew Potter, one of the co-authors of "The Rebel Sell", a book of cultural criticism which argues that rebellion (rather than conformity) is one of the main driving forces of modern capitalism. If you're interested in the book, I highly recommend it. Click here to check it out.

This book was definitely one of our inspirations when writing "The Rebel Cell", and I contacted Andrew Potter earlier this year to inform him of our plans. Well, in one of his recent blog entries for Maclean's Magazine Online he gave us a shout out, including the disclaimer: "I should emphasize that, apart from being extremely flattered, neither I nor Joe Heath had anything to do with the production — the success is Baba’s and Baba’s alone." The only comment on his blog entry so far is an indignant one from Dizraeli, claiming his due credit as a co-writer of the show. Click here to see it.

Although we are flattered by the attention, Dizraeli and I would like to emphasize that neither of us had anything to do with the writing of "The Rebel Sell" (which has been translated into three languages so far) — the success of the book is Andrew Potter's and Andrew Potter's alone.

Other interesting people whose attention we caught in Edinburgh were a film producer intent on making a feature-length movie of "The Rebel Cell", and a theatre producer intent on developing it into a full production in the West End of London next year. But those are only discussions at the moment, and I am not one to pin my hopes on mere words; hence, more of that anon.

And what's next? Well, in a few days I'm heading back to Vancouver for my brother's wedding (he met his beautiful bride at the Edinburgh Fringe last summer), and then in October I'll be back to England again for the Canterbury Festival and the Times Cheltenham Literature Festival. And then... USA here I come.

I found out just a few days ago that my application for a performer's visa to the USA has been accepted, so I am once again taking "The Rap Canterbury Tales" on the college campus touring circuit State-side in November and in early 2009. If any of you know of a college, high school, club, community centre, theatre, or other venue in the US that might be interested, you know where to find me (referrals make the world go round).

'Til next time,


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Reviewing the Reviewers

August 18 2008

Punters and Quarterbacks,

Greetings from the Edinburgh Fringe! As of today we have performed the Rebel Cell 19 times and we have just 8 shows left before it all packs up. I had planned to write earlier, but you know what Robbie Burns says about the best laid plans (they gang aft agley). Our plans for "The Rebel Cell" on the other hand have been coming to glorious fruition, with strong sales (only one total sell-out crowd so far though) and amazing reviews. So far we haven't gotten a review with less than four stars out of five and we are officially nominated for a Fringe First Award from the Scotsman, one of the major festival awards here for best new writing.

But instead of just trumpeting, I thought I'd turn my critical eye to the reviews being written and the degree to which they “got it”, and if so, managed to communicate it. Check out the highs and lows:

The Scotsman: 4 Stars
View Online

Highlight: "Like listening to a cross between Shakespeare and Mike Skinner...a joyful experience"

Lowlight: Hints at a mysterious alternate version of the review that's written all in rhyme, which we may never get to read! Hard to criticize this one; it's the best of the bunch.

Fest Magazine: 4 Stars

View Online

Highlight: “High-octane lyrical content...a cerebral, savvy production that explores our modern social contract with vivacity and zeal.”

Lowlight: It’s also a very cerebral review, which can be a tough one to quote from and use as a selling point when flyering, like: “hey, come see our show; it’s really...cerebral!” Overall this was probably the review that best matched the tone of the show itself though. 4 Stars
View Online

Highlight: “[A] brilliant dramatic final is clear that these performers are masters of their art.”

Lowlight: Mixing up a peace sign with a “V for Victory sign” which led to confusion, and the awkward rhyming lines in the last paragraph of the review, such as: “They compel, they impel, they use words well and they can spell.” We had to be careful not to quote any of these rhymes on our flyers, or else we would have had to accompany each flyer with a disclaimer, like “yeah, the show is in rhyme, but not like that...”

Three Weeks: 5 Stars
View Online

Highlight: “These two astounding lyricists transcend common perceptions of what hip-hop can achieve...Powerfully intelligent and awe-inspiringly eloquent, these guys are the saviors of hip-hop.”

Lowlight: It sounds pretty over-the-top, dubious even, but I have to admit I love the enthusiasm, and all of our flyers now say “Awe-inspiringly eloquent” on them, a very quotable accolade.

The List: 4 Stars
View Online

Highlight: “Extraordinary”

Lowlight: Grossly over-simplifies the premise of the show, but not by summarizing or being concise, just by stating baldly that the premise of the show is simple, which it most certainly is not. Also, the only remotely quotable phrase “extraordinary freestyle poetry” isn’t really usable, because the whole script is memorized as opposed to improvised, so it categorically isn’t freestyle. A review full of unfocussed and often mistaken criticism, which nonetheless gave us four stars, so who are we to complain?

The Stage: (no star system)
View Online

Highlight: “The Rebel Cell is a rare and inventive experiment...Both performers contribute great energy and panache...ingenious rhymes and brilliantly subtle delivery”

Lowlight: This is the only review so far to divide up our talents rather than discussing us as a harmonious whole. The “ingenious” quote actually applies only to me, and appears right after the observation that Dizraeli is a much better actor than I am. What is she trying to do, start a fight?

The Guardian: Feature Article (no stars)
View Online

Highlight: “Thrilling rap drama”

Lowlight: It actually calls the show a “Scattershot and occasionally thrilling rap drama” but that’s the beauty of strategic quotation. They’ve recently passed a new law here in Scotland that the quotations used for publicity have to be in keeping with the intended meaning of the review, so it is now illegal to take a review like this: "A tedious and clichéd piece of theatre that is played with incredible awkwardness by its cast. If it were well acted, it might have had a chance, but as it stands, this was a turkey.” And then put on your flyers: “Incredible!...Well acted!” What do you think, am I in danger of breaking the law?

Otherwise, we have just been performing the show every day, with additional spoken word gigs and hip-hop gigs at after-hours venues on an almost-daily basis. We have literally been averaging about twelve to fifteen gigs a week for the past two and half weeks, handing out flyers every day and meeting so many people and going to some really amazing shows, comedy, theatre, performances of every kind, as well as staying up until the wee hours most nights, ‘cause that’s what you do here. There is barely a week left to go now and of course I don’t want it to end, although I am completely exhausted. After this we will make our way to Ireland for the Electric Picnic Festival, and from there, well, more places too numerous to mention. The next time I write, it will be an Edinburgh retrospective, and I hope to have exciting news to share. Now to try to generate some...

If you want to set up a gig near you, either of the Rebel Cell or the Rap Canterbury Tales or the live hip-hop experience that is Mud Sun, just ask.

The new music video from the Rebel Cell is on youtube now:
View Online

All the best from the greatest festival in the world.


Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Rebel Cell - Free Music Download

July 28 2008

Hello People,

Thanks for all the great feedback on my Fly on the Wall episode, and now this one is about the next chapter. Yesterday Dizraeli and I performed our first show at the Edinburgh Fringe, the World Premier of "The Rebel Cell", to an audience of about 50 people at the Pleasance Dome, and the reaction was everything we could have hoped for. Exactly four years ago I premiered "The Rap Canterbury Tales" here and the reverberations are still being felt, not the least by me.

Well, The Rebel Cell, in my humble opinion, is better - it's funnier, crisper, more topical, and in many ways a perfect inheritor to the Lit-Hop mission I began with the Tales, although its content is more Orwellian than Chaucerian. I sincerely hope the reverberations of this project go even further; although, tragically, not everyone can make it to the Fringe!

Never fear. Just like with the Tales, we've recorded The Rebel Cell as a full-length rap storytelling album, and it is now available for free download from my website. Free?!? Yes, that seems to be the nature of the beast these days. Everyone with a bit of web savvy will be able to get it for free soon anyway, so why not follow in the footsteps of Radiohead and beat them to the punch? At least that way we can raise the buzz to a fever pitch and hopefully have a successful run at the world's biggest arts festival. So please, tell your friends!

Of course, if you want to order a physical CD in the mail that's still an option, and if you want to support us there is also the option to donate £5 ($10) to the cause of a couple of recording artists doing good things, but either way you can start listening to The Rebel Cell right now, no strings attached, just click on the "Rebel Cell" link to see download and streaming options.

All the best from the 'burgh,


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Fly on the Wall

July 23 2008

Hi Lights,

In the midst of all of the intended fanfare around “The Rebel Cell”, which premiers in Edinburgh in one week, with the corresponding album release coming up on the weekend, I thought I’d take a moment to share a quick Chaucer-related story, bizarre and hysterical as a Canterbury Tale. Yesterday I returned from performing at the New Chaucer Society conference in Swansea, Wales, where over three hundred of the world’s top medieval professors had congregated for four days to give papers and round-tables and plenary speeches on the subject of history’s favourite storyteller. I was scheduled to be the entertainment at the pub night at the end of the conference, but I asked if I could also come for the day to attend some of the lectures and get caught up on the state of global Chaucer studies. I was especially keen since I recognized many of the featured speakers from the bibliography of my Masters thesis, so I was looking forward to putting some faces to the quotations I used.

The first session I attended was a fierce debate about “New Formalism vs New Historicism”, the question of whether the study of literature is best guided by a close reading of each text as a semi-autonomous work of art, or whether it’s generally better to understand texts as a product of their historical and cultural circumstances. As with many debates, it was only the most radical applications of these two approaches that were really under attack, and both of the speakers actually seemed to fall somewhere in the middle, although they did a fine job of misrepresenting each other as ideologues.

The second session produced an incident that was so surreal I’m sure I will never forget it. It was a round-table discussion on “Teaching Chaucer” featuring short presentations from six professors (actually five professors and one high school teacher) who all shared their varied experiences with teaching The Canterbury Tales at their respective schools. I had quietly taken a seat near the back of the lecture hall before the session started and was curious to hear if any of what was said could be brought to bear on my own work in schools with the Rap Canterbury Tales. Little did I know that the intensity of the “New Formalism vs New Historicism” debate was shortly going to be eclipsed by the intensity of the “pro-Baba Brinkman vs anti-Baba Brinkman” debate.

I was mentioned probably half a dozen times in the various presentations, with the first speaker coming out strongly against me, cautioning against over-reliance on superficial pop-culture adaptations of Chaucer, from the TV dramatizations to parallels with South Park and Family Guy to the notorious Rap Canterbury Tales, which was now being put to use in a dangerously high number of classrooms. She argued that these students would be left with no memory of the actual curriculum material or of Chaucer himself, only the “cool stuff” it was compared to in class, like rap. Other professors came to my defense, saying they were skeptical at first about a white Canadian co-opting a black art form in order to disrupt the sanctity of medieval studies, but that after seeing the show performed and hearing about my work in inner city schools, they were convinced that I was a valuable resource for capturing the attention of young people who would otherwise never give Chaucer a chance. Still others argued that it was a bad idea to use the rap as an ice-breaker, because it would unduly influence the students’ interpretation of the Tales, but that they had found it effective as an incentive, as in: “at the end of the Chaucer section, if you study hard, you’ll get to hear the rap as a reward”.

As this debate transpired I kept sliding down lower in my seat trying not to be noticed, since they were clearly oblivious to my presence. Ever wondered what it would be like to be a fly on the wall at your own funeral? Well, as it turned out one person had noticed me coming in, and it happened to be the session moderator, Dr Helen Cooper from Cambridge, whose job was to open the floor for questions after the initial talks. So the first thing she said was: “A fascinating debate about modern vs traditional approaches to teaching Chaucer! Rapping and YouTube and Television, what exactly is their place in medieval studies? It may come as a surprise to many of you, but we are lucky enough to have Baba Brinkman in the room right now, and I’m hoping he’ll be willing to comment on the ongoing discussion of his work.” A hundred and fifty bespectacled professors’ heads swiveled around in surprise to stare directly at me as I gave them a nervous wave, “hi everybody”.

So I said: “It’s pretty surreal for me to hear you all debating the merits of my rap adaptation as a pedagogical tool, especially since that’s definitely not the purpose that I wrote it for. I’m happy that it’s found a home in the classroom and that some teachers have found it useful, but my original motivation when writing The Rap Canterbury Tales wasn’t to help you to teach Chaucer; it was to wrest Chaucer away from you people and bring him to a wider audience outside the classroom. That’s why I brought the show to the Edinburgh Festival and to dozens of other festivals around the world. I thought it was a tragedy that The Canterbury Tales was only being enjoyed by people with a medieval studies education, when the Tales have a universal appeal and deserve to have a universal audience. So, use the rap version at your own risk, and please judge it on its own merit after listening for yourself, instead of through the lens of your prejudice about rap, and keep in mind that from performing this show to tens of thousands of people around the world over the past five years, I am now the face of Chaucer, not you all. I think the tales should be studied because they are loved, not loved because they are studied, and I’m trying to make people love the Tales again. So come see the show tonight and you’ll see how I do that.”

That night I got to perform the rap in a crowded room full of the world’s most eminent (beer-drinking) Chaucerians, and from the response I got (both to my comments and to the performance) I have a feeling that the “anti-Baba Brinkman” faction has been all but vanquished from the field of Chaucer Studies. However, the “New Formalism vs New Historicism” debate rages on.

Yours from the trenches,


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Performance Therapy

July 17 2008

Two weeks is an unforgivable hiatus when it comes to blogging, not in a moral sense, but just for the fact that anyone who might have been paying attention prior to the sabbatical will likely have lost interest and found ample entertainment elsewhere, which for an entertainer is an unforgivable transgression. Loss of audience is loss of lifeblood.

Wait! I'm still here, and still putting everything I've got into this creative monster dubbed Lit-Hop. For the past two weeks I was holed up in Brighton, in a spare room at Dizraeli's house, in a frenzy of preparation, rehearsal, and recording. Several landmarks were passed, including the first performance of the Rebel Cell last Thursday at the Brighton Komedia, part of the "Hammer & Tongue" night at the Rising Styles Hip-hop Festival. The day before we were anxiously rehearsing, fine-tuning our scripts and music and lighting cues etc, feeling the mounting thrill and also worry around the first performance of a show we have worked on for about eight months now. Up until that point, we had only done run-throughs in private, in Dizraeli's living room, or in a borrowed rehearsal space about a pub in Brighton. The big questions still loomed: would it work? would it be funny? would people relate?

Thursday's show was pure catharsis in this regard. The house was packed, mostly with people we knew but also with many we didn't, a large space with well over a hundred people seated cabaret style with drinks at tables. Long story short, the show went down a storm, got huge laughs, and we had the overwhelming experience of greeting people in the foyer afterwards and having many spontaneous hugs and handshakes from people expressing a range of emotions about the experience, of which disdain was not one. Even the hip-hop heads were with it, which for us was the highest compliment we could have gotten.

The other thing Diz & I have been up to over the past few weeks is putting the finishing touches on the album version of the show, spending endless twelve-hour sessions holed up in the studio with Mr. Simmonds, the producer, engineer, and general mastermind of the musical side of "The Rebel Cell" LP. Amazingly, I only met Mr. Simmonds six weeks ago when I first arrived in England, although I had heard his beats on the Gentleman's Club myspace page and was well impressed. Well, Mr. Simmonds turned out to be a fan of the Rebel Cell concept as well, and agreed to do some beats for us, and then he did some more, and in the end he has produced eleven out of the twenty tracks on the album, including The Fallout, which is currently up on our Mud Sun myspace page for your listening pleasure.

Improbably, we now have a twenty-track album version of the Rebel Cell completed, recorded and produced entirely over the past six weeks, and all that remains now is the mixing and mastering and manufacture, which I have left in Mr. Simmonds' capable hands. Yesterday we finished the last track, arrangement and recording wise, and I struck out for London, packing my life once again into the suitcase for another round of touring of rural England.
The album will be released no later than the end of the month, perhaps with a launch date on the 30th to correspond with our first preview in Edinburgh. But as soon as I have a final master I will add it to the discography on my website so that people can experience this futuristic fantasy in all its glory.

Last night we performed The Rebel Cell for the second time only, and the show is definitely getting more fun to perform each go. We sold out the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden (no mean feat with a capacity of 50) and the response was, once again, quite intense. But then, the show is quite intense and very personal, allowing us both to go to places that sometimes don't even feel safe in conversation, never mind in front of a crowd. That's entertainment I guess, and it's also therapeutic. Sacred cows are better mocked than worshiped in my view, or perhaps both, but certainly not the latter on its own.

Speaking of sacred cows, I'm departing for Cambridge in a few hours to return to more familiar ground with the Rap Canterbury Tales. A program called "The Oxbridge Experience" brings American and International high school students to England to absorb British culture through a series of field trips, and before they embark on their pilgrimage to Canterbury the students will be treated to the Canadian bastardization of Chaucer's Tales. And in the news, Canterbury is currently a place where still more sacred cows are being debated, what with the Anglican flap over women bishops and homosexual bishops, naturally a turn of events that is morally opposed by misogynists and homophobes. To paraphrase Bill Hicks: "Women priests? Great, so now there are priests of both sexes I don't listen to, big deal! Show me a hermaphrodite priest with three titties and trunk, now there's a sermon I'll attend..." Amen.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Three Weeks Edinburgh Quick Quiz

July 3 2008

1. What is your 2008 show all about?

It's about politics, civil rights, capitalism, freedom of speech, democracy, tyranny, civil disobedience, revolution, terrorism, activism, dissidence, and everything important that most people take for granted.

2. Why should we come and see it?

Because it's wickedly clever and very funny, and because the dialogue is all done in an Eminem rapping style. It's like nothing else out there really. Attendance is guaranteed to make you smarter.

3. If your show was an olympic sport, what would it be and why?

It would be a poetry contest. Poetry was an Olympic sport in ancient Rome, with the winner receiving a laurel crown (hence "poet laureate"). This show is a battle of wits and world-views between two lyrical heavyweights.

4. What are you most looking forward to about this year's Festival?

Randomness, late night debauchery, surprisingly talented performers, the pleasure of being surrounded by people who are "up for it".

5. What are you least looking forward to about this year's Festival?

The hangover.

6. What advice would you have for someone trying to navigate the Fringe?

Don't bother with GPS, just use venues as landmarks and wander into everything.

7. What advice would you have for someone trying to survive the Fringe?

Don't worry too much about the aftermath while you're there, just be present every day and have a great time, then sort out what happened later.

8. Describe your show in three words

"8-Mile meets 1984"

The Rebel Cell
Pleasance Dome – 10Dome
1 Bristo Square, Edinburgh
30 Jul - 25 Aug, 5.40 pm (1 hr)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tawdry Travelogues

June 24 2008

Attention Seekers,

Name dropping is so tawdry, but so are most things that instantly capture our complete attention. Twenty minutes ago I bid goodnight to my dinner companions, a group of five including the legendary English actor and playwright Steven Berkoff, theatre dynamo and James Bond villain extraordinaire. Steven regaled us with tales of theatre productions in the 60's when he shared the stage with a 24 year old Ian McKellan, and I reciprocated with a command performance of The Wife of Bath's Tale. It turns out he's also directing a play at the Pleasance Dome in Edinburgh this year, so we'll soon be sharing a venue. When I told him that we'd be performing 27 consecutive shows in Edinburgh, he retorted: "I have a tour of Australia coming up in September with 36 consecutive performances, two hours per night!" Nothing like a little healthy competition among playwrights...

If you don't know who Steven Berkoff is, then you've never seen Beverly Hills Cop. Check him out:

I'm writing from the Lowdham Book festival in Nottinghamshire, where I have three days of performances and workshops in schools to keep me busy. Today I performed The Rap Canterbury Tales in five consecutive one-hour sessions starting at 9 a.m., for groups of students ranging in age from 11 to 18. Ouch, I can hear some of you wincing. Cool, I can hear others enthusing. Yeah, a bit of both, I concede. On the one hand, it leaves me completely wiped out, rapping for hours on end, repeating the same stories. On the other hand, every new audience brings new appreciation, and I get $1000 a day when I'm gigging.

The only thing more tawdry than name dropping is talking about how much money you're making, ugh. Whatever. Independently mounting a full production at the Edinburgh Fringe is an expensive endeavor, and this is how I'm financing it. Speaking of which, Dizraeli and I finished writing the script for the Rebel Cell the other day and have done a few test runs, smoothing out the kinks. We're also pressing ahead with the album version of the show, and we'll have advance copies ready in time for the Fringe, barring any unforeseen disasters. We recently completed the first track, "The Fallout", in which we break up like the Fugees in true dramatic fashion. The preview is now on myspace if you want to give it a listen:

Last week I was in Stoke-on-Trent, (which the locals call Choke-on-Stench), an industrial town not far from here that couldn't be more different (Lowdham's demographic is more than 70% millionaires, according to the cab driver). I spent three days performing at Staffordshire schools and teaching workshops to kids who definitely don't see outsiders much, lovely as they were. Some of them came up with very clever raps. Most bemusing was the fact that they mistook me for a celeb and had me signing dozens of autographs, which they seemed to think might be worth money someday. But I can't imagine even Eminem's autograph is worth anything on a scrap of paper (autographed large glossy photos go for about $5 on Ebay). If it were otherwise, he could just stay home scribbling his name all day instead of making records. Of course, no one is a celebrity except in so far as people mistake them for one.

Hold me back. In two days I depart for the notorious Glastonbury Festival, headlined by Jay-Z, Amy Winehouse, and Lenhard Cohen. I'm performing on three different stages over the course of the weekend, a mixed bag including both hip-hop gigs with Mud Sun and solo spoken word gigs. I've heard the legends for years and I'm finally going to see for myself, and under the exact circumstances I had most hoped to do so. After just over three weeks in England the cuts and scrapes on my limbs from a month of treeplanting have finally healed and I've completed my seasonal metamorphosis from a beast of burden into a purveyor of linguistic animal magic.

If you're curious about what our new Edinburgh show is going to be like, take a moment to read about "The Rebel Cell" at this link:

During the current run up to the Fringe (barely a month to go) is when the publicity drive kicks into gear, so any press contacts or suggestions for getting the word out are always appreciated.

Wish me luck at the mother of all music festivals!


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

CD Baby

June 17 2008

Email to me from Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby:

Hi Baba -

If this sounds like you, please let me know:

* - You've had a pretty good success doing music. (You've been a professional: made a living doing it.)

* - You enjoyed it. You'd recommend it to others.

* - You're ready to spend more paid time helping other musicians be successful, now.

I'm working on an idea for already-successful musicians to help the future-successful musicians of the world.

If you're interested in helping, please reply to my personal email and tell me your story about how those above three points apply to you.


Derek Sivers, president, CD Baby

My response:

Derek - you must spend your entire life answering emails. Okay, here's the brief version:

I have had pretty good success with music in that I have had no "day job" since 2003 and have been managing to pay my bills by performing and recording since then. The qualifier is: the music I do is rap, which some people don't consider music at all. I'm sure you're not one of those, but I do feel a bit odd identifying myself as a "musician" when I can't play any instrument nor can I carry a tune in a bucket as a singer. Like many others in my field I collaborate with producers who provide the instrumentals and I just recite my rhymes over the beat, and somehow the result is music. All I can say is thank god rap exists, because if it didn't there would be a world full of wordsmiths like myself who would have no part of the music business.

Other qualifiers/points of interest: I make a good portion of my living performing for students in schools and running workshops with young people teaching them the lyrical techniques that rappers use. It's a mixed bag for me of festivals, schools, clubs, colleges, etc, plus selling CDs after gigs and on the internet.

Final point of interest: my biggest success so far is "The Rap Canterbury Tales" which is an album-length adaptation of the 14th century stories by Geoffrey Chaucer. My story as a professional artist is unusual (unique actually) in this regard. I did a masters in English Literature, graduated in 2003, and immediately went flat-out as an entrepreneurial rap artist, touring my Rap Canterbury Tales performance around the world (on my own dollar at first and then later by invitation at festivals, colleges, etc) while recording and independently releasing my own highly literary brand of rap, which I call "Lit-Hop" (also the title of my third album). I recently started a record label and signed some other artists and released their music etc, so things are moving, although it's a boom and bust life. I'm currently on tour in the UK, and in ten days I'll be playing the Glastonbury Festival.

Some artists/entrepreneurs/musicians try to compete in a saturated market by doing what everyone else is doing, just better, faster, stronger, harder (to paraphrase Kanye). Me, I have been managing to avoid competition by literally inventing my own genre and carving out my own niche. Of course, I am aware that avoiding competition is just another competitive strategy, but it is a strategy that has so far served me well, and if my insight or consultation could help others succeed in the same way, then I'd be happy to sell that service.

If you want to know more about me or my projects, the website is:

All the best from Stoke-on-Trent, England,

Baba Brinkman

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Curtain

June 13 2008

This is my favorite time. Last night Dizraeli and I finished the script for the Rebel Cell, the first draft at least, and gave it our first test-reading to clock the time and flow: 51 minutes. This is my favorite time because he and I are agreed that it's some of our best work, cutting edge and funny, and very hard hitting, but at this juncture only he and I have been exposed to it. Actually that's not entirely true. We're also working on recording the show into a storytelling album along the lines of the Rap Canterbury Tales, and have the first track nearly finished. So a few close friends have heard the rough version of that one song, called "The Fallout". I wish I could post it for everyone to listen to already, but that will have to wait a few days. I remember when I finished writing my rap version of the Miller's Tale, I read it over to myself and thought "this is going to make a lot of people laugh and a lot of people look at both rap and Chaucer differently" and I remember feeling the excitement of knowing that it had yet to be unveiled. It's the inventor's thrill before he pulls the curtain on his new gizmo. Well, I think the Rebel Cell is going to make a lot of people laugh and also make them think about politics differently, both how things can change and also what we ought to appreciate that we already have. Of course, it may not get as much mileage as the Canterbury Tales has, but then again it might get more. That's part of the excitement.

Yesterday I also performed my first gigs of this UK tour, at a couple of High Schools in Nottingham. It was my job to introduce the students to Chaucer using the rap tales as a hook, and also to teach them how to rap in creative writing workshops afterwards. These kids were described by one of the teachers as having come from "households in the poorest 5 percent of English society", but when it came to writing rhymes they had some real talent, and some clever couplets, like: "I catch you hangin' out late nights at Vic Centre / Your mum's so old she's got dementia." They also had a lot to say about drugs and knife crime and sex in their lyrics, but luckily it's not my job to censor them, just to channel their commentary into a creative context. Some of them did this by taking the piss out of their teachers as well, which the teachers luckily had a pretty good sense of humour about. My favourite line was: "Mr Hobbs never comes to school with matching socks / Probably because his sock drawer is full of hatching frogs".

Now I'm back in Brighton for the weekend, set to work on the show and get some recording done with two producers here who have signed on to provide beats for the Rebel Cell album. That's one thing I love about Brighton: high concentration of talent, low concentration of projects with deadlines. Soon I'll have demos for curious ears, but for now I get to smile behind the curtain, and wait.

Monday, June 2, 2008


June 1 2008

Ironies abound. Back in treeplanting camp in Merritt, the river was rising throughout May with the spring runoff and some planters had to move their tents because the ground flooded. The river was swollen and rough and brown, and at one point it ran onto a sandbar in front of my tent, so that I had water on all sides, though the tent was high and dry. Then I left for England, with the ambitious plan to depart on May 29th, arrive at 6 a.m. on the 30th, dump my bags in London, and head straight to the Sunrise Celebration Music Festival in Somerset, with the first Mud Sun performance schedule for that night at 9 p.m. But when I arrived at Heathrow Friday morning, there was a message waiting for me that the Sunrise Celebration was canceled due to flooding! The river had jumped its banks, apparently, and the whole field was underwater. My agent and Sunrise organizer, Yasmin, has been stranded there evacuating people and equipment over the weekend, and I have been stranded somewhere a bit less isolated: London.

Luckily a friend loaned me his flat for the weekend while he's out of town, so for the past few days I've just been catching up on correspondence and preparation for Edinburgh, in the form of both promotions and compositions. The script for "The Rebel Cell" is about 80% finished, and tomorrow I head to Brighton to meet up with Dizraeli and get to the final parts, and then the polishing. I've also been busy customizing our Pleasance page, which you can view at this link:

Today I met up with a friend and took in Portobello market in West London, had bangers and mash for lunch, and mingled with the dazed clubbers still bouncing from the night before. Admittedly, I've been a bit dazed myself the last few days, not so much from jet lag or culture shock as from the change of daily routine, from driving trucks and planting trees and working within a strict daily routine to suddenly having a whole weekend with no plans, just a city to explore and a computer full of tasks to attend to. Soon my touring schedule gets busier, but for the next few weeks job one is to get the show finished and the soundtrack arrangement started, and maybe record some of it in the form of sneak-preview tracks. I'm just trying to enjoy the calm before the storm, while in Somerset, they're mopping up its aftermath. Here's to the Sunrise Celebration, may it come back in all it's glory next year...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Summer of Mud and Sun

May 29 2008

Friends and Neighbours,

With great fanfare and measured pride I announce the launch of my new website. I built it myself over the last few months using Dreamweaver (self-taught). New features include: an mp3 player that allows streaming of all of my albums, built-in google calendar link to keep track of upcoming gigs, the complete introduction to my book in easily readable form, and a blog feed on the front page which I will try to update more often than I send these magical group missives out.

Now it's time for the great Spring migration, which goes a little something like this:

A month ago I ended my winter of hibernation in Vancouver with a one-month stint in treeplanting camp, a brief return to the lifestyle I abandoned four years ago for the path of the troubadour. It was bliss, actually.

On Sunday I was planting trees on a steep 45 degree slope overlooking glacier mountains outside of Merritt BC, a very clear and breezy day. I dislodged a large rock and watched it careen down the mountainside gaining speed, throwing up broken branches and sticks as it went. Primitive pleasure.

On Sunday night we had the night off party in treeplanting camp, with a wrestling theme, complete with a wrestling ring and spandex-clad planters doused in canola oil struggling to pin each other. I fought Steve and made him tap out after three exhausting rounds, waking up the next morning to find my feet and knees were badly scraped from the sand on the tarp that formed the makeshift ring. A fine send off for the rapping bushman.

Tuesday I flew to Ottawa, and for the past few days I've been visiting my mom here, taking in the intricacies of Canadian Parliamentary Democracy. Yesterday I observed question period in the House of Commons from the Opposition Gallery (all about the Bernier resignation scandal), then afterwards we had dinner with Michael Ignatieff. Many of you will have heard the news, but for those who haven't, my mother was elected as the MP for Vancouver Quadra back in March. In this matter my pride is less measured. I had a great conversation with Ken Dryden last night about polysyllabic rhyme.

In a few hours I will board a plane for London England for the next round of touring in the UK, a Summer festival tour with my newly-formed hip-hop group Mud Sun. Thanks to the strength of our first record, we have been invited to perform at some great music festivals, including Glastonbury (which I have heard is already a mud/sun mecca). Check out the recent review of our album:

In August Dizraeli and I will bring our new show "The Rebel Cell" to the Pleasance Dome at the Edinburgh Fringe, my fourth trip to Edinburgh but the first time doing something other than the ever-popular Rap Canterbury Tales. I'll tell you more about the new show later, but for now it's time for my now-familiar plea for assistance.

We need accommodation in Edinburgh for the month of August and haven't been able to find an affordable place yet, so if any of you know of someone in Edinburgh who has a flat for rent, please let me know. I am also in the process of organizing a tour of the USA for November, and I'm open to perform anywhere there is interest.

In the meantime, I look forward to seeing some of you soon in the UK. This is more of an informative than an expressive letter I know, but I have a plane to catch and much information to convey.

Good things to you all,


Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Elements

May 17 2008

As it turns out, I didn't get integrated into another crew after the training was finished, instead I was given a crew of my own, promoted so to speak, so now I am a foreman. Inevitable cries of "nepotism" must be laid to rest by the fact that I have more experience than any other planter out here except my brother, who is the supervisor. Besides, nepotism is for nephews. This is fraternalism. How did I plant for ten years and never get a chance to crew-boss? Lack of aptitude some might snidely offer, but it was also a case of seniority. On my former crew, the average number of years experience was somewhere around fifteen, which put me behind most of my co-workers in line for a promotion. On this crew, the average is probably closer to fifteen weeks experience, considering the fact that half are greeners, so I suddenly find myself a perch among guppies.

Well, aptitude comes with experience, and I am gaining it daily. Besides a few setbacks, a forgotten map one day, a cache of trees left on the block another day, things have generally been running pretty smoothly on Baba's crew. Last week we got to the block at 8:15 a.m. to find it buried under two inches of fresh snow. Another crew working up the same road drove by saying they were heading back to town to drink beer and have some of the fun that snow days usually entail. I'd like to say I cracked the whip, but actually I just polled the crew and no one seemed to want to flounder around in the snow, so we started driving back down the mountain. But half a km from the block one of the planters ventured the opinion that we should have given it a try, so I promptly hit the breaks and turned around and we went for it. I wasn't about to force anyone to work, but I didn't want to take away the option either. We screefed the snow away and planted in it all morning, fingers frozen, and by the afternoon it had completely melted away.

The next day there was snow in the air instead of on the ground, nine hours of horizontal sleet, freezing wind and rain, and we worked through that too. Treeplanting has always carried something of a mythological quality for me, a feeling of participating in something epic. It truly pits the human body and strength of will against the elements, constantly daring you to fold. It's the closest I and any of my friends have come to serving in the army. Everything hurts, you spend much of your day questioning your own sanity for even signing up, and yet you know on some level that you're fighting the good fight, and that you will let people down if give less than your best, or quit (especially if you have dependents or a mortgage). The first greener quit a few days ago, because he said he felt he wasn't contributing, that he was constantly frustrated. The job isn't for everyone I guess.

My friend commented on the block the other day that there are two kinds of fast planters: the first are workaholic immigrants and francophones whose mentality is "we are here to earn", and the second are middle class white boys from the suburbs who have something to prove about their work ethic. I guess I fall into the second category, and so what? There is pride to be taken in choosing a harder path when easier ones are available, just to discover what you are capable of. I think that same psychology lies behind the desire of so many suburban white kids to be rappers, myself included. It's probably the least likely vocation you could choose in terms of success rate, but what else do you expect from such a defiant generation? Both treeplanting and rap give you skills and resilience that transfer to other things, once the grind starts to get you down, and both of them are there for you if you decide to dive in again. In the past I've been paid a lot better for performing than I have for treeplanting, but not nearly as consistently. Four years earning a living only from art is still pretty rare. This is me rationalizing why I'm back at work instead of touring like an itinerant rock star, or a Kerouac type, but I'll be back to that lifestyle soon enough.

Day three of last shift was blazing hot all day, on a block with big rock piles and frozen ground and snow patches to dig through and plant around. Frustration is epitomized by trying to plant trees in a big pile of soft-looking dirt that is frozen solid. Whenever I passed a snow patch, I'd scoop some of the slushy crystals into my hat to keep my head cool while I was working. The part of the block we were planting was a long hike to the back and cut off from the front by a wildlife tree patch left in the middle of the clear-cut, so that it was shaped like a big hourglass above the road. We stayed until almost six pm to finish that upper piece, just to save the next crew the hassle of having to walk over our planted trees to get to the unplanted ground at the back. Then we loaded the remaining trees and garbage into our bags and into boxes on our shoulders and hiked everything out, leaving no sign of the cache, because the quad (ATV) had broken down, fighting the good fight, karma yoga, all that feel-good stuff. After work I got the whole crew a beer for their efforts, feeling like Andy Dufresne.

Ten days to go until I depart for England and the next round of touring, and a return to relative solitude. How do I feel about this? I feel the same way that I feel about many important things, in my quintessentially Canadian way. How do I feel about vegetarianism, about global warming, about the seal hunt, about globalization? I feel a deep and passionate ambivalence.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Training Days

May 10 2008

Yesterday I started a new phase of this job: training greeners. This contract has a dozen rookies out of thirty planters, and yesterday I took them out into a fill plant for some planting boot camp. I've done this for so many years, it's easy to forget how hard it was when I started, how awkward the shovel felt in my hand and how confusing it was to try to work the block effectively.

I first went out treeplanting when I was fifteen year old, to a contract in 100 Mile House in central BC. On my first day I planted 250 trees, unable to believe that some people could actually love this job. 250 trees at 22 cents each isn't exactly a windfall. But I loved the lifestyle from the beginning, sleeping in a tent and being outdoors and sharing your daily activities with a tribe of people who quickly become your friends. I didn't break 1000 trees in one day until my second summer contract, this time near Whitecourt Alberta, and didn't break 2000 trees a day until my third at age seventeen in Clearwater, BC. My personal best was 4400 in one day, on the same contract near Whitecourt about five years later. On the second day out here in Merritt this year I planted 3000 trees in the furrows, priced at 13 cents per tree. It's good pay for good work, once you get the hang of it.

Now the greeners are out there figuring it out stroke by stroke, how to read the ground, find the plantable spots, identify the good naturals and space off of them, and of course how to get those trees into the ground quickly, while still maintaining quality. Some of them pick it up easily, a few of them planting 700-800 already on their second day. For the others who are still struggling with it, I remind them of how I started out, and show them the techniques again.

Now it's late, most of the camp is already in bed, and my truck is loaded with boxes of fir and pine trees, ready for the drive to work in the morning. Tomorrow training is officially ended and the rookies will be integrated into the crews of experienced planters, myself included. Give them water wings, teach them a few strokes, and get them to jump in the pool. Some will achieve fluid motion, while others will flounder. But you don't have to become a professional to appreciate the experience.

I'm having fun out here, I have to admit.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


May 5 2008

I'm sitting on the sidewalk outside the internet cafe in Merritt, BC. The place is closed, but its signal is still broadcasting and I have half an hour left on my laptop battery, so what the hell. Today was day one of my month-long mini-season and return to the treeplanting life. The camp is in a great location, normally the campground of the Merritt Mountain Music Festival, now dormant save the planters who just moved in. My tent is on a sandbar a stone's throw from the bank of the river. In my mind there is no better sound to fall asleep to, but the days are not quite so tranquil. Sweat and dirt and frozen ground that shovels cannot penetrate were the order of day one. Still, I managed to put in 1600 seedlings even working on three different blocks, and the nuances of the job have not escaped me in my four-year hiatus. What has escaped me is my physical fitness, ouch.

I always had a bad habit of planting on auto-pilot while letting my mind wander, reciting or composing lyrics in my head or playing out scenarios, daydreams, plots and schemes. Today I practiced focusing on my breathing and on the motions required to put each tree into the ground with minimum effort. I recently finished reading Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth", which was sometimes irritatingly nebulous, but it also contained some truly useful tips and techniques for focusing and being present, even with difficult experiences.

It's also hard not to drift into the future. At the end of May I'll fly this coop and proceed directly to the Sunrise Celebration in Western England. The plane will land at Heathrow at 6 a.m., and I'll make my way to Somerset directly, where I'm performing with Mud Sun (for the first time!) that same night.

For now though, my ride is leaving shortly to take me back to camp, and tomorrow we have a massive gravy block, all furrows (some still frozen). From the cool breezes of Merritt at night, salut.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Back to the Bush

May 1 2008

The day after tomorrow I'll be loading my things into a crewcab truck and driving to Merritt, B.C. to go treeplanting for the month of May. Except for a few short visits of a few days, I haven't been treeplanting since 2003, but before that it was my summer job, the perfect counterpoint to the life of a full-time student. Every spring was the same, finishing up exams and essays in April, packing my things into a truck, and driving into the mountains for a summer of living in a tent and working the land. Sounds romantic doesn't it? Well, it definitely has its moments, but they are mingled amongst the aches and pains and generally grueling physical work. Hmm, my duality is revealed. Last time I treeplanted a full season in 2003 I remember feeling like I had to escape the job or I would be ground down completely by it. I planted for ten years, starting when I was 15, and I loved the job unconditionally for most of my tenure. It was just in the last year or two that I started feeling strongly like I had to get out of it.

But over the past four and half years since my early retirement from the planting scene, I've come to romanticize it more and more, remembering the freedom of leaving the city swarm behind and experiencing the wilderness as a daily presence, not just a weekend poultice. Also, the hurt subsides once the body has acclimatized, and as a lifestyle it has a lot to recommend it, good food, good pay, good people, good karma, good times, and best of all, no stress. In camp, you're responsibilities are clear day by day, working hard and getting along with your co-workers, but there isn't room for a mess of distractions under those conditions. I've been self-employed since 2004 and I don't think I've rested my mind for more than a day or two since taking that leap into the abyss, boarding that raft off the island, or whatever metaphor you prefer.

This year my brother graduated to a full-blown supervisor and got his own contract, and he's been filling his crew list with some pretty special, creative people. I couldn't resist, nor could I afford to. Performing rap and selling CDs and books has been my sole source of income for over four years now, but it's a boom and bust existence, and times are lean, especially in the winter, and in this city. At the end of May I'm heading back over to England for another tour, and I need a cash infusion to get me there. So my mission is clear for the coming month, plant hard, return my mindstate to a liberated existence as opposed to a harrowed one, and emerge ready to bring that energy to the stage. Oh yes, and don't forget to bring back some good stories to tell.