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: http://www.stevenberkoff.com

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: http://www.myspace.com/mudsun

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: http://www.babasword.com/press/Rebel-Cell-PR.pdf

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: www.babasword.com

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: http://www.pleasancepages.co.uk/the_rebel_cell

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...