The Land and People of the Salton Sea

Salton Sea

 

Salvation Mountain and the Slab City community exemplify a specific breed of people out of time  in this modern world.  Small, ghost-like towns litter the 111 along the Salton Sea coast.  Aside from these few areas of clustered communities, the land is empty and untouched.  The Salton Sea, the aesthetic highlight in otherwise decrepit communities, shimmers in the sun amid the vast desert plains and mountains.  Saltier than the Pacific, the Salton Sea has existed in it’s current state for 100 years.  It was formed because of careless treatment of the flooding Colorado River that caused a huge mass of water to gather in this area of the low desert by Indio.  The Salton Sea is one of the few, if not the only, man-made mistake visible from outer space.  It’s fish-bone littered beach may be misleading, because the mistake has actually fostered life for fish and birds.  Like many of the strange charms of the Mojave that man has provided, it exists in isolation.  The area is home to cultural hot-spots such as Salvation Mountain and Slab City.  These places, worthy of visit by any nomad or nature reveler, are so out of place and time that they could not be found unless searched for.  Much like many of the sprawling cities along the 111, these gems are self-contained.  The seemingly illogical self-reliance of the people in the area appears willful rather than coincidental or circumstantial.  Here at Slab City, man willfully deprives himself of material comfort and even some of the simple pleasures of civilization like plumbing so that he can better connect with the land as his ancient ancestors once did.  The people treat the land as nomads would.  They don’t pay rent, but have rather set up an immobile camp that requires a type of self reliance that is a rare find in our constantly shrinking world.

Get Down with S. African Art II

The Flamjangled Tea Party (March 18-20, 2011)

 
One Thursday night, my friend Matt asked me if I wanted to go to a music festival with him called the Flamjangled Tea Party.  My response?  “You had me at Flamjangled.”  The following morning we ate some cheesy eggs and took off at 10 A.M.  Our journey was lengthy and wrought with complications.  We transferred three times to different minibuses, from Rondebosch to Cape Town to Belville to Durbanville.  At one point we were packed like sardines with 23 people in one minibus (with only 15 seats)!  Upon our arrival in Durbanville, we were perplexed as to how we would find the remote Contermanskloof wine farm on which Flamjangled was being held.  After speaking with a number of drivers relaxing around the taxi rank, we finally found one willing to escort us on the next leg of our journey.  Finding this secluded farm was not easy, but it was worth the difficulty.  Some say the journey’s more important than the destination.  I encourage you to make that journey a creative one.

The grounds were surrounded by a mass of tents and trailers.  Past this circumference we entered a little gypsy-merchant village, if you will.  There were food kiosks: gourmet crepes, boerwors rolls (the SA streetfood specialty), lamb sandwiches, ice cream and more.

There was a top hat store managed by a magician/philosopher who recited a series of treatises on the subject of mirth.  He wasn’t the only one speaking in riddles that weekend.

If you didn’t come already dressed as a madhatter, the costume collective provided festival-goers with proper embellishment for their attire—one could become a fairy, an angel, a devil, a ladybug, a clown.  Or combine articles to become robotsharkninjajanitorbaby!  The Best-Dressed contest on Saturday featured the most outstanding of abnormally large kitty cats, milkmaids, elephant operators, and whatthef@#$ was that?s.

In the main circle there stood the stage, a stocked bar, and grandiose decorations.  The theme was colorfulosity and fantasticism, a brew of circus revelry, Alice and Wonderland, and hippy-flower-love sure to make you grin and question your sanity.

Beyond this circle was a small dam.  Adults waded into the water to cool off while the kids splashed around and wrestled on the inflatable water castles.  The children were plentiful at the festival.  For them this strange place was a fantasty-fun-land where they could run free from their parents to embark on magical adventures.  They provided a cheerful atmosphere and inspired a welcomed childish whimsy in all their seniors.

Descend the hill bordering the lake and you found the second stage where “trance parties” (as they call electro dance parties/mini-raves in SA) were held afterhours.  The lights in this tented stage were vivid…psychadelic.  My world swirled in a harlequin daze as I practiced a dragonfly dance to the gypsy techno beats.  At one point a purple-wigged girl performed an old-fashioned striptease on stage.  Sexy and fun!  These trance parties lasted until the early morning.

In addition to this gypsy techno/trance—whatever you want to call the “Papa Americano” style—the music encompassed many genres: dub-reggae, rock, folk, traditional African jams, experimental electro, etc.  The dancing was characteristically of the gypsy/hippie/tribal style. Saturday night was the “fabulous Foxtrot Fandango,” in which a renowned Dixieland jazz band called the Dixie Swingers performed and two professional dancers taught the crowd the Foxtrot.  It was beautiful to see couples and strangers alike drop their reservations to try something new and have a good time.

My favorite performance, however, was by the Italian duo of Francesca and Ricardo.  This music is different.  This music is amazing. Ricardo is a mastermind of synthesizers, the didgeridoo, hand percussion, and drum machines (his main drum machine happens to be a very primitive children’s toy!).  Francesca sings and manipulates her vocals with a delay/effects pedal.  While the songs in their set might have basic, predetermined structure, melodies, and lyrics, every time they evolve differently.  This duo is always improvising; they even make a conscious attempt to incorporate accidents into their music.  It is clear that their art is drawn from the soul.

For Matt and me, these three days were something out of this world.  Both nights we slept out in the open air on a blanket and woke up thirsty for more flamjanglejuice.  Never had we experienced something like this.  In fact, beforehand I wasn’t sure such a thing existed.  It was a music and art festival but also a party, a wonderland, a fairytell, a utopia for a society of modern hippies/intellectuals/jesters/lovers of life.  It was a world that satisfied anyone who wanted to enjoy the more fantastical and humorous side of life.  Not a sliver of ill feeling penetrated the festival’s friendly force field.  The Flamjangled website describes it as the following: “a festival, outdoors, different, eclectic, artistic, humorous, glittering, freaky, funky, jiving, up-beat, jazzy, swinging, sizzling, folksy, rock n rollin’, wonderful, gentle, silly, naughty and great.”  Yet, I feel that no real words capture its essence.  Only fanciful ones.  Flamjangled is a flamjangly paradosium, wackallacky gymnastelation, livitupitus hugfluppy, gagspladgious tumblumblum!!!

This is what it is all about—living life creatively.

 

Check out a full set list and more at:
http://www.theteaparty.co.za/why/

Check out Francesca and Ricardo. Their group is currently called Legoloop and Ricardo’s solo name is TribalNeed.
At Flamjangled:

Tribalneed @ The Assembly in Cape Town:

Francesca and Riccardo at Flamjangled

 
Gianni Abbott
May 11, 2011

Get Down with S. African Art

I have been living in Cape Town, South Africa since January 25th, 2011, doing a semester abroad at University of Cape Town.  I chose Cape Town for two simple reasons: 1) I wanted to visit the continent of Africa and 2) I heard that the Cape Town culture was rich in the arts.  To my great satisfaction, Cape Town isoverflowing with creativity.  Hearing the acrobatics of vocalists and instrumentalists spilling out of UCT’s College of Music, it was immediately obvious to me that Cape Town is a magnet for the talented artists of South Africa and other nations.  In this series of blogs I will chronicle my many engagements with the arts in South Africa, sharing the magic with all of our readers and imparting some of my beliefs about art.

 

1)    Green Dolphin Restaurant and Bar

 

Upon my arrival, one of the first questions I posed to locals was “where can I find live jazz?”  The unanimous answer was Green Dolphin.  The Green Dolphin website really captures the essence of the establishment: “The Green Dolphin is Cape Town’s only premier Jazz restaurant that is dedicated to the preservation of Jazz.” Since 1990 this restaurant/bar/jazz venue has catered to the most faithful music lovers of Cape Town but most importantly, to up-and-coming musicians looking for exposure and a space to explore and hone their skills.  Its location on the V & A Waterfront is ideal.  Every night you will find the area thriving with the same inviting energy.  It bustles with swarming bar-goers and couples linked at the elbow on romantic dinner dates.  The Green Dolphin is no exception to the energy.  The intimate atmosphere is reminiscent of the smoky Speakeasy club, but modernized and with heightened class.  The schedule of performers is organized such that, come Monday to Wednesday and you’ll find small crowds and trios—or, come Thursday to Sunday and you will join in the thrilling scene of rowdy parties, hungry for the specialized performers: vocal ensembles, avant-garde groups, big bands, etc.  Whichever day you go, you are assuredquality jazz. Green Dolphin prides in their relentless showcasing of jazz musicians for over 7000 consecutive nights!

My experience at Green Dolphin attests to its greatness.  Before the main act went on I indulged in tapas and cocktails, both of which were exquisite.  The jazz hit the spot as well: the group performing was an amalgam of young student musicians and seasoned veterans who were absolutely genius.  I walked away satiated with my jazz fix and certain I would return soon.

A couple weeks later, however, I read in a local newspaper of Green Dolphin’s imminent closure. Naturally, citizens and musicians citywide were disheartened with the news.  Despite the disappointment we feel from the disappearance of such a historic music venue, I must say this: Green Dolphin, from all who ever had the privilege of experiencing your greatness, THANK YOU.  You have provided the city with an invaluable service.  Here at Boijon we take after such establishments as Green Dolphin by exposing artists to the world, promoting them, and showering them with both genuine critique and genuine praise.

 

Check out the Green Dolphin website:
http://www.green-dolphin.co.za/

 

Gianni Abbott
May 10, 2011