This morning I opened my computer only to watch a black man, Mercutio Southall, wearing a ‘Black Lives Matter’ T shirt being punched, kicked, choked and racially abused before being forcefully evicted from a Republican gathering in Alabama to the chant of “All lives matter.”. The guest speaker, Donald Trump – contender for the Republican Presidential nomination – was heard to say into the mic, ” Get ’em the hell outta here…”. He followed that up later with a statements to the media that “…maybe he should have been roughed up… ” before tweeting a graphic containing some inflammatory, racially divisive crime statistics.

National Book Award Winner!

National Book AAward Winner!

It’s in this context that I’d like to recommend Ta-Mehisi Coate’s award winning ‘Between The World And Me’. Written in the post Trayvon Martin/Eric Garner / Ferguson era, this 152 page letter to his adolescent son is dedicated to his Howard University friend Prince Jones who was murdered by a undercover African American police officer.

‘Between The World And Me’ is nor a rant. This is a quiet, deeply thoughtful reflection on his own life growing up in the hood in Baltimore with parents who were Black Panther Party activists; his arrival at “Mecca” – Howard University to the sound of A Tribe Called Quest; the move to New York City and the birth of his son. There are many memorable moments on that journey. He takes in a trip to the Petersburg Battlefield to reflect on an American Civil war that killed 600,00 people and ended slavery.He travels out of the USA for the first time and lands in Paris. He gets into a potentially incendiary situation when he berates a woman who pushes his 5 year old son out of the way as they leave the cinema.

Ta-Nehisi Coates & son

Ta-Nehisi Coates & son

This book gives the reader a fleeting insight into what it’s like to inhabit a black body in the United States Of America and what strategies one evolves in order to live within it. As events in the US continue to unfold and degenerate, the words in this book keep coming back to me. As Toni Morrison declares of ‘Between The World And Me’ – “This is required reading.”

Posted in Deep stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

LA CLAVE: Gilles Peterson Goes In Search Of Deep Cuban Rumba

rumba session1

Last night I found myself in a packed ICA cinema soaking up the UK premier of the ‘HAVANA CLUB RUMBA SESSIONS… LA CLAVE’ – an invigorating and enlightening investigation into the heart and soul of Cuban culture – RUMBA! – by globetrotting DJ/broadcaster Gilles Peterson and filmmakers Charlie Inman and Ben Holman.

Gilles is no stranger to Cuban culture. Over the past six years, through his Brownswood set up, he’s been working with Havana Cultura on an array of experimental projects with mostly new generation artists like mesmerising young vocalist Dayme Arocena. This film project is no less radical and over 6 parts – which will go on-line separately – we encounter the singers, the dancers, the drummers and get to meet the masters of the tradition alongside the youth who are shaping that tradition to new times.

Gilles defines rumba as a combination of “…music, mind, rhythm, party, thought and comedy…”. Inevitably he is drawn to fiery, spontaneous, streetwise energy of rumba and along with Dayme Arocena and London based Omo Ana and Babalawo, Ade Egun (Crispin Robinson), he sets off on a mission to explore the rhythms of guaguancó, yambú and columbia and their connection to the Africa religions that survived the Middle Passage – Abakuà, Palo and Santería.

Rumba is at the crossroads between African and European musical traditions. Hearing the vocals of Ruben Bulnes, which have a strong Moorish/flamenco flavour, connect with the African polyrhythms of the the congas and cajons – all connected by the ever-present clave – sends chills up the spine. Most people agree that raw, undiluted rumba doesn’t translate well in the recording studio and it’s fascinating to watch, in the documentary, Dayme combining her own version of ‘Close To You’ with rumba ensemble Osain del Monte.

For me, the global impact of rumba has been largely subliminal. We’ve had various experimental and deep offerings from the inimitable Kip Hanrahan. On the house music tip it’s been DJ/producers like Joe Claussell, Osunlade and Louis Vega who have combined their Latin roots and their Santero beliefs with club music to produce something fresh and unique. The world of salsa and timba aside, the long standing impact of rumba on jazz continues to evolve beyond the collaborations of musicians like David Amram, Herbie Mann or Dizzy Gillespie with master drummers like Los Papines, Potato Valdes, Mongo Santamaria, Daniel Ponce and Chano Pozo.



While we are on Chano Pozo there’s a classic moment in the film when Gilles and the crew arrive in Matanzas in search of the nephew of the legendary Esteban ‘Chacha’Vega Baccalao and his original set of consecrated Batá drums only to discover that Chano had also visited the house to pay his respects to the drums.

“What we found in there was like the equivalent of finding the holy grail in a little side street in Matanzas,” reflects Gilles. “That was quite an incredible moment for us to be able to experience the first set of Bata drums made in Cuba, that was a really deep moment.”

Another deep and rare moment in ‘La Clave’ was the filming of the Abakua elders testing each other in song and stories over some heavy rhythms and a few rums on the rooftop of a Havana building.

‘…La Clave’ clearly connects the dances to the music and shows the dance moves are not random individual interpretations of what the the drummers are playing. It is a physical conversation between men and women. It is an art passed down through generations and kept alive within the community. It exists in the conservatoire and thrives and evolves on the street. Maybe it’s because the implicit language of rumba as a dance which continues to thrive in Havana’s working class neighbourhoods is not understood outside Cuba that rumba remains too complex for a global generation of clubbers schooled on 4 to the floor or ballroom people devoted to “Strictly…”

daymeDayme’s role is interesting in the film. In the Q&A after the film she raised the painful issue of the lost film-card which had the takes of a new generation of young women challenging the machismo that continues to dominate rumba. It was hinted that another chapter was indeed warranted and may happen. Her involvement in the film also highlighted for her, as a 22 year old Cuban artist, her own relationship to the deep traditions of rumba.

“Knowing that people outside of my country are receiving what is going on in Cuba from my perspective is a great responsibility but at the same time a beautiful task,” she explains. “I feel bad because after this investigation I realised that I didn’t know even half of the things that being a Cuban one should know. The song [on the album] that says get to know Cuba first and abroad later on is very valid. I’ve been travelling around the world and didn’t even know what is truly my rumba, my Cuban music.”

Cuba’s music industry, which lacks the necessary resources to develop and support a new generation artists, has historically been damaged by the US embargo but the announcements by presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama to move toward normalising relations potentially signals the wind of change. However, as films like ‘HAVANA CLUB RUMBA SESSIONS… LA CLAVE’ find a global following on the social networks we have to hope that a whole range of brand new possibilities arise.

Watch out for each chapter arriving on the web. If it comes to a cinema near you don’t hesitate… just check it. And then start seeking out the music of those rumba dons who appear in the film.

Rumberos 2

NEXT SHOWING – 2nd FEB @ THE ICA – tickets on sale soon!

Posted in Deep stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Warriors International + AACM – Celebrating 50 years of GREAT BLACK MUSIC & Chicago’s Avante Garde


This Saturday, November 14th, as part of the London Jazz Festival, Warriors International celebrate 50 years of the the AACM with their ‘London – Chicago Vibration’ featuring Orphy Robinson’s SPonTANeoUS CoSMic RawXtra ensemble.

Having been a devotee of the music produced by the various members of the AACM since the early Seventies I’ve got a few records on the shelf by composers and players like Muhal Richard Abrams, Philip Cohran, Steve McCall, Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Kalaparusha, Kahil El’Zabar, Wadada Leo Smith, Amina Claudine Myers, Leroy Jenkins and Chico Freeman amongst others. It therefore is a joy to see an all star alliance of players take to the stage at Rich Mix in Shoreditch to offer their own homage to a generation of relentlessly innovative, militant and enlightening educators that emerged out the Windy City to take the world by storm.

aacm Lewis_chp10_07

if you haven’t heard of the the AACM here’s some classic photos along with some words from their own website:

“Internationally renowned for unparalleled contributions to modern music, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Inc. (AACM) has been an inspirational leader within the cultural community since 1965. A non-profit organization chartered by the State of Illinois , the AACM is a collective of musicians and composers dedicated to nurturing, performing, and recording serious, original music. This collective of dynamic and visionary artists formed the AACM to meet their emergent needs to expose and showcase their original compositions and to create an outlet for the development and performance of their music.

Art Ensemble Of Chicago - Roscoe Mitchell, Malachi Favors, Famadou Don Moye

Art Ensemble Of Chicago – Famoudou Don Moye, Roscoe Mitchell, Lester Bowie Malachi Favors,

Since its inception, one mission of the AACM has been to provide an atmosphere conducive to the development of its member artists and to continue the AACM legacy of providing leadership and vision for the development of creative music. The AACM first coined the phrase Great Black Music to describe its unique direction in music. The AACM pays homage to the diverse styles of expression within the body of Black Music in the USA, Africa and throughout the world. This experience extends from the ancient musics of Africa to the music of the future.

The AACM may best be known for its leading-edge public concerts featuring some of the most accomplished, versatile and innovative musicians performing original creative music. The organization takes particular pride in developing new generations of talent through the free music training program conducted by members for city youth, the AACM School of Music. Another equally important aspect of AACM ‘s mission is the high moral standard members seek to provide in their capacities as performers, artists, teachers and role models.

Muhal Richard abrams

Muhal Richard abrams

The AACM has continuously achieved international recognition for its contributions in modern music. AACM groups have performed in Moscow, Japan, Europe, Africa, and the USA. Members are regularly awarded grants and commissions to compose music for solo instrument, small ensemble and full orchestra. In 1990, AACM co-founder Muhal Richard Abrams was the recipient of the prestigious Jazzpar Award in Denmark to compose for the Danish Orchestra. AACM member Lester Bowie composed and performed the theme music for The Cosby Show seen on network television. In 1990 the City of Chicago saw fit to honor the AACM by dedicating an evening at the 1990 Chicago Jazz Festival to the music an members of the organization. AACM members Anthony Braxton and George Lewis were awarded Genius Grants from the MacArthur Foundation. AACM flutist Nicole Mitchell was recently awarded the prestigious Doris Duke Artists award.

With the aid of the MacArthur Foundation and Columbia College in Chicago, the AACM produced its 1990 25th Anniversary Festival, a three day celebration of music and lectures featuring musicians in various formats, from solo performance, to a 27 piece orchestra, to a presentation by the AACM School of Music Choir, made up of children from the school. Held at the Getz Theater of Columbia College, the festival was a popular and critical success, playing to standing room audiences each night. In addition to a celebration, the festival was acknowledging the dedication, perseverance, and artistry of its members. Subsequent have been produced annually with the golden 50th Anniversary in 2015. The AACM is now the oldest and most venerable organization of it s kind.”

In Session!

In Session!

Long may the AACM continue to thrive!

THE SPonTANeoUS CoSMic RAwXtra to play specially commissioned arrangements from Orphy Robinson, with visuals by SDNA, that will breathe a distinctively London energy into the AACM legacy.

The show is at 2pm.- 4pm…early doors! the essence of the performance focusses on the art of improvisation and it will feature: Orphy Robinson (MD & vibes), Nikki Yeoh (piano), Rowland sutherland (flutes), Phillip Achille (harmonica), Byron Wallen (trumpet), Jason Yarde (sax), Nubya Garcia (sax), Jerome Harper (trombone), Andy Grappy (tuba), Corey Mwamba (vibes), Doug Boyle (guitar), John Edwards (bass), spoken word/vocal artists – HKB Finn, Cleveland Watkiss, Lisa Lore (NuBluz Aesthete) and the great South African drummer Louis Moholo-Moholom.

To celebrate this legacy, there wiii also be a Workshop / 11am – 1pm / £20 (includes ticket to concert) / Upstairs This is an opportunity for adult vocalists, wind and brass players to workshop material with Orphy Robinson, renowned vibraphonist and multi-instrumentalist, composer and music educator – then join the mighty SPonTANeoUS CosMic RAwkXtRA to perform their new work in the afternoon’s concert. If you’re interested in learning more about free jazz, improvisation, and conduction techniques, this is for you. For adults (18+) who can play to ABRSM Grade 5 standard: wind, brass and vocals only. Please advise box-office of your instrument when booking.


AACM graphi  muhal 5 TBL - C-Dv

Posted in Deep stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Power of Mind & Intention: CS Tang’s The Complete Book Of Yi Quan

More Martial Musings… this time it’s CS Tang’s The Complete Book Of Yi Quan

Y Quan Master Wang Zhangzhai (cenre)

Yi Quan devotees & Master Wang Xiang Zhai (centre – light coloured gown)

Over the years I have accumulated a repertoire of various internal martial arts forms and practices from a number of teachers and on reflection I don’t think I’m an easy student as I’m always cross-referencing what I’ve learned.

Back in the day, there was no internet so I’d be scrutinising the handful of books that were available and comparing what I was being taught to what was in the books. Nowadays, as this column testifies, we can reference a very diverse and growing mountain of literature along with an array of original Chinese martial arts manuals (check: On YouTube there’s amazing footage amid an increasing sea of dross. Maybe there’s too much information and you end up spending all your time on-line or collecting books instead of practicing. Not that long ago Chinese martial arts were shrouded in mystery and it appeared that only few inner door students got the real teachings. Today, there’s a wealth of information available which can clarify why you might feel that the curriculum offered by a teacher – despite respecting him or her – doesn’t offer a path that you intuitively feel you need.

One invests a lot of time, effort and belief in training in internal Chinese martial arts and while I enjoy my practice and continue my journey undeterred it can be frustrating. Not only, do you meet people who’ve trained less time than you but have superior martial skills you can also have periodic doubts about one’s own internal practice. There’s a lot of truth in the saying, “Who feels it knows it”. The history of the internal martial arts in China shows a wealth of exchange between practitioners. It’s how they have evolved and currently having the opportunity to explore the qualities of the three main arts of taijiquan, baguazhang and xingyiquan is an interesting challenge. Maybe, my restless questioning and that elusive search for more depth will finally prove worthwhile.

So, before I go to the park and do some actual practice I want to pen a few words about a new book, a comprehensive guide to Yi Quan, a martial art practice focussed on intent, that I touched on a few years back and became part of my own journey.

Above: Yao Chenrong goes through the postures of Yi Quan… sorry it’s in Chinese… but you get the vibe!

CS Tang's Yi Quan manual.

CS Tang’s Yi Quan manual.

The Complete Book Of Yi Quan has been put together by Hong Kong based martial arts master – CS Tang. I first came across this dedicated practitioner when I tracked down and bought some interesting stuff from his online shop. He clearly had a relationship with a lot of contemporary masters and was very active and well known among the Hong Kong’s supa-diverse martial arts community.

At that time, to complement the various Chen and Xing Yi forms I’d learned I was looking into Zhan Zhuang – static standing practices which were conceived to develop power. I had already incorporated into my own Chen practice a set of standing postures taught to Hunyuan Chen taiji master Feng Zhiqiang by Master Hu Yao Zhen – the founder of modern Qi Gong. Through training Wang Shujin’s Xing Yi Quan I had also started practicing his Eight Standing postures. As Wang Shujin had studied with Wang Xiang Zhai – the founder of Yi Quan – it was short step from there to exploring the art itself.

yi quan bookThe internet provided easy access. There were texts of Wang Xiang Zhai available to download on-line and and one could view various students of his on YouTube. I was curious and having a little bit of spare dosh back then I treated myself an Xmas present of an on-line training course linked to the sons of Yao Zong Xun – an inner door student of Wang Xiang Zhai.

The comprehensive set of DVDs and the accompanying manual had all the basic routines of of Yi Quan including the Zhan Zhuang postures, Shi Li (test Strength exercises) and Mo Ca Bu (footwork) etc. While Yi Quan has the appearance or a reputation as a stripped back, simplified system of health and self defence that’s not the case. It was immediately clear as started working my way thorough the DVDs that Yi Quan was inevitably, in essence, complex. I liked the visualisations that go with the static and moving postures which are intended to focus intent. The solo movements, punching and footwork – the Fali/emit strength – were all good but in the end you need people to train with and give you those crucial tips and corrections. I believe in hands on corrections. The concepts and methods of Yi Quan are definitely worth taking on board. Wang Xiang Zhai was a modernist and his methodology was a response to the times. Yi Quan was born out of an era post the Boxer Uprising of 1900, when the secret society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists led an rebellion against the spread of Western and Japanese imperialism. By the mid 1920 and 30s there was a lot of necessary exchange between martial arts masters and that included actual combat. Wang Xiang Zhai was undefeated and therefore remains an influential and radical figure at that time.

CS Tang practices San Ti

CS Tang practices Xingyiquan – San Ti

Master CS Tang’s book is clearly a labour of love. Published in conjunction with Swimming Dragon it’s a chunky tome that weighs in at just over 400 pages. It’s thoroughly researched and for anyone interested in the practice of Yi Quan or the internal martial arts potentially very enlightening. The first section of the book – six chapters -is given over to the the history. It details the evolution of Yi Quan through it’s founder Wang Xiang Zhai but also details the influence of Liang Zi Peng who was hugely influential in bringing Yi Quan to Hong Kong. Liang was credited by Bruce Lee as his internal martial arts teacher. This section also sheds light on the author’s own path to Yi Quan.

Master Yao Zong Xun

Master Yao Zong Xun

Part II – Chapters 7-23 – delivers the ‘System Of Yiquan Training’ and rapidly progresses from overview of the training to the details of Mater Liang Zi Peng’s compact ‘Southern Yi Quan’. No stone is left unturned. Everything is broken down and the manual/workbook aspect of this book deals with details of practice and post practice. We also get specific programmes with recommended time allocations i.e. Ten Combat Strength practice program for a 60 minute class. Check out Chapter 14 which is devoted to the postures of different masters like Wang Fu Fang (Wang Xiangzai’s daughter), Yao Zhong Xun & his sons, Wang Bin Kui and Yu Nong Nian amongst others.

Part III offers advanced techniques in relation to Big Step and Fist Stances, the Jian Wu (Fist Dance) and weapons before going onto a section on health, “supernatural power” and teaching and gradings. The modest conclusion outlines Four factors that lead to success in Yi Quan along with thoughts on the purpose and the way of learning martial arts. Whether any book is “The Complete…” version of anything but for now this book is the benchmark and I suspect it will become a well-thumbed reference in the years to come.

Above CS Tang talks with Ted Mancuso and Debbie Shayne from the excellent Plum Publications (

Vintage footage of Yao Zongxun, formal successor of Wang Xiangzhai(the creator of Yiquan).

CS Tang’s The Complete Book Of Yi Quan is published by

Posted in Deep stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

ROCK AGAINST RACISM – LOVE MUSIC, HATE RACISM: Syd Sheldon’s Photo-Documentary History Lesson

ROCK AGAINST RACISM – LOVE MUSIC, HATE RACISM: Syd Sheldon’s Photo-Documentary History Lesson

“In collaboration with UK reggae and punk bands, RAR members took on the orthodoxy through five carnivals and some 500 gigs throughout Britain. In those five years, the National Front went from a serious electoral threat into political oblivion.” Syd Sheldon

Paul Simenon - The Clash : RAR Victorian Park

Paul Simenon – The Clash : RAR Victorian Park

Last night, after watching Mona Chalabi’s ‘Is Britain Racist’ I had to wonder how far we’d come since the rise and demise of the National Front (NF) in the Seventies and early Eighties. The ground rules might have shifted with Islam painted as the enemy within but the relentless issue of immigration guarantees a racist undertow in Britain that is persistently fuelled by fear and topped up by the media, the arrival of UKIP and a complicit Tory government.

It’s therefore timely that ABP has announced the first major exhibition of Syd Shelton’s photographs which capture in Black & White one of the most volatile periods in British post war history. As a Hackney resident, I recall the NF standing at the top of Ridley Road market, where the Mosleyites stood before them, selling their papers. Hoxton was home to the NF and not a safe place if you were Asian or Afro-Caribbean. In 1976 Notting Hill carnival exploded as the youth took on police. They’d had enough of the harassment and ‘SUS’ laws. Punk had created a moral panic across the nation as banning orders prevented them from playing. Out of that came Rock Against Racism (RAR) and between ’76 and ’81, the movement confronted racist ideology in the streets, parks and town halls of Britain.

RAR - Live

RAR – Live

RAR was formed by a collective of musicians and political activists to fight fascism and racism through music. They didn’t have an official photographer and it was down to Syd Shelton to produce the largest collection of images on the movement.

“Photography for me has always been an autobiographical tool, a sort of staccato visual diary….I also used my photography during that period as a graphic argument, enabling me to be a subjective witness of the period which could, hopefully, contribute to social change ….”

Under the slogan ‘Love Music Hate Racism’, RAR showcased reggae and punk bands on the same stage. It attracted massive cross cultural audiences like their pivotal festival in Hackney’s Victoria Park. At a time when the NF were gaining support, RAR provide a wave of resistance to street level violence and institutionalised racism.

Sham 69 - RAR Brockwell Park

Sham 69 – RAR Brockwell Park

Syd Shelton’s photograph expose the ferocity of cultural difference being hammered out on Britain’s streets throughout the late 1970s. For my part I was involved with the Communist Party and the Young Communist League. I was also writing about reggae and in my lunchtime buying punk 7’s and fanzines at Rock On’s stall, in a market behind Charing Cross Rd. I believe it was me that suggested a joint YCL/RAR gig with The Cimarons and Sham 69 – who had at a time had a serious violent skinhead following – at North London Poly in Highbury Barn. On a poster it seemed like a wikid combination but it was obviously risky. That really sunk in on the night and as the venue filled up I realised that we only had a few south London dockers on standby should it kick off. As it went, it didn’t kick off and Bob Lentell, who was looking after the bands, said after, “It was all down to the Cimarons.” All born and raised in Jamaica,all Rasta… “they were totally fearless”.

It was a confrontational era and it didn’t pay to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. One march though Hoxton to Bethnal Green provided one such lesson. It was small, a few hundred people, a lot of whom seem to slating anyone in the area as racist. Not good. As we passed the Birdcage pub at the top of East Road the punters all came out to greet us with Nazi salutes and I was thinking this is going to get worse. And it did. By the time we’d reached to the top of Brick Lane we were flanked by Police and a small army of skinheads. A hard core gathering older NF members hurled threats and abuse from outside the Blade & Bone pub and it was clear that we had to get off this march before it finished. During one moment of confusion we ducked out and circled round to Bethnal Green tube only to catch the mounted police leading a charge against the skinheads who would have been intent on giving any stragglers a good kicking.

There were a lot of battles and few more fierce that The Battle for New Cross in Lewisham in ’77. The NF took a battering that day and Syd’s photo below shows well known Race Today activist Darcus Howe and Mangrove veteran addressing the crowd.

darcus Lewisham

Battle of New Cross , Lewisham '77

Battle of New Cross , Lewisham ’77

That said, it was the music that brought us all together. The weekly music papers like the NME (which sold around a quarter of a million copies a week) backed the movement which had its own zine Temporary Hoarding. Syd Shelton’s photographs of The Clash, Elvis Costello, Misty in Roots, Tom Robinson, Au Pairs and The Specials as well as the audiences at RAR gigs and carnivals across England say it all. He captured the energy and the unity generated.

It was about making a stand, making our voices heard, building a movement. They were volatile times. It still surprises me that so few people know realise that every major city in Britain was set alight in 1981. Three decades have elapsed sine then, I’m not represented by someone like David Cameron or Boris Johnson. On viewing Syd’s images I was wondering where Cameron and our current London Mayor were on the day of RAR in Victoria Park? I turns out Cameron was 12 and Johnson 14. Both would have been boarding at Eton. Boris was most likely crushing some little kid at rugger and dreaming of water cannons. While Sex Pistols venomously warned of “No Future…” these two teenage Tories had their future nicely mapped out. Oxford University… the Bullingdon Club… and a political path grounded in Thatcherism.

So, in 2015 when all forms of protest are on the verge of being illegal there are lessons to be learned. All our major cities have huge potential. I feel proud that I live in Hackney, a borough that thrives on its diversity. I have followed the way of the Corbynistas and the current anti-austerity movement and they would do well to reflect on the alliances that made RAR the force that it was. RAR tapped into the music, into the furious creativity that is our culture! The agenda for change is huge. Our response needs to modern, we need to use new technology, but it’s not just about a Like or a Share or a Retweet it’s about converting that combination of anger and optimism into activism. High on my list is climate change, so I’m putting the word out about The Climate March in London on 29th November. A luta continua!

Image above: Leeds – Northern Carnival A=gainst Racism – The Specials rocked it!

Rock Against Racism: The Exhibition is showing at Rivington Place, London EC2A 3BA from 2 October – 5 December 2015. Admission: Free.

Rock Against Racism: The Book is published on 1 October 2015 via Autograph ABP.

Available via:

Price: £30

Posted in Deep stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment



Magic Science Qt. + Black Top

Henry, Orphy, Marshall by Roger Thomas

Dissappointed at not being unable to reach the I’klektik ArtLab in South London to hear the MAGIC SCIENCE QUARTET conjure up a live score to a vintage silent film that reinterpreted the mythological tale of OEDIPUS I was much relieved to discover that the quartet was to join forces with the ever innovative Black Top duo for a late night benefit session for the Vortex in Dalston.

I arrived in the wake of Christian Muthspiel’s session to find legendary bassists Steve Swallow and Henry Grimes in conversation. A sight in itself. Following a feverish onstage swap over of kit and minimal sound check, 91 year old Marshall Allen, forsaking any formal introductions, stepped up to the mic to hush a room full of cosmic music devotees with a furious flurry of sound that couldn’t have come from any other horn player on the planet.

Marsall was out of the blocks quicker than Usain Bolt leaving his fellow musicians to simply follow in his wake. In his inherited role as skipper of Sun Ra’s Arkestra he is a natural leader and the fellow members of the Magic Science Quartet immediately locked in behind him. Tucked away behind Black Top’s Pat Thomas, who was already bouncing on his seat as he sought out a swirling myriad of sounds from that radical self programmed keyboard of his, was Swiss pianist and ‘spirit drummer’ Ka. Her playing demonstrated both grace and lyrical attack while the bass of the legendary Henry Grimes quietly but confidently shape shifted beneath the drums of Avreeayl Ra.

Henry Grimes by Fabio Lugaro

Henry Grimes by Fabio Lugaro

The art of improvisation lies in listening. Feeding on the powerful dynamics of the ensemble Orphy Robinson delivered cascading waves of sound and stark repetitive grooves on the xylosyth – the triggers and samples that normally characterise a Black Top performance were left for another day. Just when I thought it might just be all over, Henry Grimes laid down his bass but swapped it for a violin. An ethereal and memorable excursion punctuated by bamboo flute, ensued and offered refuge in another musical dimension. The avant garde meshed with the tradition to close the night and Marshall’s response to Grimes’ easy snappin’ bluesy bass lines was, as ever, sonically mesmerising. His right hand fluttered across the keys of his alto, the sound of which simply grew in power.Overall, it was a dazzling demonstration of purely improvised music where science and magic produced a profound and pure energy! The last bus had long gone but I was happy to walk home with the music, as Ornette once said, dancing in my head.

marshall A
Here’s hoping I’ve the energy & spirit that Marshall Allen’s got when I’m 91!

Posted in Deep stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SHEN GONG and NEI DAN in DA XUAN: An encounter with an Urban Daoist



SHEN GONG and NEI DAN in DA XUAN is the first book to be published in English by Paris based “urban daoist”, Serge Augier. This “manual for working with mind, emotion and internal energy” is a genuine opportunity for students of The Way to engage with the essential concepts of the rare Daoist tradition that the author has inherited – Ba Men Da Xuan (the Big Secret).

I first discovered Serge Augier in one Alex Kozma’s early books. He came across as a young, intriguing and mystical character, a spiritual adept with a deep knowledge of the Yi Jing, Chinese medicine, Feng Shui and array of devastating martial skills. Serge’s teacher was the lineage holder of the Ba Men Da Xuan tradition and along with being an early disciple of Ziranmen (Natural Boxing) Grandmaster Wan Lai Shang he had  also studied with Wan’s legendary teacher Du Xing Wu and with Zhang Zhao Dong who had skillfully, blended the Fa-Jins of Xing Yi with Ba Gua Zhang. Serge Augier has been practicing since his childhood, likes to share and teach, and has over 35 years experience

urb serge 3

It was on the basis of his reputation that, a few years ago, I signed up to do a weekend workshop with Serge in Gloucester. It was held in a cavernous sweaty gym and attracted practitioners from numerous styles. It was very practical and involved a lot of partner work. Serge would only demonstrate on his own students and I suspect they were the only people in the hall capable of taking the blows and strikes which he delivered with an ease that was totally deceptive. I came away from that workshop with little understanding of what the Da Xuan tradition is but felt exhilarated by the experience of the training.  In reality, I was more than a touch dismayed that, despite years of training taijiquan forms (Yang and Chen), there was a serious disconnection. My practical skills were painfully lacking.

I returned to training Chen taijiquan, in the hope of going deeper, while personally exploring foundation skills and the nei gong practices that connected other arts like xing yi, bagua and yi quan. If you are a regular reader of this on-line journal you’ll know that I do like to read the odd book (ha!) and the publication of  this book – Serge Augier’s Shen Gong and Nei Dan in Da Xuan – was filled with promise as the author declared,

“Be not fooled by nebulous writings.

It should be simple, because this practice has been developed by very practical people.

It should be usable and easy to understand.

You will discover through this tradition, as it is presented here, the infinite possibilities are within your reach.”

urb grandsecret-webIt seemed to provide a way to understand the interconnected nature of the Da Xuan tradition. It was clear from the off that the reader was required to go deeper into himself or herself, and the Shen Gong / pure mind training – demands daily practice accumulative practice which is not easy.

“Dissociating the mind means no longer existing the way that the mind has established itself and this implies dying. that is what we fear most and this is why the mind defends itself in so many elaborate ways.”

Serge readily outlines the principles and exercises in the Shen Gong Training that are to be followed if we are achieve happiness by calming the mind. He then progresses to the Nei Dan –  inner alchemy / the way of transformation – aspect of his tradition which focusses on breath and internal energy. He outlines numerous practical  breathing techniques and exercises before  introducing us to The Eighteeen Methods Leading To The Gates Of Madness – a deepening of the practice where one’s work on the mind is based on three stages:  1. Calming the mind 2. Dissociating 3. Uniting. Yes, it’s deep stuff and though it is rooted in ancient meditation practices it’s also what underpins the modern practice of mindfulness.  However, after reading the chapter The Nine Words Of Guidance it was back to Basic Principles and Theory – I needed to learn to walk before I can start running.

My initial enthusiastic attempts to follow the manual kept falling by the wayside despite the dire warnings that if you keep taking the kettle off the hear it will never boil. I intuitively felt, “I need to make this journey!” but also felt I needed guidance. I saw from his website that Serge offered distance learning and was seriously considering it when I experienced a most fortunate episode of synchronicity. One day I’d turned up to do some training in my local park and as my regular spot was occupied headed off to an alternative place. Upon arrival there was a guy chatting on his mobile. I just got on with practicing my Chen taiji forms. He finished his call and went through some bagua and xing yi practice. Once he’d finished I immediately introduced myself. It turned out that his name was Darren Rose. He has studied with Serge Augier for 14 years, s a formal disciple and is the Da Xuan school representative in London.

Initially, this encounter presented me with a small dilemma. Having read the chapter on Serge in Alex Kozma’s book Warrior Guards The Mountain I knew the martial practice within the Da Xuan tradition unites Ziranmen with the General Li’s taijiquan,  Zhang Zao Dong’s bagua and Li Cun Yi’s xing yi. I wasn’t sure how this would work for me. I’m no spring chicken – should I be concentrating on my precarious health or fighting or both. Would I have to abandon what I was already practicing? Or maybe I should just be more disciplined? That said, I am a sucker for synchronicity and, in that sense, there was no option but to ask to join his training group.

Darren was openly encouraging of my pursuing both distance learning with Serge and training with him as well. And so, I happily embarked on a new stage of the journey, which is currently focussed on Chapter 13 of the manual and deals with Wai Dan and “how to train the qualities developed through physical training”. For me, martial arts practices are about personal cultivation and by unifying, in a very organised and systematic way, the following five aspects of practice we will deal with the interaction between the Three Treasures of mind, body, and energy.

urban daoist logo -jpegWai Gong ( external training)

Nei Gong (internal training)

Nei Dan (inner alchemy)

Shen Gong (mind training)

Xin Yi Dao Yin Fa (emotion training)


Serge Augier maintains we don’t retreat to the mountain. Through practice we build that mountain in our daily lives. As I said earlier, Serge makes no bones about the need to go deeper into oneself and I sense that this book is going to be well thumbed and a valuable reference, consistently referred to, in the years to come.

urb serge 2jpg

SERGE AUGIER’S SHEN GONG and NEI DAN in DA XUAN is published by Singing Dragon –

His web site is:


Posted in Deep stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment