Friday, April 12, 2013

Studio Time

When I first got to Colombia I made it a point to forget about the comparisons with Cape Verde. That would have been premature and counterproductive—plus it just would have been picking a fight with one of my two host families. But here I am, about two months away from the end of my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and I can’t help reflecting a bit, and considering what it’s been like.

One thing about my life in Colombia that has been better—hands down—has been music. Now, before you jump out of your chair and cry disbelief, citing the ridiculous wealth of Cape Verdean music culture, just give me a chance to explain. I am NOT saying that Colombian music is better than Cape Verdean music. I love me some Cesária Évora and Mayra Andrade just as much as some Joe Arroyo and ChocQuibTown. What is drastically different is how much music I’ve been playing since getting here. In Cape Verde, it took me too many months to get off my ass and knock on the door of the local music school. Once I did, I ended up jamming a few times a week with Cachimbo, a cool teacher and great cavaquinho player.

I wasn’t messing around on my second chance—I got off the plane and started scouting out my options for where to purchase some percussion. After copping my first pair of bongos, I linked up with Mango Jazz, and have been playing with them almost every week since. Our drummer, another volunteer, recently moved back to the U.S., but the band plays on in his memory.

A while back I wrote about a special guest, Ricardo, who sat in with us playing bass for a couple weeks. It was great to play with him, and through Ricardo I got connected with a whole gang of young, talented musicians. A couple of months back I got to play with all of them at another local spot, Cafe de la Casa. One highlight was rocking the bongos with Doris Vespa, a Barranquilla-based reggae band—an irie breath of fresh air, for sure!

Last month was a whole ‘nother kind of party—sitting in with the Chev-Rays, a band recently formed by other Volunteers. Highlight of the night? Tough call, but it was neck and neck between the bilingual version of Neil Diamonds “Sweet Caroline” and the encore performance of “Blitzkrieg Bop” by The Ramones.

While playing live music has been crucial, the icing on the cake has been the chance to get in the studio to actually record some stuff. You know I’m all about a new experience, so I jumped at the chance when I was recently asked to do some voice-over work. Last weekend, Barranquilla turned 200 years old, and of course there was a massive two-day outdoor party/festival to commemorate the event. Unfortunately, I didn’t score any tickets, but I was there in spirit! That video that was blasting out across the plaza from the jumbotron—that was my voice! “Barranquilla, where the smiles shine brighter than the sun!” Did you recognize me?

Apparently, my work wasn’t that bad because I was invited back to The Chanclet Studio to do some more work for the same cause. So, if you’re in the States, or any other English-speaking country, tune into the Discovery Channel. If you happen to catch the commercial for Barranquilla’s 200th Anniversary, just close your eyes and imagine me as the guy with the sexy voice from the movie previews!

As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I can’t accept cash money for this kind of work (or any kind of work). Instead, I traded my services for some studio time, which I cashed in a few days ago. Thanks Julián... that was fun and I’m looking forward to more!

Pura Vida,

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Big Time Decisions

Our lives are punctuated by big decisions. Some choose to view their time on this planet as a series of events or moments, some more important than others. When I look back on the last few decades, I tend to view it as a series of forks in the road. For the most part I feel good about the choices that I’ve made. Sure, I’ve made some bad calls, but none of them have first or last names. I can also say that I have learned from those times when I’ve really blown it.

Many of the big decisions I’ve faced in life have been about my education. In 1996 I took the leap of faith to go to high school in a big new city, without any of my close friends. After high school I took an even bigger leap—this time across the country to enroll at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. Actually, that decision was tiny in comparison to the decision I took to leave Washington D.C. after a year and a half to return to California to chase my dreams as a musician and entrepreneur.

Other big calls that stick out to me: leaving the music business for a career in coaching and youth development... getting engaged, then getting unengaged—neither of which I regret... buying a round trip ticket to South Africa and taking it on faith that everything would all work out fine... joining the Peace Corps and serving in Cape Verde... not packing it in a going straight home when they decided to shut down the program in Cape Verde... accepting an offer to serve in Mali... not packing it in and going straight home when they decided to shut down the program in Mali... accepting an offer to serve as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Colombia.

Without a doubt, the biggest decision that has been hanging over me for the past months has been what to do with my life after Peace Corps. Last Fall I decided that it was time for me to head back to school, this time to pursue a Master of Education degree. I started with a list of about ten schools, then added some and dropped some others. Ultimately, I ended up applying to three different programs. Last week I found out that I got rejected from some stupid school with a stupid tree for a mascot (not bitter at all). Fortunately, I was accepted to the other two programs—UC Berkeley and Harvard! Both programs are awesome, each with its own pros and cons—I was blessed to have either one as an option. The program at Berkeley is an M.A. in Education with a concentration in the Cultural Studies of Sports in Education. The Harvard program is an Ed.M—Special Studies in Education.

After a week or so of chewing on it, I decided that the Harvard program is the right choice, and better fit of two amazing options. Working with an advisor, I’ll get to design my own course of study, including classes at the Graduate School of Education, School of Public Health, the Business School, and at other universities in the Boston area. I’ll also be looking to incorporate a lot of field work to keep it all real and relevant.

I’ve got less than three months left here in Colombia. The biggest decision I’m faced with now is how to spend my remaining vacation days! In the meantime, I’ll be doing my best to make the most of my time and finish up my projects in style! Wish me luck...

Pura Vida, 


P.S.: All donations of winter clothing can be sent to my home address. Thank you!