Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

The Millennium New Years at the Great Pyramids

Ringing in the Year 2000 at a New Age Concert at the Great Pyramids
Remembering the Millennium New Years
 

It was the Eve of the Millennium. As part of the world geared up to party like there was no tomorrow – and certain religious and new age prophecies blatantly hinted as much – another segment of the world awaited Apocalypse that they felt was sure to come either by the Hand of God or the crashing of a million computers. Devout Christians prepared for their departure in what they felt would be the Second Coming of Jesus and the glorious Rapture which would whisk all the righteous away to Heaven. Survivalists stocked up on supplies and ammo expecting the modern world to come to a screeching halt when the dreaded Y2K took effect at midnight when the clock turned 2000.

New Agers felt the Millennium would herald a completely new change for mankind coming either from the supernatural world or extra-terrestrials. Doomsday cults geared up for the coming cataclysm that they were sure was going to rock the Earth and wipe out most of mankind. Meanwhile, money-grubbing clubs and venues charged exorbitant prices for their millennium soirees. All in all, it was an exciting paranoid time filled with hope, fear, and horniness.

Technically the new millennium would not dawn until 2001 but most people and venues did not care what crusty chronological academics had to say on the matter. 2000 was the magical date – either it would be the end of the world whether religiously, cosmically, or computerly or it would be the dawn of a whole new era of peace, love, and UFOs. So the party that night for many thrill-seekers might be the last one forever – cue the Prince music.

The approaching Millennium found me in Egypt a country which has seen its fair share of millenniums. In Cairo, I had been teaching English for very low wages even by Egyptian standards to bank employees for nearly two months. I had spent Christmas in the backpacker resort area of Dahab in the Sinai Peninsula along the Red Sea. My original plans were to also spend the New Years there as well in a drunken stupor amongst the Bedouin, camels, and equally drunk backpackers. I felt if it was to be the end I didn’t want to be aware of it. However, there was an itching in my brain to do something special to mark this New Year of New Years.

For weeks I had seen the advertisements for a huge concert at the Great Pyramids. In the weeks leading up to the event, a vicious rumor had spread amongst the wandering backpackers of Egypt that Pink Floyd would be playing. The official concert was to be one Jean-Michel Jarre, a new age French musician many of us had never heard of. Still the Pink Floyd rumors persisted despite evidence to the contrary. Some said they were going to appear as a surprise guest band sometime after midnight.


Jean-Michel Jarre looking quite fetching in his Doctor Who scarf

Regardless of who was playing I had reasons for not wanting to go at first. For my meager savings, $50 for a ticket seemed a bit too steep even for a Millennium Concert at such a prestigious place as the Great Pyramids. In addition, even in these happy pre-911 days, there was the lingering presence of terrorism. It was felt that the Pyramid Concert would be primarily a foreigner affair and therefore a perfect target for terrorists. It had only been a few years earlier when a group of tourists had been gunned down in Luxor. However, on the New Age Front, I heard through word of mouth of a rumor that UFOs would gather at the Pyramids to announce their presence (perhaps they would bring Pink Floyd with them). Whether it would be to benefit mankind or harvest it wasn’t exactly clear.

Despite all my reservations, I decided at the last minute to head back to Cairo by overnight bus two days before New Year’s Eve. The bus was really a mini-van with no heater to combat the wintry desert night air and a dozen of us were crammed into it. I ended up in the front seat in the middle right above the hot gears which while leaving my rear warm also left it with blisters. It was a horrible freezing blistering ride in which our sleep – what little we could get – was shattered occasionally with bone-jarring rattles from the myriad of bumps and potholes along the way. Then there were those fear-soaked near head-on collisions with other vehicles that kept many of us wide awake. We might have had fewer of those close-calls had our vehicle and the oncoming ones kept their headlights on longer than a fewer minutes at a time.

I arrived in Cairo early on the 30th exhausted with a blistering headache and a blistered rear-end. Amazingly, I was still able to buy tickets to the concert that day and for less than I originally expected – $15. The next day I bought some cheap Egyptian wine and some snacks in which to enjoy the all night concert. I went there with a Korean girl I met on that horrible overnight ride from Dahab and some of her friends.

The entrance to the Pyramids was not the ordinary one used by daytime visitors. We were ushered into shuttle buses and taken around on the far side of the Pyramids to the left of Menkaure’s Pyramid, the third and smallest of the three Great Pyramids. In this area, there was a type of large dell that formed a natural amphitheater. At the top of the dell at the rear was a wooden building with a wide balcony. Drinks, food, and uninterrupted views could be had by those who paid premium prices from $150 to $4000. The rest of us were down in the sandy dell.

But before we could go down into the dell we had to go through a security checkpoint. They were checking for weapons, explosives, inflammables, and – to our shock and dismay – alcohol. The rules of the land forbid the consumption of alcohol even at a site that predates Islam by three millennium. Alcohol-toting foreigners and a few Coptic Egyptians found themselves herded to the side where we had to either dump our sacrilegious elixirs or consume as much of them as we could before entering. Never had I seen such generosity amongst drinkers before! Nor had I seen so many rejections for free booze either. Everyone was trying to consume their own supplies as best as they could or share them with whomever was willing rather than let it go to waste. Many offers were turned down because people had more than enough alcohol to take care of without taking on any more. It was amazing that any of us could stagger back through the checkpoint. Fortunately for me the sickening sweet cheap Egyptian wine prevented me from imbuing too much beyond my measure and one gulp of Egyptian whiskey was enough to make me graciously decline any further offers.

I had originally thought the concert would be primarily foreigners but to my surprise the majority was Egyptians. Many of them were young and they really got into the concert dancing away to the mix of new age and traditional Arabic music.

The concert I much later found out was called the Twelve Dreams of the Sun. The name was based on the Ancient Egyptian belief that when the sun sets in the West, it travels on a boat through the underworld and passes 12 gates in 12 hours before rising again in the East.

Over 1000 performers were involved in the concert from dancers, singers, musicians, to an orchestra section. The cost to put on the concert came in at about $9.5 Million. The price would have been even higher had plans to cap the Great Pyramid with a 9-meter golden pyramidion not been scrapped (and good thing too else my adventure climbing said pyramid months later would have been more difficult had they left it up there). More than 120,000 people attended the concert including Egyptian President Mubarak.

There had been criticism leading up to the event as tickets did not sell so rapidly at first to justify the expense – hence my ability to purchase a ticket so easily the day before the concert. Ramadan fell over the Millennium that year so some Islamic groups complained bitterly about the cost and it’s timing with Ramadan. However, the concert began after sundown and ended with the sunrise so it did not interfere with the traditional sunrise to sunset fasting period of Ramadan. Another major bone of contention was the proposed pyramid capstone. Certain critics claimed Zionist Freemasonry was being imposed upon Egypt since the capstone looked eerily similar to the Freemason pyramid symbol on the American dollar bill.

Jean Michel Jarre was keen to incorporate Egyptian elements into his concert from singers, dancers, and instruments. For this reason despite my yearning for Pink Floyd I believe Jarre to have been the right choice. He made the event very much for the attending Egyptians. His music was more Millennium-minded as he blended old and new musical styles together. Jarre scored major points with the Egyptian audience when the ghostly voice of Um Kalthoum, Egypt’s diva goddess, floated out on the misty night air. The concert crowd went ecstatic. Catch any cab in Egypt particularly in Cairo and you will hear the lingering hold Um Kalthoum continues to have on Egypt.

The beginning of the concert was marked with fireworks and light displays. The Pyramids in the background were used as movie screens to project a variety of light images on from symbols to Ancient Egyptian gods. From time to time, performers in Ancient Egyptian outfits or Arabic desert robes rushed about in the background waving torches. One group was dressed as giant penguins – wasn’t quite sure what to make of that. Multi-colored floodlights illuminated the Pyramids which changed in hue from time to time.


Giant Millennium Penguins Cross the Desert in some baffling display of New Age symbolism

During one of the set breaks, people ventured over to the Pyramids and began climbing them. Archeologists had also complained about proximity of the concert to the Pyramids and they would have howled had they been there. However, the climbers did little or no damage to those nigh-impregnable massive structures. Certainly far less damage was done than one intolerant Egyptian Caliph did to Menkaure’s Pyramid early in the last Millennium of the Common Era when in a desire to destroy the profane symbols had a huge gouge made in the structure.


I climbed up one of the small satellite pyramids of Menkaure and chatted with others for a while. I could see in the gloom dozens at the midsection of Menkaure’s Pyramid. I heard from one concert-goer that he climbed Khafre’s Pyramid up to its limestone cap. The Egyptian police on their pristine white camels eventually came over to herd us wayward concert-goers back to the venue site. They were surprisingly professional, friendly, and nonchalant about the whole thing.

Around midnight, Jarre did a 100-second countdown. When it reached zero the sky lit up with fireworks that spelled out 2000. The Millennium had finally arrived! No righteous people disappeared suddenly, no great earthquakes struck, no UFOs hovered into view. I breathed a sigh of relief as I noticed Jarre’s heavily computer-depended music and light show did not suddenly crash from the dreaded Y2K bug. Everything was going to be ok much to the dismay of doomsday cultists, Apocalyptic-awaiting Christians, UFO New Agers, and Y2K survivalists who were no doubt quickly cancelling their subscriptions to Y2K Survival magazines.

The lightshow and fireworks continued throughout the night but unbelievably a thick mist began to develop early on which was rather unusual for this time of year. Perhaps it was from the exhaust of the approaching UFOs bringing Pink Floyd. The mist grew thicker and thicker swallowing up the Pyramids from view one by one. Menkaure’s Pyramid remained visible the longest still serving as a canvas for Jarre’s images but eventually even that – as close as it was to us -disappeared into the mist.

It wasn’t until many years later on YouTube that I was able to see what was going on at the concert while I was there. After 1, the mist so enclosed us that we couldn’t see the fireworks that were exploding just above our heads. We could only see patches of mist light up in a slightly different hue. Even the whole stage was obscure from view if we stood too far towards the back. At first, I regretted not bringing my camera but as it was I would not have been able to take a picture of anything anyways.

President Mubarak was probably glad that the original plans to cap the Great Pyramid of Khufu with a golden pryamidion by use of a helicopter had been abandoned. No one there would have been able to see such a monumental and expensive gesture.

The concert took a long set break sometime around 2 though recorded music continued to play softly throughout the night. Many people left but a good number stayed on. Like quite a few others, I took the time to get some shut-eye. It was rather chilly so I pulled my arms and head into my sweatshirt and slept like a malformed turtle for a few hours.


Jarre of Arabia

I was awoken before dawn by the sound of bagpipes being played by Egyptian musicians in white desert robes. The last part of the concert was to take place now – the greeting of the New Millennium Sun. Jarre wore an Arabic headdress and played a handheld Middle Eastern drum with similarly attired Egyptian drummers.


Millennium Morning Wake-up Call at the Pyramids

The mist was lighter now but still thick. The sun unfortunately never appeared and the concert finally ended with Jarre and many of the performers parading towards the Great Pyramid which was dimly visible to the rest of us. All in all, despite the mist, it was a memorable experience and one hell of a show. I was glad I went in the end.

In hindsight, one could, I suppose, take the misty Pyramid Millennium Dawn as a portent for the confusion and uncertainly that was to follow in the years to come with the US presidential election fiasco later that same year, global terrorism, horrendous large scale natural disasters, the ongoing turmoil in Iraq, the plague of reality TV shows, etc… At that time, however, those of us at the Pyramids that Millennium morning were just happy to have witnessed a kickass concert not to mention having seen Armageddon safely pass us by. Still the UFOs would have been cool – if we could have seen them through the mist.


Trekking off into the Misty Millennium Morning

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December 29, 2007 Posted by | 2000, Apocalypse, cairo, cheops, egypt, entertainment, event, festival, fireworks, giza, great pyramid, history, humor, Jean-Michel Jarre, khufu, life, Millennium, music, music concert, New Age, New Age music, New Year's Eve, New Years, party, pyramids, travel, Umm Khulthum, Umm Kulthum, Y2K | 2 Comments

Kodo Earth Celebration 2006 Fringe Event Video

This is a video I made from my digital camera’s video function of last year’s Kodo Earth Celebration’s Fringe Events:

 

Taiko Drum Festival brings Cheer to Old Island of Exile

August 24, 2007 Posted by | Blogroll, culture, dance, Earth Celebration, entertainment, festival, folklore, japan, Kodo, life, matsuri, montage, music, music concert, Sado Island, summer, taiko, traditional art, travel, video | Leave a comment

Kodo Taiko Drum Festival On Sado Island, Japan

Taiko Drum Festival brings Cheer to Old Island of Exile
Kodo Taiko Group Celebrates the Earth with Music


A Taiko Drummer playing in front of a Shinto Shrine

In olden days, going to Sado Island generally meant one of two things: exile or gold. Sado Island, the 6th largest island of Japan, was for a long time not the pleasure excursion that is today. During the Heian Period (794-1192), Sado was often the dumping ground of political exiles from the Kyoto capital. The trend continued for nearly a thousand years up until 1700 with a scattering of dissent poets, irate Buddhists monks, and even an unfortunate emperor.

In 1601 gold was discovered and a new breed of exiles was flung upon the island: convicts and homeless. The gold came under the ownership of the Tokugawa Shogunate Government. No gold-digging prospectors or women of low virtues were allowed to clutter up the island. It was strictly controlled for the sake of the Shogunate’s coffers. Hard work and deadly misery not sudden fortune was the fate of these hard-pressed workers.

In more recent times, Sado became infamous for North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens. Lying off the coast of Niigata in Northwestern Japan, it was in convenient reach of North Korea.


Fire Twirler on the beach at night

Given the island’s rather grim history, it would seem a strange place to hold a music festival celebrating taiko drumming and the earth itself. Yet this is exactly what happens every summer in the normally sleepy town of Ogi in the South-Eastern section of Sado.


A pair of impromptu drummers strike up a beat

Drums, drums, drums! For three days little Ogi resounds with the incessant pounding of countless booming drums. The mastermind behind this audio assault is the Kodo Taiko group. Kodo was formed 25 years ago and since then they have performed nearly 3000 times all over the world.


Female Taiko Drummer of the Miyake Taiko Group

Kodo’s main instrument is the Japanese Taiko drum. Taiko drums are very taunt drums that give off a deep booming resounance. Traditionally they were beaten to drive away evil spirits. In war, Taiko drums were beaten to give orders and quicken the blood of warriors.


Members of Kodo

Kodo makes all of its own drums and other instruments at Kodo Village, a 25-acre wooded area near Ogi. Kodo Village is where aspiring apprenctices learn their trade. The apprenticeship lasts for two years. During this time, the apprentices maintain a strict regime of diet, exercise, practice and work designed to improve themselves physically, musically, and spiritually. They also grow their own rice and other foods at the village using traditional farming methods that even the locals no longer use.


Rock-n-roller in a Kimono

While Kodo believes in following traditional methods when it comes to certain things, they are more than willing to experiment musically. Every summer on the third weekend of August, Kodo hosts Earth Celebration, a 3-day outdoor concert with workshops and fringe events. Here they present their musical collaborations along with a guest group.


Outdoor stage on Shinto Shrine Grounds

The evening concerts are held on the grounds of a Shinto Shrine. The first night Kodo plays. The second night the guest group plays most of the evening being joined by some of the members of Kodo towards the end. The third night is mix of both groups. Although photography and filming is discouraged, dancing is highly encouraged.


Urban Tap and Kodo Members

The previous guest group was Urban Tap, a unique group of musicians and dancers headed by Tamango, a tap dancer from French Guiayana. One of their dancers who hails from the African Ivory Coast performed on stilts. Tamango and he actually performed a dance-off together.

Urban Tap

Members of Urban Tap

Urban Tap is an eclectic collection of dancers and musicians headed by French Guianian tap dancer, Tamango. Urban Tap presents an intoxicating blend of rhythmic music and dance from a variety of sources ranging from tap, hip-hop, jazz, traditional African dance, and the Brazillian fighting-dance of Capoeria. Highly individualistic and yet brilliantly meshed together. Urban Tap and Kodo were a perfect combination for the 2006 Earth Celebration.

For more information, please check their website:
urban tap

Urban Tap and Kodo played so well together that I assumed they had been practicing for weeks together. However, I later learned they had practice only briefly! It certainly didn’t show! The two played with such harmony as though they had been playing together for years.

The concerts are held in the evening. During the day, there are a variety of workshops which teach drum making, traditional dance, taiko drumming, and so on. Workshops are often booked-up well in advance. For visitors without a workshop to attend there a number of fringe events to watch.


Miyake Taiko Group makes an entrance

One popular re-occurring fringe event is Miyake Taiko from Miyake Island renown for their unique style of taiko drumming. One of the group’s principal leaders has also aided in instructing Kodo apprentices. The Miyake Taiko group performs every day in front of the shrine.


Kodo and Urban Tap give a send-off performance

This year’s Earth Celebration concert was a scorcher both musically and meteriologically. The music was hot and so was whole area. A day before the concert began a typhoon passed over Japan and seemed to have sucked up all the winds along the way. Sado Island was like a becalmed ship in an ocean of still oppressive humidity. Sweat ran down in rivets on performers and spectators alike. But despite the heat, no performer passed out – a testament to their skill and training no doubt.

The day after the concert most of us boarded a ferry boat bound for the mainland. We were given a royal send off by some of the members of Kodo and Urban Tap. They played for us right next the ferry. When the ferry had pulled away from the pier, the players rushed to the edge of pier and kept on playing until they dropped out of sight. They really know how to make their spectators feel special.


A Demon Drummer

For more information about Kodo and next year’s festival, please check their homepage: Kodo

Demon Drummers of Sado
Demons Bring Good Health and Harvests by Drumming


A Demon Drummer Close-up

Kasuga-Onigumi Onedeko – the Demon Drummers of Ryotsu are one of the main symbols of Sado Island. There are over a hundred Onedeko groups on Sado as a matter of fact. Despite their fearsome appearance the Demon drummers actually are beneficial to humans. The tradition of demon drumming has been done for centuries to ensure bountiful harvests and good health.


December 21, 2006 Posted by | Blogroll, Earth Celebration, entertainment, festival, japan, Kodo, life, music, music concert, Sado Island, Shinto, taiko, travel, Urban Tap | 7 Comments

Madonna Wraps Up Controversial Confessions Tour in Tokyo

Madonna Ends Tour in Tokyo without Fuss
The controversial crucifixion scene

Madonna wrapped up her controversial yet highly successful Confessions Tour on Thursday September 21 at the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo. Madonna’s Confession tour has been dogged by outrage and protest from religious groups throughout the world for her crucifixion performance.

Many have felt the act blasphemous and disrespectful to Christianity. Madonna countered this by saying the performance was designed to highlight the suffering of AIDS orphans in Africa.

The tour started on May 21 in Los Angeles and went through several major U.S. cities gaining notoriety as it went before leaping over to Europe and into another hotbed of controversy. Even the Pope got involved. From Russia, her tour flew to Japan where she performed without much fuss two nights each in Osaka and Tokyo. Originally she had planned to finish the tour in Australia but was unable to do so for logistical reasons.

By the time, the Confessions tour ended, Madonna had performed 60 shows in front of over a million people on three continents. The Confessions Tour grossed $193.7 million, the highest ever for a female artist.


The huge Tokyo Dome — taken from the nosebleed section

What shocked and angered religious groups was not the belly dancing, the male-slave horseback riding, nor the hedonistic glam rock-n-roll roller-skating. It was the crucifixion scene that sent them into catatonic fits of religious fervor. During one of her sets, Madonna was slowly raised up on a mirrored cross while wearing a crown of thorns. She sang “Live to Tell” while images were shown of the African AIDS crisis and its orphans.

Religious groups comprising Jews, Christians, and Muslims voiced outrage at what they saw as sacrilegious.

Madonna recently issued a public defense of her crucifixion scene:

“I am very grateful that my show was so well received all over the world. But there seems to be many misinterpretations about my appearance on the cross and I wanted to explain it myself once and for all.“There is a segment in my show where three of my dancers ‘confess’ or share harrowing experiences from their childhood that they ultimately overcame. My ‘confession’ follows and takes place on a Crucifix that I ultimately come down from. This is not a mocking of the church. It is no different than a person wearing a Cross or ‘Taking Up the Cross’ as it says in the Bible. My performance is neither anti-Christian, sacrilegious or blasphemous. Rather, it is my plea to the audience to encourage mankind to help one another and to see the world as a unified whole. I believe in my heart that if Jesus were alive today he would be doing the same thing.

“My specific intent is to bring attention to the millions of children in Africa who are dying every day, and are living without care, without medicine and without hope. I am asking people to open their hearts and minds to get involved in whatever way they can. The song ends with a quote from the Bible’s Book of Matthew:

“‘For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you took care of me and God replied, “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers… you did it to me.”‘

“Please do not pass judgment without seeing my show.”


Madonna tries to bring peace to the Middle East via modern interpretive dancing.

Madonna even invited the Pope to attend her show.


Madonna complete with riding crop and hat to go slaveback riding.

There was little fuss made in predominately non-Christian Japan. When the mirrored cross was raised there was little in the way of excessive cheers or jeers in Tokyo. For most of the Japanese audience, it was just part of the show.


Madonna with a T-shirt endorsement of Japanese sexual prowess

With the exception of the crucifixion scene, the Confessions Tour seemed far milder than earlier tours. In the early 1990s Madonna garnered notoriety with sex-laiden acts that included topless dancers, S&M outfits, simulated masturbation, and so forth. She particularly prickled Puerto Rico by rubbing their flag in her crotch.


Madonna as a re-imagined John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever

As for moi, I was way up in the stratosphere of the Tokyo Dome somewhere in the vicinity of the orbit of the planet Venus. The ticket still cost me a whopping $90! I only went because a Japanese girl wanted to go. I was more taken by the beer girls before the show. Truly working class heroes/heroines for the common man!


My heroine!

Still it was a fun concert. And whether I like her music or not is immaterial. As with any Gen Xer, Madonna is an intricate part of my pop-culture universe. Her songs ebbied and flowed in the background of my growing up experience influencing the style and thinking of my peers. We were either consciously or sub-consciously voguing, expressing ourselves, living to tell the secret to preaching papa’s, praying to Black Jesuses on our own private Isla Bonita while justifying our love to our virginal-like lucky stars. Personally, I think she was a far sight better than those god-awful hairbands of the late 80s.


One more for the liver, baby, onegaishimasu!

It’s hard to believe it’s been more than 20 years since Madonna made her debut during the baby years of MTV. Her original teenage audience are now in their late 30s to early 40s with young teenagers many of whom listen to Madonna today. One of my students told me that she saw Madonna in concert 18 years ago in Tokyo.

The amazing thing about Madonna has been her ability to re-invent herself. And she knows how to work the media to her benefit by shocking the hell out of conservative types. Despite calls for boycotting the concert, Madonna made more money than any female artist in concert ever has before. She should send donations to the religious groups who kicked up such a fuss that created all the free publicity.

September 30, 2006 Posted by | 1980s, 1990s, Blogroll, confessions, japan, madonna, media, music concert, tokyo, TV | 1 Comment