Duende, Cante Hondo . . . and all the Jazz

                        The highlight so far of what will be my last summer in Spain was when I experienced “Duende” at a flamenco recital.

Deunde (Do-en-day) is literally a goblin in Spanish mythology, and “tener duende” (to have duende) is to experience a heightened sense of awareness, of a diabolical emocion, that gives you the chills, and raises the hairs on your arms and the back of your neck. Duende exists in all arts, but in its purest and most authentic form it exists in the first art forms of primitive man—the telling of folk tales in the forest clearing, and dance around the fire—and the accompanying music of drum and flute, the purest form of emotional expression— and in song, poetry set to music .

In Spanish flamenco Cante (can-tay) Hondo, literally deep song, is just that. According to the poet Federico Garcia Lorca cante jondo is the deepest most meaningful form of flamenco, “a rare example of the primitive songs of oriental people preserved in its purest form . . .  and the oldest song in Europe”. And the people who sing cante jondo struggle with a duende that threatens to overwhelm their technique and strangle their voice. It is an authentic emotion that comes from the internal tribal memories of suffering and hardship, the spilling of blood and imminent death.

I attended a flamenco recital in the function room of a Parador, one of the chain of state owned 5 star hotels, and a rather clinical environment. And the singer was a 30 something pretty Spanish woman—not at all the elderly and severe and serious hawk faced North African gypsy with huge sweat stains under her unshaven armpits that I had heard in the catacombs below the Plaza Mayor in Madrid 40 years earlier that put Spain in my soul forever.

And the virtuoso guitarist who accompanied this modern and younger singer was just 19 years old. They started gently enough with soft flamenco patterns on the guitar and nice controlled modern flamenco, and tango, and sevillanas—she even sang some soulful Portuguese fados and a song that sounded like Jewish Kletzmer to remind us of the strong presence of Jews in Andalucía centuries ago —and finished with a rousing flamenco piece. But the encores were the highlight.

 She came back and set aside the mic, and sang three Garcia Lorca poems in unaccompanied cante jondo that had the crowd growling: this affluent and elderly 60-something 5 star hotel Spanish crowd actually growling, and moaning  like primitives. The applause was thunderous from a crowd on its feet.

And then the guitar player started to finger the delicate filigree of soft flamenco patterns while his thumb plucking the bass strings in an insistent rhythm. And the singer segued into flamenco with a deep and rich and low toned contralto gradually ascending and sliding back down those hair-raising quarter tone oriental Arabic scales. And the rhythm became faster and the volume grew, and the crowd were stamping their feet like flamenco dancers, and clapping their hands in complex cross rhythms, until at the end the singer was shrieking and wailing in an unearthly fashion, the guitarist was threshing the strings, and the crowd were on their feet again—ecstatic: this 60-something 5 star hotel affluent Spanish crowd were ecstatic. Truly climatic. Ole. Viva Espanya.

Freud was wrong. The most compelling human drive is not the primal sex urge and orgasmic gratification. It is the search for the primitive tribal memories that haunted Nietzsche—for community, for humanity—the search for our soul, and an end to Soledad, being alone, metaphysical loneliness. And in jazz, and particularly in The Blues, it is the same.

The Blues, and Jazz, is all about having soul, and improvisation, about creating spontaneously music of that moment. Of being sent: of having duende. Of something welling up from inside and taking control, and your fingers or voice go where they want to and not at your bidding. And in The Blues “the sound of a good man hurting” you have the tribal memories of slavery and oppression, of suffering, of defiant field hollers and work songs, and Christian gospel music—man’s hopeless search for pure true love and the search for God.

And that is Mick McCallister’s hopeless search, the harmonica playing, Blues musician protagonist in my book THE GULF “Reaping the Whirlwind”. It is a classic hero’s journey as Mick, an idealistic young journalist, tries to write as honestly as possible the first rough draft of the history of The Arabian/Persian Gulf through the stories of expatriates washed up there for whatever reason. The world as it is, not as The West wants it to be. He fights the corruption and hypocrisy and the indifference and prejudices of his London editors no matter what the cost.

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He who shouts the loudest . . .

            . . . is the Winner

            “The Americans fought WWII against the Germans, with the help of the Russians, on behalf of the Jews”.

So went the opening of an article in NEWSWEEK some years ago, and it was incorrect in every fact. WWII began when Britain declared war on Germany because they marched into Poland intent on conquering Europe. America stayed out of this “European War” until Pearl Harbor, and the Russians signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler—and the plight of the Jews was never raised during the whole of the war. And after the war the horrors of AUSCHWITZ were not the centre piece of the grisly pictures of the Nazis’ concentration/labour/death camps. Yet the international edition of The Sunday Times this weekend had yet another article about Auschwitz.

Approximately 22 Million people died in various concentration camps of which about 6 Million were Jews. But there were also millions of non-Jewish Poles and French, and many thousands of Roma, homosexuals, political prisoners, Prisoners of War and common criminals exterminated in labour/death camps.

I am lucky/unlucky enough to remember WWII. I was 12 when it ended, and my father was a serious man who took and read two newspapers a day – three on a Sunday. Our house was full of news. During the war I remember nothing being reported of the plight of the Jews, and after the war the horrors of the concentration camps were depicted by Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald and Dachau. Only much later were the horrors of Auschwitz detailed.  It was one of the biggest death camps and dedicated to the extermination of Jews – but it was not the biggest.

Who has heard of Mathausen-Gusen complex, which was the biggest, a category Stufe III labour camp dedicated to bone grinding down the intelligentsia of Europe, and where more than 300,000 died?  How many books, movies and magazine articles have been written about that camp?

I am not comfortable applying league tables to atrocities—the extermination of any group of humans be they Jews, Roma, homosexuals, intelligentsia—is a crime against humanity. But I am even less comfortable with people justifying evil because they had evil done to them. Perhaps it is my Christian upbringing but I find fanaticism, hate and terrorism despicable. Wreaking vengeance on those who did you evil is understandable—but savaging your friends because they do not support your extreme views (that ironically align closely with Fascism) is not.

Like most Brits, when the details of the Final Solution and the horrors of Auschwitz were revealed, I had enormous sympathy for The Jews. But this was dissipated by the activities of Irgun and The Stern Gang—the massacre at Beir Yassim, the assassinations of Lord Moyne and Folke Bernadotte, the bombing of the King David Hotel, the cold blooded execution of unarmed British soldiers, and the hanging of two captured British NCOs in an orchard, the pictures of which caused my grandmother to exclaim:

“Hitler wasn’t wrong.”

Even at my young age her comment made my blood run cold – but I do understand the strength of her emotions. She lost brothers in WWI, and she lost many nights sleep and died young because of the stress of WWII when her sons and their cousins went to war to fight the evils of Fascism. By some miracle they all survived—she did not.

            My grandmother was an Orange Lodge Protestant banner carrying Sermon on The Mount Socialist from Greenock, Scotland. She is the backbone of my book THE GULF “Reaping the Whirlwind”. She is real, and the stories in the book are journalistic, based on events I witnessed during 40 years in the Mideast, and the archetypes of the expatriate characters who wash up there for whatever reason.

            Read Layla and Uncle Tom’s story in my book: the Christian Palestinian woman and ruin of an elderly Englishman who against all the brutal odds tried to run a Church of England orphanage near Ramallah—and failed.

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Moors & Christians go Hollywood

Yesterday I blogged about the MOROS y CRISTIANOS Fiesta in our small Mediterranean town in Spain saying nobody wants to be a Christian because, while the Moors dress up in splendid robes and jewels and swagger down the avenida smoking fine Cuban cigars, the Christians drag along in grey chain mail and a white sheet with a red cross. Well they have solved the recruitment problem.

After a 10 year gap I attended the grand parade last evening and the Christians now swagger first down the avenida smoking cigars and dressed up in shiny armour and winged helmets that owe more to Darth Vader than history – in fact the whole parade in typically Hollywood fashion sacrifices history for effect and became more like glamorous Carnival in Rio.

The parade started with beautiful jet-black Andalucian stallions being ridden at high speed up and down the avenida, stopping occasionally to prance and dance. These are the tallest and most elegant horses you have ever seen – and they still have the pretty head and arched neck of their much smaller Arab thoroughbred ancestors. And the riders dressed like Russell Crowe in GLADIATOR.

Then came ranks of Christian soldiers looking very aggressive in their body armour carrying pikes and huge halberds and accompanied by bands playing with thunderous drumming, wailing fifes and triumphant sounding brass (the Spanish love noise but Alhamdulillah [Thanks to God] we were spared fireworks).

I thought Christianity was about peace and love, but these Christians, particularly the Knights Templars in their faces hidden behind highly polished medieval helmets with the pointed visors closed, and white banners with a black Maltese Cross, looked fuller of hate than love. And then a break from history: ranks of female soldiers with polished breast plates suitably modified and lots of flashing thigh between leather knee boots and micro- mini skirts.

And then another break with history:

A flock of geese being herded by two beautiful young maidens clad only in sackcloth (vestal virgins?), followed by simple little carts pulled by mules and containing goats and attended by more maidens throwing packets of raisins to the crowd – and then donkey carts being attended by Mexican peasants??????

But the Moors had the finale:

First a succession of scantily clad dancing girls waving flimsy veils around their bodies – how did Salome get in there? – or possibly they represented the concubines of the Harem? And close on their heels came the resplendent ranks of Moors looking much less warlike than the Christians, and hell bent on enjoying life. (Let’s face it the dancing girls were just ahead). And the same loud and insistent drumming, and the fifes now playing the sliding quarter tone Arab scales and not the Celtic pentatonics of the Christians – and the brass less triumphant but shouting defiance.

And then the grand finale:

A splendid Caliph in all of his pomp riding a huge ornate float pulled by two magnificent brown bulls (the ultimate Mediterranean symbol of masculine virility) attended by a bodyguard on a camel that also pranced and danced. The camel had  multi-coloured hand woven tribal saddle bags and tassles – and the dark skinned rider had the sky blue head dress of the TUAREG – the fiercely independent North African nomad.

            For all of its Hollywoodization this Fiesta still has meaning. It is a symbol of the ongoing ideological struggle between Christianity and Islam. But there is no animosity. No priests or Imams or mullahs are to be seen – and after the parade the Moors and the Christians pull the turbans and helmets off their sweaty heads and drink a beer or three, and have  a few tapas in one of the many bars that line our Calle de Marques de Campos.

            These troops of Moors or Christians, and their associated bands, come from the villages in the hills that surround us. This is the highlight of their year. Throughout the year they meet weekly to design and make the costumes, to rehearse the band and the swaying slow march that owes a lot to the Saudi Arabian Bedouin sword dance.

            The women sew, the men march, and little children start at 4 on kettle drum or fife. Teenage girls play flute or clarinet or dance the Dance of the 7 veils (or these days of equality march as soldiers), and fathers play saxophone and grandfathers play trombone or tuba. This is what builds a community and anchors it to its history.

            In Sha’Allah (God Willing) this Fiesta will never die, and In Sha’Allah I will see it again before I die.

            If my love of human history – and its indomitable spirit of survival in spite of the actions of venal, corrupt and incompetent politicians – is showing, then I am glad. To find out more about how The West has screwed up its relations with the Middle East and Islam read my book THE GULF “Reaping the Whirlwind”.

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Nobody wants to be a Christian?

I am presently living in Spain which, as you probably know, was ruled by the Arabs for almost 700 years – and they have left an indelible mark on its architecture, cuisine and music – and on its dramatic and barbaric take on life and death in the hot and passionate afternoon that led to bullfighting. It was the ultimate bullfight aficionado Ernest Hemingway who wrote “Africa begins at The Pyrenees”.

It is a hot and humid August on our Mediterranean coast. The silly season in the UK and the time of fiestas in Spain – and the biggest of all is the “Moros y Cristians” (Moors & Christians) that celebrates the driving out of the Moors from Spain by the “Reyes Catolicas”, the Catholic Kings Ferdinand and Isabela.

In many towns this ends with a big parade of men – this is of course a macho culture – dressed either as Moors or Christians, accompanied by prancing horses and bands playing that swirling quarter tone scale, Arab influenced Spanish music that you hear at the bullfights that raises the hairs on your neck. And it is the Moors that occupy centre stage.

They link arms in groups of eight and slow march in a swaying and hypnotic rhythm down the very centre of the Avenidas dressed in the finest silk and satin robes with huge turbans on their heads and long fat Cuban cigars in their bejeweled fingers. The Christians straggle behind in no particular order dressed in grey chain mail covered with a white tabard with a simple red cross.

Nobody wants to be a Christian in that parade and they are far outnumbered by the Moors. It is a scene worthy of SHEHERAZADE.

If you want more insights into the fascinating, vibrant, atavistic and sometimes cruel and frightening world of Islam read my book THE GULF “Reaping the Whirlwind” – a series of stories of about expatriates, washed up The Arabian/Persian Gulf for whatever reason, trying to put their lives together in a rapidly changing and radically different culture.

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Reaping the Whirlwind

John Keays very fine book “Sowing the Wind” ends with a chapter called, quite naturally, “Reaping the Whirlwind” in which he identifies the events of 9/11 as an inevitable consequence of The West’s misguided and mismanaged foreign policies in The Middle East. While I agree with that as a first analysis you need to look at the motives behind The Wests’ policies to understand the madness.

It’s all about oil— Black Gold— big easy money that is the root of all evil. If there had been no oil the only foreigners living in the Middle East would be a few archaeologists and biblical scholars being driven mad by the heat, dust and flies—and thieving Bedouins.

Before WWI Winston Churchill said “Oil is the ultimate prize equated with world mastery” and it was the struggle for that world mastery that has caused the problems —and conflicts. After WWI Britain and France carved up the old Ottoman Empire: the French took Syria and Lebanon—and the dominant British artificially created Jordan, Iraq and Kuwait by drawing lines on maps of the empty deserts—and created the Persian oil industry.

The Arabian Gulf was just a neglected backwater described in common parlance as “The arsehole of The Empire with Abadan all the way up.”

Payback for Britain’s neglect came when the USA found their way in through the fabulous oil wealth of Saudi Arabia, and then fought two clandestine wars against Britain trying to take over the British Protectorates of the Trucial States (now the UAE) and Muscat & Oman. Having failed to take over the Arabian Peninsula they turned their attention to Persia (Iran) and the CIA overthrew the democratically elected government of Mosedeq and installed the despicable, corrupt and despotic SHAH.

(And Russia invaded Afghanistan trying to get ice bound Mother Russia into Iran and the oil wealth and warm waters of THE GULF)

I first visited and worked in THE GULF in the 60s when oil was below US$5/barrel and it was a system of feudal Emirates on the Arabian side—and a disparate tribal society struggling to establish social democracy on the Persian side.   

And then in the 70s The Gulf States seized control of their oil assets and created OPEC (The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) and raised the price of oil to US25/barrel.  And in spite of Kenneth Galbraith and other eminent economists’ predictions it did not ruin The West—it produced an economic boom. 

All those zillions of petrodollars were recycled in the 70s and 80s in rapid modernization and construction projects that made Riyadh, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Bahrain glittering temples of Western consumerism and varying levels of Western hedonism in the middle of what are still essentially feudal and tribal societies—and created the tensions with traditional Islam that led to terrorism.

It was Western greed and lust for world domination that created this situation. Big easy money always corrupts.

In my book THE GULF: “Reaping the Whirlwind” I illuminate the consequences of that greed and arrogance by telling the very human stories of expatriates— damaged souls—flotsam and jetsam of western societies who washed up in The Gulf for whatever reason. Veterans traumatized by fighting politicians’ wars, failed marriages, drug crazed teenage children, bankruptcy, downsizing and redundancy etc.

Hopefully it will give you some insights into the fascinating, complex and frightening world that threatens Western security: the biblical location of The Garden of Eden—and Armageddon.

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Final Solutions

How do you escape the Palestinian/Israeli conflict?

The stories in my book — THE GULF “Reaping the Whirlwind” — deal with expatriate lives in the Arabian/Persian Gulf in the 40 years following the oil price hike of 1972 when the region developed rapidly from a sleepy and neglected backwater of the British Empire into a world of  glitzy Americanized excess. Yet the last chapter THE BEGINNING is set in Israel. Why? Because anywhere and everywhere you go in the Near/Mid East — quite apart from the thousands of Palestinian refugees you will meet working in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Dubai and the UAE — you will be asked countless times what you think of the Jahud – the Jews.

And then you will be told that they will never be satisfied. Greater Israel is not just the West Bank, they want Jordan and across ancient Assyria to the Ur of Chaldea, in fact the whole of the Fertile Crescent – and even the holy sites of Islam – Mecca and Medinah. The other side of this coin is that Hamas will never be satisfied until Israel is driven into the sea and ceases to exist.

In this atmosphere of mistrust is any solution possible: it is The Balkans raised by a factor of 1000 or more. And just like The Balkans it is innocent children who pay the highest price. This bitter conflict between Semitic tribes randomly kills civilians by the thousands, leaving behind just as many orphans whose blighted future depends on the goodwill and hard work of charities trying to survive in the face of Israeli aggression.

In my book you can read one small story of Layla, a Palestinian Middle East Airlines cabin attendant who converted to Christianity and opened an orphanage outside Ramallah. And you can see that WWI, the war to end all wars, and WWII, the just war against Fascism that among other things liberated European Jews only led to even more pain and suffering.

You can preview my book at:


and download it if you have a Kindle. Or you can buy it as a paperback from:


who offer free delivery worldwide.