Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Paul Simon: Under African Skies

This is a stunning song that I have just discovered. Its quite old, dating from the Graceland concert of 1986 but what a song. The poetry is up to Paul Simon's usual high standards (I reckon he would make a decent living as a poet alone) but it is the blending of music with words (the essence of the songwriters craft) that transforms this into really great art.

The sympathetic use of the Southern African rhythms, melodies and instruments gives not just a flavour of the exotic but almost a whole new hybrid form of folk music. You can listen to the song performed by Paul Simon and Miriam Makeba (another truly great singer) here

The text is reproduced below:

Under African Skies by Paul Simon

Joseph's face was black as night
The pale yellow moon shone in his eyes
His path was marked
By the stars in the Southern Hemisphere
And he walked his days
Under African skies
This is the story of how we begin to remember
This is the powerful pulsing of love in the vein
After the dream of falling and calling your name out
These are the roots of rhythm
And the roots of rhythm remain

In early memory
Sounds of music
Were ringing 'round my Grandmother's door
I said take this child,
From The Township of Mukulo
Give her the wings to fly through harmony
And she won't bother you no more

This is the story of how we begin to remember
This is the powerful pulsing of love in the vein
After the dream of falling and calling your name out
These are the roots of rhythm
And the roots of rhythm remain

Joseph's face was black as night
And the pale yellow moon shone in his eyes
His path was marked
By the stars in the Southern Hemisphere
And he walked the length of his days
Under African skies

A couple of other great songs from that concert (featuring the Ladysmith Black Mambazo are Call Me Al and Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.

You can watch Paul Simon talking to Joseph, the leader of the Ladysmith Black Mambazo on the making of some of the music here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

SriLankan, Air Lanka and Air Ceylon

Does anyone know the latest joke doing the rounds?

When Air Lanka was a state airline its code letters UL were said to stand for "usually late". Now that SriLankan is now back under state management, they have gone one better. Now the code is said to stand for "unable to locate aircraft".

Funnily enough, this is exactly how dear old Air Ceylon collapsed. We used to have a few coasters and some cutlery emblazoned with the Air Ceylon Logo (which I always thought was really nice, much better than the Air Lanka or SriLankan logos -have a look at it here and here.

Coming back to the story of the collapse of Air Ceylon, it happened when one of its aircraft was seized in Europe for non payment of fuel bills in 1977. Another aircraft was blown up at Ratmalana in 1978 and that was the end for Air Ceylon. Ones wonders whether a similar fate will befall SriLankan?

More details on Air Ceylon's history are available here and here.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

BodybyKris: Closed for maintenance - Update

BodybyKris (BBK) a popular gym down Gregory's Road has been closed for maintenance and according to the owners will be opened again on the 10th of April.

The story on the grape vine however is that the gym has been closed due to non-payment of rent on the premises, most probably by a court order. For the sake of the fitness fanatics of Colombo let us hope that the gym is re-opened quickly because it is one of the few properly equipped gyms in the country.

For as long as anyone can remember there have always been gyms in the country but for the most part they were used only by a few hardcore bodybuilders. Sportsmen played their sport and practiced but apart perhaps from running on a field did not do much in the way of general fitness, and what little they did was not in a gym. Gym's were found in places like the YMCA or the Youth Centre in Maharagama and were equipped with weights - dumbbells, barbells a few benches and not a lot else.

The revolution in gyms came about with the advent of PowerWorld in 1994 or 1995. Fitness suddenly became fashionable. Gyms were equipped with air conditioning, piped music and machines - no longer was it necessary to work only with weights. Something that was previously the haunt of lower class men became a past time of the rich. The middle class and upper class started going to the gym, as did a number of women.

The craze spawned many imitators and gyms began to multiply. Given the wider availability one would expect that quality would improve but this was not to be. While the appearance, the decor and the amounts invested in equipment has increased, no one gym is fully equipped. The problem seems to be that the people investing their money in a gym do not seem to understand the needs of the users.

The expensive gyms in the large city hotels and places like Waters Edge and Fitness First are all built around cardio machines with varying levels of other equipment thrown in. It is extremely frustrating to go from gym to gym and finding each one wanting in one respect or another. The only two gyms that were, in my opinion properly equipped were PowerWorld in Colpetty (closed since December 2007) and BodybyKris.

The minimum equipment needed for a decent gym in my opinion are:

1. Incline, decline and flat benches.
2. Shoulder press rack
3. Cable crossover machine.
4. Low row, T Bar row, incline T bar row.
5. Power rack and Smith machine.
6. Preacher curl.
7. Pull down machine
8. Pec dec.
9. Leg extension, curl and press machines.
10. Calf raise.

Other desirable machnies:
1. Preacher curl machine
2. Chest press and incline press machines.

In addition, plenty of bars, wheels and dumbbells plus some cardio equipment.

The closest to a fully equipped gym in Colombo was BodybyKris and one hopes that someone will ensure that the gym equipment does not go to waste, although in the light of other pressing issues, this is likely to be last thing on people's minds these days.

UPDATE: According to the latest information available, the management says the gym will be open on the 16th of April, not the 10th.

UPDATE 2: The gym was due to open yesterday (16th) but is apparently still not open. According to the rumours going around members have been told that the gym will open in due course and that they will be notified when this happens. Memberships will be extended to cover the period of closure.

Friday, April 11, 2008


Was driving past the new British High Commission office complex(at least that's what I think it is - its located just next door to the High Commissioners house), and was amazed to notice the degree to which it was secured.

Two walls as least and judging by what was going on, fencing security lighting and possibly even camera to come on top. Reminded me of a prison.

It brought back memories, not all that far off, when I used to cycle past Trenchard House. The walls were just four feet high, in some places where the earth had banked up against the wall it was only a couple of feet high. The gates were always closed, but in an even earlier era they were probably left open.

I remember the French embassy once having walls of only four or five feet high and the gates being open all day. When playing close by occasionally a ball would fly in to the embassy premises and someone would have to run in and fetch it. I don't even think there was a even a security guard there, but maybe that's just my memory: there should have been somebody manning the gate; at any rate we were never stopped or questioned us in our quest for missing balls.

Over the years I've watched as the gates closed and the walls climbed. Always slowly, first a foot, then another. I watched railings, cameras, barriers, security guards and even a police presence appear, into what was once an occasional extension of our playground.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

GoldQuest returns

A wew years ago, a pyramid scam by the name of GoldQuest was taking Sri Lanka by storm. To my horror I watched Bankers, Engineers, Accountants, Architects and various top level executives in business, people who one would expect to be skeptical and prudent, rushing in with enthusiasm.

The new business model, they claimed, the new way of marketing. Even people calling themselves professional marketers joined the fray. Presumably these 'merketing people' were people who lacked any kind of experience with actual distribution and who presumably equated marketing with advertising.

When sections of the press blew the whistle, GoldQuest responded with full page newspaper advertisements, television commercials, sports sponsorships and a host of other tactics to try and disarm its critics.

The scheme eventually collapsed and was banned by the Central Bank.

I know Sri Lanka has suffered a brain drain (who else but a bunch of mutts would have put this government into power?) but I was at a loss to explain how the upper echelons of the corporate sector could have been fooled by a trick that was almost a century old. I know people in this country are insular and unread but this was ridiculous.

Nevertheless I thought we had finally seen the back of them, but no, they are back: different name, but same old scam. They now call themselves Lotus Marketing see the stories here and here.

They have collapsed in many other places and have also been reborn as Qatana or Questnet. Do a google search and read the details.

Ach du! Seems like you cant keep a good crook down eh?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Famous last words?

The President has been exhorting the people to stop thing of themselves as poor. He said Sri Lanka has maintained a gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of more than 6.0 percent for three years running.

"In 2001 economic growth was negative and people said the economy collapsed. When economic growth is around 7 percent for three years, foreign reserves at the highest level, unemployment at the lowest, is the economy falling? Is this a joke or is it a treachery?"

Presumably the man is claiming credit for the improved economic performance since 2001. The tsunami, a global boom and the UNP probably had more to do with this than anything else but let us wait a while and see how the policies of 2005-7 translate to growth.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Tigers break a promise?

I don't have a very high opinion of the local press, something I've blogged about here and of late I have been reading even less of it than I used to.

I have taken a couple of days off the gym routine so with a bit of time on my hands glanced through some of the papers and this caught my eye: "Tigers break promise, attack sports event".

The news story does not elaborate on the headline but the editorial of the same day mentions an LTTE pledge that it would not target sports events.

I don't seem to recall where they might have made such a pledge? In the ceasefire agreement? But that is a dead letter now. Perhaps in some earlier undertaking?

They have made and broken plenty of promises but that is not the question. Can someone elaborate? Did they actually make such a pledge and if so where and when? Or was the headline merely written in a way to increase readership?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Piano recital on the 5th of April

A good evenings entertainment awaited anyone who braved the rain to listen to Japanese pianist Masahiko Shinohara at the Russian Cultural Centre.

To begin with, an interesting programme: Mozart Sonata No.12, K332; Beethoven Sonata op. 111, two Rachmaninov Preludes (6&7 from op.23) and Chopin's rarely heard mature sonata, No.3 op.58.

The playing was more than competent throughout with the pianist showing much sympathy with the music being performed although he seemed a little less comfortable with the Chopin. Tempi tended to be brisk, slightly fast perhaps, but this worked well with all pieces save the Chopin.

The tragedy of the whole affair was the poor attendance, the (fairly small) hall being only about a quarter filled. The organisers who had no budget for publicity were partly to blame although the weather did not help. Given the cost of bringing the poor man down, they could have made a better effort to publicise details, which, if properly done, could have been achieved at no cost. The pianist seemed rather disappointed and opted to shed his jacket and tie to play the second half in his shirtsleeves.

He seemed well pleased by the applause at the end for he returned for no less than four encores, which I confess I could not identify. Two were, I am told Debussy images. I had to leave during his fourth encore and am not sure if he played any more after that.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Some interesting blogs

While browsing the web, came across some interesting blogs by some old-timers. They offer some fascinating insights into the past, just thought I'd share them with everyone else. Hope you find them as interesting as I did.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Bias and hypocrisy of the international community

This was long suspected and alleged. Minds raced as Pundits read into various issues and detected the subtle traces of a vicious and organised campaign against the democratically elected government.

The Government, never good at PR seemed helpless against the machinations of the evil coterie ranged against it. The actors included NGO's, INGO's the UN, the World Bank, the media even the Church.

Now it is proven. The hidden hand is revealed.

Four innocents have been killed and several others hurt, the full sorry story is here

and the perpetrator is an agent of the Church, fed on false information by the Bishops who in turn are in the pay of the INGO's. The text is damning: "He covers his hands with the lightning, and commands it to strike the mark. Its crashing tells about him; he is jealous with anger against iniquity."(Job 36:32 to 37:13 NRS)

The GoSL needs to wake up and act, Dayan Jayatillaka and Rjiva Wijesinghe need to take a stand.