Coup de culture

Mamane Barka – The Last Master of the Biram

As a nomad of the Toubou tribe, Malam Mamane Barka is the indisputable son of the desert and the world’s only remaining master of the biram. He maintains the tradition single-handedly, bringing the boat-shaped instrument to world’s attention with his own unique blend of desert blues.

Mamane Barka was born in Tesker, in the eastern part of the Niger Republic, in 1959. He was a teacher for many years before his skills on the ngurumi, a traditional string instrument, made him a celebrated musician in Niger and Nigeria. In 2002, he received a UNESCO scholarship to materialize his dream of reviving the tradition of the biram, an enormous boat-shaped five-string harp. He travelled to Lake Chad to meet the Boudouma, an ethnic group of nomadic fisherman, and their sacred instrument, the biram, which they believe is protected by the spirit of the lake Kargila. At the time Boukar Tar – the only remaining master of the biram – was still alive and he taught Mamane the secrets of the holy instrument and the lyrics of the mystical songs. He then gave Mamane the last biram and asked him to promote it all over the world.

Sadly Boukar Tar has now passed away and Mamane is the only master of the biram in the world. He is maintaining the tradition single-handedly, bringing the instrument to the attention of the wider-world with his own blend of desert blues. With Oumarou’s trance-inducing percussion this album not only pays respect to the spiritual biram, but is also homage to the traditional percussion instruments of the rich Nigerien culture: the douma (the spiritual drum), the kalangou and the calabash.


Maname Barka: This is currently the only video on the web of Maname Barka playing the Biram. Please upload any videos, pictures or information on the ‘Biram’ on the web, as there is currently very little publicly available information on this musical tradition.

Lavender Ice Cream

For discerning country palates =)) (Λεεέμε….)

1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons lavender flowers
3 cups milk
3 tablespoons crème fraîche or heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 egg yolks

In a small heavy saucepan, combine 2 tablespoons of the sugar, 1 1/2
tablespoons of the lavender and 1 1/2 teaspoons of water. Cook over
moderate heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the
mixture forms a dry mass, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool,
then grind to a fine powder in a spice grinder; set aside.

In a large heavy saucepan, combine the milk, creme fraiche, vanilla bean
and remaining 1 1/4 cups sugar and 1/2 teaspoon lavender. Cook over
moderate heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves and the
mixture is hot, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and let
steep for 15 minutes. Strain the milk through a fine-mesh sieve and
return to the saucepan.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks until blended. Gradually whisk in
one-third of the warmed milk mixture in a thin stream, then whisk the
mixture back into the remaining milk in the saucepan. Stir in the
reserved lavender powder.

Cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard
lightly coats the back of a spoon, 5 to 7 minutes. Do not let boil.

Immediately remove from the heat and strain the custard into a medium
bowl. Set the bowl in a large bowl of ice and water and let cool to
room temperature, stirring occasionally. Cover and refrigerate until
cold, at least 2 hours or overnight.

Pour the custard into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the
manufacturer’s instructions.


To be honest

A bitter new row over ownership of the Elgin marbles has erupted, threatening to eclipse the inauguration this week of a major new museum in Athens designed to house the contested masterpieces.

Just days before the opening of the €130m (£110m) New Acropolis Museum, officials in Athens and London were this weekend engaging in barbed exchanges over the classical treasures.

The dispute, which has indirectly dragged in the Queen, the Greek-born Duke of Edinburgh, and Gordon Brown, re-erupted when Hannah Boulton, the British Museum’s spokeswoman, told an Athens radio station that it would consider a loan request from Greece provided that it acknowledged, as is customary with all borrowing institutions, that London owned the pieces. The sculptures, she said, could be displayed in the New Acropolis Museum for three or four months, “the length of time for an average loan of objects”.


To be honest, I couldn’t care less where the marbles are. They could be on a beach in Palau (with the 17 Uyghur detainees reclining on them, I guess), or in central Lagos. Much less do I think that they are, for some reason more precious than all the other displays in the museum. Needless to say that I certainly wouldn’t dedicate my life to trying to “bring them back”, as there are some far bigger fish to fry in our brief stay on this earth. Yet I am still truly appalled by the British Museum’s all too transparent colonial mentality that says “if we had to share that would mean giving everything back”. Well, what are you waiting for?


Strong Pimm’s®

1 1/2+ oz Pimm’s®
5 oz sparkling mineral water
1/2 oz lemon (or mixed citrus) juice
fresh sweet-mint leaves
lemons, sliced
cucumber, sliced
lemon, grapefruit and cucumber peel for garnish (OK, OK. Strawberries too if you insist.)

— Mix or shake in any way you fancy.
— Try it a couple of times on yourself before you serve others.
— This recipe will yield a slightly bitter drink –substitute mineral water with Sprite if you like fizzy soft drinks. (Just make sure you don’t tell me.)
— Serve in generous ordinary glasses.
— Don’t overdo it with garnishing.


British ‘naughty nuns’ face Crete court

They were charged with “scandal and misrepresentation of a costume or uniform” but were released when no one showed up to testify their behaviour was offensive, according to the Foreign Office. “The charges were dropped this morning, and the group are not yet back in the UK. We provided consular assistance,” a spokeswoman said.

As always in these cases I end up sympathising with the British consular diplomats who get caught between the savagery of the Greek police and that of lager-louts on holiday. This being said I wonder whether it is time for Greek police to become familiar with international cross-dressing practices –that was just a stag party after all, imagine if it were somewhat more serious. Teaching the complete works of Pedro Almodovar at Greek police schools would help IMHO. Then prospective policemen could move on to Pluralism 102 re: Religious Liberties.


The day before yesterday:

A plainclothes officer jogged across the road and got in my face.

“No photos.”

“Of the sea?”

“Give me your camera.”

“I don’t understand.”


“I’ve got my Oyster card”.


“Driving licence?”

He takes my licence. A group of policemen have sauntered over, and mutter Greekly about the enormous threat to the smooth running of Bilderberg I seem to represent.

“What is this?” asks one of the local militia. He takes my notebook. Opens it at random.

“What are you writing? What here?”

He points to an old 8 Out of 10 Cats joke (well, barely) about what would happen if we had a female Doctor Who. He jabs at it, proof, in black and white, of my status as an agitator. I read it out: “I’m not saying we’ve already had a female Doctor Who, but Sylvester McCoy put cracks in the glass ceiling.”

“Who is this? Syl… Syl…”

Sylvester McCoy.

“A friend of yours? He is staying here?”

There’s also a delightful photograph of Greek policemen on the Guardian but it would not go well with the Almodovar colours of the header.

But there is more…

They drove me to the police station. Other cars followed. At the station, officers gathered from all quarters. They’d sniffed an incident. A dozen of them stood round me. The Greek chorus reached full voice: “Give the camera! Delete photos! You understand?!” I hated my hands for trembling when I wrote down my father’s name so they could look me up on “computer”. But at least I got a chuckle hearing them try and pronounce Melvyn.

One of the policewomen smiled. “Delete photos and you can go, no trouble.” She looked like Christina Aguilera‘s slightly butch cousin and I fell on her smile with a thirst.



Series: Charlie Skelton’s Bilderberg files (Touch of class =)

Πολίτες στα πρόθυρα νευρικής κρίσης (Προκόπης Δούκας)

Αν η πολιτική αντιπαράθεση μεταξύ των δύο κομμάτων εξουσίας περιορίζεται στον καυγά της διαφοράς (αν θα είναι πάνω ή κάτω από το 3%), την ώρα που τα ποσοστά τους είναι με το ζόρι της τάξης του 30%, αν η εσωστρέφεια μας περιορίζει τον πολιτικό διάλογο σε επίπεδο επαρχιακού καφενείου, που δεν παίρνει χαμπάρι τι γίνεται στον πλανήτη κι αν ο ελληνικός λαός συνεχίζει να ψηφίζει για το Ευρωκοινοβούλιο διασπείροντας την ψήφο του σε “ψηφοδέλτια διαμαρτυρίας και ανυπακοής” – τότε διεκδικούμε τον τίτλο της πιο “υποκριτικά αντιευρωπαϊκής, μεσογειακά αντιδραστικής, συμφεροντολογικά μικροαστικής και φανατικά αυτοκαταστροφικής χώρας” σ’ αυτή την ήπειρο.