January 23, 2013
Thomson guest and talented beatboxer, Ben Mirin, shared a special cultural exchange with the Maasai during his safari earlier this month. The Maasai taught him their ceremonial dance and Ben introduced them to the sounds of beatboxing – music they have never heard before. To see how it all unfolded, watch the video below and then read our interview with Ben to learn more about beatboxing and his unique visit.
This musical experiment is impromptu, but it blends basic beatbox techniques with elements of Maasai traditional dance. Creating it with this amazing group of people was a wonderful experience.
How long have you been beatboxing? Do you beatbox professionally?
I’ve been beatboxing my entire life, or at least as long as I’ve been actively listening to music. My earliest memories of it come from watching cartoons around age seven or eight. I would listen to the theme songs of shows on TV, then repeat the drum and melody lines back to myself, often simultaneously. I can only imagine what my parents thought at the time.
I became a professional beatboxer when I returned to the US from Japan in August 2012. I’ve been performing since late high school, but I got my first paying gigs last fall at clubs in my native Boston. I also developed a curriculum reinforced with beatboxing for an education management startup called Degrees2Dreams in Boston, and am still in the process of refining that program.
How would you describe beatboxing to someone who has never heard it before?
Simply put, beatboxing interprets and reinvents traditional musical sounds through the creativity of the human voice. To say it’s “a person imitating drums” or a DJ might make more sense, but I think that’s too simplistic. I’ve heard beatboxers imitate a huge range of instruments—brass, synth, guitar, etc.—very well, as well as produce musical sounds unique to the human voice. It’s music with your mouth, and it’s a growing genre in Hip Hop and international music.
How did you explain beatboxing to the Maasai?
These Maasai had already shown me incredible kindness by giving a riveting dance performance, and subsequently by teaching me how to dance with them. I explained through a translator that I wanted to express my gratitude by sharing an authentically American musical tradition with them. As the video shows, I began with some very basic beatbox sounds (bass drum, high hat, snare) and asked them to mimic them. Mimicry is a touchstone in my own experience becoming a beatboxer, and I think it’s a natural starting point for anyone interested in trying to learn.
How did the Maasai receive beatboxing?
This I think it is clear in the video…the Maasai loved it! Beatboxing has its roots in New York City, but recently it has become a worldwide phenomenon. This was the first time any of these warriors or women, or the Tanzanians nearby, had heard beatboxing, and I hope a few of them might carry the music with them and help it reach new parts of the world.
What were your impressions of Maasai music?
From what I know about Maasai culture (and I hope to expand that knowledge base), it seems natural that their vocal music tradition should be incredibly robust. In the absence of instruments, which may be too expensive or cumbersome to carry around, they sing with a lot of percussive as well as melodic sounds, from rhythmic bass lines to hisses and loud yelps. It’s completely a product of their environment, and that’s what I love most about it.
How did this experience inspire you creatively and do you think it will inspire your music in the future?
The best thing about beatboxing in my opinion is its universality. It draws on the inherent creative potential of an instrument—the voice—that people use to speak thousands of unique languages across the world, let alone make music. This experience in Tanzania has really got me thinking about ways to explore beatboxing’s potential as a cross-cultural force, with applications both within and beyond music.
Do you have any additional thoughts about the experience?
It isn’t the last…
I want to extend a final thank you to Thomson Safaris! It’s fantastic that you are so engaged in helping local communities in Tanzania, and as someone who balks at being a tourist wherever and whenever possible, I am grateful for the chance to have done something similar. This wonderful experience couldn’t have happened without everyone involved in your program.
To learn more about Ben Mirin and his beatboxing, visit his website.
December 20, 2012
Looking for some last-minute gift ideas for a safari, trekking or travel-enthusiast?
The following 10 items are gifts we have loved receiving or are topping our lists this year…(hint, hint)!
You wouldn’t dream of going to Tanzania without a camera! Be sure to make yourself familiar with all of its features well before your departure. Stay tuned to our blog for safari-specific camera recommendations – coming soon!
Binoculars are a must for safari travelers. We like this pair by Bushnell, Bushnell Legend Ultra HD, for its image clarity, color fidelity and light weight. It also features a rain proof coating for inclement weather.
|Preload a Kindle with Travel Books
The Kindle offers a great way for readers to travel with multiple titles and minimal weight. Gift a Kindle to your favorite traveler; while you’re at it, load it with great books that inspire or educate them about their upcoming travels. Check our reading list to find trekking or safari-specific book suggestions like the National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to African Wildlife and Peter Matthiessen‘s The Tree where Man was Born.
|Inreach Smartphone and GPS
Stay in touch with friends and family in remote places! This handy device transforms your smartphone or tablet into a GPS tracking system that not only locates your position but automatically keeps your friends and family up to date on your whereabouts. Learn more!
While an altimeter is not necessary for trekking Kilimanjaro, it sure is nice to watch the reading increase as you gain altitude and strive to reach 19,341′. A great gift for the Kilimanjaro trekker in your life!
|Songs of the Maasai Steppe by Loruvani
Put a soundtrack to the memories of your travels to Tanzania and watch/listen to the video above featuring spiritual and uplifting Maasai and Swahili gospel songs. Proceeds of the sale of this music go directly to the villages of the Maasai singers. Preview and purchase a CD or MP3s here: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/loruvani
|Andy Biggs Photography
Iconic photography from Africa makes for a very special gift. You can purchase imagery from professional African wildlife photographer and Thomson trip leader, Andy Biggs. His photos are signed and printed on acid-free fine art papers. Visit Andy’s photo gallery.
Modern Travel Posters
|Map Travel Journal
These handcrafted journals by Kristin Crane can be customized with any map of your choosing. Beautifully assembled, these little pieces of art are sure to be a treat for the traveler on your gift list.
Tried and true, this crank flashlight will always provide illumination without having to worry about batteries. Great for travelers headed to remote destinations.
—–Be sure to check our Dear Santa board on Pinterest for more ideas.
December 17, 2012
This beautiful film was just released! Have a look to learn about projects and communities we are proudly supporting in Tanzania.
December 6, 2012
The spectacle of a cheetah running at full speed is art; the anatomy and physique facilitating its speed and agility is genetic engineering at its best. The cheetah can accelerate from 0 – 60 mph in 3 seconds, making it the fastest land animal on the planet. Yes, even faster than Usain Bolt. Like Bolt, the cheetah is a sprinter – not a long distance runner – and can only attain high speeds in short bursts due to the tremendous drain on its energy resources. It could take up to 30 minutes for a cheetah to recover from a chase.
So just how can this big cat accelerate faster than a Ferrari? On the exterior, the cheetah is the most slender of the big cats; its lightweight body (weighing about 80-140 lbs.), small head and long legs are designed for aerodynamics. Structurally, the cheetah has a unique, flexible spine, which allows for extreme flexion and extension while running at top speeds. In spine flexion, when the cat’s legs are directly underneath its body, the scapula and hip are able to rotate to such an extreme angle that the cheetah’s front and hind legs overlap. To reach extension, the spine recoils like a spring propelling the cheetah’s legs out; it is this portion of the gait where the cheetah is able to reach strides up to 25 feet. Lastly, the cheetah is equipped with blunt, semi-retractable claws, which function similarly to soccer cleats. Since its claws never fully retract, like other big cats, they are always at-the-ready to provide powerful traction to the ground.
Watch this new National Geographic video for the pure, stunning beauty of a cheetah running at top speed.
Observing the cheetah’s gait in slow motion makes the dynamics of the flexible spine easily detectable. You’ll notice that only one foot at time makes contact with the ground all the while, the cheetah’s gaze is unfaltering – it is locked and loaded on its prey. See the claws? Unlike other big cats, they only partially retract.
Watch all the way through for bonus behind-the-scenes footage.
Being built for speed comes at a price in the bush. Their lightweight bodies and blunt claws are no match for the strength and aggression of others predators such as lions or leopards. If faced to defend itself or its kill, a cheetah would utilize the flight defense instead of fighting. This is one of the many factors challenging female cheetahs, who raise their cubs on their own. Only 10% of cheetah cubs raised in the Serengeti survive to maturity due to the dense population of predators.
Like other wildlife, cheetahs are facing obstacles such as habitat loss and human conflict. Conservation efforts like the Big Cat Initiative and National Geographic launched the Cause an Uproar campaign to help big cats around the world. Tune in to Nat Geo Wild to catch the beginning of Big Cat Week on Sunday, December 9.
November 14, 2012
Distinguished Harvard professor, loving husband and father, inspiring teacher, generous friend, renowned researcher and champion of science, Dr. Farish Jenkins was all of these things and more. His passing is a great loss to the many people he touched and inspired over the course of his lifetime.
We came to know Farish through his life-long interest in Tanzania; we were honored to plan nine of his adventures to Tanzania, trips he so ably led for Harvard Museum of Natural History. His 10th Thomson trip had been planned for this coming January.
For those of us who had the privilege to befriend him, work with him or simply observe in awe as he effortlessly held a room enthralled with his incomparable intellect and consummate charm, he will be greatly missed. For his many contributions to science, he will be acknowledged and praised by generations to come. For his inspiration to countless students, fellow scientists, and friends he will be remembered as a masterful and generous mentor. For his charm, grace, kindness and elegance, he set a new standard for the word gentleman.
While we are saddened by this loss, we are also grateful to have known such a brilliant man. And what discussion of Farish Jenkins would be complete without mentioning the hat? No one, but no one, wore a hat like Farish. Here’s to you, Farish! We tip our hats to you!
Our most heartfelt sympathies go out to his beloved wife and family and all those who were privileged to know this truly remarkable man.
November 12, 2012
Thomson Safaris’ guests, Lori and Mark made a memorable safari experience truly unforgettable. Read the story of their Maasai wedding vow renewal ceremony below.
Lori’s desire to visit Africa was realized when she was a young girl; over the years, her connection and passion for Africa’s wildlife and people grew more intense. “I’ve been listening to Lori talk about Africa for all 20 years of our marriage,” joked her husband, Mark. So for their 20th wedding anniversary, Mark surprised Lori with a Tanzanian safari, which they would enjoy the following year. For Lori, the surprises didn’t stop there!
Over the course of the next year, Mark secretly made detailed plans with our staff and the local Maasai community for a very special event on the eve of their 21st anniversary – a wedding vow renewal ceremony, Maasai-style. Mark was very diligent to make the ceremony as authentic as possible. “We are in their home, we are their guests and I wanted the ceremony to be authentic and true to their culture,” he said. The events of the ceremony and the traditional garments they were to wear were crafted well ahead of their visit to Tanzania.
On the day of the ceremony, the Thomson staff told all of the guests at the Nyumba camp they were invited to a local wedding. “I thought we hit the jackpot,” said Lori. “How lucky are we to experience something unplanned like this? So few people get this kind opportunity!” Lori immediately, and very excitedly, told Mark that she wanted to get to the ceremony site early to sit in the front row. Mark, who was instructed to keep Lori in their tent until preparations were finalized, searched for excuses to stall her. “Maybe you want to freshen up first…? Why do you want to sit in the front row, we don’t even know these people…? I don’t want to be the first ones there…” Mark kept struggling with reasons to keep Lori from leaving the tent.
Fortunately Mark was able to divert Lori’s frustration with his unsubstantiated excuses when he heard Maasai chanting in the distance; this was his signal the ceremony was beginning. He was finally able to reveal his plans to his very shocked wife, “The wedding that we are going to…it is not for a local member of the Maasai village, it is for us. We are getting re-married in a traditional Maasai wedding ceremony.” Lori was overwhelmed with emotion. “I had no idea what was going to happen next and I wanted to be present in the moment and take it all in,” she said.
A group of chanting Maasai warriors approached their tent and collected Mark and Lori to prepare them for the ceremony. Lori was escorted to a group of eight women who dressed her in the wedding garments they made for her, which included a dress and a beaded headpiece. “The garments and the jewelry were elaborate and so beautiful, we were touched by the amount of time and work they must have put into making them for us. It really meant a lot to us.”
There was a flurry of activity encircling Lori; Mark could barely make out what was happening through the blur of the women’s hands as they prepared her for the ceremony. He was able to see a special moment as young girls smiled proudly as they adorned Lori’s ears with beautiful beaded earrings they had made for her. He will never forget Lori’s face, in the midst of the excitement, beaming with pure emotion.
Maasai women dressing Lori in traditional wedding garments they made for the ceremony.
Johnson translated the ceremony from Maa to English.
Mark and Lori with their guide, Robert, their son, Adam and Ellie, Mark`s mom. The ceremony was a surprise to the whole family!
The ceremony included blessings from Maasai elders and a heartfelt exchange of vows between the couple.
The couple described it as a true cultural exchange with the Maasai. “We learned about their culture but they also learned about our culture."
The ceremony began when a group of chanting Maasai came to collect Mark and Lori to prepare them for the event.
The ceremony was held around the fire at the camp and began with four elders giving their blessings. Mark presented a photo from their wedding day, which was almost exactly 21 years prior, and began reciting his renewal vows. As Mark’s vows were being translated into Maa, he watched the translator’s eyes widen — this was a bit of culture shock! “In the Maasai culture, the bride and groom don’t really speak to one another during the ceremony,” Mark explained, “so for Maasai guests to hear us sharing emotional and heartfelt words and deep expressions of love for one another was completely foreign to them.”
This was one of the many moments the couple describes as a true cultural exchange with the Maasai. “We learned about their culture but they also learned about our culture. The last thing we wanted was this to feel like a show they put on for their American guests. The Maasai were so warm and welcoming and they really seemed to embrace and genuinely engage in the whole experience.”
The Maasai were as moved by the experience as Mark and Lori. “We are honored to bless this wedding and host you people from America,” said one traditional elder and spiritual leader. “Any of your family or friends or anyone is welcome to have a beautiful celebration like this one with the Maasai of our village.”
Since they’ve returned home, Lori and Mark are still relishing in the experience. “It was the convergence of a meaningful and spiritual place with a deeply emotional moment,” said Lori, “It was the perfect combination to make this experience a once in a lifetime event for which I will forever be grateful. I was so blown away with my husband conceiving of this idea and planning every last detail, and pulling it off without a hitch. Honestly, I have no idea how he did it. I am also so appreciative of the Thomson staff and their willingness to help plan this event and create such a unique memory for us. They were amazing. Asante Sana!”