Author: Johnny Rodgers Band on The Rhythm Road

DAY 27: (Danny) When we landed in Malaysia, we were met by Chew and Nick from the U.S. Embassy and the Kota Kinabalu City Council. They hung welcome beads around our necks and told us how happy they were to have us in their country. They understood how tired we were and how we must have felt traveling so far to our last country on the tour. We told them how excited we were to experience a place we knew so little about. I had eaten at a few Malaysian restaurants in New York City, but otherwise, I knew nothig about the country or its culture.At our introductory meeting and briefing, we met our embassy liaison as well as the SPARKS performing arts organization/team led by the president, Cheong Kok Ann. They do such a great job of bringing culture and art to Malaysia. Cheong would prove to be very generous with his time by showing us many cool places in the city, including an indoor archery range where we acted out our Robin Hood fantasies. After our security briefing, we needed some rest because it looked like we were on the verge of a very busy schedule. I had to eat before I slept so I wandered down to the lobby and scored a big plate of mee goren noodles. After, I wandered around the lobby and found a great vocal group in one if the hotel’s lounges. They were doing a mix of classic rock and pop. I later found out that a lot of vocal groups from The Philippines travel to Malaysia to perform. I applauded their polished sound, choice of material and sexy dresses!The next day, we went to the University of Malaysia SABA to do a workshop and an evening concert in one of the most beautiful concert halls we’d been in on the tour. There was a grand piano for Johnny, which made him very happy, and set the tone for a great show. Before we got started, we went to the campus radio station to do an interview and play some tunes. While we were there, we did a fun station promo, something we got really good at during the tour.

The workshop was so much fun as we continued to break down the walls between the audience and our music. We discovered some fine young musicians in attendance including some singers, a jazz violinist and a melodica player. After, we rehearsed with a great guitarist and new friend, Rodger Wang. Rodger had been contracted to get us around and integrate us into the musical community. He brought in an arrangement of a Malaysian popular tune that had a similar message as New York State of Mind. He was accompanied by a great young singer and saxophonist. At the rehearsal, we read down the chart and added some Johnny Rodgers Band sound to the music. Rodger already had a great arrangement and charts so the rehearsal went well. He’s a great composer and runs his own studio in town.After the concert, we found out he had won an award for best international song from the Malaysian music Grammys. Members of the City Council took us out to an incredible dinner at a local restaurant later that evening.The next day I took a walk to the waterfront, which was basically across the street from the hotel. The esplanade was filled with open air booths of merchants selling fresh fish, shells, peppers, seaweed, conch, bananas, colorful fruits and jewelry.The sights, sounds and smells were overwhelming and intoxicating.There’s an island in the bay inhabited by illegal immigrants who have claimed it as their own with an established island government of their own. It is said that even the Kota Kinabalu police don’t try to enter the island because it would incite extreme violence. Yet, the inhabitants of the island come over in boats to trade and work in the city.Somehow, between all the ethnic and religious diversity in this city, everyone gets along working together, side by side. They share the same beautiful Malaysian sunsets and the bountiful, diverse food from land and sea. Maybe in this sharing of nature and culture, a silent bond is formed, a communion of community.

Next stop: Sandakan Malaysia.

DAY 27: (Danny) When we landed in Malaysia, we were met by Chew and Nick from the U.S. Embassy and the Kota Kinabalu City Council. They hung welcome beads around our necks and told us how happy they were to have us in their country. They understood how…

DAY 25: (Danny) Hospitality, snacks and song are the mainstays of everyday life in The Philippines.

Also, Christmas decorations and songs start at the beginning of September and continue through the 6th of January. Easter preparations start soon after, then Saints’ days and festivals to carry you into Spring. By Summer, you’ll need a new bathing suit because the food is too good to pass up. And, you’ll have a bigger and better voice because all the festivities involve everyone singing Karaoke.

Filipinos are the second largest immigrant group in the United States after Mexicans and we’re lucky to have such a beautiful, cultural addition in our country. The family and extended family is ever present at holiday gatherings and because we were in Manila for Thanksgiving, the circle widened to include us.We played a Thanksgiving Day gala at the American Embassy for the Ambassador and his guests. The menu pared our music with great wine, and of course, a multiple-course Thanksgiving feast prepared by the Embassy’s chefs.It was amazing to play and tour the grounds of this historic building perched above Manila Bay. It was a piece of WWII history and the trial of the captured Japanese general was held in the ballroom in which we played.The embassy staff, Joe, Jomar and Jenny, took such great care of us.The Ambassador was from Queens, New York and was a New York Met fan so we got along immediately. We also were invited to the home of the Public Affairs Officer for Thanksgiving dinner. Our hosts, Rick and Pinky, graciously invited us over to their beautiful home where we dined with their extended family and friends including a top designer, an art historian, a model and the Southeast Asia NCAA champion basketball team. Everyone had a great time and the food was a mix of traditional Thanksgiving fare and local favorites.

Shopping is a big part of the culture in the city and malls are a source of pride and bragging rights.These malls are like small cities and if you make a wrong turn, you could end up in an alternate universe where everything looks almost the same. Some of the largest, award-winning mall designs are in Manila and the surrounding provinces so it was no surprise that our two main concerts were on mall stages.We played three Master Classes at St. Thomas, FEU and Loyola Universities. We loved working with the students and they treated us to some great performances. We’re looking forward to staying in touch with everyone and have been answering Facebook requests and mail daily.We enjoyed talking with everyone, taking pictures and signing CDs after the concerts.

I would love to come back someday and see more of the islands and the beaches where, I’m told, the sand is as white and fine as sugar.

I feel so blessed to have had this experience in The Philippines where I received multifaceted gifts: a sense of renewal, holiday spirit, family and the joy of song. As we moved through these countries (six in 30 days) at lightning speed, it was hard to process and put into words the emotions and events in real time. Now that I’m home and I slowly decompress, I know that out of the stillness will come a river of expression. I hope I can put that down in this living and ever expanding journal. For years, I’ve meditated and prayed about playing music around the world on instruments from around the world with people from around the world. And this trip has been a manifestation of those prayers.

DAY 25: (Danny) Hospitality, snacks and song are the mainstays of everyday life in The Philippines. Also, Christmas decorations and songs start at the beginning of September and continue through the 6th of January. Easter preparations start soon after,…

DAY 27: (Brian) As soon as we drove into Phnom Penh from the airport, it felt like we were far from home – almost no signs of western culture or multinational corporate brands. I didn’t see a McDonald’s, KFC or an Exon sign anywhere. Just local, small businesses and food stalls mostly housed in old-style, French-built apartment buildings from the late 1950s and open-air street marts. There are crazy unspoken driving rules like “largest vehicle has right of way” at intersections where your driver would just push through a sea of thousands of young people and families on scooters and motorbikes, swerving every which way into any lane. It wasn’t uncommon to see up to five people on a bike with little children riding side saddle without helmets! I kept thinking how this city seemingly has no public safety laws whatsoever and my fears proved not unfounded in the terrible tragedy that immediately followed our departure.

Our time there, however, seemed magical. From the warmth and dignified respect we received from everyone we met from the incredible U.S. State Department staff and local employees to the student musicians we mentored and, of course, the warmth of the audiences in Kampong Chom and Phnom Penh.The children of Cambodia had a big effect on me as I am missing my own so much during this month away. There were so many I saw working during the school day, selling food (including bugs of all kinds), fruit, or dancing for tourists. We were told by locals that some go to school in the morning and some in the afternoon. I can only hope this is true because we saw so many young children in the country drive to Kampong Chom working and panhandling during the day with their even younger siblings on their backs. Makes me especially thankful on this Thanksgiving for my three healthy and happy kids: Holden, Liv and Max.

We did see happy kids with their caring parents and giggling school girls who gathered and seemed thoroughly entertained by just watching us set up and sound check.Our shows were magical as well and a true exchange of cultures as we jammed with local Gamelan master musicians, Pu Klaing the Cambodian rapper and pop star Meas Soksophea of Cambodia, incorporating their sounds and ours into a wonderful mélange of true “world music” at both of our two major shows. Not to mention the professional sound, lights and staging! It’s not every day one gets to perform on the double bass with pyrotechnics exploding all around!We had decided that on our last day in Cambodia – our day off – it was a must to go see this county’s wonder in Siem Reap, the 12th century temples of Ankgor Wat. Missing that would be like missing the pyramids of Egypt. Exhausted though we were, our excellent guide, Mony (he’d been guide to both Hillary and Bill Clinton on their visits there) made our visit informative. He took us to see the three best temples in our limited time. The scale and detail of the bas relief carvings and sculptures left us awestruck, each depicting different Hindu and Buddhist legends. Some were so modern looking and well preserved that it seemed as if they could have been done yesterday.We left Sunday for Manila, The Philippines, after playing the wonderful opening concert for the Water Festival in Phnom Penh on the Friday evening before. We could not have imagined the terrible tragedy that would unfold at the final day of the same festival on Monday. More than 400 people were crushed to death and more than 500 injured in an apparent stampede and panic as one of the city’s small bridges across the river swayed while overcrowded with festival revelers. Our deep condolences and prayers go out to the families of the men, women and children lost in this horrific event.It’s a terrible lesson about public safety that Phnom Penh has had to learn the hardest way, but I know that these unbelievably strong people and this fantastically rich culture on the cusp of a modern day renaissance will surely endure.