The Arty Semite

Monday Music: Pilgrimage to Timbuktu

By Mordechai Shinefield

  • Print
  • Share Share
Tatiana McCabe

In geographic space the farthest city from New York is Perth, Australia, but in mental space the farthest is certainly Timbuktu. The Malian city sits on the southern border of the Sahara Desert and is so distant that schoolchildren name it as an impossible place. Dictionaries define it as “the most distant place imaginable” or someplace “foreign, outlandish.” Appropriately then, The Sway Machinery — JDub Records’ preeminent cosmopolitan culture-divers — travelled to Timbuktu to make their new album, “The House of Friendly Ghosts Vol. 1.”

The Sway Machinery guitarist and vocalist Jeremiah Lockwood started work in 2008 on a project he simply called “Pilgrimage,” thematically organized around the Temple pilgrimages of Ancient Judea and his own need to search out his grandmother’s vanished village in Transylvania. These impulses were satisfied last year when the band traveled to Timbuktu to play the Festival in the Desert, and “House” is the document of that pilgrimage to Mali.

On one hand this is an album where The Sway Machinery outfit has almost vanished themselves. The Malian influences are so strong, inspired by world music acts like Tinariwen and the late Ali Farka Toure (his son Vieux Farka Toure plays a lush guitar piece on “Golden Wings”), that they take over the project. This is a good thing; like the best acts from Mali, the music feels immediate and layered in African blues.

At the same time, “House” feels very self-conscious about speaking in another’s voice. Amid samples from Mali (“Women Singing in Timbuktu,” “Camels,” “Call to Prayer”) that create the feeling of album as travelogue, they have included an excerpt from an opera by Lockwood’s father based on S. An-sky’s classic play “The Dybbuk.” In An-sky’s play, a young bride is possessed by a dislocated soul. Here, The Sway Machinery is possessed by a music that moved them to travel to Mali and perform in the sun-drenched desert.

On the track “Pilgrimage,” Lockwood sings, “I decided I will go on Pilgrimage / I will not be a stranger in this world ever again.” The song underlines the central paradox that lends “House” its power: The Sway Machinery wandered out into the diaspora and instead of strangeness they found themselves.

Watch the music video for ‘Gawad Teriamou’ from ‘The House of Friendly Ghosts Vol. 1.’:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Timbuktu, The Sway Machinery, Mordechai Shinefield, Music, Mali, Jdub Records, F

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.