Category Archives: Music

Ten tips for working at home and self-isolating

I have always worked in part from home, on the road overseas in hotels, alone in strange places…  However, when I left full-time salaried work in 2015, and shifted primarily to working from home, I swiftly discovered the need substantially to readjust my habits.  For those without such experiences, who are being forced to self-isolate or work at home as a result of Covid-19 there are likely to be many challenges – but there are now plenty of guides available for things to do to help manage the rapid change of lifestyle (see below). Most of these are very sensible, but do not necessarily coincide with my own experiences.  So here are just a few tips that might be useful (in approximate order of importance):

1. Be positive and treat it as an adventure

positiveIt is much easier to enjoy change if you treat it in a positive way.  Think about all the good things: no need to travel to work; spending time with those you love (hopefully); doing things at home that you have always wanted to!  Treat the next few weeks or months as an opportunity to do new and exciting things.  Discover your home again! (Although this highlights the huge challenges facing the homeless).

2. Try to keep your  work place separate from your sleeping place

Clipart of woman sleeping at work image in Cliparts category at pixy.orgIf at all possible, it is absolutely essential to have separate sleeping and working places so that you remain sane.  There is much evidence that trying to sleep in the same place in which you work can confuse the mind, and may tend to make it continue to work when you want to go to sleep – even subconsciously – rather than enabling you to rest.  You are likely to be worried about the implications of Covid-19, and so it is essential that you do all you can to ensure a good night’s sleep.  This may not be easy for many people, but you should still try not to work in your bedroom!  And don’t continue working too late – give your body the time it needs to relax and rest.

3. Take as much exercise as possible

stairs-stairs-clipart_500-500It is incredibly easy to put on weight when working at home, even if you think you are not doing so!  This is bad for your health, and bad for morale.  It’s easy to understand why this happens: many people commute to work, and even if not cycling, they walk from their transport node to their office; homes are smaller than offices, and so you generally walk more at work than at home; and often you will go out of the office during the daytime, perhaps for lunch, but you can’t do this if you are self-isolating.  There are lots of things, though, that you can do to rectify this: walk up and down stairs several times a day (never take the lift); ensure that you go for a short walk every hour (even if it is just 20 times around your home); if you have some outdoor space, take up gardening (it uses lots of muscles you never thought you had!); and even if you don’t decide to buy a stationary bike (actually much cheaper than joining a gym), you can still exercise with a resistance band, or even use bags of sugar as weights!

4. Let everyone in the household have their own nest for working in

nestYou may well already have done this!  However, if not, remember that we all construct different kinds of places for working in.  I know I am one of the most antisocial people in the world when I am thinking and writing;  my home office looks a complete mess, but I know exactly where everything is, and woe betide anyone who moves something!  So, if there are several of you working at home, try to create your own spaces for working in.  Your husband, wife, partner, or children will all work in different ways, so try to ensure that everyone has a separate working place.  You will all be more productive – and get on better after you’ve finished working!

5. Plan your day – and give yourself treats

PLanWhen you don’t have to catch public transport, or cycle/drive/walk to work it is terribly easy to be lazy, and let time slip by without focusing on the tasks in hand.  Most people like to feel they have achieved something positive every day.  One way to ensure this is to plan each day carefully.  And don’t forget to give yourself treats when you have achieved something – whatever it is that you enjoy!

6. Keep a balance to your life

balanceThis is closely linked to planning – but don’t just spend all your time relaxing, or doing nothing but work!  It’s important to maintain diversity in life.  If your boss expects you to work a 10 hour day, then make sure that you do (hopefully s/he won’t).   But even then you  have 14 hours each day to do other things (please try and get 7 hours of sleep – it will help to keep you fit and well)!  I find that having a colour coded diary with a clear schedule helps me manage my life – even though I tend to work far too much!  The trouble is I enjoy my work!

7. Create agreed ground rules and expectations to reduce tensions

rulesMany people who now have to work at home because of Covid-19 will not have had much experience previously at doing this.  It can come as a shock getting to see other aspects of a loved one’s life.  Tensions are bound to arise, especially if you are trying to work when your children are at home because school has been closed.  It can help to have a thorough and transparent discussion between all members of a household (including the children) to set some ground rules for how you are going to manage the next few weeks and months.  This can indeed be challenging, and will frequently require revisiting, but having some shared expectations can help reduce the tensions that are bound to arise.  Listening (however difficult it is) often helps to lower tension.

8. Wear different clothes just as you would if you went out to work (and play)

Man and Woman Collection, Vector IllustrationThe clothes we wear represent how we feel, but can also help shape those feelings.  It is amazing what an effect it can have if you get dressed smartly when you are feeling low.  Likewise, most people like to dress in more relaxed clothing when they stop working, and we don’t usually sleep in the same clothes that we have worn during the day.  Just because you are working at home, doesn’t necessarily mean that you will work well in your pyjamas (and imagine if you are suddenly asked to join a conference call without time to change!).  The simple message is that we should continue to take care of ourselves, just as if we were going out to work or to a party!

9. Switch off your digital devices (at least some of the time)

digitalEnjoy the physicality of life.  Don’t always feel you have to be online in case “work” wants to get in touch.  None of us are that important.  The world will get by perfectly well without us!  There is a lot of evidence that being online late at night can also disturb our sleep patterns. Remember that although we are increasingly being programmed to believe that digital technology gives us much more freedom in how we work,  it is actually mainly used by the owners of capital further to exploit their workforces by making them work longer hours for no extra pay!

10. Use the time creatively to do something that you have always wanted to do

veg-vegetables-clipart-8-clipart-station_650-400Being self-isolated at home will mean that you have vastly more time on your hands than you can ever imagine (as long as you don’t work all day and night).  Use it creatively to do something that you have always thought about doing,  but never had the time before.  Read those books that you always wanted to. Learn a musical instrument.  Learn to speak a new language (Python or Mandarin).  Take up painting.  Discover how to cook delicious meals with limited resources.  Photograph the wildlife in your garden. Grow your own vegetables.  Make beer.  Even just plan your next (or first) holiday.

Other useful resources (with a mainly UK focus) include:

I very much hope that some of these ideas will help to get you through the next few months, and that we will all emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic as being more considerate for others, and less concerned about ourselves.  Thinking more about how you can help others rather than what you want yourself is a good way to start planning for self-isolation.

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Filed under Books, capitalism, China, digital technologies, Education, Empowerment, language, Learning, Music

Thanks to Teta Diana – a Rwandan star in the making

One of the very best things about my role as Secretary General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) is that I have the privilege to meet some extraordinary people from all across the Commonwealth, from Ministers and CEOs to street children, farmers and musicians.  It is truly amazing to have the opportunity for my life to be touched by their energy, passion and enthusiasm.  To be able to help bring incredible people together, and encourage them to work collaboratively to use ICTs to make the world a better place, is just fantastic.

I have always believed in working hard and playing hard!  The CTO’s conferences are therefore very much about having great discussions, but also getting to know each other in ways that one simply cannot (yet) do over the Internet! A valuable lesson that I have learnt in my time at the CTO has most definitely been the importance of the politics of the dance floor – and there are far too many embarrassing photos around to show this!

singers 3Our recent Commonwealth e-Governance Forum in Rwanda was just such an occasion, and shows above all the importance of friendship in international relations.  Back in 2013 I had the privilege of attending the Transform Africa conference held in Kigali.  As with so many international events (but sadly all too often not in my own country!) the government hosted some spectacular networking events in the evenings, none more so than a festival of dance and music held one evening in the Milles Collines hotel that showcased the very best of musical talent in Rwanda.  It was there that I first saw Teta Diana perform, and was captivated by her talent and personality.  So, when we were discussing our own Commonwealth e-Governance Forum I mentioned to a very special Rwandan friend that it would be amazing if he could arrange for her to perform at our event.

Incredibly, he did, and the photos below try to capture something of the very special evening event that he ensured was laid on for delegates (and thanks very much too to Rwanda Online who sponsored the evening):

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The star of the event, though, was absolutely Teta!  She has risen already to be one of the real stars of the Rwandan music scene, combining magical performances of traditional Rwandan music with more mainstream jazz, RnB and reggae.  She is an amazing ambassador for Rwanda, performing at various official events, and is now eager to take her passion for the way in which music can bring people together to a much wider audience internationally. She is definitely someone to look out for – and I really hope that fellow musicians and promoters in Europe will find ways through which she can bring her talent and personality to a much wider audience.  The links below provide an introduction to her music and her life:

Teta Diana is a very special person, determined to do very special things for Rwandans and for the spirit of the music that lives within her.

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Trinidad Panorama 2015

I was very fortunate to be invited to attend the 2015 Panorama in Port of Spain this afternoon, as a guest of iGovTT – and part of the iPOSSE.  Despite the mud, it was an amazingly vibrant and energetic event – that made me feel both very old and very white!  Panorama is the annual steelpan competition in Trinidad and Tobago, and for the semi-finals held in Queen’s Park Savannah in the centre of Port of Spain, there are many side events in a separate location just to the west of the main stands.  Companies and organisations pitch their ‘tents’, and each have their own posses, many replete with T-shirts personalised by people cutting them into all sorts of patterns. The DJs compete with the steelpan bands, booming out the loudest possible music, and as the alcohol levels rise the dancing becomes much more explicit!  I hope that the images below do justice to some of the vibrancy of the event!

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Korean hospitality and vitality at opening evening of ITU Plenipotentiary 2014

When I was last in Korea in 2013, I had the opportunity to watch some amazing drumming, martial arts and dancing in Seoul.  I was therefore greatly looking forward to the celebration of Korean culture that was to accompany the welcome dinner for the ITU 2014 Plenipotentiary conference held in Busan this evening.  As I hope the images below indicate, this was a vibrant and energetic performance that showed much about Korean culture, both old and new.  Thanks to the people of Korea, and of Busan in particular, for sharing with us just a little bit of their beauty, culture and hospitality  this evening.

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Open Mic/Jam session at ICTD2010

Thanks to Ugo for bringing together such an amazing set of ICT4D talent for last night’s party in the Stumble Inn.  It was an fine start to the social programme – and thanks to everyone for being so willing to contribute with everything from teaching us how to do Flamenco (Nicholas Negroponte style), to poetry to dancing.  The evening finished off with a guest performance from singer-songwriter Roxanne de Bastion

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The Commonwealth Youth Orchestra and Choir

The creation of an exciting new orchestra – the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra and Choir – has just been announced.  Its mission is “to bring together young musicians of the 54 countries of the Commonwealth, uniting them in the pursuit of musical excellence while transcending all cultural, political, social and economic boundaries, and promoting, by example, these values of excellence for the benefit of all people throughout the Commonwealth”.

The Orchestra has four aims:

  • To give students of the Commonwealth (aged 18 – 24) the opportunity to perform concerts throughout all the 54 countries of the Commonwealth.
  • To give composers of the Commonwealth international opportunities to have their music performed.
  • To give conductors of the Commonwealth international opportunities to conduct a world-class orchestra.
  • To give young soloists of the Commonwealth international opportunities to perform with a world-class orchestra.

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Emmanuel Jal at Africa Gathering

Emmanuel Jal smallEmmanuel Jal gave a moving rap-rendering and also a more formal account of his life as a child soldier in southern Sudan at today’s Africa Gathering in London.

Amongst his many activities, he is currently actively seeking sponsorship for educational activities in Sudan and Kenya.  The mission of his charity Gua Africa is “to work with individuals, families and communities to help them overcome the effects of war and poverty. Each of our projects focus on providing an education to children and young adults who would otherwise be denied such opportunity. Currently our work is in Kenya and Sudan, however in the future we would like to expand into other areas of Sub-Saharan Africa – working with other experienced partner organisations where ever opportunities arise”.

(video of his recent talk at TED) (Emmanuel Jal on MySpace)

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London Centre for Arts and Cultural Exchange – The Inside Out Festival

The London Centre for Arts and Cultural Exchange (LCACE) is organising a one week festival – the Inside Out Festival – from 19th-25th October, highlighting the contribution made by nine London university institutions to the arts and to culture.

The Festival will showcase the exciting, unexpected and sometimes unsung contribution made by nine London universities to the arts and culture. A packed programme of public events will include film, music, theatre and visual art, exhibitions and screenings, workshops and debates, with great thinkers of the day, high-profile figures and well-known academics, as well as up-and-coming undergraduate and postgraduate students. The events will take place all over the city both on university campuses and at leading cultural venues such as Kings Place, the National Portrait Gallery and Somerset House.

Highlights of the Inside Out Festival will include

  • a hard-hitting and controversial debate Art: What’s it good for? chaired by Michael Portillo at Kings Place with panellists including Evelyn Welch (Dean of Arts at Queen Mary, University of London), The Guardian’s Economics Editor Larry Elliott and contemporary artist Nasser Azam
  • ‘Colour, The Big Draw’ a fun, free, family drawing event at Goldsmiths, University of London
  • a performance by the improvising ensemble the Laptop Orchestra with experimental musician and sound curator David Toop from the London College of Communication

There are currently some 41 events listed in the programme, including student film screenings, Tudor and Stuart Southwark, a series of concerts on the theme of Impressions of Spain, a Gamelan concert, Andrew Motion in conversation, a creative writing workshop, and lots more

LCACE is a collaboration promoting the exchange of knowledge and expertise with the capital’s arts and cultural scholars. The partners are: University of the Arts London; Birkbeck, University of London; City University; Courtauld Institute of Art; Goldsmiths, University of London; King’s College London; the Guildhall School of Music & Drama; Queen Mary, University of London; and Royal Holloway, University of London.

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Musical interlude

… thought I would use this space to provide links to the great music being produced by some of my friends:

  • Bill Fleming – did a Master’s degree with us at Royal Holloway, and then went on to a PhD at Aberystwyth – but guess his heart is really in Georgia!  He introduced me to the music of Austin, Texas, and related adventures…  He is great on pedal steel guitar – but also vocals and a range of other instruments …  His latest album is Ear to ‘ere – as he notes “ear to ‘ere has been a long, slow train a-comin.  The tracks run all the way from the North Georgia Mountains to the Cambrian Hills of West Wales”.  Other CDs include: 14×7 Hand-picked songs from Georgia; 18th Independence Day sounds and songs of Boogie 2000; 14 x 11 Songs from the South (London) [Bill on Myspace]
  • Femi Iloyi aka Smooflow –  worked with me on the Imfundo team in DFID – but has an amazing other life – his work campaigning against gun-crime and violence in London.  He is half of Royal Priesthood – “the latest and greatest in UK’s underground hip-hop”- they were nominated in the category for best hip-hop artist at the Oasis Awards 2002,  for best hip hop at Hip Hop Awards 2002, and best unsigned act at the Urban Music Awards in  2004 and 2005; in February 2009 he picked up the prize for best short film at the MTV awards [Royal Priesthood on Myspace, on Youtube; profile by Tony Cummings]
  • Roxanne de Bastion – started her music career in Berlin, but moved to the UK in 2006, where as she says, “she’s managed an unrelenting schedule of performing, recording and band-ing. Highlights of her performing career (open air Festivals, rock venues and acoustic showcases) have been London’s The Troubadour, The 100 Club and The legendary Cavern Club in Liverpool”.  She recorded ‘Mono’ her first solo EP at the Zube bunker [Roxanne on Myspace; and on the NME site playing at the Barfly]

Who said my tastes weren’t eclectic?!

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