River Music


One night in the Ethiopian desert, five Grand Canyon river guides sat under the stars. It was a quiet evening except for the distant celebratory drumming coming from a small village located across a dry creek bed marking the border with Sudan. Armed with headlamps and water bottles, Bruce Helin, Brad Dimock, Elena Kirschner, Tom Moody, and I had attempted to join the party. To make a long story short, we eventually found ourselves in the middle of a dirt airstrip where a dc3 would pick us up the next day and return us to “civilization”.
We were settling into a thorough discussion of the Omo river trip we’d just completed, when someone said “shhh, listen…”. We heard footsteps approaching in the darkness. In the middle of open space crossed by lions and, who knows, leopards (if you’re lucky) with no refuge in close proximity, we held our breath and awaited our fate. The footsteps increased in volume until the vague forms of three extremely tall Sudanese men took shape before us. They were almost naked, as most folks in this neck of the woods are, their main adornment being elaborate hairdos, and each one held a spear the size of Texas.
Sitting in silent anticipation of our imminent death or worse, we were stunned when the middle warrior raised a hand into the sky and said “Hello”. “Hello” we cried, erupting in laughter, shouting benevolent greetings of every sort, waving our own hands. “Salaam salaam salaam”. The warriors were laughing, too. For one brief moment, we understood one another completely. The laughter died down, the warriors looked at us, and then one another, and having nothing more to say, walked on into the night.
Returning to camp, words and melody describing this brief but meaningful encounter flooded my being. Lyrics scribbled down in my tent that night became a song called Hello Jambo. The joy I found in writing that song encouraged me to create more songs of other adventures. And now, I’m absolutely amazed to say, I’ve recorded ten of these songs, including Hello Jambo, and have just completed the album, River Running.

One of the songs included is called A Lone Ranger Rides. It’s about Whale and what I learned from him. A percentage of the profits from the album will go to the Whale Foundation. Another song, Dust In The Rain, began as an exploration of my feelings when my grandfather, Poppy Ray, passed away. Over time the song took on a life of its own as I sang it at Joy Ungricht’s funeral, and Dugald Bremner’s too. Crystalline Condition is a song that flowed out of a flip. Yep. I flipped in Crystal last year. Incorporating all I learned from that event led me to feel I was undergoing a metamorphosis, “pressure, heat and water making me some other human”.
Anywho, I thought if there’s any group of people out there who might appreciate this record, it’s you all. It’s a full on pop production with folks like Kirk Burnett (mandolin), Brian Dierker (yee hah), and the exuberant Backup Vocal Mayhem: Zander Brown, Suzanne Motsinger, Ken Reid, and Christa Sadler—who were all on the Crystalline Condition trip. Now, I don’t actually have a cd in my hands yet, but mid- December, if all goes according to plan, I will. Be happy to send you one. You may call, write, or email me at Nancy Helin/Poppy Ray Music—928-214-6401, P.O. Box 1483, Flagstaff, az, 86002-1483, poppyraymusic@uneedspeed.net and I’ll send you an order sheet. If you live in Flagstaff, you can purchase it at Gopher Sounds, 6 W. Route 66. Ya hoo! Have a wonderful winter everyone.
Nancy Helin