Travel meets journalism at Roads and Kingdoms

Last month, writers Nathan Thornburgh (a contributing editor to TIME and recent guest of Fox News) and Matt Goulding (food & culture writer and author behind the Eat This, Not That! book series) launched a new website with the intriguing tagline: “Journalism, travel, food, murder, music. First stop: Burma.” Combining on-the-spot reporting on current events and politics with in-depth cultural observations, rich photography, and engrossing narratives, Roads and Kingdoms feels like a travel blog we all want to write: a bit daring, occasionally foolhardy, and often inspiring. Fresh home from their first major trip and recovering from Burma belly, Gadling talked to co-founder Nathan about Roads and Kingdoms.

How would you describe your blog in one sentence?
Travel meets journalism.

How did it come about? How has your background in news helped (or hindered) your travels?
Matt and I felt like our work – he writes about food, I’m a foreign correspondent – actually had a lot in common. As writers on assignment, we found that the best parts of being on the road – the amazing meal on the street corner, the back-alley bar with the great live jams, the sweaty tuk tuk ride through the outskirts of the city – are left out of the final product. It’s those parts that we want to provide a home for. It’s a different kind of travel mindset, whether you’re going to London or Lagos. Journalism is all about being curious, which is a quality great travelers have as well.

It’s not meant to remain a blog: we’ll be launching our full site soon, which won’t just be our travels, but a variety of dispatches in the Roads and Kingdoms style, from writers and photographers and videographers around the world.
Why did you choose Burma as a first destination?
First off, we think Burma is going to be a huge tourist destination in the years to come, if the country continues to open up. It’s an amazingly vivid and warm country, and has a lot of the traditional rhythms of life that Thailand, for example, has lost.

Burma also had the perfect combination of stories for us to launch Roads and Kingdoms with. We were able to report on the killer hiphop scene in the south, up-and-coming graffiti artists in Rangoon, and of course, the amazing (and all but undiscovered) Burmese cuisine. Then Matt went to Bagan, this breathtaking valley of temples that will become a big part of Burma’s tourist boom. While he took in the temples, I visited the heart of the war-torn north, where I was able to hang out with gold miners and Kachin refugees and see a part of Burma that not a lot of people get to see.

What do you hope to inspire in readers?
We’d love to inspire readers to travel the way we do: with a sense of wonder and a big appetite, with curiosity and an awareness of the backstory behind the destinations.

Flashback, Burma Day One: Bad Crab from Roads and Kingdoms on Vimeo.

Roads and Kingdoms did not get detained in Myanmar for being journalists entering on a tourist visa. But Nathan still hit an unexpected roadblock on the first day in Burma: a plate of chili-slathered, rancid crab.

What are the challenges in blogging somewhere like Burma?

We were fortunate that our trip coincided with Hillary Clinton’s historic visit to Burma. The government didn’t want to create any problems that week, so we were incredibly free as journalists there; much more so than I could have ever imagined the first time I went in 2003. I was followed and watched when I visited the north, but they didn’t interfere with my work. However: Internet access still sucks. You can’t blog if you can’t connect, and that’s a huge problem in Burma.

How is social media adding to the blog?
Social media is huge for us. We’re starting out as a Tumblr, for example, not just because it’s great for articles/photos/videos, but because it’s so shareable. We want people to get involved, not just as passive consumers, but as advisers and compañeros along the way.

Where are you going next?
We have a short list, and we actually want readers to help us decide. London? Moscow? Lima? It’s a big world out there!

Follow the adventures at and connect with Nathan and Matt (and assorted interns) on Twitter @RoadsKingdoms and Facebook.

Body scanners used as porn by airport security

It had to happen sooner or later.

The Nigerian newspaper This Day has reported that security officials at Lagos airport are getting their jollies by watching female passengers go through a full-body scanner.

Nigerian investigative reporters visited the airport during a slow period when security officials had time to spare. The journalists found some of them hanging around the scanner display. Since the scanner blurs the face in an attempt to give anonymity, the officers were hurrying over to the line to peek at the passengers before going back to the scanner to check out their favorites.

The scanner was installed after the failed attack by underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was from Lagos, yet technicians have revealed a full-body scan wouldn’t have caught him. An Israeli security expert who helped plan security at Israel’s super-strict Ben Gurion Airport says body scanners don’t work. Israeli airports don’t use the device.

Many Nigerians feel it is against their religion to expose themselves to a stranger, while others fear the effects of radiation. The investigative journalists witnessed passengers objecting to go through the scanner until security turned off one of the metal detectors, giving them the choice of using the full-body scanner or waiting in a longer line.

United Airlines adds flights to Africa, the Middle East and Europe

Starting May 2, 2010, United Airlines fans can fly the carrier from the US to Africa for the first time in the company’s history. United will offer flights from DC to Accra, Ghana (and then on to Lagos, Nigeria). Beginning April 18, 2010, passengers flying from DC to Kuwait can also continue on to Bahrain.

Chicago to Brussels nonstop on March 28, 2010. The carrier also added several other new routes this year, including DC to Moscow, and DC to Geneva.

“Our first-ever non-stop service to Africa will offer customers convenient and comfortable travel opportunities to visit two of the fastest-growing cities in the continent,” United’s senior VP of planning said in a press release. “In addition, our new services to Bahrain and Brussels will open more international routes to our customers throughout Europe and the Middle East.”

Uncovering the history of African pop music

We love music here at Gadling, and we’re always on the lookout for great new sounds to accompany our travels. Earlier this summer, Aaron posted an interesting feature on Asian music, a frequently overlooked source for some hidden pop gems. But for anyone who’s hungry for some fresh sounds, there’s no greater treasure trove of amazing pop music than the continent of Africa.

When one thinks of Africa, it’s unfortunate that the first associations that come to mind are often famine, civil strife and abject poverty. However, the many regions of Africa are home to rich musical traditions. In addition to their homegrown musical styles, 20th Century African musicians played a pivotal role in the development of Western pop, creating a rich cross-pollination with musical styles ranging from the Blues to Psychedelic Rock to Funk. From the Proto-Blues Gnawa music of Northern Africa, to Funk and Disco-laden rock of 1970’s Nigeria, to the jazzy Mbalax of Senegal, African pop offers us an unmatched depth and breadth of choices for even the most casual listener.

Over the last few years, I’ve stumbled upon some hidden gems that have ignited an obsessive search into the annals of African pop. I’ve unearthed a few of my favorites here – it’s by no means a comprehensive listing, but any music fan will surely want to give these albums a listen. Click below for Gadling’s top African pop music picks and make sure to leave us some of your own favorites in the comments.
Nigeria 70: The Definitive Story of Funky Lagos
The 1970’s were a heady time in Nigeria. Having officially gained its independence from the United Kingdom just 10 years earlier, the citizens of Nigeria were in an optimistic mood, stoked by the country’s booming new oil economy. Naturally, this outpouring of optimism found its way into the country’s music scene, particularly in the capital of Lagos. Building off the wild success of Nigerian music superstars such as Fela Kuti, a range of Nigerian bands began to experiment, combining European and American musical sounds with their own homegrown musical influences.

Nigeria 70 is a three-disc compilation of this definitive period in Nigerian musical history. The funky tracks on this outstanding compilation run the gamut from Jazz to Afrobeat to Proto-Disco. The set also comes packaged with a five hour documentary chronicling the period’s many personalities and groups. If you like music, this is about as essential as it gets.

Chrissy Zebby Tembo – My Ancestors
The 1974 album “My Ancestors” by Zambian guitarist Chrissy Zebby Tembo and his band Ngozi Family is full of catchy hooks and fuzzed out psychedelic guitar solos. What Tembo lacks in proper singing style he more than makes up in personality and the deft musicianship of his guitar and backing band, Ngozi Family. It’s a funky, warm and delightfully carefree record for an artist caught in the midst of considerable violence and political unrest in his 1970’s homeland.

Ali Farka Toure – Self Titled
Perhaps there is no more iconic symbol of the rich history of blues than West African guitarist Ali Farka Toure. Toure, who passed away in 2006, is known as the father of the blues. This unpretentious rice farmer from the West African nation of Mali, frequently cited as the African John Lee Hooker, was strongly influenced by the rich Arabic musical traditions of North Africa. His virtuoso guitar playing is starkly beautiful, mournful and infectiously catchy. Though Ali Farka Toure released a number of albums, including a collaboration with guitar impresario Ry Cooder, his best work is probably his self titled debut. The track “Amandrai,” is from this first album:

Amadou & Mariam – Dimanche a Bamako
This 2005 album, produced by Malian husband and wife Amadou & Mariam, and produced by world music star Manu Chao, catapulted the pair to international superstardom. Despite their recent fame, Amadou & Mariam represent a collaboration that dates back more than 30 years. Perhaps most remarkable is that both musicians are blind – they met at the Bamako Institute for the Young Blind in Mali’s capital, kicking off what would become a lifelong partnership. Encapsulating many of the same Malian blues influences as Ali Farka Toure, Amadou & Mariam’s album Dimance a Bamako manages to be delightfully catchy, exuberant and full of life.

Word for the Travel Wise (04/23/06)

Most of my close Nigerian friends are from
Yoruba states in Nigeria so when I gather vocabulary words from the African country it’s normally the Yoruba language
that I’m soaking up. Then it suddenly occurred to me that I should probably do a better job of asking the few from Imo
and Nigeria’s other states about their mother tongue. Nothing is more important than being well-rounded in the various
dialects/lingos of one African country.

Today’s word is a Igbo word used in Nigeria:

– hello, how are you

English is the official language of Nigeria, which means any traveler should be able
to converse and navigate their way from Lagos to Jigawa with ease. (Unless you don’t speak English.) The country’s
three main languages include: Yoruba, Ibo (Igbo), and Hausa. Each of the three main languages are named after the
people they belong to and carry several dialects within themselves. Motherland Nigeria has an incredible intro to the
three languages, Nigerian slang and even a few examples of common Pidgin English spoken. Some audio samples are
available as well.

Past Nigerian/Yoruba words: ikun, feran