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Tony Trischka’s Banjo Safari experience in an ancient volcanic crater!

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20 February, 2019 – 26 February, 2019, Black Rhino Game Lodge, Pilanesberg, South Africa.

Written by: Wiam Otto – Founder, MSWIA Music Safaris

Banjo safari definition: Attending a music workshop, on safari in Africa, with a Banjo on your lap.


What an incredible privilege it was to have Banjo extraordinaire – Tony Trischka- as our Banjo Safari instructor for 2019! A magical time spent relaxing and rejuvenating in the bush, learning from a banjo legend, making new friendships and having a great time.

I picked Tony and his party up from the airport on a sunny Tuesday morning in February 2019 from the OR Tambo International airport in Johannesburg. It was clear right from the start that this was going to be a wonderful trip. Tony, his son Sean (who joined him on Mandolin in teaching sessions and concerts), and Tony’s management team were so friendly and excited about the trip and about being in South Africa. I expected Tony and his team to be tired after the 14hr flight, but after we checked into the hotel, everybody was ready for some sightseeing, and we were off to Soweto for a tour of Villikazi street. We did a tour of Nelson Mandela’s home and enjoyed some highly energetic and rhythmic gumboot dancing, a style of South African dancing using hand claps, boot claps and a capella singing – first performed by the Basotho people when they came down from the mountains of Lesotho to work as miners in the gold mines. After that we savoured some local cuisine and headed back to the hotel.That evening at the hotel we kicked off the tour with a meet and greet, as everybody had arrived in South Africa by then. It was the first time that the entire group had met, so the excitement and energy levels were high, and folks were eager to finally start the trip. We spent a lovely evening together getting to know each other over dinner.

Our first official day together started with some Curios shopping and a visit to a Craft Beer and Gin brewery where we relaxed for lunch. It was not long before the banjos were brought out and folks started pickin’ some tunes. We then headed off to the Lesedi Cultural Village for an amazing cultural presentation of the various South African tribes. The tour, storytelling, history, dancing and food was amazing! The energy, enthusiasm and warmth of the people of Lesedi truly embody the South African spirit of “Ubuntu”-togetherness.On day two we woke up to another beautiful sunny morning and a relaxed breakfast. Just before we departed, Tony teamed up with some of the Lesedi staff, who are all very accomplished Maskandi musicians(Traditional Zulu music), for a wonderful once off impromptu Banjo meets Zulu guitar jam.After that magical jam we loaded the van and set off to the Black Rhino Game Lodge in the Pilanesberg, a mere two hours’ drive away. We had a lovely scenic drive filled with rolling hills and lush grasslands as we edged deeper into the Savanna.

Upon arrival at the Black Rhino Lodge, we checked in, unpacked and headed out on our very first safari drive. We had hardly been in the bush for 10 minutes before we saw our first elephant bull!  Right next to the road, grazing in the grass, stood a towering elephant bull. It was a magnificent sighting, and it set the tone for the rest of the trip. After that we saw some giraffes, impala, zebra and then a massive herd of about 30 elephants. In addition to these glorious elephant sightings we saw an enormous white rhinoceros bull next to the road, hippos in the water, a black backed jackal, and plenty of other game. Back at the lodge after the safari drive we received a warm welcome from the Black Rhino staff and sat down for a mouth-watering dinner, followed by the first official Banjo session with Tony.

Day three started with an early morning safari drive where we could really savour the beauty of the open Savanna and landscape of the Pilanesberg National Park, which is located in an ancient volcanic crater, lending itself to wonderful views and scenery. After breakfast the participants set out for a full day of banjo workshops with Tony, only breaking for lunch. After a hard day’s work, the group set out for another afternoon safari drive – not knowing that this would be one of the most exhilarating game drives of the trip. Once again, we saw elephants and rhinos on the drive, but it was as we drove around the corner of a thicket that we came upon three majestic lions walking straight at our game viewer vehicles! Two female lions and one male were walking towards us from about twenty meters away. They kept their direction, not interested in changing course or moving for us, all three of them, literally walked right past our safari truck. It was an extraordinary and exhilarating experience to say the least, and then they were gone, off into the bush.

With every day better than the last, on day four we had a true highlight of the entire safari-Tony and his son Sean’s Al Fresco concert in the bush. We could not have chosen a more breathtaking spot, set on the foot of an escarpment with unspoiled scenery all around. We enjoyed sun downers surrounded by views of the Savanna landscape, green grass, thorny bushes and mountains with the promise of a spectacular sunset and an exceptional performance to come. The group sat on old logs facing Tony and Sean with the sun setting red in the background as they savored the moment and Tony’s magical performance. They performed some of Tony’s originals, some fiddle tunes, a couple of Sean’s songs, and a Beatles medley to which we all sang along. Unplugged, acoustic and unspoiled. Absolutely mesmerizing! The sound of musical instruments out in nature where there is no noise pollution is something truly special, and an experience not soon to be forgotten.

The following couple of days were spent doing more of the same. Safari drives, banjo workshops, eating, banjo workshops and safari drives. The lodge was also frequently visited by herds of elephants splashing and swimming in the watering hole right in front of the lodge. Tony’s brilliant teaching was truly exceptional, and every participant enjoyed the small group setting, with a private lesson for each, as well as group learning opportunities. We really had a wonderful group of musicians on this trip, and a strong sense of camaraderie and friendship had formed.

On the final full day we ended off with a Student concert lead by Tony. The group performed a couple of songs together and some of the students also played a song on their own. To top it off the staff of the Black Rhino Lodge came out and performed some beautiful African songs for us. It was the perfect ending to an amazing trip.

We were extremely fortunate to have perfect weather all through the trip, and many of the guests spoke about the beautiful connection they made with nature, the wildlife and the animals. An overwhelming realisation that nature and the wild animals of our planet are sacred, and that it should be treasured, protected and respected.

A huge thanks to Tony, Sean, Tony’s team and the Banjo Safari class of 2019, without whom this wonderful experience would not have been possible, with a special thanks to Mr. Tony Trischka. Tony was truly exemplary and one of the friendliest and most knowledgeable teachers we have worked with so far. It was an honour and a privilege.

We hope to welcome all of you back to South Africa soon!


All the best,

Wiam and Reené Otto

Photo credit: Robert Fairbairn & Reené Otto

Soul sessions with Keb’ Mo’ on his Blues safari in South-Africa!

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KEB’ MO’ Blues Safari

28 February, 2018 – 8 March, 2018


What an honor it was to have 4 time GRAMMY winner and Blues legend – Keb’ Mo’ as the instructor and host of our 2018 Blues & Songwriting safari in South-Africa. Eight magical days immersed in music, learning and the majestic beauty of the African bush.

Guests came from North–America, Uzbekistan and South-Africa to be a part of this once in a life time musical adventure. Everyone was very exited to meet one another, to be in South- Africa and to have the rare opportunity to spend time with their musical hero – Mr. Keb’ Mo’.

We departed the cultural village at 09:00 AM on day one and took a relaxed and easy drive through the lush greenery and rolling hills of the South-African country side on our way to the game reserve. The excitement on the bus was tangible and it wasn’t long before a bunch of the guys pulled out their guitars and harmonicas and started a jam right there on the bus. I sat next to Mr. Mo. He looked at me and said: “ Hey man, I can’t just sit here while that jam is going on”, and with that he stood up and joined the jam at the back of the bus – a testimony to his great spirit and kind heart.

After about two hours of driving on a dirt road which was described by some of the guests as ‘the longest stretch of dirt road they had ever seen in their lives’, we finally arrived at the game reserve. It was a hot summers day in Africa and folks were eager to get to the lodge and go out for their first game drive. We unloaded the bus and got all of our luggage loaded onto the 4×4 safari vehicles by the game rangers. We departed from the gate in the open air vehicles and encountered a herd of 30 elephants crossing the road right in front of us within 2 minutes of entering the game reserve. The guests could not believe this. We literally had a herd of 30 elephants as our welcoming party! The scene was set.

After settling in at the lodge we embarked on our first official game drive of the trip and we saw a lioness with two cubs, White rhinos, more elephants, Buffalo, plenty bird life and a wide variety of common game. Four out of five of the Big five on our very first game drive.

The rest of the trip was filled with many awe inspiring game drives, delicious dinners in exotic locations, world class service from the staff, great company and of course – amazing music sessions with Mr. Keb’ Mo’.

A typical day on safari:

We got up at 06:00, had a tasty bite to eat and departed for our morning safari drive. Got back at around 09:30 AM. Had a delicious brunch and started our music sessions at 11:00, and ended around 15:30.
This is where Mr. Mo worked his magic. Eight lucky guests sat in a tight little circle around their musical hero and got to play music with him for 3-4 hrs a day for 7 days straight. Keb’ Mo’ brought a kind, gentle and thoughtful attitude to the workshop sessions and it was clear that he really wanted the guests to get the most out of the learning experience. They worked on the importance of good timing. Worked on, and learned his song ‘Every morning’ and a Blues Gospel song named ‘Somebody hurt you’. In addition to learning songs Keb’ Mo’ put forth to the group, the group also learned some songs from each other. This was all in preparation for the grand finale concert to be held on the last evening. The highlight must have been the one on one private lessons Keb’ Mo’ had with each guest where the guests could get advice and pointers on how to improve their playing. Keb’ Mo’ made sure that each guest got a lot of individual attention and he went above and beyond to make sure that every guest got something to take home and work on. And if this was the highlight then the cherry on the cake must surly have been when Keb’ Mo’ gave an intimate unplugged performance to the group in the heart of the African bush with the sun setting red in the back ground.

We had an amazing week filled with inspiration and good times and the group topped it off by giving a grand finale performance to the spouses and the staff to showcase what they had learned throughout the week. Keb’ Mo’ was our entertaining M.C. and musical director and lead the flow of events and entertained us all with his charm and charisma.
It was a wonderful way to end a very special week and we were all most fortunate to have been a part of it.

A huge thank you to Keb’ Mo’ and his team and a special word of thanks to all the guests for joining us on this trip!

We hope to welcome you guys back soon, and here is to the Keb’ Mo’ Blues safari class of 2018!


Wiam Otto
MSWIA Music Safaris

Bluegrass guitar in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South-Africa!

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Tim Stafford – Flatpick & Songwriting safari.

26 January, 2018 – 31 January, 2018, Kwa-Zulu Natal, South-Africa


Tim Stafford is just a great guy and his warm spirit and thoughtful nature made this trip very enjoyable and memorable for us all .Tim plays with some of the best tone and timing in the game, and it was a real honor to have him as our 2018 Flatpick & songwriting safari instructor.

Not only is Tim a great guy and wonderful musician, but he is also a brilliant instructor. We were fortunate to have Tim with us to instruct us on the art of songwriting and how to hone and perfect the basics of the flatpick style of guitar playing.

Tim started off with the basics of guitar playing, the five T’s – Timing, Tone, Taste, Technique and Tuning, and shared his experience and methods on how to practice and improve upon each aspect. He shared his practice of working with Funk backing tracks to improve your sense of timing and to deepen your groove. He showed us how to use the tuner to tune your ear instead of the guitar. We talked on the importance of a good pick, and how to maintain good tone through out your solo by using hammer on’s, pull off’s and down strokes. When it came to taste, it was all about keeping it simple and playing the melody. His ideas on technique were all about efficiency of motion and making the guitar sing.

The sessions were informal and laid back and we all ( the 4 of us), had a great time learning from, and playing music with Tim.

Tim lead a group songwriting session where the group co-wrote a very special song, and it was a real fun and insightful experience to sit and write a song with such an accomplished songwriter.

A typical day out on safari with Tim went as follow. At 05:00 AM we woke up and got ready for our first game drive of the day. With the sun rising red on the horizon, the crisp fresh air and a cup of coffee, the mornings were set to be glorious. After about three hours of being out in the African Savannah, and typically viewing anything from Giraffes, to Buffalo, to Zebra, Rhino and Hippos, we would head back for a delightful breakfast.
After breakfast we would have our music sessions for a couple of hours, and relax some in the afternoon just before we departed for our second 16:30 game drive

On our second last day out on safari, Tim treated the group to an inspiring and intimate sun set performance while out on our afternoon game drive. We all sat relaxed in camping chairs with G&T’s and listened to some of the most beautiful guitar playing in the heart of the African Savannah. Tim picked he classic Wildwood flower, and a couple of his own compositions – Indigo Blue and Horse shoe bend.

The Kwa-Zulu Natal Savannah was lush and green, we had great weather and we saw ample wildlife out on this 5 day music safari. We were all enriched by the musical instruction, the concerts, jamming and the magnificence of the African wildlife. New friendships were made, and we all left as richer musicians and people. Thank you Tim, and here is to another Music Safari with you in the future.


Wiam Otto
MSWIA Music Safaris