c u r r i c u l u m   v i t a e

jens finke

- traveller, writer, photographer -

To see a World in a grain of sand,
And a Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.

William Blake, Auguries of Innocence, 1789

Jens Finke, Apartado 542, 8700 Olhão, Portugal


Born in Manchester, UK, on 30 March 1969, I come from a pleasurably multi cultural family: my father is German, with roots also elsewhere in central Europe; my mother was born in Alexandria and comes from a Lebanese-Egyptian family. I lived in the UK until the age of 25, when I moved with my sister to Portugal.
   Not entirely surprisingly, travel is my main passion, coupled with writing, photography, and a love for traditional music and cultures - especially African. Although I have travelled extensively in Europe and Brazil, most of my travels have been in Africa, both north and south of the Sahara. My African experience began in 1988 shortly after finishing school when - more or less by accident - I cycled off from Manchester to the Gambia by way of the Sahara; an exhilarating and life-changing six-month trip.
   I went on to study philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University (St Edmund Hall), but dropped out after my second year on realizing that the necessity of parroting the writings of my tutors whilst keeping my own ideas to myself was not at all what I considered educational, especially when supposedly studying philosophy! I spent the next two years writing my first book, Chasing the Lizard's Tail (Impact Books, 1996), which describes the Saharan journey, interwoven with descriptions of the history and cultures of northwestern Africa.
   Since 1995, I have been fortunate to combine my personal passions with freelance work as author and researcher for UK- and US-based guidebook publishers, Rough Guides Ltd (www.roughguides.com), for whom I recently completed guidebooks to Tanzania and Zanzibar. My current personal project, once I've finished paying off debts accrued during the research for the guidebooks, is to complete a non-profit encyclopaedic website about the Traditional Music & Cultures of Kenya, which presently stands at over 500 pages of text, and should weigh in at over 2000 pages, 1500 images and forty hours of music when complete.
   Other plans and projects are there in plenty (see projects later in this proposal), though a perennial lack of money has always clipped my dreams, even though life at my present home on an island in southern Portugal is cheap by European standards. My ambition is to continue travelling, keep learning, to express myself, and stay happy. Oh, and a bit more money wouldn't go amiss, either.



Author, Traditional Music & Cultures of Kenya

An on-going personal internet project (www.bluegecko.org/kenya) covering the traditional music and cultures of Kenya. It currently comprises over 500 pages, 235 photographs and six hours of full-length, playable sound clips, covering 12 tribes in detail (history, daily life, beliefs and cosmologies, fables and legends, riddles and proverbs, music and dance). When complete, the site will contain around 2000 pages, 1500 photographs and 40 hours of music. Created and hosted at my own cost, the site contains no advertising or any other form of commercialization.


Author, Rough Guide to Tanzania

A 25-month commission, including 12 months of travel in Tanzania, to research and write, as sole author, the first edition of a guidebook for London-based Rough Guides Ltd. The work is by far the most comprehensive, accurate and culturally sensitive guidebook to Tanzania. 800pp, 65 maps.


Author, Rough Guide to Zanzibar

An expanded version of the Zanzibar chapter in the Rough Guide to Tanzania. 320pp, 12 maps.


Writer and researcher, Rough Guides

Commissions to revise various guidebooks for the Rough Guides: Kenya (1996, 1998-99), Tunisia (1997-98), Brazil (1997), Portugal (1995, 1997, 1999).


Author, Chasing the Lizard's Tail

A travelogue about my bicycle journey from the UK to West Africa across the Sahara, covering Morocco, the Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia. The book blends personal narrative with history and culture. First published in 1996 by Impact Books (London); republished on the internet in 1999 at www.bluegecko.org/lizard. 346pp, 4 maps.


Prose and short stories, Carnival Magazine

Contributor to Carnival Magazine. Prose, scat and short stories published alongside works by Charles Plymell and Charles Bukowski.


Gambia Visited in 1988 at the end of my trans-Saharan bicycle journey, the Gambia provides the last chapter of my book, and an "interesting" one to say the least.
Kenya Four months in 1996 to update two thirds of the Rough Guide to Kenya; six months over 1998-99 to update the entirety. Since 1999, I've been producing a personal, non-profit website covering Kenya's traditional cultures; see the first entry under "Publications", above.
Mauritania This desolate but extremely welcoming land lies at the heart of my 1988 bicycle journey, where I came to experience and began to understand the multiple dualities of existence. Mauritania, to which four chapters of Chasing the Lizard's Tail are dedicated, is naturally also at the heart of the book.
Morocco First visited in 1988 as part of my Saharan bicycle journey (Morocco comprises five chapters of Chasing the Lizard's Tail). Also visited for three months in 1992 to research cultural material for the chapters covering the Rif Mountains, Fès (Fez), and the Tafilalt.
Senegal 1988, after crossing the Sahara. Sleeping rough for the most part, I also spent three weeks with refugees in Dakar's Medina shanty district.
Tanzania Twelve months' travel in two trips over 2000-2002 to research and write new guidebooks to Tanzania (800pp; publication January 2003) and Zanzibar (320pp; November 2002). The Tanzania book is by far the most comprehensive, sensitive and accurate guidebook on the market.
Tunisia First visited in 1994 for a two-month bicycle ride, much of it spent in the Sahara. My second trip, in 1997, was to update most of the Rough Guide to Tunisia. Personal work on a book of vignettes, ostensibly in search of Tunisia's nebulous identity, stalled after my second trip to Kenya, but will be completed one day, Insha Allah.
Western Sahara In 1988, I became the first European civilian in over a decade to be allowed south of Tan-Tan from Morocco into the Western Sahara, which has been occupied by Morocco since 1975. The Western Sahara comprises one chapter of Chasing the Lizard's Tail.

Egypt My mother's family left Egypt after the Revolution, but still retain ties. Visited in 1984.
Lebanon Most of my mother's family resides in Lebanon, namely Beirut and Zahlé. My last visit was in 1993, shortly after the end of the civil war.

EUROPE (excluding the UK)
Czech Republic Prague, Bohemia, Pilsen and Moravia. I have family and excellent contacts in Prague.
France My mother and part of her family live here. I've been visiting and travelling through France since I was a child.
Germany All trips so far have been with my father, who was born in Berlin and who, after almost 25 years in Manchester (a few months short of Friedrich Engel's stay in that city), now lives in southern Germany.
Italy Visited several times, first at the age of 16 when cycling from Manchester to Naples during my summer holidays.
Netherlands By bicycle in 1985.
Portugal My residence since 1996, in-between trips for the Rough Guides. I've updated three editions of the Rough Guide to Portugal, covering the entire country with the exception of Algarve, Ribatejo and Estremadura.
Spain By bicycle in 1986 and 1988, and subsequently to and from Portugal by car.

Brazil In 1997 to update the northern half of the Rough Guide to Brazil, sadly only for three months (I stood in at the last moment when the original author dropped out), making the experience much more hectic than I would have liked. States covered: Amazônas, Mato Grosso, Pará, Amapá, Roirama and Minas Gerais.


A multi cultural background, incessant travelling and pleasantly twisted sense of humour dissolve any language barriers, plus...
   - English (fluent)
   - French (fluent)
   - German (fluent)
   - Portuguese (fluent)
   - Spanish (fluent reading, otherwise conversational)
   - Kiswahili (conversational)
   - Arabic (limited)

Photography, especially abstract, is a major passion; see www.planosphere.com. Preferred equipment is manual SLR. Digitization is done through a film scanner and image manipulation software; see below. Experience in black-and-white darkrooms. See also "future projects".

I'm an accredited computer nut, fully au fait with the convoluted inner workings of PC hardware and software, including all flavours of Windows and DOS operating systems, word processors (including Wordperfect 5.1), image editors (Micrografx Picture Publisher, Corel Photo Paint, Adobe Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro), audio editors (Goldwave and Cooledit), spreadsheets (Lotus and Excel, last used 1994-1996), web design, site hosting, HTML coding and Javascript, internet and network security issues.

On-going work on my Kenyan website introduced me to the intricacies of digital audio, and the tricks involved in using a home computer to remaster and improve (rescue) analog tape recordings often in dire physical and acoustic condition. Some of my Tanzanian field recordings were done using a portable minidisc recorder; there's a possible project, in conjunction with Belgium's Africalia Festival, to record the music and oral traditions of four of northern Tanzania's tribes in 2003.

60wpm typing speed; clean driving license; extensive experience of rough/off-road driving.


Ideas and dreams have never been lacking, but money, unfortunately, invariably has. The following projects are currently in gestation. Their realization, of course, depends on securing funding, as I've no other source of income than commissions from Rough Guides (which barely cover my travelling costs), nor any rich aunts or uncles about to bequeath me their fortunes! My modest style of travelling and living, however, means that costs are minimal by any standards.

The Traditional Music & Cultures of Kenya
My Kenyan website, www.bluegecko.org/kenya, is currently one quarter complete. I have all the primary materials required, but need modest funding to finance the sixteen months required to bring it to completion (2000 pages, 1500 images and 40 hours of music). See the formal project proposal for more detail.

Rhythms of the Ancestors - Music from the soul of Africa
A mammoth, literarily adventurous and "experimental" work that has been almost ten years in dreaming, to trace the genesis and development of the traditional music, cultures, histories and life-cycles of central and western Africa, from the interior to the Atlantic coast. I distance myself from the "experimental" tag as this has been the style of my personal writing for close to a decade. The book will be written, at least partly, in a musical language reflecting and expressing the music described: whether hypnotic, soothing, transcendent, confusing, chaotic, sombre, exuberant, and so on. Time, book size and funding permitting, the book (or a second volume) will continue tracing the development of African music and cultures across the Atlantic in the Americas, picking up on Haitian Voodoo (unsurprisingly similar to Beninois Vodun), Brazilian Candomblé, Cuban Santeria, through Jamaican reggae and US Jazz to present-day Jungle and Drum 'n' Bass, in many ways completing the circle.

A blend of travelogue and "experimental" work on cultures and music. Both book and journey trace the course of the River Niger, from its sources in the Fouta Djalon Mountains of Guinea-Conakry, through Mali, Niger and Nigeria and on to the Atlantic at the Bight of Benin. The travelling and research for this book, for which at least six months will be needed, will also be used for the first part of the African Music book described above. The format will be travelogue interposed with vignettes of prose poetry expressing music, rituals, legends and certain experiences.

The Gentle Shore - Tunisia
I started work on a book concerning a search for Tunisian identity between 1994 and 1997, which eventually became shelved in favour of working on my website concerning the traditional music and cultures of Kenya. The project needs a year to bring to it to completion.

Tanzania's Hunter-Gatherers
Primarily a music recording trip to the Hadzabe and Sandawe tribes of Tanzania, for the purpose of creating audio CDs, a CD-Rom and a book about these rapidly disappearing ancient cultures, and to create a broadcast-quality film documentary. Both tribes speak languages characterized by clicks, like the Khoisan spoken by the San ("Bushmen") of southern Africa, and like the San, have strong traditions of rock painting. Sadly, the Sandawe capitulated to modern pressures, notably Christian missionaries, in the 1960s, and have lost much of their traditional culture as a result. The Hadzabe, who number only 500 to 2500 depending on how you count, have resisted so far, but it seems inevitable that their way of life will become untenable within the next five or ten years. Copyright over recorded works, and profits thereof, will go directly to the performers and their communities. All texts will also be proofed by locals.

A World of Rhythm
Production and writing in book and exhibition form of a collection of mainly abstract photographs from the last fifteen years, arranged in universal themes, with equally abstract accompanying texts. The collection will also be made into a multimedia "journey" accessible through the internet.


My contacts are as follows; email is best, as I shan't be back home until May or June this year (2003).

Jens Finke
Apartado 542
8700-912 Olhão