Bossa Nova in a Thai Kitchen

After a very very very very long time,… today I actually spent lots of time playing guitar… and in no other place then the kitchen of Mut Mee with Yong, Mun and Gaew

And so I composed a song while the Thai ladies worked, laughed, and sang ūüôā

Really pure joy here!

My new song ūüôā

And the  Thai ladies and I improvising in the kitchen!

By the Seine

I seat in the TGV on our way from Paris to Marseilles. Seating in front of me is my 87 year old grandmother that no amount of complex problems in the beginning of our trip has shaken. Next to me is my 21 year old cousin, together we are going to travel Provence. Every year my grandmother says this is her last trip, but every year we see her looking happier and younger in these always beautiful but undoubtedly exhausting trips. So here we are enjoying the beauty of France.As I mentioned in my last post I was supposed to meet my friend Yonathan who is a brilliant Israeli pianist. We did and It was an absolutely fascinating night.We sat for a while in a little jazz cafe but then I suggested we walked. We met midnight in Paris, in the most agreeable summer night, and under a full moon.

We walked by the river bank of the Seine. We went down the stairs to get closer to it. We passed some young people drinking and smoking. We chose an empty bench to seat on and talk. Yonathan who is quiet and reserved was impressed by all the movement around.

We talked, and talked and suddenly a drunk man approached us saying something about the past thousand of years of human history. He had just interrupted me explaining my friend why I always talk to strangers…

I asked the man’s name. ¬†Assab, if I am not mistaken. And then a long night started. The man carried a guitar on his back. He came from Ethiopia. He knew all there was to know about Semitic languages. He was drunk but he made full sense. It seemed sometimes like a dream. He explained he was a musician and that his grandfather was the brother of Haile Selassie’s wife and did not want him to be a musician.

At first I did not take the talk so seriously but as he went further and further into the explanations of Ethiopian history I did no longer even care how true this was. Then he told me he had once played with Brazilian famous composer Gilberto Gil. Hearing this, yet not convinced, I asked him to take his guitar out and show us something from Ethiopia.

I was accompanied by an absolutely brilliant jazz pianist and somehow I did not expect what was about to happen.

We were by the river which was placid reflecting the lights and the beauty of Paris. We were surrounded by young French boys and girls of north African descent. They were drunk and smoking weed. they were loud. They were exactly what so many people are afraid of. They had this energy of youth wildness, mixed with economic frustration, and desperate unresolved cultural and national identities. They wanted to be French but not.

But once the Ethiopian took his guitar out and started to play in different Ethiopian languages little by little stillness came. The youngsters had come before that, seeing the guitar on his back they wanted him to go to their circle and play. Assab said he was going to play to us, if they wanted to listen they could, but that they should move.

It seemed a bit unreasonable logistically as we were 3 and this group alone ¬†had more than 10. They were unconvinced, and went back to their place. But as soon as Assab’s voice suddenly started to float around the river bank we all became flabbergasted. We were suddenly all quiet. People started to move their little gangs towards us. Assab who could speak tigre, tigrinya, amharic, arabic, and so many other languages played the sound of Africa .

And then came a Moroccan from the desert. He was a gorgeous black man looking incredibly Gnawan. He was carrying what looked like to be a guitar case. The group around us begged him to stop. He seemed to be famous in Paris, maybe in Africa as well. He hesitated but listening to Assab music he did.

He opened his case to take out a Gimbri (three stringed skin-covered bass plucked lute used by the Gnawa) people.  Suddenly, we were making music. My Israeli friend took out a flute that had broken out but in his music genius  he could still steal some melody out of it. The beautiful African girl next to me joined the songs in new invented melodic lines. I sang in Portuguese over the Ethiopian, desert, Gnawan sounds

The boy who looked like the sharpest and angriest at first suddenly said

” I never imagined this morning I would have such gift this night.”

Neither had I.

North Africans greeted themselves in their Salem aleikums . They often wondered where I came from. I asked them to guess. They guessed I was Italian usually. Yonathan, my Israeli friend, was usually taken to be Arabic. Assab when confronted with Yonathan being an Israeli Jew said

” Oh well, I am also originally Jewish and then history takes place. Invasions, expansions , conversions. it does not matter really, does it?”

Assab was a fascinating character and I did not expect anything else from him. I was however surprised when seating in between Yonathan and Ahmad.

Ahmad was loud,  extremely tribal about being north african. He greeted with extreme joy other north africans, and stronger joy and noise Moroccans. I sat there wondering what would happen when that talk would come.. As I just knew it would.

There was something fascinating about the fact that they all felt it was very important reinforcing similarity between these people coming from different places but it happened together with cherishing the culture of where they came from. I wondered now surrounded by predominantly North African Muslims how they would act to Yonathan once they found out he was from Israel.

I was not scared or worried, I was just curious. Yonathan is not like me who just talks to people so I also wondered how he felt about being  there.  And then suddenly the question came. Ahmad asked me where was  Yonathan from.

I told him to guess and he said ” Arabia”

Some silence stood still  and then

Yonathan said

” Israel”

” Palestinian?” ahmed asked

There was some ¬†probably millisecond of silence but it seemed like ages. I thought of the irony of it… People cant even tell these differences looking. They can only identify labels…

” No. I am Jewish, yemenite descendent.”

Ahmad smiled took his hand out in Yonathan’s direction and said

“Salem my friend”.

Yonathan shook his hand. It was a hand shake that happen above me, it  happen crossing my body.

And that crossing made my thoughts meddle. As a result of my last post I got answers that made me think about that hand shake over my body. A Brazilian friend of mine who  comes from an elite in Brasil told me she thought I was looking the world through an Western European academic point of view where labels mattered. She thought in Brazil that was not the case.

I argued that maybe not to us because we had been blind by being always part of a Brazilian elite. We had never had to think about whether their was any consequence being what we were, but that was not true for all Brazilians. it was a consequence of being an elite. I agreed with her that studying in The western world had probably modified me, but I often think it is more in the sense that I am capable to see these labels now, not that I create and impose them. I could, of course, be wrong

Then I received a message from another Brazilian friend who thanked me for writing the last post. She told me she understood it well as she was Lebanese descendent in both sides.

As I sat under this crossing of hands I thought about it. There was some sense of acknowledgement of difference and acceptance to it at the same time. ¬†But there was this huge silence just before and though and I wondered why I felt no fear. I realise a part of it is due to me being Me (.always trusting…) But the other huge came from me being Brazilian. And on that case, like in most others in my life, It meant nothing. Not nothing as in a pejorative sense but in the great sense of all, the one of being allowed to let people be empirical as the national label you carry is in this case quite politically neutral.

I sat in between a Muslim Moroccan who did not com from a Moroccan elite, and an Israeli Jewish brilliant jazz piano player. And I realised that silence I did not fear carried with it a million of possible old as time prejudices. And when the smile and handshake came I thanked the music. I thanked the shared time we had all spent before we identified our labels. And then listening to the Ethiopian song in the background I thought of the thousands of years of human history that started my conversation wi both Assab and Yonathan. In these thousand of years humans have always been trying to reconcile this desire to be particular and cherish their own kind while at the same time encountering others. It is so good when both happen simultaneously in music. Even better if you are by the Seine and the moon is full.

Walking in a Different Rhythm, Mc Leod India

To me It feels like a Beduin tent. It is not. The walls a made of bamboo and the roof is in colourful yellow, orange, and red cloth. There is barely no light. We seat in cushions on the floor. We are at the top of my guesthouse. A guesthouse surrounded by many others in a very touristic village. Inside the tent it feels a world apart from the Tibetan in exile village I spend the days in. Three men from Rajastan who seemed to have jumped out of a picture of National Geographic with their long moustaches, their piercing eyes and their traditional instruments seat in the corner. The Israeli boy who studies classical composition in Jerusalem and plays like a Brazilian bossa nova tells me these musicians are amazing. I seat in silence. i look around and notice with some joy that I now know every single face, every Indian, Tibetan or tourist name. They know me too. I feel joy I am in place enough to be able to break the rules. The man who plays this string instrument i have never seen before starts to sing. He stands up and like a character in a fairy tale he sings from within. It sounds like that voice has hundreds of years, that before it comes out like a gypsy cry that it has travelled every corner of his body. The other two men squat next to their traditional drums. The cry is calling for them, so their fingers gently start to caress the leather of the instrument, they move faster and faster and eventually an explosion of music happens.

I feel it inside. I first watch it petrified, in total stillness as if suddenly I was transported to a tale but then the rhythm overtakes me, my body wants to follow that cry, that drum, that tale. I know the place enough, my body knows the faces, we have all laughed together foreigners and locals for enough nights for my body to know that I am allowed to do the unthinkable i stand up and i let it overtake me. i dance. Then comes my beautiful friend Rotem, and then as in a explosion, like in a Kusturica movie foreigners and Indians start a frantic dance that travels the night. You can see through the movements we all come from different countries. Some countries allow for rhythm to go to different parts of the body.

I watch little Ibrach, 6, the son of Madi the owner of the tent, the restaurant, the gentle kind man who everyday cooks whatever i ask him. First I asked from the cushions nowadays from inside the kitchen. That is what time does to you. You get accepted in the secret places. Ibrach is 6 and when i first tried to invite him to dance he shyly runs away. An foreign girl interrupted my gentle invitation. One that had been being built through days, through hiding faces behind veils, saying hellos from far away, eventually shaking hands. While I am there slowly taking the time of Ibrach she grabs him to dance. He runs. She laughs and asks me to help her scare him into dancing. I want to explain her that you cant scare people into music. You have to let the music come within. I know well enough that we just have to wait. I had seen little Ibrach dancing in the corner several times. He would eventually dance… at some point, when time and people would have made it acceptable for his fully formed brain to accept the burning desire to move inside his little body he would come. As more and more people surrended to the music I suddenly see Ibrach in the middle of the Indian men. His body moves like that of a little sahib. Opened arms as if he is already at 6 enclosing the world. I love seeing the people dancing. The indian men go crazy. All that captured tension, all that sexual frustration that rarely finds relief is released in this dance. I love this people i think. I look at Aze, the men who looks like atartuk. The magician of the tabla. He is too contained to jump around like the rest of us. he seats in the cushion moving his fingers to the table in the rhythm. I like Aze a lot he had moved me beyond belief a couple days earlier.

I who through the years had lost my connection with music reencountered in India. Every single night I played a bit more, I sang a little more. Aze, who is an amazing musician, tried to accompany me in the Indian drums. In the chaos of this jam sessions, I little by little tried to encounter the Indians in their time, and they tried to move in brazilian rhythm.

In the official organised jam session, Aze came to tell me he wanted to play with me. I was happy I had observed through the days he was the only person who really listened. he had this kind of relation with music of a life time companionship. I sat and took the guitar, and timidly started to play. Aze brought his tabla, this Israeli enchanting boy who moves in bossa nova rhythm asked me to join us. And so for the following hour we coming from 3 continents walked together. Where is it that we meet?, how is it that I move my internal rhythm a bit more to match theirs. India, middle east and south america. I tried deeper and deeper to walk internally in different steps. My voice sang in different parts of my body, and the whole world seemed to have stopped to exist we just played, we encountered each other in music. When something like this happens it is so hard to put in words. Aze who could be my father told me later he was a tabla professor in university but had not played in 5 years and he had brought his tabla that night to play with me. i was moved. i was shocked. i am not musician I explained. I know so little. ” But your music comes from within. Thank you.” I had tears in my eyes. This was an older men, a lifetime living in music. That night made me famous in this town. The brazilian girl who sings. So now in the tent I could dance. I had learned to play a different world, and dancing to it was just like one step further in this journey of cultural and human discovery. I looked around aze drumming, Ibrach dancing, Tibetans jumping and the beautiful Israeli boy listening like a real musician does in total stillness. i had no idea what that Rajastani man sang about. it seemed so immaterial. there in this tent I saw all cultures come together, with all the beautiful cultural shades they can come. But what overwhelmed me was to see once again that it takes not much more than watching and listening to encountering our overwhelming fundamental humanity.