Friday, October 20, 2006

Express yourself

I will begin by telling you two musical irritations of mine, before I tell you about one night's experience in Istanbul that shattered them both, and those who have seen the film "Crossing the bridges of Istanbul” know why.

One, I am by no means a jazz lover. I love parts of it, don't get me wrong, but there is always a point where the musicians get themselves into some sort of persistent fixation, or an audio-compulsive frenzy. By the time they detach themselves from their instruments I feel my eardrums have been swisscheesed by a swarm of termites. I am fully aware that this is my lack of appreciation of the artform, as I can see the mastery at work, it just happens that when they get possessed by the Jazz wigging bug, It means agony.

Secondly, I am not so keen on “fusion”. Just as I don’t like ginger extract in my cup of espresso in the name of blending of cuisines, most mixing of musical genres leaves me upset about two good things being ruined. (As you see, I don’t even know the proper use of the term fusion)

On this fateful night, I showed up at Babylon music Bar in Istanbul. This is unassuming, but substantive brick hall with African artifacts in faux-window arches and sharp blue and red lights giving it a “I am too cool to point out my coolness” kind of place. The stage was set, and before long they marched in from the entryway on stage left; Two DJ dudes, a percussionist, a guest French jazz pianist, a Yankee on sax, a Britton trumpeter, a Saz prodigy (Saz is the long-necked string instrument with that haunting twang), and a tiny traditional folksinger with a mesmerizing voice that soon would penetrate our souls.

Without fanfare, the double DJs went to work, and with a few switch flips and a few knob turns, they paused, looked at each other, and unleashed a groovy house techno disco something or other backbeat on us all, immediately going into their synchronized torso-bobbing as if they were sharing the same pogo-stick.

Almost immediately, the percussionist picked an impossible eastern cross-rhythm on his tabla/and djembe drums while the Saz player began the captivating plick-placks of an old Turkish melody. Before long, all of us in the audience were riding the same pogo-stick, bobbing up and down while the Saz hummed our collective heartstring, and the drumbeat tickled our solarplexus. By the time the piano and the horn section moved into the audioscape of the hall, it was impossible to decipher what music was being played by whom, and moreover, it didn’t matter.

We were all awash and abob in the sea of musical umami. As the juxtaposing east-meet-west fantastic rhythms of the synths and the drums warmed up our core, the musicians took turns to do their solo frenzies. the vocalist’s beautiful and elongated notes; the rapidfire piano riffs; the uber-ambidextrous beating on the drums ; the slow howl of the saxophone, and the permeating, tiptoeing of the delectable Saz.

They cured me of my boorishness about Jazz-wigging and fusion, they slow-fast mesmerized me, fused the music into me and scooped me up in their trance-bob-groove-fest for hours on end, and showed me the way to Fusistan.

so much so that I am ready for that ginger in my cup of java....

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Of Both Worlds

It is fitting that this thought should cross my mind as I am airborne enroute to Istanbul, which to me is a genuine crossroad of civilizations.

Those who know me have heard many times my lamenting the plight of the emmigrant-type. You know…growing up as a child in one culture, then being transplanted (or rather transtumbled) into another, often with a period of "transition" ( i.e. war, repressions, harrowing escapes and sundry other occasions of enduring inhumanity). This means the soul lands with feet on planks of existence that are tectonically moving apart, or askew.

In Persia we/they call it "one rooftop but two skies".

The above is my segue, or actually anti-gue into the thought I was mentioning: I feel blessed about having grown up in a culture where from early on we were spoken to in parables and proverbs. We then learned more parables and proverbs as we ostensibly studied grammar and dictation, oration and comprehension. We also heard it from taxidrivers and grandmothers and the bums on the street in simile and saying form until it was second nature to be "a dead mouse" when scared, or "having grown a tail" when mischievous.

This is helpful in the following ways. First, it is thusly not boring to learn life lessons. For example, Be thankful for what you have was the lesson I remember leaning through one of Saadi's prose pieces in gradeschool farsi class; It talked about a ship and its owner and one of his "servants" (slaves, really, though we didn't address that issue) who was so afraid of the water he was in hysterics. The patron (master, ….) ordered him tossed into the sea to get a couple of gulps, then had him lassoed back onboard whereupon he became quite content. Unpolitically correct, I should admit, but memorable nevertheless.

Or on the virtues of doing good deeds we were told to "do good, throwing it in the river, so that god would return it to you in the middle of the desert".

Second, thusly these sayings get folk accustomed to looking for patterns at a young age, deriving meaning from seemingly unrelated events.

"The cat who couldn't reach the meat said 'it stinks' [meaning the meat, not the situation, though that would be another parable]"

"Whenever you grab a (live) fish from the water it is fresh"
Hearing statements like this gets the mind a fresh alternative universe whose patterns are similar but there is no exact correspondence. Cat is to you as the meat is to an unreachable item, as "it stinks" is to a shrug and a "pssha". However, you don't meow, the meat isn't what you are trying to touch,etc…

The blessed feeling also pertains to my opportunity of hours of lunchtime entertainment as I look at colleagues faces as I invoke or inaugurate such sayings, as I did at my best friend's wedding during my bestman toast. The parable was about trees growing roots and intertwining and shades and sunsets. It was a Persian Saying; I was Persian and I was saying it.

I will end on the random(er) note that I actually did say the last two sentences in my toast, and half the audience heard me say "I am virgin and I am saying…", and chalked the grammatical glitch to my foreignness.
ON to Istanbul, the land of virgins, parables, stinky meat and rooftops looking onto beautiful skies filled with seagulls and the sounds of the call to prayer.