hardly an uplifting title for a post. singing for the dead. but that, oh bestest beloveds, is what i found myself unceremoniously doing last night. not to sound too morbid or anything like that, but in the last nine months three arusha musicians have died, corbs being the first, (http://ngorobobhillhouse.blogspot.com/2009/05/happier-days.html) then john kavalo, then xavier, the bass man who owned a bass guitar made from a solid piece of oak. and who was tres snob about music. he was a jazz man supreme. john sang the blues with the black mambas. he would always sing Dylan's caustic "You Gotta Serve Somebody" for me. it was my favourite. he wore a black hat and always had a whisky and a cigarette up on stage with him. he studied rock art in the hills south of tarangire, theorizing passionately and convincingly about shamans and dreams. and well, belted out damned fine blues. and before all of this? he was in advertising in new york city. . .
i received a phone call last week from d, the drummer, asking if i would play at john kavalo's memorial, for xavier who died in paris a few days ago and for corbs. for all the dead people. i looked wearily at my guitar which has lain quiet and still for a good nine months, or thereabouts. apart from the odd drunken tinker out in west kili. i mean, would it even be a safe and sensible thing to do, i mused, all things considered? i gingerly picked it up yesterday afternoon, tuned the axe up and felt the strings bite into my soft fingers. yeah. sure. i can do this. corbs taught me the super glue trick. line each chord playing finger with super glue. you can play for days like this.
the event had been supremely planned. a film of john's cremation at the hindu crematorium opened the gig, flickering black and white images, accompanied by a recording of The Doors singing Riders On The Storm. this was followed by liza and the cello player, treating us to j.s. bach. she said the music would talk for itself and it did.
and then the banjo man....who gave explicit instructions to the awaiting band before he perfectly plinked "Malaika" (Angel), a popular swahili song. no one knows whether it originated in tanzania or kenya. either way it didn't really matter until it became popular and there was money to be made. he was a hard act to follow.
but thank god i didn't have to come on after mama charlotte who has to be nina simon re incarnate. she awoke the spirits, no doubt about that. and told us all to look after our babies. she can make waterfalls flow upstream. she is married to pete, an ex black panther who left america in the 60's after doing some bad things. he wanted to go back a few years ago to visit his mother who was dying but was denied entry. after all these years. it must have been a very bad thing he did back then. he was once asked about his life with the black panthers and he said, " when you're young you do crazy things. crazy things. you think you can change the world," and smiled a crooked smile. i sometimes see him in shoprite. his dreadlocks and heavily embroidered african shirts and his clear, crisp american accent. it's always surprising.
arusha hasn't ever heard music like last night. i have never snapped a plectrum before. and i haven't even told you about the scottish lass, who stood alone on stage, a sophie dahl dead ringer (when she was still fat), in black, poised, brimming with emotion, who sang Auld Lang Synde with bob and the pianist. i fell like a cut down tree. along with the rest of the crowd.
the angels were happy last night. at least, that's what it felt like.
toodely, y'all. bisous X.X.X. deeply musical ones. x j