Friday, February 5, 2010

singing for the dead people

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, ( 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


ewix said...

Sounds very sad and uplifting at the same time.

Bill Stankus said...

Maybe, just maybe ou experienced something so human that it defines, in all it's elusiveness, what and who we are.

Somehow human militancy as gained the upper hand over human-ness. I'm glad you drank from the pure water.

Anonymous said...

so this is what you were trying your hardest at - and you did your bloody best and set those wild music spirits flying free - I can so imaginnnnnnne how happy they were to be honoured and loved by such a magnificent band . rock on janelee. ruth xx

Mud in the City said...

They must have been quite some spirits to be honoured in such a way. Somethings do transcend our day to day, and link us together in a far more profound way.

Mickle in NZ said...

An incredible commeration and celebration at the same time of three lives, special as are all lives.

Well done dear Janelle and sincere thanks for sharing this (and humble apologies for not visiting for ages - health hiccups and life with those interferred.)

I realised today, watching the Wellington round of the international Rugby Sevens, just how much I am of the South Pacific - just as you are of Africa. Such a good way to be,

Sending care and huggles, Mickle (and my Zebbycat) xxx and purrrrumbles

Dumdad said...

You do great honour with this thoughtful, touching blogpost to these musicians who have passed on.

PS I love the super-glue trick!

Janelle said...

yes elizabeth exactly that. x j

thanks bill! me too! x j

ruthie!!! my god girl. when will we two meet again?? its been YEARS....way way too long for someone i love so much. xxx j

they were indeed mud...hope singapore is getting sorted?? lots love x j

mickle! lovely to hear from you. thanks for swinging by. x j

thanks DD...yeah. the superglue trick really really works..makes your playing fingers hard and resiliant to being cut...perfect. xx j

family affairs said...

WHERE HAVE I BEEN? Missing all your posts....sorry, sorry, sorry. Don't know what's been going on. Rubbish and how awful to have to be singing for so many dead people, but how perfect that you were there LXX

Angela said...

I wish I could have sat there, on the ground, listening. Music like that knocks me over.

Mama Shujaa said...

Janelli - ningekuwa hapo jamani! But your lovely description has started my day off just perfectly. Any audio you might have to upload, tomorrow, labda?

Love mingi from Atlanta.

About the This is my Africa docu., I will see what I can do/find out for you. It is a fabulous, fabulous one. One to keep!!! Will let you know.


Mama S.

Reya Mellicker said...

Ah what a beautiful post and what a beautiful thing to do!

Humans have been singing for the dead for thousands of years. It is a noble deed, and cheerful for those who get to listen in.

I was just listening to your CD the other day, dancing around.

A toast to your beloved dead! What is remembered, lives.

Val said...

how very sad and such a beautiful event. that super glue thing is so clever - i had wondered. love the blue shadow pic. well done for being there xx

Janelle said...

yeah lulu man, catch up darlin'! nah. thanks for your comment as always..still a comment addict after all this time....sheesh. xxx j

ah geli you sweet thang..yeah it was a really really special evening...all round. xxx j

mama day, dada, we will meet..under the shadow of meru or kili. jamani. would LOVE it if i could get a copy of that movie..honestly. it looks AMAZING. and totally relevant and inspiring for my students this side. lots love and salaams XX j

oh reya, wise woman..indeed people have been singing for the dead for thousands of years..what a privilege to be able to do it myself...has it stopped snowing your side????? yet??? xxx j

thanks val darlin'...yeah the super glue trick works a treat i tell you. xxx j

Lori ann said...

God Janelle, what a lovely and inspiring post. And how i wish there were a soundtrack to go with it. Was it recorded? It would be a beautiful way for the memory of these three to live on and on. You always amaze me. Hope the glue worked on your fingers.
love and more,

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