Sometimes life as a musician brings me to places and situation which seem beyond fantastic and unimaginable I realized yesterday. These are the adventures that keep me coming back to loving performing music with people wherever we go. It is my rush. I have always loved meeting new and interesting (that’s everyone!) people- and I am particularly curious about cultural norms and behaviours. I love the way we as different cultures approach the same situation in different ways. Sometimes this works to my advantage as I really enjoy adapting my own cultural “norm” to a new one I may be encountering. A “when in Rome do like the Romans” thing.
So yesterday at our private SoulFusion gig I was faced with a particular challenge as we were setting up in a parking lot in 125 degree weather under a deceptively comfortable looking “play area” designed and created by the plant manager of the company for his employees. It was a very different situation to play music in and try and decipher how a “set list” would go – if there were to be such a thing. The man who hired us was a great lover of music and was someone who had developed a real love for the men and women he works for. So much so that when he found that the culture of the company he had come into a few years ago was “all work and no play” he took it upon himself to create a more understand and relaxed atmosphere. This year was the first year upper management had agreed to make a particular investment in the employees excellent positive response to this initiative and the hired Us. Believe me when I tell you I was aware of the particular challenges coming into this gig – I just had no clue how much bloody fun it would be.
First we got lost so we arrived agitated, and late for set up. That’s never anyone’s favourite start. Then I had some real challenges…sort of. Except I don’t think the old days would have had all of the variety of faces and people I got to meet on this hot summer day in 2014. As we were setting up, I tried to look around and get handle on our audience so I can create a set list. As I looked out at the sea of different coloured faces I realized that here was a bunch of people whose lives emerged from places that spanned the globe three times over.
There would be no set list. Big surprise.
Then I was struck by the amazing unlikelihood that we should all find ourselves in this place, drinking beer on a sunny Friday afternoon. Muslims, Jews, Christians, black, white, beige – most cultural versions of humanity were here and accounted for I think. I wondered right away what it was in their lives they had to have gone through to come to this place, on this day in a hot sunny parking lot in a company just off the behemoth Labatt brewery factory.
This day was going to be a day of celebration – this is amazing. I thought to myself.
Incredible shit happens in the most unlikely places –
Indian men with beautiful colored turbans on their heads, smiling tables full of people from the Philippines, a new friend to play djembe from Haiti, office women dressed in pretty summer dresses, volunteers manning the BBQ’s while racks of delicious smelling food was served with a smile by upper manage to their employees. It was warm and inviting and beautiful and all faces smiling. I feel compelled to play music so…it begins acoustic.
Soon I see the crowd is FULL of people who MUST have danced or drummed or done some type of musical ceremony where they came from – but no one is dancing – they are being quiet and polite. This is bothering me by the second set so I decide to get together with our drummer who is an amazing percussionsit, and we simply begin a beat. Him first – native sounding earthy tones on the Djembe beat against the ground and I crawl half shy onto the big drum kit. Dave our drummer nods to me to go ahead. I don’t usually do that but I just felt compelled. My foot begins banging HARD on the bass drum – it feels great – amazing actually. Freeing and a little and letting loose in a way that’s different from when I am “front and center” – I can just close my eyes and feel the music like a meditation my heart settles down into a steady tribal beat on the bass and toms with Dave – eyes are closed…we are having a blast. Some of the men start to dance twirling with their arms as open as the smiles on their faces. Strong legs bend and flex in joyful cadence – Ah this is the best! Everyone was so together in this music – what an amazing feeling.
Then I made what I THOUGHT was a colossal cultural mistake. An Indian man came and threw money at my feet when I was dancing – and I was embarrassed so I plucked it up and ran to give it back to him red faced.
In my country when men throw money at you – its a sign of an unhealthy appreciation – I explained rather quickly.
He just smiled at me kindly and said nothing.
But I had stopped his joyful dancing. I had done something wrong.
I must have looked confused because his friend came and explained to my kindly –
“In India where we come from, when we throw money it is an appreciation and to way to protect you from poverty. We do this at weddings for beautiful brides too…” He smiled at me then kindly not like someone who is defiantly defending a cultural norm – as we who are Americanized are inclined to do (Rah!Rah!…blah…). Instead he was patiently explaining to me, because his ego was in check and he didn’t take my misunderstanding personally. What a revelation.
Some people use money not for the exchange of one thing for another – but for appreciation and expression. LIke a ritual. Amazing and beautiful all at once. I am so grateful for the lesson and the kind way it was taught me.
I was so touched by the whole day. It was a beautiful celebration of music and I really felt so privileged to be able to intersect with all these beautiful people, on that day in that time in that unli8kely place.
I remember saying to this amazing audience…
“Imagine what it is we all had to get through to get to THIS place today…it is incredible. We were meant to be friends.”. It really was how that all felt.,
We made music together, we ate together and we planned next year to do it all over again.