Tourbericht Talking Horns
6. – 18.Oktober 2008
Talking Horns in Afrika
The world is big, and the closer you look the more worlds you discover. The coarse distinctions become finer and you realize that your own world is just a little drop in a vast and great ocean. Mountains, rivers, oceans, and languages separate us, not to mention the many different cultural conditions that exist. Our flight over the Mediterranean Sea and most of the African continent led us to Antananarivo, Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island. In the Goethe-Centre, we met with Malagasy musicians.
Whether it be a saxophone, the drums, or a bundle of brushwood, the unique African rhythm creates a different kind of base structure; its characteristics cannot be represented in our musical notation. In the world of music, a certain rhythm has had a significant amount of influence on Caribbean music and jazz. We found ourselves pursuing this rhythm while we played, having only our dropful of skill in an ocean of musical ability. It’s enjoyable to try to uncover the workings of a mysterious beat. This beat can be found if you listen just enough. During our sessions with Seta and David Raveloson (the saxophonists of the “Full Vao Band”), our music incurred fragments and phrases that included African rhythmic structure, which was something we had hoped to experience for some time.
What is it that makes traveling so intriguing? Pulling all-nighters in airports and breathing recycled air while sandwiched between hundreds of others is not something to be envied. Transfers, luggage hauling, and orienting one’s self costs energy, money, and nerves... It has to be the thrill of the unknown, the exotic places which arouse curiosity.
In addition, by going into a far-off world one becomes an entity that arouses interest in the people living there. An intriguing event happened on October 10, 2008, at the Ishyo-cultural center in Kigali, Rwanda. During a break in one of our concerts we were introduced to Sophie, a native singer. She plays the “Inanga,” a Rwandese kind of zither. With the help of an interpreter we got Sophie to play with us for the second half of the show. She came on stage and started playing her “Inanga”. As she started to sing we supported her plucked diatonic sounds with our blown harmonics and rhythms. Between the verses there was room for solo improvisations. The music we made didn’t give away the fact that we didn’t know each other and had never played together before. It was a successful experience that exposed the power and wonder of communication beyond the linguistic level.
Encounters between different people help close circles of mutual curiosity; once sparked, curiosity leads to more communication. Throughout our travel we found ourselves trying to remember important words or phrases learned in previous language courses-- words like “Hello,” “Thank you,” and “Coffee please.” We were pleased to find that a little a knowledge of a language can go a long way in a different country. Communication with others has its limits when travelling in a foreign country. Not if you’re a musician! The one who travels with his or her instrument will quickly find an interlocutor. It starts with the external appearance: The instrument case (or whatever bulky luggage you are carrying) reveals what you do, and everyone sees it. A musician. The question arises in people’s minds: “What kind of instrument could be in that case?”
The next day: Ishyo Cultural Centre. A colourful circle of musicians, some with their instruments and some without. Not everyone had their own instruments, so they had to be shared or borrowed... Short conversations, getting the picture: who can do what, who’s got what. Once unpacked, the time for translingual communication was not far off. Someone started to play a note, then a second and a third. This provided something for the rest of us to work with, and after a short period of time we were making some good music. The door had then opened to a melody that held many surprises in many forms. There was no guarantee of results, however, positive or negative. At times music can go quite wrong; one could get bogged down or run into dead ends. The likelihood of good music increases exponentially in proportion to the listening ability of the people involved. True to the motto “open ears and follow,” everyone we played with at the centre on that day, pulled together and acted in concert.
When there was some time left to talk, we got to know the names of some of the other players: Noell Nkubito, Lion Cub, Castro, Papi, Michael, Yusuf, Kimeza, Nati, Nelson, Michil...
“joy of playing”
In Cameroon we experienced positive feedback similar to that which we experienced in Ishyo. A call in the morning was enough to summon two excellent musicians to come play with us in Yaounde: the drummers Willy and Mokhtar. A fortunate event presented itself as a man named Nicola unexpectedly joined us in our jam session, playing with a toy instrument. Melody and beat developed, including occasional parts where all of us were on the same page. If we wanted to make an appointment with any of the local people living there, it would be very difficult. We had no way to communicate with them except for our music. We got together nonetheless, and this resulted in us producing good music yet again.
We were able to play our brass instruments outside the front door of the concert hall without any problems. Without sound or light equipment, only four instruments, and without a stage, we made music for the “people of the street.” The reactions we saw were characterized by dancing, singing, and clapping along. The enthusiastic audience quickly created an atmosphere of joy. The quality of life we saw there is a rare commodity in European culture. One could become jealous of it. (See: youtube.com - Talking Horns Yauondé) This experience solidifies the fact that music makes people more accessible. It shows that music provides a language that people from all different parts of the globe can use to connect directly with one another, heart to heart.