Friday, December 26, 2008

Gypsy Caravan - When the road bends...

"You cannot walk straight
When the road bends..."
- A Romany-Gypsy proverb

This piece could very easily turn into one of a number of things. I recently discovered that, while the people it refers to are ancient, the term 'gypsy' itself is of relatively recent (late 18th-early 19th century) coinage, and is derived from the dark, laden term 'Egypt' (which, by the bye, is NOT what that Egyptians call it). While this is undoubtedly fascinating in and of itself, it isn't what I want to write about right (ARGH! That ghost of internal rhyme still hath me in thrall!) now.

I could also, perhaps, trundle off into stories about how I've always seen myself as something of a gypsy - how the wanderlust in me, I've always wishfully ascribed to some wild-eyed, dark-haired, wandering minstrel of an ancestor. On second thoughts, that description fits me more accurately than any ancestor of mine - perhaps I should leave them poor souls out of this. Hmm.

Anywhoo, I'm focusing for a minute to tell you what I DO want to write about - this afternoon I saw what is possibly one of the finest music documentaries ever made - and this isn't one of those "Ten thousand saw I at a glance" type of hyperboles either. Jasmine Dellal's 'Gypsy Caravan' is, in a word, splendid, and should be compulsory viewing for any musician or music aficionado. While I'm being didactic and prescriptive, another thing that is "compulsory" for this breed of weirdos, of which I am a loud and proud part, is the reading of Pratchett's 'Soul Music' - just take my word on this one; don't argue - read!

Meandering done with, back to this Caravan, then. What I love about this documentary is that it doesn't dwell on how misunderstood this race has always been - something it could justifiably and easily have done. Instead, it celebrates them in all their glory. And since nothing to do with the gypsy 'way of life' would be complete without their music, so much the better for this avid viewer/listenHer (another of Jayawant's 'jjems'). The World Music Institute arranged for a group of gypsy musicians from Macedonia, Romania, Spain and India (don't look askance at this inclusion - Gypsies originated from the tribe of 'Roms' who migrated westwards from North India in ages bygone), to tour across America, Canada and a host of other countries, a few years ago. Alongside them on this 6-week journey was this intrepid filmmaker, Dellal.

To me, this documentary is an ode to the beauty of exchanged acquiring. The musicians from these countries start out wary of each other, but end on a carnivalesque (can it be otherwise, with this particular group of performers?) and suitably 'emancipated' note, which sees a Rajasthani folk singer plaintively croon, 'is duniya mein kitna hai gam', to the strains of a classical Spanish guitar and a flamenco dancer giving form to his grief. 

Esma, the Macedonian diva, in one of her early interviews stresses on how she is against "assimilation", and has stuck to the purity of her form. This same chanteuse - one of the best I've ever heard - ends the documentary singing with a troupe of Romanian gypsies, 'Taraf de Haidouks' (which literally translates to 'Band of Brigands': this troupe 'runs' their village on their earnings). Nikolai Neascu, the lead violinist, is one of the most expressive musicians I've heard yet, and his protege, Caliu, one of the fastest. Nikolai dies before the end of the tour, and the music his Brigands play at the wake is as extraordinarily moving as only music, when every other form of expression (beginning with language, first off) fails one, can be.

I've got more to say about the documentary itself, but I won't. As you walk away (I had the fortune of attending a special screening for just 5 people), what stays with you is how easy music makes the task of communicating - there are 30-odd musicians here, most of whom do not share a language in common, at least ostensibly. This is until the first note is struck - the first 'stance' taken. Then, everything falls into place. Juana, with her pack-of-cigars-and-crate-of-whisky-a-day-for-fifty-five-years voice, sings her 'lament'. As does Esma. That I don't know what it is they sing about, and probably never will, suddenly ceases to matter. I share their grief, as I know you will too.  

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Wadings, waitings, weddings - whatever

Four-point alliteration done with, I'm going to talk today (goddamn this ghost! Yikes!) of a phenomenon I like to call the 'It's not my wedding, so I don't have to attend all the functions in it Blues'.
Now, I'm not 'for' weddings, but I believe, equally, that if I've taken the trouble to go attend one (and not just anyone's either - the one I'm talking about saw two very dear friends tie the 'Knuptial Knot' {that's one of Jayawant's - I can't take credit for it} as it were), then I owe it to them to at least, well, stick around long enough to see them "do" the phera thing and be pronounced man and woman (Erm, I don't like the sound of 'man and wife' - you mean he gets to stay whatever it was he started out as, but she changed from being her own person to being a 'wife'? What is that? A fourth gender?).
Anywhoo, so a bunch of us were at this wedding and we had a blast. So where's my grouse? Only in that just a handful of us stayed put for the actual puja and pheras, which happened, admittedly, really late into the night. We also 'accompanied' (kicking and screaming) the newly-weds to their hotel room, where we proceeded to annoy the living daylights out of them till the wee hours of the following morning. This, I like to think, they will remember. As will we.
I guess what this rant is about is something I've heard called 'group dynamics'. It's perfectly possible for people you know in their individual capacity to be very intelligent and fun, to metamorphose in the blink of an eye into mindless airheads, all about finding that next drink/party, whatever; to turn into, in other words, a gaggle of geese. Don't for a moment think I'm excluding myself from this gaggle - I squawked (or whatever it is that geese do) as loudly as the next person - but I did realise that this is not good news.
It leads me to draw one of two possible conclusions. Either I need to lighten the f*** up and not have such a chip on my shoulder about mindlessness, or, and this is the harder of the two to accept, I need to realise that people, as they grow older, tend to drift apart - we have less in common than we did in middle school, when our needle-work teacher Ludvina (bless her soul) whacked us all on the knuckles and we hated her equally, for example.
It would seem that this piece has taken on something of a life of its own - I didn't mean it to go quite this way, but as it is, it reads like a eulogy for the leopard which changed its shorts (Go read Pratchett, I say!). Hmm.