Play Misty For Me

Fiji 22.4.86

A coda to my travels, posted here out of sequence in the writing.

I can’t play a musical instrument: enforced violin lessons at grammar school put paid to that. What should be a pleasure, a freedom of expression, became a duty.

I do like music, with my tastes reflecting my life and times. While keeping an affection for past listening pleasures, new adventures present themselves. My travelling allowed a few musical links courtesy of my pocket Walkman and assorted tapes, most from ‘home’ chosen for the anticipated to switch off my surroundings.

Thus, a year ago when new sights and sounds threatened to overwhelm me, I would tune into Pat Metheny. “Can there be a more complete guitarist?” asked Derek Jewell in the Sunday Times a few days after the gig we’d both been at a few days previously. My memories of that evening uplifted me for six months. (Note: they still do 30 years later )

I was to hear little that was to enervate me melodically in India. I have never appreciated the sounds made by sitars and tablas, whether ragas played by such noted proponents as Ravi Shankar or George Harrison of the Beatles. However, I was familiar with a few ethno-jazz recordings, such as Joe Harriot’s Indo-Jazz Fusions and the albums of L. Shankar with John McLaughlin in Shakti and his ECM albums with Jan Garbarek. But I heard little of that because most radio stations played modern love songs from Bollywood movies. All boy meets girl loves boy, then mutual yearnings, danced through in the Swiss Alps, are put on hold by external impediments such as a criminal gang or mother-in-law. The action and dialogue is interrupted with duels, duets and full stage musical productions before the chaste lovers  marry and they fade into the closing sunset.

Each state is of course a different culture. The music of the Leh radio station would wake me up with traditional sounds (videos) but I have rarely played the cassette kindly recorded for me by the station’s producer. However, I was interested to discover what I might hear at a rock concert in Panjim, Goa.

Billed as a benefit for DRUGAID, a new organisation providing withdrawal support and rehabilitation for young Indian heroin addicts. There was an expectation that the music we would hear would reflect western input, not least because of the impact of tourism. I hoped it wouldn’t be anything by Bob Marley played in every watering hole on the banana pancake circuit. There was certainly scope for some originality.

That was a forlorn hope apart from a guest ‘star’. He was a wandering minstrel performing his greatest (only?) hit Jesus Was A Hippy (because he wore sandals and had long hair). This was quite a witty plea for tolerance of the young western sybarites who went to India in a search for gurus in the early 70s. I hadn’t met any, but then I hadn’t made any plans, had no need, to visit an ashram.

Six bands took the stage; each had a synthesiser to complement the regular three guitars which constitute a regular rock band. Some worked on their visual presentation: all had a young lady lead singer. Three, or was it four, bands played Sade’s worldwide hit Smooth Operator, but I cannot recall any other musical ‘highlights.. And my memory glazes over on recalling the preceding speeches by the director of Drugaid, a state minister and the impresario. Others could have got into the act, but if they did they are now as forgettable as the bands.

The ringing of temple bells and the turning of prayer wheels was everyday music in Thailand. In a couple of bars in the great metropolis Bangkok I heard competent copyists. Shut one’s eyes, tune in the ears above the noise that any bar crowd makes and that could almost be an impoverished Elton John or Jackson Browne singing in a lonely corner. And Carabao was played on the jukebox. Thailand iwas notable for one song, Carabao’s Made in Thailand. I bought the cassette: I had to because I knew it was all I would need to rekindle memories of the most comfortable, yet exotic, travelling of my year.

In Singapore, there was the civilised classical music concert to enjoy while sorting things out before coming here to Fiji.

I find much of the Fijian music I’ve heard very attractive, specifically the acoustic folk format with ‘pure’ singing. I don’t think recording studios are geared up as electronic playgrounds. Also, it is probable that the electricity distribution systems prevalent in Fiji, where they exist, could not cope with the overloading a rock band would create.

Fijians like to sing together. Church services are a celebration and the unaccompanied harmony reflects a deep belief in Christ and a joy in existence. When last in Overlau and overnighting on an otherwise deserted idyllic tropical island off shore – it rained – with a dozen travellers and eight locals, the Fijians needed little excuse to pick up their guitar and sing. Deep melodious voices with counterpoint, sang Christian paeans and about the traditional subjects of love and its tribulations. I recognised a similarity with the more familiar music from the Caribbean. It seems that island life in a hot climate brings similar emotions whichever the ocean.

E. and I went to Lucky Eddies in Suva to hear a professional jazz group. We were the only paying customers and our entry fee of $2 included a free pizza from the Pizza Hut downstairs. Sitting in cushioned and carpetted comfort, the music performed by Tommy Mawi on guitar with his group fitted like a glove. Smooth jazz, better than cocktail muzac in its execution. Sixties’ favourites like Girl From Ipanema and Autumn Leaves (video) were blended with a feel for Charlie Byrd or Joe Pass, with the panache of Herb Ellis and the technique of Laurindo Allmeida, all guitarists I listen to in my college days.

And they played a fine version of Errol Garner’s Misty  …. Vinaka.


About Jakartass

A Brit Abroad
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