I don’t need an opera

July 23, 2014 § 2 Comments

If you follow me on social media, you’ll know I am the self-appointed chief groupie of Lionel Bastos, musician, singer, producer and songwriter extraordinaire. And one of the reasons I love Lionel’s music so much, is his soulful lyric-writing. He doesn’t write about shaking your ass down at the club, yo. Instead his lyrics often tell a story, make you swoon at their romance, elicit a belly laugh, or even make you cry. They are that beautiful, that well-crafted.

A recent discovery for me is one of his older songs, Simple, off his award-winning album of the same name. At first, I wasn’t sure I liked it (sorry, Lionel) but it has grown on me, I’m pleased to report. It’s a song about writing a song for someone else, someone who likes to keep things… you guessed it… simple! The recipient asks the writer “Where’s my song?”, followed by these words, which have gone round and round in my head since I heard them:

“I don’t want a symphony/I don’t need any wise quotes/You don’t need more than five notes/I don’t want an opera”

I think those words have resonated with me because over the last while I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about stuff, about how much the world revolves around us accumulating stuff, and how little stuff we really need. And somehow, as I’ve hummed along to Lionel’s song in my car, somehow those words have changed in my head to: “I don’t need an opera.”

And I don’t. I really don’t. Increasingly, the things that are more important to me are the intangibles like laughter, fun, creativity, thoughtfulness, kindness and love. More and more I value a hug, a good sleep, an out-of-the-blue phone call from a friend. Because the rest of it is all just stuff, or as the Afrikaans language puts it, “wêreldse goed” [worldly/earthly things].

In the western world in particular, our stuff is consuming us. We live as if the things we own define us. We hoard and accumulate and acquire at an alarming rate. We’ve forgotten how to share, how to re-use, how to re-purpose. We just throw things away and buy new ones. And in the process, somewhere along the way we threw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater and forgot how to be human.

And that’s why children are being killed and maimed in Gaza, why our rubbish is throttling the seas and the skies above us, why so many are dying of starvation.

Because for the ‘haves’ it’s all about getting, not giving, and they don’t care who or what is destroyed in the process. As long as they have their stuff, the rest of the world can go to hell.




Better together

April 23, 2014 § 3 Comments

Two Sundays ago, I stood on my front stoep with my friend (and bona fide professional musician and producer) Lionel Bastos, and sang four of my own songs to an audience of 50 or so people. I didn’t write about it last week, because I didn’t have the words.

It was a beautiful evening. Lionel sang two sets of his magnificent music, another dear friend, Ruth Everson, performed her searing, spectacular poetry, and I bared my soul – and allowed my voice to be heard – in a way I haven’t done for years. It was thoroughly terrifying and utterly energising at the same time. I felt like I was on the cusp of something momentous.

I’ve always been involved in music in some way or another. I learned to play the piano at school, I performed in musicals, I sang in choirs, I taught myself to play the guitar and steeldrum (badly) and even leaned out of the window at my university residence and sang sad songs to the night air during a particularly dramatic phase. But I only realised late in life that the thing I love most about music is collaborating with others.

It’s hard to explain, but if you take singing in a choir as an example, the moment I love best is when, after you’ve rehearsed all the voice parts separately, the conductor raises his hand and you sing together for the first time. It’s often imperfect, but there’s something about the energy of that collaboration and the richness of the sound that creates a kind of magic.

That’s what I loved most about that Sunday evening. Lionel and I had two fairly shambolic, haphazard rehearsals of my songs. We rehearsed none of his. But there was a collaboration that happened – I sang harmonies for him wherever possible; he did the same for me. There was banter, there was laughter, there were little moments of surprise and shared grins between he and I at a faltered chord or a forgotten lyric that the audience probably didn’t see. It was perfect in its imperfection.

And for me, it felt like magic. For me, it felt like the beginning of something wonderful, something new.

I hope I’m right. Because I want to feel like that again. And again. And again.

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