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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Free Music and Beer

“I never ask to be paid for my music,” said the Frisian singer-songwriter. “I ask for beer. As long as there is a crate of beer and they compensate my travel costs, I am fine.”

I met him at a concert I played in a small pub, somewhere in Friesland. It was a joint concert: the singer-songwriter and one of my bands played, and because the singer-songwriter had a new band (he played with an accordionist and a drummer – acoustic, that is) he was lacking enough repertoire to fill half the evening so we invited my other band as a guest. An interesting evening: the singer-songwriter started off with Frisian-language ego-documentary songs, then my one band played Irish, Scottish and Bluegrass repertoire, than my other band played Frisian-language covers of well-known songs by Kylie Minogue, Tom Waits, REM and some others, and then we finished with the Irish etcetera repertoire. Explaining why precisely this repertoire at precisely this place and this moment in time with precisely this audience held together, no actually made up a fine evening, is something I will try to do another time. Although many of those present will not be aware, part of the explanation is a certain definition of “Frisianness” – or, broader, Dutch (West-European? Western?) “regionalness” or “localness”.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"Refined begging"

When I was 15 I started to play music on the streets. I did it for a long time; first in the near vicinity, but after a year I hitch-hiked to France with a friend (who is now, by the way, a very successful professional musician) to play in the streets. I fiddled, he played a small accordion, we both sang; we played Irish folk, French folk, Dutch folk, Beatles, tangos from Malando, Greek ditties, some gypsy tunes. And we earned our own holiday – also because we slept in clochard hostels or at people’s homes; they would invite us to come and play at their party in exchange for food, drink and a bed. So we continued with it for years. Our most successful year was when we joined with two girls, one a blonde flute player, the other one a cute bellydancer. The French loved it. Life was great: sleeping on the beach in Antibes, and earning lots of money – at least for the four of us, happy with nothing.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

On Arab Music - and Cricket

“Quelle monotonie intol√©rable √† nos oreilles! dira-t-on. Soit; mais il ne s’agit point de nous”. That is what the famous French musicologist Alexis Chottin wrote in 1939 about Moroccan music. Translated a bit freely: “One would say: `What an intolerable monotony for our ears!” So be it; but this music is not about us.”
I use his quote as he motto for my lessons on non-western music. Yes, music may sound strange to us, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but maybe it makes sense for other people, and often, through finding out why it makes sense for others, it starts making sense for us also. And not necessarily the same sense, I add hastily, but that is also what music is not about – it is not about a particular kind of sense, it is about sense; as it is not about good taste but about taste, as I wrote earlier on this blog.