Life without music would be a mistake. I agree with old Nietzsche on that. Next to writing, music is my favorite form of expression. Not that I am very good at either. Of course it would be lovely to excel in something, simply because one could offer so much more inspiration and joy to others. But the main thing for me is to exercise arts, in whatever form it takes. Artistic expression, as I see it, comes from the inner spark we all have and gives a voice to the feelings and experiences we have on a daily basis, whether joyful or sad.
My earliest music experience was a song contest for kids when I was three years old. My mom probably thought I sang well for my age. I don’t remember much of the event itself, but for several years had a huge and really ugly brooch in my drawer. I got it as a prize for sharing the first place with a ten-year old, singing “Violets for Mother”. I finally gave the brooch to my grandma because I thought it was more suitable for her age…
I then sang in choirs both at school and in the church, until my mom got a cheap Landola guitar as a present from someone when I was about eleven. I started borrowing it when she was at work. I only remember that my fingers were hurting a lot, sometimes almost bloody, but I continued to practice and somehow I managed to learn the basics. So in my teens I would learn all kinds of songs (think church as well as Radio Luxembourg) and play them. It made me feel happy.
Later, in my twenties, I took classic guitar lessons for about a year, but my teacher was always picking on me because I didn’t have the time to practice enough, so I quit. When I think of it now, that practice gave me the push I needed to get beyond the very basics. Just about.
Somehow I have always connected music and work. Not that I forced people to listen to me performing during lunch hour in the cafeteria, but I always managed to get small groups together to do musical skits, some glad and funny stuff. We would perform at work parties, events and conferences. It was lots of fun for all of us and it brought people together. Once we even made an EP record for our sports club at work. It was appropriately called “Sweat is Dripping” (or Svetten Lackar in Swedish). I still have it and listening to it brings back very happy memories of home.
It was not until my Africa years when I started making music a bit more seriously. Still just for fun and for cultural immersion. In our first country, Zambia, I soon realized that my closest colleague in the office was a quite famous singer and the Chairman of the Musicians Association in the country. We started singing and playing together on weekends at our house. He taught me many traditional Zambian and Zimbabwean folk songs. And we made some of our own music together. It was just wonderful to be able to entertain colleagues and guests at various events in their own language. I value that experience tremendously as it deepened my connection to Africa, its people and its traditional culture.
So in every country we lived in, I would always do something with the local musicians. The language of music is totally uniting! And I got a much better understanding of ordinary people’s lives in these countries by learning to know the families of these musicians. In Uganda, for example, we founded a small band with local musicians to play World Music. We’d play African “Lingala” music mixed with western music of “good vibrations” and our own music. We used to play on weekends at hotels and other music venues, including the first ever blues festival in the country. We also recorded a tape together, mainly to give away to the radio stations to benefit the local musicians, and to friends. That was one of my happiest times of musical expression.
Today I sing and play whenever the “spirit” hits me, or a fellow musician comes along. I sometimes hope the “spirit” would hit me a bit more often…just because it’s so uplifting and inspiring. Next to writing. But I listen to music on a daily basis. I hope you enjoy music too, whether listening, singing or playing an instrument, whatever your mood and inclination calls for. I believe, as Auerbach once said, that music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.