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A Travelling Heartbeat – Experiencing Music

Music is a reflection of a people. The means of looking past any surface concerns to see the beautiful, ethereal soul of a culture, if only for an all too brief moment. The brevity is breathtaking, both for the melancholic knowledge that the moment must end, and the triumphant recognition of the transient now.

Words by Bryce Deller

I cannot claim to know the people and their culture. Yet I know that I have witnessed, and been touched by, its presence. Occasionally in this world of fast knowledge and financial ascendancy, perhaps we need a reminder of the importance and limitless potential of music. Wherever I go I aim to feel the land of each new place beneath my bare feet. To taste the air and water, and grasp the texture of the walls and food and stuff in my hands. Yet these experiences are nothing without the intangible abstraction that is the vitality of a place.

Music is an expression of energy. It gives you a sense of the world behind the big five senses, that thrills and moves to a beat inherently unique.

An octet of African drums thumps out a rhythm that is primal and raw, heady and guttural. The voices raised in accompaniment, a call and response, are the perfect counterpoint. A blend of soaring uplift and searing gusto, that makes the ground shake and my heart trill. The feeling is without parallel. The memory makes my hands shake.

A car journey between hostels. The driver speaks of life in the local townships, vibrant and yet precarious. We pass the grave of a local hero, a survivor of torture under a tyrannical regime.

From the speakers comes a voice, passionate and clear, singing with an effortless blend across languages. At the refrain, one of the few parts I understand, she sings achingly of an imperfect world. Freedom and equality call, with the irresistible verve of justice. They cannot be denied forever. And yet the melody and backing band are full of brightness, with the resulting ensemble sounding out positivity and hope. It is a challenging paradox, unmistakably optimistic.

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A crowded minibus makes its ponderous, overburdened way down a relatively quiet highway. The sides are scrawled with Japanese characters. The van is far from its old home. The boot bulges, held closed with ropes deftly and expertly tied to cheat the laws of physics. The locals smile, bemused by our excited faces and tolerating good-naturedly our straining, unwieldy bags and cramping legs.

Driving through a town, forgoing the usual frequent stops for embarking and disembarking, the bus passes a party on the street. The people seem to be moving towards a certain destination, singing and dancing along their route. A celebration, perhaps, but one beyond my knowledge. As if on cue, the driver clicks on the music, and an upbeat R&B and hip hop collaboration comes alive. The bus throbs, creaking suspension seeming to join in with the newly carnival atmosphere. I understand none of the words, but the typical genre bravado needs no translation. The two instances were musically diverse, but thematically linked. They sung of pride.

These are some of my experiences in music. Snapshots from a heartfelt world.