I grew up with a distinctly kind of English longing that somehow parlayed into schizophrenic African zest. The result was a classic upbringing; mom and dad schooling me in the ways of glorious, rolling songs like the Senegalese Miyaabele or the new Dakar Moon. The voices were easy-going but harsh-edged, and the backing was tight, rhythmic and enthusiastic. They spoke about sounds filtering out from South Africa that were the template for a hybrid movement that nodded vigorously to the future. Syncopated beats that transcend the sum of their parts are raw beauties that sound as vital today as they did when they were being made.
People, music and groups that were allowed to develop at their own pace became languid, melodic treaties that made me slack-jawed (still do) and living in awe for depth, phrasing, passion, and let’s be honest, sparkle. Gosh I love some sparkle. It stays singing in my bones with the wind hitting the trees, unmistakable voices carving and denting the air. How many distinct voices follow you around for life? Haunting you and hanging in the air? Like when I first heard Sammy Davis Jr sing ‘Mr Bojangles’, and he stole my heart. I felt that everything that the world hurled at him: love, death, even racism, was innately understood.
Maybe that’s what my parents were imparting, or impacted, or just knew – jazzy gospel blues in voices that reached out to many different musical expressions and social and political beliefs. They had a way of making me join them through song, as if I were marching with the birds singing. And some of those birds were the most true burning, scorching talent, glowing and humming animals in this life. Heartstrings in a voice move me. They leave me with a sort of aching. And I really love it.