Friday, March 13, 2015

Out of Africa

I admire people who follow their muse, whatever it may be.

Tonight found me at Hardywood to see a documentary about the street musician Gull, also known as the amazing Nate Rappole, who manages to sing, play guitar and drum all at the same time.

I know, right? First time I saw him play on the Artwalk back in 2007, I found myself rooted to the sidewalk marveling at what he was doing. The key part is, he kept on doing it.

Six years ago after touring Mexico, he decided he wanted to go to Africa with a friend to film a visual record of playing on the streets there and interacting with local musicians.

He was naive enough to think that race, class and religion wouldn't enter into it.

To me, this is an extraordinary endeavor since the three-man crew did it on a shoestring budget raised through Kickstarter and for the six weeks they were in Kenya, never knew where they'd be sleeping until someone offered them space that night.

That right there could be the definition of flying by the seat of your pants.

Tonight was the east coast premiere of the film and I made sure to get there early for a good seat but also to relax and digest after my hired mouth and a friend had devoured a feast of a meal.

My smiling J-Ward neighbors were already in place when I arrived and we were soon joined by the band photographer, the dulcitar player and a DJ couple, most of them drinking what looked like large cups of red wine (which, of course, isn't possible at a brewery) but which turned out to be Hardywood Raspberry Stout.

Being beer-challenged, I have to guess that beers are made with berries in the summer when berries are plentiful and then released in the winter?

From the documentary's opening sequence, it was clear that this was a beautifully shot film. The brilliant colors of Kenya's land and sky were matched by the vivid colors of Kenyan's clothing and fabrics.

Their journey was told through the eyes of the Kenyans they met, many of them musicians themselves, and scenes of Gull playing with locals were some of the most moving in the film. Children responding to his music demonstrated the universality of it across language barriers. And who knew, but plenty of Kenyans speak English.

Moving through hills, slums, a national park and Nairobi streets, Gull would set up and play on amps powered with twelve AA batteries, while crowds formed just as they do when he plays on the streets of Richmond.

We saw a re-enactment of an exorcism ritual (a tad disturbing), Kenyan dancers try to dance with Gull (more funny than anything) and heard a musician challenge him on what benefit they would get out of his visit to their country (a fair enough question).

A hip hop group from the slums comprised of three young boys with the best possible name -Nairobeez - performed for him and then explained how they were trying to inspire younger kids to find a path through music.

Sauti Sol, the biggest act in Kenya currently, came across as a bridge between traditional Kenyan music and current pop music.

Mostly, I saw a world I would never know about except that a local guy decided to trek halfway around the world and bring back a record of what he experienced trying to bridge cultures with music I've been lucky enough to experience for years.

That's a pretty wonderful thing.

In some ways, I'd like to think I've been following my own muse the past six years, albeit with a blog instead of a film crew to document it.

Maybe it's time to consider taking my quest further afield. As Nate's film proved, you never know what you'll find until you go looking.

No comments:

Post a Comment