Monday, June 29, 2009

Professional Gear, No talent.

I was watching On The Rhumba River which could be considered a Congolese Buena Vista Social Club.  Papa Wendo (Antoine Kolosoy), a Singer and band leader now deceased, but then in his late 70's, is asked to put the band back together.  Not in any Blues Brother way (as this is real life) but to earn some cash. It's 2004 Kinshasa, the war and the final Mobutu years having taken their toll.
Wendo sets about finding as many of the old group as possible while being trailed by a French film crew.  In themselves, these slice of life scenes would make the film worth seeing, but the music, what little we get, is amazing. Filmed over the course of a few rehearsals, we are let into a world populated by his aging crew of players and dancers. Everyone already knows the material, so songs seem to emerge from the either, set off by a rhythm, or a snatch of melody.  The dancers, who's performance role is never clarified, glide beautifully around the rehearsal room, which made Go Van Gogh rehearsals seem so utilitarian and dull in comparison (who are a lively crew).
There were many stand out scenes, but one specific moment inspired this post.  I have included it here. 
This is the first rehearsal shown. The band is just fooling around. They glide into a tune, the dancers and various people are sitting  around chatting, and we are treated to the live take of what is happening in the room.  They are sounding great. They are coaxing beautiful tones out of their instruments,  but please note the instruments themselves. The saxophones are in need of re-corking, mouth pieces held in place with tape.  In later scenes you see the guitar is going through a tiny amp, and at the end of this cut, check out the hand percussionist.  He is playing on an old box missing half it's top.  Yet his rhythm and tone are spot on.
These old cats are making world class music in a concrete and tin rehearsal room, with gear that they have nursed through the privation of war and kleptocratic poverty.  They are well past the bloom of the rose, have not been a functioning group for quite some time, yet they hit the sweet spot.
Let us now venture back to the bay area.  Here one often sees posts
for musicians claiming to have, or demanding you have "PRO GEAR".  It's an absolute must for the aspiring metal head, or hard ROCKIN dude and dudette.  I did a simple search for this illusive "pro gear" in the current CL, and  the first one I came across was posted by a fellow who says "I smoke weed when I play. I’m psychedelic friendly, but not opiate or amphetamine friendly".  Following the link, we discover  his choice of drugs has not enhanced his first tune, which goes on and on, sounds like fuzzy shit, and held my interest for less than a millisecond.   He does include pretty pictures of his instruments.  Unfortunately lacking a clue, or much in the way of musicality, they are wasted on his 29 year old conception of use.  Perhaps when he is in his 70's he may be able to play a balsa-wood box to as great effect as our Congolese friend.  One can hope.
So the point is obvious.  We have become a society all about stuff, and the importance that brings to the process, rather than being all about intrinsic value and the quality of the craft. All about the show, and  not about the substance. 
In the two cases before us, the music says it all. One could say "a great mic makes a better recording".  But in whose hands.  Mr. "pro gear" has a current studio recording. He had the time to go back endlessly to make each note perfect.  Even if you love his music (which I did not), the actual sound quality could not hold a candle to the live recording  made in a cement and corrugated tin room back in 2004 Kinshasa. In fairness, not all the "pro gear" posts were made by people lacking skill (many were, not all)
We have become degraded by the consumerist culture. By the worship of bigger better, fast and faster.  Appearance has taken precedence, all form over function.  Part and parcel in the crisis capitalism we have bought into.
I for one, will endeavor to do more with what I have. My skills and WHATEVER falls to hand. It's the people and what they create that count.  Don't buy the lie.

Thats all for now.



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