Jet-lagged haze trying to remember details as they slip away from me, memories of two weeks with 75% strangers, these people whose names I didn't know even as I begin to recognize the faces. All of us taking a leap of faith with this berserk concept of taking our music into an area so known for its own style of music, the deepest roots of Jazz and gospel. That we could sing our sanitized Christian hymns and even with the best intentions suffer by comparison. I think that thought was lurking and made it hard to release and be in the moment. Of course the more you intellectualized the experience the more you proved the point, in fact the less likely you were ever to make a connection.
Well, we're not dummies—we acclimated really quickly—made easy by the same conduit through which the music flows. They showed by example, they open their arms, their mouths and their hearts. And it came about in the way that we had been advised would not be suitable... We had learned a song, committed it to memory, and then we took a chance at a Catholic Mass in of all places a church in a rural town South of Johannesburg. I don't know whose idea it was to combine a hymn with that traditional song in Zulu... I could go look it up. It doesn't matter the point is that was the director choice, maybe he thought it was a half way gesture toward some sort of cultural meeting place... we tread lightly, we're surrounded by the congregation, not knowing how long the mass would last, waiting for a signal to be given to the director as our titular head, to go ahead and make our contribution in the most respectful
way possible, since we had been invited. Imagine our surprise in the program when we reach the point in this particular hybrid of two styles where we take a breath and begin singing their song in their language...the place erupted. It turned out as we found on subsequent meetings with different groups that every single time we uttered the first two words of that song virtually every person in the place would chime in and sing along with us; in our Blissful naivete we were so fearful we forgot that it might be possible we'd be singing a familiar song, a song that was so well-known and so beloved that we'd be instantly swept away an avalanche of voices. Even flight attendants sang along with us.
Now here's the hard part: even with all of these beautiful people amazing landscape wonderful companions terrific roommate, the tour guides drove me nuts. Not the native guys no those guys were terrific the guy on the boat for example or the guy who would take over when we went on a side trip I mean he was the only one who really knew what he was talking about so obviously they'd hire him for a short-term thing. Not even the guy who chased us out of an exhibit we weren't supposed to be in and then stopped us to take selfies. No I'm talking about the two white ladies with their thick Afrikaans accents their bullshit you can ask me a question when I'm done speaking and not before attitude. I actually put ear plugs in and just looked out the window of the bus part of the time especially with the second lady. Man she rubbed me the wrong way.
So much so that I will never know if it was a conscious act on my part to wander off and end up not hooking up with the bus at the designated time. The first time that happened I was at the top of a hill looking down on everybody and had to climb down through the shrubs to get to them. But I got some great fucking pictures by going off on a different path.
The second time I was late getting started cuz I went to get a sweater in the gift shop so I wouldn't freeze. That time #2 stopped me and asked me if I had a watch. I should have said yeah you want the time? And I then have this great moment with one of my colleagues the one I call our choir Nazi approaches me with open arms gives me a big hug and then goes all Godfather on me and whispers in my ear there's a lot of acrimony just thought you'd want to know.
Could go on and fill in the blanks, there are so many points—getting physically drained at the Apartheid Museum, cavorting onstage with drummers and dancers, singing with Soweto Gospel Choir one day and high school kids the next, stopping for a lion in the road, monkeys stealing cookies from our room right under our noses, and I'm so tired I'll stop but I will say this.
The exact moment that I was at the top of Cape Point, farthest south on the African continent, I expect our sweet tour director was counting heads and discovering that I was gone
But I wasn't. I was so there.