If you have never seen the film Black Orpheus, go and find it.
A re-working of the tragic Eurydice and Orpheus story by the director Marcel Camus, the action mainly takes place in a favela in Rio de Janeiro. Throughout the movie, the phenomenal soundtrack – which you will love – is an incessant, driving, emotional mix of subtle and vibrant rhythms: bossa nova and powerful, moody, soulful song all work overtime, as the traditional Greek chorus would have done in the original story.
The reason I raise this, apart from the stunning award winning musical score, is to encourage you into getting round to watching the final scene. Without being a spoiler, I can tell you that at the very end after the loss of our tragic hero, a small child attempting to emulate his musical guide Orfeu before him, takes his guitar up to a hilltop at dawn. There, he plays, and as if by magic, makes the sun rise. If ever there was a filmic nod to the power of music, this was it. If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.
How many of us came to our music like that innocent child, sitting alongside, hanging around and watching a seemingly masterful musical hero, who could conjure magic and make it seem both a wondrous thing yet, somehow, attainable when you grow up one day?
Where exactly do we get our views, our musical advice, the early judgements about quality and style, the ever inquisitive taste buds that make us devour what we think is good and reject what we think is dross? Do we just pick up music hot stuff by osmosis on our travels? Can you even remember? Are you a ‘game for anything, give it a whirl’ kinda guy? Does it just come out of the woodwork from nowhere, like Bill Haley or Jerry Lee Lewis and bash us in the brain?
Are we like those meeja people who bang on using long words and impenetrable claptrap about art and then say ‘I know what I like and I don’t like that’? Or, more likely – as I suspect may be the case for many of us – do we acquire, as we start to travel down that twisty musical road, some ‘mentors’: musical ear-whisperers who somehow seem to have a line into what we might like and nudge us in the direction of their own preferences and prejudices?
Thus the importance of listening to the views of those you respect. You do not have to like those views but you need to understand where they came from and why. If one of those people recommends a book, more often than not, it is worth reading… and of course, the wonderful thing about reading is where it will lead you.
Like music, a book can take you anywhere. For example, Hemingway and Laurie Lee will open up avenues of understanding to war and travel, history, love and passion. O’Casey and Carson McCullers will take you into dark corners of heart-break and the power of political commitment. The list is endless.
Similarly, with music – and it doesn’t matter who they are: radio disc jockey, teacher, your parents, another musician, Uncle Chris or Grandad – if someone takes you by the hand and leads you to the dark brown voices of Broonzy, Ella, Etta, Josh White and Muddy or the keyboards of Otis Spann, Tatum and Booker, the absolute certainty is that they will unlock the door to a thousand other even more exciting places.
The mesmeric back rhythms of Manu Chao, Santana and Shelley Manne may pass you by unless, somewhere down the line, you brush up against one of those lovely insistent hand-waving friends who are always drumming on tables with their knife and fork. And from there… who knows where your journey will take you? The Deep South? Chicago? Brazil? a Hebridean musical stramash? South London Jazz Clubs? a French Hot Club? New Orleans via Louisiana Zydeco and Doctor John? Hell yeah, love ’em all if you’ve got time….
The wonderful erratic randomness of that early journey is something we can all remember and recall with great pleasure as we ricochet our way round the musical landscape admiring some things as we pass and stopping off for ever in our favourite places. You may have more than one whisperer, more than one kindly guide, and later in life you will look back and thank them all – while, of course, still asking questions.
Sure, you can do it by yourself, but it’s more fun if you’ve got someone in your corner prodding you into new journeys and amazing places. A music mentor, so to speak.
It is never too late to discover new stuff. There is never enough room in a day to fit it all in. Ask a friend today and open your mind. You may well finish up sitting on a hilltop listening to Miles Davis or Keith Jarrett, The California Honeydrops, Howlin’ Wolf, Joe Pass or Sonny Boy….
And of course, as if by magic, the sun will rise at dawn especially for you.