Learning the Blues
Regular readers know I'm a musician, some will have picked up I'm a song writer too. As such it pays not to be too blinkered in your musical outlook. I enjoy music from rap to rock, electronica to eclectica – if such a genre exists! However, in case you think I never draw the line, I'll confess I am not yet a fan of folk, I have an uneasy relationship with reggae and my association with jazz is limited to using the phrase 'close enough for jazz' to excuse mistakes.
As a young musician I remember spending hours in extended blues jams with my brother. I use blues in the loosest sense: twelve bar patterns and lots of pentatonic noodling. It was enthusiastic but our comfortable life in suburban Southern England was a million miles from the inspiration for this music. Rock'n'roll historians will know that the blues is rooted in the call and response chants of displaced people. It is the music of facing pain with perseverance; the sound that gives the downtrodden dignity.
Yesterday I received the most heart-breaking song writing commission I've ever had. It came from two young people Novi Most have worked with for many years. They are both aspiring song writers and I have been promising them the opportunity to write and record together. That was supposed to happen this coming month but this week we found out they and their respective families are being forced to leave the country within days. They are refugees and whoever is responsible for these things is calling time on their stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
If they'd been here a few month or perhaps a couple of years it would be easier to understand but these are teenagers trying to finish high school. Life is Mostar is the only life they really remember. For them this is where their friends and futures are. Now their families are heading to different neighbouring countries to try and rebuild another new life. One family has found accommodation they can go to, the other has nowhere to go. We were told that when the father explained this to the UNHCR they advised him to take a tent!
My song is to give words to this tale of tragedy and missed opportunity. I've never had to sing the blues before, even now it feels false for me to claim to understand anything of what this kind of upheaval feels like, but they wanted me to promise to write for them and so they have my word. It's all to easy to be dispassionate about large numbers and the collective nouns we use to describe people groups; it would be a hard-hearted person indeed who felt nothing faced with two teenage girls who have just had everything they know snatched away from them.
Two weeks ago I played guitar as these girls sang a song by Pink at a performance in Klub Novi Most. Today the lyrics seem more poignant then ever: “I don't believe you, when you say don't come around here no more.” The truth is, neither disbelief or unbelief are options. This is their reality. They're facing it with dignity. I don't know if it's an injustice or just the way things are. I do know some things are very hard to understand. As they told me, life is unfair.