Saturday, July 11, 2009

Music is My Aeroplane

In my most recent travels, I've tried to make a point to learn a bit about local music and instruments. I went to a music store in Mumbai to look at tabla (Indian hand drums that take FOREVER to learn to play at a beginner's level). I bought a singing bowl (Asian instrument that you hit with a thick stick and then rub the stick around the bowl in a circle). It sounds similar, though more sustained and interesting, to rubbing the edge of a wine glass with a wet finger.

I am currently staying with Alice Clifton, and her boyfriend Charlie O'Brien in Killarney, Ireland. Charlie is a full-time musician, playing banjo and guitar in various bands, from Irish drinking music (Pogues, etc.) and American country music covers to Irish traditional music (which is what he'd be doing all the time if it paid well enough). He has a trad gig tonight, but last night we went to one of the "drinking music" gigs. Even though the band is paid to perform by the venue, anyone from the crowd can go up and play a tune if they are so inclined - a girl from Dublin played some of her original tunes, a woman sang a couple famous Irish songs, I played shaker and glockenspiel, and one of the town drunks came and took over things for a bit. The band played a few Johnny Cash songs.

During "Ring of Fire" I looked at the sea of people in the pub, pints of Guinness in their hands, an American watching the band of Irish musicians play American music in Ireland. And while I was looking at singing bowls in India, a bunch of Indian teenagers were fooling around on electric guitars, playing Pearl Jam and Nirvana. It made me laugh out loud.

People protest economic and cultural globalization and Americanization, but I love living in a world where methods of recording and distribution allow music to transcend the borders it's supposed to.