Solo Acoustic Guitarist | African and Contemporary | Composer and Performer

Let Your Playing Become an Ecosystem

The preparation for six weeks of touring has been rather full time. So full time that I began to wonder what it was like to play guitar. Especially because preceding this writing of programmes, booking of tickets, organising of dates and places to stay and sound problems etc, I have also been finished up the final master and design of the new recording, Cassette Locale After Masanobu Fukuoka.

In preparation for a small house concert at High Hopes, a deliciously lush and fabulous bed and breakfast in the town of Greyton, I spent a full day experimenting with my amplified sound. The addition of a new piece of gear, alongside some rather hair raising sound issues at a few previous gigs, had made me doubt my current set-up. After a day of experimenting I had it back to it’s old simplicity and it was sounding great. That alone is inspiration enough to start playing again.

The concert itself went well. I could still play everything and made it through an hour of material without any major hassles. But the connection between me and the instrument (perhaps I should call it my conviction) was not as close as it could be. And I wondered what it was all about. So I went back to the drawing board.

For me the very basis of playing is that I don’t play. “It” plays. It is whatever you want to call it. Zimbabwean mbira master Forward Kwenda says

“I just have to get out of the way so spirits can make my mbira play.”

Herregel in Zen and the Art of Archery talks about “it” shooting. Each culture has its own metaphor, name, description of the force that does without doing.

How can we bring this about? Well of course we can’t. That’s the beauty. But Kwenda gives a clue “I just have to get out of the way.”

This means:

1) no agenda

2) no plan

3) no judgement

Just playing. And even the playing is no playing. Not playing. (Because you don’t want your head thinking that it’s playing!)

The first thing out the window was any thought of playing the pieces I would be playing on the tour. Out came some Bach (always the Sonatas and partitas for solo violin). Then a new arrangement of Alla L’Aa Ke. Then Duga from Sekou Batourou Kouyaté…just playing…bits and pieces of this and that.

Last night I watched the Ted talk by Allan Savory. After culling 40 000 elephants in his youth to stop overgrazing and desertification (which continued to get worse) he dedicated his life to working out what to do about decertification. Eventually he turns popular belief systems on their heads (always a good thing because the state of planet earth makes it clear that popular belief systems must, indeed, be turned on their heads) and finds that an increase in animals leads to an increase in grass growth and a decrease in woody growth and desertification. You can watch the actual talk for more details and excuse my very short summary.

You have ten pieces to play for a concert at Shakespeare’s Globe? Play forty.

Let your playing become an ecosystem.


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