Balkan jazz.

March 20th, 2014, 9pm

Music has always made me feel somewhat clumsy. I am a word person whose natural social habitat is the living room. If you meet me at a club or a concert and are forced to watch me dance or mouth lyrics to songs I don’t really know I will seem awkward, if you notice me at all. But in the living room, armed with my words, I like to think I seem compelling.

Living in Spain, reduced to speaking Spanish like a two year old with a speech impediment I have become uncomfortably aware of my over reliance on words. Without them I fumble and struggle to form real connections with people. I long to articulate a nuanced thought and without that ability I falter and remain on the fringes of most social interactions.

On Thursday, I went to go see Balkan Jazz, which is something I would like to see become its own genre, if it isn’t already. The performance was phenomenally evocative and it illuminated a frustration I have always had with words, despite my love affair with them: their inability to instantly convey complex, deeply felt emotion. Words can, of course, conjure a great deal of emotion but they take time, and they tend to require a dedicated audience. The emotion that music conveys is unavoidable, immediately accessible and, often, quite precise.

Balkan Jazz is held weekly, the entrance fee is 5 Euros and it is always packed. It starts at 9, but if you are keen on sitting you must arrive shortly after 8. The venue is dimly lit, cramped and full of an odd medley of people of all ages speaking a variety of languages. On Thursday I sat behind a young woman with a halo of of golden curls and enviably perfect posture. When she smiled, it was lightly, with refinement, and everything about her seemed perfectly practiced, like steps in a ballet. Behind me there was a group of thirty-something men in t-shirts with holes in them, their faces hidden behind preposterously overgrown beards. They talked loudly, with great feeling, whereas I could barely hear her when she spoke, even though I was close enough to smell her perfume. Yet, as soon as the music started the audience melded into one hushed, reverential whole. The lights dimmed and and the fist thin, sad notes of (what looked like) a clarinet filled the room, its player a small man with dark hair, in a dark vest, utterly unremarkable except for how he held and played his instrument, with it, holding a whole room utterly in thrall.

I was transported, effortlessly, to somewhere far away. For me, it was a cozy room in the mountains, for the person next to me, somewhere else but the exact place was not the point: in both of us there had been conjured up an intense longing for a far away place, sadness at its distance and nostalgia for something left behind. I was sad, but then, in the next moment as the melody lifted slightly, assuaged. Nostalgia was complicated, intermingled with the pleasures of the moment, the wisdom derived from loss and the inevitable passage of time.

Between performances the audience clapped, always in perfect synchrony, then fell away into silence as though at the wave of a conductor’s hand. Different musicians performed with the band, seemingly at random, often without much prior discussion. The result, to a word person used to struggling with diction in solitude, was impressively fluid. I envied the musicians’ ability to bring a crowd of dissimilar strangers together and make them all feel the same thing, not by convincing or compelling them with argument, or by describing it to them, but by simulating it. I felt in those moments that we were all a part of their art, that our emotional participation was the point. I joined in, I fell in and though I had not exchanged a word with most of the people around me I felt an odd sense of solidarity with them.

Chris, Conor and Emanuel said thanks.

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Dani Z

The hardest thing about getting older is realizing that I might, in fact, be a minor character in someone else's story. (I keep changing this bio. I'm not sure I'll ever nail it)

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