Monday Music: Admiration

This week, the WordPress photo challenge is to depict someone or something we admire.

I admire musicians.

I admire their skill and focus.

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Wassada, led by Moussa Diakite, performing recently at the Django bar in Sydney.

I admire their ability to set aside difference and appreciate the best of each others’ musical cultures.

I admire their ability to touch both our emotions and our intellect.

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Yeshe on kora and Calvin Welch on drums at Blue Beat.

I admire the way that good musicians are able to synchronise with each other so completely that they are able to create a sensory experience that is more than the sum of its parts.

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Tarek Sawires (at left) and friends, at Coledale Market.

I admire their passion for their art.

I admire their generosity and courage. When they sing from the heart, musicians lay bare their pain and joy, highlight injustice, and remind all who listen of our common humanity.


Rokia Traore at the Festival of Sydney.

A musician I admire died last week: the Congolese soukous star Papa Wemba. I never had the opportunity to take a photograph of him, but I have loved his music since I first heard him in the mid-1980s.

When Papa Wemba died, I understood the outpouring of grief over Bowie, Prince and other stars of music and culture who’ve died this year. As the news came across my Twitter feed, I burst into tears.

My reaction to Papa Wemba’s death brought home to me how much we integrate music into our lives. The next video, Ombela, is from his 1992 Le Voyageur album. I played this album over and over during the early stages of labour before giving birth to my son, AM. I almost danced to it, moving my hips in big circles to ease the pain.

Although the labour started well, with the help of Papa Wemba, it ended in fear because there were signs that the baby was distressed. AM had difficulty breathing and was in intensive care for two days. His birth was also overshadowed by a friend’s death from AIDS not long before. It was a time of joy but also deep sadness.

So it’s no wonder that a week after Papa Wemba’s death I still cry when I hear this song. Of course it’s not just Papa Wemba’s music — the album is the work of a whole band of musicians — but he was the front man. It’s his name, and his voice, that I associate with one of the most pivotal events of my life.

Musicians help us through times of intense emotion. I admire them for that.

8 thoughts on “Monday Music: Admiration

  1. I totally agree Jill – where would we be without music as the backdrop and emotional current of our lives? Imagine a world without music – impossible! One of my greatest joys was presenting music from musicians around the world on my radio show for 5 years and meeting musicians as an interviewer at the Global Carnival and Bluesfest. The joy they bring is inestimable…and the ability to unleash one’s own musicality is equally important to me, although I will never equal in skill those lifelong dedicated musicians, just to sing or drum or tinkle the ivories is so fulfilling and especially to dance, my primary/primal passion which would not be possible without music! Thank you for the lovely heartfelt story 🙂

  2. Yes, musicians provide the soundtracks of our lives. I’m often staggered by the emotions that can be stored in a piece of music – over and above what the musician put there. Thanks for this post!

    • Yes, how we respond is kind of beyond what they create. I was going to include a link about music & neural pathways, but couldn’t figure out exactly what I wanted to say so I’m keeping it for a future post – I had some semi formed thoughts about how music has an actual physical effect on our bodies.

  3. As Papa Wemba came from The Democratic Republic of Congo, I strongly recommend Congo: The Epic His­tory of A Peo­ple by David Van Rey­brouck. Large and beyond engrossing, and Papa gets a rightful entry for his path breaking orchestra, sartorial elegance and his praise singing for some downright unsavory “politicians/warlords”.

    It is analytical and highly detailed, and goes well beyond all those crappy Heart of Darkness metaphors which are the lazy individuals way of explaining away its bloody horrible past and present. The West is as guilty as sin and not just the Belgium’s.

    Great sentiments re the role of music in our lives.

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