This week, the WordPress photo challenge is to depict someone or something we admire.
I admire musicians.
I admire their skill and focus.
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.
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.
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.
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.