Why Music

Music is my greatest mood enhancer, available to elevate and soothe, lift me up and settle me down. It runs in my blood, an intrinsic force for many family members across several generations.

Playing the piano, 1990

My maternal grandmother taught me how to play piano when I was 5 years old. My paternal grandfather played guitar for 60 years, until a benign essential tremor irrevocably hampered his playing – so then he took up keyboard, playing gigs at local Alzheimer’s homes where his songs often elicited dancing and occasionally pierced through fuzzy memories to bring recognition and clarity. It was beautiful to see how the right hand he struggled with, with its involuntary movement, would become more manageable at the keyboard – as music is controlled by a different area of the brain than other motor functions such as eating and writing. He was infinitely passionate about his music, with volumes of pages of handwritten chord structures and notes on songs he’d taught himself to play by ear, and it was an indelible part of his character that I am happy to share with him in my own way.

My grandpa, Harry D. White, jamming in 1961 with my grandma Mary Joe (left) and friends
With my grandpa in his music room in Houston, TX in 2011

Since I was a child I have felt drawn to music from around the world – I never needed to understand the lyrics to grasp the feeling conveyed. Admittedly, sometimes my ability to decipher English lyrics is lacking – for years I was convinced Bon Jovi’s best song was “Wanted… Middle of Life” (a less dramatic version of “Dead or Alive”?) Nonetheless, I remember enjoying Portuguese radio at age 8 living in Rhode Island, and the Spanish song “La Bamba” was a favorite from an even younger age. Now, I love music from West Africa sung in languages such as Tamasheq, Bambara, and Songhai – the bluesy guitar of artists such as Vieux Farka Toure, Tinariwen and Bombino utterly transports me.

With Vieux Farka Toure and his bassist Mamadou Sidibe after a show at West Hollywood’s Troubadour in 2009

I can view the past couple decades of my life through music. Upon discovering MTV as a young teenager, my first love was hip hop. I became enamored with Tupac and Biggie shortly after their untimely deaths, and loved all the ’90s ‘Golden Era’ hip hop and especially the Native Tongues movement with their conscious poetry. That love segued into rock and alternative music with LA’s KROQ station, Sublime and 311, and a brief skateboarding phase. Then on to singer-songwriters such as Ani DiFranco and classic rock mostly from the ’70s – CCR, Doobie Brothers, Tom Petty. From there, in my later teens emerged a great and lasting love for electronica. The downtempo grooves of Nightmares on Wax resonate supremely and that is a favorite Pandora station, though I enjoy some ‘dirtier,’ hard-hitting house beats as well. Then, at some point in my mid-20s, perhaps I came full circle with a renewed love for world music, especially from Latin America, Africa, and India. My soul grooves to Gondwanaland.

I am grateful for the subscriber-supported, independent radio station KCRW, a community project of Santa Monica College. They spurred my love for many artists, and it was Vieux’s music that led me to my first trip to Africa at the age of 25, and a burgeoning fascination with the mother continent. I’d thought my first trip there would be on safari in eastern or southern Africa, after working on the launch of www.africasafari.com in my first full-time job after college, but my musical motivations led me to West Africa. Music is interwoven within my travels, and so whether I chronicle a festival in a new destination or simply a concert in my hometown that awakens some inspiration, I look forward to the music I will share via this blog.

In conceiving a blog site, I originally considered song-title domain names including the wanderlusty “Restless Fugitive” by Willy Mason; “Starry-Eyed Surprise” by Paul Oakenfold, reflecting a state of being I pursue through my travels; and a more introspective “Fire in the Middle” (Nightmares on Wax). Another idea was “The Sky is Calling” (a twist on “the sky is falling” messaging that permeates most news channels today), which I learned was an electropop song by Kim Boekbinder. Then I realized that in our digital age, naming my blog after an established song would make it more challenging to brand and expand my site. So at least with a nod here, I can memorialize these paths not taken, but song names that I still find evocative.

Essential camping accessories – Golf Meadows, southwestern Sierra Nevadas, California

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