East Africa is the second of my journeys. I am learning more about the characteristics of the “journeys” as I go. That is, my perspective and understanding of what I am doing is growing.
It has become apparent to me that though East Africa is as different to China as chalk is to cheese, there are underlying qualities which are shaping my experience. I am learning that “Journeys” has its own nature.
To the casual eye, there are the obvious things. Seeing beautiful places nourishes that human longing to take in the great vistas, to absorb space, to pull out thought from hidden stones in the subconscious, and to feel humbled by the vastness of the earth we inhabit.
Meeting people of every nation, color and creed expands us. It challenges our prejudices, educates our understanding, invites us into the brotherhood of man that is available to all of us, but which we, consistently, as a species fail to embrace.
Traveling shows us the qualities of motion; the buzz of a small plane swooping over Arusha channels our mind not into thought but a condition of being that is about flow and rhythm and feeling. Hiking on Mount Suswa, thirsty under the hot sun and your ill rationed water, reduces your complexity and conditions your consciousness to the the pounding of feet, the meditation of the next step, the simplicity of doing what needs to be done.
I am lucky to be within this project, this moment in my life. But I am also not particularly interested in the casual eye. I am interested in the nature of things under the surface, that´s where the good stuff lies, even when it is ugly, scary and we´d do anything in the world to avoid it.
“Journeys” has arisen out of a multiplicity of events in my life, and I can list them at a glance. My mothers death at 19 somehow leading me to the discovery of music, at first as catharsis, and then as a life partner.
Touring the UK in the back of a white van in the naughties, shivering trying to sleep in it in December from Aberdeen to Cornwall, getting back to London having not made a bean, and knowing there is no musical future for me in the UK.
Arriving in Berlin, crashing my van, getting put up next to the Tacheles in an abandoned building, pissing in bottles and playing night after night and learning that the road to nowhere does in fact lead somewhere.
Panic attacks in Bahnof Friedrichstrasse, knowing there is no past, there is only future, no one to help make it for you, no one to carry you, only just the brute strength we find when we finally learn we are truly alone and ready to rediscover the nature of prayer and to bend a knee and to ask for help.
Getting signed by EMI and making my way out of the underground, touring Europe, fulfilling some dreams, getting to the crest of a moment in which you feel all the yearning and hungering and wandering has finally led somewhere, just to lose the deal on the day of release and to find yourself back in that very same underground and joyous with your friends, drinking a hefeweisen and knowing that yes, this is your life, yes, this is where you belong, yes it is okay to be finally at one with it.
And then stopping because you have given everything, and the only thing to do is to stop. And learning that nature hates a void. Nature is inherently creative. Nature demands the expression of potential, because that is its very nature – the nature of nature.
Life happens. Dreams, shattered and lying disconsolate, slowly start reweaving their own patterns, colors, threads. The patchwork of your life has not unraveled, it has necessarily re-constituted itself.
We deconstruct to reform. We break down to rebuild. We fragment to become more whole than we had previously been.
And the journey continues.
The perspective the causal eyes sees a celebratory gig upon the rooftop of PAWA 254 in Nairobi. It does not witness the conditions needed to get there. It does not see an exhausted figure on the back of a 30 gig tour in 4 countries, on a foreign continent, feeling displaced and under slept and unsure if he can go on at 4pm under the burning sun. Or the moments you wake up in the middle of the night, deep in fragmentation, wondering where you are, what you are, you being for a time transmorgified into something young and afraid. Or the 40kg on your back you take from place to place on the buses, trains, ferries, trucks and taxis of the world to try and do you job.
Everything thing is pregnant with its contrary. The casual eye is the eye with least insight, but dammit, if it sees something pretty I hope it can enjoy it none the less.
But what comes back to me consistently as fundamental to the nature of “Journeys” is the need to say yes to life.
I have been more privileged than many people on this planet. But I´ve also been backed into a fair few corners in my time. And in every corner I´ve been in, especially the worst ones, when it feels like there is nothing left and no capacity to go on, I have discovered 2 things.
First is that we have a strength that we often lose sight of. Man, for all the evils he has committed, did not rise to be the top predator on this planet by giving in. I don´t like to put it in those terms because I feel deeply uncomfortable about how we treat nature. But when it comes to those moments, there is a power in us which we only conceive and intuit when we are really up against it. As Dostoevsky wrote in one of his novels “there is a capacity to endure anything”
Second, that when you are backed into a corner you get to a point that is beyond choice. There is no more time for thinking, there is no more time for analysing, dissecting, discussing, considering. There comes a point when you simply have to say yes to life.
You have to say “yes” to the acceptance that you are in that moment. And you have to say yes to making the tough choice to move forward. You have to embrace the conditions of reality, light and dark, and you have to crack on. One step at a time. And those feet always take you somewhere. And usually, when bound with a yes, to the place where you are meant to be.
I have moments when I cower before my life. I have days when I am exhausted and feel fragmented and I think to the future – of the future I am trying to build for my life through this project – and I would do anything to exchange the adventure and excitement for stability and security.
But in those moments I know that, simultaneously, life is asking me to say yes. To get to the next gig. To write the next song. To shoot the next movie. To take a leap of faith and trust it.
I know that I should have listened to the advice I got in my twenties:
“The music industry will never pick up, it is dead, dying, make a life for yourself while you still can”.
I could not accept that choice. There was a spiritual question at play. I just could not stop doing what I felt what I was meant to be doing, regardless of the consequences.
I gave up some time ago on some ultimate vindication, of some validation that would make it all okay, all worthwhile.
At some point I realized that, for better or worse, this is my life, these are my choices, and despite my failings, I do have the courage to stand by them.
I feel that life is an article of faith. I feel that sometimes being too fixed on where it is going, limits the capacity for life to take you where it wants you to go. I am not in control, and I never was. I am in life, not yet with total belief, understanding or flow, but with the knowledge that this is what is meant for me for now.
And in that way I believe in saying yes to life, in trusting her, in taking her hand and knowing that before my time is up, she will take me where I am meant to go.
So I have understood something of the nature of our journeys:
Say yes to life.