Culture distinguishes people as well as binds them together
Ethnomusicologists have known for a while already that there isn’t – and probably never was –a folk or people without their own music. On a more general level, however, culture, in its many forms, at the same time distinguishes people and binds them together. In cultural encounters of people from different parts of the world avenues and channels of communication are negotiated and found along the commonalities of the various cultural forms. The evening of June 23rd 2014 in Bimhuis, Amsterdam was a good example of that. The ingredients of the evening Bimhuis catered were the Netherlands-Chile football match in the World Championship tournament in Brazil, projected on a screen above the stage, and Konrad Koselleck Big Band’s (KKBB) concert with the Chilian singer/guitarist Rodrigo Cortes Juantok. And to crown the evening chili con carne was catered from the Bimhuis’ own kitchen. All this cooked up to be a very enjoyable evening on many levels.
But what first caught my attention was that this was inter- or multiculturalism in a quite specifically Dutch context. As it turned out Mr. Cortes Juantok has already established himself in this country a while ago and arrived at the venue together with his whole Dutch family, in-laws and all. The whole evening indeed had a sort of family gathering feeling to it, the hall of Bimhuis serving as our living room.
Although sports, food and music are things people from anywhere can enjoy together, the different levels, or dimensions, on which such enjoyment takes place became quite apparent as the evening ran its course. The football match itself was rather uneventful until way into the second half when Netherlands managed to score first once and gave it the finishing touch with another one in the extra time. Many portions of chili con carne were still enjoyed during the hour between the game and the start of the concert and the mood was indeed like in a huge living room.
Chili con carne
Bigband in the livingroom
As the KKBB began their concert with a blast that blew the wax out of the ears and took us into a Blues, I couldn’t help thinking that a third culture had just made an entrance to the evening’s cultural encounter. Jazz has been called “American Classical music” and the only truly American art form and big band jazz, in my view, is the quintessential sound of that idea; and big band playing a Blues even more so. Mr. Koselleck, however, is a very capable arranger and eloquently played with the musical elements of these cultural identities. His arrangements brought out different aspects of them in a playful manner without being afraid of some rather cliché-ish manoeuvres to engage the public while maintaining the high musical level of his organisation; and the living room -like mood (which is not unremarkable, since how often does anyone have a big band in their living room? 😉 ).
But the dinner table of this meeting of cultures wasn’t completely set yet: The third piece (if I remember right) in the program was Koselleck’s arrangement of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. To drive home his point, Koselleck announced the piece afterwards; seemingly unintentionally, switching to his native German. In fact, a couple of times during the evening he went to some lengths in educating the audience to recognise a melody he had arranged. Although Koselleck’s arranging style is respectful to the original melody, his adventurous harmonies and rhythms may indeed be challenging to the “uninitiated” listener.
We are the champions
Music and football (or vise versa)
By the time the evening’s guest soloist was introduced at least I had already forgot all about the preceding football match. Although Cortes Juantok entered the stage with a mock cry and Koselleck jokingly announced he’s not able to sing, the rest of the evening was a joyous celebration around the musical gumbo the KKBB served with arrangements of Chilean music (also joined by some Chilian folk dancers), their own repertoire and a couple of Dutch pop and folk tunes. The evening ended with a reggae flavoured arrangement of Mungo Jerry’s old hit Summertime and finally Queen’s We are the Champions in a recapitulation of the football theme of the evening.
Unfortunately, my phone battery died before the concert so I couldn’t take any pictures of the band to post here. For more about the KKBB, please visit their website. And while there chip in on their crowdfunded World War I project, which seems really interesting.