Gypsy Dreams

Amiri Baraka (I think) once said “Art is whatever makes me proud to be human.” In my humble opinion, art can also be something that makes us happy to be alive.

Once in a while, we are moved; we are awed; we are delivered nigh unto extacy. The Django festival took me there. This year, as all years, the annual homage to the two-fingered gypsy guitarist was a fine thing indeed. Django Reinhardt was a mercurial talent. One of the seminal guitarists -his influence reaching far beyond jazz- in music history, the man established, or rather popularized a playing style that was -and is- ridiculously fast, known as “string swing”. His achievment is all the more amazing when one considers the fact that he had in fact only two functioning fingers on his chording hand, the other two having been rendered useless due to an accident. Alongside violinist Stephane Grapelli, he played with Hot Club de France and was a proper rock star of his time. The iconic image of Reinhardt hunched over his guitar, eyes shut in concentration, cigarette dangling from his mouth, exudes sheer cool. Hot Club de Norvége have been carrying the Django torch in our Northern climes for years; they are well respected all over the world, and have -in addition to playing their heads off- been organizing the Django Festival. They were the opening act of the eveing and happily played a brisk set, ending in an instrumental duel between the violinists that set the audience afire and primed for the pyrotechnics of one Mr. Jimmy Rosenberg.

He failed to disappoint us. And how! Rosenberg came on, introduced his band, and said something along the lines of “We will try to, ah, kick some ass and have a party!” Success was a rather mild word for the balls-out musical mass orgy that followed.

Rosenberg is, simply put, one of the finest guitarists on the planet. His fingers moved with such swift ease that even the old master himself would be perplexed. As he played, overcome by the chugging rhythms, his face beamed ecstasy, beads of sweat descending on his face, and he was channeling a smile straight from the Gods. The level of skill needed for this kind of music makes it akin to magic for us mere mortal punters. After all, there is just something special when the bass player randomly knocks off a two-string solo that blows any Clapton wankfest of the past 30 years so utterly out of the water that the poor bastard wakes up confused somewhere in the middle of the Sahara, jetlagged and dehydrated. Exuberance is the order of the day.

The crowd, enraptured, applaud wildly at the slightest thing. Rosenberg, smiling his divinely touched smile all the while, made euphoric faces and ran his fingers across the fretboard like a man possessed. I was utterly enraptured, my hair standing on end, and it was as if Rosenberg played strings made from my nerve endings, it was that hypnotic, it was that joyous; it was pure musical bliss. Did I mention I enjoyed it?

The last act was…well, how could it not be a let-down? It was gypsy music, apparently. Melancholy and proud, the music of the downtrodden and proud outcasts. It was good, but far too mellow, and the star had left ages ago. The crowd was worn out, still reeling and trying to catch their breath after the fireworks that preceded; it was a shame for these musicians, but this was come-down music, and most of us were not ready to come down just yet. It was cold outside, a grumpy February evening, but the heat in our bones and heart was more than enough. See you next year, Django!

01.02.2005 • Permalink