Sunday, 19 July 2015

When is a gig not a gig?

Oh I do beg your pardon…
I am going to see Ladysmith Black Mambazo and my assumption is this is gig number 15 of 50. OK, it’s at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre but it is still a gig – right? However, finding that the evening is billed as ‘Inala – A Zulu Ballet featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo’ I feel my confidence ebb away! Is this a gig or not? And in any case, what makes a gig a gig and a show a show?

As I exit the theatre my gut says this wasn’t a gig. But why not? As I am pondering this question, I absently mindedly bump into a striped blazer wearing audience member who exclaims ‘Oh I do beg your pardon’. Perhaps it’s the class of the audience that does not allow me to call this a gig, but when I think about the gigs I’ve been to many have had more than a whiff of the moneyed middle classes about them.

So what else? The audience is different. We are not squashed together in the stalls shouting loudly over the music played before the headline act appear. We are not screaming with delight as the first chords of the latest hit are struck, nor do we throw beer or attempt to lift our partners on our shoulders! But then again, I’ve been to gigs with soft seating, interval drinks, programmes for sale, and ushers who show me to my seat (even if I do sit on the edge of it!). My brain and gut can’t at this stage seem to agree.

No, it’s the curtain. That’s what it is! A curtain is raised on a show and it is lowered at the end. At a gig the stage is open for all to see the roadies at their work; there is no secret intercommed announcement from the Stage Manager, just the public flash of the roadie’s torch to say the gig will begin. This is not a gig! But this is subjective surmising on my behalf; in my distant gig-going memory I see a curtain open and a blanket of dry ice fall off the stage and engulf the audience as the band take the stage. Still no answer……

I need a definition, so I turn to the trusty font of all twenty-first century knowledge; Wikipedia!

“Gig is slang for a musical engagement in which musicians are hired. Originally coined in the 1920s by jazz musicians, the term, short for the word "engagement", now refers to any aspect of performing such as assisting with performance and attending musical performance. More broadly, the term "gigging" means having paid work, being employed.”

So this is a gig, in one sense! The musicians performed and I assume they have been paid. But the musical performance is not the whole story tonight because there is also drama and dance, chorography and costume! I know there will be some who argue that it is possible to go to any Kylie concert and find plenty of costume changes! And there is nothing more (crassly) choreographed than the boyband, dressed in white suits, seated on stools, standing as one as the music modulates and walking to the front of the stadium stage! But I would struggle to call such events gigs!

Perhaps it is the sense that the whole evening is choreographed that means I cannot call it a gig. I know bands create set lists but they can change night-to-night and even on the night! Bands carefully arrange their songs, but at a gig the way they present each song is live, on the spur of the musical moment. Even the clichéd rock-star poses are not rehearsed to appear at exactly the same moment of each song and show! The best gigs are those that create the vibe and set the scene as the musicians feed off each other and the audience. A show on the other hand, is carefully rehearsed, planned and choreographed to create a whole into which the musicians fit.

So before I tie myself in knots and bore the reader rigid (if that hasn’t happened already) my final definition is……. it’s a Show with musicians gigging at it!

Celebrate the normal…
As I have suggested it is a show that brings together musicians,
Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and some truly incredible dancers. There are some wonderful moments, simply beautiful dance and a touch of humour thrown in. During the first half I’m desperately trying to work out what the story is. Am I so uncultured I can’t see the metaphor?

I resolve to let the second half happen and not worry too much. This, it turns out, is the best decision I make as I enjoy what is a fusion of cultures and art forms with – according to the reviewers -no particular story to tell or axe to grind.

“Inala is most vibrant when the dancers and singers come together to share moves and jokes and their personalities come to the fore. It’s like a danced concert, rather than a fully realised concept, but there's a real warmth to this cross-cultural experiment. The title, in Zulu, means “abundance of goodwill” and Inala is a show true to its name.” 
Lindsey Winship London Evening Standard

So I was right about there being no message, but wrong about it being a Show with musicians gigging – it’s a danced concert, rather than a fully realized concept!!

In our increasingly sophisticated society we have lost the ability to celebrate the normal, and it is this that gives the piece its ultimate charm and depth - it is basically a celebration of the everyday – of highs and lows, of love and death.  

Conversation I overheard today…
Adult 1: Did you win anything at your sports day?
Child: No.
Adult 2: But you and your Dad came second in the Dads and Lads race.
Child: Well yes.
Adult 1: Well that’s good too. Coming second is OK.

We celebrate celebrity; we write about winners, we share success, we brag about beating others but no longer do we value the everyday, the masses that don’t win but simply compete.

No clearer is this seen than in the development of the soap opera on TV.

It fascinates me that when I watch the original episodes of the original soap, Coronation Street, all I see are normal people having everyday conversations. But then we must have got bored of that because today every back street of Manchester, every sleepy village in Yorkshire as well as the East End of London has its mass murdering, plane crashing, adulterous script. I remember when I was in conversation with Johnny Vaughan after he had interviewed me on Big Breakfast (I add this in so you can celebrate my celebrity story…..) he said ‘David, all you need for a good soap is a bitch with an itch and a man with a plan’!

Then we got bored of the excesses of Soap Operas and we watched ordinary people in Big Brother. Then we got bored with them and we watched the weirdest ordinary people producers could find on Big Brother and we made them into celebrities. Then we got sick of ordinary people and so we watched celebrities in Big Brother. In other words we have lost the ability to celebrate normality.

However, Inala has redeemed us through exceptional musicians (the gigging kind), wonderful singers (Ladysmith Black Mambazo) and brilliant dancers (hard to pick out just one but Jacob O’Connel was amazing). But in all that, the producers refuse to tell a story of epic proportions and apocalyptic scale, instead we celebrate the natural rhythms of ordinary lives.

The eternal in the fleeting…
And there is something spiritual about the evening because of that. Art is spiritual. It lifts and communicates with the soul in ways that words and shopping can’t.

Music can and does soothe me, stir me, calm me, make me weep, transport me to another dimension, make me glad that I am alive. It communicates directly with my spirit and makes me whole.

Inala enables me to be lifted by the music (how can you fail to be moved by the beauty of Ladysmith Black Mambazo), to be touched by the sheer beauty of the dance, yet it also raises me above the routine of my life to remind me in each conversation and every confrontation, each traffic jam and every open road, each loving word whispered in my ear and every angry shout directed at me there is something deep at work.

True spirituality comes in finding the eternal in the fleeting, the beauty in the mundane, the meaning in the everyday - the divine in the ordinary.

When is a gig not a gig? When it fails to lift your spirit and does not enable you to see the world differently. Despite my gut reaction, my reasoned argument and Wikipedia definition - tonight is a gig!

Gig: 15 of 50
Date of Gig: Sat. 11th July 2015

Saddler's Well theatre

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Running total of artists seen 36

No comments:

Post a Comment