After 5 years of circumnavigating the world of music, we have decided to put to bed The Exchange. Our last visit is to Swaziland for the incredible Bushfire Festival. On many layers it is an appropriate finish. The members of our group have traveled and performed on every continent (except Antarctica), but our hearts really started beating in Africa. Most of our early songs drew from African rhythms and vocal styles, and frankly, emotions.
We found that people in Africa brought a joie de vivre that doesn’t so widely permeate America. In fact it seems that many of us in the US are wound into a search for that spirit and never find it. I can’t help but wonder why. Not rhetorically. The weather isn’t all that different than parts of our country. In general, Swazi people are certainly not impoverished and could be considered as living comparably to Americans. Is it our industry or culture or ethno-diversity or geography? Truly I don’t know.
One clear and present difference were the pervasively masculine heteronormative mores (a la Masochism). Our tour driver spent the majority of a bus ride around the beautiful Mbabane expounding on the purpose of multiple wives, the power men have and ought to exhibit over women, and the sense that they are disposable if they do not cooperate. This was all with an air of flippancy, the rationale being “that’s the way it is.”
“That’s the way it is.” . . “THAT’S the way it is?” Is it?
If only I were wise enough to understand THE way that it is. The way that any of it is or any of us operate. I believe rather that it is at best contented and at worst insane to purport that anyone knows the way that it is. The meaning of life and the purpose for all things therein. Many religions and people hold many beliefs about many things that might explain them. But I am an atheist, insofar as I do not believe in a creator. I see nothing to point to a god or creator other than we simply don’t know what happened “in the beginning” if there even is such a thing as a linear time. There are things that I do believe, however. I believe as human beings we understand suffering and comfort on a wide spectrum of levels. We know pain of loss and injury and hierarchy. We know relief and understanding and respect. So this is my religion.
With ALL of that rambling written, I hope to convey that I have devoted my life to the actualization of the diminishment of pain and augmentation of comfort. But that is complicated too, isn’t it? Achieving great things that may bring us supreme levels of comfort will take intense levels of suffering. Potentially for more people than ourselves. This is my cognitive dissonance and my greatest goals in life are to increase my endurance of suffering so as to shoulder burdens of comfort in place of transferring them to others in the name of group success.
So in my religion, subjugating women (or another human or frankly animals or sensate plants) is NOT the way it is. Taking this point further, understanding the struggles of these women or anybody in a situation of disadvantage feels like a duty.
In Swaziland we were asked to sit a panel of music “experts” (I often feel a fraud in this department with many more qualified out there, thus the quotes), and the resounding attitude in the room was to support and foster Swazi and South African musicians in the face of American music as a competition. We also taught some younger kids near Pigg Falls in the name of self-creating music. All of this wrapped up in the package of selling pop music and performances as part of our career. In the religious eyes of an atheist, this is an enormous win-win in the world. You don’t see this sort of opportunity in many industries.
The benefit for us is that we get to travel to Africa, stay in a house with a kitchen and a driver and guards, hang out with Joia and John and share wine and Thai food and Italian food and meet ambassadors and sing for 10s of thousands of people on an amazing outdoor stage and then again in the House on Fire. We are treated exceedingly well and given gifts and free drinks and we are paid.
THIS is the way it is. This is a testament to the power of at least trying to be kind and good and work hard and help peoples’ lives improve. It IS and has been an uphill battle. We are always fighting the notion that working for yourself and foregoing kindness and politeness as a waste of time and power. But good will prevail. And while The Exchange closes its doors for now, the good fight will carry on.
The next step is to keep singing. Freedom’s Boombox (the trio) will be performing at Camp A Cappella and continuing the missions. If you’re out there, we want to see you still and share a drink and a song and a story. I will miss The Exchange and every beautiful and ugly thing that we were.
Until next time.