I thought of you that day. I read an email advertising some gig featuring a "tabla" artist. It smacked of another lame wannabe - marketing gimmick, ego and flash with no substance. And then it struck me again how much you are missed. How the honesty, soul and truth that reverberated in each drumbeat denoted the kind of musician you were. The kind of person you were.
I consider myself lucky. To have had the opportunity to perform with you. To have had the chance to know you. I really wished I had made greater efforts to get to know you better as a person besides a fellow performer. All my lame excuses that I am shy and wary of sending the wrong message to male colleagues ... it will always remain one of my greatest regrets.
Holding your card for months with every intention to call for a jam session and to practice or even just to exchange ideas and techniques and never actually doing it. I'm sorry, mate. I cheated myself of the opportunity to learn from you. I cheated you of knowing how much I respect you. Not just in music but also in character.
I know you never held that against me and in fact, you probably never gave it a second thought. You were unfailingly easy-going, kind and generous of spirit.
Did I ever tell you I was in awe of you? Of how you could play almost every rhythm that baffled me? Of how you could switch from African to jazz to Middle Eastern to just about any genre of music there is in an instant - all in tempo and in perfect beat? Yet you were ever modest and never showed off. You matched your percussion to your environment, your audience and your fellow performers. Your ego never surpassed your talent.
Did you know you inspired me to be better? To create and practice so that I could at least match you and not embarrass myself? I still did though because your talent, skill and experience way surpassed mine. But I did not care. It was a joy to have you giving me my cues and guiding me - backing me up all the way. With you I felt safe and could fly free knowing that you would not fail me or trip me with a false beat.
It's been more than two years but our last official performance together still seems like yesterday. How the lot of us were trapped backstage for hours. How we made our own music quietly while waiting and in the process produced the best music and dance I have ever enjoyed backstage. I remember the last time I saw you. How we jammed in a dark, smoked-filled room for Denise's birthday and how I congratulated you on the news of your baby.
We celebrated your birthday last year. All the musicians, singers and dancers raised a glass, Denise sang a song for you and tears were shed that night. We liked to think you were there with us, keeping the beat alive with your drums.
I hear the drum beats when I think of you. They are strong and they endure. As does the memory of you.
In memory of Edmond Branson, sadly departed 4 February 2004
Categories - Rambling Prose