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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Seaman Dan

Have you ever heard of Seaman Dan? I stumbled on him listening to a cd of Australian aboriginal music – the Rough Guide to Australian Aboriginal Music, to be exact. His song on this sample cd made me curious. It took me a bit of trouble to lay my hands on more of his music, as the guy is a big name in Australia but not really known anywhere else, I believe, but of course internet helps out eventually so now I listen to his cd’s on a daily basis.

What makes his music so charming? I cannot tell exactly but let me give it a try. It is very sweet music, very relaxed, very arranged (lots of horns), very sophisticated. The fact that a ukulele is strummed in at least every other song lifts my spirit, especially because in most of the other songs a mandolin is heard. There is drumming and multipart singing reminding you of Polynesia, hula & Hawaii, a melancholic mouth harp, occasional Malay lyrics as one would expect from a seaman from that region, and reggae – Seaman Dan’s grandfather came from Jamaica. A typical seafaring mish-mash. You get the idea?

And what makes this music also special is that you hear an old man singing. Seaman Dan did not start his recording career until he was 69; and one of the cd’s I play at home was recorded when he was 80. Some of you may say that the age of the singer is irrelevant and that music should speak for itself, but I only agree half. Background knowledge about music, musicians, lyrics, cd-labels, whatever, form an integral part of my (and I think of everybody’s) listening – as well as the lack of background knowledge, by the way (in music, “anything goes”); so why would I not thoroughly enjoy the idea that I am listening to an old guy singing? Gives you a new perspective on your own future.

Older people. When a couple of years ago I read a review of one of Johnny Cash’s American Recordings cd’s I bought it without having listened to it. And rightly so; because of his American Recordings series, which he started aged 62, continued even after he was buried at 71, and on which he sings any song he happens to like, he has become my number 2 Top Rank Artist. Ever seen the documentary of the aged choir “Young at Heart”? You should. And in a different domain: you might check out the best novel ever written by a Dutch author (no, no, forget Mulisch), Maria Dermout’s The Ten Thousand Things (Wikipedia: “an idiosyncratic masterwork”; and an enduring hit in the US); she started publishing in her sixties and published this one at 67.

The “music business” is very much focused on talent, on the young. The elderly come in as an audience, mainly. But I am sure I want to learn the ukelele finally when I turn 70. And not only that: I will perform on it in public, I guarantee you. And I will, aged 89, sing the following Seaman Dan song to any one around:

Goodbye my friend,
It’s time for leaving
But not time for feeling sad
Just listen to the music
Remember all the fun we had
I will always be with you
Though my ship may sail away
You will hear me in the West wind
And in the children as they play

And if you think that sounds like a song of some-one saying goodbye: I will carry on singing it until I die at age 104.

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