Jan 15, 2023
"We were both smiling from ear to ear, unable to communicate with words, music our only form of communication."
I have had a blessed career as a musician, performing with many renowned artists like Lionel Richie, Ricky Martin, and Nelly Fertado. I remember playing a sold-out concert to 10 thousand people. My band was opening for Justin Timberlake. As I was playing the drums, I noticed a sea of people jumping up and down to my funky beat. This gave me a tremendous feeling of pride. It was overwhelming seeing that many people having a good time in unison. How has this music given people from all different walks of life a sense of joy and freedom? I was eager to explore the profound influence music has on all of us, especially how it can break down barriers and bring people together.
I was still elated a week after playing the concert, my mind trying to decipher what had happened that caused the people to escape their everyday lives and disappear into the music. Afterward, I received many compliments. A father told his children that I got to be an outstanding musician through years of practice, but that was only part of the equation. I never felt my musical talent was mine; rather, it is a talent that passed through me. It is probably summed up best in James 1:17:
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
I especially like the second part of this verse about changing like shifting shadows. I interpret this as using my musical abilities to spread positivity and not getting caught up in negative vices.
My 25-year career as a musician has given me the ability to witness how powerful music can be. How it can reach beyond race, creed, and even language.
I remember going to a rehearsal studio with a local band. A drummer is always the first to the rehearsal studio, simply because of the amount of equipment they need to set up. As I prepared my hi-hat cymbals, I heard this phenomenal-sounding bass guitar coming from the next room. I immediately followed the sound, which led me to a young musician from Senegal. I immediately told him how funky he sounded, expecting him to replay thank you for the compliment; but, to my surprise, he said nothing at all. He just looked at me blankly and then sheepishly said, “Not much English.” I signaled for him to follow me into the next room with his bass guitar and launched into the drumbeat of James Brown's "Funky Drummer." He immediately played the bass line, and I felt the earth shake. We were both smiling from ear to ear, unable to communicate with words, music our only form of communication.
This must have been divine intervention. As we were playing, the musical director walked in to hear us jamming. He was so impressed he hired that unknown, young musician on the spot to do a major tour. This never would have happened if we hadn’t played together. The energy we created was palpable. It didn't matter that we were from different backgrounds or even different countries. The music connected all the missing pieces, like in 1 Corinthians 12: “As a body is one, though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.”
The young musician told me he had been praying for golden opportunities. He had just moved from Senegal and didn't know any other musicians. His incredible ability to play music led him to become an in-demand session musician. Although the odds were stacked against him of becoming a successful musician, his faith created a literal miracle.
This wasn't the first time I had experienced music breaking down barriers.
Once, I was traveling in Japan with a friend who was also a professional musician. We stopped by a famous jazz club to see some local musicians. I remember the club being sold out; everyone there to see a great jazz singer. As we didn't speak Japanese, my buddy and I used Google Translate to get by. Just as the show was about to start, the club owner took the stage with a disconcerting look on his face. He told the crowd that the piano player had suddenly fallen ill and was unable to perform. They tried to call another local piano player to see if he could fill in, but his phone was off. I used this opportunity to walk forward in faith, not in fear. I introduced myself to the club owner and told him that my friend was a famous piano player and could play with the band. At first, he was skeptical, until I showed him a YouTube clip of him performing. Suddenly, he announced the show will go on due to a miracle!
The best thing about jazz music is it's open to interpretation. A piano player from Texas might play a C major 7 chord in a different inversion than a piano player from Tokyo, although they are the same chord that will make the song work. This isn't the case with classical music, where it must be played note for note. That's why, in my not-so-humble opinion, jazz is better than Bach!
The drummer counted in the first song, the classic jazz standard “Autumn Leaves.” I immediately saw the faces in the audience light up. They knew the piano player didn’t speak Japanese and had limited knowledge of local customs, but this doesn't seem to bother them as the music fills their bodies and minds. In between songs, the singer spoke to the audience in Japanese. I could tell my friend playing the piano had no idea what he was saying; all he understood was that everyone in the room was smiling.
Magesh has written for “Lessonface,” “Aeyons,” “The Modern Rogue,” “Euronews,” “The Roland corporation,” “Penlight,” and “Elite Music.” He writes several monthly publications on music education. In the past, Magesh has written for parenting, humor, mental health, and travel websites as well.