By: Forrest Robinson
(This is my personal account of the INDIA.ARIE: "Live In Brazil" DVD taping)
This past May 2002, I was given the opportunity to travel to Bahia, Brazil with India Arie for her taping of Music In High Places. As wonderful as the opportunity was just to be a part of such a wonderful event, nothing could prepare me for what I was about to experience in this journey. For the past few years, I’ve been on a personal journey into learning who I am and what makes me who I am. There are many things that I’ve been missing; and “community” is one of the keys that I’ve needed in unlocking the door to this love-filled experience.
Customs is the one thing that I don’t like about international travel. It makes me anxious, especially if you have a connecting flight that you need to make with not much time to spare! However, when we finally landed in Sao Paolo and made the drive into Bahia, the first thing I noticed was its immense beauty; soon after that however, I noticed its poverty. Right next to homes and buildings that looked as to having a thriving economy within, stood homes with only a shell of itself: doorways and walls, but no roofs. Normal families live in these homes, but it threw me for a loop because I’ve never seen so many right next to each other in the same community.
Right away, I had a foreboding of this trip. How was I to experience such a blatant display of “haves and have-nots” and yet act as though all was fine and cool? After all, this was going to be televised. And I certainly didn’t want to be there just to not fully enjoy such a blessed experience. No, I was to be there for a reason; and I was about to find out that it wasn’t just about a TV taping.
The entire taping took 3 and-a-half days. When we arrived at our hotel in Bahia, the first thing I did was open the French doors in my room and listened to the ocean as I welcomed the wind to flow freely through. I was so thankful to be in such a therapeutic space for the next several days. Ah, a break from da BILLS! However, I still wasn’t quite sure how I was going to deal with this trip after seeing what I had seen on the way into Bahia. The band and crew were to meet in the lobby at 5a.m. to get an early start before it got really hot. By the way, in June, it was still considered to be late winter in Brazil; and the average temperature ranged from 92 to 98 degrees. Yes, it gets much hotter in the summer, as our guides, who were natives of Bahia told us. Though I’m a southerner and all, this was some intense heat I tell ya!
It was around 4a.m. when I awoke the first day of taping. The sky was still dark, the ocean was still in high tide and the wind was blowing through my room very nicely. All I could think of at that moment was that I did NOT want to get of bed AT ALL. It was mandatory to be on time, so there was no time to hit the snooze button on the alarm clock. We went to the first site which was a beach setting in Salvador. I’d recently learned in one of my books, that Salvador was one of the first major slave territories at that time. A lot of history went down there. I must mention that Salvador is also the most Africanized part of Brazil. I’d wondered why I haven’t heard of such a beautiful place before. Maybe I’ve been in a cave all this time, but I’ve never heard of Bahia as being such a glorious getaway as I have Rio de Janeiro, hmmm.
When we first arrived to the beach, the first person I met was a local percussionist named Gil Gilbero Da Silva Santiago. The feeling I got upon meeting him was as though he was a brother that I should have known my whole life. I still wasn’t quite sure of what he was about just yet, so I proceeded down to the beach where India and the rest of the band were. Now I must mention that as I write this, I still haven’t seen Music In High Places so I’m not exactly sure that I remember each of the songs recorded and the order in which they were recorded; but I’m going to try to get them right.
So, the first song we performed was “Creator”. India and I were standing in the water and though the water was cool, the reflection of the sun off the water was intense with its light and heat. A few words of the chorus goes, ‘The Creator has a master plan, peace on earth for every man”. I must admit that I was really praying about what that means in a place where rights were not recognized equally amongst the natives and citizens of this country and where there was so much poverty in sight. I just couldn’t figure how one could have peace. In the midst of all this beauty were the piercing thoughts in my mind, of whether or not some or many of these natives who were there watching, would eat that night, or if it would rain in their homes because they had no roofs. I’m sure that they managed just fine; however, I couldn’t ignore the pain that this disturbance was causing me. I mean, if I asked these good folks how they felt about their situation, they would probably think that I was a nut for seeing anything “wrong” about it in the first place. Seeing it on TV seems to somehow not quite make it a reality, in a sense. Seeing it face-to-face is something else. I was feeling so unworthy. But hey, spiritual peace within oneself is a wonderful thing; and there’s something to be said about it. The beauty of their spirits was that they were completely happy and just didn’t have a care in the world. GOD didn’t seem as much a mystery to them; a Higher Power didn’t seem out or reach and they live on faith everyday. They seem to recognize the natural beauty of existence in itself.
I needed some answers. But because I couldn’t speak the language, I couldn’t ask. I wanted to know the secret to my own freedom. Maybe there was something in me that needed to be addressed. I knew that we had a nice hotel provided for us in the city with poverty out of sight; and then I would fly back home to Atlanta, GA when the shoot was over and wouldn’t have to deal with this reality staring me in the face, or would I? Why couldn’t I just do the shoot and let things be? I realized that I could just as well not have been there to experience such a wonderful blessing of utilizing my gifts and sharing with my people in a different part of the world than I knew, and to learn things from them that are important for me to see and realize first hand. I had a choice of sitting there and sabotaging a great experience by my issues, or make the most of a blessing; and I wanted to choose the latter. What they taught me is something that I will be processing for a long time. The first two days consisted of performing songs in beautiful settings, seeing Capoeira for the first time, enjoying some great food and, listening to the people speak the beautiful language of Portuguese. By the end of the second day, I had befriended Gil, and I was trying to learn as much from him as I could about the history, the music, and the life of Brazilians that I never knew, in hopes that I could somehow learn more about myself.
I feel that I was given a real gift on the third day of the shoot. The day began with a performance by a “band” (which interestingly only consisted of drums) called Alayaye (I’m not sure of the spelling). From the first note, these guys had me hooked. They were so incredible! Something that I’ve being missing for years and years is personally experiencing true “family” or “community” amongst drummers. I’ve hungered for this experience since I left home (Memphis, TN) after high school. These guys were so wonderful to behold because you could feel the love that they have for each other in the music that they were playing. Alayaye also had three brilliant Afro/Brazilian dancers that seemed to truly marry into the rhythm. It was beautiful. So when they finished performing, India invited them to perform “Video” with us. I was ecstatic! So we did the song with this thunderous rumble underneath. It was a nice touch that definitely brought great energy. But what I was about to experience was something that I’d waited years to experience again.
As we approached the end of the song, India and the rest of the band moved away, out of view of the camera. I was like, “Oh no, Forrest. This is NOT your scene. Let these guys do what they do before you make an idiot out of yourself.” And to quote a popular phrase from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “RUN AWAY!” But just as I was about leave, another part of me said, “No Forrest. You know that you’ve wanted to be a part of this experience. You NEED this experience.” I was just about to back away when one of their guys came from the side opposite where I was, to meet me out front and center. I felt my feet involuntarily move forward to meet with him and the next thing I knew, I was trying saturate my soul with this spiritual experience I was having with Alayaye, and to absorb as much communication from these guys as I could. I tried to be as present as I could possibly be. I wanted to somehow emerge as a new individual. The whole thing seemed so surreal to me that I literally couldn’t feel my hands or my feet during the entire experience. But I felt love and I felt warm. I didn’t know where it was going, or how it was ending and I didn’t care. All I know is that when it did end, even though we didn’t understand a single syllable between each other linguistically, we’d just had a great conversation. And I feel that I received some answers that I needed. When we embraced afterwards, I was trying to draw in something that I felt I needed from this guy who came out front to meet with me. As I turned to walk back towards the rest of the band, I thought that I would fall down at any moment because I felt so light-headed and dizzy. It was an experience that I needed.
I experienced a mind-boggling “reality check”. The reality check for me was held in a simple bottle of water (or several, for that matter). As I said earlier, it was blazing outside; so I guess that it’s safe to say that each day averaged somewhere around 98 degrees or so. It was HOT. After taping “Video”, I stood over on the side of the street while Alayaye performed one more selection. When they finished, one of the guys had apparently asked for water, because Gil went over to the crew and came back with a bottle of the water from the cooler. What blew me away was the way the guy in Alayaye asked for it: very humbly and graciously. I saw one bottle of water shared between the entire band. And they were so considerate to the next person with it – making sure that everyone would partake. Then two more bottles were brought and I thought that I would burst with joy at the sight of something that seemed so simple. Their sense of sharing is something that I just don’t see everyday. But it’s always so nice when I do. Though I try to not take things for granted, I was feeling my appreciation for all the blessings and people in my life being affirmed and renewed. I don’t believe that there’s any such thing as too much of this realization.
A couple hours and one site later that day, we had just finished taping “God In You”, when one of the wonderful production crew had brought us all each a bottle of water. I downed mine right away; but one of the other guys had poured some on his hands to wash them off a bit and maybe poured some on his arms just to cool off. There must have been a disturbance going on for a while because Gil came over and asked if there was any water to share with any of the observers because some of them were going nuts seeing the water being used for things other than simply drinking. That hit me with a blow. I then saw 3 or 4 bottles of water stretch between close to 30 people. GEEZ! I learned a whole new lesson in humility that day. Never have I seen each swallow of water cherished to the degree that I experienced at that moment, face to face.
As we approached the end of the final day of the shoot, we went into the downtown market-area of Bahia, where the band Olodum (of Paul Simon “Graceland” fame, again, all drummers) performed. It was nice to see all sorts of people of all colors there united in the music. Earlier on, I was privileged to purchase a wonderful gift: my first Pandeira. It’s sort of like a Tambourine, but not really. I’d never heard of it, but I knew that I really wanted one upon seeing it. Gil, and the guy who sold it to me in the store were KILLIN’ on this thing! And what blew me away even more, is that there were kids who weren’t even 10 years old who were blowing me away percussively with the Pandeira, Djembe, whatever. Now WHY have I not heard of these people? Anyway, there is so much talent over there, undiscovered and broke. I talked with Gil up until the moment we all parted that evening.
As I was on the plane bound for home the next day, I reflected on what I had experienced. I guess that the reality in life is that there will be bills to pay, debts to take care of (sigh), and work to do in order to keep up. It’s easy to get so caught-up in everyday pressures, that it becomes difficult to just enjoy the simple things like having family and friends that love you and other blessings that enrich our lives. Perhaps these simple things are part of what makes us who we are and makes us happy with who we are. Maybe this reality holds the freedom that we, or at least I , have been searching for. Well, maybe I didn’t need to go all the way to Bahia to come to this reality; but for what it’s worth, I’m thankful to have done so. We are all in this thing together, trying to move forward in our lives and trying to follow our personal paths towards being the best we can be. Hopefully and prayerfully, we’ll make it there together, as well as try to help others we love along the way. It’s easier said than done, but it’s possible!