Open Mic Nights – A risky passion!

Last Monday, I had the joy of meeting a new friend from Russia, Julia. She was visiting London for a short time and wanted to see live music. The first venue we came across was having an Open Mic Night and we went in. Open Mic Nights are autochthonous of English-speaking countries. I never knew about them before coming to England. The closest thing we have back home are Karaokes but that’s a completely different venture. I’ve decided to talk about Open Mics in this post because even though they can be enjoyable, they can also be a ‘thumbs down’ live-music experience. 

 

For those who don’t know what an Open Mic is, it is basically an open stage. A venue (a pub, most of the time) offers the opportunity to anybody to sign up to a list and play, usually two songs, with an acoustic guitar only or sometimes piano. Open Mic Nights are free and none of the performers get paid either. The majority of the performers are passionate about writing and performing their own songs, but also, the majority of them are  people without musical education or knowledge, they are just passionate about it. The audience is usually full of the performer’s relatives and close friends who are there to show their support. Before the performance you can look around and feel the nerves in the air and you can also see the desire in the eyes of the players thinking ‘this is it, tonight is the night!” 

 

Now, after attending (and sometimes working as the ‘sound-guy’ in) many Open Mic, I’ve seen a trend that applies to all of them. There are some characters who seem to fit in an imaginary script that every Open Mic has:

– The guy who thinks he is an awesome guitar player and strums it with all his energy but ends up forgetting the chords. 

– The over-60 year old guy with an immense charisma who doesn’t play or sing very well but it makes you smile. 

– The guy who says before starting ‘this is a work-in-progress’ and somehow ends up singing a full song with improvised lyrics. 

– The extremely shy girl who doesn’t realise how talented she could be so she doesn’t finish her song because she is just too nervous.

– The extremely confident over-50 years old lady who has an amazing voice. You know she sacrificed her singing career to be a house-wife (funnily enough, the husband is never there!)

– The guy/girl who thinks he/she is very sexy and sings songs about it too!

– The arrogant

– The guy who strums the guitar for 5mins and sings for 30 seconds.

– The guy who dresses up (like Elvis usually) and sings covers… awfully.

– The girl who doesn’t play an instrument and asks someone to play with her there and then, but she knows how to move!

– The very good guitarist who can’t sing in tune.

– The very good lyricist who can’t sing either.

– And there he/she is, the only one, the one that everybody hopes to see, the humble one with the talent who is on the ‘believing-in-myself’ stage. The ‘party-saver’! The good singer, good player, good performer, good lyricist.

 

I don’t pretend to sound cynical, maybe a little bit humorous, but next time you go to an Open Mic as part of the audience or as a performer, look out for these characters and tell me if I’m wrong but it seems to be the recipe in all of them. Of course, these are not the only ones.

 

However, my concluding thoughts are related to the element which brings all these people together: passion. In our modern-world we usually misunderstand the concept of passion. We think that being passionate about something is about going into it blindly and getting it or doing it sometimes in the most ineffective way. In a materialistic world, we even conclude that someone is passionate about something depending on how many/much that person has of that ‘something’. For example, someone is passionate about cars depending on how many cars that person has, regardless of how much they know about cars, it doesn’t matter, they are passionate about it! This is a misinterpretation of the concept of passion. The original latin word for passion implies the concept of aggredior which is to approach, address, defeat. And this is key because you don’t defeat obstacles just by hitting them hoping they come down. You find efficient ways of triumphing over them and in the world of music, mastering them. 

 

Personally, I believe that being passionate about music has many different meanings, because music itself is multi-facet. You can be a passionate music-listener, or music-maker, or music-writer, or music-performer and to be one of them you should master their requirements. Yes, we don’t go to an Open Mic expecting all of them to be good performers but the problem is that most of the people performing there get the wrong feedback. ‘Elvis’ sang two covers. We were sitting on the front table. He decided to sing in a Casanova way to Julia who was enjoying the flirt. When his performance finished, he came and asked me ‘did you like it, I sang great, didn’t I, just like Elvis??’ Of course he didn’t, my brain knew it, my stomach felt it, but when he was looking at me while asking, my heart completely ignored my brain, and my mouth answered: “Yes, very nice! ” (Doh! I felt like Homer Simpson!). The heart understands something that goes beyond explanation: Blind passion creates a meaning to live for some people, if you try to finish that blindness for them to see, you are crushing their entire world. This doesn’t apply only to music, the same applies to religion, teaching, driving, managing,… you name it!

 

And this is when I don’t know where to stand. Maybe just to say, that it takes a lot of self-courage to crush our own blind passions and to decide to be really passionate about something. At the same time, we need to be completely conscious, if the passion is to endure, and find the strategies that will lead us to master our subject of passion and then, truly inspire others.

 

Today, I went busking for the first time!

Screen_shot_2011-07-20_at_19

(VERSION EN ESPAÑOL ABAJO)

It’s been a long time since I thought about busking. I always found it interesting to see these street-musicians playing- covers usually – and hoping for the good will of the people passing by to drop some coins and make some money. I’ve always been afraid of the fact that England is very complicated in terms of permits and licenses which it takes the whole ‘busking magic’ away. But, two weeks ago, I saw my good friend Elisa busking by the SouthBank. I was motivated by her to do it without fearing anyone or getting any permits. Today, I did it!

I didn’t want to hassle with any PA system so I chose a beautiful spot, the short tunnel on the Queen’s Walk under the Southwark Bridge by the Thames. This is a very touristic spot and the short tunnel has beautiful acoustics where I’ve seen many other buskers when I have walked by.  As if I was starting a new job, I got there earlier than I planned (11am), so I had 10 mins to relax, watching 2 birds eating a fish they caught on the low tide of the river and also I observed how one of the workers under the bridge dropped his torch in the water. Full of nerves, I set up and before I knew it, I’d started.

In order to get ready, I was practising some songs in English but it didn’t feel right, so I decided to have a set list with 50% of my own songs and 50% covers. 80% in Spanish, 20% in English. So, I found myself there, singing out loud. The tunnel was my best friend, it amplified my voice and I felt home. The first song was nearly over when the first coin made its sound. A new feeling all over again! Then, this extraordinary teenager dropped the second coin: £2!, I was in my world. The first song in English was Phil Collin’s ‘Against All Odds’, it’s a beautiful song but it didn’t feel right. Unfortunately, being romantic is not always a good busking tactic. It took me 3 latin classics to bring the atmosphere back again.

I made a little sign saying ‘thank you’ with a happy face to put it on my guitar case and my girlfriend decided to laminate it. Ironically, she mentioned while doing it: “wouldn’t it be funny if someone thinks that if you have enough money to laminate the sign, then you shouldn’t be busking!” Funny indeed, a group of high-school students passed by and I heard when one of them said to her friend: “Oh! he doesn’t need money, his sign is laminated!”. I couldn’t stop laughing.

The truth is, busking is not for the money. Real musicians busking know that, although, some performers will truly need it. Nobody denies that, if lucky, you can buy a snack and cover your travel expenses, depending how long you do it for. I did it for 30 mins and it covered the latter. However, busking is a whole different experience as a performer. It is challenging, because you are ‘infiltrating’ people’s public space, the performing is going to the audience, not the audience to the performer, as it is usually the case, and that implies a new sort of shyness and nervousness that disappears little by little when you start singing. It is disheartening, because 50% of the people walking by don’t give a ‘s*@t’ about you being there. But also it is indescribable, because you have people from different ages and backgrounds giving you a glance and smiling at you while they pass by! If you are not playing, people don’t usually smile, especially in London! In a normal concert, people have paid (most of the time) to see you playing, they are there to be friendly, but on the street, the children look at you intrigued: what are you doing here? Their mothers are happy that they are hooked to the music, old people stop and listen to you calmly, the teenagers take pictures on their phones, adult people recognise that you are doing something peculiar and look at you with a feeling of acceptance. It’s great! It’s worth it! The only ones to ignore are the ones that look like bankers (better said: wankers!) with their suits on and looking down their noses at you, but we all know they always do that, don’t we? so, it’s not big deal.

I feel completely happy that I’ve done it, I don’t know if I’ll do it again, the guitar is pretty heavy, but if you are a musician and have never done it, I strongly recommend to do it. Let me know how it goes! And if you’ve done it, any tips??

VERSION EN ESPAÑOL:

Hace algún tiempo ya, la idea de tocar en la calle me atraía mucho. Me parecía interesante, y valiente, ver a estos músicos tocando en la calle – por lo general covers – y con la esperanza de hacer un poco de dinero en base a la buena voluntad de la gente que pase por ahí. Pero me sentía temeroso de hacerlo en Inglaterra por lo complicado en términos de permisos y licencias. Sin embargo, hace dos semanas atrás, vi a mi buena amiga Elisa, tocando en el Southbank. Ella me motivó a hacerlo sin temer a nadie ni a nada. Hoy, lo hice!

Yo no quería complicarme con un sistema de amplificación, así que elegí un punto clave: el túnelsito que queda bajo el puente de Southwark al sur del Támesis. Este es un lugar muy turístico y tiene una acústica genial donde he visto a muchos músicos callejeros tocando allí. Como si estuviera empezando un nuevo trabajo, llegué antes de lo previsto, así que tuve 10 minutos para relajarme, mirar dos ppájaros que se alimentaban de un pez que atraparon en la marea baja del río y también pude observar cómo a uno de los trabajadores debajo del puente se le cayó la linterna en el agua. Lleno de nervios, prepare todo y antes de darme cuenta, empecé.

Mientras me preparaba, estaba practicando algunas canciones en Inglés, pero no me sentía bien, así que decidí tener una lista de temas con el 50% de mis propias canciones y 50% clásicos. 80% en español, 20% en Inglés. Allí estaba, cantando a puro pulmón. El túnel fue mi mejor amigo, amplificaba mi voz y me hizo sentir en casa. Antes de que la primera canción terminara, la primera moneda golpeó el estuche de mi guitarra. Una sensación sin igual! Luego, esta joven extraordinaria arrojó la segunda moneda: 2libras! ($3), quedé atónito! La primera canción en Inglés fue “Against All Odds” de Phil Collins, una canción hermosa pero no dio el resultado que esperaba. Aprendí que ser romántico no es siempre una buena táctica cuando tocas en la calle. Me tomó tres clásicos latinos para que la atmósfera se suba de nuevo.

Había hecho un letrero que decía “gracias” con una cara feliz y lo puse al lado del estuche. Mi enamorada decidió laminarlo e irónicamente, mencionó mientras lo hacía: “¿no sería chistoso si alguien piensa que si tienes el dinero suficiente para laminar esto, no deberías estar tocando en la calle!” Lo más chistoso fue que un grupo de estudiantes de secundaria pasó y escuché cuando una de ellas le dijo a su amiga: “¡Oh, él no necesita dinero, el letrero está laminado”. Yo no podía parar de reírme.

La verdad es que uno no toca en la calle por dinero. Verdaderos músicos quienes tocan en las calle lo saben, aunque habrá algunos que realmente necesitan el extra efectivo que se pueda sacar. Nadie niega que, con suerte, se hace lo suficiente para un bocadillo y para cubrir el transporte, dependiendo de cuánto tiempo tocas. Yo lo hice por 30 minutos y cubrí lo mencionado. Sin embargo, tocar en las calle es una experiencia totalmente diferente co
mo intérprete. Es un reto, porque es “infiltrarse” en el espacio público de las personas, vas a la audiencia y no la audiencia a ti, como suele ser el caso, es produce un nuevo tipo de timidez y nerviosismo que desaparece poco a poco cuando empiezas a cantar. Es desalentador, porque el 50% de la gente que pasa por tu lado no les importa un “ca*@jo” tu presencia. Pero también es indescriptible, porque hay personas de diferentes edades y trasfondos que te regalan su mirada y su sonrisa. Londres es famoso porque la gente en la calle nunca te mira a los ojos ni te sonríe. En un concierto normal, las personas han pagado (la mayoría del tiempo) para verte tocar, están ahí para ser amigables, pero en la calle, los niños te miran intrigados: ¿qué estás haciendo aquí? Sus madres están felices de que se enganchan a la música, la gente de edad se detiene y te escucha con calma, los adolescentes te toman fotos con sus teléfonos, las personas adultas reconocen que estás haciendo algo peculiar y te miran con un sentimiento de aceptación. ¡Es genial! Vale la pena! Los únicos que hay que ignorar son los que parecen banqueros (mejor dicho: pajeros) con sus trajes y mirándote hacia abajo, pero todos sabemos que siempre son así, ¿no? Por lo tanto, no es gran cosa.

Me siento completamente feliz de que lo he hecho, no sé si voy a hacerlo de nuevo, la guitarra es bastante pesada, pero si eres un músico y nunca lo has hecho, te lo recomiendo. Me avisas cómo te va! Y si ya lo has hecho, alguna recomendación?

Composición en colaboración

Uno de los propósitos de esta página es compartir de mi vocación: escribir canciones! Este es mi primer intento de hacerlo oficialmente. El documento adjunto es una traducción de un estudio realizado por mi ex-profesor y buen amigo Joe Bennett, un académico Inglés erudito del asunto. Espero que sea de inspiración tanto como lo fue para mí al traducirlo. Gracias. El articulo en inglés puedes encontrarlo aqui.

Hubert around the world

In my recent travels, I took a very close friend with me. His name is Hubert, he is an armadillo and a charango! He was with me helping me out to write songs and coming out with melodies that took me away from sorrows and got me closer to that indescribable happiness! Hubert deserves his own gallery! So here it is… 

Abner_moscowparkP1020154P1020195P1020348P1020566P1020567P1020883P1030090P1030340P1030465P1030578P1030579P1030645P1030655P1030762P1030798P1030831P1030892P1030905P1030939P1040019P1040043P1040067P1040069P1040078P1040128P1040129P1040322P1040483P1040484P1040588P1040612P1040613P1040744P1040788P1040830P1040936P1050085P1050301P1050308P1050651P1050679P1050769P1050814P1050851P1050934P1060013P1060041P1060123P1060207P1060373P1060387P1060601P1060647P1060713P1060771P1060801P1060907P1060908P1070092P1070093P1070138P1070314P1070819P1070824P1080002

If you want to see some of the songs we wrote together, please click here.

Thanks,

Abner

Jigsaws vs. Paintings (Rompecabezas vs. Cuadros)

108688406

(VERSION EN ESPAÑOL ABAJO)

One of my favourite hobbies is to do jigsaws. The biggest one I did had 10000 pieces. Then, I started doing 3D ones but I stopped when I left home in 2003. When I left home, I learned that I am the biggest jigsaw that I’ll have to deal with.

One of the most challenging aspects was to face a reality that broke my self-esteem into pieces and try to build it up again ignoring the marks. But the truth is that the marks can never be ignored. Nevertheless, logic pushes us to think about ourselves as a whole! We search for fulfillment, to be an entire individual without marks or pieces, without ammendments. However, this way of thinking is not only limited but also dangerous because if you don’t achieve the ‘whole’, it is easy to become depressed.

Imagine a paint by Picasso or Gaudin, a masterpiece that we admire because of its simmetric perfection or detail, but most importantly, we admire it because of what provoques: a smile, a memory, a question, an emotion when looking at the final product. Now, Imagine a 10000-piece jigsaw, the lines that show the pieces don’t allow it to become a masterpiece on itself, however we admire it because of how was it done? the admiration comes from the process of putting it together.

In this sense, when we meet someone, we tend to admire (or not admire) that person based on what we see that moment, what he/she has achieved/obtained up to then. Nevertheless, we tend to ignore how did he/she achieve/obtain that? We are seduced by the final product but ignore the most important part: the pieces! Some people live their lives with the goal of becoming final products, but what is to admire in a ‘final product’ that accommodates himself/herself and settles with no other intention that to be exhibited?! This is ok for a painting, but we, humans, are not paintings! we are more like jigsaws!

I don’t want to be a final product. It means the end for me. If I am a painting, there is nothing else than settle and exhibit myself. I prefer to think I am shapeless jigsaw because only this way I will allow every new experience, people I met, place I visit, new emotions… to become a new piece and keep molding me, changing me, giving me a new shape, surprising me! I encourage every one to start seeing themselves as jigsaws, maybe one day you will join my song: “I am who I never thought I was gonna be, and I know I will be what I am not right now’. Uncertainty is also magical.

Abner

 

SPANISH VERSION:

Una de mis actividades favoritas es armar rompecabezas. El màs grande que lleguè a hacer fue de 10000 piezas. Luego empecè a hacerlos en 3D pero parè cuando salí de casa en el 2003 . Al salir de casa, aprendí que yo mismo soy el más grande rompecabezas que tendré que armar.

Uno de los aspectos màs desafiantes fue enfrentar una realidad que rompió mi auto-estima en miles de trozos e intentar construirla ignorando las marcas. Pero la verdad es que las marcas nunca pueden ser ignoradas. Sin embargo, la lógica nos empuja a pensar en nosotros mismos en unidad! Buscamos ser sujetos completos, enteros, sin marcas de retazos, sin líneas de rompecabezas, sin quiebres. Pero esta manera de pensar no solo es limitada pero tambièn peligrosa. porque al no lograrse, deprime.

Imagina un cuadro de Picasso o Gaudin, una obra maestra la cual admiramos por su perfección simètrica o por su calidad en detalle, pero sobretodo, la admiramos por lo que nos provoca: una sonrisa, un recuerdo, una pregunta, una emoción al ver el producto final. Ahora, imagina un rompecabezas de 10000 piezas, las líneas que denotan las piezas le roba el estatus de obra maestra pero no deja de intrigarnos cómo fue armado? La admiración se deriva del proceso de construcción.

Ahora bien, cuando conocemos a alguien, tendemos a admirarlo/a (o no admirarlo/a) basados en lo que la persona ha alcanzado y ha obtenido hasta ese momento. Sin embargo tendemos a ignorar cómo lo alcanzó, cómo lo obtuvo? Nos seduce el producto final pero ignoramos lo indispensable: las piezas! Algunas personas viven sus vidas con la idea de llegar a ser productos finales, pero que admiración merece un ‘producto final’ que se acomoda y se estaciona sin nada màs que exhibirse? Eso està bien para un cuadro, pero los seres humanos no somos cuadros, somos rompecabezas!

Yo no quiero ser un producto final. Significaría el acabose de mi vida. Ya el cuadro se terminó y no me queda màs que exhibirlo. Yo prefiero pensar que soy un eterno rompecabezas y sin moldura porque solo así permitirè que cada nueva experiencia, persona que conozco, lugar que visitó, emoción sentida,… sea una nueva pieza que sigue moldeàndome, cambiàndome, dàndome nueva forma y sorprendièndome! Te animo a enamorarte de la idea de ser como un rompecabezas, tal vez un día cantarás conmigo: ‘Soy lo que nunca imaginè ser, y se que serè lo que no soy’ . La incertidumbre tambièn tiene su encanto.

Abner