by Cathy Segal-Garcia
Amongst other things to do, I must sit down and write this piece, in the hopes that someone will publish it broadly, and a little piece of reality will be known by all who read it.
I went to Yugoslavia for seven weeks in June. I went there to sing at a five-star Hyatt Hotel in Belgrade, better known in the European world as Beograd.
I left Los Angeles 3 days into the riots here, in May, and was diverted in “airline city”; waiting and changing. I knew my trip was starting out right however, because the seat to the right of me was taken by a bass player, and the seat to the left of me was taken by an American Indian. Robert John Knapp, who was going to New York to be honored for his work in the Intertribal Spiritual Commission for Prisoners. My spiritual point of view was aligned from that time on.
Of course the first people I met were the hotel people, who of course treated me excellently. And the next people I met were the musicians, who I liked immediately. They were bebop players, the best in Belgrade. They were earthy and smiled a lot…I felt comfortable and found myself wondering, “Why are they talking another language?” It really seemed like they should be speaking my language! Some of them did speak English, some better than others. The pianist knew more about America and jazz musicians than I did!
The drummer, also the leader, told me then and several poignant times throughout my stay, that he was “A man, Jazz, straight-ahead, and a Serbian!” He was all those things, and he turned out to be one of my best friends there. He was a man respected and depended on. I saw him make the most uncomfortable people relax and laugh. I saw him have tremendous kindness and I saw his great spirituality in his control of life and situations; the kind of control that one doesn’t mind.
Everywhere I went, I met people whose social machinery was not in the way. They talked immediately…about their lives, their problems, the war, and me. Many times, sitting with someone for the first time, after just a short while, I felt my heart aching for them…that they should be having to confront these problems. Many were war related, some were the problems of raising out of a Communistic society…a society where, just two years ago, fax machines were illegal.
One such man I met was a graphic artist and painter, whose work I brought back with me to seek out a producer/printer. A great friend from India introduced him to me. I liked him immediately, our humor and perspective was amazingly similar! (Abstract!) It always amazes me to go into another culture and country and find a spiritual twin!
This guy was trying to be an entrepreneur in the crazy society; Communistic-turned-Socialistic-leaning towards-Capitalistic! To him, art and music and philosophy is not just something nice to do. It’s a necessity…a responsibility…to God and to mankind and the universe! It’s a question of balance and harmony…we’re responsible! I learned a lot from Nikola…and I wasn’t’ the only one, he had many friends who appreciated him.
I had a great time singing jazz five nights a week in a high-class club. The piano was great, the sound system was great, and the musicians were damn good…sometimes they were truly great and I found myself lifted off into that orgasmic world of perfections that making great jazz can create! The best thing I appreciated about them was their go-for-it attitude. They didn’t car about their mistakes…they just wanted to play JAZZ! That didn’t work? Who cares? Let’s go for it again! Hey…isn’t’ this fun?! This was the attitude, most of the time, on stage.
OK Now I really do realize that these people were just people, not perfect, and I was just passing through, and not even totally understanding what they were saying. And I also realize that you attract people and see people in a certain light because of who you are. It’s a reflection of sorts.
But I will say this: First of all, the general consensus from people I’ve talked to is that Yugoslavian people are, generally, a very warm, open and intelligent people And, just like here in the USA, the government does not really represent what the people think. There, in fact, the people are confused and upset because of the incredible occurrences in their country. They want to live in sanity and peace, and they find themselves in the midst of insanity and war! Can you imagine an everyday existence in those instances? Some of you out there, no doubt, can imagine it, because of where you’ve come from…countries, concentration camps, even American neighborhoods where “hell on earth” was not just an idea or an empty threat, but a reality.
The drummer, Lale, and I talked many times about us being ambassadors of peace through music and jazz. People from opposite ends of the earth, countries seemingly in dispute, coming together through music and putting everyone into communication with each other. This is so important to the survival of people…more important than anything. This is the responsibility of everyone who would believe in sanity and happiness. And there are those who would have us believe differently …in greed, in selfishness, in those minute particles of truths the media will so often report, in the necessity of war and the “reasons” behind it, in no funding for the arts, in ideas of “no-such-thing-as –spirit”….these are the poisons which we ingest….sometimes willingly, sometimes unknowingly.
The thing I want to tell you, is keep a positive attitude. Refuse to believe the crap that the bad guys keep pumping out. Keep your personal integrity, and believe in people….all over the planet. Because we are all of the same cloth…yes maybe different cultures, belief systems, language….but all of us human being, and very, very basically the same. Whatever you do with your life: music, art, philosophy, sanity….know that you and your brothers and sisters of the human race, all across the planet, are working together….not separately as the power hungry want us to believe and believe themselves. We work together.