Gift from Angola

I was riding home from bowling the other night, as usual my mind racing with all sorts of brilliant and unbrilliant thoughts. Over time, in Amsterdam, one develops this talent to just ride fast as hell, ignore red lights, and weave around traffic and kamikaze pedestrians. Sometimes a person or a car or some random thing catches your attention as you ride, and for those brief moments, you try to soak up the situation before you’ve ridden off.

On that night there were two dark skinned figures trying to cross in front of me. They hesitated, which told me they were from out of town. At that same moment, one of the men looked directly into my eyes. That happens sometimes,you’re riding and someone looks directly into your eyes for a split second. For me, it’s usually a beautiful girl riding in the opposite direction. But in this case the eyes staring at mine were those of a friend. They triggered a rush of mental images; memories. At first it was NYC 1999 and I had stayed late at the knitting factory, hanging in the green room discussing politics with the band. Then I was swept back to 2002, sitting in a tiny restaurant in Lisbon – “Agua do Bengo.”

The owner of this restaurant was the man behind those eyes, at least that’s what I felt in that eternal moment. I swore that I was seeing my friend Waldemar Bastos, beloved Angolan singer who had been exiled to Lisbon during the long civil war in his home country.

I kept riding, looking back the entire time. But I couldn’t see him anymore.. I stopped in hopes that he would be running in my direction, shouting my name. But no dice. I slowly rode in the direction of home, now completely buried in memories of our conversations, the nights where I’d come to the restaurant to help his wife serve dinner, and then after closing they’d cook a special meal for me while Waldemar pulled out the guitar and starting testing new songs on me. One night we sat there til the sun came up, singing together. He even handed me the guitar as said, “go ahead bm, I know you’re musician.” But I know better… I returned his custom acoustic right back to him with a smile.

Here’s where it gets better: This morning I went to do xmas shopping-browsing at a CD shop, and there in the featured artist section – Waldemar Bastos and his new release Renascence, on a DUTCH LABEL! He had told me last year, during our annual phonecall, that he had signed with a Dutch label. Shit with Warner Brothers and David Burn’s Luaka Bop project had gone bad, but now he was back…. in the NETHERLANDS! I just checked the show listings… tomorrow night at the Tropentheatre.. I’m going to see my friend. I sent him a text message with this story. I look forward to the euphoria when he sees me tomorrow, no one will understand the history behind the enormous hug we will share.

(….to be continued.. and in the meantime, go stare at the stars)

Today’s Sounds: Waldemar Bastos – Renascence