Monday, 4 May 2009

Culture Club

FOR a few days now, The Whisperer has had a song playing in his head. It is that one written by Boy George, and his band, Culture Club, the massive musical entity that reigned years ago.
What to remember about the androgynous musician who dressed in that inimitable way? The lyrics of his most famous song, ‘Karma Chameleon’, “…and you used to be so sweet I heard you say; when we cling, our love is strong; when you go, you’re gone forever…”
For the past few weeks, I have wandered through some of the most famous theatre halls in the world, meeting people from different parts of the earth, listening to other people tell their own stories, in their own ways, and I have been reminded again that the world is like a large painting on canvas.
I have listened to practitioners of the art I love so much show me that the earth is full of masters of the trade and specialists in the craft.
In this field, there are many layers of paint, many shades, many hues that you might not notice if you do not look carefully or pay attention to the painter.
Time after time, I have been reminded of how similar we all are, and yet in the similarities, how very different at times.
There are things we take for granted in the little worlds we have built for ourselves, for our families, our loved ones and our friends at the points of the earth we reside in; we take for granted the responses of partners and friends who know our local ways, the reactions of those who love us and ‘understand’ our every whim and caprice...
We imagine that everyone should be able to comprehend the way we think, the reason for our silences and our actions.
Yet in the multi-national world the earth has become, we have to be careful when we meet with other cultures that we are not misjudged by our ways. Those who love us, will love us, but still we should not give them a hard job of it.
I have seen every kind of relationship and friendship in this land, relationships inconceivable just a century ago; Asians and Africans, Asians and Caucasians, Caucasians and Africans.
Do these relationships exist just because all these races live in the same country, or is it as a result of these people having learnt to be more tolerant of each other?

AS I stood in the sun completely surrounded by tourists a few days ago, waiting for a friend by one of the most famous columns in the world, I felt the eyes of three people, one male and two females, on me.
At first I thought it was because they needed someone to help them with their camera as they posed by the lions beneath Admiral Nelson’s vantage point.
I finished my conversation on the phone and turned to them with a smile, stretching my hand for their camera so as to help them take the group picture I imagined they wanted.
But the man in their midst shook his head and said no, one of the females wanted to take a picture with me and would I please give her the pleasure. The Whisperer agreed and posed with the lovely lady in question who was on holiday from the Czech Republic, and then handed over his own camera so he could have a copy for himself.
After the picture was taken, Kristina, that was her name, kept looking at the picture on her camera and smiling. I asked the fellow who was interpreting why this was so.
He said simply, “She’s very happy with the photograph”. That made me quite happy too, two strangers trying to catch the sun in one of the most popular capitals of the world and crossing cultures to hold hands.
Why did she want her picture taken with me? There were many Africans who were wandering around, purposefully and otherwise.
Was she smitten by my very good looks? Did she intuitively know she stood in the presence of a Whisperer (Even I have to smile at these thoughts)?

HOWEVER, it was, Kristina who was in London on holiday, had stretched her hand to hold mine across cultural divides and had trapped that moment in time through a photograph.
“When we cling, our love is strong”
If we stay behind cultural walls and divides, we will miss out on the grand experience called life, an experience made up of meeting others, sharing, learning and growing.
I sat in ‘The Century’, a members-only club in the heart of Soho, three days ago with friends, listening to Javier De Frutos, the member who had invited me in, reminisce about his work and the things he had done.
I smiled as he spoke, experiencing the ‘Culture Club’. He was born in Venezuela, had schooled and worked in Britain and America and had just concluded work on a play from the heart of Yoruba land. Dream-like? In some ways maybe, but a truly remarkable experience.
I have listened to other not-so-mature people tell of their biases and prejudices in respect of other nations.
The entire painting on any piece of canvass cannot be painted in one colour. There are always tones and undertones, dark colours, to make a complete picture but the bright colours are the most attractive.
Rufus Norris, the British theatre director of Death and The King’s Horseman and also one of my favourite people, put me in a taxi and took me to see “Don John” in another theatre.
It was an adaptation of the story of the irresponsible lover, “Don Juan”, the lead-role played by a gentleman from Iceland, and the cast made up of people from all over the world.
I thought to myself, “the world itself is one big Culture Club and its members-only status is for those who choose to be open to others”.
Even within borders, people of the same nation but of different cultures sometimes refuse to open themselves to the immense possibilities of being friends or partners with other tribes.
A major uplifting experience in life is to the ability to enjoy and celebrate other cultures. The world is a beautiful place if you have the right perspective and Hakuna Matata should be our problem-free philosophy.

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