Years of Western classical piano training have left me with something of a musical sense, true. But while I enjoyed my Beethoven and Chopin, Mozart and Strauss, I can’t say the music ever worked its way into my soul. But the blues, aaah the blues: ever since I discovered the blues and listened to plenty of it live and recorded, I’ve known what it does to me. Forever, I’ve wanted to play the blues.
These days I play harmonica. I’ve even joined the fabulous Mumbai Harmonics, whose delightful members meet often to “busk” in public – mostly Bollywood, which has plenty of harmonica-friendly songs, and I enjoy our sessions immensely.
But here’s the thing: I’ve signed up to learn blues harmonica online from a musician named Dave Barrett. Now that I’ve been at it a few months, I feel like I’m making progress towards playing the stuff on this marvellous little instrument. So in these uncertain, almost eerie days, I send blues riffs –amateur and awkward they still are – warbling into the ether every evening. I don’t know if anyone is listening, but to me they are a strangely comforting counterpoint to the times we’re in.
And to remind myself of the kind of blues I want to play on my harmonica, the music that touches my very soul, I’ve been revisiting favourites old and new. Here are four. Listen well to the harmonica licks, for someday you’ll hear me play like that. Someday!
Barefoot Rock by The Blasters
(1:30-1:50 and don’t miss the two Sardars)
If You Were a Bluebird by Joe Ely and pals
(Butch Hancock’s solo 1:30 - 2:05)
Tiyachu by Aki Kumar
(1:29 - 1:45)
Early Every Morning by The Fabulous Thunderbirds
(The first 1:15 and a heroic 5+ minute solo from 2:00).
Dilip D’Souza’s latest book, co-authored with Joy Ma, is The Deoliwallahs: The True Story of the 1962 Chinese-Indian Internment.
Read the other articles in the Art of Solitude series here.