Many of you know by now that the Rwanda 15 Parade of One will be a four week long one man parade in Rwanda. Late this summer (2009,) I will wind through the capital Kigali and surrounding regions, making melodies and meeting Rwandans to commemorate fifteen years of peace and stability since the end of the civil war and genocide. Yes, this is what it sounds like: I’m going to Rwanda to be a street musician. Sure I’ll be a doing a couple performances at legitimate venues while I’m there, since they’ve been offered, but it’s mostly about playing on the street for me.
As I am about to embark on my most unusual gig to date, I have been asked many times to explain myself. Why am I marching in a one man parade? And why in Rwanda? I don’t feel so compelled to justify what is perceived as abnormality. On the contrary, my instinct is to simply carry on with what I do, disregarding norms. I don’t care to conform to standards, nor do I want to make some adolescent protest of them. I just want to do my thing, and often don’t even really want to be troubled to stop and explain just what that “thing” is or why I’m doing it. In fact, with the many other things I have to do to prepare for this journey, I worry that writing on matters of what’s going through my mind and trying to make it eloquent might not even be the most productive thing to do. But if you are among those brave few who are trying to take my upcoming operations in Rwanda seriously, I’m most gratefully indebted, and I hope that by writing this blog I can satisfy your curiosity. It is with your help that this voyage is possible.
The “parade” concept is really what makes the music for everyone and anyone. Even, if you are immobile, the parade can come to you. You don’t need to know it’s happening let alone purchase tickets, and all of a sudden the parade goes right by. It is the most egalitarian form of performance. Many great musicians, such as Ornette Coleman and Milford Graves, have spoken recently of the “healing” power of music, and if I am capable of using music for such purposes, I hope to bring it to everyone and not just the few who might know where and when the performance is and have the money for tickets. Coming from Brooklyn, I expect the change in the type and scope of the audience to be refreshing. Things are very fragmented here, with audiences representing social cliques and even socioeconomic demographics. Picture the drastically different ages, races, and clothing styles among audiences at the jazz club, the hip hop show, and the indie rock concert. I am glad to be in a position to transcend this fragmentation and to allow the openness and egalitarianism of the parade to influence my music. The social exclusivity surrounding the different musical circles, here in New York, serves as a sort of safety net for the music that is produced. Musicians are guaranteed a certain response in giving the audience what they expect. In my upcoming parade, there will be no such expectations from the audience, and I feel that it will be a good atmosphere to further develop my unaccompanied solo saxophone concept. Unaccompanied saxophone performance is a rare and challenging endeavor, which few have done well.
Not only do I expect the parade to have an impact in Rwanda and on my own music, though. I also think it can spark awareness and education over here in the USA, where people could probably learn a little more about Rwanda’s recent history, the descent into genocide and the successful but still fragile recovery from civil war. Which brings me to the question I am asked the most: Why did I choose Rwanda? The question seems so normal to the people who ask and yet so odd to me. The answer is that Rwanda chose me. Having grown up around survivors of the Jewish Holocaust in Europe, I’ve felt some connection to Rwanda’s recent history, in particular the genocide in 1994. When I hear the stories from Rwanda, I see parallels with the stories I am told about World War II era Europe. My hope is that being around people much closer to my age who experienced a similar atrocity to that of my grandparents will help me better understand what my elders here in America went through. After all, so many of the most important stories I’ve ever heard happened before I was born in a different place and time, but there are people still experiencing similar things in my lifetime, not only in Rwanda in the nineties but in Darfur now and many other places. Without our help and our continued awareness and discussion of human rights, such atrocities will only continue.
The Rwandan recovery from genocide has been very unique and remarkable. Rwandan victims now live in the same neighborhoods as the people who murdered their families, and they are keeping the peace, for fear of the gruesome alternative. Hopefully, the Rwandan distaste for violence will continue forever.
I think Jews might have something to learn from Rwandans. Whether in the USA, Israel, or the former Soviet Union, Jews are still, just like most of the world’s inhabitants, members of societies that do not reject war. Not only Jews and Palestinians, but all Americans and people from all nations of the world, whether it is Sudan, Russia, or Iran might benefit by learning from Rwanda. And if anywhere deserves a fun parade right now, for the trauma they went through and the advancements they’ve made since, it is Rwanda. It is important for people all over the world to be having fun, because if people are having a good time, maybe they will think twice before ruining it with wars and genocide. More than anything, I want this parade to help people have a good time.
It’s no surprise that a parade of one is a lonely place to march. In a world where the dedication of one’s time and labor to being a street musician in a developing country is not commonplace and perhaps even clownish, I have surely felt my share of social alienation. I am asked many questions, and I am often even doubted and ridiculed. While I have attracted much attention and support from my family, friends, and colleagues, at the end of the day I am still marching and performing alone. Sometimes, I even wake up in the morning and am ashamed and frightened to be greeted by the mind that has conjured this crazy parade. I want to be allowed to get some rest and just carry on with my peaceful life in Brooklyn. But a task is a task, and I have to take it seriously. If I don’t march in the Rwanda 15 Parade of One, no one will. The job won’t get done, and that frightens me more than anything.