Thursday, July 17, 2008

Stop for Blink

Returning to the city where I spent a semester of study has been a great joy.  Oh Copenhagen.  Oh to your endless cyclists and street performers, to your hot dog stands and alternative societies, to your quirky orderliness and unified anarchists.  Better than Copenhagen was the joy of reuniting with all of the friends I made at the beginning of the program in the US before we were divided into our country-specific groups across Europe.  We compared and contrasted our experiences – the kids sent to Germany enjoyed football fever all the way to the UEFA finals; those who went to Poland experienced first-hand that nation’s endless love for their very own pope, Johns Paul II; the Amsterdamites found a city rich with an identity beyond the hedonistic stereotype. 

            The closing program of our Humanity in Action (HIA)a fellowship luckily coincided with the Copenhagen Jazz Festival.  It was hard to miss one of the thousands of performances going on around the city over the course of the week.  I caught only one – but it was all I needed to catch, for this band was truly incredible.  I was walking with my buddies Zach and Sandra when we heart sounds a few blocks away.  We followed the source, and soon found ourselves among a sea of faces at a sidewalk café with a lively quintet unleashing a shockingly fantastic performance.  Il Bastardo, they were called, a gypsy/Balkan influenced jazz ensemble.  Their sound was incredibly unique, and their instrumentation, which added a spicy accordion to the classic jazz instrumentation of sax, trumpet, bass, and drums, enveloped the atmosphere with bright and dynamic textures. 

Jazz often frustrates me because it seems that musicians devote more attention to solos than they do to the compulsory melody to set it up.  I loved Il Bastardo because they gave their melodies as much, if not more, attention as their solos.  The gypsy/Balkan influence brought rhythmic surprises in every single song, something that rarely happens nowadays with jazz riding symbols and walking along base lines.  I found the drummer particularly impressive, the way he attacked his beats and established highly energetic foundations atop which the rest built fantastic musical structures.  When the concert ended, I emailed my friend Sam with whom I had studied in Copenhagen spring of 07.  I’ll never forget hearing Sam rave about a Balkan-influenced jazz ensemble he had seen at a small club, and I asked him through email if the group he had seen over a year ago was called Il Bastardo.  Damn skippy it was.  I think Sam would agree with me when I say that you should most definitely check out Il Bastardo. 

The closing program for the fellowship involved a series of lectures and celebrations. Each country group (Poland, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, France) made a small presentation with research findings, sketches and songs, and slide shows.  It was a nice glimpse into the lives of our fellow fellows on similar missions throughout Europe.  We heard from former fellows who discussed life after HIA using the organization’s networks and resources to advance human rights projects of their own.  One speaker founded an organization called Play31 which instituted the simple idea of providing underprivileged children in Sierra Leone soccer balls.  Play31 now works to promote play for children in Sierre Leon by giving them soccer balls.  My description does not really do the organization justice, but you can always check out their website at  Another fellow discussed an extension of a project popularized by the documentary Born into Brothels about the children of prostitute’s in Calcutta who are given cameras to photograph their lives.  The extension involved a shorter version of this project in a village in Kosovo, where adolescent male children were given three days to photograph their village life.  I felt that three days was not enough time for the project to really flesh itself out, but I am hoping the fellow will return to the idea. 


HIA threw its tenth anniversary party in the city and it was a fantastic bash.  So was our goodbye dinner party which they took us to by boat.  Riding through Copenhagen by boat was a great experience, and the party was a fantastic farewell full of positive energy.  On the boat ride, we passed by a sign that said “stop for blink”.  I had to use it somehow.    


Copenhagen central station

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