Austin360 will be posting dispatches from Austin singer-songwriter Gina Chavez and her band as they tour through Jordan. The full band – which includes Michael Romero, Brad Johnston, Jerry Ronquillo, Kenneth Null, and Mike Meadows – will give us insights into what it’s like for an Austin band to perform, lead workshops and collaborate with local artists in Jordan.
BY BRAD JOHNSTON
When I go on tour I have very few expectations on how things will turn out because I really never know what will happen. But I know for sure that when I’m with people who have the right intentions, touring is an amazing way to discover the world, meet new people, and hopefully leave the world a slightly better place. This tour has made me realize that I’ve always taken one thing for granted – that our band stays together, at least for the official programming such as concerts, rehearsals and workshops.
MORE TOUR DIARY ENTRIES: Gina Chavez Middle East Tour Diary
Before flying into Jordan we knew that the U.S. Embassy – our host – intended to split us into two teams to help cover more ground over the course of two days. This is where the teamwork kicks in. With only a broad understanding of each of the workshops, we divided into teams based on our musical interests and skill sets. But how would we create a thoughtful and helpful experience without having time to fully prepare?
The answer was simple. We do it all of the time in our music – improvise! And this week, I saw improvisation in a whole new way. At the National Music Conservatory, our team of three – Mike (drums), Kenneth (bass) and I – led a group of young adult musicians in a masterclass on blues music. We led 14 eastern classical musicians, who had never played the blues, until everyone was jamming! Singers were exploring their voices in a whole new way, Arabic instrumentalists on the oud (non-fretted stringed instrument) and the qanun (mixture of the auto harp and zither) were mastering the pentatonic scale. Pianists were daring to make mistakes as they discovered a new voice on the keys. You should have seen the joy of musical freedom in their eyes!
The next day, we got the whole band back together for an interactive concert for young children with disabilities. I’ll never forget the joy on their faces as we improvised some Arabic lyrics to our silly kids’ song, “Gimme Some Ice Cream.” In mere seconds, we had a room full of students and their teachers shaking the room with shouts of “Ahtini Buhza!” It’s a joyful noise I’ll never forget. These past few days have fortified in me, yet again, the power of being open to improvising, especially when it’s your only option. This band is filled with some really special souls.