Saturday, November 10, 2007

Esma does Epping

Esma at Epping
and here we jump the time tunnel heading back aways: is now, sunday 14th of october

so I'm a week back from Brisbane; where I momentarily recovered my human citizenship in company my kinfolks - gathered for my Mum's 60th b-day - and making the acquaintance also of new small humans: twin nephews Sam & Jo, who'd winged over from Eire a couple days previous with their own Mother, and my long-absent Sister, Libby (photos to follow)

20 after 7 in the pm, the phone is buzzing & its Anthony Magen asking if I'm feeling "spontaneous"...

Lord help me: but no, dude - I have a bunch stuff to do, perched afront my overheated PC all day (& it only then occurs to me that I have neither eaten since breakfast nor even showered which may demonstrate just how tenuous my human citizenship can be)

"Esma Redzepova is playing tonight in Epping - a final show before she flies out of Australia..."

Ah but fortune has visited a rare & consoling boon upon me: solitary regret of the previous w/e's flight northwards was passing up the chance to make what had been advertised as Esma's only Melbourne shindig...

... so 10 minutes later we're driving north into remote & unfamiliar suburbs, past the advisable limits of human habitation.
I'm wearing my 2nd most floridly colourful shirt & Anthony is similarly attired & we're working thru the bag of apples I brought along for nourishment. Any expectations are already confounded halfway from the city: this is by way of an adventure! Our destination, an industrial estate. And here we find a Macedonian function centre which achieves that rare marriage of 'wedding cake' architectural confection & prime iron-curtain era brutalism: the venue for this evening's show...

The audience is polite & restrained, but visibly & abundantly happy. While I suspect we're most likely the only folks there of a non-Balkan extraction, I recognize before long that for the local Macedonians this is an occasion of genuine community celebration.

(photos of her show up in Sydney at the Bankstown Football Club should provide a fairly near indication of what kind of scenario we were in...)

So myself & Anthony are a little by way of outsiders here, but the mood is so exhuberantly jovial that while our presence is at first quizzically noted nobody seems at all bothered by it: just a pair of white-boy nerds w/ tasteless shirts. (& at this point I was glad that I'd only worn my 2nd most colourful shirt)

Anyways, the band played for 4 hours with barely a half-hour break, and were still blasting away when we swung out to the car at midnight. Anthony clued me that the musicians are actually gathered from among Esma's adopted children(!)

Esma herself is diminutive and homely but completely charming and in all these respects reminded me very much of Asha Bhosle... also for the fact of her peerless stature within this particular musical culture. Despite her tiny size, and an indifferent PA, she works her way through a repertoire of new & old tunes (I couple of which I even recognise). The music almost provides the audience a licence to emote: before long they loosen up; money gratuitiously changes hands as notes are pressed into the instruments of the wandering players and the crowd happily dance a meandering cocek with Esma at its centre. Her singing is powerfully expressive, but she gave little indication of how demanding the performance must have been (several times she vanished off stage, only to return a few minutes later in a new and even more theatrical costume).

The whole thing put me in mind of some evangelical faith-healings I'd been to as a teenager, or the rare concerts by touring bands in the small country Qld town I grew up in: a magical evening.

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