When fortune smiled
I can’t remember if I told this story before. After 199 days of doing these posts, it’s hard to keep track. The memory popped in my mind again today, so forgive me if this post is a repeat. While riding the train and thinking back on my experiences in Japan, I realized that one of the greatest lessons I have learned is how richer life can be when you understand and are open to other people’s customs and culture. Although Tokyo may look like a homogeneous society, it is, in fact, a kind of global hub. People from all over the world come here to visit and to live. That makes it an amazing place to meet the world’s people. Their stories and the stories travelers tell of their adventures are not only fascinating, but could one day save you from a great deal of trouble in the future.
Here is an example. My friend Ryosuke went to Senegal to learn how to play djembe, a hand drum that originated in West Africa and was wildly popular in Japan. Ryosuke was deep into learning the rhythms and culture associated with the djembe, so he took a trip to Senegal with his girlfriend to satisfy his thirst for rhythm and knowledge. He told me that while he was there his wallet had been stolen. He reported the incident to the leader of the village who looked surprised. “You are a guest here and under my protection. I am very sorry that this happened to you. I will personally look for your wallet. Please come back again tomorrow.” Ryosuke went away feeling pessimistic about the chances of getting his wallet back. He had nothing to lose by going back to the village chief’s house the next morning. When he arrived, the chief put his hand on Ryosuke’s shoulder and said, “My friend, fortune must be smiling on you today. I have found your wallet. Please check it to make sure everything is inside.” Ryosuke opened the billfold and found that everything was just as he had left it, including his cash.
Later Ryosuke told me that he found out the village leader was responsible for everyone in his care. If someone in the village does wrong, he must follow the chief’s orders and correct that wrong or else that person becomes a disgrace to his whole village and must face the punishment of the village. I am not sure how accurate this is. Ryosuke seemed to believe it, so I made a mental note in case I ever had the chance to visit Senegal.
A year after hearing that story, my colleague Yumi and I produced an event in Tokyo which was headlined by a NYC based band called Groove Collective and a Tokyo based African percussion group from Senegal. The Africans gave a stunning performance. It was powerful, creative, emotive, and tight! They were only scheduled to play for 30 minutes but they went on for a full hour. The sound was so good I didn’t want to stop them so I just let it go until it had reached a natural end.
After an hour DJ set, Groove Collective was supposed to go on. As the sax player was collecting his things from the dressing room, he noticed his flute was missing. Understandably, he began to panic. I immediately had all of the staff hunt for the missing instrument. After 20 minutes of searching the entire venue, including the dressing room, no one could find it. I didn’t know what to do. The idea that an artists I booked would have his gear stolen under my nose was horrible. I was desperate for answers. I started to think about all of the people who might have had access to the space when the flute was last seen. That’s when it hit me! The only people going in and out were Groove Collective, The Senegalese band, and the staff. I didn’t want to accuse anyone of stealing but I had a growing suspicion that maybe, just maybe one of the Africans might have taken it. I wondered how I could ask without offending anyone. That’s when I remembered Ryosuke’s story.
I went to the leader of the group, who I knew was a very honorable man. I did not tell him that I suspected one of his men. That would have been an insult to him. Instead, I went to him with a very worried face and said, “I don’t know what to do. The band who was supposed to go on next has had one of their instruments stolen, a flute. I am really sad about this. He is a guest to the venue and the country. It is a shame that he had to have such a horrible thing happen to him.” The band leader’s eye grew very big. “What’s that you say? Someone has stolen a flute! Let me call my men and we will look for it with you.” With a very serious face he gathered up his bandmates like a village chief. When they had all arrived he said to me, “Have you checked the dressing room?” I told him that we had. He said, “I do not doubt that you have done a thorough job but let us check it again.” He motioned his bandmates inside of the dressing room with a stern wave of authority. As I followed them in, the leader turned to me and said, “No you wait here. We will search.” He closed the door of the dressing room. Ten minutes later he opened them up again and said, “Fortune smiles on you today because we have found the missing flute.”
To this day I still don’t know for sure what happened in that dressing room. They could have found the flute under a missed jacket in some dark corner of the space. However, I suspect the band leader, like the village leader Ryosuke told me about, confronted those in his charge and scolded them for what they had done then demanded that someone confess and return the stolen item. If I hadn’t heard Ryosuke’s story, I would not have been able to figure out how to solve the problem and Groove Collective would never have been able to go on and give the stunning performance they gave. It seemed like there was a bit of extra fire in their music that night. Maybe we can thank the chief for that as well.
This photo is of a different band than the one I mentioned in the story.