Happy to be here!
Christian Meaas Svendsen, August 2020
Post prologue: After having written the following, I realized that what LaoBan Records initially had in mind when asking me to write something for their blog, was not so much a subjective review-like introspective of their current release «Happy to be here» which I am a part of, but rather the current COVID-19 situation seen from my Norwegian/European point of view. What they — and now eventually you — got was a kind of synthesis of those two. I also think it could be helpful for the reader to know that the album features three tracks entitled (1) Happy to be here (2) Interlude and (3) Happy to be there, the title of the album being the former of those three.
Happy to be here… What better title to put on a release for mid-2020, and not having come up with the title myself, I will most certainly allow myself to say so.
There are several facets to explore, but I want to start with where I am right now. As I’m plotting down these lines, I find myself sitting at a small café in downtown Tallinn, Estonia. I’m here to play a concert with a new multinational trio, and that’s not to be taken for granted in these COVID-19 ridden times. The last couple of months most, if not all, musicians have been restricted from executing their profession. Tours have been moved or in worst case cancelled without the prospect of being put back on. Playing abroad has been an impossibility. Even playing in our respective home countries, lest we forget our own cities, has become difficult. That’s why I am grateful once again to get a feel for that sweet, ecstatic state which frequently occurs when embarking on a new musical adventure with a new project with a mixture of old and new friends and colleagues. In a couple of hours, the group I’m playing in will have its first rehearsal, and tomorrow we will play a concert as part of a larger event. Hell, I’m even getting paid!
And the sun is up, gently warming my face.
— So yes, I’m happy to be here.
Same shit, different wrapping: Now with mask and disguised as «Suzuki»!
On another note, the current situation gives us a chance to seize new opportunities within our novel confinements. When some doors close, new ones open. I have seen so many great, unexpected and creative initiatives within our global communities. It is heart-warming to see that this music, this force stronger than itself, cannot be stopped. Now, I feel that I can’t say that without a proper pinch of humility: I never sought out this type of music as a tool for political uproar or social justice. I was drawn to it because it spoke to me as sound, and further down the road, I got to appreciate our community and all the people both on and off stage. I know there’s a lot of idealism and spirit in many artistic fields, but I think nothing compares to the type of kinship we feel as improvising musicians. It’s a worldwide family, with all the drama, ups and downs that family relations entail.
Nevertheless, this music — with both its ancient roots and future entanglements — has shown that it is rough-skinned and extremely durable and that it will survive, adapt, and overcome whatever is thrown its way. And if it for whatever reason does not have the opportunity whatsoever to shine, it will only stay dormant until circumstances allow it to bloom again. Wherever this music is, I’m happy to be there.
Lockdown hobby No. 1: Fermenting — aren’t we all fermenting these days? Let’s try our best to make sure that our ferment doesn’t turn out bad!
Lockdown hobby No. 2: Bought a drum set and teaching myself (with the good help of colleagues) how to play them (at a very poor level).
The bigger question is: Would I be happy to be wherever with whoever with whatever?
COVID-19 has given us a rather unique and valuable chance to work with acceptance. Whatever local measures have been set in place affect each one of us differently. Personally, I’ve found it hard to deal with the current state of affairs from time to time (please raise your hand if you haven’t, and I’ll salute thee). That’s also because my situation is a volatile concoction of other things. Having sold my flat where I’ve been living for the past 10 years, trying to find a foothold in a new living situation in a remote place added an extra layer of complexity. Where are my friends, my musical partners? Where is my regular routine, my go-to places and the sound from my beloved city? Where are all my things, my records and me utilizing said things and records?!
Maybe more importantly; how can I even complain about these things, being in a relatively luxurious situation compared to so many others; musicians and non-musicians alike. What I’m trying to get at is that my situation is good practice in working with acceptance. Those of us who up until recently travelled extensively have been granted an unprecedented opportunity to get a new perspective on — and hopefully an appreciation of — what we have at home. Still, I don’t want to thread that «acceptance bag» over everyone’s head; that you should just work with accepting whatever COVID-19 and its numerous social, political and economic consequences might imply. Without going down that rabbit hole, it’ll suffice to say that there are those exploiting the situation, benefitting on other people’s behalf. That is not OK, and shouldn’t be accepted. Returning to my own situation, I find that working on accepting the constant limbo that I find myself in is the only way to become happy where I am.
Home is a good place to be.
Reading what I just wrote doesn’t make me very happy, though. At least it doesn’t make me very content. «Happiness» is an overly goal-oriented term in my part of the world, and striving towards becoming happy is, the way I see it, a secure path towards unhappiness. Happiness has many guises, but whatever form it might take, it is fed to us as a promise that if we just get happy, then we will stay happy. Happiness is not a permanent state, but something which is in flux. «Happiness is the perfect mix between chaos and order», I once read. I think this is true. Happiness is fresh produce and constant work to find a balance between those chaotic and ordered components. If you think you will be happy by getting rid of everything chaotic (or orderly, for that matter), you’re never gonna get there. I also don’t believe in being happy all the time. I believe that the human condition has a lot more to offer and that instead of trying to be good at being happy, we should be getting better at embracing not being happy (and all those other so-called negative emotions).
Furthermore, happiness is not an on/off switch; instead, it is a seamless gauge. As I grow older, blacks and whites seem to blend into different nuances of grey. And I don’t think we have a good vocabulary for all those grey areas, those in-between stops between happy and not happy. For now, let’s just call it an interlude. Between being here and being there, it feels like a prolonged, indefinite interlude is exactly where we’re finding ourselves at the moment. That is also OK.
In musical terms, the title Happy to be here should pass without explanation. Not that I couldn’t go on in-depth and length about what a title like that could imply, both subjectively and objectively, but I’ll leave all that to the reader/listener. Let me instead finish by saying that playing this type of music with artists like Darren Moore and Yong Yandsen always feel like coming home. And I’m always happy to come home
About the Author
Christian Meaas Svendsen (b.1988) is a Norwegian musician and bass player. Although playing and recording with many different projects, his main project is his own ensemble Nakama and its affiliated label Nakama Records which he started in 2015. Participating on over 40 records covering a broad array of different styles, he has shown to be a distinctive yet flexible musician, and can be summed up as a challenging and innovative bass player. Although he is a firm believer that any creative output stands strong on its own terms, he also feels that music is a powerful tool to make a change in this world. His concept of music is not defined by genre, and he aims towards connecting the classical, contemporary and the free, rhythmic music tradition and to reach beyond the various imaginative borders created by human society and modern culture.