My Thai friend Jack runs the Pastel bar in Phuket Town. He named the bar after the word for a mix of colours – pastel. But why? Because he wanted his bar to be a meeting place for musicians of different races and nationalities. I recall playing in a jam there during an open mic night I’d organised and the five of us were all from different countries, so Jack had succeeded in his aim.
Modern popular music has a long, proud tradition of inclusivity and hospitality. Bob Dylan’s idol Woody Guthrie and black early bluesman Leadbelly were great friends in 1930s USA, which was highly unusual there at that time. Other early bluesmen such as Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and Son House were surprised to be shown great respect and kindness when they visited Europe in the 60s. Likewise, visiting British bands like the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and the Beatles were treated like royalty in the USA . Finally, the Aussie band AC/DC went down a storm after they arrived in the UK in 1977 to make a name for themselves, an event I have fond memories of!
I also recall a time post-punk in the UK when the Two-Tone craze took off, led by bands such as The Specials, The Selecter and The Beat, with bands featuring a mix of black and white musicians. The Bhundu Boys were to receive a rapturous welcome in the UK in 1986 when they arrived from Zimbabwe. Bob Marley too was contributing to an overall feeling of human unity and togetherness through the positive “One Love” message of his songs.
I hope you can see from all this that musicians have helped achieve something truly wonderful quite unthinkingly – race and nationality have long been irrelevant and meaningless when it comes to popular music. And it should always of course be so!
There is no more visible way such unity can be seen than a bunch of musicians of different races having fun together on stage. Musos have gently helped in this way to break down the mental walls of racism and xenophobia that divide our societies. They should be applauded for this as much as for their music.
So Musos of Phuket – hold your heads high! If politics etc divides people, music can unite them! You too have done great things in bringing people of different races and nationalities closer together, whether you realise it or not. I hope you can see yourselves as part of the long and noble tradition I have just described that continues to this day and which will surely continue long into the future.
So stand proud and take a bow guys and gals. You’re all stars!
Andy Tong Dee