It was a joke but it wasn’t funny

Nothing excites me more than performing with my band, playing my songs and the amazing experiences associated with being a musician. I just love it! Every so often, someone announces me when I get on stage. These people always say the nicest things about me. They don’t tell you guys the bad stuff….only the good. I always feel flattered by all the compliments and I really appreciate them.

But I am seldom alone on the stage. I always have a few other muzos around me. They are my friends. Something strange happens when you make music with someone. It is a deep connection I find difficult to describe. My band is therefore much more to me than just people playing instruments. We almost become like brothers and I can honestly say I love them. It has happened a few times that the person announcing me decides to tell a joke or two, just to get the crowd going. And on a few occasions the “jokes” has had racial undertones. Maybe mocking an accent or implying someone with a certain accent as being stupid. Why is it in jokes that the guy with the funny accent is never portrayed as the clever one in the end? It seems the joke is always on him, so to speak. Very often, the MC gets a laugh.  An uncomfortable one, because my band and I always go on stage when we hear someone doing that and…needless to say, in my band we have different accents.

I feel both furious and frustrated when this happens. It always reminds me that it is easy to get a quick laugh or applause at the cost of one’s character. A dirty joke will usually get more of the hoopla! But the crafty skilful comedian will have your respect based on his unique ability to play to the room. I mean when Trevor Noah tells a racial joke to a proudly South African audience the results are hysterics. But sometimes something as simple as a joke insensitively told in an inappropriate context can point to something much more sinister.

It’s much the same with music. The guy covering the latest top 40 hits will probably get a bigger applause but no one will remember his name at the end of the show, although few might remember the name of the muzo who bared his soul singing his own songs even though he might not have played to popularity…

I hate it when jokes are told at the expense of my friends. I always think the context in which things are said is so important. I have certainly gotten things wrong many times before and have suffered from the proverbial “foot in mouth disease” myself for sure. But ultimately I believe people can see for themselves when something is beautiful and have the ability to discern a pure motive or lack thereof. When we see people dividing and building walls and then see other people coming together and breaking down walls we can choose for ourselves who we want to side with.

That is what we want to do together when we are on stage. Apart from simply playing the songs and trusting that – in doing so – something beautiful might happen in the room….something out of our control. We want to show how beautiful and joyous it is when people come together. Fortunately we can all choose what we use our words for, to make a quick impression or leave a legacy, whether we want them to add to something, or take away, build up, or break down. I think this applies to joke telling and music making.

“But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling, like dew, upon a thought produces,
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions think.”
George Gordon Byron

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