Saturday, 16 March 2013

Nile River Groove

"Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" by James Brown

A friend of mine who was not many years ago on a large boat pleasure-cruising the Nile told me he was sneaking a smoke on an upper deck while idly watching some other men sweeping the boat. It was a beautiful day, he told me. There was an outdoor sound system. Without warning (you should always warn people that James Brown is coming), "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" spilled into the placid air, expanding it and the efforts of the men with brooms, whose movements quickly and collectively gained the patterns of happiness. Those men at work hadn't stopped working -- they'd simply added dance to their day. Magically, they had become the joyous, kinetic rhythm system that James Brown would have wanted them to be. (James Brown wanted everyone to dance.) If my friend, despite the African sun and the electrified African-American music, didn't join in the dance, it was only because (I'm assuming) he was probably feeling out of his element. He was, after all, a Canadian guy sneaking a smoke under an awful lot of dazzling warm tropical light, whose sneaky power is enough in itself to keep a northerner's ass planted, and his feet static, and his limbs in place just because he's looking so much and doesn't want to miss anything. (Me? Well, I'm a ham, and so I would've found a broom and joined in.)

But my friend's report proved to me that James Brown's art is universal -- i.e., Papa's bag is always brand new. Give Shakespeare or Mozart or Van Gogh each his due, but the heartbeat is all. Even as everything in this number -- the horns, guitars, drums, the bass, the voice -- contributes to the deep groove, each becomes a slave to that groove's intoxicating and overwhelming steadiness. Those sweeping men on a boat in the Nile River in Egypt were no more able to resist Papa's groove than you or I when we're at home and dancing solo, which is how I know how miraculous "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" is. If I had a heaven to create, its musical loop would have this endlessly satisfying song in frequent rotation.

(I figure my friend didn't join in because of something else, too: seeing nature unmasked would stop anyone in his tracks.)