Music saves the night - a story

The story I am about to tell you happened many moons ago. It was after a Friday night gig with my old band "The Concerned Citizens" that we decided to join a house party and ran out of alcohol in the early hours of the morning. So, my friend Jarred and I – very irresponsibly – got into the car and drove off with the task of buying more alcohol at a nearby shebeen (for the non-South Africans, that is an illegal bar / alcohol shop and very often also a place to buy drugs). We got there ok, bought what we came for and were about to drive off again, when four police vehicles pulled up and surrounded the car. Having had a lot of experience dealing with the police, I knew I was in trouble and that is was best to say as little as possible. We were asked to step out of the car, got a warning to not try anything stupid and the officers went on searching the car for drugs. They looked in every possible corner, without luck. We didn’t have any drugs on us. Next, they started searching us. They wanted to find something, and they did. It was just not what they had expected.

In my jacket pocket, I was carrying my harmonica, still there from the gig we had played earlier. The police officer, who had pulled it out of my jacket, held the instrument up like he had just hit the jackpot and his colleagues started gathering around. They had no idea what they had found. I explained that we are musicians and that what he held in his hand, was an instrument. He didn’t seem very convinced and asked me to play. I remember thinking “shit, I will not manage!” My mouth was dry, I had way too much to drink and, because of those facts, already saw Jarred and myself spending the night behind bars. One glance at Jarred showed me the first signs of tears on his face – whether it was because of fear or laughter, I could not make out – but he said, “just dala B” (which means “just do it”). I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and started playing a very improvised version of Nkosi Sikelele Africa, South Africa’s national anthem.

I was playing notes that had absolutely no place in the song and I knew it. Halfway through the song I opened my eyes and saw eight policemen and -women listening quietly. Jarred, on the other hand, pulled a face every time I played a false note, which made my heart beat even faster. I finished on a very long and dramatic middle C note. Silence. Then the police exploded into applause and shouts of approval – what a performance! Jarred joined in applauding, looking confused and still a little scared. But it really ended there. They congratulated me on my performance and told us we should rather get off the streets quickly. To make sure we weren’t going to get into any more trouble, they insisted on escorting us back to the party. As they drove off, enthusiastically waving at us, one of them shouted “don’t ever stop making music guys, that was incredible”.

Jarred and I looked at each other and burst into laughter. “What the fuck just happened?” he asked me. I didn’t know the answer. Not then and not now, but I believe that it was the power of music that saved us. I should start carrying that harmonica in my pocket again.