It’s late in the evening here in São Paulo, around 11 pm, and I’m just getting back to my hotel room. I attended a small, very intimate dinner hosted by a couple who reside here, Patrick and Teresa. It was an unforgettable evening and, instead of going to bed, as I should because I’ve got an early morning performance, I’m sitting here writing about it.
Early in the day, with rain falling heavily and the scent of São Paulo’s air absolutely satiating the senses, I contemplated canceling my attendance. The thought of staying in my room and relaxing or doing some reading while the rain beat against my 11th story window was very seductive.
I have a thing about commitments though. It disturbs my sensibilities when people do not keep their word and I don’t ever want to be anyone’s hypocrite. Although vacillating in my decision to attend or not, I knew that I would go regardless of how I felt. I value my word above all else.
When we arrived at Patrick and Teresa’s house it was a beautiful, meticulously landscaped, home. Teresa welcomed us and apologized for the jungle that she had created on her front terrace, but I loved it.
We entered and I met her husband Patrick, a journalist who is very gentle and accommodating. Patrick introduced me to the man I had come to meet, Geraldo Tartaruga (Tartaruga means turtle and it is a named he earned in his youth).
We all sat around a dinner table in the kitchen and talked while Teresa prepared the meal. It felt like a moment out of one of the old black and white movies, reminding me of a time when people gathered just for the sake of being together. There was no television, no radio and the conversation flowed like a steady stream.
Geraldo spun off about 7 to 10 stories in a row with ease, each as entertaining and enlightening as the last. Patrick chimed in wanting me to share and, of course, I did. I reached deep into my repertoire and offered a few tales I had learned while in Mali that I’ve never told publicly. Geraldo seemed as delighted with my tales as I was enchanted by his. He and I went back and forth a few times trading tales between conversations as topics changed. It was an extremely enriching experience.
I noticed that, while we were all enjoying our free-flowing conversation, Teresa was busy cutting, chopping and cooking in the background. I was noticing a universal theme being played out here as I watched her glide across the floor between the sink and the oven and then the oven to the cupboards. The person who usually does all of the work, the cooking, no matter where I’ve traveled in the world, always seems to fade into the background of whatever is going on around them. I felt the need to bring Teresa into the fold. I interrupted our conversation and asked Teresa if I could take a few pictures of her cooking and the food as it was being prepared. I’ve done this before when in Africa and Teresa was just as pleased and receptive as any of my hosts have been there. She smiled and posed near the oven as I explained to everyone that her role as preparer of our meal was an ancient sacred gesture that sometimes gets taken for granted. I didn’t want to take Teresa or her cooking for granted. There’s a proverb out of Mali that says, “the kitchen was born before the mosque.” I wanted to honor Teresa and, hopefully, I did.
Another two guests arrived as we were sitting in the kitchen talking, Henry and Kazuyo. I would find out later that Kazuyo has been teaching for over 40 years. 40 years of teaching! I was honored to be in her presence.
Teresa served the most amazing meal. The talking and storytelling continued even while we ate. We were definitely a menagerie of conversationalists.
It was getting late and my tour manager, in the most gentle tone ever, requested that I play a little Kora for everyone before we had to leave.
We all adjourned to the living room. Doesn’t that sound kind of 1940’ish, “we adjourned to the living room?” But that is exactly how it felt and what we did.
I was going to do my best to pay for Teresa’s beautifully prepared meal and her husband’s overwhelming hospitality with my music.
As it was getting late, Jana reminded me that we did not have much time before we needed to be leaving. I was able to play two songs for the group, sing a little and share a few proverbs before I resigned myself to my schedule. As I was putting the Kora away, the doorbell rang. It was Rinata, stunningly gorgeous Rinata, Henry’s girlfriend. She entered the room and gave hugs and kisses to everyone before taking a seat. I believe Jana was busy calling us a cab when I noticed Geraldo was trying to get my attention.
Patrick translated for me. Geraldo wanted one more song before I left, he was almost demanding it.
I smiled because I knew what he was doing. I couldn’t resist and told the crowd that I was going to read Geraldo’s mind and tell everyone what he was thinking. A gamble on my part? Yes, but it was fun.
I explained that Geraldo had the largest heart of anyone in the room and that he was not interested in the least in hearing another song. I exposed Geraldo for the romantic he truly was by telling everyone that he was requesting the song, not for himself, but for the beautiful Rinata.
A nice laugh and big smile burst though Geraldo’s lips as he nodded in affirmation.
I played one more song and, as I was playing, a torrent was released from the sky beating down on Teresa and Patrick’s home loudly. It was such an intimate setting. I let Rinata know that I would sing a song to her, for her, but it was a gift from Geraldo.
The room felt energetic in a way that is difficult to describe. It wasn’t intense. It wasn’t a tumultuous type of energy. It was calm and peaceful yet very powerful.
When I ended the song I could hear everyone exhaling. It was a thing of beauty to witness.
I explained to Rinata that she was now obligated to give her hero, Geraldo, a kiss on the check to thank him for thinking of her.
Jana and I were about to step out into the rain to catch a cab down the street when Kazuyo stepped in. She offered to return us to our hotel and refused to have it any other way. She wanted to be the one to take us back to our hotel.
We departed everyone with hugs and kisses. While in Kazuyo’s car she let me know, in all sincerity, that she was trying to figure out a way to compensate me for the song and music that touched her heart. She told me that driving us was a small bit of compensation for what she had received.
My heart was touched once again here in São Paulo, and, as I sit in my room preparing for tomorrow’s performances I can’t help but to feel that something magical happened to me this evening.