Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Hear that buzzing? That's a collection of strings, made variously taut, and then plucked. It sounds like a guitar when I describe it, but not when I play it; when I play it, unlike a guitar, this instrument actually sounds like a collection of strings, buzzing, immanent. Do you feel happy? This buzzing was perhaps the world's first anti-depressant and almost certainly its most effective.
King David is well remembered for his skill for killing with taut string, but less well remembered for his ability to heal using the same. The first King of Israel, David's predecessor Saul, was tormented by an evil spirit, sent by god; the only relief from this torment was provided by David's harp playing -- a tough pill to swallow, so to speak, since Saul rightly viewed David as a formidable rival. Still, what choice did he have but to accept the cure? David would play, buzz, buzz, buzz, and "relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him."
David's harp -- what we now know as the begena -- is not often played anymore outside of Ethiopia, which perhaps explains the world's sadness.
The begena soothes, there's no doubt, but its power is frightening, hence the need for that comforting whisper of a vocal, weaving itself into the begena's buzzing. "It's OK," says the voice (or so goes my translation from the original Amharic, a language I don't speak). Buzz, buzz, buzz. "Shake the spirit loose; feel better."
Which is not to say that guitars don't have a power too.posted by Jordan at 3:48 PM on Mar 25, 2009.
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