Italian Sign Language

People say Italians talk with their hands. Certainly in my experience Italians are the easiest Europeans to communicate with when neither party understands a word spoken by the other. On this trip we discovered a new dimension — Italian sign language.

I’m not talking about the basic traffic signals: the stink-eye, the finger or the full arm. This is a clever sort of visual slang we encountered in Calabria. It may exist throughout Italy. I don’t know. I’ll be looking for it next time. Here are some examples:

If you hold both hands in front of your chest with the fingers pointing down, that’s T-rex arms. It means, “This guy’s arms are too short to reach his pockets.” In other words, he’s a cheapskate.

When you hold up one hand with the fingers together pointing up, alternating palm out and palm in, that’s “2 late,” a pun between the Italian for “two sides” and the English “too late.” It means, “Time to go now.”

I think this is just scratching the surface. If you know of more examples, I’d love to hear from you.

Walls Come Tumbling Down

This journal entry was written a couple weeks ago while Delta Moon was touring heavily and there was neither time nor internet access to post it. Now that I’m home with plenty of both, it still seems worth sharing.

On this the last day of April, the weather in Germany is finally warming up. We had snow only two days ago. Now we’re traveling the A4 through Thuringia, past fields of green grass, yellow raps and brown, freshly turned earth. The sky is blue with white puffs of cloud blurring to a uniform pearl at the horizon, pierced here and there by steeples, power line towers and giant windmills. Most of the hardwoods are filling out with green buds, but some trees are still bare with balls of mistletoe in their upper branches.

I’m thinking about walls. Our President wants to build one. The people of Jericho built one, but it failed to solve their immigrant problem. Certainly the ancient gut fear of annihilation is part of what fuels people’s desire to build a wall.

Yesterday, through a mixup, we drove to the Hotel Husarenhof where we’d stayed twice before in Bautzen and found instead a burned-out shell. Only the charred walls remained. Later we learned there had been plans to turn the place into a refugee center. Online newspaper accounts say police found evidence of accelerants. Two young men were sentenced to prison and another to probation for drunkenly attacking firemen fighting the blaze. Germany was horrified when a local roofer posted a video of the burning building with the comment: “Comrades, sieg heil! Good work.”

There are no easy solutions. But I do know walls come down. We saw that in Berlin and again yesterday as we drove east into the former GDR. Silent on a ridge beside the autobahn, as traffic raced by in both directions, stood a concrete gun tower, abandoned and defaced with graffiti.

 

Remembering Col. Bruce Hampton

Col. Bruce Hampton, who died on stage at the Fox Theater in Atlanta last week, was a huge influence on Delta Moon, as he was for half a century on the entire Atlanta music community. Seeing the Aquarium Rescue Unit at the Little Five Points Pub was one of the main reasons Mark Johnson moved to Atlanta in the first place. He thought, “There’s something going on here.”

Franher Joseph, who played bass with the Colonel for the last year or more, talks of “Hamptonisms”, advice Hampton gave his musicians, such as, “Don’t take yourself too seriously. But take what you do very seriously.”

For Tom Gray, a fan since 1969 (Bruce could have told you the exact date and time), the biggest lesson came from a story Hampton told him about the time, as a teenager, he met Muddy Waters.

“Mr. Waters,” he said, “You’re my favorite singer.”

Muddy Waters didn’t respond.

“You’re also my favorite guitar player.”

Muddy Waters looked at him and said, “I’m not a singer. I’m not a guitar player. What I do is put the devil in the room.”

Bruce Hampton took that concept and made a life out of it.

Delta Moon on the Move

Delta Moon has been doing a lot of moving lately — ten shows in ten days in Germany, Austria and Croatia, then a day off to drive back to Germany, a bunch more dates, and another day off to drive to Italy. We play our fourth show here tonight before heading back to Germany, where we will get a night off because singing and dancing on Good Friday is against the law.

Italy has been so much fun I can’t tell you. We played two shows in Milan. Monday night the opening band — we’d met them at a festival a few years ago, including our good friends the Xeres brothers — all ended up on stage with us. The trumpet, trombone and baritone sax solos raised the pandemonium to a level that took me completely outside myself. I thought nothing could top that experience, but who could have predicted last night’s audience at the Theater Nidaba? They not only sang along with us, they started making up their own parts. By the end of the night, as we stretched out a jam on “Shake Your Hips”, we were swapping licks with a choir.

Of course, I could tell you about epic Alpine traffic jams, constant packing and lugging, and the never-ending struggle to stay one day ahead with clean clothes. In Vienna I lost my bolo tie with a glass eye set in a silver pyramid. We’ve traveled through a lot of impressive cities and beautiful countryside. But after a while it all blurs together, like an overheard conversation in a half-understood language.

What stands out in clear focus are the people — the old friends we are happy to meet again and the new ones we are making. And when you get right down to it, that’s what a musical tour is all about.

Top photo: Street art in Milan.
Bottom photo: A Croatian barbecue with our pal Tomislav Goluban. Thanks, Mario!

Greetings from Deutschland

Delta Moon has been on the road in Germany for a week now. I’m writing this in the backseat of a rented Mercedes van doing 125 kph down the autobahn. It’s a beautiful sunny day here. The trees are just starting to bud.

An old friend, Greg Baba, formerly of the Atlanta-based band King Johnson, is drumming with us on this tour, and he’s doing a fantastic job. Greg lives in Switzerland now, so he was a natural to call when Marlon Patton, who played drums on the Cabbagetown album, had other commitments during the six weeks we’re in Europe.

Most of the dates on this tour are clubs and indoor festivals, but yesterday afternoon we played a men’s prison. The guys seemed to enjoy it. After the show several came up to thank us before getting herded out. I was touched when one man shook my hand, looked me in the eye and said, “For a while, your music has freed my soul.”

The sound man told us that the real party is at the women’s prison in Frankfurt. He said the band plays outside, and the women all get up and dance on the grass. Over the last few years we have played several men’s prisons in Germany. The men like to clap hands and shout, but there’s never any dancing. We still have hopes for Frankfurt next year.

(Thanks to Kurt Heldmann for the photo.)

Refugee

In our travels last year through Spain, Germany, Italy and eastern Europe we saw a lot of migrants tramping along the roadside, begging and busking in city streets, or camping by fences with nowhere left to go. According to the United Nations, 65 million refugees are wandering the world today, displaced by war, overpopulation and climate change. That’s a lot of people — more than the combined populations of New York and California.

All of us in Delta Moon were affected by what we saw on that trip. When we returned to America Mark wanted to write a song called “Refugee” over a guitar lick he had come up with. The band came up with a chanted chorus and three verses, each in the voice of a particular person we had seen or heard about. (“Issme” is Arabic for “my name is…”) We decided that Franher and I would each speak a verse, and then our friend Kyshona Armstrong came in to deliver the female verse. She also volunteered some harmonies and powerful wailing at the end.

This is an unusual song for Delta Moon, but it’s one we all feel strongly about. When I posted it to YouTube last night the video got its first thumbs down before the tenth view. Voting has continued at roughly four positive for every negative, with a very high ratio of reactions. Everyone seems to feel strongly about it, one way or the other.

Please let us know what you think.

Pre-order the New Album

Delta Moon’s new album, CABBAGETOWN, features the band’s signature dual slide guitar sound, but with some new sonic twists. These songs explore fresh territory, inspired by people and scenes the band has experienced at home and in their travels. Five-time Grammy winner Susan Archie is doing the artwork. International distribution is already set up. But to get this music out of the studio and into the world we need your help.

Through PledgeMusic you can pre-order CABBAGETOWN and get the inside track on exclusive information, videos and merchandise not available anywhere else.

Ten percent of any money raised beyond our goal will go to the Music Maker Relief Foundation, which was founded to preserve the musical traditions of the South by directly supporting the musicians who make it, ensuring their voices will not be silenced by poverty or time.

To all our supporters, a big thank you, and please tell a friend.