TOXIC QUIXOTIC Firewater

Tod A. shares the power
and poison of his trip to India
and Pakistan.

BY
RANDY HARWARD

 

Before
making Firewater’s sixth album The Golden
Hour
(Bloodshot), Tod A., traveled from Delhi
to Istanbul, loosely tracing the original
migration route of the Roma (gypsies) from India
to Europe. “My country had recently invaded
Afghanistan and Iraq,” Tod explains. “I wanted to meet some of the angry people
I saw on the news; I fancied myself as some sort of everyman ambassador, a
spokesman for the 50% that didn’t vote for The Imbecile.” The trip was also
research for a planned travel novel, but Tod was on the lookout for
opportunities to record local musicians on his laptop. But as Tod’s previous
journeys have taught him, “Planning is one thing.”

 

 

A Special Dish “Just For
Me”

In
Jaipur, India, a local family offered Tod a special dish prepared “just for
me.” After a couple of mouthfuls, he tasted more than curry and “the world
began tilting precariously on its axis.” He stumbled from the house. “Fear was
the only thing that kept me from passing out in the mud. Somehow, I was able to
find my way through a twisting maze of tiny alleyways to my hotel, and spent
the next few days sleeping off the effects.”

 

They Don’t Take Visa…

Due
to strained relations between Pakistan and neighboring India, visa regulations were
changed and Tod was forced to return to Delhi, where he was stricken with “some
brutal intestinal affliction” and spent a week “prostrate on my hotel bed,
watching the comically inexpert Indian coverage of the World Cup between
ceaseless crawls to the toilet.”

 

Pick-Up Band

The
musicians Tod encountered were local farmers who earned extra cash playing weddings
and parties. They recorded in hotel rooms and the musicians’ homes. “I never
got the feeling that they could see a connection between their music and the pop
on their radios. It was as if the two existed in completely different worlds:
the music of their life and that of the world outside.”

 

Bhangra and Sufi: The
New Crunk?

Tod
learned two percussion styles, one of which factors into The Golden Hour. Bhangra is “the party music of the Punjab” and
supposedly takes its name from bhang, a cold drink made with milk, sugar,
almonds, spices—and cannabis. “It was clear that the younger musicians favored
bhangra, while the older ones would roll their eyes at all the racket.” Two 14-year-old
dhol (bhangra drum) players are featured on The
Golden Hour
, and the overwhelming popularity of bhangra inspired the track “Bhangra
Bros.”

 

Sufi
is played to achieve “an ecstatic spiritual state though devotional song” and
differs regionally. In a small village on the outskirts of Lahore, Tod witnessed
a sufi festival in the graveyard of a local Moslem saint. “It was an all-night,
bhang-fueled, battle of the bands.”

 

Rank Outsider

A
laptop secreted inside Tod’s backpack was worth more than most of the musicians
could ever hope to save, but as the drummers played and Tod twiddled the knobs,
he “experienced a connection only felt between fellow outcasts.” He nonetheless
never really felt like he belonged. “Perhaps I was optimistic in thinking a three-month
journey could bring me any closer to understanding a culture so different from my
own. Apart from the friendships forged between musicians, I felt almost as much
a tourist on the day I left Pakistan as the day I entered.”

 

End of the Road

Ultimately
Tod only made it halfway to Istanbul, losing ten days in Peshawar to “a second
gut-wrenching illness.” Plus the taxi drivers who normally ferried travelers
between Peshawar and Kabul were refusing passengers because tourists were being
kidnapped along the route. “I decided to end my trip at the Khyber Pass on the
Afghan border.” It wasn’t the worst of endings.

 

The Golden Hour is a record of this journey full of frustrating failures and unexpected
successes,” he says. “The record we made, like the performances I was lucky
enough to capture, turned out far better than I had envisioned. Musically I
never got what I expected; I always got something much more.” 

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