Mar 3, 2011

The Persian Wedding

This was in about 1983, when I played with a Brazilian band called Corpo Santo. We were booked to play for a Persian wedding in Sausalito, across the bay from San Francisco. The reception was scheduled for 3:00, at a church in the hills above downtown Sausalito, on Labor Day. The band members lived in either San Francisco or Palo Alto, so we decided to pool rides in a car and a van.

John (our flutist/percussionist) and I drove to SF, followed by Rich (keyboard), in his van. We stopped in SF to pick up Bira (leader/singer/guitarist), and got some bad news: Our drummer had been stopped by the police on the freeway the night before, and was cited for smoking pot. Rather than go to court, he had taken the first flight back to Brazil. Bira had called Rudy, a fine Latin percussionist but a beginner on traps. The plan was that Rudy would borrow a drum set and meet us on a corner on 19th Avenue, on our way to the Golden Gate Bridge, and we'd all ride together to Sausalito.

Rudy met us on the corner with a shoddy borrowed drum set. However, we had neglected to consider the Labor Day traffic. We were going down 19th at about 5 mph, falling further and further behind schedule. By 3:00 - downbeat time - we could see the bridge ahead of us. By 5:00, we had crossed the bridge. By 5:30, we were in downtown Sausalito. John jumped out of the car and bought a map (this was 1983 - no cell phones, no Google maps) while we sat in stalled traffic. Finally we got out of the traffic jam, drove up the hill, and parked to consult the map, to find the church.

Rich parked just down the hill from me, got out of his van, and walked towards my car. In my rear view mirror I saw the van rolling slowly backwards, down the hill. Rich ran back, jumped in, and stopped the van after it had rolled about ten feet. We went back to the map, found the church, and finally arrived at 6:00, about three hours late.

The party was going strong, people dancing to Persian rock and roll playing on a boom box, everybody drinking. No one noticed that we were three hours late. We set up our equipment, and Bira counted off the first tune. Rudy hit the first beat on his ride cymbal, which fell onto the rest of his drums, knocking them all over. We kept playing, while he set them up again.

We had been given some special Persian wedding music to learn, a piece called Mobarak Bad.  This apparently translates as "Happy Wedding," or "Congratulations" (I think it's a sort of Persian equivalent of "Celebrate"). Our Brazilian/American band gave it a good effort - Bira and Rudy set up a 6/8 Afro beat, and I played the melody on soprano sax. The dancers liked it, but seemed confused when I tried improvising on the tune, so I just played the melody over and over, while the band picked up the tempo. The dancers liked that.

It turned out to be a pretty good gig. Rudy made friends with a Persian-American kid who brought us plenty of champagne, and told Rudy the special dirty lyrics that the kids sing to Mobarak Bad. We got paid, and no one said a word about us showing up three hours late. Years afterwards, a Persian musician told me that it is normal in Iran for musicians to show up late ("It means it's going to be a good party"). He said that they were maybe as bad as Brazilians that way.

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