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A very long road trip: Didgeridoo player Jasper Werner in Turkey
1.       tunci
7149 posts
 01 May 2011 Sun 09:59 am

A very long road trip: Didgeridoo player Jasper Werner in Turkey

01 May 2011, Sunday / AYHAN HÜLAGÜ, İSTANBUL

 

Dutch Jasper Werner has been traveling the world playing music on the streets for the past 10 years. So where is he headed to next? South Africa

 

The voice of a small child rings out on İstiklal Street, “Mommy, please make him play again. Please?” The mother, unable to stand her daughter´s pleading, asks the musician in an embarrassed voice, “Could you please play it again?”

 

So the street musician, his leaning back against the cold wall of a bank building, once more takes up his instrument. Is this a long wind instrument or what? It looks something like a ney, a reed flute, pumped up on steroids. Or perhaps it is a bit like a primitive saxophone. Some passersby walk past quickly, not paying much attention, but others take a closer look, their eyebrows raised in curiosity. The sound coming out of this instrument is quite unique. It is as though the last bees in a beehive are fighting for their lives and the musician has somehow closed off the hole through which they would otherwise escape. And so the bees struggle and struggle...

There is by now a semicircle of people gathered around the musician, who now starts keeping rhythm with something in his hand, making the sound even more colorful. We take a seat next to this musician with long hair and a beard, and after he finishes playing we ask him about the strange instrument he is playing. He talks to us while he gathers up the money left for him by passersby. As it turns out, the story of this musician is perhaps even more interesting than the wind instrument he is playing -- the didgeridoo.

Jasper Werner was born in the Netherlands but grew up in France, where his father worked. His tells us that his relationships with his teachers were never good as he was always the naughty one in the class. He would skip classes, wouldn´t do his homework and was always somehow on the fringes of his school community. As soon as he finished high school he announced to his family, “I am going to Australia.” Without waiting for a reaction, Werner said he grabbed his backpack and hit the road. When he got to Australia he bought a small car with some money he had been saving and started touring every corner of the vast country.

One day, somewhere out in remote Australia, his car blew a tire. There was no one around, and as he wandered through nearby bushland looking for help, he encountered some local Aboriginal people. He tells us he was a little scared at first when he came across this group of half-dressed people who were speaking in a foreign language he´d never heard before. He relaxed when he realized they wanted to help him and he accepted an offer to stay with them.

In staying a while with this indigenous Australian community he had the opportunity to learn to play one of their very sacred instruments. Jasper was approached by an Aboriginal elder who blessed him and granted him the legacy of learning to play the didgeridoo. Just as Werner was getting the hang of playing this instrument though, the community elder passed away and Werner was not quite sure what to do.

Traveling the world with money from street music

Over time Werner learned to really love playing the didgeridoo. He would take his didgeridoo as he continued to travel through Australia and started to make money with it while busking on the streets. He later turned music into a career choice. Werner, who technically became a street musician in Australia, one day met a Frenchman who invited him to play the didgeridoo in France. What´s more, the man offered to sponsor him on this journey as a street musician -- which was fortuitous as Werner did not have enough money to get back to France on his own.

In France Jasper gave a small concert with the didgeridoo, which was received with lots of interest. He then met up with a British man and later headed to England for the same reasons he had ended up in France -- to play the didgeridoo. But this time around, he had some money, although he didn´t have anywhere to stay. For a whole year Werner lived in a studio belonging to the British man that he had met in France. In 2004 he went on to join an American jazz collective in recording an album. After this he set off in a number of different directions, using the money he made busking on the streets.

His travels took him as far and wide as New Zealand, Thailand, India, Switzerland and Germany. In fact, he has toured nearly all of Europe. All the while, he has never accepted any money from his family, although he does stop in to visit them from time to time.

Werner is currently in Turkey, which is the 25th country on his travels funded by his street performances.

Played the ney for one week

Werner said he usually does some research about the countries he decides to travel to and sometimes he changes his mind about his itinerary at the very last moment -- in some cases, just when he is about to buy a ticket. He spends a lot of time on the Internet and has cyber-friends all over the world. He stays either with friends or in cheap hotels in the countries he visits. While in Turkey, he is living with some graduate students from a university in İstanbul. He leaves home in the mornings and stays on the streets until evening.

Aside from the didgeridoo from Australia, Werner plays a Vietnamese instrument made from recycled war weapons, as well as an instrument that resembles some sort of hairclip. Says Werner, “Before the [financial] crisis I would make 50 euros or so in an hour, but now it´s more like 25 euros. I play for two hours and it´s enough. I travel in order to understand that I know nothing. I have 20 didgeridoos. In one country I visited, someone accidentally stepped on my didgeridoo and broke it. Which is why I always bring an extra with me on my travels, but leave the rest in France. It is very difficult to carry them around.”

Asked if he has ever heard of the ney, Werner says he had. “Actually I learned how to play one over the course of a week,” he says.

What exactly is a didgeridoo?

The didgeridoo is made from the wood of the eucalyptus tree, which is hollowed out. It is important that the wood does not harbor any woodworm or termites. Of the 250 different kinds of eucalyptus in Australia only 15 can be used to carve this instrument. Each type of wood produces a different sound.

For the indigenous Australians, there are three very important aspects to life: dancing, singing and playing the didgeridoo. It is considered to be one of the world´s oldest instruments.

There are two kinds of didgeridoo: Either a one piece didgeridoo, or a type that can be taken apart into segments. The sizes also change. Some are one meter long, while others are one-and-a-half meters long.

Playing the didgeridoo is difficult as you need to be able to breathe like a horse; that is, breathe in from your nose and at the same time blow out from your mouth. Otherwise you won´t get a good sound.

Perhaps the easiest aspect is that one doesn´t need to have any knowledge of musical notes to be able to play a didgeridoo. For those interested, unfortunately there is no way to buy a didgeridoo in Turkey and almost no one knows anything about them here.

The value of the didgeridoo that Werner plays is 1,500 euros.

 

 

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