Hanging out with the Sydney jazz musicians started to take up a big part of my life. They were the up-coming musicians of that time (many of whom have now made names for themselves both nationally and internationally) and I was jamming with them and learning a lot.
Needless to say, I lost interest in the University course and quit, left Wollongong and moved back to Sydney to “learn on the job”. However, apart from some great music education, I also got some big life lessons and, when I look back on it, this was quite a difficult period of my life.
I started to learn some piano again, this time from a Jazz perspective, and began creating new projects, doing gigs and earning money as a temp secretary.
I also did a three-month stint in Japan, singing in a hotel every night. I had to sing songs in Japanese, which I learned phonetically and I had to wear crazy dresses with long gloves and silver shoes. The audience was full of very drunk businessmen who would point at my big feet (because they were so big for a girl) and laugh while I was on stage. But it was all in good humour and the other girls on the gig were great company.
I had to sing “I Still Call Australia Home” in this getup!
When I returned to Australia I began a love affaire with Brazilian music, especially the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto. I learned the words to their songs phonetically too and created a project called “Estaté” (named after a song on the Shirley Horn album Here’s To Life) which I love. This was the album Kerrie Biddell had introduced me to and, to this day, I still find it very beautiful and inspiring.
Here is one of the tracks from the demo of that project:
Girl from Ipanema, Monique Lysiak on Piano (recorded 1994)
After listening to my Brazilian music and with nothing much else to do one day, I decided to go for a walk to the beach. What I saw when I got there changed my life forever.
There were many people in a circle clapping their hands and singing beautiful melodies in Portuguese. They were almost chanting and in the middle of the circle were two people doing a kind of gymnastic dance. I stayed there all afternoon watching this event and afterward approached the people who seemed to be running it. I found out that this was called “Capoeria”, a Brazilian martial art with an amazing history. The next thing I knew, I was learning Capoeira and I was crazy about it and besides learning and loving the music, I was discovering my physical strength and meeting new people. The whole experience gave me a lot of confidence and it wasn’t long after that I decided I wanted to live in Brazil.
This was the Sunday “Roda” at Bondi Beach, you can even feel the energy from this photo.
I was feeling as though Australia wasn’t giving me the experiences I yearned for. It was hard to keep musical projects going primarily because I found the musicians I was working with quite difficult. I hate to say it but there was a very real attitude of me being just a “chic singer”, so I wasn’t listened to or taken very seriously even though I was finding the work, organising the repertoire, liaising with clients and making sure everyone was being looked after. I found this situation so difficult at times that it really just made me want to give up music.
So with those feelings and with my new super-enthusiasm for Capoeira, I decided to live in Brazil where music seemed to be a big part of everyone’s life and I wouldn’t have to do music professionally for it to be a part of my life and I could just live in a “happy-go-lucky” culture. (Yes, I was naive.)
I booked my ticket and, just in case I ran out of money, purchased an “around-the-world” ticket as I could find work in England if I needed to. However, I really had no desire to go there.
I packed up my entire life into one backpack and left by myself to go to a country where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t know anyone. It was, however, arranged that I was going to stay with the family of my Capoeira master. They lived Salvador, Bahia, the birthplace of Capoeira and they lived in the favelas.
I could write a book on the feelings of landing in Brazil the way I did, but there isn’t space here. Enough to say that the experiences I had there were the best and worst. Everything was bigger than I had ever experienced before and all new and alien to me.
I was mute for about a month, busily looking words up in my dictionary and translating the songs I loved from Capoeira as well as articles in magazines about the movement of Bossa Nova. Then, I began to speak the beautiful language of the North East of Brazil and that was an amazing achievement for me. Of course, I wasn’t fluent but I could hold a conversation and make myself understood.
Among the many discoveries I made for myself there were these:
- Poverty and ignorance was ugly in many ways (before I lived in Brazil, I had romanticised other cultures, especially those of developing nations);
- The people who took me into their homes and had very little for themselves were among the most generous people I had ever met. (Why did those who had least to give, give the most and those who had much to give, hold on to it?)
- Most importantly I discovered that was very fortunate to have what I had – belonging to a group of women who were the freest women in the world, having an education and the ability to earn a living among many other things. Therefore, I should not squander the gifts that life had bestowed upon me and I should use them to the best of my ability.
So Brazil, didn’t end up being the paradise for me that I dreamed it would be. The ‘Round World ticket came in handy after all and I was ready to leave.
Off to London, England. I had a dancing friend from the Japan days who was already there and I arranged to meet her which was a comforting thought.
When I landed at Heathrow, I got into a black cab. I heard my language for the first time in four months and the cockney cabbie made me laugh (for what seemed the first time in four months too!). I realised that I had suffered severe culture shock in Brazil and finally I could breathe.
It was cold and grey that morning and I was so happy to be there!
To be continued….