Austin360 will be posting dispatches from Austin singer-songwriter Gina Chavez and her band as they tour through Jordan. The full band – which includes Michael Romero, Brad Johnston, Jerry Ronquillo, Kenneth Null, and Mike Meadows – will give us insights into what it’s like for an Austin band to perform, lead workshops and collaborate with local artists in Jordan.
The fourth installment of the Gina Chavez Middle East Tour Diary was contributed by percussionist Jerry Ronquillo. Catch up with all the tour diary entries on Cultura en Austin and Austin Music Source.
BY JERRY RONQUILLO
My Jordan experience has been one of music, food and love.
Our first day of programming started with a mind-blowing crash course in Arabic makams (similar to music scales/modes), with Tareq Al Jundi, Jordanian master of the oud – a 10-stringed guitar-like instrument without frets. With sheet music and rhythm exercises in hand, we got schooled on quarter-tones and odd time signatures, and put our new knowledge into practice later in the week by covering two Jordanian songs that Tareq taught us.
Having landed the night before, our energy was waning after our lesson. We needed food! Our main U.S. Embassy staff contact (i.e. our Jordan tour manager for the week), T’Errance brought us our first taste of Jordanian falafel and hummus to fuel us for our first workshop– Zahki! (delicious)
MORE TOUR DIARY ENTRIES: Gina Chavez Middle East Tour Diary
After soundcheck and a media round table with local newspapers, we had an intimate storytellers concert and Q&A with college students from all over Jordan, as well as Iraq, Palestine, Syria and even America. They were really curious about how we came together as a band, how we write songs, how we foster our creativity, and each of our instruments – I gave them the tour of all my percussion toys (traveling congas, shakers, shekere, tambourine, cowbell, etc).
Jerry Ronquillo lets kids at the Al Hussein Center try their hand at agogo, a percussion instrument made of two metal cones used in African and Latin music. Contributed by Kenneth Null
We didn’t receive to many do’s and don’ts upon entering Jordan. It’s one of the only countries in the Middle East that coexists with a minority Christian population, and where you can see a young woman in hijab (the veil that covers head and chest and can also refer to a modest frock or body covering) walking next to her friend in jeans, a T-shirt and no veil. That said, there are still many people who are conservative, and so we were asked to not put our arms around people in photos or reach out to shake hands unless they offer their hand first.
So it surprised me when an Iraqi student approached me after the concert and took my hand. His name was Bahkir. He told me how much he enjoyed the set, and thought it was interesting. Then, still holding my hand as if we were long lost friends, he told me about his experience growing up in Fallujah. He asked if I knew about Fallujah, and I said yes. He reminded me that ISIS forbids music because it’s not from God. But he said he knew that couldn’t be true.
Bahkir recently started playing the oud and whenever his 3-year-old niece starts to cry, he plays for her and her tears stop. With my hand in both of his, his chin quivering to hold back tears, Bahkir asked me, “How can something that sounds so beautiful that it can comfort a child not be from God?”
In that moment, I realized how much I take for granted the beauty of music and my freedom to play it. It was a humbling reminder of why we do this.
Bahkir squeezed my hand one last time and said, “I know you’re very busy, but please if you have any time, I hope you can come to my house and I will cook you homemade Iraqi food.”