Friday, March 19, 2004

The Magical Guitars of Los Indios Tabajaras

The Magical Guitars of Los Indios Tabajaras

I received the most unexpected e-mail the other day from a stranger--a Frenchman--who wrote to thank me for introducing him to a guitar group called the Los Indios Tabajaras. He expressed surprise that I knew about them.

The Los Indios Tabajaras is an instrumental group that comprises of two Indians--who appear in performances in their trademark native Indian costumes--from the tribe of Tabajaras in Brazil. They gained some measure of fame in the sixties for their simple but skillful guitar tunes.

The tone of the e-mail and its subject line, which mentions the movie, Days of Being Wild, made me rule out the mail as spam or a missent mail. I am indeed acquainted with the Los Indios Tabajaras and Days of Being Wild happens to be one of my favourite movies. My first thought was that the sender must have read about it from my blog. But for the life of me, I don't recall mentioning the Los Indios Tabajaras anywhere!

I ran it through my search engine, and true--there were no references to the group. I have mentioned Days of Being Wild and Wong Kar Wai (the director of the movie) a couple of times before in my blog but never the Los Indios Tabajaras.

I replied him and asked him how he got my contact; he sent me a link to a Wong Kar Wai website, where I had made a very casual comment in a forum (two years ago!) answering another reader's question about the soundtrack for Wong Kar Wai's much-acclaimed movie, Days of Being Wild.

Ever since I watched Days of Being Wild ten years ago, I've been haunted by this movie. It disturbed me so much then that I remember watching it three times in a row at the old PJ Majestic Cinema, in three consecutive days. One of the soundtrack tunes--plain guitar strains set against a slow acoustic rhythm--sounded strangely familiar to me when I first heard it. It felt like an echo from my childhood, but I couldn't recall where I've heard it before.

Those were the days before the Internet; so after scouring the record stores for sometime, I finally figured out which group was responsible for the music--The Los Indios Tabajaras. One can still find digitally remastered CDs of their vinyl records in the stores today. When I saw the cover of their album, bells immediate rang in my mind--I had indeed seen and heard their album before as a small kid. My neighbour--a doctor--had it in his vinyl collection.

The song that haunted me (and the Frenchman) was Always in My Heart, a languid instrumental piece that occured probably four times in the movie. The first time it appeared, during the title sequence--a slow panning shot of green tropical jungles from a passing train--was like magic. It set the tone and mood of the movie, one that explores Wong Kar Wai's favourite themes: loss, identity, memory and time.

The movie, starring the late Leslie Cheung (who won a best actor award for his role), remains my favourite among all of Wong Kar Wai's movies. Wong, who was voted best director at the Cannes film festival a couple of years back for his movie about gay love, Happy Together, has wowed audiences worldwide with his arty and meditative (some say dull) movies. All his movies are done together with cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who possess a unique eye for angle and lighting and makes every frame--even the most mundane scenes--look special, like something out of a timeless painting.

Judging from the many websites out there on the Internet, looks like Wong Kar Wai has touched people from many different nationalities with his movies. His movies have the power to seep deep into one's emotional psyche; and after watching them, they forever lodge in one's soul.

It is strange how powerful a simple guitar melody, fused with the right images could be. That e-mail from the Frenchman brought back disquieting memories to me: of those long hot afternoons I'd guiltily spent at the PJ Majestic cinema, utterly transfixed and lost in another world.

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