I could hear the music from a couple of blocks away. That, alone, is not unusual in San Vicente or Bahia de Caraquez or in any community in Ecuador. Loud is the norm and it seems the louder, the better. It was, after all, early Friday evening and the weekend was about to begin.
What was unusual was that this wasn’t a typical Latin rhythm I was hearing. It was an American Rock and Roll thing complete with guitar riffs. It sounded like a live performance and not a recording.
I was caught up in one of the many detours that have now taken over San Vicente as a large road improvement project is underway. I had to navigate my way around blockades and through deep depressions to the small store where we normally go. On the way, I drove by the bakery where we often stop for fresh bread.
Today, the bakery was the source of the live music. As I was driving by, I noted a small crowd had formed, cars and moto-taxis stopped alongside the road and even one of Ecuador’s famous busses had stopped with passengers seen bobbing, weaving and seat dancing to the rock sounds coming from one lone, but very loud guitar player standing in front of a single microphone outside the bakery.
He was about 6 feet 5 inches tall and maybe 150 pounds; a really skinny gringo dude; perhaps in his early 50s. His well-worn performance gear was partially unpacked. Amplifiers and control boxes remained in a battered suitcase with cords running into the bakery. The quality of the sound was…well…let’s just say it wasn’t really important. Folks were clearly loving the show.
Sitting alongside the guitar dude was a basic drum kit; bass, snare, two tom-toms, high hat and one mutilated cymbal that looked as though it had been twisted and dented into several different shapes and then re-formed. The drum heads had been patched with duct tape and there were two sticks lying on top of the floor tom. There was no drummer. I listened and observed for a moment and then, on a whim, I took my place behind the drums and….joined the party. The guitar dude nodded and smiled as we took off together on a Tom Petty Piece.
I hadn’t sat behind a drum kit in quite a while and I certainly wasn’t ready to go into a studio and cut a track. But for sitting alongside a dirt road, outside a mom and pop bakery on the coast of Ecuador, I rocked it and the crowd loved it!
The guitar dude and I did 3 more songs and the crowd was really into it, dancing in the street and clapping! I spun and twirled my sticks a few times for showmanship and got a couple of cheers. These guys were easy and I was hamming it up!! Music is the one true international language. One needn’t understand the lyrics if the body feels the rhythms. It’s elemental.
I didn’t have to stop at the bakery. We really didn’t need any more bread and I was only a block away from the intended store. And then I remembered. We only have this moment, right now. There may not be another. So I used that moment to become a drive-by drummer. I did not want to say, “I should have done that.” Now I can say, “I did that and it was fun.”
After a few songs, I stood, collected a few pats on the back and handshakes and continued on my way with a wave to the unknown guitar dude.
Just another retired day on Ecuador’s coast. What did you do today?