my night with the original musica (nao) ligeira bad boy
it’s uncomfortably akin to kissing and telling, I know, but I can’t avoid reflecting on my encounter with this notorious owner of the peroxide dreads – he is at once a man and a myth in his own lifetime, having helped shape much of the musical underbelly of this town, maputo, over the past 3 decades.
chicco antonio is eminently and irresistibly quotable.
we met on the avenida samora machel, posing directly below the frozen pointed finger of the once-feared commandante (for a split moment I thought I heard him hiss “… and where have you been all this time, little one?”)
we paced over to café gil vicente.
walking beside the happy drinkers and shakers milling about outside, and I thought I detected a few furtively curious glances being thrown intermittently in our direction.
“maybe…”, I thought, “these people know something I do not?”
when we got to the door, chicco just pushed in (i suspect as casually as he could) past the beefy security enforceagent.
he actually made it through. unscathed.
but such things were not to be for I or the rest of chicco’s fawning entourage for we were hindered by the massively mighty boom-action hand of the same recently affronted bouncer which, jerking abruptly into service, succeeded in blocking our entrée into what now seemed a classy joint for select and delicately delectable personages – in other words no place for the anonymous riff raff.
I fumbled deliberately in my shirt pocket investigating the possibility of some meticais to help oil the arisen impasse, while all the while of course secretly trusting that any moment now chicco would suddenly realize we all were no longer right-behind-him.
a realization, I hoped, that would make him return for us (well, me anyway) immediately.
while we waited outside a woman, smiling, quizzed me, “so you’re with chicco antonio?”.
I turned towards her and muttered a gentle (and somewhat embarrassed) “..yes..”
“ah”, she said, “but he can’t get you in … I guess?”
I was about to answer her again saying … I don’t know what when instead another person appeared from inside the boa gil vicente whom I hadn’t yet met, but to whom the bouncer seemed willing to defer, and who, pointing at me and the rest, gave permission for us to enter.
we were saved.
inside, chicco was already deeply ensconced at the bar.
everybody around him seemed suspiciously ambivalent about paying him their respects. a palpable waft of tension clung to his corner of the bar counter.
when I finally reached the spot he’d colonised chicco hugged me as though for all to see, and (strangely) he introduced me to everyone there present saying, “this is my friend, williams langa, from … america, I think”.
now please understand that chicco knows my name, and knows well (better than me in some ways) where my family are from.
“so who? from what?”, I busy processing these thoughts when it began dawning on me that chicco had suddenly invented a name and new biography for me, on that very spot.
I could have protested an corrected then, I suppose.
and yet something made me continue smiling, shaking hands with the new acquaintances whistling about me, “prazer, prazer, si obrigado, muito prazer … ola”
then something about how he manoeuvred his peterson pipe from out his jacket somewhere (I know the make because later he would let me smoke it too – that was how I got to feel the unmistakable shape of its nib on the lips … but later, that part comes a little later in this story) something about how he exposed this little saxophone defiantly amid an apparently non-smoking crowd suggests to me that chicco’s role here, in this bar, on this street, in this town and across this country, is that of the challenger, anansi, the jester.
no one quivers an eyelid, but everyone knows he is about stoking. and we all know he stokes not for fun or cheap amusement:
he stokes the fires because he needs must keep them burning.
as we are looking, watching, conversing in a cocktail of incomplete portuguese spanglish , he darts off, “why the people put music on stage if it is not surprising?
“why pumping iron and making your body strong on top, if the feets is not strong?
among those who come to buy their drink at the bar, some customers lean over to greet the ‘big man’ – some he kisses, others he chastises with a smile and a nebulous puff of smoke, while others still he simply ignores.