- Snatam Kaur
The Power of Choice
Updated: Oct 2, 2020
It was April 15, 2016 and we were midway through our Latin America tour. My ears were slightly ringing from the flight as I handed my passport over to the customs agent in the airport in Santiago Chile. The customs agent next to her nudged her shoulder and said in Spanish, "she is a singer!" She looked at the photo of me in my passport, and with a bit of disbelief, gave an inquiring look to her friend. He then proceeded to pull up my picture on his phone, which he excitedly handed over to her. This seemed to satisfy my customs officer who smiled approvingly, and without further delay stamped my passport.
At the final exit where our bags were inspected, another officer recognized me, and asked if she could have her picture taken with me. I began to realize that with our largest concert to date, 3200 people, this was not going to be an ordinary visit to Chile. Indeed it was not.
On the morning of the concert, I finished my vocal exercises and turned on the faucet to wash my face. There was no water. Not too bothered, as I had already taken a shower, I finished packing up my concert bag and left the hotel room along with my last bit of quiet for the day.
With the rain pouring down, we ventured out of the hotel lobby and loaded ourselves and our instruments into two cars parked on the busy city street. With our little caravan all set to go, we headed out and wove in and out of the traffic on the busy streets as the relentless rain created rivers in the gutters. After a short drive we arrived at the concert hall. I will always remember the feeling of walking through the front doors of the venue and looking up to see all of the empty seats soon to be filled. It was a moment of total expansion. I realized that something much bigger than myself and all of my expectations put together was going to happen tonight.
Jorge, our wonderful Chilean sound man who traveled with us, came out from the sound booth to the backstage to say hello. He is like a big teddy bear with a nice round belly and warm smile. I gave him a big hug and practiced the little bit of Spanish that I had learned before he headed back to his sound booth. As I unpacked my microphone, I heard some shouts. Within those few precious minutes of Jorge's visit backstage, someone had snuck into the theatre and stolen his computer from the sound booth. We all rushed over to find his smile gone - for the first time. Within minutes, the producer offered to cover the cost of the computer and we set up a collection at the concert. In addition, Jorge's good friend agreed to come for the night and bring his computer so that we could continue on.
Although it seemed like the computer issue was resolved to some degree, a kind of shadow lurked in the air. Our road manager, Jai Hari Singh, joked "Snatam is burning off my karma today." It did not seem to be just his karma but something much greater. Minutes later, the venue manager came to talk to us about a very large issue in the theatre - there was no water. Along with most of the city of Santiago, the water at the venue had been shut off due to floods. The unusual amount of rain had muddied the city’s water supply. Until the problem was remedied, the water had been turned off. The theatre owner agreed to continue on with the concert and decided to arrange for porta-potties to be placed in the theatre courtyard.
We completed soundcheck and were served an amazing dinner. Things seemed to be smoothing themselves out. But as I was getting dressed just before the concert a thought occurred to me, and perhaps given the events to follow, it was a premonition. "Even famous people still have to be good."
The opening band played beautiful chants, which was a wonderful way to get into my heart after the day's events. Then it was our turn. My band and I got on the stage and - oh, the size of the crowd was overwhelming. They were all clapping and at least a hundred flashes went off as people took pictures with their phones! The site of it made me tear up. To feel that kind of love was and always has been completely overwhelming to me. Like a woman recently said to me who just discovered my music career, "I thought you were a house wife who liked to make butter!" I wholeheartedly agreed, "Yes, I do like to do those kinds of things. I am that housewife!" And so it was I suppose in that moment on stage, with all of those phones flashing as people took pictures of us, that my two worlds collided, each not exactly knowing what to do with the other.
I found my way to sitting down, took a deep breath, and said, "Buenos Noches!" into the microphone. But there was no sound! For a moment, I felt relief - maybe people missed the fact that I said "Buenos, instead of Buenas." But then I tapped my harmonium microphone and it wasn’t working either. Glancing over at the other musicians, it became clear that none of us had any working sound at all.
I knew that our sound team was working on it, and although I felt nervous, the thought "even famous people still have to be good" came back into my head. So with the one wireless microphone that was working I began chanting a very simple Mantra. It was the only good thing I could think of doing.
The audience joined in, and for those fifteen minutes or so, we all went into a soul space that I will never forget. Just pure, simple voices, chanting. Incredible bliss.
In the meantime, the sound team figured out what had happened. A new sound guy who had just started his shift had very quickly and efficiently unplugged all of the microphones, cables, and monitors for our band after the opening band had played, thinking he was unplugging their equipment.
So yes, eventually, we started the concert off with our full sound. Yes, we chanted and the audience chanted with love and purity. In the end, we had many rich moments of silence, prayer, and joy. And at the end of the night, we had collected plenty of money to get Jorge a new computer.
As the theatre crew prepared the hall for the next group coming in, a heavy metal band and their audience, I realized that at any given moment life shifts and changes, and we will for sure be tested. To be a good person is a decision, one that happens in a split second. If I were a thief I would have to make a decision in a split second to steal someone's computer. As a singer with a sound system that does not work - either I freak out or not. At the end of the day, it is all a choice. My choices had been made and our adventurous day was now at a close. I was escorted out into a sea of black eyeliner, black pants, black hair, nose rings and cigarette smoke from heavy metal fans waiting to get in for the next concert - none of them really knowing or caring who I was.