It was only fair that the great Jazz guitarist John McLaughlin, who for years played with Indian maestros Zakir Hussain and Vikku Vinayakram in Mahavishnu Orchestra and the Shakti, performed the song “Love and Understanding” in the middle of his two-hour show in Beijing on a warm Saturday evening.
Understanding is possibly what could have got McLaughlin to dictatorial China after performing across the world since the 1960s.
After all, he was playing his first concert on the Mainland – after years of supporting the Tibetan spiritual guru, Dalai Lama, pretty much openly; and, in fact, after having composed a 12-minute song called “Dear Dalai Lama” for his 2006-album, Industrial Zen.
As it turned out, and as McLaughlin repeated during his chat with HT, music transcends.
It did. At the end of the two-hour show in a tucked-away venue in east Beijing, the 73-year-old and the band the 4th Dimension were called in for an encore.
The mostly young and Chinese audience loved it, especially, Indian musician Ranjit Barot’s drums and chants from classical Indian music.
“It was problematic. Zakir (Hussain) and I had played for the Dalai Lama,” McLaughlin said, talking about his philosophical links with India, the pitfalls of coming to China, the warmth of his Chinese hosts, the Great Miles Davis and the erosion – or the evolution – of his political thoughts.
He leaned across the white plastic table, his shiny, wavy hair combed:
“But then, I thought. Why should I be a hypocrite?”
“The US does the same thing in Guantanamo Bay,” McLaughlin said. Not quite saying it in words that China does the same thing in Tibet.
Yes, China asked for a list of songs he wanted to play in Beijing and Shanghai.
“Yes…sent a list of the repertoire of what we will play….no problem,” he said, adding that the Dalai Lama song wasn’t on the list.
“Democratic Capitalism” was a phrase McLaughlin seemed to scorn, adding, apparently as a mark of protest that his tour will end at Ramallah in Palestine.
On Friday night, McLaughlin and his band visited a Beijing jazz hub, the East Shore Jazz Café. “I had to sign autographs for about 40 minutes,” he said.
Well, John-ji, as his promoting team calls him, is likely to sign more autographs in Chennai and Mumbai where he is headed next week.
“Organic? I call my links to India emotional,” McLaughlin said. Add love and understanding to that, his fans will say.