birds from East Africa

August 15 2011

I wish I read more. I just don’t seem to read enough (although ironically, almost everytime I do read something I’m inspired to write a piece of music about it – funny that). One of the few times I do tend to read is when I’m away travelling – I’ve recently been in Adelaide working with the lovely Australian String Quartet and 5 other ‘young’ composers, and whilst waiting around at airports read cover-to-cover (another thing which I ashamed to admit that I infrequently achieve) a charming book by Canberra-based author Nicholas Drayson A Guide to the Birds of East Africa.

P.G. Wodehouse once said something along the lines that his writing was a ‘light musical comedy’ compared to other more ‘serious’ endeavors, with a flippancy that is moving and at times mysteriously profound. Birds of East Africa has that Wodehouse charm about it. It tells the story of two competing Indian Kenyans – Mr. Malik and Harry Khan, competing for the right to ask out Scottish bird enthusiast Rose Mbikwa out to the Annual Hunt Club Ball through a competition proposed by the esteemed men of the Asidi Club: who can identify the most species of birds first hand in the space of the week.

Although there may be no Jeeves, post-colonial Kenya is evocative of Wodehouse’ colonial England with a gentleman’s club and all (although I doubt Bertie ever got attacked by Somali militia). The premise sets up an incredibly unbelievable series of incidents midst the race to count as many birds as possible. It is hilarious, charming, sweet, and thrilling, and I (obviously) found it hard to stop reading.

It sometimes amazes me how many talented artists we have in a place as small as Canberra – for someone who thinks that a light musical comedy is just as artistically valid as a Wagnerian opera, I found Drayson’s Birds of East Africa tremendously inspiring… so to stay true to form i have to wait for a pair of binoculars to write my next work… maybe for guitar duo… the Birds of North Canberra anyone? Someone please stop me…

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