Derek Sivers

from the book “”:

two three four ONE, two three four ONE

2008-05-08

One of my favorite musicians is Fela Kuti from Nigeria.

I used to play guitar in an Afropop band that did a lot of Fela Kuti songs. The bandleader explained that what we know as the “one” — the downbeat, the start of a phrase — is considered the end of a phrase in West African music. Instead of “ONE two three four, ONE two three four,” it’s “two three four ONE, two three four ONE.” Instead of “How you get to town?” it’s “You get to town, how?”

Most musicians first record songs in the studio, then go perform them in concert. Fela Kuti did the opposite. He performed only new unrecorded songs in concert. Then once he recorded them in the studio, he’d never perform them again. I couldn’t help but notice the similarity. It’s as if to him, the recording was the end of the life of a song, instead of the beginning. It makes just as much sense if you think about it that way.

Which of course makes me wonder about all the other beginnings and endings and things we just take for granted as fact, but make just as much sense as their opposites.