Gitano - Santana
At Islington Arts and Entertainments we developed an Arts Resources section set up and managed by the redoubtable Trevor Kates. Here we had for hire every sort of equipment you might require to put on an arts event or a community festival from lighting and sound equipment including amplifiers, mixers, Technics deejay desks, speakers, profiles, follow spots, disco lighting to marquees, both traditional tents and inflatables, staging, and even bouncy castles. We also offered training in erecting and operating the equipment, although we sometimes turned out en masse to give technical support for some of the less able community groups. We hired the equipment out at two price levels: a cheap community rate and a more expensive rate for professional organisations. The Resources store and collection point was on Ashburton Grove, just off Hornsey Road, not far from Orton and Halliwells' old flat (see last post), at exactly what is now the centre spot of the pitch in the new Arsenal Emirates Stadium. They should have named it after Trevor.
We also had sole charge of an Islington Council green van, the legendary 606, with which we sometimes earned a little extra cash making pick-ups and deliveries of equipment. A regular trip I used to make was to the Rocket Theatre on Holloway Road with equipment for Rene Lee's salsa and Latin American rave night, beginning early evening with dance classes and then continuing with a mass rave that ran well into the small hours. I'd deliver the gear late afternoon and pick it up at around eight the next morning. While waiting for them to I used to chat with their janitor, an Aussie black guy called Joe. After the gig the auditorium used to be packed with piles of rubbish, beer cans, plastic pint cups, cigarette butts and and the rest, often, after rave nights, filling up to a dozen big bin bags. I became curious about Joe - I couldn't work out whether he was a very old guy who had remained extremely lithe and fit, or a youngster completely wasted from a life of alcohol and excess. On one particularly long wait he told me his story. He was a fifty year old aboriginal who had been sent by his tribe to London to get the bones of his ancestors which were in the British Museum. He spent most of the money supplied by his tribe flying to the UK, and had had a meeting with a Museum official who had said that the return of the bones was probably not possible, as they were the property of the Museum, but he would make enquiries and get back to him. Not in any way familiar with the complicated administration of British institutions and the delay tactics practised as a matter of course, if not now, back in 1993, Joe had been awaiting a follow-up meeting for around fourteen months. He'd found the job at the Rocket and a bedsit on the Holloway Road to pay his way while in London.
He was philosophical. He realised that someone working for a Museum must be very busy, indeed more often than not, the administrator was too busy to come to the phone when Joe rang. When he did get to speak to him, he was told that there had been some progress and they'd get back to him in a week or so. Joe took him at his word and carried on waiting. I was appalled, told Joe that he needed to send a letter to the Director of the Museum stating what had happened and demanding a meeting with him immediately. Joe was surprised at my lack of faith in the authorities, and worried that any letter he wrote wouldn't be good enough. I wrote it for him, and then put him in touch with a local lawyer who specialised in community cases and who I knew might be interested in helping out. I'm pleased to say "significant progress" was made, and six months later some of the bones were repatriated, enough for Joe to return home. What lingers in my mind most, though, was Joe's eternal optimism, despite his living on a threadbare shoestring, alone, in what must have been very difficult conditions. When I told him that the man from the Museum, was probably just fobbing him off, and had no intention of helping him, Joe replied that he would soon see the error of his ways and start to help. After all, he said, everyone is good at heart and has to be given time. He then paused and looked at me, pointedly: "anyway, I always knew that something would turn up."
"Gitano" is from Santana's 1976 album "Amigos" and finds the band at their best and at their most "Latin". A gitano is a wandering gypsy, a word used very consciously to denote someone from the Romany tradition whose roots go back through Spain and Egypt, then across the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf, all the way to Northern India. The song refers to a American strain, that has ended up in Puerto Rico!
I asked Joe why they wanted the bones of their ancestors back so badly. He spread his hands and glanced up in surprise as though the answer was obvious. "While our ancestors aren't buried in our land, my people can't sleep."