“Chancellor, Principal, Chairman and Members of Court and Senate, Distinguished Guests, members of Staff of Glasgow Caledonian University, Graduands, Ladies and Gentlemen, Mum, Dad, Lorna, Anne and Ian.
It is an honour and privilege to be here with you on this very special day and for all of us to receive these prestigious awards from Caledonian University.
My work in music has taken me from a housing scheme in Edinburgh to many distant countries across the world; some friendly, others hostile…. My experiences, in life, touring, have taught me that people across the globe have many common goals: food, work, family, health, the environment and sometimes even music, despite some people saying it is “a satanic voice that deeply penetrates the human heart, stimulating desires and wreaking havoc on your body and soul.”
In 2003 while I was touring Yemen with French pianist Loic Dequidt and some Yemeni musicians, we were delayed on the runway, in an Aeroplane, awaiting new passengers to board in the city of Al Hudaydah, situated in the southwest, directly across the Red Sea from Ethopia. Sitting next to me was Ali, the Oud player in the band (incidentally, an Oud is like a Lute, a Lute is like a Mandolin, a Mandolin is like a guitar, but tuned differently), Ali said to me, I think I’ll play a song to pass the time, so he and Addel, the Tirbuka player (by the way, a Tirbuka is a small hand-held drum), took their instruments down from the overheads and started to play a beautiful Yemeni folk song. Passengers around us seemed to enjoy the singing and playing, when all of a sudden, there was a commotion at the back of the plane, caused by three identical looking angry men, who began yelling and shouting that music was strictly forbidden in Yemen and that we had to stop immediately. Well, to put this mildly, this led to a potentially volatile situation. An argument ensued and voices were raised to deafening proportions. Needless to say, this caused much anxiety amongst the passengers, some of whom had become very disturbed by the hoo-hah.
Thankfully, heavily armed police boarded the plane and restored order and silence. After the police left the plane, my friend, Ali stood up again and walked to the back of the plane to confront the three blokes for a second time; to my astonishment and surprise, they said nothing in retaliation; and Ali returned to his seat. I asked Ali, what did you say to them? He replied, “I told them, God created all the birds, and the birds sing so beautifully. Are you going to stop them making music too?”
Perhaps Ali’s courage came from his love of music or the fact he had Gin impersonating aqua minerale in his Evian water bottle.
Truly, just imagine a world without music- it would be like a sky without stars… Dancing in a nightclub would look stupid; you’d have to talk to yourself in the shower; whistling in supermarkets would be banned (well, I guess that’s ok!); Radio 1 would be like Radio 4; iTunes would be iTalk, and how would you know when to answer your phone? Or imagine a world where we are told what to play; what to sing and even what we may listen to. You know, that world already exists and in more countries than you might imagine.
From this moment on, everytime you hear or play your favourite music please don’t take it for granted, as there are people on the planet who are forbidden that luxury.
My message to you all is, “use your natural and studied gifts to create a better world for your families and loved ones; leverage your talents; savour the world around you; be proactive, and never stop questioning! – Sieze every opportunity to better yourself, and become an eternal student, as tomorrow, you’ll wish you studied harder today. And don’t forget to listen to the birds singing” Finally, may I congratulate all the graduands for your achievements to date, and I wish you all great success in the future.
Have a great time this evening and I hope you have many happy memories of today.