Bratislava is the sound of the blues
For me and my husband, Bill, there are cities that we love in a special way. We have a rare and cherished connection with them. They resonate in our souls as distinct music.
One city sounds to us like blues. This is Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. It is a small, calm, charming city that lies right on the banks of the dark and fast-flowing Danube River.
We were called here by the blues and if you are a bluesman like my husband, you listen.
We were invited by fellow musicians who play the blues here with a special mood and feeling.
American blues music is revered in many Slavic countries. It is a genre that is alive and well and popular and performed in countless clubs and cafés.
Slavic people who fall in love with American blues play it every day with love and respect.
It all started for us in nearby Prague five years ago.
One midnight, we were wandering through the maze of medieval streets, lost in the dim lighting of Old Town. There was no one around, just the clicking of our heels on the ancient stones.
A melody floated from the velvet black of the shadows; a lament from a guitar, distant and soulful, floating at the edge of our hearing like a wraith.
It was a serpentine progression of notes, familiar yet uniquely mysterious, and we chased it down narrow cobblestone streets, pausing, holding our breath and listening until we found the source coming from under the ground.
A simple sign by a stairway said “sklep”, which means cellar.
We looked at each other and reached for the door handle at the same moment.
We felt our way in the dark and the music pulled us down like the clutch of a spirit into a subterranean chamber beneath the ancient citadel.
Another door opened and we were in a chamber with arched ceilings paved with bricks.
It was a small room packed with perhaps 35 listeners at long polished wooden tables. At the far end, a band was performing the most hypnotically beautiful blues jam we had ever heard.
During the break, we were all crushed together at the tiny bar and next to us were the two guitarists, Martin and Pista. When they found out Bill was a singer/songwriter they asked him to e-mail them a few of his songs.
Two days later Bill got a message saying the band loved the songs and would he like to visit them and play.
Bill immediately said, “Yes!” And then: “They live in Bratislava. Where is Bratislava?”
Four days later we were on a train to meet the band in their home town.
Thus began an extraordinary musical story, an odyssey of adventure in the blues.
They took us to an abandoned Soviet chemical factory, a derelict collection of old warehouse buildings with blown out windows — it looked like Chernobyl.
We went in through an unmarked loading dock and I suddenly thought I was being abducted! Then we crossed a steel walkway into an incredible vintage recording studio straight out of the 1970s.
The band had already set up their gear. The recording engineer steered Bill in front of a huge microphone. The band began to play, he began to sing and we entered a realm of pure musical magic.
That take of his song, By The Blue Fountain is on their first CD together: Ellsworth Rosser/Time Has A Place For Me.
They recorded ten beautiful songs. It was a live performance in the studio with a deep and mystical sound. I sat and looked at the soulful faces of the musicians, listened to their improvisation, and thought that electronic music will never replace the sound of a live performance.
Last week, four years later, Bill finished mixing his latest record with the band.
When I return to Bratislava, I always think that no matter how well we plan our life and write our schedule in a weekly planner, sometimes events happen that turn everything upside down.
Life presents us with a unique cubic centimetre of chance. It happens very rarely and it is so important to be able to recognise it and just grab that opportunity because it might change your life.
The universe presents you with a door. Walk through it and follow the beautiful sounds of music even when it is coming from the basement.
• Nina London is a certified wellness and weight-management coach. Her mission is to support and inspire mature women to make positive changes in their body and mind. Share your inspirational stories with her at ninalondon.com