FIDDLER ON THE HOOF!
AN INTREPID British busker has set his sights on cycling across Saudi Arabia and Bahrain as part of a musical journey around the globe.
Multi-instrumentalist Dan Hodd, a classically-trained singer and violinist, is currently travelling to every country in the world with a violin, a foldable Brompton bike … and without boarding any commercial flights.
“After years of deliberation, and all the formal musical education I could bear to handle – which attempted, continually, to funnel me into a predictable, non-creative, and frankly boring lifestyle – I decided to set off on the boldest, stupidest, yet likely most rewarding chapter of my life,” he said.
“I am touring the whole planet in a naïve attempt to see what the world has to offer, to give my own musical endeavours a little bit of context. I don’t have much money, so this journey is financed exclusively by the tips I receive from performing on the street, alongside any gigs I may pick up along the way. Furthermore, I plan to achieve this as carbon-neutrally as possible, by which I mean that I will be taking no commercial flights.”
His more than two-year adventure has already taken him to the frozen wastes of Finland and the balmy beauty of the Caribbean islands and his heart is now set on continuing his journey into the Gulf region and beyond.
“Right, so here comes my maddest venture yet: The Middle East,” he said. “And, I need help. Does anyone know anyone with contacts in Saudi Arabia?
“To complete this chapter of my tour, I need some kind of an invitation for a visa to visit this fascinating country. It is the essential puzzle piece in my Middle Eastern tour, and even more difficult without flying and as a Western classical musician.
“I’m wondering if company sponsorship, the Ministry of Culture, a very friendly and influential person, or a transit visa by land may be possible.
“I’ve also heard truly astonishing things about its tiny neighbouring country. If I can get multiple-entry access to Saudi I’ll definitely cross the causeway into Bahrain.”
Dan’s latest plan may not appear to be as barmy as it sounds and it could be just the kind of shining example to spread a welcoming global travel message. Although most tourism in Saudi Arabia still largely involves religious pilgrimages, there is growth in the leisure tourism sector.
The country is keen on moving its economy away from a dependence on oil and witnessing the continued success of the tourism industry of neighbours Dubai and Bahrain, an ambitious plan has been put in place that aims to attract 30 million visitors by 2030.
Having spent four years studying at the University of York, the Eastman School of Music and most recently the University of Sheffield to pursue a Masters in Music Psychology – Dan has found his calling in exploring music from all over the world, collaborating with musicians wherever and whenever possible, as well as spreading the messages portrayed by his own music.
Much of Dan’s sound is rooted in his interest in traditional British folk music, as well as an unerring love of jazz.
“Music is one of the most emotive crafts within human existence, and those of us lucky enough to have developed skills in this domain must be wary of the power they hold,” he explained. “Music has the capacity to heal, to neutrally recalibrate and re-animate individuals for whom movement has become a real challenge, perhaps due to age or disability.
“Music evokes memories like nothing else, and it is capable of reminding some people who may have lost sight of the important things within the madness of their humdrum, busy and stressful lives of the following thing: They can still feel!
“I struggle to see the role I play at times, on rainy street corners when no one is listening. But then a stranger approaches me and thanks me for brightening that dreary day of theirs, and I realise that even in low moments of mine I am still making connections with people, and doing my job well.
“We, as musicians – better yet, as humans – hold the key. On the street, I have the power to make somebody’s day just a little better, and I think that is something really quite special.
“This is harder to achieve on a stage; there is an ineffable sense of disconnect, and people pay the premium to be part of the experience. I provide my service for free, and am capable of touching people from all realms of society, regardless of their status, economy or ethnicity, and I’m damn sure I’ll make my way around this whole flipping planet to ensure my music reaches anyone, everywhere.
“My role as a busker is by no means benevolent, however. For every email or message I receive thanking me for easing a hard time someone has had in their life, or informing me that my story or my music has led them to make a change for the better, I cannot help but think of the neighbours I have upset in various towns, intruding on their tranquil Sunday afternoons.
“I suppose there is a Yin and Yang to much of what we do, but rarely is the equal and opposite reaction as prominent as when a distraught and overworked mother yells at you when you are just trying to create something which to some is quite beautiful. I struggle fully to understand their plight; I’ve never lived in a busy city centre and I’ve not had to deal, perhaps, with far less considerate buskers whom have driven these poor souls to distraction?
“No doubt, this is another illustration of the power music has, and a warning to those of us who hold the key to unlocking such powerful emotions, both positive and negative, that we must take care.
“I’m trying my best, I promise, to be a better busker and a better individual, but I’ve a long way to go, still, on this adventure across six continents.”
Talking to GulfWeekly from his family home in Brighton, the 25-year-old explained how he had recently made a 60-hour journey by land from Bulgaria back to the coastal English town to get back in time for Christmas. Quite an adventure, by bike, bus, train, car and ferry.
His parents, Jane and Peter are both teachers. His sister, Beth, has just graduated from her acting degree and is currently exploring gender theories in performance, comedy writing and stand-up.
“The trip started on the day I handed in my final piece for my PGDip, back in August 2016,” he said. “I had to whizz straight off to Paris for a choral tour and realised how completely tapped out I was financially from the year’s studies. And, so I proceeded to fund my tour expenses by busking near Notre Dame in what free time I had.
“My girlfriend at the time also had her final hand-in and so, off the cuff, we decided to meet in Greece to celebrate, and the busking adventure continued from there. My plans were curtailed when I broke my foot later that autumn, but a month at home bored and recovering was exactly what I needed to fuel my passion to get out again and explore.
“I have since travelled and performed in almost every country in Europe – Belarus, Andorra & Malta are the only ones remaining; the US (41 states), all of the Caribbean, Canada and India.”
He often gets asked why he doesn’t just jump on a jet. “As every chapter of my tour passes I learn yet more about the nuts and bolts of long term, sustainable travel, and of my own priorities in life,” he explained. “My passion for exploring only grows, and for the sake of ‘good travel’ and a true connection to the journey, arguably the most poignant aspect of travelling – the kinaesthetic energy and movement from one place to the next – I continue to avoid flying, to opt instead for the adventure.
“I elect for an ethical way to traverse the earth, powered by wind, the power in my thighs, and the music that drives my trip. I choose to support the local public transport industries around the world, as we all should, to enable this planet to live a long and happy life.
“I get asked ‘why I’m not flying’ more often than most things, as my adventure all around this big ol’ world rolls onwards and upwards. At times, it is a real challenge to answer, when I am spending days on end researching alternative travel methods to no avail. I’d far sooner be out exploring whichever glorious country I’ve found my way to.
“The dark temptation of a cheap budget airline flight is rarely far away, and it’s certainly nothing more than my absurd, blind determination not to fly that keeps me away from the airport.
“One such conundrum presented itself back in Estonia in December, at the end of my Scandinavian chapter of my Busk the Globe tour. I’d dillied, dallied and daydreamed in Finland, enjoying the culture the vibrancy and the company of a dear old friend in Helsinki. Arriving, finally in Estonia I found myself just as bowled over by life on the other side of the Baltic Sea. A country no larger than Wales, no more populous than Birmingham, pulled and tempted by Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Russia and now the EU, yet still able to retain its distinct culture.
“And so, one 4am bike ride, two six-hour bus journeys, 10 miles by bike in gross sludge-snow, an 18-hour journey at sea in the company of chain-smoking Lithuanian truck drivers, no fewer than seven connecting trains and 30 miles pedalling along the Normandy coast through endless sprawls of Dunkirk dockyards was what it took to get me on that ferry to Dover!
“Bizarrely, I boarded as a vehicle, much to my amusement and that of the stewards who led my folding bike through lanes of motor traffic, politely waiting in line to come aboard.
“Now, ask me if that crazy adventure was worthy of the small temporal and financial sacrifices I had to make, if you feel so inclined? I was spat at in a Latvian market for attempting to buy just one banana; befriended a Lithuanian doctor over an avocado-topped veggie burger; told off for stealing ‘free’ bread from the buffet on board a ship; bowled over by the forests of wind farms along the Polish coast and of the mind-blowing fact that we sailed past six different countries, each of these with distinct cultures and ways of life despite their overt geographical proximity.
“I visited a German Christmas market in Hamburg, and argued with Deutsche Bahn for missing my connecting train – so much for German efficiency! I cycled the gorgeous streets of Den Haag, marvelling at the almost Orwellian Dutch parliament building and its neighbouring traditional Flemish townhouses. What’s more, I was able to earn back my travel costs by busking in Bruges, and even found time to consider the lives lost in World War One at the Menin Gate in Ypres.
“When performing in a park in Sibiu, I met an entire class of children who were stopped in their tracks, all thanks to the power of music. Having the ability to communicate with rural Romanian school kids in that way is just one example of the joys music can bring, bridging cultural borders and bringing us all closer together.
“Or I could have fought my way into a cramped seat with lots of other miserable passengers having been terrorised for, God forbid, bringing my violin into the cabin, to be charged a small fortune for a truly dreadful sandwich whilst breathing in false air and being shaken to pieces during turbulence.
“I’m ever more passionate about sticking with my stubborn embargo, based on my experiences in the Caribbean these past few months. The public transport infrastructure was, for all intents and purposes, non-existent, and thus I had to frenetically hone my resourcefulness, rampantly network and hire out my skills as a violinist to beg, borrow or steal passage on sailboats from island to island.
“It’s been challenging, mostly testing my patience and flexibility, but has now taken me to most every single island in the Leeward Antilles and beyond. Boat hitchhiking is proving to be quite the crafty endeavour, a hell of a lot more complicated than simply sticking one’s thumb out by a roadside. But goodness me, the rewards have been copious.
“It is only too easy to feel the self-indulgence of travel after so much time on the road. Friends of mine have mostly found their way into jobs now and are contributing their bit to society, and it is easy to lose sight of the value of what I myself am contributing:
“Sustainably travelling and moving people over the world through the power of music. Though this is by no means always the case, and in those stationary days void of music, there is a palpable feeling of productiveness when getting out hustling, sourcing the next boat I would be sailing on.
“So much of my trip is shaped by my desire to meet people and share perspectives with those all over the world, but constantly putting myself out there can get exhausting.
“I’ve needed constantly to meet people as a way to survive: to find my next ride, or to find performance opportunities. Travelling musicians in Europe have it far too easy – the pedestrian streets to play in, the train station and an abundance of hostels are laid out on a silver platter.
“None of this backpacking infrastructure existed in the Caribbean. Four months in and my skills on board a sailboat rocketed from zero to a genuine level of competency, though I’ve still got a long, long way to go. This has opened up a whole new aspect of my life, marine career prospects and a vibrant social network of likeminded, enterprising and inspiring travellers across the globe.”
Camel riding in the Saudi outback should be a doddle and a lot warmer than some of the places he has visited such as the coldest busking set he’s ever delivered -7°C in Finland!
“When you next see a street performer, do yourself a favour and stop to listen. If they know what they’re doing, allow yourself to be moved. Allow yourself to think; allow yourself to feel,” he said.
“You’re doing the performer a massive favour in this exchange – it’s what they are there for – and I’ll bet that informing them of the effect they’ve had on your day will mean more to them than dropping a riyal or dinar in their hat possibly ever could … but us buskers certainly appreciate the donation as well!”
For more details on Dan’s project visit www.danhodd.com or on social media @danhoddmusic.
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Stanley Louis Szecowka
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