A troubadour’s life

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By Alessia Melchiorre

“Every time I tell the story of Japan to somebody, people always react in the same way; they say ‘Moti, you have to make a book or a movie about it’”. Moti Rymarckzuk, 61, recalls his Japanese trip with a blink of light in his eyes, “Because the things that happened to us then, did not happen to nobody of the Street music world. Not at all!”
When in 1980 he and his friend Lance Wakely – an American folk singer coming from the Woodstock era – ended up in Tokyo, they were the first Street musicians ever to play in the Land of the Rising Sun. At that time, one of the most populated cities in the world was not much of a usual holiday destination. “There was not even one tourist,” says Moti in his own pride of pioneer. Soon after, it became like an attraction for street musicians and the Japanese Mafia began to ask for a fee to let them play. “They ruined it!” he cries while pointing his index finger to the sky. His voice follows the lead of his emotions: as he gets excited, you can hear its tune scrambling. Although he visited almost each country of the globe, he is still astonished by the Japanese hospitality of those days: as for the restaurant owner, who served him always more than he ordered, because he knew “that they must have taken boats and planes to come here”.

Mordehai, aka Moti “started this particular journey” (as he likes to say) in 1955 from Ukraine, Soviet Union at the time. After a couple of years, his parents decided to move back to their country of origins, Israel. By the age of nine, he learned to play guitar and never stopped since then, although he mainly was the singer in rock bands during high school.

At 18, he was enlisted into the Israeli Army, precisely at the Intelligence section. According to the law, they cannot send you to war if you are the only son of the family – which was Moti’s case. It is hard to believe this sixty-year-old hippie man, halfway David Crosby (the folk musician) and Albert Einstein lookalike, was once a serviceperson: “I had the time of my life in the army, wow!” However, after four years, he better decided to quit pretending to be mental to get released by the military psychiatrist.

From this moment on, Moti Rymarczuk became the freak he still is today: he began to travel throughout Europe selling ethnic jewelry on the streets. While in Munich, he saw some buskers playing and he immediately thought he could do better. That is when he bought a guitar, called his friend Amos Adahani – one of the top jazz musicians in Israel today – and left for Paris, the Mecca for street musicians at that time. It was the end of the Seventies, a marvelous season for those who wanted to live by rambling, playing music “and all that shit”. That wander brought him to Japan, where he also had one of the most intensive love stories of his life: “And now, I am totally curious about what she is doing now but I never tried to contact her in all these years.” Yet, he thinks now that signs are telling him something, as if finding her will come easy although he only has her love-letters, kept by his mom. “I don’t even know her real Japanese name because she had a western nickname, Sherry, so I used to call her like that.”

As strangers in Japan, he and his friend Lance had a certain charm. Indeed, they were invited by the owner of the famous Okura hotel – who had noticed them playing on the streets and looked for them for weeks – to play at the restaurant in one of the first skyscrapers of Tokyo. “He kept on sitting with us all the time, instead of the Japanese billionaires,” continues Moti, “and when I asked him why, he said ‘Because I also play music’”. Guess what, the only Okura hotel in Europe is based in Amsterdam. Signs continue to collide. Another time, a young Japanese dentist hosted them, as they had no place to go. While sitting in his house, Lance took a book about American folk music from the library and showed Moti there was his name mentioned in it: “Now, the dentist didn’t know that somebody from a book of his library is sitting in his room!”

His way of telling stories reminds the one of an uncle who still has that rock and roll vibe of his generation. “My life was just a long happy life until now. I never worked!” But a troubadour’s life is also made of resistance tests. A heart attack seven years ago proved him that hippie times were not over, although hash-less. “I was almost dead and I could not let my sons suffer again.” Aside a cordial divorce from his wife, nothing has changed from the days when he used to hitchhike with his twelve-string guitar – a precious gift from his Japanese girlfriend – on his shoulders and the bottling bag where people put their money in. He still plays at festivals throughout Europe and so he will “until the end”, he says.

His being a long-time rambler made his music a bonding experience. As for when he went to his Iraqi friend’s shop and another Arab approached him: “When you play music on the streets and I listen to you, I remember home”. And for an Israeli who plays (mostly) American folk music, this sounds like more than a compliment.

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