Just imagine you’re on a big old ship – or rather inside of this ship, in a cabin way below sea level, below the car deck even, where they store the tourists’ RVs. A little bull’s eye is the only connection to the outer world, looking out on a blur of greenish blue through some smeary glass framed by a rusty piece of metal, with a lock painted over so many times you’ll never know what shape it had in the first place. Inside of this cabin you sit and listen to the creaks of the metal hinges of the vessel. It’s cosy – and eerie at the same time: In case of an accident there’s no way out, the water will just come down on you and that’s it. From far away you seem to hear some tunes. They fade away, but then they come closer again, soothing and haunting at the same time: You realize it’s a band playing down there in the bowels of the ship – it’s the Cargo Orchestra.
There are quite a few meanings to the notion of “cargo”. Here’s an important one: During WW II American planes and warships in the Pacific threw out surplus food and tools, which would be washed to the shore of some islands of Malaysia. The locals believed these packages coming from the air or the sea were a gift of God. When they discovered gigantic birds and incredibly big boats, they – correctly – drew a connection between the gifts and these extraordinary vessels on the horizon. So they decided to build harbours for them and “air”-ports. Unfortunately the birds and boats never came. Still the Malaysians believed in them – and maybe they still do.
Another story deals with a group of anthropologists in South America who spent a few months with some tribe in Amazonia. Every two weeks there would be a plane coming to an improvised little airport to bring supplies to this group. After some time the anthropologists observed a strange behaviour among the tribesmen: They always came back late in the evening, tired, but without any prey. Some rites de passage unknown before? The anthropologists decided to find out. They followed the men and detected their secret: Clandestinely the villagers had been building their own airport to invite planes to bring them supplies, too. That’s what they call the cargo cult.
There’s more to the band than a cult, even though preparing the situation for music to happen is part of our strategies. Cargo illustrates the idea of being a carrier of influences, trans-sphering different musical styles, transporting the contents of different cultures. But instead of using this heavy intellectual word “transfer” we went for cargo. It’s more romantic and more real at the same time: It’s something that transports merchandise, not tourists. What would such a boat look like? It’s a big metal rusty thing, with the traces of alga and seagull shit from all five oceans, full of oil and rust. But once the ship comes to port, the band stands out on deck and plays to the people in the harbour who had flocked in when word of mouth spread that something big was about to cast its anchor. (However, my background is strictly continental and my real CARGOS are trains and trucks.)
I’ve been on a ship myself for six months in 1993 during the Yugoslav wars: It was called “Radio Brod” – radio ship, an EC project. A heavy ship it was, whose last mission had been an exploration to the North Pole. On top of this ship was a big container with cabins and studios. The main feature, though, was a big antenna 30 meters high. We were moving up and down in international waters of the Adriatic producing a programme without knowing who could really hear it, because there was no feedback, nobody could call – quite a surrealistic experience. We were out there on the open sea hardly ever seeing the coast. With French officers and an Indian crew from Goa.
This setting gave rise to our plan to create a daily one hour radio-feature called Planet Ear: Space tourists would come to the orbital station-hotel and then Captain Broundreck and Navigator Peternel would take a dozen of them on board to visit different regions of this imaginary planet. Those where really surrealistic, mind-streaming stories. I was the story-teller of some blown-up cult, reflecting the strong feeling of the end of the world, where only the impossible is possible, endlessly floating on the high sea only two hundred kilometres away from the orgy of violence in Bosnia and broadcasting towards there. Vedran Peternel created the sound-scapes, mixing music, documentary sounds, dialogues from movies, loops, with the speed and precision of a gambler. While we would work in the studio at 50°C, American porte-avion ships would pass by, and chaser airplanes where flying low waving hallo! to our ladies lying in the sun. In this kettle of blue soup with razor blades, creating instant poetry, the germ of Cargo Music was born.
Dutso and Djani lived in Sarajevo during the Radio-Brod times. Later, walking together through Paris, we couldn’t believe that all these people still don’t know that it’s all over now baby blue. That feeling led to Apo-calypso, an album I recorded in Zagreb 1996.But only eight years later, with the apparition of Isabel, a challenger and a scholar, Cargo Orkestar became possible. Thanks to Sanda who encouraged me to open the structures of my songs, to let collaborators in, to exchange, to submit, to believe. - Darko Rundek (as told to Martin Hager)