Jamie Catto travels the world to ask ‘What about me?’
The first time I saw What About Me? at a Melbourne film festival, I was transfixed. This film that weaves world music together with heady topics on humanity is layered so thick, you can’t help but get lost in it.
It was put together by 1 Giant Leap — Jamie Catto and Duncan Bridgeman — over four years from material gathered from seven months on the road.
A few musicians and thinkers you’ll recognize straight away: Michael Stipe, KD Lang, Carlos Santana, Noam Chomsky, Stephen Fry. Yet there are many more you won’t, but will be touched by just as deeply or more.
It will leave you pondering and hungry to continue the conversation.
The Manifest Of One Giant Leap
“We need to collectively admit that we’re not fine, we’re not confident and balanced and good. We turn up to work every day pretending we’re not neurotic and obsessed and insatiable and full of doubt, and we waste so much energy keeping up this mutual pretense for each other because we think if people saw the truth, if people really knew what was going on in our heads, all the crazy truth of our dark appetites and self loathing, then we’d get rejected.
But in fact, the opposite is true. It’s when we dare to reveal the truth that we unwittingly give everyone else permission to do the same. To stop holding their breath for a moment and actually come into the room. Be here, present, vulnerable and authentic.
We’re on a mission to make self-reflection hip for just a moment, just long enough to save us. If we can all collectively acknowledge our insanity, shrug and roll our eyes at each other at how nuts it is being a human, let alone having to pretend every day that we’re ‘normal’, the amount of energy we’ll inherit that has been wasted on the mask will be enough to creatively solve any global crisis.”
The interview with Jamie Catto
It took some time, but I eventually connected with Jamie Catto over Skype.
While I was already in my PJs in Melbourne, he was busy cooking up a lunch of fish sticks and mashed potatoes for the kids in Spain. So over the din of crashing pots and chopping of food, we conversed about What About Me?
BNT: Jamie, this was quite the ambitious project. What possessed you to do it and how much support did you have?
It didn’t feel like such a huge thing when we decided to do it. The support that we had was everyone in the world, all the individuals in the countries who pointed us in the right directions, who said, “Oh, down there…there’s an amazing pagan ceremony on Sunday,” or, “over here, there’s a guy who plays cello like you wouldn’t believe…my sister knows his number.”
The biggest challenge — apart from the 7-month journey around the world to do it — is that you have to be on every single day.
You know, you’ve got three hours with Alanis Morisette, you’ve got 2 hours with Eckhart Tolle the next day, and every single time you’re with someone, especially a musician, you have to arrive, get on well with them, inspire them on one of the bits of music, compose something brilliant, AND get the perfect take before you have to leave.
To do that every single day, for 200 days, is a bit of a headfuck.
Was the end result what you and Duncan had envisioned at the start?
Certainly the idea of weaving together music and the images. When we first set out we had decided to make a thing called 2 Sides to Everything, which was going to be about duality.
But what ended up happening was, it became quite a boring subject after a while. There are only so many different ways you can say, “you can’t have happiness without sadness”. It became a bit of a one-trick pony.
Duncan and I, through the pressure of what was going on, really started having some problems between us. All our shadows started showing through, and so suddenly, the film began to be about that. All the hurdles to happiness, all the collective insanities, all the things that we deny each other.
It suddenly occurred — in post-production — what the film was really about, which was that we are all turning up to work everyday, having to pretend to each other that we’re fine, and everything is good; that we’re a winner and all these things — having to hide the fact that we’re all…total psychos.
So yeah, in that sense, it became very different than what we predicted. It started off as one thing and became…a mutual global acknowledgment of our unhappiness that we hide from each other.
Where did the idea to record artists in various parts of the world and mix them together come from?
When Duncan and I first met, we were talking a lot about world music, or music that wasn’t straight western, and we suddenly realized that we don’t really like many world music albums, but we love the artists on them, and that’s the key to the music of 1 Giant Leap.
We love Baba Maal’s singing, but we don’t often listen to a whole Baba Maal album.
We love this flute player, that drummer, this singer. We love all of them as players and singers, but we don’t really like what they do on their albums and we don’t really like what other world music fusion artists have done, by sampling one and just putting it with their beat.
We wanted to do fresh sections with these people and create something that got the best out of those artists without it being that world music formula.
So we wrote our kinds of backing tracks which are much more like melodic, Pink Floyd meets film music meets whatever…which is slightly more western, and then started having these guys as sessions rather than trying to do a world music fusion collabo.
50 locations in five continents over seven months. How did you decide where you were going to go?
Usually, for the most part, we made our decisions based on the music that we liked. So, like the big — what they call the royal drums — we knew those are in Ghana, so we went there…and Baba Maal is in Senegal…it was pretty much just chosen by who we wanted musically. Either the specific person, or the music type.
In Uganda we knew that they had a thing called…earth drums…we didn’t know what it was but we knew it was some sort of drum that was buried in the earth, and we thought, “well, let’s go and find that”.
It wasn’t until we got to Uganda that we discovered it was actually a marimba. It was an immense xylophone.
You’ve seen places and experienced things that I’m sure most people will never experience in their lives, including travelers. Can you talk a bit about any lessons you learned through dealing with locals and tribes?
There’s a great line in the first 1 Giant Leap film we did — an Indian philosopher said, “I like to talk to people as if I already know them.”
I think that is the key to all traveling. You know, don’t imagine that they’re not just like you. That is almost the point of the whole “one giant leap”, is that there’s so much more that unites us than divides us.
Everyone wants to sit down and give you their food, and everybody wants to introduce you to their kids, and their mum, and everybody wants to have a smile and sing a song.
It’s very easy to not get people’s backs up. If you’re present…just be present…be there…people are pretty much like you.
I’m curious, with a lot of the ideas that you’re mentioning, did they come out of your interviews?
No, I think it just comes from experience, and a lot of early Ram Dass reading. A lot of his work is about the masks that we wear and how dishonest we are with ourselves and others, and how we’re busy putting on the masks to be a somebody, or busy being a boss or policeman or a teacher.
You know, like when you were in school, your favourite teachers were just really cool human beings who happened to be playing the role of teacher. And there were other ones that we didn’t get along with who were busy being a teacher. It really sums it up in all areas of life, from policeman to parents.
There are people who are naturally cool human beings, impeccably doing the role of parenting. There are others who are so busy being parents, and are so attached to that role, that the person gets evaporated and that’s where problems start arising and dishonesty happens.
And that’s when children start rebelling. They don’t rebel against their parents’ authentic qualities, they rebel against their parents’ fakeness. They see it’s not real, and they say, “that’s not for me.”
Thanks so much for your time and candidness, Jamie. One last question: What is 1 Giant Leap up to these days?
Duncan and I are doing a lot of projects separately at the moment, which is really exciting.
I have a new artist that’s coming out in Australia in February called Aluta and the Mystics. The girl that sings with Michael Stipe on the song “I’ve Seen Trouble”, in the Pain chapter, she is called Aluta, from South Africa.
I always thought I’d go back and do something with her…we decided to go with the same label that put 1 Giant Leap out in Australia — One World Music — and it’s coming out in February, called Aluta and the Mystics.
Check out another world music project Playing For Change.