What travel taught me: Eric Bibb, blues singer and songwriter


While on tour in Australia, I was signing CDs after a concert when a fan grabbed my hat and ran off. Fortunately, my trusty tour manager gave chase and got it back. Life went on. Still, it took a while for me to stop fuming over the disrespect. Years later, I received an email from the very chap who had made off with my brim, apologising for his drunken idea of a joke and asking for forgiveness. He'd been wallowing in shame all those years and had finally found the courage to contact me. I replied that I forgave and admired him for reaching out. I'm grateful to him for the powerful lesson in forgiveness.


The island of Reunion, east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, offers a unique blend of African, European, Indian and Chinese cultures. I've performed there twice and on both visits I was impressed by the harmonious co-existence. There is a relaxed ambience of "live and let live" that I found particularly enjoyable. As an African American, well-experienced in the tensions and strife that can exist between citizens, my soul welcomed the harmony. It gave me hope. The human tribe is indeed capable of living peacefully.


The road behind me has taught me much about pride and humility and the road ahead is bound to teach me much more. These days I live in Sweden but I grew up on the Upper Westside of Manhattan. I was back there and walking the neighbourhood, a familiar pleasure. At a post office on 104th street I caught sight of a series of stamps called Legends Of American Music: Folk Musicians and Gospel Singers – two groups of artists I know well. But looking through who was honoured and who wasn't, it was very stark to me how artists are either acknowledged or overlooked and mostly, that has nothing to do with talent. It made me grateful for my career and my global tribe of fans.


A few years ago, singer/songwriter Habib Koite invited me to his hometown of Bamako, Mali, to collaborate on an album. Mali is one of Africa's poorest countries and I didn't know what to expect. But I was pleasantly surprised by how "at home" I felt. In Sweden I am unaccustomed to being surrounded by folks who look like me. The colours, sounds and fragrances were somehow familiar.


Soon after release from his long imprisonment on Robben Island, Nelson Mandela travelled to Sweden for a tribute concert. I had recently written a song about him: Mandela Is Free. As I and other performers waited backstage, he came and thanked us. My dear friend, gospel singer Cyndee Peters urgently whispered in my ear: "Sing it now!" So I asked if he would mind and he nodded his approval. It's not every day you get an opportunity to be that close to such greatness. It taught me to expect the unexpected. Nothing is too good to be true.

American-born Eric Bibb is a two-time Grammy-nominated artist with multiple Blues Foundation awards to his name. He is touring Australia throughout May. See ericbibb.com/events