I decide to call it a night after an indulgent Creole dinner. Why didn’t you dance? a distant voice calls out to me. I turn to face the night’s live musician. I don’t know then that I’m confessing I have two left feet to one of Seychelles’ most famous artists! I hear him say, sometimes you should just close your eyes and let the music take you, and I know I shouldn’t call it a night just yet.
Georges Payet grew up in a time when every boy in Mahe, the ‘capital island’ of Seychelles, dreamt of the day he would get his own fishing boat. Mahe was a sleepy village back then; the days moved slowly, and those who didn’t fish didn’t do much else. The ocean was all we had, he says wistfully. And when the ocean always looks like something out of a postcard, who would want to be anywhere else?
Much like India, the Seychellois people believe in large closely-knit families. He grew up with seven siblings, and fondly recalls their trips to La Digue, an island where locals still choose to remain car-free! La Digue had no electricity in those days. The fishermen would return home before nightfall, and their families would cook, light candles, sing and dance the night away. Those were his earliest memories of Creole music, which came to Seychelles via the Portuguese colonists and their slaves from Sri Lanka and Africa.
To keep him from running away to the sea unwatched, his mother bought him a small guitar at age ten. It turned out to be his calling; he recorded his first song at age fourteen. The eight siblings got together to record an album as the ‘Clan’, and when his sisters got married, three brothers formed ‘Saturn’. Their band would record the most popular New Year song in Seychelles, and co-write the islands’ national anthem. A local I met later joked that most Seychellois didn’t believe New Year had arrived until Georges song had been sung.
But in a small place like Seychelles, success means selling a thousand CDs. Despite being a famous musician, he made little money, something that many Seychellois people identify with. From a local’s perspective, the facade of living in a paradise destination is just that; the Seychelles economy is close to bankruptcy. Locals suspect the government to have sold off several islands to rich Russians and Italians, but there are no accounts. That explains why, in his older years, Georges still does regular gigs in hotels.
Georges could have lapped up the success and moved to another country, or given up music and worked in the tourism industry. But instead, he chooses to continue living here, teach the children’s choir in Mahe, and translate some of his Creole songs to English so the world will celebrate Seychelles. Music is what he loves, and Seychelles is where his heart belongs.
That night, while listening to his soulful tunes on my iPhone, I realized that Georges’ story resonated a little with mine. Some day, we all come face to face with our dreams. To follow these dreams is a choice we eventually have to make.
Have you met people on your travels who’re following their dreams against all odds?
Note: I travelled to Seychelles on invite from the Seychelles Tourism Board.