Who draws the crowds and plays so loud? Baby, it’s the guitar man!

Simon and WayanSlowly as a lovers’ dawn

We lay here in this bed ablaze

Long were the days when I needed love

Every night, free falling

You picked me up where love left off

You showed me through this long windy road

You gave me the light to see the other side

Every night, free falling

-Simon Kinny-Lewis, Free Falling, from his album Higher Heaven

Bali is a fertile breeding ground for ‘travelling wilburys’ – writers, poets, painters, musicians and the odd middle aged woman from the West seeking restitution from life in general. These wandering souls that arrive on the sunny shores of this Isle unwittingly become captives to the benign spiritual forces that encapsulate all that creates and nurtures life. The ensuing drama that continually unfolds sustains and enhances their perspective and reverence for all living things.

This week we shall talk to a young couple, Simon Kinny-Lewis and his Balinese wife Wayan Suratni, who shuttle between Sydney and Bali and two jobs and two cultures, spiced by this effervescent sense of being.

Simon is a tall lanky chap with a disarming smile and a laid back attitude. I first saw him a year ago when he was spasmodically playing his acoustic guitar as he sang a blues number at As One, a jazz joint owned by a Japanese painter. Now that it is closed he performs at the Blue Cat Jazz Bar on Pengosekan, whenever he descends on Ubud from Sydney.

I began by asking him to briefly outline his 28 odd years on this planet.

“I am Sydney born and schooled but dropped out of college to study music from friends and by watching the masters play at various gigs across the city. Music possessed me when I was very young. At the age of 8 I learnt to play the guitar and at 12 performed Lay Down Sally by Eric Clapton at a public gathering. From then on I would practice with friends, go to the concerts of Ray Beadle, a Sydney Blues Guitar Player, who used to and probably still plays at The Bridge Hotel. Because of my limited means I would buy many second hand CDs of my favorite artists – Robben Ford, Stevie Windwood, Scott Henderson, James Muller, Yellow Jackets etc., and listen to their music over and over again. Then I would take my guitar and attempt to ‘match’ their ‘fretwork’. Oh those were the days when everything seemed to flow. There were no hiccups except for want of money…hahahaha.

I first came to Bali about 5 years ago with my mother for a short holiday little realizing that the trip would turn out to be an experience of a life time…I met my future bride Wayan at Pura Dalam. The moment I saw her in her pink kebaya, holding herself upright with all the dignity in the world I realized I must have her…marry her, I mean.

But we had to wait nearly two years before we could get married.

My first album that I recorded was in 2004. It was titled ‘Open up the Letter’. In 2006 the second album ‘A winding bend’ was released. It was recorded in Bali. The title song ‘Why can’t we feed them all’ was inspired by the tenacity and industriousness of the Asian people who struggle everyday just to ‘eat’. The songs in the third CD, Higher Heaven, were written while travelling around in Bali. The cover picture was taken by my wife.

And now the latest album with the Henry Rollins drummer, Sim Cain, is coming out in December this year.

You know Bali has this strange, erotic and deep rooted spiritual vibes that intoxicate me. On full moon nights I dream dreams and feel the throbbing pulse of the island running through my veins. I don’t know how to explain this phenomenon. I suppose you can tell me…yeah?”

I side stepped the question and turned to Wayan and asked, “So tell us a little about yourself, please.”

“What you want to know…(giggling)? Okay I will tell you.

I was a Legong and Kecak dancer till I married Simon and went off to Sydney where I work in the hospitality business. My father is a Master Wood carver who still plies his trade in Ubud. I come from a reasonably traditional family, so my marriage to Simon was a bit of a shock for my parents. However, they saw how happy I was and finally relented and gave us their blessings and permission. We married under Hindu rites in Bali and then Simon’s parents arranged another ceremony in Australia. I admit I am ambitious. I want to learn, to travel and more importantly to remain Balinese through all this. Living in Sydney is at times very hard in terms of relating to the constant rush of business and traffic…but I know I have to work…if I don’t then where will the money come from? At the moment Simon is working as a music teacher in a private school. His music (laughs) still doesn’t get us enough money…but I love him and want only for him to be happy…”

Simon interjects, “Sometimes she is jealous of my guitar. Wayan says she wants to be MY guitar!”

“Yes,” says Wayan, “Yes ‘cause he plays that goddamn thing very late at night instead of coming to bed and cuddling me! Hahahaha…my husband is a non-smoker and rarely drinks that’s why I put up with his antics. You know I too am an artist. I have just recorded a Balinese song ‘Tuah Semaya’ with Gus Maya, a well known producer in Bali.”

“Will you two keep shuttling between Bali and Sydney indefinitely?” I ask.

“Actually I would like to make Bali my base for my ‘backroom’ music because it is truly the gateway to the world. People of all nationalities live, work and travel here for pleasure. It has everything…culture, arts, music, food, religiosity and gentle folk. What more can I ask for?’ says Simon.

I turn to Wayan who is returning from the bar with three chilled glasses of lemon squash and a smile that would melt butter in a jiffy and enquire, “ And what about you my dear?”

“I would prefer living in Sydney and travelling to Bali because Sydney will help my career in the hospitality business. And also, I can earn lots more money. Here the salary is too low; we need to support Simon till he makes it to the Grammies. Then we will be rich and famous and I won’t have to work. I do miss my family and the culture here. What to do? One has to survive”, she smiles and walks back to the bar to place the empty tray next to the flower arrangement.

Now that you have heard it from a young couple what do you think dear readers –

Are these the youngsters of the morrow who are now bridging religions, cultures and countries by their acceptance of life as it is…without prejudice, only with love, understanding and mutual respect?

I leave you now to ponder the answer while I sit back and listen to one of Simon’s latest numbers about one world, one people and one song…the song of peace.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om