I’ve had experiences with volcanoes. There have been two of them.
The first one, La Soufrière, nicknamed ‘vyé madanm la’ (‘the old lady’ in Creole), is on a Caribbean island that I cherish, and whose original name is Karukera. I am, of course, referring to the Lesser Antilles archipelago of Guadeloupe. La Soufrière is located south of Basse-Terre, one of the Karukera islands. Its summit, which I once scaled, is called La Découverte and stands at more than 1400 metres. I wasn’t even ten but I knew the chaotic landscape well, with its chasms here and there, great and small, from where the vapours were always escaping. I remember coming close to one of her many eruptive mouths. I remember a smell like rotten eggs – the smell of sulphur, the smell of molten lava that you can’t see, you can only imagine. I was at the very edge. It was windy; lots of wind, and the wind was pushing me to the very edge of the crater so that I could hear the music of the Old Lady’s depths. There seemed to be something kind about this Old Lady, and despite the steep and slippery paths that had led me to her I loved her music.
And then there’s Mount Pelée, the volcano of Martinique, another island of the Lesser Antilles. Even before the Martinican pianist Grégory Privat told the story of Louis-Auguste Cyparis, the unfortunate prisoner whom Mount Pelée almost burned alive when it blew its top in 1902, this volcano terrified me. It terrified me because the case of Cyparis was a miracle. In 1902, 30,000 souls lost their lives when the lava and ashes of Mount Pelée poured over the town of Saint-Pierre. I remember the gloomy atmosphere and the fog when I was in Morne-Rouge, a nearby town. I was a teenager. I remember a feeling of chill. I remember the colour of the earth. The colour of the ashes. I remember imagining the sound of the enormous thunder that ripped the sky apart revealing a gigantic scarlet-orange-yellow flash. The colours of fire. I didn’t see Mount Pelée’s fires. I remember feeling as though I was on another planet, like I felt when I went up to see the Soufrière. And the wind. Always the wind.
Strangely enough, the music of these two volcanoes is grandiose, orchestral and ethereal – some of its melodies are even downright minimalist. It’s the music of an earthquake that you can feel in your whole body. It is the music of everything in our galaxy. The music of mysterious dark matter, as well as the music of the stars, of mini Big Bangs, of explosions heard in the deep cosmos. It is the music of Mother Nature. It is at times calm, at times violent. And in the middle of it all, our tiny humanity. All you can do is listen. Lean a little bit over the craters. Hear a multitude of stories. A multitude of moods and phrases that tell what our volcano is capable of. Then listen. This is (volcanic) jazz.