There's a segment in Spike Lee's magnificent A Huey P. Newton Story where a slightly fictionalized version of the political activist talks about the universality of music, specifically the kind that understands the nuance of pain and ecstasy: "It's all blues." Watching Champ Ensminger's lush video for "Pony Blues," a track off Steve Gunn and Mike Cooper's Cantos de Lisboa, there's an echo of that statement, taking the blues out of the Delta and into the jungles of Thailand for an unsettling ghost story.
Originally written by Charley Patton, Gunn and Cooper's "Pony Blues" is a meditation. Undulating drones whistle in the background and the British-born folk artist Mike Cooper whoops, "Saddle up my pony, hitch up my black mare / I got me somebody out in the woods somewhere." Ensminger writes that the song's haunting mood and mysterious lyrics inspired him to follow a spirit that is part human, part horse:
In Thailand's northern countryside, a ghost story is told to warn young people and travelers from wandering into the jungle. Many years ago, a lonely stable boy in charge of the king's horses went hungry, and was forced into eating one of his horses. He became sick, and died in the jungle at the edge of a river. Since then, a spirit has been told to walk near the edge of the woods, taking the form of a human (man or woman) with the features of a horse. As revenge for his loneliness, the spirit of the stable boy lures young lost travelers into the jungle, where they meet a watery grave.
This ghost story is the basis for my interpretation of Steve Gunn and Mike Cooper's "Pony Blues." Much like my cultural background as a Thai American, two narratives converge in the music video — that of a Delta blues standard of the American South, and that of this ghost story told in rural Thailand — and combine to create a new visual experience. My aim was to explore this combining of separate traditions in a way similar to that of the collaboration between Steve and Mike, and see how these converging visual and musical atmospheres play off each other in a haunting new way.
Cantos de Lisboa is out now on RVNG. Intl.