All my life, I was taught that whistling is rude. In the culture that I grew, whistling is inadequate, and if you whistle at night, you are seen as summoning ghost (not sure whether this is true or my mum is just trying to get me to stop whistling every godforsaken minute). But recently, I came across an article about Molly Lewis, who is a professional whistler. That got me thinking, my life has been a bloody lie! Well, you learn something new every day.
Whistling is a form of communication, depending on the culture or the country that you stayed. Take for example, the Turkish bird language is a version of the Turkish language communicated through high-pitch whistles and melodies. It was originally used by the Turkish farmers to communicate over large distances, and now it is down to 10,000 speakers. The language is associated with Kuşköy, a village in Turkey’s northern Pontic Mountains that has hosted a Bird Language, Culture and Art Festival annually since 1997. UNESCO included the bird language in its 2017 list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Besides Kuşköy, there is another village that uses whistling as a form of communication. It is the Meghalaya’s Kongthong village, which is situated in India. For generations, the residents of the village have communicated with each other using a unique form of whistled identity instead of names.
Back to the topic of professional whistler, Molly Lewis is an Australian-born musician who is now based in Los Angeles. In 2015, she competed at International Whistlers Convention (IWC), the world’s foremost whistling, and took home the champion’s trophy, cementing her place as the world’s best whistler. Interestingly, it was after watching the documentary Pucker Up, a dive into the strange world of IWC, that first piqued Lewis’s interest in professional whistling.
According to Lewis, she has always been self-conscious of her whistling and not take it very seriously, but it has all changed. “I am a professional, and proud to be a keeper of the ancient art of the lips. I have a lounge show called Café Molly, and I travel the world with my music, doing shows, performances, session work and soundtracks and recordings. It is my passion,” she wrote in her blog.
Lewis has performed at Hollywood veteran Harry Dean Stanton’s deathbed. According to The Guardian, it is then where she delivered her most poignant performance to date. The musician whistled otherworldly versions of Danny Boy and Just a Closer Walk from Thee, the gospel ballad Stanton croons in 1967’s Cool Hand Luke. “He kissed my hand – it was such a beautiful moment. I’d never really met Harry Dean properly but we had all these friends in common, and so many beautiful, cosmic things happened because of him,” she said as quoted by The Guardian.
Lewis will be releasing her new EP soon. It was during lockdown last year that she decided that it was time to write some original songs. It is this collection that forms the intoxicatingly retro The Forgotten Edge EP, coming out on the indie label Jagjaguwar in July. Named after the noir-ish, mysterious neighbourhood of LA where Lewis lives, its six tracks bring to mind the South Pacific lounge style of late-1950s exotica music: tiki bars, cigarette smoke and the vague suggestion of swinging.
“I wanted it to feel like each song is the soundtrack to a scene in a different film,” explains Lewis. “Romantic beach moments, then there’s driving downtown past city lights in a convertible …”
Photo Credit: https://www.nytimes.com