Saturday, 29 March 2014

Wait till you see my smile . . .

The thing about really well-written songs is the ability for such songs to move you.

I've talked before about how when the elements of music combine in a way that "speaks" to you when words alone without music fails (no offence to spoken word poets - I'm a musician!), but there are times when instrumental music alone can move you just as much, if not more - so it works from whichever side you stand on really.

Wait till you see my smile by Alicia Keys appeals to my music memory and musicality of the 80s with the accented piano accompaniment in the introduction, just before the synthesiser bass amps up and then the treble patterns hit on the synthesiser.  Of course when the drums kick in (no pun attended, well maybe a little with that kick reference) to help urge that driving rhythm forward.
When the wind is blowing in your face
Sometimes in life you don't see straight
(Pray to Him, He will show)
When your head is in a certain place
Nobody around to make you safe
(Stand strong and you will grow)

Wait till you see my smile talks about how people can often enjoy your misery or pain (mainly because they're wearing their "hater pants" most of the time - especially if it's a staple part of their wardrobe, or they enjoy drinking that "haterade" all the time - which is sad because that's high in sugar even though drinking it has the opposite effect and does not produce sweetness in nature).
Don't they love to see you down
Kick you while you are on the ground
Don't let emotions show
People always speculate
Don't let it get in your way
See they say things they don't know

It's very easy for people to kick you when you're on the ground (can your face get any closer to the ground I wonder?).  But when you start to pick yourself up off the ground and have the courage to face what gets thrown at you - they're not expecting that.  You start to develop an immunity to things being thrown at you, most likely you've become adept at holding all of the balls in the air, those balls of expectation, obligation and even misdirection.  But that one time you stand strong and start to grow, you can start throwing those balls back to those who should have handled those balls on their own. (Handling their own balls?  You know what I mean).

And when people start to mill around you, hoping that what you've got, starts to rub off on them, bear this in mind:
So you're doing better now
Everybody comes around
But you don't really need 'em
'Cause you're stronger and you're better
And you're ready for whatever
You are stronger and you're a better person.  Not better than other people - because that's what people who want to be "like you" or try to ruin who you are and represent - tend to think.  And that's quite tragic really.

When you're ready for whatever
I can't wait till you see my smile, because I can't wait till they see your smile.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Just a man and his will to survive . . .

I am dedicating this blog post to someone who was once hailed "New Zealand's best MC", "New Zealand's top rapper".  I heard that Scribe, the Crusader had applied for funding from Creative NZ to assist with a new album.  He talked about wanting to make more music for his fans and ultimately for himself, and who can fault that?  A creative artist has a hunger and a drive to produce music, an extension of himself, an expression of his thoughts, feelings and dreams.  The sad news is, Scribe was unsuccessful with his funding application.

The song Eye of the Tiger by Survivor comes to mind when I heard about this story.
Scribe has faced many challenges in the New Zealand music industry.  It's a difficult market to get into and it takes a whole lot of hard work to get your music out there, to promote your music and make a real go of it for a living.  When Helen Clark was Prime Minister and also the Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage, I remember there was an artist's benefit that would assist performing artists and visual artists (maybe even designers) if they were stuck in between jobs.  At the time I thought this was really neat because it meant that at least Aotearoa would enjoy beautiful music, dancing, acting, paintings, sculptures, photography, designs that we could appreciate and help to sustain our love of humanity through emotional, social even political expression.

As the ultimate resilience or survivor song (ha, just realised that it's the name of the band as well), Eye of the tiger teaches us about getting up every time we get knocked down.  It teaches us about being hungry for something, that if we want something bad enough, we need to work hard at it until we achieve it.  I am a staunch believer of the mantra that "things worth having are never easy", whether it be a relationship of any kind, a career, a qualification, something that requires you to almost give so much of yourself it may consume you (or kill you if you let it).

It's the eye of the tiger 
It's the thrill of the fight
Rising up to the challenge of our rival
And the last known survivor
Stalks his prey in the night
And he's watching us all with the 
Eye of the tiger

Our rival might often be the very thing that we are trying to "conquer" or achieve in our lives.
This personified rival may come in the form of obstacles or pit stops along the way, but we must persist if we are to become the last known survivor.  I like the last few lines about watching us all because this tells me that while we may also have our sights set on achieving our goals and dreams, there sadly might be some people who present themselves as obstacles while you are on your quest.

Rising up straight to the top
Had the guts, got the glory
Went the distance, now I'm not gonna stop
Just a man and his will to survive

Keep these lines from the song in your head as another mantra to sustain you.
And I know Scribe will rise to the top again, because he has the will to survive.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Another door closes . . . I hope you feel the window opening

I don't know if you've noticed, but I like songs that speak to the human condition and attach themselves easily to moments in your life, as songs can sometimes articulate with sound what words alone fail to do.  Another door closes by Jont has a beautiful duet between guitar and piano in the instrumental introduction, just before the lyrics creep in:

So if another door closes
I hope you see the window opening
As people suffering all the time
Don't waste your days life slips away
Like butter from a knife

And if you had a good day my sis
Make sure you raise your back, give your wife a kiss
The secret species x and lines
Stolen from nests time after time 

Oh.... can't you see we're all crashing, in slow mo
Holding to this wheel we know
What's the use, don't want to be sleeping too long
Why can't we try to fly ourselves back to an old skin
Making do is no way to live
What's the use, we're only here
Then we're gone, gone, gone

I believe in the beauty of tragedy.  It is only through experiencing pain or loss that you gain the most learning - if not about the situation - then at least about yourself.  The lyrics in the chorus convey a sense of futility, of regrets, that we don't want to sleep too long because maybe if we sleep we dream of things that we can no longer have or try to avoid dreaming about.  Flying ourselves back to an old skin as we know is impossible, because the new skin you're in is a sign of the change that you've been through maybe as a result of some tragedy or loss that you can't control.  And the thing about crashing in slow mo?  You can see yourself heading for that crash in slow mo, and the crash is inevitable.  Yet we can't settle for anything less, because life is too short and our time on Earth is fleeting - and this begs the question - what is the best use of your time on Earth and what is the legacy that you leave behind?  (see previous post Visions of a sunset for more about legacy).

In the next verse, the drums join in and add a bit more drive and a sense of urgency.  As the new skin continues to be "lived in" there is still further change that happens, and that is in the interactions with people.  I feel that the musical shift here is more dramatic when the involvement of the female appears on the scene.

So turn up your collar up to some wickedness 
And fudge the lines between the crimes
You've been taught to miss
As ancient ladies baking bread
Bent underneath this pyramid
And all of these things that you and her have never said

And when the time comes that you and her must kiss
Well if you miss her mouth and screw it up a bit
You can impress her when you say
"Darling each and every day.... life slips away"
Like butter from a knife. . .

So what's the secret to life?

So if another door closes
I hope you feel the window opening
There's people hurrying down the lines
Don't waste a day life slips away 
Like butter from a knife

Like moving through a series of houses, the new skins that you continue to make your own home in, don't waste time not living the life you were destined to live.  Only YOU can live your best life.  You owe it to yourself to control the knife that the butter slips away from.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth. . .

It might seem crazy what I'm about to say. . .

And if it is, it depends on who's doing the listening  :-)

Chances are, if you have not heard of this song, you've been in some parallel universe where happiness doesn't exist. . . .

Hands down, the feel-good song of 2013 is Mister Pharrell Williams' Happy from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack.  Before I watched the movie, I had no idea that Williams was behind the music so I was pleasantly surprised.  I had deliberately avoided the press junkets promoting the movie because I don't really pay attention to that sort of thing.  It's always good to go in cold for a movie and make your own observations and reflections about what you see. The music soundtrack did not disappoint.

I would love the opportunity to sit in a studio and watch Pharrell in action and see how he hears music and how he creates.  There's nothing more exciting to me, more inspiring, than watching a musical genius in action.  He's like a modern day Quincy Jones, with an extensive, comprehensive understanding of crafting musical ideas to communicate messages to the masses.  The fact that he's what those of us would call a "real musician" who can play instruments and produce. I could see a musical genius in action in Michael Jackson's This Is It, when he corrects the music arranger about what he wants and how he wants it to sound.  The only other instance I've seen that has been in the movie version of Amadeus (1984) starring Tom Hulce as Mozart and he is asking his secret rival Salieri to finish notating his music.  To be able to hear a finished composition in your mind's ear is truly magical.

Clap your hands if you know what happiness is to you

The song has the right combination of the musical elements to convey the degree of familiarity to make a song catchy and enough musical interest in different sections to give it variation with its compositional techniques.  The canon and layering of harmonies in the bridge thicken the texture, like a master chef stirring a pot of soup whilst adding spices to taste.  It almost sounds like happiness begets happiness, the more you feel it, the happier you get, and I get a definite sense of that in the harmonic layering of the bridge.

This song represents for me the positive power of music.
Facing troubles head on because you can take it and the happiness that you have in your life can withstand any bad news that comes your way.  And since I've started writing my blog, I've enjoyed sharing my thoughts and ideas with everybody (whoever you are!) through my blog.  It's been one of the few things that have made me smile this year.

Williams attests that happiness can't be measured because the level is too high, you feel like a room without a roof. And for me, I pretty much think that when you're trying to search for truth and the meaning of life, I find that it is already encapsulated in the lyrics of this song:

Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth.

The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had. . .

Mad World is such a powerful song.

You're probably more familiar with the Gary Jules or REM version of this song.

Mad World was originally released by Tears for Fears in 1983, the introduction gives us an idea of a constant rhythm (much like Jimmy Fallon starts off his dressing room sessions with The Roots with the synthesiser beat bank) although the synthesiser block chords in the verses, coupled with the space-like harmonic overtones before the signature 80s beats makes the song texturally very interesting - the musical interludes are busy with the horn section's countermelody with the keyboard keeping time, especially when the rhythm kicks in.

The change in rhythmic feel in the chorus is unexpected but welcome. A welcome relief from what exactly, I don't know, because the off-beat syncopation in the chorus seems to represent the off-beat phases of the lives we lead.  But what I do know is that the juxtaposition of such sad lyrics with such a peppy tempo is deceptive, almost jarring.  To me this symbolises the struggles that we face with trying to come to grips with outer appearances and inner angst (or I could just be overanalysing but hey I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad).

But no 80s song is complete without the obligatory weird dance sequence before the final couple of choruses, but I think back then we were quite fascinated by losing ourselves in the music (I wouldn't know, I was only 5 when the song was released).

The music video shows the lead vocalist inside the house, seemingly trapped and unwilling to go outside, although the dancer, wrapped up in his own dance sequence outside, at least "puts himself out there" for all to see (a little like the Fool on the Hill - see a previous post).

When the final chorus hits, the image of the dancer is superimposed next to the singer which feels like the singer wants to break out of his house (insanity of his own design) but can't seem to shake it, and then we are left with the final image of the vocalist, now in the dark, still inside his house alone.

Rather than thinking that the dreams about dying are the best, I think about the dying in dreams as a release from confines of a house that the world may put you in.  But only if you let them of course.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

You can speak your mind. . . but not on my time . . .

I watched an interview of Clint Eastwood on Ellen where he shared his views about becoming a Republican, and how in recent years the libertarian views that he affiliated his support to the party for in his youth has since eroded.  Eastwood talked about how he loved it when people just left each other alone, and this leaving of each other alone also included his stance on gay marriage, basically everyone can do what they want as long as they didn't harm others (and the government left them alone).

I don't care what you say anymore this is my life
Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone

You can often feel this way when people may spend a lot of time trying to help you live your life rather than focus on their own.  A bit of the 'take the speck out of your own eye' syndrome - perhaps.
I can understand that this can be frustrating, especially if you don't ask for people's input, but they are more than happy to give you some unwarranted, unwelcome or unsought-after feedback or advice.  Anybody could be forgiven for trying to be helpful.

I don't need you to worry for me cos I'm alright . . .
I don't want you to tell me it's time to come home

You can have well-meaning, well-intentioned people in your life, the ones who, when they have a conversation with you, try their best to "fix you" (even when you didn't ask them to), because we all know that sometimes all someone needs to do is be a friend to listen to what you have to share or even just physically be there and not say a word.

Assumptions and stereotypes surround us on a daily basis because people can misread or misinterpret what you give out or share.  Being explicit about what you are about as a person, can be the most appropriate way of communicating what it is you really want to say.  I often see it as holding up a mirror of yourself but people only see the image or reflection rather than who you really are, or who they think you are trying to be.

I never said I was a victim of circumstance
I still belong, don't get me wrong

So I think sometimes it's ok for you to put down your mirror and show the world who you really are.
You could be in a room with a huge crowd of people and still feel isolated and not connected.
Even if it means that you must tell the world, those who frequent your world, to keep their opinions to themselves - at least for a short time anyway, until you let them know you're ready to hear.
Telling people what you think is definitely important, it's just that sometimes you might want to get to know them personally and on a deeper level to erase those assumptions and stereotypes.

You can speak your mind. . . but not on my time
(Keep it to yourself, it's my life)

Dedicated to +Janelle Riki.  Happy Birthday!  Hope you enjoy this post :-)

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Your time has come to shine. . . all your dreams are on their way. . .

Part of my musical landscape growing up was listening to folk duo Simon and Garfunkel.
I had the sheet music for Bridge over troubled water, played it in meditation for myself many times, loved playing the piano introduction before the vocals hit, something about the epic balladness of it all with the block chords and dramatic arpeggios in the left hand.  But of course when the vocals hit, the manner in which the piano is played changed with the full range of the keys to give the dynamic variance, showing the shades of darks and lights.  The sign of a good song really - that dynamic shift that allows any singer of the song, the freedom to interpret it in a way that makes it their own.

One such example is the Josh Groban and Brian McKnight rendition of the song. The perfect melting pot of singing styles in one song.  But the original version featuring Simon & Garfunkel shows that the musical interlude after the first chorus, signals the introduction of the reverberation vocal effects and also brings with it the rhythmic drive from the bass line and the melismatic harmonies in the treble.  The second musical interlude introduces the symphonic treatment with the strings, a bass guitar and the almost psychedelic echo of unison singing together with the drum kit.

For me this gradual rising as each new verse and chorus rings out is symbolic of when you start to gain confidence in yourself to finally pursue what it is you have dared to dream.  And we all know that you might need a helping hand to get you to the next stage of your dream, your own cheer squad who will continue to motivate you and keep your eyes focused on the prize.

Everybody has "their person" who you would probably imagine, singing this to you, when you've felt like you've given something, everything you've got, and you still think that you've failed.  The important thing to remember is that if you do fail - learn from the pain, pick yourself up and keep pressing on.

Just remember to always talk with someone and keep them in the loop with what you are going through.  There are more than enough people who would be willing to lay themselves down for you when you need them.

Happy Birthday +Moana Timoko
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way

Friday, 21 March 2014

You may say I'm a dreamer. . .but I'm not the only one. . .

Sitting this morning in Whangarei at the Digital Horizons Conference, a mass of secondary school teachers assembled, waiting in anticipation for the event to start.  The hall buzzed with electricity, the kind of electricity that only a full day dedicated to professional learning could bring.
As we continued to wait, a song rang out across the hall.  It made me smile.  People started to sing along to the well-known melody of Imagine by the great John Lennon.

It was one of the earliest pop songs I learned how to play.
The simplicity of the harmonic structure cleverly disguises the complexity of the lyrics it accompanies.

I hope some day you will join us
And the world will live as one

When I think about the lyrics John sings about, he is asking us to imagine the world without the things that in his lifetime helped to define it - religion, war, the divide between rich and poor.

In the context of the conference, it made me think about how we as educators can help children and learners to imagine, to think about things that we never dreamed possible and think of life without limitations or restrictions.

In the context of my own life, it made me think about how I can continue to push boundaries and dare to dream, continue to dream and help others to dream.  Be a dream maker, dream weaver, not a dream breaker or a dream stealer.

The cynic in me knows that you need boundaries so things can be defined and labelled, easily understood.  But then I think about how I might need to know what boundaries are - so that I know what I'm pushing against.

I think that's why I have a ManuMission (see previous post) and must continue to remind myself to:
1. Identify like minds
2. Share your mission
3. Stay focused

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one

Happy Birthday +Anthony Faitaua and thanks for helping me to set up my blog.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

I wish I was a sharp knife . . .

At Parihaka during a break in the conference proceedings of the ACE Aotearoa Professional Learning Hui/Fono 2014,  a reference was made about "sharpening knives".  This reference may mean different things to different people as there are connotations that may be misread by others (personal jokes aye +Analiese Robertson) - but I wanted to talk about knives in the context of Third Eye Blind's Sharp Knife.  

Time tick tick ticks after me
My mp3 is out of juice
I wrote a song for you but what's the use
How did we get knocked so loose, knocked so loose

Someone I swore I'd never be
Who trades his dreams for security
Walks this city blindly
Lately it's a little hard for me to see
Lately it's a little hard for me to believe



What you need is a sharp knife so
To come back down from an all time low 
Seems like I'm not the only one
I wish I was a sharp knife

Swing that blade right through my life
Careful, you could hurt someone
I wish I was a sharp knife
A sharp knife 
To cut

A shiv
A shiv
A shiv
A shiv

I love the driving rhythm of the song, the energy that allows you to sustain some semblance of anger, which leads to the adrenaline pumping (not to the hate and the cycle that Yoda talks about).

I mean, what spurs you into action - what drives you?
What makes you angry enough to "sharpen your own knives"?
What if your knife is dull - isn't it time to sharpen it then?
What about those of us who constantly sharpen our knives and then completely miss out on the effectiveness of sharp knives, cos it can get a little dull after a while (no pun intended) when you're always on edge.

Or are you a panther waiting to pounce (don't poke me with your sharp knife or I'll eat it).
I mean you could be angry cos you've given up your dreams to "fit in" and go the safe route.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's ok to be angry once in a while but like the last part of the song says - you swing it throughout your life, but avoid hurting people with your sharp knife - it's there for protection not to attack people with!  The lead vocal talks about being hurt, but hey cuts can heal too.

In any case, keep your knives sharp but your eyes and ears sharper - so you can detect people trying to swing their own blades, in their own lives - or you just might end up getting hurting by accident.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Visions of a sunset . . .

Shawn Stockman is one of my favourite singers from one of my favourite r'n'b groups during my high school years - Boyz II Men.  His single Visions of a sunset (1996) appeared in the movie Mr. Holland's Opus, starring Richard Dreyfuss and what I loved about the film was that Mr. Holland (music teacher) spent his entire life as a music educator trying to work on his great symphony (his opus).

When I think about my time as a high school music teacher, so much of the emphasis was on teaching the kids how to read the music notation.  Granted, that's how I learned music in the Western Art tradition - I had to learn how to read the music.  However, the song Visions of a sunset talks about musicianship, about feeling the music and being able to express what music is supposed to do - connect you with people through song, things we can't express in spoken word but that combined with the elements of music - melody, harmony, rhythm, form, timbre, texture - it seems effortless yet as necessary as breathing.

Spoiler alert (but really I don't care, I'll tell you anyway if you haven't seen the movie - because you should have already seen it anyway!! A must-see movie for music lovers and teachers - like the Sister Act series) - but Mr. Holland retires and the music programme that he has been famous for is in danger of shutting down and funding removed (don't get music teachers started on lack of funding!) but his former students step in and save the day.  Often as educators, you forget about how influential you can be in the lives of the students you have in front of you - and who knows - they might have a hand in improving what you do for future generations (because you did your job right, you were doing what you are passionate about and it's just the honest-to-goodness best thing to do - elevate others, don't bring them down!)

Lived all my days trying to embrace 
Life with my heart by all the beauty
I feel and create and it spins and moves
Flows at my pace telling its story
From the tear running down my face

Sometimes our great opus in life is our connections with people.  I'm not talking about networking.
I'm talking about the fact that when you interact with someone, that you are giving of your best and not short-changing them.  Even if they make you angry, hopefully they reflect and have the sense to know that despite actions that they take, that make you angry - you were able to separate the "challenges" from the individual.  Besides. . . save the tissues for some issues.

Visions of a sunset
Just appear when I close my eyes
Takes me closer to heaven
When the flute starts to fly
And the violin cries

Our greatest opus might be the legacy we leave behind.  What will your opus sound like?

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Waiting on the world to change. . .

It was the first single off Mayer's 2008 album and also earned him the Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal.  The laidback even-paced drum pattern from the outset seem to be a mismatch to the urgency of the lyrical content in this song.  The music video to John Mayer's Waiting on the world to change shows a group of artists working on commissioned pieces of art that are displayed in privately owned spaces (or produced on private property) around New York City.  The opening shots of the blank spaces around the city signal that later on in the video, those blank empty spaces will be filled with artwork.

As John strolls through the city, you get a sense that even with the the waiting, there is a degree of restlessness.  Normally when you get tired of waiting, you might start pacing the room or take a walk to clear your mind to kill some time while you're waiting.

Musically the song gets interesting for me after the second chorus with the instrumental interlude as it has a funky horn section giving a bit of ambience and jazz fusion, the vocal lead is hard to make out, but it's more about the vibe and the contrast that this section brings rather than the familiarity that precedes it.  The alternation between lead guitar solo and keyboard pick up the rest of the musical interlude before we head towards the end of the song.



Me and all my friends
We're all misunderstood
They say we stand for nothing
And there's no way we ever could

Now we see everything that's going wrong
With the world and those who lead it
We just don't feel like we have the means
To rise above and beat it 

Other lyrics that interest me in the song are the following lines:

It's hard to beat the system, when you're standing at a distance. . .

It's not that we don't care, we just know that the fight ain't fair

One day our generation, is gonna rule the population

The lines echo defeatist attitudes or the sense that there is little hope, that the world seems doomed.

What can we do to put a stop to this deficit thinking?

To beat the system, you need to be closer to it, and work from within. . .

If the fight ain't fair, make sure that the fight is fair.  Is a fight even necessary? (Recon can help. . .)

If our generation is to rule the population - what do we need to do to make sure it's done well?

You don't need to necessarily take songs at face value.

Because sometimes you can't wait on the world to change.
So you have to go ahead and change the world.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Give me. . . one moment in time. . .

In many situations, you can only get one chance to prove yourself, maybe even prove who you are and what you are capable of achieving.  If you have been given a privileged position to lead a group of people, then the mantle of responsibility is much bigger, because it's not about you anymore, but more about how you will serve the people you are expected to guide and their wellbeing, thus more idioms rise to the surface, so the proof is in the pudding, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it, you better make sure you know what the heck it is you are meant to be driving (or at least know how to drive, metaphorically if not physically!).

Over the past week I have been responsible for coordinating with the CORE Education Pasifika Team - relevant and engaging professional development about all things Pasifika for our co-workers.
It was many months of planning, many moons of thinking, many days of contemplation and meditation and often, many hours of wondering - are we missing anything here?  What if it's not good enough?  Will we be portraying accurate representations of all Pasifika?

Each day I live, I want to be
A day to give, the best of me
I'm only one, but not alone
My finest day is yet unknown. . .

After hosting four days of intense professional learning - I can proudly say that everybody involved gained some new insights about themselves (including ourselves) and the validation or affirmation of their prior knowledge.  Although tiring and demanding, our Pasifika Team could not lose sight of the challenges that we had to address in order to ensure that we gave of "our best" to our colleagues.  Pasifika nations - when they share the best of who they are - will spend a lot of time and preparation to pay tribute and honour their guests and value the individuals who come together to learn about their nations - hospitality is HUGE in our region.

Whenever I start to doubt whether I am being the best representation of a Pasifika person in whatever I do, I often think about Whitney Houston's Olympic anthem.  I think about the hopes and dreams that the song embodies and that we can all be "winners for a lifetime, if we seize that one moment in time, make it shine".

This blog post is dedicated to all of the CORE Pasifika Team +Ruta McKenzie
+Togi Lemanu +Anthony Faitaua +Teanau Tuiono +Shannon Vulu and CORE colleagues who all need to celebrate their "one moment in time" - all the time.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

You Were There

Michael Jackson released countless number one singles in his lifetime.
He was the King of Pop, a consummate performer, I can't write enough about the man. (So I'll stop).  Regardless of whether you are a fan of the man or not, you can't go past the fact that he was THE MAN.

He skyrocketed to a "whole 'nother level" with his Motown performance in 1985 with his brothers, the first time he debuted his signature move, the moonwalk.  I've highlighted the Man in the Mirror in a previous post but forgot to mention where in one particular grammy performance, he was sooooo in the zone that the choral conductor of the gospel choir that accompanied him was concerned when Michael didn't stand up after falling to his knees in a dramatic spin that ended up with him on the floor - that was reminiscent of a James Brown 'cape' moment.

One of his other live performances for special occasions that is vivid in my mind is the one for Sammy Davis Jr.'s 60th birthday.  He performed You Were There.  The song earned Michael an Emmy Award nomination and even though the song was quite short, simple in its lyrical naivete/naivety, it had enough emotion in the song to pay tribute to a pioneer who embodied the sentiments expressed within it.

You were there, before we came
You took the hurt, you took the shame
They built the walls to block your way
You beat them down, you won the day

It wasn't right, it wasn't fair
You taught them all, you made them care
Yes you were there, and thanks to you
There's now a door, we all walk through

And we are here, for all to see
To be the best, that we can be
Yes I am here
'Cause you were there

If you are not familiar with the song, you must watch it on YouTube.
The song symbolises for me the struggle of my parents, the everyman's struggle to be the "first", the "feeling the fear and doing it anyway", because, just because something hasn't been done before, doesn't make it wrong.  Yes, there is the natural fear of the unknown.  How will you know you made the right decision?  What will happen?  When people imply negative connotations or make assumptions, I can fall sometimes into a default setting, like a broken record repeating the mantra I am not a product of my environment, but I thrived in spite of it (or I thrived in what you thought my environment was).

Anything worth having is never easy.  The motivation now as an adult is that even if things are strange or new or difficult to grasp because it has been thrust into your realm of responsibility by nature or provocative means - you are the architect of your own design.

Never forget your past, as it informs your present and you can develop your future.
Acknowledge those who have come before you, who have paved the way and whose hard work, toil and labour, you now partake in and enjoy the fruits.

I am here 'cause . . . you . . . were . . . there . . .

Friday, 7 March 2014

To be young, gifted and black . . .

Like most girls of colour growing up, I too needed role models to look up to that could empower me. Nina Simone was a strong black woman who I had the pleasure of listening to along my musical journey.  I was first introduced to her jazz offerings and interpretations of song formerly released by the likes of Billie Holliday, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole as well as her notable interpretation of I Loves You Porgy in my senior years of high school.

Nina's haunting rendition of Strange Fruit is one of my favourite pieces not only for her impassioned contralto voice but also because of the juxtaposition of the stark chordal accompaniment - reminiscent of Chopin's many Preludes and even Liszt's Liebestraume.  The imagery painted in the song also leaves the listener with no illusions about the darkness of the lyrical content.  It is rare to hear interpretation of words that evoke so much feeling as when Simone sings "trees" to depict the falling of the trees with the descending swoop of the melody and the inflection on the final singing of "strange" - sung as if she is physically shuddering.  

Despite being rejected by a prestigious music school to further her studies as a classical pianist, the world would not be denied of their chance to hear Nina in her true calling and destiny as the "High Priestess of Soul."  Her performances at jazz festivals featured her penchant for performing classically-inspired pieces that made it hard for critics to classify her music as her tastes were eclectic.

But I digress.

The ideas and message behind her Black Civil Rights anthem To be young, gifted and black (lyrics by Weldon Irvine Jr.) still rings true today more than ever.  It is a celebration of hope for the future, that prompts refection to transform into action.  It calls to question and makes you wonder in your contexts - what messages we are sharing with our young people.  If they continue to hear messages that they are no good because of the racial stereotypes that may continue to ring, granted there are continual improvement as time progresses - but we can always benefit from acknowledging our uniqueness, rather than our differences.  

To be young, gifted and black,
Oh what a lovely precious dream
To be young, gifted and black,
Open your heart to what I mean

In the whole world you know
There are billion boys and girls
Who are young, gifted and black,
And that's a fact!

Young, gifted and black
We must begin to tell our young
There's a world waiting for you
This is a quest that's just begun

When you feel really low
Yeah, there's a great truth you should know
To be young, gifted and black
Your soul's intact


Young, gifted and black
Oh how I long to know the truth
There are times when I look back
And I am haunted by my youth

Oh but my joy of today
Is that we can all be proud to say
To be young, gifted and black
Is where it's at


The search for truth, the wonderings that seep out from the line "Oh how I long to know the truth" and even the lines that follow that discuss the memories of what the past held about what life would've been like for young black people - to still feel trapped in that cycle of despair.  Luckily this situation is rectified in the final words of the song.

I leave you with Nina's sincere and earnest thoughts, from the 1970 Live concert at Berkeley, as the High Priestess herself talks about this song:
"It is not addressed primarily to white people, although it does not put you down in any way, it simply ignores you. . . for my people need all the inspiration and the love that they can get."

Sunday, 2 March 2014

You're the voice. . . try and understand it . . .

One of the finest voices Australia has ever produced has been the unparalleled John Farnham.

Of his many hits, my ultimate favourite is his anthem-like You're The Voice.

It appeals to the voice in me that needs to speak up, if not for myself and my generation, then at least for myself and my peoples in the different contexts that I work, live and play in (cultural, social, political, economic, not to mention the fusion or confusion between all of these) as well as the perceived contexts or voices that people assume or think that I should be because I get told, "You're the Voice Manu".

We're all someone's daughter, we're all someone's son
How long must we look at each other
Down the barrel of a gun?

The music video shows scenes of news bulletins about war, of soldiers and military personnel in action.  What seems to be the insurmountable loss of human life, the countless casualties and what I can only imagine when I think about war and the atrocities that are committed because it isn't part of my own personally lived experience as a first-hand encounter - and it seems both unfathomable and tragic all at once.

Musically, I love the Scottish bagpipes during the instrumental interlude, backed by the synthesiser with harmonies over the top.  It reminds me of William Wallace and marching bands, people struggling to maintain their way of life.  I imagine the bagpipe melodies wafting across the rolling hills and wonder if they have served as messengers of impending doom or imminent victory.

In order to be a voice, I need to understand what my voice is, what my voice is trying to say, who my audience is and where my voice should be heard.  The idea that everyone has a voice and thinking about the best way to use it may seem like a given.  But most of the time we can become self-saboteurs, practise self-censorship and lack the confidence or capacity to find a voice from within, let alone use it.  We can often worry that our voice isn't "good enough". Who decides that?

On the flip side, your voice might need to be heard where it's "not wanted" but yet if you don't speak up in those contexts, then those contexts will forever perpetuate the stereotypes or racial microaggressions that bombard us.  If it's something that you strongly believe in and believe should be heard by everyone in the world - go for it.  I mean isn't that what blogs are for anyway?

Thank you for reading my blog.  I've just reached over 6000 pageviews since I started writing in November last year.

You're the voice try and understand it
Make a noise and make it clear. . .