Saturday, May 24, 2008


This morning I went hiking with some folks from church. It was cold and it almost rained, and we read the map wrong and got turned around. But it was beautiful. Beautiful to swap life stories and ambitions. Beautiful to have company. Beautiful to have a path to walk and the mountain ahead and behind and below. We had lunch at a farm stall and ate potato bread and organic licorice.

I then went to a last-minute rehearsal at Mac's for our concert for Vincent Kolbe on Sunday. Kurt Diedericks, this young piano player we've been working with, brought along his friend Galina, who plays violin. We'd been working with two string players all week and not getting the results we wanted, but this clicked and was so satisfying to hear the parts that I'd written played with technique and passion. We joked and yelled and cavorted while Mac's girlfriend Renata made vegetable pie and we ate this soon afterward.

So I rushed out of that homey place to the Africa Day film festival, where I saw Return to Goree, a documentary about Senegalese pop star Youssou N'Dour's musical journey from Dakar to America via Europe. This brought up so many new and old emotions for me, combining all of my homesickness as the film traveled through Atlanta, New Orleans, and New York with all my longing for friends left behind as they went through the streets of Dakar and the island of Goree. Every one of those places has a level of personal meaning to me, and to see them contextualized in the story of the African diaspora was pretty powerful.

For a film that seems to so easily encapsulate the reasons and philosophies behind my project this year, I was afraid that seeing it might make my journey seem cliche or overdone in retrospect. But the film is better than that. N'Dour's experience working with musicians in America is not always seamless; he seems to wrestle with some internal conflict the entire time, not sure what to do with himself. There is a struggle to relate to a society that seems so different, speaks another language, has learned to do things in different ways. This is part of my story: the ambiguity of putting such disparate cultures in contact with one another, but ultimately realizing that there is something very basic and very human held in common. Still, this realization comes out of a story of a lot of pain, and a lot of loneliness and alienation that it is difficult to relate without having experienced. What do you say in the face of this saga that has changed the face of the world so dramatically and so tragically? How can one feel but overwhelmed?

Amiri Baraka plays a big part in the film's section in New York; he performs a piece of poetry with atmospheric drumming: "It might take you hundreds and hundreds of years... to get out. To get out. To get out." His lips push into the microphone, enclosing the vowels and sending shivers down my back. When the music does start to come together, one cannot help but surrender a small smile, even sitting alone in a movie theater. Then, out of the struggle, you can begin to feel and to share the joy. Reunion, wholeness, understanding, empathy, communality. There is a passage with Mardi Gras Indians that made me want to up and pack my bags for New Orleans tonight. Hey Pocky Way.

A word on Africa Day. The big news this week has been the xenophobic attacks against African refugees in South Africa, starting in Alexandra, a township outside of Johannesburg. I felt the tide rising all week as I followed the headlines. Friday I learned that there had been copycat attacks on Somalians living in Cape Town's outer suburbs. Then, yesterday afternoon, there was a non-violent protest outside Parliament against the attacks attended by several hundred whiteys, hippies, and black South Africans. The protest didn't make TV news or the papers. The crews were too busy covering the bad stuff elsewhere.

I find this frustrating, and frightening. The painful irony of it is that tomorrow is Africa Day - a day for African unity. I can appreciate the mentality of a desperate, impoverished South African who is less than thrilled with the waves of refugees entering the country from troubled Zimbabwe. But that does nothing to justify his violence. Africa has had many sins perpetrated against it; for one, it has been cut up on colonial rather than cultural lines, a recipe for what seems to be continuous political unrest. What mystifies me is this sense of entitlement, the idea that because someone is of a certain color, ethnicity, or nationality, that they deserve more or less of the joy of being alive.

I am personally so thankful this week for my own joys: a safe place to stay, contact with people I love, good music and friends - and that my freedom is a freedom to rather than a freedom from.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Very Fine House

it's a nice house. the kind of house you might visit on a cold halloween night expecting candy and uncomfortably stand in the doorway while the resident gathers the goodies and you take in the strange, pleasant odor of otherness.

Friday, May 16, 2008

On Human Relation

I forgot about flying solo, just a little bit. I forgot about the deafening silence of a house inhabited by one person for days and weeks. I forgot about the circular thought patterns, the maddening stasis of it. There is no one to come home to. There is nothing to react to but yourself, no unpredictable dish in the sink, no scuttling noises in the morning. A sneeze would be welcome. How did we fill our days?

Happiness is not real unless shared. I cannot help but feel more and more that this is true. This is designed as an individualistic endeavor. It's supposed to be about me, about my identity, what I want, what I think. On the best of days I haven't the foggiest, but one thing I do know is this: I am a communal animal. My life is inevitably, inextricably tied up in the life of every other human on this planet. And we cannot live without love. Not really.