since my last post, i’ve traveled to bahrain, holland, nigeria, senegal, and several other fabulous and inspiring locales. i couldn’t be more thankful for such a fabulous year to reflect upon and even more experiences to look forward to.
indeed, 2011 is off to a wonderful new start and, last week, i had the opportunity to return to the small town that i called home throughout most of my childhood and adolescence. as far back as i can remember, krannert center for the performing arts at the university of illinois has always been the preeminent regional performance center where my family and i would go to watch traveling symphonies and internationally renowned artists. you can imagine how elated i was when invited by krannert to do three concerts there that would mark my debut performance in champaign. when the tickets sold out four months in advance, i was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and love from the greater community.
krannert and i decided it would be great to do some community outreach while i was there too, so they put together a week full of activities with organizations/institutions i was once affiliated with and still hold dear to my heart. the picture above is a photo at my former elementary school just after spending an afternoon of music with the ADORABLE kids now in school there. despite the fact that everything was much smaller than i remember, it was so special to be back there after so many years.
among many other community engagement activities, performing for the patients and caretakers at the carle cancer center was also one of the most memorable. going to the place my mother worked as an oncology nurse for two decades and where my beloved father received care in his final days, was emotional and reaffirming and difficult and beautiful and and and…. all at once. i kept remembering all the times i’d walked through that very place with my father’s hand in mine – him at his weakest, but still full of courage. i kept remembering all the nights my mother stayed there either for the sake of work or for the sake of love. i kept remembering the sacrifices that both of them made for my entire family. i kept wishing daddy was there to hear and see my return home to krannert and the community, to wave at me from the audience with his elegant yet humble nature, or to tease me with his gentle heart and humor. but he wasn’t. and as much as that thought broke my heart multiple times over the course of the week, being at the cancer center to offer comfort to those still in the fight strengthened me in some way and i am thankful for that.
my beautiful mom, however, came to every show. sometimes she sang along with me from her front and center seat – her eyes bright, her smile beaming, at times her tears rolling. and on saturday’s closing performance, while i sang the lyrics of “enganjyani”, it was my mom’s presence that lifted me to bathe myself in the emotion of being home and share my open heart. and, in that moment, when tears rolled down my own face and my voice cracked through my cadenza, i knew both of my parents were there and my heart lifted too… happy to be home.
we arrived in kigali and the city was abuzz with a performance by a miseducated beauty and the promise of renewing kagame’s promise. each time i’m in rwanda, i’m certain the the hills and valleys are breathing deeply – first sucking in bitter cassava leaf truths then spitting out strength and survival. this trip marked my first visit home since my father’s passing and i was longing for those ancestral hills of mine to whisper more directives – although i was not sure what exactly i was waiting to hear.
oh, how i miss him. a lover of live music and the outdoors, he would have enjoyed our bonfire-lit garden concert at kifaru art studios in nairobi. that was, afterall, the city where my parents met. and so between rubbing elbows with east africa’s art cognoscenti, between almost being car-jacked in the upscale, forest-like neighborhood of karen, between a wee-hour drop-it-like-it’s-hot group dance session in the city’s seedy but staple nightclub known as florida, between sightseeing with kenyan hip-hop artist octopizzo who started a children’s art center in africa’s largest slum, between eating the most amazing brazilian food ever, i saw them. i saw my parents walking the streets of newly-independent 1960’s nairobi. my mother in her miniskirts, my father in full beard and british neckties. i often found myself juxtaposing my east africa to what i believe theirs must have been as young adults.
constantly zipping across the region on this tour enabled me to admire the contrasting rhythm and personalities of the three cities my parents once called home. as new yorkers, the band felt most comfortable in nairobi – a city that swaddles itself in a cosmopolitan self-confidence that aches of the late 90’s black brooklyn bohemian beauty. just next door, kampala charges through each tropical day with a nature that is at once charming and industrious. kigali, on the other hand, seems to grow newer with age as it brims with ideas, initiatives, and nationalist action. in each city, i came back to the same questions about what my east africa would be and is. most of those questions negotiating my relationship to the region in both spiritual and musical terms. most of those questions suspending themselves only once i stepped on stage to perform.
on our last evening, i went to say goodbye to my 93-year old grandmother. as she always does, she asked about every single one of her 60 or so grandchildren and great-grandchildren living in the states and told me to greet each one of them for her. there was a picture of my father on her bedside table and the smell of pineapples and menthol in the air. there were no whispering hills in the ugandan dusk, only a chorus of tree frogs and hungry mosquitoes. my grandmother’s message to me was unchanging and clear: pray, love, and be thankful. perhaps those were the simple directives i’d been longing to hear in the hills all along.
it has been an INCREDIBLE week for me. last weekend i sang my heart out to hundreds of standing room only strangers at the rochester jazz festival. (apologies to those of you who could not get in to the show!) this monday, the great baaba maal invited me to sing with him under the fiery night of his show at central park’s sumerstage. and then to top that off, i sang with baaba and the legendary bobby mcferrin on tuesday at donna karan’s urban zen. someone pinch me, please. hope you enjoy the shots below as i do. i’m still floating…. hope to see you in chicago and michigan over the weekend. xo!
a laughing heart does not age. that became clear to me when talking with 71-year old Hugh Masekela at last week’s Live & Outspoken Series produced by 651 Arts. on tuesday, may 11th, i had the opportunity to share the stage with legendary South African musician in both conversation and performance. i remember seeing Uncle Hugh live for the first time in 2000 at s.o.b.’s in lower manhattan. it was a birthday gift from some close friends and i was elated. i also remember having to run off to rehearsal for a reggae band i was then singing backup for before getting a chance to meet him after the show. chance would have it that Uncle Hugh and i would finally meet in august 2005. it was just after his live concert at prospect park when another good friend convinced me that we should stick around to give him my then demo recording of red soil in my eyes. i did. he was kind and disarming. he also promised to listen to the music and 5 months later i got an email from his office.
hugh masekela has since become not only a mentor but an uncle. he is still very kind, incredibly generous, and ALWAYS makes me laugh. i laughed so hard on stage last week my face hurt and i kept thinking “how am i going to sing properly after this??” but having a grand time nonetheless. when i reflect on our performance, i can’t help but remember that first night i saw him live and how he poured his heart into the aisles of a dancing audience. thank you, thank you, thank you, Uncle Hugh, for your beautiful, generous, ageless laughing heart.
hello world. yes, i know i have been “journal quiet” and i apologize for that. especially after saying that i would keep you updated more regularly this year. the truth of the matter is that i have been off to a fantastic first five months of the year and i’ve found keeping up with all the facebooking/twittering/journaling that seems to be required of artists these days to be quite the challenge. regardless, i do miss the journaling part immensely. so, here i am. again. i hope you are still listening.
so, it’s now may of 2010. soooo much exciting stuff has happened – from collaborating with the legendary urban bush women to getting a smashing review on npr’s ‘all things considered’ to subsequently getting the #2 spot on billboard’s world chart to the digital launching of my non-profit organization to performing an opening live radio set with moby to last week’s magical evening of conversation & performance with fabulous mentor/uncle hugh masekela who made me laugh harder than ever on stage! (she exhales and hopes that quick & dirty update redeems her of 5 months of blog silence.)
for these blessings and so much more, i am thankful. and as more frequent backyard barbecue invites offer a weekly reminder that summer is indeed upon us, this year feels hard and fast in so many ways, but i am still thankful. for the year also feels like an abundance of new earth. as always, i am still sussing out my path and searching for continued moments of bloom potential, but my feet are firmly placed on the ground and i thank you for listening, for cheering, for walking with me.
hellooooooooo, new decade!! i know i’m late, but january is off to a super busy start and (while late with my new year tidings) i couldn’t be happier. i spent the last weekend of 2009 gallivanting with visiting cousins (above) and found ourselves at one Law & Order star‘s apartment in Tribeca at midnight. (“Dun-dun”…Is anyone else out there a huge fan of SVU???) anyway, i hope you are all feeling deeply inspired and opening your heart to receive an abundance of all that is good this decade and always…LOVE.