award-winning documentarian: radio + music + photography
What an exhilarating experience to share last night with so many people in my family and community of friends!
It was the official launch party for a KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN to catalyze the production of my debut studio album, DELVE.
I had a massage the morning of, and acupuncture the day before, with needles literally in my ears, while performing. They helped me feel the weight of my body, my breath and my organs. They nourished my kidneys and blood as I drank nettles and comfrey tea right there on stage between songs. I realized that performing original songs from the heart is sort of like mothering, in that to be vulnerable means everything is subject to change in a moment, while being present and engaged, simultaneously.
I have practiced my songs so often that they are a part of me, in my cells. To share them felt triumphant and fun after being terrified to sing only 4 years ago, like the river flowing down with rocks as barriers, which only re-direct the current to continue moving forward....like time. Time moving faster with each year which is why I figure, what the hell? I'm going to be 40 next summer and whatever scares me needs to be faced head on, and overcome. There really isn't anything to fear but fear itself.
Last night brought the memory back of a story about the last time I ever performed on the stage, not in music, but the New York theater.
It was New York City in 1997. I was 22 and just got a bit part in an Off-Broadway show at The Mint Theater. It was Mr. Pim Passes By, written by A. A. Milne. I was waiting in the wings for my line and because I was young and only had 3 lines in the whole play, I was not humbled and seasoned enough to be focused in the way I needed to be. There was someone in the office who wanted my opinion about something he had written. I was easily lured from my post to go help for just a moment. I was distracted and lost track of time and my place in the play.
All of a sudden, I heard silence. My heart immediately began to race, as if being chased by a wild sabertooth tiger. I ran from the office to the wings, knowing I had missed my line. I went where I should have been to hear my cue. I missed it. I dropped it. The actors were fumbling, doing their best to improv their way through, waiting for me. I awkwardly walked to the stage to deliver the line for which they waited and we tried our best to salvage the disastrous moment. It was my last line of the show, and my last night on the stage, until last night.
After that debacle, I ran to the green room and felt sick with fear, shame, and embarrassment. In a 22 year old's life, that was the greatest failure I could have imagined. The director came back stage with a ferocity in his eyes and yelled quietly, "THAT WAS UNFORGIVABLE!" Foam was coming out of his mouth. I left New York soon after that figuring I had zero place in the arts and I was going to just shut off and do something else. That something else was journalism, which, eventually, it turns out, led me back to the arts, but in a different, more integrated, more true context.
My songs are the opposite of stepping into another character outside of who we are, but how to step fully into our truest, most authentic selves within the life we've been given.
Also, I find that writing my own songs and singing them has a quality of merging journalism with the arts in that I can comment on life and the world around me yet perform them with humility, life experience, and my own stamp of poetry and soul, bringing me deeper into the joyous, complex truth of what is unfolding.
Recently, I rehearsed my songs in a warehouse studio space in Oakland with professional band of musicians with bass, drums, keyboard and rhythm guitar. It was electrifying. Despite having had a full day with little sleep the night before, I was charged, running on adrenaline and inspiration. Co-creating the accompaniment for my songs was like adding salt to soup, just after giving birth when you are so hungry that food becomes like breathing air - one MUST have it immediately. The songs came alive with a restored vibrance and energy that thrilled and nourished every single cell in my body. While singing, there were times that I had to laugh with excitement.
On our way there Dave, my producer, asked me, "3 years ago could you have imagined driving to rehearse your songs for a debut music performance?"
This was the very last thing on my mind 3 years ago, before the moment in my last post when I spoke of being called out by my son after I relentlessly tried to get him to take music lessons. He said, "I don't want music, mama. YOU want music!"
Before that conversation was a trip to the jungle of Costa Rica, to the land of our dear friends Stephen Brooks and Sarah Wu, to share in their wild and crazy fun wedding . It was there, in 2010, that I had an awakening. While the kids slept in hammocks amidst the steamy night air, thick with heat and humidity, I jammed all night long in music circles, singing. Singing as I never had sung before. Singing to support the music happening. Something was opening in me. A reservoir of creative power that was ready to emerge. And, then, there was a moment that would change me. I met Amir Bar-Lev at this wedding, along with his awesome wife who I had already come to know, Jenn Bleyer, and their little daughter, Yael, who was the same age of 10 months as my daughter, Sofi. We were instant kin to have been crazy enough to bring our families with 10 month old girls wrapped up to us in the jungle. The Brooks-Wu wedding was not to be missed.
As Amir played guitar, I sang, along with a group of other musicians and singers. Between songs, Amir said to me, "Ahri, you have an amazing voice. Amazing." No one had ever said that to me before. I was taken aback and inspired by the reflection of someone so accomplished as a filmmaker, with such impeccable sensibility. Before that night I held a lot of tension in my voice but in Costa Rica I distinctly remember saying to myself, "relax from the inside and support what is happening here to serve the music."
Interestingly, before our trip to Costa Rica, I felt compelled to paint an image of a woman in a white long dress with sleeves that seem like wings, almost in flight, yet her feet rooted into the earth, surrounded by the lush nighttime jungle, looking up at the moon. Behind the painting, and after we returned to the Bay Area, I started to glue clips that grabbed me from Sasha Frere-Jones articles on musicians and music from The New Yorker.
The painting lives in my house on the wall as a constant reminder of the seed that began this journey. When we got home from Costa Rica, I added clippings to the back of the painting and a vision to open and hone my voice. Then, there was the moment with my boy about his music lessons. Fast forward 4 years to deciding on the name of my debut album: DELVE.