Jeannette Lambert

Creative living through jazz & intuition

November 23, 2018
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Jazzgrrl protests: nice for what?

After I first stepped out to sing jazz songs in public at the tender age of twelve, I was greeted with applause and then, a day later, an obscene phone call. I can see that moment so clearly still, the excitement of my parents as they handed me the phone, thinking this was something important coming up, and my horror at what I heard when I did say hello. My brother, who had also been on stage with me, didn’t have to put up with this kind of crap.

It was a pivotal moment in my view of my future, as I could see our paths diverging and the bumpy road I had up ahead of me. Reading Lionel Shriver’s misinformed and utterly unhelpful article this morning, with her claims that “The matter of ‘too many’ men in jazz is especially perverse, since there’s little evidence that women have been actively discriminated against”, this image floods back into my brain, etched in there like everything Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was talking about during her statements on Kavanaugh’s drunken attack.

In the 1990s I got so fed up with people saying there are no women in jazz that I started a web page that was just a simple reply to that, a page full of links to the websites of women in jazz. Like, look, there are tons. Duh. My idea was that if there was a long, long list, people would have to give up and not assume, as Shriver does, that there simply are no women in jazz (disinterested shrug goes here) so why make a fuss? I kept the web page up for a long time, even as my url, www.jazzgrrls.com, was mimicked by a porn site, another kind of bashing on the head to please stay in my place and stop protesting. Or was it to say, oh, you’re looking for girls so here’s what you really want?

I took the page down eventually because I was overwhelmed by the neediness of the women there, the endless cds arriving in my mailbox, so many from the overlooked, underappreciated women trying to get a bit of visibility and they had mistakenly assumed I might be able to provide it. And I also ended up on the lists of promoters of anyone in jazz i.e. the men, and my inbox was inundated with requests for gigs, for recordings, for anything to help other people make money. Also, I didn’t always find that being female was enough to bond me to other women. We could be female, love jazz, perform jazz and still have wildly different views on everything. Never mind some other weird hairsplitting where singers are considered something lesser than instrumentalists. So whatever. I took down the page.

Nowadays I’m on the sidelines of the debate, working on my music from home, working on my own shit, learning new things to help achieve my musical goals my way. And I occasionally get drawn into a conversation with an older man in the jazz world who is puzzled, who doesn’t understand what this new movement towards equality means. Why isn’t it ok for him to make fun of chick singers anymore? Oh the times I have been berated as a chick singer when someone is mad at me for not letting them insult me some other way! Why isn’t it ok to indulge in a little flirting? Oh the endless attempts at flirting or worse I had to dodge as a student, all the gropey hands, all the patriarchal language, and how exactly did anyone think I was supposed to actually have the time and space to study and to learn something?

I look back on my journals now (yes, dudes, watch out, I wrote it all down!) and the hours I spent with my art teacher chasing me around a desk in his studio (how did I end up there?), or the math teacher driving me to god knows where in the dead of night, or the jazz musician chasing me in an elevator, asking how old I was over and over again (in case I was jailbait). But ok, whatever, you eventually figure out who to avoid, and you try to make a living as best you can, although, ah, maybe you don’t finish your degree because you can’t stomach the environment anymore, and then you head out to the pink collar ghetto only to discover the job market is also riddled with wandering hands.

I’m sorry, where was I? Have I lost focus? Can you focus when you are being hunted? Are you motivated when you sit on a jury for arts grants and realize only one 10% of the applicants are female and when you protest you are told, can you please tell the ladies to apply?

Reg’s Songbook band

My brother put together a band with good gender balance recently, or maybe there were even more women than men on stage. When someone exclaimed, oh Reg, where did you discover all these lovely talented young women?!! he replied in his usual deadpan manner, it’s easy if you don’t ignore them. So yes, kudos to the men who support us. And kudos to those who are standing up the old tired privileged mentality that Lionel Shriver is immersed in.

As Drake says, you gotta be nice for what? Let’s not be nice. Let’s point fingers and let’s change stuff. The simple fact is that the world needs more music and it will only benefit everyone if more women are encouraged and making it. It’s a win/win. Stop worrying that the entitled men are going to lose something. They’ll be way fine. They’ve had their turn for a long, long time.

November 6, 2018
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Why I sing Brontë poems

When I finished reading every single book in the juvenile section of our local library as a kid, the librarian suggested I move along to romantic fiction. There I discovered the timeless novels of Emily Brontë, Jane Austen and so many more. Later I discovered the poems by Emily and her sisters and felt pulled into their world of sweeping drama and story. Perhaps it was also their tragic history, all those deaths by tuberculosis that resonated with me as my mother struggled with the same dangerous illness.

As I started working with improvising melodies as a teen, I pulled out some of them and began singing. There’s something so angst-ridden, evocative and rhythmic that makes them easy to sing in any genre, and the words seem to contain melodies within them. And they lend themselves well to energetic free playing as I think to myself: what would Emily think of a punk version of her poems? And I wanted to sing songs that reflected the stories I loved as a girl, the female voices from my experience.

And so I’ve been singing them for decades now, in different contexts and you can find my versions of Brontë poems spread out over a series of recordings including Lone Jack Pine with Barre Phillips and Michel, also  Unclouded Day  with Mat Maneri, Raoul Björkenheim and Michel.

We’ve just released a new track that Michel and I recorded with Greg Burk in Italy, as his little dog Mambo wandered in and out of the room, beneath the pine cones, cactus and lemon trees. This is a version of Anne Brontë’s poem Lines Composed in a Wood on a Windy Day. It premiered recently and you can view it on Youtube now.

October 15, 2018
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Dreaming a poem together

What happens if you create a poem from a series of dreams by different people that were all in answer to the same question? What kind of a prayer will be created? That was what I set out to discover with my psi dreaming friends in late summer this year. And what is a good question? We jumbled together a collection of meaningful questions and selected one at random. And so our dream incubation was: how do we create more joy in our lives/world?

On the chosen night we all posed the same question and slept. In the morning we recorded our dreams in answer to this question. The answers were wildly varied, some joyful and flamboyant, others dramatic and sad. In some it was hard to find the joy at all, in others, the imagery danced around us easily. We shared our thoughts and impressions and then the extracting began.

Here is my poem from our night of dreaming for more joy. My own dream contained a quest for a girasol, which is either a jerusaleum artichoke (pretty much the only plants growing in my garden this year) or sunflowers in Spanish. And as I like action plans for my dreams, it was not long before I found myself in a blooming field of sunflowers, along with Michel, as we celebrated our wedding anniversary. It was the perfect setting to celebrate our joy at being together on so many levels.

In a startling sync, another of the dreamers shares the same anniversary date with his wife, who is a great fan of sunflowers.  I felt propelled along by the energy of the group poem, and have since spent more time with plants and nature. I’ve harvested a handful of the girasol from the garden and roasted them at Thanksgiving. I’ve started growing herbs indoors to bring flavour to our winter meals.

So many thanks to everyone who participated and shared their dreams with me. It is an intriguing exercise, one I hope to tackle again. This mutual dream poem was included in the Dream Art Gallery of this year’s Psiberdreaming Conference of the IASD so you can read more about it there.

October 11, 2018
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Inspiration in Spain

I remember sitting on the balcony with a view overlooking the Mediterranean, filled with dolphins, with our little pet goldfinch singing in a cage near me, trying to decide when to dash downstairs to steal a stalk of sugarcane from the fields waving below. Or when to go for a swim, lying on the rocks under the gaze of the white village of Salobreña. That was back when I was twelve and we were on sabbatical in Andalucia. A few decades later now, arriving in the village I am faced with a mosaic that depicts Salobreña’s history, an image with donkeys loaded with sugar cane and I realize I too am someone returning from history. The rum factory closed a long time ago.

Granada is now only a hop and skip away on wide, smooth highways overlooking dry mountains filled with unsightly greenhouses. But that city is as beautiful as ever and could it be that the food has even improved? The tapas are still free with a drink, plentiful and now there’s also flawless presentation. The flamenco played high in the hills is just as timeless as ever. And so even though some parts of history are now gone, and others remain the same, there is still much to discover in Spain and many things that are new, at least to me. We’d never spent time along the Costa Brava before, with the beaches of soft golden sand, rolling waves and warm, delicious water. We hadn’t passed through all the rice fields of Valencia and tasted all the variations on paella which delight us now.

These discoveries came to us thanks to our stay at the Vilarchangel artist residency, directed by the multi-media performance artist Ulises Pistolo Eliza, in his finca filled with the furniture of the original orange plantation from the 1930’s. Among the many bedrooms, balconies and large, shared spaces, we gathered our thoughts, ideas and met with fellow artists who were also discovering the region.

Michel gathered inspiration for his visual scores from the varied vegetation of the plantation, while I settled in with the large volumes of poems by Federico Garcia Lorca in the library as the flamenco singing of Kiko Cortes  wafted up from the front patio. Michel and I recorded music around poems I wrote on site using instruments from the artist workshop even as Sun Ho Kim, visiting from Boston, made small sculptures from tissue paper and oranges nearby. As luck would have it, this was an ideal setting for a family residency, again so vital for keeping life and art in balance, especially for a female artist and mother like myself. Multi-generational too, so my father was free to forage as he loves to do among the apricots, figs, walnuts, artichokes, oranges, plums and more. The kids made drawings with ink borrowed from Aki Hoshihara, visiting from LA, and played basketball under the bougainvilleas. They watched a few soccer matches on a t.v. that had been purchased at the request of monks that had once visited with the Dalai Lama, so that was another kind of blessing.

After the residency we discovered the villages near Castellon and stayed Mas del Gat a wonderful artistic retreat created by our great friend and best guide in Spain, Carol Charlton. She introduced us to more artists and toured us around the beautiful, inspiring countryside and perched villages. It’s a lush place, surrounded by olive and almond trees, figs and apricots, off-grid yet with a large swimming pool overlooking the valley below.

Before heading home we returned to Barcelona where we played a few wild sets of improvised music with some wonderfully inventive musicians at El Pricto’s long-running Discordia concert series in Gracia.

So now I am back home, harvesting the grapes from our balcony here as the starlings pass by, gathering all the music from this trip, the new songs, the old songs, the half-remembered poems. Many will be included in my new project, a mixtape of inventions where I sing to or with the spirit of place, the Genius Loci (working title). I’m hoping for a quiet, peaceful winter that will allow to me bring all these thoughts and ideas together so that I can share them here with you. We have replenished our stores of music so that Michel and I can be found in different parts of the house, each working on editing large amounts of freshly recorded music, while our sons and their friends take over the backyard studio and record their own new tracks. It has proven to be a productive time of creative renewal, just in time for harvest season.

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the hours of powerful music making in France before we headed to Spain, with Barre Phillips and many of the musicians from his EMIR collective, above the clouds on Barre and Mary’s magical mountain. It’s all there, ripe for the picking, to be continued …

Special thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts and the Conseil des arts et des lettres for their contributions to our many and varied projects.

June 4, 2018
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Why I sing free jazz

Let me explain why I sing free jazz or melodic poetry or improvised music. It’s a long, circular kind of story. I was a little girl in love with princesses when I saw Julie London sing Cry Me A River in the film The Girl Can’t Help It. She inspired me to embark on a long love affair with jazz standards with all their romantic stories and singers with excellent phrasing. It was also a way to hang out with my brother when we were kids (no computers! no internet!) doing something we both liked, learning new songs together and performing them for friends and family or in bars where we had to go sit in the parking lot on the breaks thanks to liquor licencing laws. During that deep study of the great American songbook, I discovered that I love to sing.

with Reg and the VW camper in Spain

And then on a sabbatical in Andalucia in Spain when I was around eleven I was struck by the power and passion of flamenco music. This was another way to sing, raw emotions and strong sounds, timeless stories, epic poems. I also spent time listening to the radio wafting in across the Mediterranean, fascinated by the Muslim prayers from North Africa. Back home again in Canada I would loll around singing along to Stevie Wonder and his iconic Songs in the Key of Life. I still just want to be Stevie Wonder. Doesn’t everybody?

My dna as a pie

But what do you do, as a Dutch-Indonesian immigrant child living by a lake in Northern Ontario, in a mining town? What kind of music can you make to represent your own culture? Recently I had my ancestry dna tested and discovered it is even more complex than I thought. I have dna from eleven different regions in the world, including small percentages from Iberia, North Africa, Native American dna as well as the Dutch, German and Javanese I’d expected. It’s confusing and yet somehow liberating. What box am I supposed to tick off now? I will draw one in that says (to quote Kurt Cobain) never mind.

Improvising with Barre and Michel and others in Puget-ville

This issue of what to sing and why has been at the core of my creative process from the start. Thankfully I was in the right place at the right time for discovering free jazz. We had the iconoclastic jazz trumpet player Herbie Spanier coming to our home regularly to jam and he would yell into my ear, just keep singing! Sing whatever comes into your head! Don’t listen to me, just keep going! for hours at a time as we continued, hell-bent on discovery and originality. I saw concert after concert of original music, attended workshops with Misha Mengelberg, sang Jay Clayton’s scribbly line drawing scores along with her at the jazz workshop in Banff, and had the joy of singing Cecil Taylor’s shamanic poems with him, also in the mountains at Banff. In more recent decades I’ve sung alongside the wildly inventive Barre Phillips, whose dedication and energy is always exemplary, as when he inspired us to improvise for 12 hours straight, something he considered slacking when compared to Sun Ra’s week long non-stop music sessions.

I have discovered that shamanism and improvisation are closely linked, because as we open ourselves up to inspiration and spontaneity, all kinds of energies rush through us. Sometimes I sing whatever comes into my head in the moment. More often I sing whatever comes into my head after I’ve written some words down and shaped them a bit, pulling out rhythm and sounds as I go along. Words on paper compared to words that are sung have different demands. What is vital to me is to be able to convey the greatest possible emotion as quickly as possible when making a musical statement, in much the same way flamenco or fado artists are always singing at peak emotional power. There is no time for a slow, tangled build up when singing improvised music. No dipping one’s toes, no plinkity plonk. You want to say what you have to say and swiftly, and if that’s not enough, say it again.

As a result, I write poems swiftly and end up channelling all kinds of ancestral stories, which, considering the amount of ancestors I have globally, keeps me very busy. I also write poems from dreams, which is another great way of harnessing a lot of power. And in recent reading I’ve done about shamanism, notably Martin Prechtel’s Secrets of the Talking Jaguar (a book I picked up after dreaming of jaguars), I understand now that dream songs are prayers. Aha.

With Kali Z. Fasteau

When I asked some very talented and accomplished women who are great improvisers (Jay Clayton, Kali Z. Fasteau and Annette Peacock) if they thought mysticism had anything to do with free music, they all unequivocally agreed — it has everything to do with it! They had many helpful and inspiring thoughts for me which are outlined in a series of short video interviews I did back when my kids were babies and I was struggling to balance life and art (which also explains why I am so busty in the videos, btw, engorged frankly, things only female artists have to contend with, lol). I thought, why don’t I go and ask someone who knows? So I did. Annette’s interview isn’t online – she will cue me if and when she wants to share it. Hopefully their thoughts can help and inspire others, especially women and girls, as well.

It is difficult in this age of rampant nationalism to have the freedom to express your ideas outside of the boundaries of genres that are so fraught with identity. I’ve often described myself as struggling with my cultural identity or lackthereof. When I saw the author Zadie Smith (whose latest book is, aptly, entitled Feel Free) in Montreal last year she said, in a prickly fashion, that critics say she’s constantly working with themes of cultural identity but she considers it quite the opposite — she doesn’t care about cultural identity at all because the idea itself is so limiting,never mind culture bound. And that was eye-opening for me because I do agree wholeheartedly. And to think otherwise is a wild goose chase anyway. We need to transcend these ideas of who we are, where we are from. I don’t want my sons or their friends to feel that they can’t sing their own songs because they like to rap and they aren’t African American. I insist, just express yourself, make the music you want that is sincere and comes from your heart and figure out the rest later. It should be your own in any case, perhaps an entirely new genre or a new variation. We all need more music in our lives, and if we love making it, we owe it to ourselves to just do it. Freedom, really, is at the core of everything.

May 12, 2018
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When I was a web artist

Once upon a time I was a web artist, when it was a new frontier and I was cited as a pioneer in a big catalogue for an ambitious exhibition called Future Cinema. At that time websites were in their infancy. We were struggling to understand how we could use this new medium of cyberspace to convey ideas and art.

I’d been dreaming of combining photos and music and story somehow for years and suddenly it was possible, with a click here and there tying loose ends together. I learned how to code html from scratch and taught a few workshops for Webgrrls (a new movement for empowering women to use the internet) and Studio XX. My enthusiastic students enjoyed solving the puzzle of fixing code I’d deliberately broken so their pages would load properly. I created one of the first online journals, a dream journal no less, filled with drawings and photos and audio and was surprised when an internet audience followed my tangled subconscious and even surprised me with an award. I’ve found the journal back recently and will post some of the funnier entries here soon.

Museums all over the world had calls for submissions and so I submitted. The first of these was in Japan and I animated digital drawings I’d made that could tile all over the screen and combined them with sounds I’d collected from SoHo in New York for my piece One Night in Greenwich Village. I scrambled to understand code, browser issues, colour palettes and video encoding.

It was freeing, this ability to join in the art world, to make art for the sake of making art. There was no economic drive behind any of it, no monetizing, just my drawings, my sounds, there for the clicking, an offering to the gods and goddesses, in keeping with what I think art should be. I was awarded some funding for more ambitious projects I invented, my project Sunset on St-Viateur, a tribute to a street I loved, and Where Are You From? a small networked cinema project (how’s that for a cool term?) that expressed my thoughts on my ever elusive cultural identity or lackthereof.

The technology changed, ideas grew into companies, (Youtube! Blogger! WordPress!) and so those initial bright ideas were gobbled up and made redundant, automated out of existence. Thankfully Rhizome in NY still works tirelessly to archive much of the work but so much was so ephemeral even then.

The videos look small and fuzzy now in this universe where even my phone can shoot in 4k. But low tech has never phased me so now, here on my old-fashioned blog where I have set out to explain myself, I present two types of low tech – from 8 mm film to fuzzy digital video, some art I made with our home movies. It still is miraculous to me to have these images, fading but bright, so much like memory itself. To pull the best out of the past, to bring it forward with the tools of the day, that’s what I still find so remarkable. Change happens at such a remarkable pace and it seems people don’t even realize what crazy change is still ahead of us thanks to technology. Maybe by taking a minute to glance backwards every now and then we’ll be able to cope.

February 27, 2018
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Black Fungus concert

Michel and I revived our Black Fungus duo, voice and drums, at a concert at Resonance Cafe, March 31st, 2018 here in Montreal. We continue our exploration of dream haiku and what magical space it inhabits with improvised music. As well, we experimented with channeling the energy of the genius loci of various places we have visited. With sounds, songs and rhythms gathered around the world, the attentive audience journeyed with us through the music.

Here is a sample of  the music, two songs  of ancestral memory performed with gamelan tracks. The gamelan music was played by our son JJ and Michel and I earlier in the year during our stay at Rimbun Dahan artist residency in Malaysia. The first, Rim of Fire, speaks of how easily the island of Java disposes of its residents, while the second tells the story of what it feels like to be looking back at one’s  Eurasian roots from a window in winter in Canada.

Duo performance from our recording Lone Jack Pine

February 11, 2018
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Hip shit I did as a jazz kid

As my oldest son JJ and his friends got ready to go hear Brockhampton at the Corona Theatre this week, we talked about how important it is to support live music. We’ve managed pretty well in the past year,  considering how wildly expensive concerts are. We went to big concerts by Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. JJ and his pals can add Isaiah Rashad and Brockhampton to that list. He also went to a few jazz clubs here and there and two Raptors games. But it’s nothing like my life as a teen. I remember spending most of my time out listening to music. How did we afford it? What was the pace, really, when I look back?

I’ve always been an avid journal writer and so I pulled out a big box of heavy volumes dense with intense, angst-filled stories. Combing through them, past all the emotional upheaval of the time, here’s what I discovered as I looked back at just one of them from 1985. I’m not trying to present this as some kind of golden age but before all this interweb we certainly managed to find inspiration. My early musical influences were very eclectic and I am grateful to all these fantastic musicians that were touring at the time.

Live music I saw in Toronto between March and July, 1985

I printed all the photos for Bill Smith’s book Imagine the Sound in our small basement photo lab

Toots and the Maytals
Leroy Sibbles
Archie Shepp
Einsturzende Neubauten
Pepper Adams
K.D. Lang
Beastie Boys
Billy Bragg
Bobby McFerrin
Miles Davis
John Scofield (with Miles)
Art Ensemble of Chicago
David Liebman
Cecil Taylor
Sonny Greenwich
James Moody

Also tons of local bands and lots of artsy movies, and I also went dancing at Pariah, the Blitz and other clubs. Had regular 2 hour or more jam sessions with friends (usually good-looking sad young men). Recorded about three demos in studios, made two short films in university (see below), had surgery (!!), helped nurse a dying friend at home, narrowly evaded sexual harrassment in the film production department, wrote essays for Science class, went to a few art openings each week and more, got a grant to go to the Banff Summer Jazz program, performed sound poetry for a bp nichol Opera. And wrote it all down!

Economic notes: We complained that Archie Shepp was $6, even after midnight; that David Liebman was $5 for just a 40 minute set; and the Beastie Boys were $4 for a 20 minute set (the radio station issued an apology for this). I remember marvelling at that time that Michel’s uncles had earned the same amount of money playing in Quebec City with Edith Piaf in the 1940’s as we were making in jazz clubs ($100/night). More shocking is that most jazz clubs still only pay about that now, almost 100 years later, or even less. In the 80’s I was working for $3.50/hour and other people worked for $4/hour in restaurants and got about $17 in tips after long shifts. Rent in Toronto was about $250/month and my parents looked at a big house that was $110,000 but they couldn’t afford it. What strange economy do we have now, with all those houses over a million everywhere?

Economy aside, I do see great freedom in today’s music as free-styling rappers take over popular music and thus improvising lyrics and more open musical forms become the norm. I’ve seen 22,000 kids singing along to rapid-fire texts with shocking accuracy and determination, with themes of social justice and anti-racism expressed artistically. So it’s all good, the kids are alright.

February 1, 2018
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Creative renewal at Rimbun Dahan

This past summer we spent two weeks at an artist residency in Malaysia, at Rimbun Dahan, a beautiful complex outside of Kuala Lumpur. It is designed by the great Malaysian architect Hijjas Kasturi  who co-founded the art centre with his wife Angela Kasturi. As we were travelling as a family of artists, Michel and myself, our two sons and my dad, with Reg arriving towards the end of our stay, they invited us to stay in a beautiful historic house on the grounds called Rumah Uda Munap, a restored Perak house carved with dragons and birds. The house is set back from the main buildings of the art centre, surrounded by tropical forest and wildlife. With its three bedrooms and large living space, the house was ideal for us. The artist residency is managed with care by Syar S. Alia who greeted us and showed us around.

As a female artist keen on balancing my creative life with my family responsibilities, finding an artist residency that is open to family stays always feels miraculous. And yet it is vital too, as our children also gain so much from witnessing our creative process. It is a great privilege too to see my children discovering Southeast Asia with their grandfather who was so often reminded of his own youth in everything he saw. So he would keep stealing fruit from trees and sharing stories with us as we went along.

Michel created illustrated scores with his new drawings, pieces of objects and plants he found, sounds that inspired him. I gathered sounds with my camera and photos while writing poems, reading and filming. We also all played gamelan together in the large dance studio and worked on our music for our performance in Sulawesi after our stay.

The break and mental space away from North American news was a great relief. We visited the library in the artists’ lounge, wandered through the underground art gallery and soaked in the atmosphere. We enjoyed authentic and inexpensive Malaysian food all up and down the road in front of the centre in Kuang, quickly realizing this was more worthwhile then cooking for ourselves. We travelled easily to Kuala Lumpur where we got our fill of shopping and delicious food courts and saw more architecture by Hijjas Kasturi.

There were many cinematic moments, like walking along the dark road at night to the soundtrack of competing mosques with only a small flashlight to guide us or tiptoeing towards the lake by the pool to watch birds and monkeys in the early morning hours. There was a day when I ate cendol, fried chicken, banana chips, okra, durian, young coconut, lemang and mango. I was spoiled by the vast assortment of uncooked krupuk available at the small shop across the street, having been raised to treasure these dried discs for years while growing up in Canada.

So here are some of the lines I wrote as we took a deep breath, discovered new things, and gathered inspiration.

 

We can hardly hear the prayers
over the racket of the crickets
electric on this rainy night
where the lizard jumped over the mouse

under the ceiling fans we grow silent
reading books about gardens, talking cats
country squires and the Wallace line

I mistook my brother’s flipflops for frogs

Michel is making musical instruments
from ropes and a dry broom
meanwhile
I am slowly unravelling
my white flowing pants
are endlessly drying in the sun
a black sarong now drapes
and flashes my legs when I walk
I’ve lost all my hair elastics  again
and knot my hair into itself
a swimsuit or a bra are interchangeable
no makeup, no shoes, no bug spray even
just me, rolling in the humidity
chasing the breezes of the fans
as the ants at my feet get smaller and smaller

I am like the nutmeg shell
tumbling to the ground, popped open

all my secrets falling out

 

Our page at the Rimbun Dahan website

 

 

December 6, 2017
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Songs as offerings

As our visit to Toraja approached I spent a long time thinking about what I would sing there, within those magical mountains and mysterious caves. I knew I wanted to sing some of my dream haiku as I’d been doing in Montreal since the spring. Singing my dreams combines mystic detective work with musical ideas I’ve gathered while singing free jazz, something like Jack Kerouac’s haiku with jazz but delving beyond stream of consciousness to a stream from the unconscious.

With the sudden passing of my cousin Marianne, the babysitter of my youth, my comrade-in-arms for revitalizing hiking getaways in Palm Springs, I scoured my journals for dreams of her. And wrote my haiku based on these. As news of Marianne’s illness was unfolding far too swiftly, my friend Susan Briscoe began her blog The Death Project, which was born of her own terminal cancer diagnosis. I selected a page from the Crow’s Vow, a collection of her poems, and brought all these words with me to our artist residency and up the winding road to Toraja. I wasn’t sure what else I would sing but I was determined to sing Susan’s poem and dreams of Marianne together as my offering to the mystical caves of Ke’te Kesu, here in one of the few places of the world that treats death, not as something to be feared and avoided, but as the quest of all life.

Here is the song we performed, with the joyful accompaniment of my band and our new friend, bassist Fendy Rizk. There was dancing in the audience and singing along and one could feel the spirits were with us, helping us to send our best wishes to everyone on all astral planes.

Much of the imagery is from my travels in California, with the bighorn sheep, cliffs, sand and Susan’s coyotes, and I’ve returned to mix the song as wildfires destroy so much of the beauty around there again. So this is an offering to the fire gods to give it a rest and to step away as quickly as possible too. I don’t know if it will work but it is a song filled with wishes from the past, the present and the future. What more can we do?