Paul. Medgar. Malcolm. Martin. Bodies of murder. Not all by the bullet. Hazel. Claudette. A day for one. A day for all. Slow death tames the loud and proud. They burried the living and laughed with them as they turned pages and cheeks. Mighty like Jehu. Zealous too. Lap the water with cuped hands and you keep your eyes open so that you don’t fall for the dream that sleeps with your unfaithful heart. That young man you see is that old man that sighs. Been here before. Been new. Been clean. Been old for sure. Been dead. Some die to live. Some love to death. And some tarry with the years they accumulate. Caesar takes his cut but no deals with black messiahs. Hoover up the Hamptons. Freddie’s dead as Curtis said. Been here before. Known the soil like they knew soul food. Like cotton. Like candy. Like us. We were sweet. We were lovers. She loved him dearly. Loved us to life. Dreams. That’s what it was. We were ideas. Not fixed. Not defined. We were possibilities for the pulled trigger to decipher. And bullets explore continents with names like Robeson. Evers. X. King. Scott. Colvin…….. ……… ………. ….. ……. ……… ….. …… …… ……. ……. …….. …….. ….. And years blow back to hunt the now before we wake with ideas to fix and define today.
The writer, Ben Okri (my favourite living author), gave me some great advice. He said I should finish writing whatever it was I was writing. Whether it be music, a novel, a story, a play. Just finish whatever it was and don’t worry about what you do with it. So in the last few years I’ve worked towards finishing pieces and selecting some of the ones that feel most pertinent to my life experience. 22 years of writing as a musically illiterate synesthete has taught me a few things. Such as how life imitates or is foreshadowed by what is expressed creatively. Even years after the fact.
Whether my compositions are any good or not, is not for me to say, though I am pleased with some things. One can never be completely satisfied if they are as creatively ambitious as I am and have been. And failures are foundation stones for one’s character and growth. Its not fun to fail but its one of life’s greatest teachers. Vincent sold one out of the 900 paintings he poured his heart into. A failure in his own lifetime to some. To others he was beyond it. It doesn’t really matter. What counts isn’t the acclaim. If purpose finds you at work, doing what you are compelled to do and at a great risk of going over the edge of reason, who can say that it was not a victory that you even got the paint onto the canvas?
I have completed writing music that is inside me. Another deeply flawed human being has put some paint on the canvas to say something about life and love, pain and joy, fear and hope, death, desire, passion and things of the eternal. Whimsical and serious. Lofty and lo-fi. Between Heaven and the earth my feet lightly hovers above when I day dream. My music is some kind of dance for existence. A Tango Negro of the heart. A waltz of the soul. All my blood is in there. My laughter. My joy. My tears. A lot of tears are in there. I’ve cried a lot of nights into mornings. Quietly. But mostly my love.
“Some go hand in hand, and some go hand in love. Two by two they build their world of love.
Lion with a Lamb. Falcon with a Dove. Step by step they build a world of love.”
– Terry Callier, Timepeace
Timepeace was birthed many years after Terry Callier, a Chicagoan singer-songwriter, had been established as a Folk Jazz maverick on the indie scene. The unanimously positive critical reaction it recieved in the UK led to a career resurgence and his concerts which I never attended, grew significantly in numbers. He played often at The Jazz Cafe. Regrettably, I always missed his shows.
I spent many nights playing Timepeace on repeat in my late teenage years. Sometimes I wouldn’t get past Lazarus Man. When I did, I might have gotten stuck in the mud of Keep Your Heart Right. And if I did get beyond that one I would be overwhelmed by Java Sparrow. Thats how it would be. Keep Your Heart Right played a role in informing some aspects of my being. I’d hear the song in my head in all kinds of situations, encouraging me to do as it said. I’m grateful for it. It nourished me.
There was a period in my life when I was comfortably numb. It lasted about 5 years. But I never willfully closed my heart. Its a strange and inhuman experience to feel nothing. I became aware of the condition of my numbness when my father died. It didn’t begin there. Something inside me died before he passed. I was just cold. I essentially lost 5 years of my life to a state of numbness. Its notable that I wasn’t playing this album during those years. When my heart opened up again and I found myself, these songs would pop back into my head. They were already in my heart.
Timepeace is a part of me. I return to it every now and then. The title track talks of the things that we may have to contend with if we don’t get it together but it resolves to an idea of possibility and hope, that maybe we can build a world of love. In the 90s many recording artists and songwriters put out songs that were hopeful about resolving the challenges of war, poverty, racial prejudice and other ills. Sometimes the tempo the messages were planted on would throw the rider off the proverbial Horse. The paitient tempo of ‘Timepeace’ with Pharoah Sander’s wailing tenor sax serenading the lilting guitar rhythm on a journey just short of 9 minutes is one of my most satisfying and cathartic I have been on. That world of love is a beautiful dream worth living and hoping for, even in the evergrowing darkness of what is yet to come.
I was sold out but I’ve never been for sale. Never sailed. Always took the high way. Floated on love. Never sell the time you purchased with choice.
When I met my father several years after he had left, he remembered that I once wrote him a letter and signed it “with love and honour”. He said it meant a lot to him. I used to write a lot of letters. I was a letter writer to the extreme. A bygone thing. I think I got that from him. He used to write letters with promises of trips around the world when we lived apart. He was in London with my sister and his other family and we were in Imo State, Nigeria. In his letters he often said that we would all go to Rome as a family. Together. I believed him. Rome was the dream. Everytime I watched Roman Holiday which starred Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, I thought about those letters. Rome was a figment of my developing imagination. I now wonder if he wrote similar letters to his other family. The divided sandcastle palace of the mind he built didn’t have room for all to board, but Barrister A.B.C had a way with words that drew people to him. My sister once likened him to the character of Arthur Daley in Minder, played by George Cole. I can kinda see that. A bit of Del Boy too. He was charismatic and believable. A charmer. Charmed my mother with enchanted promises. Till the spell wore off and the aftermath of the devestation of a life was visible.
They say romance is a thing of the past. I don’t believe that. As long as there are still romantics. The world today is not as kind a place for romantics, if it ever was. Letter writing was once the ultimate stage of romance. I carried on writing letters through my teenage years. To friends. To those who I hoped would look twice at me. Smitten hearted letters aplenty. Some got the measure of me, and some were wildly expressive. An outpouring. I wore my heart on my tear stained sleeve. I never signed off with love and honour to anyone else in the years since he reminded me of it. To love and honour, I understood what it meant, so I couldn’t cheapen it with nonchalance or play wreckless word games with hearts and minds on the line. I guess I have my father to thank for that in an ironic way. I found some other letters he wrote to people I know of. Elaborately worded. He was a letter writer to the extreme.
Creating the sound world for Smiles & Kisses was a thrilling experience. It goes all the way back to 2007. Playing around with ideas and just exploring colours in counterpoint rather than seeking out a progression or pattern. It began as layered piano and synth melody. Completely different in vibe, aesthetic and tempo to what it would become.
In 2018 I revisited the demo track I had recorded during a period of experimentation. I happened upon the sound very quickly. I don’t remember exactly how. There isn’t a formula. But when I found it, I knew immediately that I had something distinctive to build on. I took it to the studio and Tom and I added some more colours. I asked Tom to play what he felt on top of the soundscape I had painted at home. The tone and feel reference for the guitar part was Jeff Buckley, and is a homage to him. We completed the whole track in one session. There were no lyrics written in advance. What was captured is the first flight of thought and all the yearning that was waiting to be expressed. Longing and desire. Sometimes the heart knows before we do. About a thing called love. Its also about the sensuality and mystery of the familiar strangers we are and the distance between two people who might be right next to each other. I think of the passage in James Baldwin’s Another Country, which describes Vivaldo’s discovery of Ida and their mutual curiousity and suspicion about each other. So near and yet so far. A bridge to cross or a cross to carry.
The expression in Smiles & Kisses is intense and intentional. I only had one person in mind. If I was Dante, she was the Beatrice of this epic sonic poem. I thought I might be able to reach her in the ether of the song. A song is not only defined by what you hear. Its elevated by what you recognise. And what you remember. If it was ever true. I remember the first time I saw her and how I felt about that stranger who was so familiar to my soul. Like I had known her before I knew myself. A rediscovery. Or a reminder. The world abounds in mystery. Love might be the greatest mystery of all.
Blood is only as thick as the cake mix added and stirred with it. You can put blood in the spotlight but it won’t dance on command. The blood howls. Its lashes out. It bites. Its unruly. The splatter is our history. Maybe blood will not reconcile with blood. Maybe they will find sacred ground and tread lightly around the pain. At a distance they might greet cordially and in their small talk they might reveal things they will not explicitly say about how they feel. That cake mix is not going to hold together the fragility and mistrust. Time won’t cast lots and aspersions to see who surrenders a position of advantage on a Chess board. But a thousand words in a photograph knows all too well that it won’t matter in the end. Who was right? Who was wrong? Did she hold you firm? Did she kiss your cheek? Did she brush your hair as your helpless torso rested on her lap? Did she watch you crawl to her when she returned from work to a cold appartment shared with hangers on? An abode of drifters taking refuge with a half wanted child and a mother who stayed the course, when the river pulled at her hem. Mothers and daughters and the waters between them….
Painting by Piyali Muni
Perhaps the light knew something I didn’t before I walked into studio C without a plan. Just loose ideas and the accumulation of years lived. The life I’ve been privileged to endure and delight in, tells on itself on such occasions as this one. Both sides of a coin put in a bid for what my heart subconsciously knows. I’m still learning to speak an old language.
Your mind drinks the sound of rain. Nurtures peace. Paints possibilities. Come take your bow and find your sweet music in me. Play your song as tender as a mother’s embrace. I won’t leave you for treasures of Gold. We are bound as one. Night and brown. Round in tone. We chase dreams for fun. And when I hear your voice speak through the hollow of my body, it resonates in the realm of the unseen. A language for healing hurts. We escape into the melody. A step ahead of the drift but not too far behind the beat. The tempo of my heart quickens when I see you smile in C sharp. Your joy dances across the strings that keep me sane.
In a world of sand papered expressionists. Of clowns with crooked faces, and shiny knights made of Marzipan wishes come true, I find you in those quiet moments when the noise of grown ups fades into the shadows with your tears. I’ll never leave you for Emerald and Sapphire.
Play me again when I’m old and despised. I’ll be in the hollow waiting for you to release me from the indigo silence, that we might travel once more into new colours unimagined. Brighter than we ever sounded before. Lighter than the weight of careless words aimed at us. Stronger than fear’s hope to bring us down below the groove of love. Not for Ruby and Amethyst
Not for Diamond and……
Lady luck rides the train, we’ll meet on the overground, an octave below the humming that signals a new day. Arise with expectations to make new chapters with crayons and chalk.
Cheapest words are spent on most precious things, food for your thoughts is washed down with red wine for your fears.
Her imagined lover mutes his tongue and silence screams his adoration, even the trees hear his sighs and cover their ears, too loud and violent, a howling in the sly and murky wind. Long may she reign, a Queen of hearts who played the hands of time and chance.