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last update June 27, 2020
About the CD Cover. My hair was done by Emy at Afro Hair Studio, Commercial Drive, Vancouver and my clothing was bought through Ballet Creole, Toronto. Please know that I carefully, thoughtfully and respectfully chose this in 2009 for this CD Cover to connect deeply to those who had taught me respect for the music, people, spirituality, drum and dance, and culture of West Africa and the Diaspora. I bow my head with the intention of deep thanks to my teachers.
When I say "Mimi + More" I am implying that this CD was not only created by me, but also by these deeply felt influences who had been a part of my musical and spiritual journey until the CD's release in 2009: Patrick Parson of Ballet Creole (culture, song, dance and drumming of Trinidad and the Ivory Coast), workshops with David Thiaw (drumming and culture of Senegal), workshop with Fred Dunyo (culture, song, drum and dance of Ghana), visiting master Djembe drummers from the Ivory Coast (culture, song, and drumming) hosted by Ballet Creole, workshops with COBA (Collective of Black Artists) (song, drum, dance and culture), Dr. George Blake (folk songs and stories from Jamaica and and his own stories including a story he had written about Harriet Tubman), Guiomar Campbell (surdo, culture, and songs from Brazil), Jacky Essombe (dance workshops and culture of Cameroon) as well as Canadian born master artists Rick Shadrach Lazar (percussion and rhythms of West Africa, Cuba, Brazil along with guest artists from Brazil while I performed with his Samba Squad), Brian Katz (jazz theory), Kate Hammet-Vaughan (vocal jazz theory, vocal improv), theory courses with the Royal Conservatory of Music and many vocal technique, music theory, and vocal improvisation workshops with DB Boyko (vocal improv), Diane Spears (musical theatre vocal technnique), Sharon Minemto (basic jazz piano), Jillian Lebeck (basic jazz piano), Mark Kieswetter (jazz piano theory), Elizabeth Pomes (classical voice, RCM), Jodi Proznick (jazz theory), Jennifer Scott (basic jazz piano), Linda Song (Kodaly Teaching Pedagogy), and Carol Welsman (vocal jazz) to name a few.
I was originally driven to learn to play Djembe due to Sonny Okosun, King Sunny Ade, and Hugh Maskela albums being played in a course entitled "The History of American Music" in a 1st year University course many, many, many moons ago. I recall how my brain and ears exploded with the intricate polyrhythms, chanting, and improvised drumming the first time I listened. Nothing I had listened to prior was anything as detailed and as rich as this (and I listened to a lot of beautifully rhythmic music prior to that). It wasn't until around ten or so years later, I actually learned of someone from Senegal who was in Canada teaching groups how to play djembe (David Thiaw). I couldn't believe it! I was so happy and amazed that this could be something I could learn here in Canada.
I had grown up in mostly rural Ontario before moving to Toronto as a teen, and so I was incredibly naive and inexperienced with understanding differences in skin colour. I never understood differences as a teenager. Back then, there wasn't really any mention of the words 'skin colour.' I wasn't brought up that way. I always really and truly felt we are all the same in G-d's eyes.
I was first introduced to the term "white" and "black" and "brown" about ten years ago in a Continuing Education course at the University of British Columbia entitled "Deep Diversity" and "Intercultural Communication." It was the first time I had read literature using these terms suggesting that this is the way we should address people. Yet at the time, I knew how stereotypes can develop by putting people into categories. But this is part of the language now, and I understand the reasoning behind using these words. I have learned to observe colours in order to give proper respect while understanding context and experiences; however, I still feel challenged by referring to someone as black or brown.
So, back in rural Ontario, there weren't too many differences between people; we were mostly all the same colour, however my father was Jewish and there were a few experiences that led me to feel somewhat as an 'other.' Also, I lived in many different towns where I never really stayed in any one school long enough to feel I needed to conform to group pressure; but given my independent nature, I doubt I would have been influenced anyway. I was always the new kid on the block each time my family moved. And right away, they seemed to know my father was Jewish, as though he was something unique. My parents did not influence me to discriminate even though they were from two different religions. I was raised in my mother's religion and relatives from both sides of my family loved us although some had a hard time with it at first.
As a teenager, I moved to my father's home city, Toronto, and met someone from my school with a different skin colour and we immediately bonded. Previously, the only people I had seen with a different skin colour were actors and musicians I saw and heard on TV, the radio and albums - those who I had admired and revered. I had loved and adored Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Sammy Davis Jr., Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Aretha Franklin, Lena Horne, Sidney Bichet , Dina Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Shirley Bassey, Harry Belafonte, Flip Wilson and Sidney Poitier all whom I had seen on TV and heard on my father's record collection. I transferred my adoration onto my new friends in Toronto even though they weren't actors or musicians. This of course was stereotyping and it was not right to do; but I'm being honest about how I thought in my teens and even a bit later in life when I started to pursue my passion for the music of West Africa and its diaspora.
When learning to play the Djembe (a decade or so later after being introduced to Sonny Okosun and King Sunny Ade in first year university), I had thought that learning this beautiful music meant only studying and practicing the Djembe intently. But fortunately, my Djembe teachers also taught that one cannot simply learn this rich music without learning all other parts of the interconnected rhythms, and their interconnectedness with dance, songs, history, culture and spirituality; they said that music is a part of all aspects of life - how a community, eats, prays, loves, and integrates with all of nature is part of playing the Djembe. And, they taught how there were differences in music, dances and traditions (and language which influences it all) between tribes within one African country, even between villages in close proximity to each other. Their teachings also taught me about slavery and the cruelty suffered; the cruelty they themselves suffer today.
They let me know that if it weren't for the Sunday gatherings of dance and drumming in Congo Square New Orleans, around the first half of the 1800s (which was the one day of rest that the French government allowed human beings called slaves to gather, which aligned with their forced conversion to Christianity), American Jazz wouldn't even exist today. Horribly, these gatherings were stopped in the mid 1800s with even harsher, cruel US rules and more atrocities against human beings called slaves: playing drums were banned and punishment for playing them meant having a hand cut off or death by hanging!!!! So when we see someone like Louis Armstrong (born 1901) and Sidney Bichet (born 1897) bring elements of music once expressed in Congo Square to the world, it is a miracle. Their will and determination to express their hearts truly is a miracle. I need to give thanks that this music has endured and that I am allowed into this world of jazz. I need to give thanks for all those who brought Jazz into the world.
The more deeply I learned about the history from my teachers, the more horrified I became - getting the details of how people were stolen from Africa and how they were forced and tortured to build New Orleans, the Caribbean, Brazil and other parts of the world (including parts of Canada) is so incomprehensible. My teachers emphasized that those who farmed the fields under a whip were responsible for creating prosperous economies and filling the pocket books of private land owners. The African Diaspora also fought wars for the US and Canada such as Dr. George Blake (Storyteller), Jamaican born who settled in Oshawa, who had joined the US Airforce as a late teen, and ended up stationed in the UK.
And so, yes, I did eventually learn the importance of recognizing differences in skin colour.
And, I've come to learn the importance of learning history and that it is a part of all of us always. I've learned that I don't operate within a vacuum of my own experiences in this one lifetime. In the same way I was taught how music is so much a part of community, celebration, spirituality, animals, land - our interconnectedness with all of nature - I needed to understand how history is a part of me. It is all intertwined - that to ignore history is to ignore unity of all aspects of my being.
I was raised Christian until my late childhood but then it wasn't really reinforced. Later, I converted to Judaism. I loved the connection to the prayers and dedication to rituals. I loved cantorial music and I loved singing Sephardic songs. I learned so much history about the Jewish side of my family. But now I don't practice any religion because I am embracing it all. I suppose following Buddhist principles is the path I've chosen. I feel close and connected to both sides of my family without following any particular religion. I love their different cultures and their hearts and I symbolize this by embracing both. Each person has their own journey and their own choices that vibrate within their own hearts and it is understandable for those born and raised in a particular religion by one or both parents to embrace one or the other, or both. My parents gave me so much freedom to choose that I ultimately chose no religion.
I believe we all need to reconcile our history, including our own personal histories, especially in times where interracial, intercultural, interreligious marriages and children born out of these unions are becoming more and more a part of our communities. How can offspring learn how to reconcile these differences in the most empathic, nonjudgmental, and compassionate way especially if their own relatives may not accept them, or their own neighborhood, city, country...to begin with, they need role models. Where to begin? Well, how about here in Canada where I am living and eating on this land originally occupied by Indigenous people, singing and playing jazz music, born out of those who suffered. It is my responsibility to help make a change. I don't take this history lightly; that I can express myself with all the aliveness that is me, both Jewish and Christian within Jazz, freely on this Canadian land - something that I don't take for granted. But how can I help? I will find ways. (By the way, when teaching the solfege system (do, re, mi) teaching 'la' first (for a minor scale) and then all of the notes of the scale in a special sequences makes 'mi' the midpoint of the scale; hence 'mi mi' emphasizes the 'middle way'...a Buddhist principle.)
That's a good start. Role models and the "middle way."
(more to come eg. you can honour your "form identity" - history, race. body, thoughts, sense perceptions, colour of skin, culture, ancestors "but if that is all you know, that is not enough; it still keeps you trapped in a very limited sense of self " Eckhart Tolle, interview by Russell Brand June, 27 2020.
Land and African Ancestral Acknowledgements
I would like to start by honouring the land that I've lived on which has been the site of human activity since time immemorial. It is the traditional territories of the Huron-Wendat, Anishinabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and most recently, The Mississaugas of the Credit River First Nations, the Delaware, the Kwikwetlem, Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations and now many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
Ontario is covered by 46 treaties and other agreements, and is home to many Indigenous Nations from across Turtle Island, including the Inuit and the Metis. These treaties and other agreements, including the One Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant are agreements to peaceably share and care for the land and its resources. Other Indigenous Nations, Europeans, and newcomers, were invited into this covenant in the spirit of respect, peace, and friendship. I am mindful of broken covenants and I strive to make this right, with the land and with each other.
We are all Treaty people. Many of us have come here as settlers, immigrants, newcomers in this generation or generations past. I would like to also acknowledge those who came here forcibly, particularly as a result of the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade. Therefore, I honour and pay tribute to the ancestors of African Origin and Descent.
And, I honour and pay tribute to distant relatives who found Canada to be a safe refuge from persecution as well as more recent relatives who arrived to Canada and created a path through peaceful relations.
May we give honour to all those who embody peaceful intentions but not forgot those who have trespassed and transgressed so that we may serve those who have suffered.