Good Vibes | Music, Hope, and Monochrome Mayhem

I always want to talk about important subjects, but with hope. Music is supposed to heal people. — Fatoumata Diawara

At the beginning of the year, I thought I’d focus on developing my monochrome photography skills, but life got in the way. Before I pressed pause on that venture, though, I was able to coordinate and complete two “Monthly Monochrome Mayhem” swaps in the “A Thousand Words” group on swap-bot.

Through the swaps, I made another photographer friend, Betty H., from the United Kingdom. She does a lot of concert photography, so she shared photos from a show at Birmingham Town Hall that featured Fatoumata Diawara and Staff Benda Bilili, singers from the continent of Africa.

Diawara is a Malian singer-song writer and actor whose music:

draws elements of jazz and funk into an exquisitely sparse contemporary folk sound – refracting the rocking rhythms and plaintive melodies of her ancestral Wassoulou tradition through an instinctive pop sensibility. At the centre of the music is Fatou’s warm, affecting voice, spare, rhythmical guitar playing and gorgeously melodic songs that draw powerfully on her own often troubled experience.  –from Fatoumata Diawara’s Facebook Page.

Diawara opened for Staff Benda Bilili, a group of disabled street musicians from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The group consists of:

Four senior singer/guitarists sitting on spectacularly customized tricycles, occasionally dancing on the floor of the stage, arms raised in joyful supplication, are the core of the band, backed by a younger, all-acoustic, rhythm section pounding out tight beats. Over the top of this are weird, infectious guitar-like solos performed by a [young] prodigy on a one-string electric lute he designed and built himself out of a tin can. –from Staff Benda Bilili’s Facebook Page

The name of the group translates roughly to “see beyond [appearances].”

Betty says the musicians were “a joy to photograph.” I can tell! There’s so much energy in the photos that I can feel the good vibes.

The spark is even more apparent in the original color photos.

Aren’t the photos spectacular? Betty confessed that she frequently converts concert photographs to monochrome because “working around the choices of the lighting technicians” can be challenging. I see her point, but I love the mysterious aura of the color photos too.

Indie Week’s interview of Fatoumata Diawara outlines her philosophies of music and life. And if you have never heard this soulful singer, please take a listen to Fatou, her debut album.

And then, turn to the rhythmic fusion of soukous (influenced by rumba), rhythm and blues, and reggae found in the music of Staff Benda Bilili.

As Diawara points out, there’s a lot of difficulty in life. There’s also hope, joy, and laughter, which make the tough stuff bearable. I feel all of this in the music of Staff Benda Bilili and Fatoumata Diawara. Don’t you?

Until next time…

More #TreeLove | Live Like the Tree

If I could offer you any advice it would be to live more like the tree. Root yourself deeply in the One who gives you life. Extend your branches outward to aid those in need. Bloom abundantly growing steadily in every season, and be resolute in your calling to breathe life into a starving world. —Chante Marie

I couldn’t resist sharing a little extra tree love this week. My [former] student, singer-songwriter-artist Chante Marie, speaks to the trees too. She shared her ink drawing of a tree and the tree inspired advice above on her revamped Instagram page recently.

For more inspiration, check out Chante Marie Official on IG and her new single, “We Need.” It has nothing to do with trees, but it’s just as beautiful.

Happy Weekend!

Praying in the Garden

I found a pleasant surprise as I glanced at my phone just before ending my last class for the week (woohoo!)–a simple, heartwarming message from Kim B, my newest Love Notes pal:

I was praying for you and your sister in my garden.

She enclosed photos of her gorgeous sunflowers (click an image for a closer look]:

The red one!!! Heavenly!

According to a note she sent in July, Kim planted the seeds a little late this year, but as you can see, they’re blooming beautifully. At the end of this emotionally exhausting week they’re my brilliant reminders to continue “facing the sun”.

Her written message telling of praying in the garden has me singing a favorite hymn, “In the Garden.”

I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses:
And the voice I hear falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

The Queen of Gospel, Mahalia Jackson, offers a powerful rendition that deserves a listen:

Be sure to take some time to pray and meditate in the garden this weekend. You’ll experience amazing joy and peace.

A Moment with the Empress and the Lady

When I taught African American literature, blues artists Bessie Smith’s and Billie Holiday’s songs were key in deepening students’ understanding of the continuities of Black experience and literature and arts in America. I haven’t taught the literature since we moved to Northern Alabama, so their music is collecting dust. In fact, I think the collections are still in boxes.

A couple of days ago, I ran across a Billie Holiday postcard that I’ve had for quite some time–a familiar photo of Lady Day, with the signature gardenia in her hair.

Billie Holiday, c. 1936, Photograph by Robin Carson, from the Collection of Ole Brask

The sender’s note referenced listening to Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith days before sending the postcard. Interestingly, the day after rediscovering the postcard–yesterday, in fact–I received a Bessie Smith postcard from my postcard pal Connie F. Talk about coincidence!

Bessie Smith (1895-1937), Photograph courtesy of Michael Ochs Archives, Pomegranate Communications, Inc.

The music goddesses are telling me to take a moment for Bessie and Billie. They are the best medicine for the madness of the days ahead.

Perhaps, you need a moment too.

Here’s a listening guide of the Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith, singing “Backwater Blues” with James P. Johnson on the piano:

And for your pure listening pleasure, a 30-song compilation of Lady Day’s “top songs.”

Both women’s lives were cut short, but their influence reaches far beyond their years on this earth, and they continue to make a powerful impact on music in America.

What About the Children?

Photo from Pixabay

I’m having another super busy Monday, but it’s been weighing heavily on my heart to share the powerful message about children and homelessness my sister-friend Takiyah Franklin (Tk) recently recorded.

In sharing why she recorded the song, Tk writes:

The homeless crisis is getting worse . . . and while I want to see more action from [our] city [and state] officials, we the people have to act as well. I definitely don’t have the solution to the housing crisis, but I know I’m not so far removed from the realities of poverty to not care. Music is one way to raise awareness, so I choose to lift my voice as a tool for social justice.

In speaking specifically about the situation in Oakland, California, Tk reminds:

It is our duty to protect the most vulnerable in our society. It is our duty to hold local and state officials accountable for working with the community and the corporations taking over to find solutions to homelessness and poverty.

The song, called “Homeless Children,” is the result of the collaboration between  Dan Zemelman (pianist and co-writer), Albert Greenberg (co-writer), Alberto Hernandez (engineer), Julie Wolf (producer), and Tk (vocal artist).

Click the image to listen to the song:

“Homeless Children” Recording. Photo by Pat Augsburger. Used by Permission.

For more information about childhood homelessness and to find ways you can help, see the following:

Be sure to check out local missions and programs to help with the the homeless crisis in your area.

It is my hope that homeless children–indeed all homeless people–will get the assistance they need  to improve their circumstances on this side of heaven.

Up on the Roof in France with “The Drifters”

On the roof, it’s peaceful as can be
And there the world below don’t bother me.

I’ve been singing The Drifter’s 1962 major hit, “Up on the Roof” for weeks now.  I can’t get it out of my head! Why this random singing of a song that was written before I was born? The culprit is this postcard sent to me for a Liberate Your Art side swap:

“Rooftop in Apremont-sur-Allier” by Louise Mamet

The rooftop photo was captured by my blog pal Louise of Drops of Everything.  Louise has such a unique perspective. I always enjoy her postcards and her blog.

This particular photo features the rooftop of an old home in the “adorable village” of Apremont-sur-Allier in France.  I am really interested in architecture–I especially enjoy studying the similarities of architecture in different areas of the world–so this was the perfect selection for me.

Louise sent her postcard in an envelope and included a splendid postcard advertising an exhibit at the Grand Pressigny–La Femme dans la Préhistoire  [Women in Prehistory]–a subject right up my alley.  Now, I just have to figure out how to get to France by the end of November.  😉

La Femme dans la Préhistoire

She also included one of her business cards which is so perfect I can’t resist sharing it here.

Photo by Louise Mamet

You can find more of Louise’s photography on her blog: Drops of Everything and on Facebook.

Louise prefers postcards in envelopes, so when I sent a postcard to her I included a postcard reproduction of artist/illustrator/graphic novelist Eric Drooker’s  “On the Roof” to prolong our visual conversation.

“On the Roof” by Eric Drooker

Up on the roof, up on a roof
Everything is alright, everything is alright

I didn’t realize when I sent the photo that I’d be introducing Louise to a new artist, so that was a bonus.  And your bonus–the perfect song to end the week.  Take a listen.

Maybe, you’ll be singing “Up on the Roof” too!

Guest Post: “My New Song” by Takiyah Franklin/Takiyah Suhail

Today’s post was written by Takiyah Franklin/Takiyah Suhail, whom I usually refer to as “My Tk.” Takiyah is a former student, mentee, and research assistant with whom I’ve always shared a spiritual kinship.  During her undergraduate years we ministered together–she through song, I through biblical teachings.  Over the 10+ years since she graduated, our relationship has evolved and I consider her a spiritual sister.  In January, I posted about Takiyah’s single, “My New Song.”  Today, Takiyah, talks about the song, shares the recently released video, a little about herself, her music, and her faith journey.

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Takiyah Suhail aka Takiyah Franklin

Takiyah Suhail aka Takiyah Franklin.  Photo Credit: Denna Bendall

I am excited to introduce myself and share “My New Song,” my recent single release. I am a singer/songwriter from Oakland, California and I have the pleasure of working with Rev. Andriette Earl, the founding minister of an amazing spiritual community, Heart and Soul Center of Light, a world-class teaching and empowerment ministry located in Oakland, CA.

Theologian Howard Thurman’s essay entitled “I Will Sing a New Song” inspired Rev. Earl and Erika Luckett, a renowned Emmy Award winning singer/songwriter, to write “My New Song.”

Here’s an excerpt from Thurman’s essay:

The old song of my spirit has wearied itself out. It has long ago been learned by heart so that now it repeats itself over and over, bringing no added joy to my days or lift to my spirit. It is a good song, measured to a rhythm to which I am bound by ties of habit and timidity of mind. The words belong to old experiences which once sprang fresh as water from a mountain crevice fed by melting snows. But my life has passed beyond to other levels where the old songs are meaningless. I demand of the old song that it meet the need of present urgencies. Also, I know that the work of the old song, perfect in its place, is not for the new demand!

I am blessed to have been chosen to deliver such an incredible life-shifting and affirmative song.

You can listen to “My New Song” and/or watch the music video on my website, Takiyah. Feel free to post the YouTube link for the music video everywhere:  (https://youtu.be/m-hK_kvP010).  The song is also available for purchase on all digital distribution music outlets: Search Takiyah “My New Song.”

I am a radical advocate of the transformative power of Love and it is my intention to use my music to encourage the conscious spiritual practice of being a Love Light. When I allowed the healing, transformative power of God’s Love to lead, guide, and direct my life, everything outside of Love steadily faded away. This is not an easy practice: it is radical and requires a lot of internal work.

I invite you to listen to my latest EP, Unfolding I Affirma brief collection of songs born out of breakthroughs of practicing faith through my life’s most difficult times. In my lowest points of being alone and raising three beautiful children, my faith in the Highest Power guided me to perfect Peace.  I’m learning how to live a life filled with joy, love, and peace in the midst of mental and emotional challenges. I want to share my journey with you.

You can find me on Twitter or Instagram @blackstarworld.

Love and Peace…