Friday, 28 February 2014

Kaze wo atsumete . . kaze wo atsumete. . .

I never learned how to speak Japanese, was never formally taught how to speak Japanese, but as a practising ethnomusicologist in my context, I had the privilege of learning about the music of Japan while studying as an undergraduate student, learning about the various genres of traditional Japanese music ranging from nagauta, music from bunraku and the role of the geisha as musicians in teahouses, playing shamisen and invoking iroke or colour/feeling from their performances to the shakuhachi performances from Buddhist monks.  The only other exposure to Japan and its culture prior to that was through my obsession with Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio in the original Karate Kid movies.

After dabbling in some university tutoring and lecturing in the Anthropology Department at my local university between 1998-2001, I trained to be a high school teacher in 2003.  In the same year, Sofia Coppola released a film called Lost in Translation for which she wrote the screenplay and directed.  Coppola won an Oscar for best original screenplay in this film.  Kaze wo atsumete featured on the soundtrack of the film.

The band behind the song, Happy End, is hailed as one of the most important Japanese pop acts of all time.  They were credited for singing Japanese pop songs and have even been compared to as the "Japanese Beatles" - you definitely can see why when you hear this particular track, from their second album.  Happy End disbanded in 1973 but were popular in the Japanese charts from 1969-1972.

Musically for me, the opening bars of Kaze wo atsumete may have even influenced Brooke Fraser's opening bars of Without You, although Kaze wo atsumete has a more deliberate accented punch (you could almost call it laboured) to its feel, whereas Fraser's guitar introduction seems lighter and more carefree.

Even though the lyrics are in Japanese, even when the lyrics are translated, the music reflects the sentiments and feel or vibe of the songwriter's intent in both languages.  The song for me can reflect how people can go through life sometimes on autopilot, going through the motions.  We can sometimes feel so overwhelmed by what needs to be done, that we can easily distract ourselves (can be considered good or bad, dependent on whether you need the break or you might break down) with "people-watching" and observing life pass us by.

At the time, the song was supposed to highlight the sights and sounds of Japan before change hit the city (in more ways than one).  It makes me think about at some point in our lives when we reflect at the end of something in our path, taking stock of what we have achieved, or not, before moving on to more goals and more challenges to further enrich our lives.

Now, whether we face the same issues that Bill Murray faces in Lost in Translation with obligation, duty and just generally feeling "blah", ultimately we can decide the paths our life journey takes - whether we take risks (or calculated risks) for a brief time (special episode I reckon) before returning to the normality that is your world.  I guess being lost in translation means that you have this "in-between" space where two worlds meet and you can't make sense of either.  So lose yourself in that space, rather than trying to translate it yeah?  Sometimes things don't need to make sense.

Take a look at yourself and make that. . . . . CHANGE!

Michael Jackson's Man In The Mirror is one of my favourite social justice songs of all time.

The sentiments expressed in the song centre on a man's journey (could be Michael's), going about his day noticing situations, scenarios in his everyday life, things that we most likely ignore and don't stop to take a look at, recognise and ultimately do nothing about.  I imagine that the man in the song has come to a realisation that he is at the point in his life where he needs to make a change that is significant, has purpose and meaning and will be of benefit to others, more than himself:

I'm gonna make a change, for once in my life
It's gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right

As I turned up the collar on, my favourite winter coat
This wind is blowin' my mind
I see the kids in the streets, with not enough to eat
Who am I to be blind? Pretending not to see their needs

I've just returned from a conference in Taranaki (also known as Ngāmotu or New Plymouth) that focused on connecting Māori and Pasifika adult community education groups in Aotearoa.  The conference is organised by ACE Aotearoa.  ACE stands for adult community education.  In Aotearoa, adult community education centres fall into the tertiary sector.  If I think about the lyrics in this song and marrying this with the experiences I had attending the conference and listening to, being engaged in and preaching the gospel of what success looks like - no message could be any clearer, if you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make the change.

In order to do good for others, establishing whakawhānaungatanga (the Māori concept of building relationships/connections with people in order to understand them) can only be done when you are open to listening to what other people share in conversations, by questioning anything shared for clarification or to deepen understanding of someone else (not to compare so that you think you are better than them, but for compassion's sake).  There are times when we become so self-absorbed, self-obsessed that we lose sight of what we are meant to be doing to contribute to a more positive human experience in whatever we do.

I've been a victim of, a selfish kind of love
It's time that I realized
That there are some with no homes, not a nickel to loan
Could it be really me, pretending that they're not alone?

So the question remains, rather than always pointing out flaws in people and scenes in your lives, ask yourself what you can do to make that change.

That's why I'm starting with me . . .

Sunday, 23 February 2014

When will you realize? Vienna waits for you . . .

At times when you can't escape to your virtual "happy place", the answer is to escape physically, at least for only a short period of time, a brief hiatus, if only to have some welcome relief for a couple of hours (it's funny as this beautiful song by Billy Joel Vienna rightly points that you have so much to do, but only so many hours in a day).

In his live performance on Conan, Joel's piano starts off with the wonderful dissonance created by those cluster notes and playful chromaticism before the sombre chords kick off the verses.  The lyrics paint a fantastic picture in my mind about the dichotomy in the lives that we lead - we are constantly sacrificing or compromising "really living" by putting work or our careers first, before family, relationships, things that make life interesting.

It's a bit of a chicken-egg, horse-cart (or whatever other animal analogy you want to use) - which do you prioritise?  Sure you can attend some life coaching seminars about how to balance your life, but unless you are really motivated to make that change, then nothing actually changes.

People that know me well, will know that I'm a bit of a workaholic. And I use "a bit" quite loosely.
I fully blame my mother for this - the hardest working woman I know who taught me from a very young age that I couldn't afford to waste time, hence spurring my love for multi-tasking, and school had a lot to answer for as well, by gaining that competitive edge for speed writing with Mr. Arnold in my final year of primary/elementary school (come to think of it, what teacher used a stopwatch to encourage kids to produce cursive writing the fastest in a blackboard exercise???).

I wouldn't mind losing a day or two sometimes, especially when it can often feel like everybody else around you seems to be kicking off before they're halfway through.  It is definitely the life that I lead and I often don't know what I need (until it's too late) and the other lyrics that strike a chord (no pun intended) include the reference to knowing when I'm wrong about something (if you're like me, there are people in your life who are more than accommodating in pointing this out) but not so sure if what I'm doing is right (unless someone tells me, reassurance.... check).

Whatever the case may be, it's definitely time to spend some "alone time" in Vienna.
Even if I have to constantly change where my personal Vienna is, the way I change passwords #security.

I realize that Vienna waits for me. . . but this crazy child just needs to slow down first . . .

Saturday, 22 February 2014

And she only reveals what she wants you to see. . .

I guess this post is for all the fellas in the house - recognise your woman (or at least open your eyes to those women around you! :-)  It's also for all the ladies in the house - be who you want to be in this song.  I've already made notes about my favourite lines.  I could tell you which lines are me - but it's more fun if you can hazard a guess in the comments section below!

The opening verse with the block chords soon give way to the second verse which expands with the arpeggiated chords in the right hand, punctuated by the bass line played by the guitar.  The rhythm guitar shadows the arpeggiated line as well.  The bridge brings forward a new instrument with the flute.  It joins in to add some harmony with the lead vocal before providing a pretty countermelody in the sequence that occurs immediately afterwards.  The humming seems to suggest that Billy may be thinking about what he has sung about, like a subtle affirmation, agreeing with everything he has described about the woman (or having a quiet chuckle to himself).  The bridge returns with the flute.  The use of the flute in pop music (or ballads) at this time was what the alto saxophone did for love ballads in the 80s (cue Careless Whisper).

She can kill with a smile, she can wound with her eyes
And she can ruin your faith with her casual lies 
And she only reveals what she wants you to see
She hides like a child but she's always a woman to me

She can lead you to love, she can take you or leave you
She can ask for the truth but she'll never believe
And she'll take what you'll give her as long as it's free
Yeah she steals like a thief, but she's always a woman to me

Ooh she takes care of herself 
She can wait if she wants, she's ahead of her time
Ooooh and she never gives out, and she never gives in
She just changes her mind

And she'll promise you more than the Garden of Eden
And she'll carelessly cut you and laugh while you're bleeding
But she'll bring out the best and the worst you can be
Blame it all on yourself, cos she's always a woman to me

Hmmmmm Mmmmmmm Hmmmmmm Mmmmmmm

Return to bridge*

She is frequently kind and she's suddenly cruel
But she can do as she pleases, she's nobody's fool
And she can't be convicted, she's earned her degree
And the most she will do is throw shadows at you
But she's always a woman to me.

The resilience of a woman who is all things to all men, that despite what she might do, say, think or  feel, people will always be fascinated by her.  There's that old adage of "women want to be her and men want to be with her".

But at the end of the day, she only reveals what she wants you to see . . .

Friday, 21 February 2014

There will be an answer. . . let it be . . .

Originally written in a difficult time of Paul's life when the other band members were quite content in domestic bliss, he was having trouble sleeping and his mother appeared to him in a dream with those three little words.  No, not "I love you" but "Let it be".

The simple chordal accompaniment on the piano provides a solid and constant presence in the song. In the official music video, the way that Paul looks at the camera, at his audience shows a deep connection with the song; he does what singer/songwriter/musicians do when they perform their own music and conveys their musicality and musicianship skills. This appeals to me because I often think about the piano being a solid and constant presence in my own life.  (Funny how a decision made at age 11 can affect the direction in which your life takes).

Ringo tapping on the hi-hat helps to maintain that steady tempo, a comforting heartbeat that reassures you with that familiar sense of calm and stability.  George's harmonies over the hammond organ kicks in during the chorus and the way in which layers are lightly produced as the instrumentation increases at a gradual pace is nothing short of artful.

Sometimes in life when you question why things have turned out the way you have (definitely not by your grand design anyway) and we start playing that blame game.  It's a bit like being signed up for membership of a club that you didn't ask for (i.e. widow's club for example - no registration fee required for this one and yet lifetime membership is guaranteed).

As we go through a situation or scenario that can test our limits as a human being and even during that situation it may feel like there is no light at the end of the tunnel (or nobody responds to your cries for help or hears you for that matter), we can't afford to focus on the negativity that could give rise to the overwhelming sense of futility or hopelessness, refuse to give up.

I think that when you struggle to know how to be - let it be.
It is good to meditate, be more aware of the stillness in your life and refocus on a goal to achieve.
For circumstances beyond our control and to avoid unnecessary heartache, frustration and fruitless angst, focus on what you can do.  Faith will do the rest.

There will be an answer - let it be.

Monday, 17 February 2014

How do you honour your Tiriti o Waitangi obligations?

As a NZ born Samoan, I have been taught in an education system that has focused on the teaching and learning about our collective histories - but no relationship is more paramount, more important or significant than that between Māori (tangata whenua) and Pākeha.

I have often come across people in my work who try to put Pasifika in the mix within this relationship.  I often have to argue that no - that's wrong.  Historically Pasifika peoples were not in Aotearoa at the time of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.  This document symbolises an agreement between Māori and Pākeha about how they will co-exist in Aotearoa and Pasifika peoples were not part of the equation.

The different versions that were signed have always been the crux of the controversy around which side of the fence you want to sit on.  You probably don't even need to sit on a fence, but at least recognise the motivations behind which versions of the treaty was signed, its implications and subsequent consequences.

Some people have asked why I feel that it is important to know about Māori tikanga, reo and its beautiful tangata.  It doesn't sit right with me that you would live in a country, or you were born into a country where you don't understand how it was formed, how the tangata whenua see themselves, how to understand the people and how their cultures can enrich your own life.

So the question remains: how do you honour your Tiriti o Waitangi obligation.
For me it's that by being a staunch advocate of my own culture, this becomes easy for me to honour my Tiriti obligations, because partnerships and relationships are an important part of human interaction.

Gees that's the bottom line really isn't it - it makes us human :-)

Taking a second look beyond the haka . . .

This post is dedicated to +Tahu Paki who I had a lovely chat to today about culture and identity, what it means to be hāti Māori and Māori self-perceptions.

The cool thing about designing a model (or trying to frame your thinking in a model) is iteration.
After you test your model by applying it and having further discussions with your peers, you're able to reflect on the effectiveness and robustness of the model and I'm hoping that people who read this will be able to comment on this post and engage in a discussion with me (excuse the long grammatically-challenged sentence - I'm pretty excited to share this again haha).

Please note that the additions through this iteration have been added in blue.   

Māori Identity Model 

Multiple identities of Māori
1. Hāti Māori - tu te ao, tu te po
2. Fluent reo, no tīkanga
3. Fluent tikanga, no reo
4. Some reo, no tīkanga
5. Some tīkanga, no reo
6. Brought up hāti, chooses not to engage in tīkanga or reo
7. Brought up hāti, has limited opportunity to engage in tīkanga or reo
8. Not brought up hāti Māori but chooses to engage in tīkanga and reo
9. Not brought up hāti Māori, has limited opportunity to engage in tīkanga or reo
10. No reo, no tīkanga

Contributing factors to the multiple identities of Māori:
1. Urban Māori vs. Rural Māori
2. Second language learner
3. Academic language learner
4. Passive vs. Active
5. Relationship between reo and tikanga, practising the reo
6. Formal school learning environment
7. Continually evolving family environment
8. Pākeha showing cultural competence  - Pākeha developing fluent te reo and now teaching it
9. New milliennium Māori
10. Ethnicity vs. Identity

In my work I have found that for some schools, they are still struggling with understanding the concepts of ethnicity and identity, especially in relation to their students. Most problems stem from the definitions of these terms, whether they might be defined by government or how the schools define these terms themselves.  How do we know when we have it right? Who decides what these terms mean?  Can these meanings evolve over time?  How do Māori students see themselves? Are their voices being heard? How can we as educators and facilitators work to ensure that their voices, plus the voices of their home communities be heard?

Tihei Mauriora :-)

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The answer is blowing in the wind. . .

This blog post is dedicated to +Nane Rio and her response to the You're gonna find yourself somewhere, somehow blog post.

I first came across this Bob Dylan classic Blowing in the wind during my primary/elementary school years.  One thing you have to remember about primary school is that from that age you are somewhat compliant, as you learn to negotiate the rules (or at least learn about them) from your teacher.
In the school I attended, we had a homeroom teacher but for special things like drama, music and dance (don't get me started on the awesomeness that is square dancing (folk dancing as we were told, later I thought what folks in their right mind danced the bunny hop or the chicken dance?) then we would go and see the specialist teacher whose job was to take a group of uncoordinated or tone deaf group of pre- tweenies and turn them into a dance troupe or a choir.

Our music teacher was a total fan of the 60s and 70s.  I remember singing Love Potion Number 9, Puff the Magic Dragon and Country Road (I remember John Denver songs were pretty cool) to name a few.  The only instrument she used was a guitar.  The overhead projector was set up with a lyric sheet or she had written the lyrics on the blackboard for all to see.  It wasn't until I grew older that I fully appreciated the lyrics and what they meant underlying the song (learning the song on guitar helped as well).

The series of questions in each of the verses paints a picture of the human condition, of the sign of the times when war was seen as the only solution to solve problems that ended in death.  There will always be the argument that a few lives must be sacrificed to save nations - it's the way of the world (not my view, just stating how some past governments have rationalised those types of decisions).

And I think this is what the song symbolises - it's like a social commentary on the political climate of its day - with reference to the violent impact of war, death and destruction to people and the environment.  A dove sailing across so many seas until peace can be found, when cannonballs will eventually stop flying and become banned, mountains turning into seas, people not having freedom, all while men turn blind eyes to the realities of their actions, men not seeing the sky, men not using their ears to hear people cry and how many people need to die.

The answer to each of the questions is "blowing in the wind".

And if that's the answer - I have a few questions of my own:

Will the wind be blowing so strong that we can't hear the answers that it carries?
What if the wind comes with some rain and the rain distracts us?
From what direction is the wind blowing from?
How hard does the wind need to blow before we change what we do?

The answer to each of the questions is "blowing in the wind".

And the eyes in his head, see the world spinning around . . .

I recently watched a Grammy's salute to the music of The Beatles and it reignited my fascination with their music  Apart from being part of an elite alumni of the most ridiculously clever and artful songwriters of their generation, Paul McCartney and John Lennon are responsible for some of the most timeless compositions the world has ever known.  

Even though this song The Fool on the Hill is not particularly hailed as one of their hits, it is one of my favourites because the combination of the music and the lyrics create (in my mind) this perfect blend of light and dark.  The verses are somewhat matter-of-fact and paint the picture of an average day; where you might come across somebody in your daily life as you go about your business that you might label a "fool on the hill" every time you see them.  It almost seems to me that the man has the foolish grin and keeps perfectly still in the beginning as he is  running through his thoughts in his head, before he shares them with the world.     
The mystery that surrounds the idea of the "fool on the hill" is achieved through the music, as the shift in the chordal progressions and tonality contributes to the air of mystery, the juxtaposition here is deliberate and the way in which McCartney sings the lyric here suggest that the "fool in the hill" may very well be not the fool that we think he is.

Day after day, alone on the hill,
The man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still.
But nobody wants to know him,
They can see that he's just a fool.
And he never gives an answer .....

But the fool on the hill,
Sees the sun going down.
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning around.

Even when we hear the man again, we choose not to hear him, even though he shares what he's thinking - even if nobody appears to be listen - it's more important for the fool to know that he is making himself heard.  When I see "the man of a thousand voices" it conjures images in my mind about a man who has quite the handle on diversity, multiple versions of diversity - intra-ethnic, inter-ethnic, multi-ethnic - because despite the many layers of diversities and the different accents that you can imagine coming from him - you can still understand the volume at least, "talking perfectly loud".  

Well on his way, his head in a cloud,
The man of a thousand voices, talking perfectly loud.
But nobody ever hears him,
Or the sound he appears to make.
And he never seems to notice .....

And nobody seems to like him,
They can tell what he wants to do.
And he never shows his feelings

Sometimes I think that I can be a "fool on the hill" in my multiple worlds.  I talk perfectly loud but nobody seems to hear; but it could be that my wicked sense of humour gets in the way of me being able to talk perfectly loud or maybe even be taken seriously.  

In any case, even if you are not heard because you're not talking perfectly loud or nobody ever hears you, it is still important to speak so that you know that you have a voice.  I don't mean that you must speak all the time when it doesn't make an impact or a positive difference - because it could even come to close to a meme like:

 "I don't often speak up, but when I do, 
   the eyes in my head see the sun going down, 
   and the world spinning round".

So don't be discouraged if people label you a "fool on the hill".  They might be surprised to discover that they could very well be - someone else's "fool on the hill".

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

You'll never walk alone. . .

I've been thinking about people around me going through difficult situations in their lives - at home, school, work and other contexts that they frequent.

What is one of the ultimate football (that's soccer in some parts of the world) anthems in the world You'll never walk alone, taken from Act II of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical sensation Carousel has enjoyed many rounds in its treatment.  Regardless of whether you're a Liverpool supporter or not, (thanks to Gerry and the Pacemakers) you can't fault the majestic sweeping rise of emotions that this song exudes.  It has also been taken on as a football anthem for many other football clubs around the world.

But who else covered this spectacular song? Elvis Presley, KD Lang, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Andre Rieu, not to mention the countless renditions at countless football games with those red and white scarves.  In the Mormon Tabernacle Choir version, I love the orchestral score that accompanies the choir during the song.  In terms of dynamics, you can feel your heart swell in the right moments, such is the power of music (apologies to the cynics, but that's how I describe it!).

At my last school, I had the opportunity to teach a gospel arrangement of the song. It was perfect.  It had the right amount of syncopation, swing and harmonic depth and soul that I enjoy in choral music.
The song to me symbolises the hope of "winning", that despite the despair, darkness or adversity that you face, you must continue to walk on, hold your head up high and not to be afraid of the dark.  In order to "win" you must have hope.  The promise of anticipation and the joy, excitement of the goodness or happiness to come.  Embrace that, don't knock it. Be open to that, it's yours, just around the corner. At times we may be physically alone, but we'll never be alone and you'll never walk alone.

I am glad that in the final scene of the musical, Billy is given his opportunity to see his daughter Louise graduate and the lovely touch that his wife Julie always knows when he's around.  But we know that this is the reprise in the musical, the bookend where we get to see how the song impacts on the ending of the story.

But when did we first hear it in the musical?
We hear it for the first time when Billy makes a fatal decision.
What's the best advice that Julie gets after her beloved Billy dies?
Before we hear the song for the first time with a rousing choir?

Nettie tells Julie, "The main thing is to keep on living".

Monday, 10 February 2014

Procrastination (Ain't Nobody Got Time)

Procrastination has always been the unwanted friend in my little circle of friends.
When I literally don't have time to procrastinate but yet I make time for it.
It defines my university career after my music degree (I was so conscientious back then that I completed that three year degree ...... in three years).

Have a listen of Flat 11's fantastic song Procrastination (Ain't Nobody Got Time).  
It reminds me about how much I can often make time for procrastination.  I love the opening of the song with its bluesy nature, it almost seems minstrel-like or reminiscent of Taco's Puttin' on the ritz with the autotune.

I keep wasting my time by staying up at night
I'd rather play before I work 
Till my room is bright and the sun hits my eyes
I realise it's just too late
I say it's all in my head, cos now it's time for bed
tomorrow will be a brighter day
But just one time, I need to do it again
Tomorrow gonna make it riiiiiiiiiight

Ohhh... Procrastination  Ohhh... Procrastination
Ohhh... Procrastination  Why you make me feel so bad?

Aint nobody got time for that  Aint nobody got time for that Aint nobody got time for that
Aint nobody got time for....
Aint nobody got time for that  Aint nobody got time for that Aint nobody got time for that
Aint nobody got time for....

Aint nobody got time for that
Aint nobody got time....

Some time is running out
I need to start working, there is no longer any doubt
The eeeend is closing in, no time for excuses need to hand it in
So I jump out of bed, it's almost 9 o'clock
I need to finish this line so I can walk the walk
I do what I do and I write what I say
It is what it is and now it's time to pray

I hit up some YouTube, hit up some NetFlix then hit up some Facebook too
There are so many other things I would love to do... do... do.... dooooooo

Ohhh... Procrastination  Ohhh... Procrastination
Ohhh... Procrastination  Why you make me feel so bad?

Aint nobody got time for that  Aint nobody got time for that
Aint nobody got time for that  Aint nobody got time for....
Aint nobody got time for that  Aint nobody got time for that
Aint nobody got time for that  Aint nobody got time for....

I love the lead guitar solo, the alto saxophone solo, before returning to the chorus...
It's a typical jazz structure of jamming at its best.

When life gets on top of you and you become "crazy busy", we can sometimes do more damage to ourselves than good, by putting off the tasks that only we can do or putting off tasks that if we don't do -  might be preventing other people from doing their job.

Well I guess that's enough least now I can feel like I've accomplished something because it's been five days since my last blog post.

And besides, I need to finish this line so I can walk the walk....

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

You're gonna find yourself somewhere, somehow. . .

In honour of reaching beyond 5000 pageviews, this post is about self-affirmation and doing what you love, and loving what you do.

Corinne Bailey Rae burst onto the music scene with her self-titled debut album in 2006, releasing Girl Put Your Records On.  She enjoyed great success with this album and it actually debuted at number one in Britain.

The music video conjures up images of tween innocence, when girls would listen to records in their rooms, ride bikes with their friends in the summer and the warmth that friendship, sweet cinnamon and sipping tea by the roadside can bring. I'm sure in your own lives you have fond childhood memories of spending time with your friends in the summer time, doing activities and just being around your friends, people that understand you.

It comes across in a very subtle way, it doesn't quite visit the same material as Taylor Swift does in her single Fifteen when talking about love, loss of innocence and friendship, I mean Bailey Rae doesn't need to.  Girl Put Your Records On speaks more about a girl having the opportunity to do whatever she likes, the freedom of choice and having a strong sense of self to not let some boy come along and make fun of your hair ("gotta love that afro hairdo") and try to mess you about.

Of course, this kind of realisation doesn't come without experiencing some challenges and some knockbacks and no amount of advice beforehand will save you from being hurt or feeling bad in a situation, but at least when you are in it and have the time to reflect, surround yourself with people who will be able to offer you their ears to listen or a shoulder to cry on or a hug to warm your heart.

My favourite part of the song is definitely the bridge that leads to the final chorus:

Just more than I could take
Pity for pity's sake
Some nights kept me awake
I thought that I was stronger
When you gonna realize that you don't even have to try any longer?
Do what you want to 

Moral of the story?  You don't need to impress people and try to be somebody else.  If people don't take you for who you are and accept what you bring to the "table", then they were never meant to understand you.  Sometimes we spend so much time "waving flags" to prove to others that we know what we're talking about, that we need to justify the things we do, the words we say and the actions we take; at the end of the day, do what YOU want to do and do what feels right for you.

Be the best of who you want to be.
And for me - that's just being ME.

Waitangi . . . Waitangi . . .Break Free. . . Break Free. . .

In Aotearoa today we are celebrating Waitangi Day, the making of a nation with the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  I can't get past the waiata Waitangi from early roots reggae band Dread Beat and Blood from Porirua in Wellington who inspired legends such as Herbs and appearing alongside Ardijah.  Dread Beat and Blood were responsible for singing about local issues that impacted on Māori identity through reggae music, rather than singing covers or about issues that pertained to South Africa or Jamaica in the 1980s; they were singing about the context of Aotearoa.  Natural Remedy perform a great tribute to Dread Beat and Blood of Waitangi.  Linton Kwesi Johnson's second collection of poetry is entitled Dread Beat an' Blood published in 1975 and would've been a great influence in the naming of this pioneer band.

Wherever Kiwis sit in their thoughts on Waitangi Day and what they choose to honour in commemoration of our national day, as a Samoan born in Aotearoa or a migrant to the country I call home, the history is important to me, as I value my own cultural heritage in Samoa's own struggle for independence and political freedom of sorts during its heyday.

The thing I love about reggae music is the ease with which the music flows.  Disregard how The Paul Henry Show depicted Raggamuffin in his 31st January 2014 story, as it doesn't do the genre justice.
What I'm talking about is the "vibe" I guess, that natural "bobbing up and down" of the head as it naturally keeps time with the music and you become part of the rhythm. The syncopated semiquavers that intersperse between each accented beat help to push the drive in each song, further punctuated by the skilled drummer who artfully uses each part of the kit to emphasise improvised rhythmic patterns, the bass riffs that resonate deep in the pit of your stomach and spine, the lead guitar with its licks and horn section that round out the texture with its brassy harmonies.

In their album Tribute to a friend and the EP No more war, Dread Beat and Blood also have another single called Break Free. 

I'll take you to where the air is fresh and clean 
And every man will have to live as one
Cos unity is what we need
What are you looking for?  Tell me
What are you trying to be?
Trying so hard but you can't seem to break free
From Babylon (ooh) from Babylon (ooh)

What are you fighting for?  Who are you trying to be?
Trying so much but you just can't seem to break free
From Babylon (ooh) from Babylon

To me these lyrics reflect what is important about Waitangi Day.
Breaking free from the "Babylon" in our own lives and instead focusing on how we can work better together as one.

Cos unity is what we need
Cos unity is a necessity
Struggling to survive in harmony
We've got to stay alive in unity 

Happy Waitangi Day Aotearoa :-)

Monday, 3 February 2014

I just wish I could have told him, in the living years . . .

In 1988, I was in my last year of primary/elementary school (you do the math). One of the greatest father-son songs released around that time was The Living Years released by Mike and the Mechanics (1989).  The song written by Mike Rutherford and B. A. Robertson enjoyed success in Canada, Australia, U.S.A. and in the U.K.  It was also nominated for a Grammy in the Song of the Year category at the 1990 Grammy Awards.

The Living Years provides the lead vocalist with the opportunity to showcase their vocal ability in the later stages of the song with improvisation.  I love the tone of the song, the subtlety of the dynamics with that range from the softness in the beginning to the full backing of the choral accompaniment and melodic interludes offered by the guitar and synthesiser.

The music video begins with a sprawling view of a mountain top reminiscent of The Highlander starring Christopher Lambert.  The picture of the young son and his father shows a relationship that is strong and full of love.  This is juxtaposed against the father's own relationship with his deceased father, where the lyrics outline the lack of harmony between the two with opposing ideals (the video shows a picture of the father in a military uniform) and the reason why they are on the mountain top - to visit the father's grave.

The song has always mesmerised me because I imagine that the lyrics would haunt even the most hardened heart of a son with regrets, regrets about his tattered relationship with his father.  It serves as a reminder to me about the decisions we make when we argue or fight with our parents - especially if they have raised us and taught us values that helped to shape who we are, tried to mould us into mini-versions of themselves, even when at some point we didn't appreciate their pearls of wisdom or shunned the very values that we thought didn't represent who we were trying to become or didn't wish to be - because as the song suggest, bitterness can kick in and once words are said, sometimes they can be undone.

I am in no way suggesting that you should have a fantastic relationship with your father - because for some of us in the world - our situations might mean that we did not have healthy relationships with our fathers, grew up without men who were meant to be our fathers, maybe we weren't raised by fathers at all- maybe grandfathers, uncles, brothers, partners of our mother.  In which case, the song can refer to that "whomever you call father" - the person who helped to raise you, guide you and taught you values and things we needed to know in life.  If your connection with them isn't as strong at the present time, I hope you get to say all the things that you want to say to him this lifetime.

If your father has already left this earth, cherish those memories you have.
For those whose fathers live, make the most of their time.

Otherwise you might find yourself saying wistfully, "I just wish I could have told him, in the living years..."

Saturday, 1 February 2014

You better think (think) think about what you're trying to do to me. . .

The unmistakeable opening piano riff sets the scene before the horn section blares with Aretha's soaring vocals rising above the accompaniment.  Aretha Franklin's "Think" was my theme song for last week.  I came across quite a few situations where people needed to be self-aware (including myself) about actions that we take or words that we speak that can impact negatively on others.

It can sadden me sometimes when people look at me and think that because I'm brown that I must therefore be a beneficiary or unemployed (I wear casual clothes sometimes, it doesn't mean I'm homeless either) but there's nothing wrong with being a beneficiary or being unemployed - because if you wanted to know details, you could ask the person (if you're game) instead of making assumptions and twisting your face into that dismissive look that tells me I'm not a human being.

The song lyrics for "Think" on the surface suggest that Aretha is addressing a former partner who she is contemplating leaving or has left, because of how he has mistreated her, not valuing her as a woman and treating her like she is not his equal because he thinks he's better than her (she sings about not having a high IQ or any degrees maybe in comparison to him, but in fact she recognises that she doesn't need them in order to see what he's doing to her).

I love the background vocals with the call and response section with Aretha, punctuating the "freedom" section with the layered harmonies.  The key change also signals a change in gear in the momentum of the song and also signals an imminent climax and ending to the song.  The elation that is heard in the way she sings the "freedom" section signals the sense of freedom in being free from the bondage of the relationship, being the inferior or lesser half of the relationship and to me it also signals the black aspiration for freedom in America at the time of the release of this song.  Lyndon B. Johnson was present and as much as he had helped to win major civil rights legislation, he also expanded America's involvement and presence in Vietnam.  Her performance of "Think" in the classic "Blues Brothers" is my favourite performance.  The lyrics that provide a caveat I think for those times in the late 60s, and even more so now can be found in:

People walkin' around everyday
Playin' games and takin' scores
Tryin' to make other people lose their minds
Well be careful you don't lose yours

Well, I guess you better think (think) about what you're trying to do to yourself and to others around you.

That's what friends are for. . .

Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager are among the prolific songwriters of their generation, producing some memorable songs that defined many of our greatest and saddest moments in our lives.  When it comes to friendship, I can't go past the classic and endearing "That's what friends are for", the cover version made famous by Dionne Warwick and friends - Sir Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight. The original version of the song was part of the movie soundtrack featuring Rod Stewart in Night Shift.

The overarching sentiment of the song promotes the idea that true friends, even when they are apart, share good times and bad times with you in your lives.  They are dependable, reliable and responsible people who are there for you when you need them most, and even when you tell them to leave you alone, they're smart enough to know not to leave you alone, they will give you space, but they will never leave you alone.  Such friends, even if you do fall out with them in bad times, will keep their distance and wait for you to stop being mad at them (so be kind to one another if you intend to stay friends with good people worth having in your life).

So this begs the question:  What about those people who don't know what friends are for?  They are the types of people who could possibly use you as a punching bag (that "mean girls" mentality), will humiliate you every chance they get (most of your high school friendships when you come to think of it - well the worst of them anyway) and the other end of the spectrum are those friends who have wronged you and will try to get back into your good books by talking to other friends you have introduced them to, in the hopes of gaining your good graces again.

There is an unwritten code to friendship and I thought that it would be good to get it out into the open just so that we can gain some consensus on what "friends are for":

1. If you end a relationship, it is not ok to start a relationship with your friend's ex 
2. If you are going through a rough/bad patch with a friend, it is not ok to talk to the other friends that you were introduced to by the friend you have wronged, to try and get back into their good books
3. Be very selective about your friends - if you can't trust them, they're not worth having
4. Be careful of friends who constantly do all the "taking" in your friendship.  If they are not generous people in return - cut them from your life and finally
5. Listen.  You don't have to offer advice all the time.  True friends are not fonts/founts of all knowledge, they are people who listen and are there to offer support not a psychoanalysis.

To all my friends out there, just remember,
In good times and bad times
I'll be on your side forever moooooooreeeee
That's what friends are fooooooor