This Monday at Petit-Château marked the third week in a row we have been working on a new song. it is a song that rises questions that are universal concepts for the human experience: freedom, nationality, identity, fear, violence, acceptance, judgment, power.
We filled two large sheets of paper the first week with words in Armenian and English, communicating the idea that all people are connected and that freedom is a fundamental right of all people. Therefore, if some people in the world are suffering and are not free, no one is free.
Sarah and I shaped these words and phrases into the beginning of a song that first afternoon. Last Monday, we continued working on the song in very dynamic weather conditions. In the midst of sun, horizontal rain, and wind, we carried on with this important work of giving voice to people’s hopes, fears, and desires for themselves, their families, and the world.
By the end of our second afternoon, we had a working version of the song, which we sang with residents.
Let me be free, free like a smile
Free from your judgment of me
Let me be free like an idea
Free from your fear of me
Let me be free
I’m searching for an identity
That isn’t based on my nationality
What could it be? Would we be free
If we let go of all our xenophobi-a
I am a person without a promised land
I’m looking for someone who will understand
Could it be you? Can you see me?
Can we take charge of our destiny?
Am I alone or are you also trying
To be free from who they want you to be
Could we agree and disagree
And find a way to live in harmony
With the Hakuna Matata song we have been working on and with this song, I have begun to hear a spoken word riff toward the end of each song. This kind of slam poetry is as close as I have come to envisioning a riffing or folk music rap component to the music we write.
I think the benefit of adding some kind of spoken word is that you can say a lot in a short time. When singing, fewer words per phrase and refrain work well. It is easier to sing, and the invitation to sing seems less intimidating for people to join in with a song sheet, particularly people for whom English is a second or third or fourth language.
Wanting to maintain a singable series of verses with chorus in between, I found myself wanting to say so much more. For this particular song, I wanted to add a kind of inquiry and discussion into the concept of freedom and especially how it pertains to what we have experienced and learned in the several years we have been visiting the center and talking and writing poetry and music with the many residents we have met along the way.
I suggested the idea to Sarah, and she was instantly on board. Sarah is wonderfully open to trying new things, particularly in the creative realm. She likened my riffing idea to the spoken word of Kate Tempest.
To try to realize my dream of incorporating spoken word into the song, we began with a discussion of the concept of freedom, past, present, and future. As we talked about freedom, Sarah wrote our words on the page.
Freedom for what?
Freedom from what?
I talked about power hungry political figures throughout history, of the trends toward violence and also acceptance that seem to be an equal part of the human experience.
Sarah asked if I could think of any quotes about freedom? The only quote that came to mind was from Martin Luther King, Jr., and so we added variation on the “I have a dream” speech.
Do you have a dream of what freedom could be?
As with the process of shaping a song from a poem, we crossed out some words and added others. This happened to a greater extent when we tried speaking the words. When I added ukulele, the rhythm of our voices and the words we spoke also shifted.
We spoke the riff section a few more times and then tried incorporating it into the song. The result was that we created a feeling of freedom in our own hearts and bodies and minds, and we drew a crowd of people. Some people took shakers and joined in. Others walked by, nodding, clapping, or offering a gesture or phrase of gratitude for the music. The previous Monday, a person walked by as we were finishing singing the song and said, “La musique, c’est la vie.” Translation: music is life.
Each Monday, we celebrate life and create moments of freedom and revolution through the sharing of culture, language, poetry, and music.
Like so many of our songs, the notion of transcending this world of violence and fear was also apparent in this most recent piece.
What if we just decided to live as a global community without borders? What if we chose empathy and the desire to help one another over fear?
We added two phrases to sing at the end of the final chorus to communicate this idea:
Let us be free.
We could try it and see.