“Every time I hear the sound, the sound, the sound…” ~Mutabaruka.
I grew up surrounded by music, music of every description. There were hymns and choir practice of course. My father was a singer (the Welsh are famous for their Male Voice Choirs), and long road trips were often accompanied by family sing-a-longs. Included in the many trunks, cases and boxes that traveled from England to Jamaica with us was a wide variety of albums. There was jazz, classical music, Broadway musicals. The latest local Ska hits soon joined the Beatles on the stack of 45’s.
I learned (reluctantly) to play the piano, although my mother was not the most patient by the time she got to her youngest child. For one birthday I was given a melodica, that interesting mix of wind instrument and keyboard, made famous in Jamaica by the one Augustus Pablo. My father used to take it with him when he went up into the hills of Mt Providence to preach. The church that met in the kitchen of an old ‘Great’ house had no organ or piano.
My own musical talent allowed me to learn to read music, to play a few basic chords on a guitar (enough for one public performance only!), but without a commitment to practice, my ability never moved beyond mediocre. And yet I always had a yen to participate in a band. Perhaps I could play a tambourine? Nothing too ostentatious, nothing that demanded too much work.
Music moves us. It provides the backdrop to our memories. It conveys emotions, it stirs pride, it makes you put on your dancing feet. Words set to music become more easily remembered than the spoken word. People with dementia, who can no longer recognize family and friends, can sing complete songs effortlessly. There is something about the rhythm and the rhyme set to music that attaches to our memory pathways long after other associations have disappeared.
In the aftermath of a bruising election season, and the arrival in the White House of a man who appears to have little respect for the impact of his words, we have seen the power of a people united. The scenes of huge crowds of women, children, and men marching in peaceful protest reassure us that the majority of Americans want harmony not division; want to stand for open arms, not isolationism. Thanks to social media, a group of women from across the country met online and formed a choir, singing a song written for the occasion. We saw the derogatory word which has been used to demean women turned into a symbol of pride and amusement, the pink knitted kitty-kat hats worn defiantly by thousands. One video showed a group of women drummers wearing those hats, musically declaring strength and revolt, the drum beat communicating the power of synchronized protest
The drum has long been a symbol of revolt as well as a tool of communication. In the era of slavery the drums of Africa were replicated in the deep South and the Caribbean, used to transmit messages of rebellion and solidarity. There is something about a percussion instrument, that syncopation that echoes the heartbeat; that primal thrum that bypasses your ears and vibrates into your body and bloodstream.
Those of us who were not present at the marches are adding our voice through social media, sharing videos and powerful images. And online everyone is pouring out messages of resistance and disgust, sharing stories and highlighting the latest symptoms of an ego gone wild. I read one friend’s column (for indeed we have all become opinion writers in these weird times) which was both eloquent and precise, reminding us of some of Martin Luther King’s words. I was moved after reading the piece to respond only with the word: ‘Selah’, a word which came instinctively to my mind and fingers.
After writing the word I was suddenly struck by a thought, what does the word Selah mean? I remembered it from the book of Psalms, but had I used it appropriately? Mr Google to the rescue. The meaning that jumped out at me was: Stop and listen. It may have been used musically, a command to pause. After all, the Psalms were originally set to music. And in some cases it could be used like Amen (so be it). But the caution to stop and listen caught me.
When we don’t listen or pay attention to any of the information our senses are providing us with, we have a tendency to make mistakes, to rush to judgment. And when we commit to listening, we may hear information that we don’t want to hear, or a point of view that is contrary to our own. Those who attended the Women’s March on Washington (and all of the many others around the country and the world) were struck by the kindness, the politeness, the willingness to listen and share in the crowds that attended. We can only hope that those in power will stop and listen.
As the nation pauses in confusion at the new normal, as the world looks on in horror and alarm, we can only hope that messages will be heard, that lessons will be learned before too many lives are disrupted, too many laws are enacted. The reality is that things often have to get way worse before they get better, and we seem to be seeing the worst played out before our eyes. But it is the gross and overt injustice that provokes the revolution. There is a tipping point, and we seem to be very close to it.
On this Friday morning, when it is easy to become discouraged and downhearted looking at the constant barrage of weird news coming out of Washington, we have to hold on to the images of unity and universality. We have to hear the millions of voices of protest, and see the images of resistance and strength. But we also have to participate, to get involved, to beat our own drum, and shake our own tambourine to demonstrate our support. And every time I hear the sound, the sound, the sound…
Have a wonderful weekend Family!