I think the impression I most want listeners to receive from my new recording World Awake is one of Realness. The songs document my real life, my real experiences, my real love of my partner Benjamin, who co-wrote and co-experienced much the collection, and my real activism and engagement with our world. I am a seeker and a traveler, making real connections with people wherever I go, finding it hard to leave friends, old and new alike, and yet always feeling welcomed at my next adventure.
The music opens doors, turns up the energy in the room, puts smiles on faces and hope in hearts. What is this revolution of the heart and reconnection to the earth that so many of us are co-creating? What does it look like? Through art, I have found, we have opportunities to dream up our visions, visions of living that we have never seen, though many of them many have been lived by our ancestors. The Spirits that walk our lands have ‘seen it all before,’ so to speak, and, as I understand it, they are always close by, ready to help, if only we can acknowledge and ask. So I am asking. And I am listening, to what the ancestors say, and also to what has never been said before, simply because there has never been a time just like this one, with this group of aspects, beauties, challenges, people, Peoples, stories, and opportunities. These songs are some of what’s been coming through as I listen and watch and allow myself to engage and feel.
The title track, Drumming the World Awake, I wrote for a friend in Maui who asked me to write a song for rain there in a wet part of the island that had been dry for many months. My friend spoke of the chemtrails he saw and measured in the air. He was very concerned about the effects of the hot, dry ceiling in the sky those chemtrails produced, and he had a hard time talking with friends and neighbors about such a heavy issue. Song, he knows, opens the heart to such important subjects and concepts. My friend told me all about the chemtrails and his neighborhood on Maui with a heavy heart one night after I had performed there in remote Kipahulu. I went to sleep with this information and dreamed for the song. I woke in the morning with this line: ‘I’m gonna talk to the tiki, and the tiki’s got a drum.’
I had no idea what this meant, but I trusted the dream and began to ask, research. I talked to Eric Kane. Raised with Hawaiian culture and being part Hawaiian himself, Eric has studied Hawaiian chant, dance, and ceremony. He said, Tiki is first consciousness, first waking, first man, first heartbeat, the moment when earth and sky, day and night first separated, and the strength that came from that separation. “Oooh,” I thought, “consciousness.” That’s just what we need to stop humans from spraying chemtrails and otherwise compromising earth’s ability to sustain life. Benjamin reminded me that our friend and great community organizer Trethan Heckman had said we are suffering in these times a “Crisis of Consciousness.” Exactly.
Further asking around on the island of Maui there in February 2010 brought me to father and son carvers from New Zealand, Tonu and Koa. The papa, Tonu, told me that tiki is often carved on the drum, and the voice of the drum is the voice of tiki. Mmm. So the voice of the drum is the voice of consciousness! Drumming the World Awake. You can bet that the drummers I play this song with in a live setting have a great time with this whole concept. One such drummer is my good friend Warren Jones, who plays the cajon, a drum shaped like a wooden box, fashioned originally in Cuba by slaves who didn’t have the freedom to play their own drums. Upon hearing the voice of the drum story, Warren noted that the concept of drumming the world awake is even bigger than just the drum; it’s big like the rhythms of life, nature, everything.
The first track on World Awake may be my most powerful song. The red dragonfly probably brought it to me as I packed up camp after two days and nights alone on a moon lodge/vision quest in the Sierra foothills on North San Juan Ridge in Northern California. I’d set out to listen for songs. I dreamed a lot, and prayed a lot, but no songs emerged until that last hour or so of packing out. Gary Snyder wrote so eloquently of an indigenous American elder who said that a singer needn’t seek songs, for that will bring nothing. But rather a singer should seek connection to the spirits, and through that connection, the singer will perhaps receive a dream, and in that dream perhaps will be a song. (The Old Ways) Indeed. High Sierra Morning is like a sung version of the Hopi 10: Know your garden, Are you in right relationship, etc. And my favorite line: “All the village teach the youth/ to see the sacred and the truth/ and share/ All we need is here.”
Track 2, Aloha, is a welcoming song inspired by a swirling, magical Earth Day celebration on the beach in Maui, 2007. There was a stage set up on the sand, and folks danced blissfully as musical bands and solo artists like myself played and sang to the day. Rainbow colors of flags and people, kids on boogie boards just 30 yards away, sunshine and salty sea air, all had me missing the event the following April when I was far from Maui and learning to play my new ukulele. And The Venerable Dhyani Ywahoo’s words, “Cultivate confidence and dispel doubt: breathe in, breathe out” make the song a healing reminder. I sing the Hawaiian national anthem, as we call it, at the end of the song. My friend Amy Chang there on Maui taught it to me, and perhaps you’ve heard Iz sing it. Ua mau, ke ea o ka aina, ika pono, o Hawai’i. It translates to: The life of the land is preserved in righteousness. Indeed, what better chant for Earth Day on Maui. This is my work, our work: To bring fresh breath, “Ha” in Hawaiian, to the ancient words and prayers. Aloha.
Esselen People came to me, I am sure, from my relationship to the land there in Big Sur, California. Being at Esalen Institute for two years as Benjamin ran the 4 acre farm there was a huge confirmation for my tendency to connect to the spirits of the land wherever I go to sing and perform and celebrate life with friends or audiences. Through, at that time, a short relationship with the land there ‘on a cliff on the edge of the world,’ I received this simple and profound song. As I sang the verses for Benjamin, he said, “You should sing a bunch of indigenous nation names in that song.” Oh yes. I started to list in rhythm the names of nations I’d come into contact with through reading, people, travels, teachings, and quickly had a super power-packed global community to acknowledge and invoke. Esselen is the name of the tribelets that migrated around the now-called Big Sur area. The name means People of the Stone. Esalen Institute, where we lived for those two years, mid 2008 to mid-2010, still breathes deep of the Esselen People spirits, and many of us who lived and live there give sweet thanks, especially in our lodges and ceremonies, to those who loved that land and all its mysteries for so long.
Take it to the Mountain, wow, this song feels so psychadelic, so dream-state, and I always want to really lay into it when I play it. By that I mean, I want to play it hard and enunciate every word I sing, with great energy. It’s definitely about the path of life, climbing our own mountains. I woke from a dream with the whole chorus, melody included, and captured it on my hand-held recorder. The images of the mesa come from Table Rock in Southern Oregon, and from the spirits of that land, the Takilma People, who were led by the dragonfly, as their creation story goes, to Hope Mountain, where they were to make their home. And a beautiful and fertile home it is. So blessed. “Where the Heron soars . . .” This refers in part to my young friend Heron, who is now 10, who was born in Takilma country, and whose parents have supported much of my artist’s humble journey in the past. I asked friends, “Would a heron soar up over the mesa?” “No,” they answered. But perhaps in the story of this song, which is one of deep healing, the heron DOES soar.
Move With You is a revolutionary love song involving past lives and animal spirits and overcoming all odds. Benjamin and I have danced on the beach and run on the sand, creating the story for the song. We had some conversations about growing and going beyond the last generations, and about the exciting prospects of the generations coming after us. The next generations are now taking and will take our work and expand upon it, making us proud and reminding us to celebrate our own accomplishments, however small they may seem. And, as the song says, not only will future generations benefit from who we are as we become our highest selves, but even in this moment we serve our partners and friends and close family members as we rise and surrender. “Surrender now, for free.” My friend told me this concept, ‘Saranagati’ in Sanscrit: to surrender simply because we choose to, rather than when forced. This being ‘at peace with what is’ leads to great healing, and greatly reduced stress! Surrender!