Today’s Afrobeat: Founded by father, Fela, and continued by son, Femi Kuti takes this genre into a changing world

Femi KutiFemi Kuti, Head Shot, Press Photo carries his father’s – Fela Kuti – legacy of Afrobeat graciously and humbly. Developed in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Afrobeat blends elements of Yoruba music, jazz and funk rhythms with an instrumentation that emphasizes African percussion and vocal styles (New World Encyclopedia 2015). American musicians have come to appreciate the sounds of Afrobeat pioneered by Fela and expanded by Femi.

Throughout his 26-year career, Femi has toured with large rock and roll acts in the U.S., including Jane’s Addiction and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and collaborated with Mos Def, Common and Jaguar Wright on a song for the video game “Grand Theft Auto IV (Ridgefield Press 2015).” As I interviewed Femi for the Music Historian in the lounge above the Brooklyn Bowl stage, minutes before his rehearsal, I asked him what it is about Afrobeat that artists from other genres admire.

“Understand,” Femi begins, “that it has always been there. In fact, in 1970s, when my father was making all of his hits, I think diplomats from Nigeria were taking records [of Fela’s music] to America. People like Miles Davis, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder were listening to him. So many great musicians were inspired, but his name was never mentioned. What probably happened was that someone had been listening to his record, and they said, “Wow, this is great. Who is this?” Someone else would respond, “It is this cat from Nigeria,” and they would say “Wow! Great music.”

“In 1977, when Nigeria hosted the Festac Festival, I know Americans came to the shrine and played with him [Fela], jammed with him, and loved his music. I would [also] say 50-60% of Hip Hop came from the Afrobeat. So, it would not be surprising to hear people say my father inspired them. Then there was a musical about him on Broadway. I think this is a just a manifestation, but he was never mainstream. He was always on the ground and inspired American arts, culture, and music.”

In Nigeria, Fela had a very strong fan base. Femi got his start in music by playing saxophone in his father’s band at the age of 15 (femiakuti.com 2015). The fan base often asked Femi when he was going to play music and be like his father. When Femi decided to leave his father’s band, this was a taboo.

“In Africa, you never fight your father, especially if he was Fela Kuti,” explained Femi. Further, the musician admits he had a stressful period of trying to convince people his music was his own, and not his father’s.

“People misinterpreted everything I did,” he said. “My father told so many journalists that he would never write a song for his kids, but they still thought that was not true. When I had my first hit in Nigeria, “Wonder Wonder,” I was not given credit; people thought my father wrote the song for me. Then I had my big hit, which became international, “Beng Beng Beng” and people said “No, no. It is [a hit] just because you are Fela’s son. When I got my first GRAMMY nomination, it was, “Oh it is because you are Fela’s son.

“I think the good thing about it is it never troubled me. We loved my father very much. I don’t think critics or anybody could destabilize my thoughts.”

Femi has released a total of eight albums in his career. His 1998 album Shoki Shoki broke many boundaries in Afrobeat music. The artist used technology and machines to drive the force of the music. His last three records, Day by Day (2010), Africa for Africa (2011), and No Place for My Dreams (2013), have been released by Label Maison Records. I wondered whether Femi, when making a new album always searched for a new experience or focused more on the process of making music rather than an end goal. He says:

“I feel the experience of the time is what contributes most to the making of the album. For instance, in Africa for Africa, I wanted people to experience what it was like to record a band like mine both live and in the studio in Nigeria. [For example] they were recording and the electricity goes off. Hopefully, they would feel the frustrations I felt trying to get the record done.

No Place for My Dreams, the last one, reflects more of my childhood. I was trying to bring sounds from my father that touched me. Bringing that power – ‘I would love to play music, what kind of music do I want to play?’

“The next album I am working on is trying to go back to Shoki Shoki, which tried to use technology to enhance the creativity of Afrobeat. Most people [at the time] thought it was not very possible [to do] with the Afrobeat.”

Africa for Africa is one album that personally stood out to me the most. Femi, in a 2011 interview with NPR, said that one of the themes from this album reflects an ongoing concern among many African citizens, the lack of a unified central news network to inform people about what is going on in multiple regions across their content (NPR 2011). I asked Femi to tell me more about this theme. He elaborates:

“We have to wait for the BBC to tell us there is a war in the Congo; we have to wait for CNN to tell us what is going on in Ghana. Where is the African central network system to tell us our story, and then to tell all? It would be so powerful, that the BBC and CNN would have to get new [about Africa] from this network, not vice versa.

“Let’s take for example the crisis of Boko Haram. The BBC reports any crisis before any Nigerian network. The BBC or CNN will send journalists into this area to investigate. How come no Nigerian network sends a journalist to this war zone? Are they too scared? Not even videos or live footage. With the war in Iraq, you see BBC journalists will go there – this is journalism; there is no room to compromise nor argue with this. You have to appreciate the bravery of the journalist.

“There is so much. Don’t African nations see what is going on? Where is that kind of courage, where is that kind of attitude in journalism? If you were to focus really on Africa, Africa would probably not have time to listen to other news. There is too much going on there to deal with that. If we did have a serious network like the BBC – that was not corrupt, of course, not managed by interference or governments manipulating the system – then can you imagine how fantastic that network would be? For an individual journalist to be curious and go to find the truth of that news at any length because it is important? That’s what I would have loved for Africa.”

Femi Kuti Powerful Force Rehearsal (2) Like his father, Femi also addressed corruption within his music, corruption that each African citizen faces daily. One song from No Place for My Dreams, “No Work, No Job, No Money,” includes a lyrical message that within a country filled with plenty of oil and other natural resources, there is no work for people to help them make money and feed themselves nor their families. Based on personal curiosity, I wondered how have people’s reaction to this same type of corruption changed from the 1970’s to present day.

“I think what has changed is that now people are most outspoken. In my father’s time, it was just his voice and his voice alone. Now, on social media, you will see young boys and girls express their discontent with anything they see; this was not happening in my father’s time.

“The young people communicate way too fast for the leaders. I don’t think world leaders can deal with this, especially when they [the government] is being dishonest. More people today complain, so the government is very uncomfortable. The government is being forced to be honest for the first time, but, I think they will try to be smarter, more sophisticated; they will try to hide.

“You see what is happening in Greece, Spain, and France? I now realize that Greece is facing the kind of problems Africa faces – they have no jobs, they can’t put food on the table. You see what is going on in Ukraine? The government is losing its invisible force. Europeans and Americans don’t fear government like Africa fears government. Africa too is changing very fast and African governments are losing that invisibility where they think they are untouchable,” says Femi.

Issues of joblessness, poverty and hunger exist in all countries. Femi also makes a valid point when he says U.S. or EU citizens don’t fear their governments as much as Africans fear theirs. While the musician mentions that young people in Africa speaking on social media regarding what is happening around them; neither he nor his father wanted to encourage the international community to get involved.

“Understand,” begins Femi, “African leaders want people to believe they are honest. If I can show the true picture, then you have a different view. You become intrigued; you want to find out more.” A listener might ask, ’Is Femi speaking the truth, or will I go to Africa?’ Femi continues with this figurative scenario, “You will say ‘Oh, there is no electricity.’ How come Nigeria, a big oil-producing country cannot provide healthcare? How come the education system in Nigeria does not even exist? You have all of these universities and no matter what degree you come out with; it is meaningless. [You then ask] ‘Is Femi telling the truth, or are the leaders telling the truth?’ Then you have to question – How come your leaders are negotiating or doing business with corrupt people? Are they part of this corruption?

“I feel, that the world, whether we like it or not, in a few years, the political arena will change drastically, for the positive I hope.”

Looking towards the future, I wondered what Femi expected from himself and his band, The Positive Force. Before I directly posed this within a question, I wondered whether his last album No Place for My Dreams had produced the results he wanted. Femi says:

“I think it has already done its full lap. We have toured already now for over a year and a half, promoting the album. People love it very much, and now, [they] go into the future, and talk about it later on. The later generation might pick it up one day like they picked up my father’s [albums]. I think what is important for me is to know how to look into the future. Always try to bring new sounds into our music – new conversations.”

Wherever these new conversations lead listeners, Femi will continue that passion for a genre that helps define Africa. Also to combining funk, jazz, and soul, Femi also defines Afrobeat as a genre filled with African culture and tradition, “the true roots.”

“Don’t forget,” he explains, “Africa had its melody before the west came, or before jazz. My father was lucky to grow up in a village that still kept its tradition and folk songs from ancestral times. I think my father was gifted enough to say, “Everybody is doing this in Africa, this what I have… and if we take it and just make it rich.” That just caught everybody’s attention. His grandfather was a musician and composer, and his father was a musician and a composer. His grandfather was the first composer from West Africa to record for the BBC. They composed a lot of hymns, many of them are still relevant in churches, or in traditional culture in Nigeria.

“My father grew up with all of this rich music. As he studied classical music, fell in love with jazz, tried to find his feet, he probably then remembered, “Wow. This is what my grandfather was doing.” This is what I was listening to in the streets… where I was born. [He said] “Oh, I can… put all of this richness together and bring about my kind of music.” Then everybody said “Whoa! What is he doing?” Everybody was moved by it.”

In July, between the 10th and the 18th Femi Kuti & The Positive Force will travel to Paris and the UK to perform on a short tour. Then, it is back to Nigeria to focus on the new album, which will revisit the stylistic creativity established within his previous work, Shoki Shoki.

“I think with my experience, age, and maturity, and if my calculation is right, in my mind, it should be ten times greater than the Shoki Shoki album,” explains the musician. “If I can arrive at that, then I can say that I have reached another milestone in my musical career.”

Works Cited

Afrobeat. (2012, August 29). Retrieved June 15, 2015, from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Afrobeat

Femi Kuti Official Website. (2013). Retrieved June 15, 2015, from http://www.femiakuti.com/#!about/c2414/

Femi Kuti & The Positive Force Bringing Afrobeat To Ridgefield | The Ridgefield Daily Voice. (2015, May 29). Retrieved June 15, 2015, from http://ridgefield.dailyvoice.com/events/femi-kuti-positive-force-bringing-afrobeat-ridgefield

Nigerian Star Femi Kuti Talks Politics And Music. (2011, April 27). Retrieved June 15, 2015, from http://www.npr.org/2011/04/27/135770537/nigerian-artist-femi-kuti-talks-politics-and-music

 

All photos were published with permission

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Embrace the Chaos, wherever you may wind up: Gypsy George discusses biculturalism, entrepreneurship and how music has brought him to Brooklyn

Gypsy George Press Shot. Published with Permission from the Artist.Like many bilingual professionals, Gypsy George, a Brooklyn-based musician whose real name is George Mihalopoulos, has learned to manage two lifestyles simultaneously. You might have guessed that his family is from Greece. Though he was born in the U.S., George says he is “firmly rooted in Greek culture.” He describes to me his every day.

“My day to day is quite active and busy. Recently, I’ve added importing olive oil from Greece with my Dad to the mix of things I do. A few years ago, he and I were trying to find ways to bring money back to Greece, due to the financial crisis. My grandfather used to press this fantastic olive oil in our hometown of Nafpaktos, and later, we discovered that everyone in the area just pressed their own oil and never sold it. We met with a local miller there, developed a relationship, and now we exclusively bottle our single varietal (Athinoelia) Premium ‘Agouraleio’ Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Nafpaktos under the brand name 10δεκα.

“So, that has been taking up most of my weekday mornings. After I finish with Olive Oil stuff, I usually move onto music-related matters – responding to emails, organizing shows and working in the studio. It varies from week to week but generally, my daily life has been ‘Olive Oil & Music.’”

Aside from participating in a business partnership with his father, George also founded a publishing company in 2003, Always Already.

“I started this company mainly so I could start receiving royalties on a movie I contributed music to, ‘The Maldonado Miracle’ produced and directed by Salma Hayek. From there, I started to build it around music licensing and composing. Today, I have expanded it to include a record label. It is a boutique music company that pretty much offers all music related services – recording, producing, publishing, licensing, composing, and more.”

He adds, “I run the company very grass roots, family-style, encouraging all the artists I’m producing to be as involved with their projects as possible. I do try to teach them about the business end of things, so they are better armed to tackle the ever-changing universe of music.”

Speaking of an “ever-changing universe,” an entrepreneur and musician who runs multiple businesses might describe the road to their success as unpredictable and messy. At least, that’s how I would describe it as I reflect on countless interviews with musicians, informal interviews with NYC student entrepreneurs, and my professional development.

Like many entrepreneurs, George has learned to ‘embrace the chaos.’ He also incorporates this motto into his definition of a gypsy: “One who lets life happen – the good and the bad – and welcomes it; who can adapt to their surroundings with ease and pleasure; who is unafraid to take risks, be self-critical and make changes.”

While I certainly find this definition of a gypsy inspiring in a creative and artistic sense, I know that in an ethnic and practical definition, it needs more refining. For George, Gypsy is his stage name, one he more or less picked up while being on the road, spontaneously traveling America’s mid-west for his musical inspiration and his identity. Further, George’s affinity to the open road also influenced the name of his band, Gypsy George and the Open Road Love Affair. The band creates what one might describe as Americana music with spurts of Greek flair. The band’s repertoire of music has opened doors to new projects and possibilities. Gypsy George shares his story right here on Music Historian.

Gypsy George Press Photo. Published with permission. Gypsy George received his name from his insatiable desire to randomly hop in a car – without a map – and travel the depths of America. The artist had mentioned that during this time, he was trying to figure out whether he was Greek or American (National Herald 2011). I asked him exactly what fueled this desire.

“A few things contributed to my desire for exploration and travel,” explained George. “Firstly, I moved around a lot when I was younger, eight times in the first six years of my life. So, that clearly laid the foundation. Secondly, it was my family origin. My sister, my cousins, and I are the first generation born in the states. The rest of my family was born in Greece, including my parents. I was raised bi-culturally. I frequently travel to Greece, and I am fluent in the language and culture.

“Initially, my drive to explore America was to experience all the regions that Blues artists had lived in or traveled. I wanted to find the places where Muddy Waters, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Willie Dixon, and Leadbelly had been before me. I wanted to see and feel what inspired them, and this led me up and down the Mississippi River for many years. Since I lived mostly in big cities and urban environments, it was mind blowing to see these places up close and play guitar on the banks of the mighty river. I fell in love with the countryside; it opened my eyes to the true beauty and freedom of this great experiment known as the United States.”

After some time, Gypsy George decided he was 50/50 Greek-American (National Herald 2011). Then, came my next question – where in his music does George’s Greek heritage shine most?

“My music is filled with my Greek heritage,” he begins. “I’ve always felt that my music truly is a culmination of American Blues and Greek music sprinkled with the Lennon’s and Dylan’s of the world. Some specific examples are the songs “Door County Nights”, a blues structure over a 9/8 Zeibekiko time signature; the ‘bouzouki’ style mandolin on “Everyday”; the solo section of “Maude On The Run”; and the list goes on.”

Door County Nights” is the title track to Gypsy George’s 2003 debut. This album conveyed the artist’s stylistic versatility incorporating Americana, country, honky-tonk, and some funk. At the time this album was recorded (in Los Angeles), George worked as a music supervisor and composer at a music company that had recording studios. The owner encouraged the employees to use the studios and learn how to record during off hours.

“I figured, ‘if I’m going to learn how to record, I might as well record an album of my stuff.’ It was a learning experience, to say the least,” admits George. “It is always interesting when you record your first album; expectations are so high, yet your ability is in its infant stages. Additionally, I worked with an engineer who was even newer to recording than I was. That combination of hope mixed with a lack of experience can be an exciting, frightful adventure. We had a blast though, and I think we pulled it off – at least for our first effort.”

Another song on this debut, a honky-tonk, and a country-influenced number is titled “Open Road Love Affair.” I wondered whether this song inspired the name of Gypsy George’s group. I just happened to be right.

“The band name did, in fact, come from the song title. When I was trying to come up with a band name, I spent months bouncing around ideas. I wanted a name that would convey the ideology of the ‘Plastic Ono Band’[i] with the controlled chaos of a road trip. Also, I did not want it to sound forced. One day, I was barbecuing with some friends, and I complained about how hard it was to come up with a band name. Finally, my friend Stacy blurted, ‘why don’t you call it Open Road Love Affair?’ Everyone, instantaneously, had that moment of ‘uh, why didn’t I think of that?’ And that, folks, is how the band name came about.”

The song “Everyday” comes from his 2011 release The Loneliest Man in New York. In this track, Gypsy’s inner-Greek comes out on a mandolin that plays hints of tremolos. He says that when it comes to arrangements, he pushes the envelope. George explains “I like to take chances and treat instruments differently from their basic intended purpose. Sometimes, this fails. However, I’d rather go for broke than be conventional. With a song like “Everyday,” I was very influenced by Pet Sounds (an album by The Beach Boys); particularly the songs “That’s Not Me” and “I’m Waiting for the Day.” The drum part,” which exaggerates the downbeats within the measures, “was me trying to be Brian Wilson.”

Gypsy George Press Shot published with Permission Lyrically, George is influenced by Lennon, Dylan, Beat poetry and Kazantzakis. Occasionally, he writes in an obscure referential way or inside jokes. “Sometimes, “I like to use words to create a feeling or imagery. Sometimes, I just like the way words fit together regardless of meaning. It depends on the moment, the mood.” One such song like this is “Couplet Gun” a song about love which starts with a very distinct verse – I find a little Marxist red war paint/ And, I don’t want to pray it/ I don’t want to say it/ I just want to step in right next to you. The second chorus includes this rhyme I shoot the stars with asphalt bars/ I creep along a familiar song/ I find a way to stick my nose in the dirt…

“‘A little Marxist red war paint’ was a strange way of me referring the lady of the song, who is a redhead. The second set of lyrics was written to convey the heavy, deep pain and loneliest I felt at the time, hence, trying to shoot starts with asphalt bars, sticking my nose in the dirt. I attempted to convey my truest, deepest thoughts and emotions at that very juncture in my life.”

The Loneliest Man in New York included a band of six musicians, including Jamey ‘Brother’ Hamm on vocals, who also appeared on the 2014 album 30 Songs in 30 Days. Between these two albums, George experienced a professional and personal development that was initially brought on by an impulsive decision. When he started recording Loneliest Man, George had just moved to NYC without knowing a single person.

“I wound up in NYC by accident: I was fed up with L.A. and left town. I just started driving due East to get as far away from the West Coast as possible. I lived in various spots throughout the country; toyed with the idea of going back to Chicago (where he lived throughout most of his life). Eventually, I came to Brooklyn and figured I’d try it out.

“My girlfriend at the time abruptly ended things, and I thought she was THE ONE – at least at the time. Dealing with a deep heartache – combined with living in NYC without any friends – led me to the only therapist I knew – music. I spent a month and a half in my apartment – which at the time, had no furniture or music equipment and hefty bags filled with clothes – and just wrote songs after songs.

“When it was all said and done, I had written around 100 tunes. From there, I began tracking the album. As I went through this process, I met a bunch of musicians at Roots Café in South Slope on an open mic night. After that, I just immersed myself in music and met more talented folks. Eventually, I asked a few of these insanely gifted people to play on the record. What started as my ‘breakup album’ turned into this colossal musical effort.”

“I had a very ambitious plan with 30 Songs in 30 Days,” continues George. “Having accumulated a wealth of songs I had written, I finally decided to release a double album. I also wanted to tap into all the different styles of music that have influenced me over the course of my career. Initially, my plan was to recreate the Beatles’ White Album. Rather than interpret the album song by song, I wanted to capture the general feel and weirdness of the album. As I developed the concept, it turned into the one thing I detest in art – pretentiousness. I felt I was forcing songs on this sort of strict creative platform. What I then decided to do was release 30 songs in 30 days. For the month of October in 2014, I released a song a day for 30 days. It was a maddening, yet rewarding experience.

“A lot of the material I recorded [involved] mixing and mastering on the fly. It was a very curious project that lent to quick, creative decision making as opposed to past albums where I had all the time in the world to figure out whether I liked this, that or the other. It was a fun release and one I am proud of accomplishing. Although I did play the majority of the instruments on the album, I did have some outside vocalists and musicians.”

Aside from Jamey ‘Brother’ Hamm, the musicians who played with George on 30 Songs in 30 Days included Emily Trask and Justin ‘That Moon’ Kilburn. George says that while it is always difficult to gauge what people fundamentally think about his work, he was happy with the ‘all-over-the-map’ reaction from listeners.

“I like to add humor and silliness to my songs. At the end of the day, I just try to have fun and enjoy life. Obviously, there are serious moments, but I’d much rather poke fun at myself and not take it too seriously. I think that silly and loose atmosphere of my music is what people grab onto at first.”

“Charlton Heston” and “Maude On The Run” are some of the songs on 30 Songs in 30 Days that stood out the most to me. According to George, the political themes within these tracks were overlooked in the States but resonated more in Europe. Whether or not a listener can pick up on the political themes naturally is purely left up to opinion. I was curious as to how George incorporate politics into this song. A perfect example is his 2007 record, Joe’s Beginning, which he recorded while living in Los Angeles. George also recorded this album while in an interesting place in his life.

“I had ended a relationship, felt upset with the administration [at the time], and faced a crossroads with my career. I got my feelings out in music. I locked myself in the studio for six months recording the album, and it was the first record where I did everything, including the engineering.

“Thematically, I based the record on [the story of] “Romeo and Juliet.” I interpreted the couple’s fight for love as obstructed by socio-political circumstances as opposed to warring families. I chose [the title] ‘Joe’s Beginning’ as homage to the ‘Average Joe.’ I wanted to make a political statement without being pedantic. Whether I pulled that off with the album is a different story.”

My conversation with Gypsy George so far has helped me notice that emotional events like a heartache, an abrupt move, and the challenges of being your boss – which for this artist, involves getting songs out on schedule – drives him to create music. Also, he has managed to put his talent out in a robust artistic city. Although he has become known for getting up and moving from place to place, Gypsy George has lived in Brooklyn for seven years now. As far as I know, he has no leaving plans.

Gypsy George Press Photo published with permission “I love living in Brooklyn. I have lived in South Slope, and it has been a true home for me, a first for me in my adult life. Brooklyn and NYC have a great energy and a wonderful mix of gifted and talented artists. It is a city that lays the foundation for a creative atmosphere.

“Out in L.A., I felt that it was all about who you know or how you look, but the quality of the music did not matter [so much]. In NY, you have to be pretty good to survive in the music scene. Chicago has a great art and music scene, but it remains a bit more underground.”

This year will mark the second time Gypsy George has been invited to perform at the Northside Festival. He will perform as part of a lineup hosted by Whatever Blog at The Gutter in Williamsburg. Afterward George will return to producing his second record with Justin ‘That Moon’ Kilburn, with the hopes of releasing it in July. Also, George is in the process of remixing and re-mastering 30 Songs in 30 Days and officially release it as Politics, Ex-Girlfriends & the Ayn Rand Shuffle. He hopes to have this record out in the Fall. Finally, he is also the Music Director and Composer for South Brooklyn Shakespeare, a theater company founded by Paul and Dee-Byrd Molnar. This year, the company will perform “Much Ado About Nothing” on July 25th, August 1st, and August 15th.

Whether or not George chooses to stay in this city or relocate wherever his passion for the open road takes him, he will embrace the change, whatever it maybe, and channel it into his music. Whatever life throws his way, especially if it brings him into a rougher moment in his career, George will center his focus on the fact that he has felt blessed enough to continue doing music.

“My Dad told me a long time ago, that wherever you are, whatever you wind up doing in life, no one can ever take away your ability to create and play music. To me, every moment is a proud moment. I always view myself as an artist first and that everything I do is part of a larger dialog beyond myself.

“The music industry has turned a blind eye to creativity and has focused on profit. I mean [the need] has always been there, but I don’t believe a band like The Beatles could ever make it in today’s music business structure. This is why Independent Artists are more vital than ever. While I might sound critical, I am very hopeful for the future of music and where it will wind up.”

[i] Gypsy George says he “sort of stole a page from John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s concept for the ‘Plastic Ono Band.’ They had a philosophy that ‘anyone’ can be a member of the band, and were adamant that there was no ‘set’ lineup (G. Mihalopoulos, personal communications, June 9, 2015).”

Works Cited

“In the Spotlight: Gypsy George – Musician” (2011). National Herald. Retrieved from http://www.gypsygeorge.com/uploads/9/0/3/2/9032999/national_herald.pdf

 

Yuzima’s Insta-Album, BASH: The Pop-Up Album That Unites Anti-Homophobia & Mysticism with Punk

Yuzima Philips, Press Photo, for the BASH, the insta-album released on Oct. 7, 2014 What do you call a collection of songs, created to represent a specific theme, which are then released as an automatic response to a quickly changing world? Yuzima, the indie luminary who graced the Music Historian with his 2013 industrial-themed LP, THE MACHINE, calls it an insta-album. Since this release is very spurring of the moment and surprising, I thought an interview article of the same spontaneity with a New York City musician that has gained my artistic respect was very appropriate.

During the creation of THE MACHINE, many additional musical ideas hit Yuzima, especially during one influential visit to New Orleans. The artist also thought about what was happening in the world at that time, specifically the issue of homophobia. All of these experiences funneled down into one creation, the three song album titled BASH, which Yuzima will release digitally on October 7th.

The self-titled track on the Insta-Album opens with a heavy U2 influence in the vocals. Then there is the musical component within the guitar and drums that I have not yet heard within an indie song – polyrhythms. In this musical element, and in the case of “Bash,” the electric guitar plays the melody with syncopation and many rests. The drums work to fill in the silent spaces of this guitar melody.

Listeners taking in “Bash” will hear the intricate relationship between the instruments. Further, they will feel the physical space created by the echoes – which are recited with crescendos and decrescendos – Yuzima creates in the chorus. This chorus quickly follows a verse that contains the following lyrics, we are different yet the same, straight and we are gay. Naturally, I wondered whether the next two songs on BASH would carry the same type of instrumental feel.

“That seems to be a touchstone for me – a little bit inspired by U2 and then transformed into my thing,” explains Yuzima. “Madame Laveau has a bigness to it… I drag in synths. I think of art like the cosmos; U2, The Beatles sent out creative energy and folks like me are transmuting it, and sending it back.”

In regards to the lyrics mentioned above, Yuzima claims he was “on the fence about that lyric.”

“I thought it might be too straightforward, but I made the artistic decision that the message still needed to be said and heard. So I kept it. I don’t believe in race, in ‘black people and white people.’ I think we have interests that either unite or divide us, and that [theme] was a big part of my last record.” BASH, cover art, a pop-album by Yuzima, to be released on Oct. 7, 2014

On the subjects of interests that either unite or divide us, gay rights and the issues of homophobia comes to mind. When I was a child, I received plenty of homophobic slurs from my peers. While this eventually disappeared for me – mostly because these slurs came from bullies or classmates who were very immature and insecure with their own sexuality – for many, unfortunately, homophobic bashing does not stop in adulthood.

Yuzima claims that his pop-up album delivers a theme of anti-homophobia. The musician explains, “Homophobia is awful and cruel. At the same time, it’s insanely uncool. When folks engage in hate, it makes them look way out of touch. That’s where music comes in – artists are the purveyors of cool. By putting homophobia on blast in a punk tune… we assert ourselves.”

BASH also has a rebel post-punk theme. Meanwhile, “Madame Laveau,” is a progressive reggae-ish rock number inspired by the New Orleans voodoo legend, and “Light Love” is a spiritual pop number. Yuzima’s trip to New Orleans inspired him to creatively marry this rock ‘n’ roll genre with the wild jazz and voodoo energy of the Louisiana city.

“I loved New Orleans. You don’t know jazz until you go there. I’m always heavily influenced by places I visit. I’ve written songs about Miami, Venice Beach and New York City – where I live.

“Part of the reason I went [to New Orleans] was to inhale the scene – to be touched by the magic. The moment I touched own, I wandered the streets and [entered] a store called Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo Readings. It was one of those transforming moments where I came out a different person and I had to write a song about it. The concept of the Insta-Album is to get that inspiration out – not have it sit around for half a year. I came back to NYC, started writing, recording and voila!”

Prior to embarking on his trip, Yuzima knew there was something down in this city he wanted to experience – voodoo. I wondered what interested him in this mystic practice. He says:

“I love the idea of something that has not been adulterated by the modern world. It’s stronger than technology. Old voodoo ceremonies seem to connect us to the spirit world and the old world [in a time] when everything didn’t have an [immediate] answer. Also, there is a hidden power in music, which voodoo kind of exemplifies.”

Yuzima poses for photo shoot, for his insta-album, BASH, to be released digitally on October 7th So, Yuzima parallels multiple themes or ideas that perhaps don’t belong together, like the purity of mysticism next to the unrefined and grimy feel of punk music. Meanwhile, the coupling of rebellion against homophobia and a spiritual trip inside Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo Readings seems almost impossible. Come October 7th; listeners will have a chance to understand how Yuzima’s signature new age punk will connect these juxtapositions into a musical relationship that will be just as intricate and exciting as his single “Bash.”

My last question to the artist was, “why come up with this new album format? Is it for more effective marketing for a longer album coming down the line, or does it excite fans more?” Yuzima answers:

“It might be…but artists today can’t just rely on the past formats. Bands innovated before us, it’s our job to carry the torch and innovate for today.”

Yuzima also claims he plans to release two more insta-albums. Yet, one might ask themselves, why not just wait to release 10 songs in a full-length album? The answer, based on what Yuzima tells me might reside in the fact that letting a musical idea or message sit for too long will eventually lose its level of pure artistry. Further, an artist might fall in the trap of overproducing a song.

All artists will greatly benefit from the traditional process of focusing solely on a full-length or an EP. This insta-album is a new way of releasing music, especially since it can allow musicians to focus more on their art. Most importantly, this can serve as a trial and error period to see how fans receive an artist’s new musical idea. Could Yuzima be onto something? Maybe.

The life lessons behind cross-dressing: a Review of Yentl Today

This Fall, the New York City-based troupe, The Beautiful Soup Theater Collective is reproducing the play by Leah Napolin and Isaac Bashevis Singer, Yentl.

In the story written by Singer, Yentl the Yeshiva Boy, a young Jewish woman living in Poland at the end of the 19th century, desires nothing more than to study from the sacred text, the Talmud. This means defying the rule that women are prohibited from reading scripture; and the only way she can pursue her dreams is by impersonating a man. Playwright Leah Napolin would later adapt this story into a play, which would then be adapted into a film in 1983, starring the actress that immortalized the character of Yentl, Barbara Streisand.

The BSTC production of the play under the direction of playwright, Steven Carl McCasland, doesn’t have the same pizzazz as the Streisand film, with the various musical numbers sung by the main character. Instead, the music in this 2012 remake is pushed in the background to conveying a restricting, uniform and orthodox atmosphere of a Polish town at the turn-of-the-century. Men and women sing songs in four-part harmonies that sound liturgical. All songs are composed in minor keys; with maybe just a few staccato rhythms that would make only the most attentive listeners do a double take but nothing more.

So if the music doesn’t do it, what makes this production of Yentl so desirable? Simply put the themes of cross-dressing and bi-sexual tendencies that are still a taboo in our society today, and most importantly, the lessons we learn from watching the main character explore these taboos.

Today, so many young people like Yentl are on a search for their own identity and eager to reach their desired destiny. Sometimes that requires temporarily stepping away from a life they know or are expected to live and understanding the realities of the life they want.

“God, what did you bear women for?”   Yentl (Mallory Berlin)

Yentl grew up as the only girl in her village whose father taught her the Talmud. During this time, a woman was prohibited from reading scripture. As Yentl matures, her parents realize she is not ready to be a wife. Further, Yentl has already set her sights for her own future on continuing her studies. Yentl’s wishes put her at a constant disagreement with her parents, even her father.

In the play’s opening scene, Yentl, played by Mallory Berlin, is quarreling with her father, played by Orlando Iriarte. Mallory successfully displays Yentl’s desires by bluntly dismissing the idea of living as a housewife. Meanwhile, Orlando exhibits a blatant impatience as a father that tries to deal with his stubborn daughter.

Strangely though, there is a compassion and bond between father and daughter that audiences will immediately feel. Although Orlando’s character recognizes that though he is slightly responsible for Yentl’s negative attitudes towards marriage and the feminine way of life; he also treasures the relationship he has with his daughter, which might have been facilitated by Yentl’s interest in the Talmud.

 When Yentl loses her father in the second scene of the first act, audience members can further understand why she is more adamant and more anxious to live a different way of life. In this moment of the play, Yentl is mourning her father’s death with his colleagues at a synagogue, and she joins the men in saying Kaddish, a prayer. However; they do not welcome her because women are forbidden from reciting this prayer and thus, leave her to herself. Then Mallory helps unleash Yentl’s voice in a time of confusion and sorrow. She says at the top of her lungs:

“God, what did you bear women for? To have children, to light candles? Then why give them souls?”

Our protagonist’s father, the only man that ever accepted Yentl for who she really was has passed; and now she worries that her only means for survival is to marry and abandon her dreams. It’s clear to her that In order to continue on to a life of study, she must travel into another town, change her identity and attend the Yeshiva, a Jewish school. So, she disguises herself as a man by the name of Anshel.

 

As a man, Yentl enjoys the freedom to study

In the second scene of the second act, Anshel comes off as a shy, stubborn and defensive young man. Yentl makes sure that Anshel keeps his head down in the Talmud in the company of male classmates, insisting he needs to study though he is ahead of all the students. Yentl does not want anybody to wonder why Anshel refuses to undress in front of other men; why he cannot grow a full beard; or why he covets at the naked body his 24-year-old classmate, Avidgor who is played by Peter Oliver.

Viewers watch as Yentl learns to behave like a man. Throughout the play, Yentl becomes close with Avigdor as a study partner and a friend under the disguise of Anshel. Avigdor reveals personal information to Anshel, including that he is already divorced and still in love with his ex-wife, Hadass, who is played by Kim Sweet. Avigdor even asks Anshel to talk with Hadass. Avigdor trusts that Anshel will find out whether Hadass still has any feelings left for Avigdor. Middle: Anshel, Yentl's diguise (Mallory Berlin)

For the first time in her life, Yentl feels like an intellectual equal among men that are not her father. As Anshel, she enjoys the freedom she so desired; but little does she know that even men in these Jewish towns are expected to fulfill specific roles as well. Our cross-dressing heroine slowly discovers this as she becomes better acquainted with Hadass in order to learn how she feels about Avigdor.

While Yentl plays the information medium, Avigdor develops an uncanny attraction for Anshel, who as far as he’s concerned is just another Yeshiva boy. This is evident when Avigdor expresses to Anshel, “Why can’t women be more like you?”

One might see Oliver’s character, as what we would call today, bi-curious. However, Avigdor is not one to consider a romance with another man. Avigdor admits to Anshel that he still needs a woman in his life, and announces that he is ready to marry another woman in town, Pesha.

The bi-curious and the heartbroken: Yentl lies with a woman

Like a good friend, Avigdor suggests that Anshel marry Hadass, but little does Avigdor realize that inside Anshel there is a woman slowly falling in love with him.

Left to right: Avigdor (Peter Oliver), Anshel (Mallory Berlin) At Avigdor’s engagement party, Anshel gets drunk, flirts and kisses the groom, falls on the floor and almost blurts out Yentl’s true identity. As a result, Avigdor leaves the Yeshiva. Yentl who feels disappointed and betrayed, asks for Hadass’ hand in marriage in order to get Avigdor’s attention, and eventually, it works.

By the middle of the play, viewers have so far believed that the gender-bending and bi-sexual themes within this play have been innocent. The second half however shows the dangers that our heroine faces in carrying the disguise of Anshel. Not only does she risk revealing her true identity; but the further Yentl is dragged into this love triangle, the easier it will be for her to commit one of the ultimate sins – “laying with one and wishing for another.”

In the scene that follows, Hadass and Anshel sit across from one another talking about the engagement, the hero turns to the audience, in a narrative, comments to the audience on how great it feels to have the freedom and power of a man.

Audiences now see a vengeful and selfish side of Anshel. Berlin successfully exhibits Yentl’s full transformation into her male disguise as she shamelessly exercises knowledge and power over a previously heart-broken woman who believes she is receiving a second chance in marriage. Anshel and Hadass lie in their wedding bed, and Hadass has no clue that it is Yentl’s fingers penetrating her; she believes she is making love to a man. Further she expresses her true emotions to Anshel when she says, “I feel like we are two bodies with one soul.” Then Anshel reveals that he feels the same way…about Avigdor.

The realities of living like a man Left to Right: Anshel (Berlin), Hadass (Kim Sweet)

As the marriage between these two develops, Hadass slowly becomes unhappy while Yentl grows tired of constantly upholding her disguise. Playing the role of the male did have its perks, like freedom to study scripture and choose any spouse. However, Yentl discovers that the pressures of being a proper spouse and having children can be just as taxing for a man, as it is for a woman.

Viewers now watch Yentl come to the end of her days as Anshel in a scene where Berlin’s and Sweet’s characters are trying to communicate their feelings to one another. Here, Yentl insists that Hadass can learn the Talmud like any man and find personal happiness in this. As Anshel opens the book and starts reciting the first lesson to Hadass, she directly expresses a lack of interest.

Yentl fulfilled her dreams of studying the Talmud among men as an equal, and now she learns that not all women have the same desire. Some, like Hadass prefer to live the life that is expected of them and find contentment in tradition. Afterwards, Yentl leaves Hadass, and makes arrangements to meet with Avigdor so she can reveal to him her true identity.

While Avigdor is upset to learn that his best friend from the Yeshiva is in fact no man at all, his emotional attachment to Anshel has not disappeared. Avigdor even proposes the idea of marriage to Yentl in hopes that she will accept. After all, Avigdor needs a woman. Yentl however refuses.

Our protagonist recognizes the bond she had with Avigdor once was false. Avigdor is really in love with Anshel, but Yentl has finally become tired of playing the man in order to feel accepted and appreciated for her intellect. She wants to be herself again.

Identifying with Yentl: Neither a Blessing nor a Curse

At the end of the play, Yentl has completed a full circle and has come back transformed. She traded back her pants for her skirt. The only thing she has not given back is her love for the Talmud.

One can say that through her gender-bending journey, Yentl learned more personal lessons than any man at the Yeshiva. She committed the ultimate sin; partook in taboos; and came out transformed. Yentl realizes that being a woman is not a curse and being a man is not a blessing, and living one life is not necessarily better than living another.

Yentl’s lessons might resonate with individuals in today’s society that might believe people belonging to a specific gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion have an easier time achieving certain goals and living a fulfilling life. The Beautiful Soup Theater Collective’s production of Yentl proves to us that such thoughts are based more on beliefs than actual facts.

Yentl became a man and entered a Yeshiva based on the belief that she would have complete power and freedom over her destiny. Once she experienced the life of a Jewish man, our heroine realized that Anshel would experience just as many restrictions as a woman. The takeaway from Yentl’s experience is learning the sacred text and reciting from it freely and having a male counterpart, like Avigdor accept her as an equal.

The BSTC is currently showing Yentl at the Gene Frankel Theater from now until October 21st. Visit the official Yentl Facebook Page for this show to learn more.

Avi Wisnia: Open, Unreserved and New

 While every artist today enters the music industry ready to pave their own way through this unpredictable and sometimes threatening landscape, they all promote their EPs and records through the same tactic: live performance. This part of being a full-time musician excites Avi Wisnia.

“My schedule is kind of crazy,” he states, “but I love the challenges that come with it; I always play for a new audience. Playing one of my songs live is always a new experience, and I love the spontaneity and openness that comes with doing so.”

Roger Greenawalt on ukulele and band

After reviewing Avi Wisnia’s performance at CMJ 2011 right here on Music Historian’s Hear; Don’t Listen, I was set on interviewing him for a feature article. This past Saturday, I arranged a meeting with Avi backstage at the Brooklyn Bowl following his performance in the Beatles Complete Compilation with the Ukulele band.

During our conversation in the poorly insulated loft right above the Brooklyn Bowl stage, Avi talked about the obstacles he had to overcome before entering a studio. These challenges followed his from his pre-college years all the way to recording his first full-length album, Something New. Today Avi leaps over hurdles in order to do what he loves most: getting others excited about music.

“I want people to feel like they’re taking away something they haven’t heard before”

“I feel music is all about expressing yourself in the moment and creating that communal experience with the audience.

“Whenever people listen to me perform or sing on a record, I want them to feel like they’re taking away something they haven’t heard before – a mixing of different styles – something new.”

Avi Wisnia at the Brooklyn Bowl, January 14th.

Something New is also the title of his first full-length recorded album, one that evolved from his 2007 EP, Avi Wisnia Presents. As I researched Avi’s background online, I noticed he rerecorded many of his songs from his first album for his latest one. Further into our conversation, I discovered that rerecording these songs was essential to Avi. He wanted to present himself as the same musician from his EP on his full-length feature.

“I started performing my own music for people while I was in college, just to see their reaction. They would come up to me and ask for copies of my music to take home with them. This led me to recording an album.

“I brought my band from New York City to New Jersey to make this record in the a Synagogue where my father was a rabbi. My uncle, who was a cantor in that same temple, engineered our recordings.

“Working on this album was a real grassroots effort: I felt like were recording the songs just as they were in that moment. Everything we recorded for Avi Wisnia Presents was only a first or second take.

“Creating Something New gave me the opportunity to rerecord these songs exactly the way I always heard them in my mind. Although I felt more pressured to realize my own songs, we really made the most of the recording space – incorporating different sounds to bring the most out of the songs.”

  The ability to hear a brand new song before writing it to paper is nothing short of amazing and sought-after in the music industry. However, it would be years before Avi learned to trust his own ability.

“I didn’t accept the idea of projecting my influences through my own music, but then I embraced it”

“It took me a surprisingly long time to put songs onto paper. I thought if the song wasn’t going to be a masterpiece, then I didn’t want to write it down. I didn’t get over this until college, and before that; I never really allowed myself to finish songs. I eventually realized that every song I composed wasn’t going to be complete or perfect.

“For a long time, I also didn’t accept the idea of projecting my musical influences through my music. At first, I didn’t want to sound like someone else. Later, I embraced the fact that I couldn’t escape my influences. Now, I channel all the songs I grew up listening to through my voice and live performance.”

Avi proves to me that a musician can’t escape his or her greatest musical influences. These help shape an artist’s proclivity for a specific style. For instance, some tracks featured on Something New include musical elements popularly used in 20th century music, like ‘song quoting,’ which is present in the title track, “Something New,” and the 12-bar blues form in “Rabbit Hole.”

I then ask myself, why call a record from today, which pays so much homage to the styles that were new before our time, “Something New?”

The intimate mix of Bossa Nova, west coast jazz, acoustic folk, and blues 

“This was my first full-length album, and it was an introduction to me as full-time recording artist. It displayed my flexibility and diversity as a musician.

“Also, I want people to hear a new mix of different musical styles,” some of which include acoustic folk, west coast jazz, blues, and Bossa Nova.

I then asked Avi what he liked about these genres, and he responded:

“Looking back to all the records I listened to growing up, my favorite track on every album was the last, the really quiet and intimate one. You find that same intimacy and mellowness in folk, west coast jazz and Bossa Nova. Although they are different styles, they channel that same idea of mellowness and intimacy.”

Songs like “Rabbit Hole” and “Sink” focus lyrically on intimate issues like foolish young love and hitting rock-bottom. Musically, the slow tempo and improvisational style in “Rabbit Hole” helps both the attentive and recreational listener transcend to a silent space, closed off from the busy world. I asked Avi to talk about “Rabbit Hole” and I was surprised by his motivation behind this track. It was not what I initially assumed.

“One night, while I was half-asleep in my college dorm room, I wrote down a line that stuck in my head. I then spent the next 5 hours into the morning hours trying to develop it, and soon, it turned into a song. While it made sense to me as I wrote it, I still had to be sure it made sense in the morning.

“When you experience a moment like this, when an idea for a song just comes to your mind, you have to let it take you places. Just go with it.”

Avi then also explained that not all songs come to him as naturally. The story behind “Sink” is dramatically different.

“Sometimes, you have to put work into a song. Then the inspiration comes later”

“For “Sink” the idea of melody and rhythm were there, but I had trouble with both the lyrics and tying together different segments of the song. 

“When I took the song to the studio, I wasn’t sure how to communicate the track to either the musicians or the producers. Something was missing, and the song wasn’t translating. I also struggled with this song when I performed it for others.

“Sink” was the last song on the album to get attention, and I, along with my musicians and producers, felt it was holding the rest of the album back. I was pretty sure I would throw “Sink” into the trash.

“Then one day, when I was visiting my childhood home in northern Philadelphia, I went down to the basement and found a Fisher Price Xylophone. I started playing and found that the range of sound on this toy-xylophone fit the octave within “Sink.” So I brought to the studio, put a microphone to it, and started playing. Afterward, we invited some friends to sing a simple back-up chorus, and eventually, all these elements happened to sync everything.

“Sometimes, you have to put work into a song. Then the inspiration for the song comes later.”

The uncertainty of the next hit song, masterpiece, or duration of the next full-length recorded album may frighten some, but not Avi.

“The constant change allows me to express myself in different ways”

 “As I got more into the business, I had to remind myself that in the end, it is all about being excited by music.

“Before I became an artist, I was a music teacher for pre-school aged children. When I gave them a music lesson or handed them an instrument, they were always excited to play music. Even if their playing did not sound like a song, they were happy to express themselves.” This gratifying experience encouraged Avi to adopt a more positive attitude towards in his own life as a musician.

“Every time I go on stage, I remind myself to be open and unreserved when performing. I shouldn’t worry about being “good enough.” Music in this way can be very forgiving; and it’s a great way to get rid of the hang-ups in life and enjoy the moment.” And he wants to continue doing this even as a full-time recording artist.

“I love going on the road and meeting new people and also feeling the vibes of different cities. The constant changes in location challenge me to express myself in different ways, and I never want that to stop. I always run in to something new.”

Hear People Listen, Part 2: Tapping into part of my father’s life

I recently interviewed my father, a former Cold War refugee from Romania, and learned about the power of forgetting and remembering stories. Such stories linger in people’s minds but rarely surface in conversation.

His flee to the United States

 This past April, I visited my parents’ native Romania. My parents, sister and I stayed at, what used to be, our grandparents home in the center of the capital city, Bucharest. I brought with me a story kit from StoryCorps to initially record a conversation with my mother and her best friend. My father became excited by the idea and asked if I would interview him and his two life-long friends, Dan and Marian.

I had to limit the conversation between these three friends to 45 minutes. Along with the “ice-breaking” background questions – how did you meet, describe me a favorite childhood memory, etc. – I also saw this as a golden opportunity to tap into a specific part of my father’s life – his flee to the United States.

After 30 minutes of listening to their walk down memory lane, they finally ambled to the year of my father’s daring escape from Romania – 1980. I then asked the following: “When you learned Tomi (my father) was going to make a perilous journey to America during the Romania’s communist occupation, what thoughts came to your minds?” So, the story began.

“My leave in 1980 was a dangerous matter…those who know will do well to forget”

I watched my father lean back into his chair with his arms folded across his chest as he enumerated.

“My leave from Romania in 1980 was a dangerous matter and one that was kept confidential. My wish for all my friends and family was this: those who know will do well to forget.”

And forget they did. As far as all his friends knew, my father was going on a month-long trip to Israel to visit an aunt. Marian elaborates.

“Tomi and I attended a sports club every Sunday to play tennis in pairs. Since we were both enthusiasts we always showed up on time.

“A month had passed since he left for Israel and I knew he was supposed to be back; so I waited for him at the club one Sunday after his return but he never came. I was incredibly amazed but I assumed he hadn’t come home from Israel yet. His prolonged absence eventually worried me.

“Sometime later, I stopped by his parents’ house to see if they had heard from Tomi. They invited me inside to listen to a homemade tape recording of a telephone conversation between them and Tomi. Making that tape was courageous because in those days, government authorities tapped most phones.

“I listened to the conversation. Tomi had gone to Italy to get an exit visa for the United States. On the tape, Tomi told his father about his arduous time abroad. He was exonerated by the application process and didn’t feel confident about continuing his journey. In the conversation, his father encouraged him to push forward. Mr. Trutescu said to Tomi, “You left here for this reason, and you’ve traveled too far to turn back now. Keep going.”” My father eventually finished his journey safely.

“You could only imagine what my friends thought when they learned I wasn’t coming back”

“I started my journey on Jun 10, 1980 in Israel,” said my Dad. “In September, I boarded a charter plane from Italy and landed in America.” He then remarked, “You could only imagine what my friends thought when they learned I wasn’t coming back.” Dan then told his story.

“It was 1982, two years after Tomi left when I learned he wasn’t returning home.

Romania during communism

“It all happened at my parents’ house on Christmas of that year. Marian and his fiancée, Veronica stopped by, and I saw they brought Tomi’s father along with them.

“I found it unusual how Marian and Mr. Trutescu stopped by without bringing Tomi. At this point, I started thinking he already fled the country; a thought I kept to myself because I was so afraid of possibly exposing Tomi.” Dan didn’t know about the cassette recording Marian had heard and thus, wasn’t sure if my father had already made it to the States or discontinued the trip.

These memories and stories were seldom shared, even though communism was long gone

For a few seconds, I noticed a remarkable silence. My father still had his arms crossed; this time seated all the way back into his chair. Dan adopted a similar posture. Meanwhile, a gloomy expression came over Marian’s face as he turned his head downward toward his seat. It was clear to me that these memories and stories of my father’s escape were seldom shared, even though communism was long gone.

Further into the conversation, my father talked about his return to Romania for the first time in 10 years – right after communism collapsed in 1989. During those 10 years he was in the States, the only contact he made with his friends was through a Christmas card. Marian pulled that Christmas card out of a manila envelope and showed it to me. He kept it in mint condition for over 3o years.

A holiday greeting card can mean many things, but for my father’s friends, it was a sign of hope that their friend, Tomi was alive and well and somewhere safe.

Remembering and preserving some of life’s most important stories

Romanians today no longer adhere to secrecy and forgetfulness. However; those who lived in a time where certain speeches, knowledge and verbal speculations opened a door to danger, still remember this protocol: forgetting is the best way to protect yourself and those around you. Today, remembering and preserving some of life’s most important stories is essential; especially among friends, family, and generations to come.

I am happy to preserve and share my father’s story. It is a story about freedom, danger, perseverance and friendships that have passed the tests of time.