Thursday, May 9, 2013

For Love of the Music

For Love of the Music


My fiancé and I constantly talk music, as it is the passion that drives us both. Sometimes our conversations get a little heated, but I love his insight as we approach the topic from very different perspectives. An accomplished and versatile musician since childhood, he went to school for audio/visual engineering, and loves the latest movies and music for their production quality. I understand where he’s coming from, I appreciate production quality, and I personally engage with media in the search for message and meaning. I feel the need to understand things in their entirety by identifying the dichotomies and exploring the multiplicities of possibilities.

When the beat is right, my body subconsciously reacts, “the booty don’t lie!” [Q.U.E.E.N. by Janelle Monae ft. Erykah Badu] However, if the song can touch my mind it will stay in my heart even when the beat finally fades. I’m a Gemini, an ENTP, and an empowered young wombyn of the Millennial reLOVEution. When you combine these elements, I’m fascinated by the possibilities of everything, and I have the life experience that speaks to it. The one thing that has remained constant in my life through the vibrantly colored chaos is music. I see the beauty and potential with this, and all forms of art, as they transcend our traditional cultural stratifications to convey messages too strong for the simple context of language. Like I said, I’m a Gemini – the social butterfly of the zodiac, so as I explore the technological frontier I want to share the music and art I experience while communicating the things I learn. Before I feel comfortable discussing those things, I wanted to offer my readers insight to the shading of my own cultural lenses.

My mom’s a little bit Enya, my dad’s a little bit rock and roll. I was raised in the predominately white, middle-class, privileged suburbs of Sacramento, California. Looking back, I believe it is the monotony I found here that led me to fully embrace my multicultural heritage and birthed my insatiable interest in all things “taboo”. My dad loves southern rock, and the song that captures his spirit has to be “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd (Our planned father daughter dance at my wedding). My pops had 6 daughters and no sons, and as strongly as I feel connected to my maternal line, I’ve always felt a little like ‘daddy’s little boy’. I have so many happy childhood memories of waking up early on the weekends to help him work around the house as we rocked out to Free Bird on air guitar. My mother is more eclectic with her musical taste. From the stories of her youth I’m confident she rocked out with the best of them, but most of all she just loves to dance. My mother will forever be a young spirit; she danced her way through high school and college and then passed this passion on to my sisters and me. I see a good deal of myself in her, as her childhood friends called her “Mother Earth”, when I enter her house today I’m almost sure to hear Native American music playing.

I still remember my old cassette tapes – I thought I was the coolest thing jammin’ around town to my Walkman. When I was a child I mostly listened to what the people around me listened to. My top 3 tapes had to have been Santana, Blondie, and N*sync. I will never forget the first CD I bought, and upon recently revisiting it I was astonished how much it truly influenced my mindset as a young girl. In 4th grade, the first CD I ever purchased for myself was P!nk “Can’t Take Me Home”. To this day Pink remains one of my all-time favorite artists for her musical versatility, characteristically punk style, and take-it-or-leave-it fatal female attitude. Throughout high school I was really involved with my youth group, and these interactions taught me to be critical of what I was seeing in the mainstream media. My mother’s degree was also in business marketing (like mine), and since I can remember she pushed me to look at things from every angle. She taught me to do my research, and not to be distracted by the puppets, but rather pay attention to the strings that move them. It drove my batty growing up, but I’m so grateful for it today, as these qualities have become intrinsically entwined with my own personality. I knew and liked the mainstream music growing up, but I was introduced to Punk Rock at church camp and it changed my life.

You may have heard of the “OG” (Original Gangster), but I’ve got to be the “OPRP” (Original Punk Rock Princess). [Punk Rock Princess” by Something Corporate] The joke is that parents are more strict with their children in the areas the screwed up as children. My father had his first children really young, and my mom partied a lot in college, and as the oldest child I was always under a watchful eye. I discovered early that my parents would let me out of the house at night if I went to rock shows with my friends at the local “Underground” music venue. I pitched the idea to her with a pretty ribbon, because the “Underground” was run by a church that used its profits to start churches worldwide. That was a light bulb moment for me; if you put a cause behind the music it’s easier to get people to support it. I saw my window of opportunity and I dove right in, expanding to other venues and other styles of music. During that time I listened to angsty teen punk, pop punk, screamo, hardcore, indie, metal, etc. I have lovingly looked back on that time and coined it my era of the “prototypical nonconformist”. [Admit It” by Say Anything] My musical styles have continued to expand and mature since that point, but nothing brings a smile back to my face quicker than a little rebellious rock.

When I entered college I was on a mission to experience life for myself, embracing the things I felt I missed growing up, making my own mistakes, and learning my own lessons. I’m really lucky that I have such a loving and involved family who laid a solid foundation for me in my youth. As I entered adulthood, I hit the ground running and our relationship was truly tested. Through my romantic relationships, work, school, and friendships, I was introduced to a multitude of fascinating and diverse groups in this time. Right after high school, I was hanging out with house party DJs and mechanics that went to our friends’ rock shows and drifted their cars on Highway 49 every weekend. Those summer nights will forever remain in my mind, the friends, late nights, fast cars, and loud music. I never really got too deep into the party scene in high school because I was way too distracted by school, work, dance, family, and church. My high school church (Bridgeway Christian) had been perfect for youth, a nondenominational Protestant church next to a Christian University; I really connected with the pastor’s lessons. Leaving Sacramento to attend college in Stockton, I never found another church that resonated with me the same way. The more religious history I learned, the more I identified as spiritual but not religious, and left the Christian rock music behind me. I drank before college, but I had never really smoked marijuana, so it’s kind of ironic that my first real group of friends at my school were stereotypically stoners. It’s this connection that introduced me further to reggae and ska, and introduced me to friends that were veterans in rave scene.

My sophomore year I got more into the college party scene in association with the Fraternities and Sororities. The guy I was dating at the time was given a bid to Sigma Chi, and everything changed. I loved the guys in this house, I loved their style, music, art, etc, I loved partying with them, and if I had male genitalia I probably would have tried to join this house. But I don’t, and despite my preconceived stereotypes about sororities, when I was given a bid I thought I’d give it a try. I’m very secure in my femininity, and I’m not really a big girly girl. This period of my life probably introduced me to more chick flicks and pop songs than any other stretch in my life, but when I had to choose between my job, internship, and sorority, I chose my job and ended this phase. Since I can first remember I’ve been a highly self-aware individual, and the time that came next was an exploration into myself.

I spent my spring break on a solo drive down the California coast, visiting friends in UCSD & UCSB, and dubbing the trip my “Urban Vision Quest”. This was a pivotal moment for me looking back at everything I had done, looking forward at everything I had the potential to be, and soundtracking the whole thing to the music I loved most. There really hasn’t been a single person more influential in my musical life than my best friend Ashlee – and it’s by her that I was first introduced to the Soul and R&B I consistently identify with most today. That included some of my all-time favorite artists like Janelle Monae and Jason Mraz before any of my other friends had even heard of them. Thank you Ashlee. J

“No playing that Rap Crap!”, my father used to say growing up. In the later part of my college experience I was officially introduced to Rap and Old School Hip-Hop for the first time. I had heard what got radio play, or artists my friends played, but I got an interest and dove into the history of the genre through documentaries, websites, and friends. Until that point most of the popular rap I heard was about disrespecting women, doing drugs, getting drunk, and being rich. Even if the beat slapped, with the consciousness of my mind and my compassion for the plight of all my sisters, I couldn’t genuinely support that kind of music. The deeper I got into the history, the more I learned about the genre’s development as a cultural movement, and I heard real poetic lyricist that we’re the scene’s first MCs. THAT was something I could support. As I continued on this journey I found modern artists that kept the same real message without the rest of the commercialized bull. I’ve sung since I was born, written poetry since I could write, written music since middle school, and played guitar since high school. This injection of historical significance inspired me to write my own spoken words, but when I put them to music I speak so fast that they’re often perceived as raps.

I got the nerve to collect all my music and record a YouTube mix tape last year. I had tons of original lyrics and music, but had always struggled having no money and not knowing how to record audio myself. I finally said screw it, I want to get this out right now rather than constantly sharing my music live. I recorded everything in 1 or 2 takes, I knew it would be rough but I wanted it that way. I was confident in the future I can rerecord my music with people who know what they’re doing and can make it sound perfect, but it was my statement that this is what I look like, this is what I sound like, and this is what I have to say – auto tune not included. I wanted to tell the world I’m going nowhere but up from here, but to go up you have to start somewhere, so that was my starting point. It was kind of fun after that sharing my poetry at women’s empowerment events and parties, but I didn’t make my music for other people, I made it to capsulize my emotions and thoughts as I chronicle my life.

My maternal grandfather is black, and my maternal grandmother is Native American. My father’s family can trace back to Nordic Vikings, but with this mix of blood I look very white when I’m covered and inside, and I can get pretty brown when I’m exposed in the sunlight. It’s always been interesting to me when people try to make things about race; how can I hate on anyone when I’m such an eclectic mix of cultures that fell in love and formed my family? It’s part of what makes me so passionate about social justice. I feel if I were to hate on anyone else for something their born with like their race would be like hating myself, as I identify with such a variety of people. Though I had tremendous support for my music by my family and friends, there were a number of people that hated on my music and hated on the “white b*tch trying to rap”, as one girl put it. Criticism affects everyone, as we’re only human, AND I have the mental fortitude to shake it off because I know I am too strong to let others’ hate define my actions, self-worth, or ambition. I don’t believe in holding myself to judgment by the level of my peer’s achievement, but rather my own standard of excellence and personal best. I have to be real with myself and own up to my mistakes. As long as I turn them into lessons and move forward with intent and compassion I can live with no regrets.

The best advice I ever received was to do what you love, because it is there that you will find the ones that you love. I kept myself extraordinarily busy through college, focusing my time and energy on the things I was passionate about. As the President of the Native American Student Association, I was invited to teach a cultural and basket weaving class at Podesto’s Teen Impact Center, which is when I first met my fiancé. We connected via Facebook, and when I posted looking for someone killer on guitar to record some of my old music, he responded. We instantly clicked making our music together, and we’ve basically been inseparable ever since. Not only does music in itself bring me tremendous joy, its also been the gateway that has brought some of the most wonderful and interesting people into my life. 

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