Kaia CD Release Party this Saturday!

February 5, 2012

Kaia will be hosting our CD release party on Saturday, February 11th, 8pm, at the Unitarian Universalist church at 2120 North Fee Lane.

We will be performing our trademark mix of world music from the raucous to the sublime in celebration of the release of our first studio recording, Freedom Land.

Tickets are $12 / $8 twelve and under, on sale at the door or at the BCT box office. Doors open at 7:30 pm. Special pricing on all Kaia CDs and merchandise (you can get our previous CDs for ridiculously cheap prices for one night only!). For more, see www.KaiaSing.com or www.facebook.com/KaiaSing.

I’m a little nervous about the show because the HT neglected to publish our press release today. We will be the featured artist for this week’s BEAD newsletter at least, but I still worry about reach.

Amy and I appeared on Carolyn VandeWeile’s Womenspace on WFHB last Thursday, where she played seven tracks off the album and kindly plugged the show like crazy. We’re just not sure how much exposure the show got. Apart from Amy’s dad, we haven’t gotten any feedback.

We will be featured on WFIU’s Artworks on Tuesday night. Amy and I had a 45-minute long fascinating conversation with Yaël Ksander which she has somehow cut down to seven minutes of interview and song. I’m looking forward to hearing what she’s come up with.

I’ve been lobbying TallSteve hard to get on the Afternoon Mix on WFHB on Thursday, but have only gotten radio silence so far. It would really help to get some prime time exposure and it would be fun to do a ticket giveaway. Plus I think he’d be a great interviewer.

Work has been slow lately, which has given me plenty of time to obsess over show details. I would be lost without Post-It notes. I have lists for everything.

Today we’re having over 4 hours of rehearsal, part of it in the UU space, so it will be grueling but rewarding. This is our last chance to spruce things up before the show. I’m a little concerned about how much time it will take us to set up and strike the night of the show and hope the Kaiasistahs will be game for getting all the work done.

See? I’m obsessing. And I thought of something a few paragraphs ago that I need to add to my to-do list and now I’ve forgotten it. Brilliant!

Mom and Dad and hopefully my two sisters and their kids are coming down for the show. I want to be able to go out afterwards and then meet on Sunday for brunch, but it’s unclear if they’ll be able to stay. I’d really like it to be a big occasion. Those come so rarely for me and I really enjoy them.

In the meantime, I’m polishing up my pointy Goth boots and running Gazapkhuli and I Will every day to try to get ready! Woyaya!

Anywhere but here

December 18, 2011

My earliest memory is of being in one of those automated swing chairs. I can feel the weight of my baby tummy smooshing into my baby bottom, all scrunched up. And my poor little fat legs suspended above the floor.

My mother swears I am too young to have this memory, but I see it clearly. The swing is made of blue rough fabric, probably a heavy cotton. The sound of the chair is a loud tick-tock. And I’m aware of my mother and my Aunt Dolores moving around me in the kitchen, bustling about their own affairs. I am left to my own devices.

I want out of this chair. I want out. And yet, try as I might, I can’t make my legs extend long enough to get my toes to touch the floor. I’m trapped in this endless ticking machine, waiting for someone to notice me.

Perhaps I cried and was ignored. Perhaps I began to wail and I was immediately tended to. I don’t know. All I know is that there was a moment of blinding clarity where I wanted to be anywhere but here.

I heard on the news or read in a book somewhere that your earliest memory reveals much of your present-day self. That’s certainly true in my case. I spend the majority of my time just passing the time, waiting for someone to pick me up out of this cage. Or struggling with all my might to release myself.

When I lose myself in my work or my music, am I really here? Am I present? Or am I dissociating? Tick. Tock. Relentless.

Time forces me down a birth canal I am too large to fit. Towards what destination? I cannot tell. I have given up most of my hope for a new life. Even for a different life. Sometimes I think it will just be no life at all. But mostly I think it will just be the same life, trapped in a swinging chair.

The one thing I know I want to do is music. Specifically, Kaia. I’ve thought seriously about changing my career (history professor, music teacher, even UU priestess), but nothing appeals to me. It’s as if my mental tastebuds have gone flat. The only thing that gets my attention is Kaia. The music, the message, the experience.

I love my house. I love my yard. I feel rooted in that sense. And I have Kaia. Everything else seems distant. I sometimes wonder if I’ve lived on my own for so long that I’ve lost the ability to connect to other human beings in any meaningful way. If I lost my connection to music, what then? Perhaps then it really would be time to let the clock tick to its logical conclusion.

I don’t have a sense of where else I would like to be, except in an abstract, Christmas movie sort of way. I desperately want a husband and community. I still want children even though I can never have them. I want to be a thrumming chord in an orchestra of family and friends and neighbors. I can even see the movement of many people in and out of my house, hear the sound of many people talking and laughing and singing. It all seems very Little Women. It is hyped-up Technicolor in my spirit.

But that doesn’t seem to be in the cards for me. What does? I cannot see. All I see is more of the same and frankly, that’s not good enough.

Whenever I think of this particular memory, it leads me to Oingo Boingo’s It Only Makes Me Laugh. I think it’s the similarity in rhythm to “anywhere but here.”

I don’t know why I feel this way
I don’t know if it’s right or wrong
To laugh at misfortune
Darkness can never last too long 

Perhaps it’s just cynicism on my part. Or some self-conscious gesture, laughing in the face of death and all that. Suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Yadda yadda.

But I know someday there will be a reckoning. Someday the urge to get out of the chair and go somewhere, anywhere, will be too great—and that’s where I’ll end up. Anywhere but here.

Inappropriate opera

October 23, 2011

I haven’t blogged in a while due to illness, busyness, and busyness, mostly in that order. The last “busyness” was Kaia’s prep for Voices Against Violence, a benefit for Middle Way House, a local rape/domestic violence crisis shelter and life transformer.

We learned my piece Vow in about 2 and a half weeks, which is a record for us. It’s a difficult song. Not in structure or pitch, but in meaning. We started by just going around the circle and sharing our reactions to it (it’s a song about domestic violence but the beginning spoken word section covers all violence against women). Lara wept as she shared what I also felt: That she’d never sat in a group of women and not heard the stories of abuse and violence at the hands of men. My breakthrough to feminism was this very fact: That almost every woman I knew had survived some form of violation.

The Voices Against Violence show was actually two shows—one at 3 and one at 8. Different artists performed at each show; we performed at both. Aside from Vow, we did different sets for the different shows. The sets were constructed to show our vision for a better world as well as to showcase pieces in different languages and our strongest repertoire.

The first set opened with Arise, Lara’s stirring setting of Julia Ward Howe’s lyrics for the Mother’s Day Proclamation. The crowd (though small) loved it. We did some world music before coming around to Vow and then I Love Everybody. Whenever Lara sings the opening of ILE, she envisions the worst of the worst offenders she deals with on a regular basis in her day job, and tries to surround them with love. Just coming off Vow, she had a visibly difficult time making the transition. But I’ve never heard her sing it with such conviction and truth as she did that day.

The second set’s anti-war piece was my Not One More Day (which I find, to my surprise, that I have not posted about before). We mixed in some world music with Vow and closed with Dubula, a jubilant South African dance piece.

I over-sang during the second set. I noticed it most clearly on Not One More Day. For some reason, I felt a deep urge to connect with the audience, to drag them along, to make them see the insanity of the Iraq war and of all war. The audience was warm, appreciative, and even tried to clap along until they (as always) discovered it interfered with their ability to hear the lyrics. But I felt something missing—maybe it was something missing in me.

Both sets were intense. They whipped around the world and through our key messages of peace and social justice with breakneck speed. And we rocked both sets. The audience was very appreciative. But we did not get a standing ovation. No one got a standing ovation, actually. It was very weird, since it’s ridiculously easy to get a standing O in Bloomington. But even among this crowd, Vow, for the first time, was just listened to without that without-words shout that rises up in people hearing it for the first time.

Gladys DeVane was on with a monologue about Amelia Earhart. Diane Kondrat did Marge Piercy’s The Low Road. Janiece Jaffe and Curtis Cantwell Jackson did their usual mellow songs of love and light. All of it spoke to the meaning of the event, and to the hearts of those assembled.

And then came Roadkill—an opera trio including the famous Sylvia McNair. They opened with The Man I Love. They sang I Feel Pretty. Sylvia soloed with another piece from West Side Story. The others soloed with pieces I wasn’t familiar with but had that same Broadway/cabaret songbook feel. They closed with My Favorite Things. And I squirmed.

It wasn’t the quality of the music, of course, which was exceptional. It was the content and the delivery. They sang with songbooks in their hands, which is fine for classical music but seems off-putting in a show like Voices Against Violence. But it was their song selection that was intensely jarring to me.

To open with The Man I Love at an event about domestic violence struck me as downright chilling. The rest of the pieces, while amusing or moving or interesting in themselves, were so far from the content of the rest of the program that I felt almost sick. It was a dinner set, the same they would perform for any event. It wasn’t tailored to the content of the show or the needs of the people in the audience. In my opinion, it was inappropriate.

The experience shown a light on my feelings about performance: That it be transformative. Not that it simply entertain. It’s like design—design isn’t about decoration, it’s about information. It’s about creating change in the viewer. And music is a great changer. It gives voice to that which was previously inarticulate. And for those in the audience, who seek such a fundamental change in our society as the end to violence against women, and even an end to all violence, we have a responsibility to them to at least attempt to give them a voice.

I’ve seen it many times with Arise. I’ve seen it happen every time we sing Not One More Day—by the time we’re singing, “No more torture / We’re forced to pay for / No more torture in my name,” we’ve got people ready to rise up singing. They want to join in and raise their voices to say no more, a better world is possible, and I want to manifest it.

I Feel Pretty just doesn’t cut it. Not for me, at least. I don’t deny the artistry of the women onstage. I just wonder whether they considered pieces that would articulate the deepest desires of those in the audience, and whether they agree that an artist has a responsibility to try to articulate those needs.

Rise In Love by Kaia, September 11th

September 9, 2011

Words and music by Ysaye M. Barnwell. ©2001 Barnwell’s Notes, Inc. Used by permission.
Arr. Cairril Adaire

Commissioned by The Mystic Chorale, Rise In Love is Barnwell’s/Sweet Honey in the Rock’s response to the events of Sept 11th. The piece is dedicated to Cesare Giovanni Mathis Melussi, born two weeks after 9/11. Barnwell says “Rise in love” emerged as a mantra she found herself saying over and over in the wake of Sept 11th. I took a more contemporary R&B approach to the piece, simplifying lyrics without losing the political edge and the call to love so beautifully expressed in Barnwell’s original. Our recording can be found on Kaia’s Get Down, Rise Up!. (Hear a sample)

See Kaia performing Rise In Love

(We asked Ysaye M. Barnwell’s permission to record and perform the song—to my delight, she not only said yes, she said she loved the arrangement!)

Here are my revised lyrics:

Dear one, I never thought that you would see such a time
I hear your cries
Dear one, there is a reason for these things, but there’s no rhyme
I hear your why’s

But I don’t have the answer to your questions
I don’t have answers for your prayers
I just know this is a moment of transcendence
If we just have the courage to care

Let us, let us, let us rise in love

Dear one, our world has changed in the blink of an eye
I hear your cries
Dear one, a part of each and every one of us has died
I hear your whys

But I don’t have the answer to your questions
I don’t have answers for your prayers
I just know this is a moment of transcendence
If we just have the courage to care

Let us, let us, let us rise in love

The universe is polarized by hatred
We ourselves have been baptized in fear
Some of us are even paralyzed in principle
And there’s anger in the falling of each tear

For so long we’ve just watched foreign agony
The tide has changed; now we grieve at home
Though we’re victimized by terror, we’re not innocent
Where’s the courage to change, oh the courage to change what we’ve condoned

Let us, let us, let us rise in love

In the studio

July 23, 2011

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but—we’ve been in the studio!! I’m working with the divine Lara Weaver and the living GOD Chip Reardin on take after take of Kaia’s forthcoming CD. At this point, it looks like we’ll have 22 tracks. And I am loving it. I feel like I finally know why I have ears!

It has long been a joke in Kaia that I have dog hearing, since I have a really good ear and can ferret out all kinds of tuning issues. Now I feel like I finally get it. This sound engineering is great stuff.

We start with rough takes—from 1 to 16—of a single song. Those are painful to listen to because the sound is absolutely naked. There’s no mixing going on, so I can hear each individual voice without any blend. We sound awful. 🙂

I listen to each take multiple times to pick the best one overall. Then I go back in and start dissecting the chosen take. If we have a sloppy entrance or exit (we have lots of sloppy exits, it’s embarrassing), I note that. If there’s a note that’s not quite in tune, another note. Notes for people who take breaths when they’re not supposed to or who forget the words. (I actually sang the wrong word in a piece that I wrote! How pathetic is that?) Suffice it to say, my notes are extensive. (They are also very small. I don’t know why, but I’m allocating very little space for them and my handwriting is cramped and teeny. But for the most part I can decipher it.)

We often have the option of grabbing a section from another take and punching it into the main take, but there’s also a lot of bleed-through on the sound. Since we all recorded in the same room (with a couple exceptions), the mikes picked up ambient sound as well as each voice. So sometimes we can’t punch something in because the ambient sound doesn’t match.

Lara is celebrating her tenth wedding anniversary in Kauai, so I’ve been working a lot with Chip directly. My goal is to get all the songs to a “penultimate mix” stage by the time she’s ready. Then she’ll just be focused on hopefully minor notes so the polishing phase can be quick.

Mixing: We go through my notes and Chip does absolute magic to make us sound fabulous. He adds reverb so our sound fills out and gets warmer. He mixes the voices so the melody comes forward and the harmony goes back. Then I take that home and dissect it some more. I run through each song about 4 times before declaring it ready for Lara.

We’re also sharing tracks with other creative directors, like with Angela for Kaiababies and Jane for Ergen Deda. It’s great to get their input, since they have a whole different set of expectations and they hear things very differently.

It is so much fun to go through all this stuff, even if it is super time-intensive. We’re heading towards 4 hours per track, and I’m sure that will go higher once Lara’s back. One good thing: I’m certainly learning the road back and forth to Airtime Studios (Krista Detor’s and Dave Weber’s house)! It’s north of the city and requires some quick reflexes for the twisty turns. But if I ever go back for parties, I will at least know how to get there this time!

The downside of all of this for Kaia is that I’m taking extensive performance notes for us and I will be even more nit-picky than ever when we return to our regular rehearsal schedule! But I know everyone will be up for the challenge. We want to do more performing this fall and we want everything to be taken up a notch.

So—that’s my life right now. Time for me to go listen to the latest set of mixes!

Kaia’s last day in studio

June 6, 2011

We had an intense but fun day in the studio yesterday. We began by re-recording Pata Pata, since our last recording of it was such a confusing mess. 🙂 We’d recorded the vocals first, then the percussion, then realized they didn’t match up, then tried to record the vocals again, and then Lara had a coughing fit and we all decided that was enough. 🙂

So yesterday was far more successful—Chip was able to sync up the percussion we’d already laid down with the new vocals we recorded. The wonder of technology.

I was antsy because I knew we’d need the bulk of our time to record Ergen Deda and Las Amarillas, but first we needed to do Lu Lops. It’s an intense song that takes immense concentration to get the emotional qualities just right. It’s in Occitan, which is a language sort of between French and Spanish, so there’s constant squabbling over the pronunciation of the Js (English J or French J? Blah blah blah).

More importantly, it tells this intense story of “The Wolves” who guard the prisons where, presumably, innocent villagers are held. The second verse tells of what the soldiers did when they attacked. It’s a disturbing account, full of blood and bones. “Watch out! They will jump on your bones like crazed people!” Translation always leaves something to be desired but we try to communicate the meaning even if only a couple hundred people in the world speak the language.

The third verse is our favorite—I think of it as the “partisan” verse. It starts out with “Venyez a mic” which is something along the lines of “To me! To me!” There’s a sense of planting a flag in the ground and calling to the oppressed to rise up. The verse paints a picture of freedom in the days to come, and ends by calling on comrades to stick together and help each other. It’s very stirring.

But then there’s this coda that repeats the opening of the song—the wolves are still howling. So did the villagers free themselves but they’re still surrounded? Or was the dream of freedom only that, a dream? The meaning is ambiguous. But chilling nonetheless.

It’s a lot to try to communicate, and it’s much easier done live when we can use our facial expressions and body language to get the point across. But we did our best in the studio. It’s not quite as tight as I would like, but it is good enough for this point in time. At some point we’ll likely get it recorded live, after we’ve had a chance to get it into our bones more, and it may be more powerful.

After Lu Lops came the challenge of Amarillas. As of Thursday, sistahs were saying they didn’t want to record it at all because they didn’t feel ready. I took on the unfamiliar role of cheerleader because I believed we could pull it off. And we did! It took about an hour and a quarter to record a song that lasts 3 minutes.

We recorded it in three sections, with a click-track to guide each one (it’s a very precise three-part piece where the parts rarely come together). We just recorded each section over and over again until we got the rhythm, pronunciation, and pitches correct. When I gave the starting pitches for the third section, we discovered to our horror that we had floated sharp by a half-step! This never happens—we are excellent at staying in tune.

So then a 10-minute period of discussion ensued as we tried to figure out what happened and if we could correct it. Long story short, we had to record the whole thing over again, this time with a tone (A) and a click track running through the whole thing. Chip quickly switched the click track to the faster tempos on each of the sections so we could stay in an Amarillas state of mind. 🙂 And then it was done! Almost.

We moved on to Ergen Deda, a new Balkan piece that people aren’t totally confident in. I think almost all of us were using our music or cheat sheets as props. It’s in 7/8 and there are a couple places where no one is exactly sure what the timing should be. We’re using a recording by the Bulgarian Women’s Chorus as a guide, but our version is slightly different. Though how different is still up to interpretation!

We had about 15 minutes to get that one in the can and it ended up taking about 20. Lara and Tristra sounded amazing on their duet—assuming you like Balkan music, it will knock your sox off.

The whole piece isn’t as tight as Bre Petrunko, our other Bulgarian piece, but it will get that tight, “knit” feeling over time.

And then! Just when we thought we couldn’t possibly eat more chocolate, we had another short break while Chip set up the mics for us to record the percussion on Amarillas. We talked Lara out of doing the stomps-that-aren’t-really-stomps, thank goodness, otherwise we might still be there. The percussion is claps, snaps, hand-slides, and side-slaps. And it all ended up being much more complicated than we expected. Took us about 20 minutes to record.

As we were wrapping up and dithering over whether we should record this part or that one more time, another band came in and that made the decision for us! It was hard to believe this journey of a year was finally over, but we quickly thanked Chip and got the heck out the door. Everyone was in good spirits, even if we still had the click track going in our brains!

Lara and I will be working with Chip this summer to do the mastering and mixing of everything. We still hope to have a CD release party in the Fall, though our schedule is getting so full I’m not sure if that’s going to happen. We all feel pretty good, though, at journey’s end. Many thanks to Chip for his endless patience with our singing, bickering, and fake Minnesota accents. 🙂

Today’s studio adventure

May 23, 2011

Wow. Today’s session in the recording studio kicked my ASS.

I spent the weekend with family in Chicago for my niece’s wedding, then hot-footed it back down to Bloomington to be ready in time. It turned out I woke up two hours early this morn and then kept falling asleep behind the wheel on the drive home. I am grateful for those raised bars on the sides of roads that suddenly bring you back to reality.

I had time for a nap, spine realignment, and episode of Glee before heading over to Rhino’s to meet everybody. It’s a hot, humid day which usually means tempos and pitches sag. Fortunately the studio was like a freezer so we snapped back up.

I had about 6 tunes I wanted to get in the can today, but I knew that was aggressive. We did a good job, though, nailing a couple in only three takes. But everything unraveled on Pata Pata. We can’t do the vocals without the percussion and we can’t do the percussion without the vocals. So we just kept trying to record things in fits and starts. By the end of it we were all exhausted and I have no idea if we have anything salvageable.

I’m a little concerned about recording Lu Lops. We nailed it perfectly when we performed it at the UU gig last month but usually we just can’t get it together. I don’t know what it is about that piece. I changed the arrangement at our last rehearsal to have everyone come in at the start of each verse rather than having just the mezzos lead us in. That made a huge difference in the sound—it’s much fuller now, which is great. But I don’t feel like we really own it yet.

Some people are still having trouble with the lyrics. There are some songs like that, that you just can’t get some piece of. I have never been able to get all the lyrics to Oi, Rano, for instance. Of course, it has six verses, so maybe that’s part of the problem, but there comes a point where the brainspace has to be devoted elsewhere. I made lyric sheets and we use them to cheat during performances.

Oh, I guess I really don’t have anything to say except, “I’m utterly spent.” That’s not so very interesting so we’ll leave it there for the night.

P.S. Big props to the sistahs for hanging in there today.