Category Archives: Music

Purple Rain: Inspiring Poetry in Youth

Summer of 1984, a girlfriend who was a long-standing, avid Prince fan invited me to see Purple Rain with her. Up until then, I had been on the fence about Prince, but Purple Rain made me a believer. I cannot express the electrifying transformation.  However, the movie and its theme song captured me with its lush purple majesty. I heard the song in my sleep, and the following Monday I went and purchased the album.

I had just been contracted by two  schools in Oakland, deemed challenging, and located in the flat-lands (another term for ghetto/underfunded marginalized) to do poetry work shops, with 8th graders who were failing.  I had convinced the head of this program that I could get students reading and writing through poetry, working with these students twice weekly for ten lessons, under the umbrella of California Poets in the Schools.  I was motivated.  I was determined.

The Tuesday after seeing the movie, I brought in the sound track of Purple Rain and the class went wild. We had one of the most engaging discussions we had ever had, and several of the boys who had not written any poems before, (only turning in blank sheets with their names as I had insisted every time, every student had to turn in something) actually wrote poems about what they taught Purple Rain was. The last 10 minutes of the class when I asked for volunteers to read their poems, almost every hand shot up, and we went over the class period. I was elated.

I wish I could put my hands on the class anthologies I produced that year with those two classes, but they are in storage somewhere. I was as proud of those students as they were of themselves, as were their teacher and the school. They all dug deep and wrote some amazing poems. I used Purple Rain for many years, but it was that album, and that moment, that made me incorporate playing music and discussing lyrics into teaching young people to write poetry, and I still do, even with college students.

Purple Rain expanded my pedagogical practice.  To be effective at teaching, you have to meet students where they are before you can take them somewhere else. You have to know their language, what turns them on, who they are being and who they are afraid of being. You have to delve into the mystery of Purple Rain and see what you make of its meaning, just like they are trying to fashion meaning out of their life.

Prince, thanks for helping to make me a more effective teacher, and for providing a space for students to hear, translate and share their voices.

purple rain, purple rain

i find you in the wetness

of this magical purple rain…search

 

SHOLA: LOST MYSELF, A JAMERICAN, New Sound

 

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OPA: Your first, awaited album, Lost Myself drops today. Congratulations.  How does it feel?

SAF: I am happy. I am proud. I am excited to know what people think, and to see where this project takes me

OPA: You wrote some of the songs on the album. Why did you go that route as oppose to just doing all jazz standards?

SAF: When Florian and I started working together we began by pure improvisation in his studio and exploring the sound we created together, ultimately leading us to produce original music. It is important for me to create something new, not just “redo or remix” something that has already been done. Also I wanted to mark this collaboration, capture this period in time with music that was personal us, music that came from us.

OPA: One of my favorite songs of yours, “Just You (Suspicious),” written for Trayvon Martin is not on the album.  Why was that song omitted?

SAF: This album is a collaboration between myself and Florian Pellissier Quintet, so all of the original songs were composed or co-composed by Florian. “Just You” however was created with another producer a few years back, so it didn’t fit into the concept of this album but I am still exploring ways to release that song and include it on other projects.

OPA: I happen to know that since your were about ten years old Josephine Baker was one of your heroines, and similar to her, you now seem to be living your dream of music in Paris.  Do you feel as if you are walking in her footsteps, that her spirit is guiding you?

SAF: I don’t necessarily feel as though I am walking in her footsteps as my career trajectory is different, but I do feel as though I’m benefiting from and walking proudly on the path that she and other singers, musicians and performers paved almost a century before my arrival to Paris. When I am in certain neighborhoods in Paris, I do feel the spirit of Jimmy (James Baldwin), Josephine (Baker) and Bricktop (Ida “Bricktop” Smith) and I imagine that some of the feelings and experiences they had once upon a time here, I feel at points too. It’s empowering to know that such incredible figures were able to find their wings in Paris. Being in Paris has definitely imbued me with newfound confidence and a sense of freedom.

OPA: Since World World II many African Americans have found haven in Paris as artists, in all genres. Would you say that Paris still offers that respite for African Americans to pursue and excel in the arts?

SAF: Yes, I believe it does, for a variety of reasons.

OPA.  Have you always wanted to sing, and what has prepared you for this moment, this album?

SAF: I’ve been singing since I was 8 years old, and though there have been many times when I was afraid to share my voice publicly and lacked the confidence to do so, singing is something that I have always loved. What has prepared me to enter this new chapter in my life is my perseverance to see this album through to fruition, my love of and respect for music and my passion to create. In addition I have studied others people’s careers development  and in some instances worked with emerging artists, so I feel as though I have a sense of what to expect, the unexpected.  I am a new artist, but I’m not new to the music industry.

OPA: You are a Ja-Merican. Although you were born and reared in Oakland, Ca, your maternal Jamaican heritage has been strong and lasting, and you spent a great deal of time in Jamaica when you were growing up. How has Jamaica impacted your development as an artist, and your sense of self?

SAF: It’s funny: my older cousins who recently came to visit me in Paris and who grew up in Jamaica, in Spanish Town, told me of one of their first memories of meeting me when I was a young girl in Jamaica. They said when I talked to them about what foods I liked to eat at the time, ackee n salt fish, stewed peas and rice and dumpling…they thought “ey ey aye ah who dis Yankee girl talkin bout stew peas n dumpling.” It was at this moment they realized that even though I was born in California that my Jamaica-ness was very much present and evident. This is obviously due to my mother who is a griot, really, and who makes it her business to collect our family history and to infuse her children with as much family culture and Jamaican traditions as she knows and practices. So this is a part of my identity that I like to celebrate and of course music is so important to Jamaica and Jamaicans that if I can use some of the Mento/ Reggae/ Soca / Dancehall elements in my music it’s a great pleasure for me to do so. In fact two of the songs on the album make references to my Jamaican background, “Blue Chords” and “What A Night.” The latter was inspired by a song taught to me as a child, “Linstead Market” and I decided to use the “what a night” lyric of this Jamaican folk song and flip the meaning on its head…

OPA: Does this album represent your voice, or are you still developing/finding your way to what might be considered your “true” voice?

SAF: Being that this album was created over a span of two years, my inspiration and my awareness of myself as an artist evolved. This album definitely does capture my voice, though during its teenage years, still trying to find and step fully into its identity, its true self and I am still working to further develop my authentic sound. Right now I can describe my music as a mix of jazz, Soul and reggae in order to create music that feels good, is poetic and is honest in describing aspects of human emotion and situations: conflict and struggle, joy and angst, curiosity and discovery.

OPA: Who are some of the artists who have influenced your development as a singer/artist?

SAF: Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald for sure. And of course many others…

OPA: So what’s next?  Are you ready to work on another album?

SAF: I am definitely ready to work on another album and I’ve been thinking of ideas for the next project: beginning collaborations with different artists and producers to continue developing my sound and creating new music. Simultaneously, I would love to tour within France and abroad to grow my fan base and connect with people through music.

OPA: When will you be touring the USA and the Caribbean?

SAF: Hopefully very soon.

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Shola’s website is www.sholajoy.com
Like Shola’s Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/SholaAdisaFarrar

Here is a link to another interview with Shola:  http://www.southernworldartsnews.blogspot.fr/2016/04/singer-shola-adisa-farrar-drawing-on.html