HADIZA: Overcoming the Shadows of Reluctance
CULTIVATE: CINEMA + SOUND
Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017
Live scores by Hadiza, Tobi Parks, and Dartanyan Brown
Films by Serena Illuminati, Roshan Louise-Julie, Kalimah Abioto, and Julia Oldham
Click to reserve seats
HADIZA: Overcoming the Shadows of Reluctance
A little over two years ago, back in Atlanta, I performed a mini set at a monthly event called “Atl Jam Session” at a local arts space called WonderRoot. A black girl found me as I was packing up and said (I will NEVER forget this): “That song. Thank you for playing it. I was going through something today and I really needed to hear that.” This was the first moment that someone would come up to me with positive feedback deeper than anything technical or related to performance delivery. It is, in fact, the highest praise I could ever hope for and confirmed a thousand-fold that I would never go back into the shadows of reluctance, that I would continue writing and never stop performing. This was the precise moment that I really understood the term “vessel” and that there is something greater than me that requires that I do not, under any life circumstances or parental disapproval, stop.
The song she was talking about is called “Lazy Eyes,” and on the surface it’s a song about being immediately placed in genre-boxes as a black woman, singer-songwriter in Atlanta. I wrote the song because I knew I was diminishing my own creative growth by primarily singing backup in another band and not focusing on my own voice as it needed to be for myself and my words.
But Meek Mill said it best: “It’s levels to this ish.” While the catalyst of “Lazy Eyes” was the frustration of navigating ill-fitting expectations by predominately black audiences in Atlanta, the song on another level is about navigating adulthood as a black woman after basically a lifetime of adhering to violent lies about black American womanhood and neo-colonialist assimilation. It’s a song I could not have written before I was 24. It’s a song I could not have written before my first foray into Corporate America. It’s a song I could not have written without feeling the perpetual and painful rejection of my own beauty by white supremacists ideals, despite adolescent attempts to minimize all indications of my blackness. It’s a song I could not have written if I didn’t grow up female, muslim, “African,” and in Iowa. It’s a song I could not have written before experiencing the swift and brutal betrayal of white patriarchy disguised as “diversity” in the money-laden tech world of New York City post-undergrad.
Ultimately, what I do is for myself first. I need to do this, because I need to heal. Perhaps I will always need to heal. Every completed song is a meditation and hopefully another step forward in my spiritual ascension. The words I write are recounts and affirmations in either the positive or the negative of my experiences in love, at work, in school, and with extended family. My “favorite” thing is to be in a new scene at an open mic and have a white man offer me tips about my writing. Tips to help the audience “connect” a little better. Like what’s-his-name at Uptown Arts Bar in Kansas City who told me the songs he heard of mine were “really good,” but that last one especially “seems to come from a place of confusion or uncertainty.” I told him that “uncertainty” is probably my most accessible source of inspiration, and that particular song, “Langue Maternelle,” was about the feeling of being an interloper both in America and amongst extended family in Ghana as a 2nd generation Ghanaian-American who’s supposedly lost touch with her native tongue. He didn’t have much more advice to give after providing him that context.
Any artist wants accolades. I’m inclined to believe you are lying if you’re an artist who claims not to care about how people receive your art. It’s worse if you really don’t care, then I’m inclined to believe your art should stay in your basement, but that’s neither here nor there… I don’t feel like I have to work “twice as hard” because I happen to be a black woman, I feel this way because the majority of my family views my music-making and performing as a frivolous hobby and not integral to my sense of self and well-being. The irony is that it’s my parent’s fault that I’m a performing musician today. Yet I am beyond blessed they put me in piano lessons in the first place. Credit to them, because I wouldn’t have discovered my primary objective, to shift the molecules in the room through the music.
Words by Hadiza Sa-Aadu
Photo by Janet Eckles