A weekly digest of varied conversational musings on day-to-day life, society & whatever the world throws our way.

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Posts in: Culture

Hear My Voice
         Photo by Katia Pershin

Photo by Katia Pershin

So, today is a big day for me. Not only is it my birthday, but it is also the official launch day for my music website. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’m a musician, but haven’t actually demonstrated that to many of you The Y Variable readers, so…here goes!

www.yaahemaa.com is now live!

My tracks can also be found at soundcloud.com/yaahemaa.

The following can be found on my “About” page, but I thought I’d also share here what music means to me:

I have a lot of ideas and stories swirling around in my head. When you’re that kind of person you have no choice but to let those mental impressions out somehow. For me, that release comes through writing and through playing music.

We often overuse the word “love”, but it’s truly how I feel about music. I absolutely, wholeheartedly love it.  I love what music does for all of us – its ability to inspire change, alter moods, set a romantic scene, or conjure love in a person who has given up on its beauty.

I also love how I feel when I sing or when I play the piano. I’m at my best when I perform. It’s when I feel most calm, serene, confident and powerful. When I write, when I sing, it’s from the truest place within me. My lyrics, my melodies, that’s  me unrestrained. My music, that’s the most honest , most real part of myself. 

Signing off,

Y.

Another Great One is Gone

MayaThe great Maya Angelou has passed. In reading the commentaries on her life, I’ve come to realize how little (shamefully) I really knew about her. I was aware, of course, of her talents as a writer and orator, but I was unaware of her dramatic personal metamorphosis. She was someone who seemed to have had many lives all wrapped up into her one 86 year existence.

While her gift for connecting with her audience through her writing and numerous speeches was remarkable – just look at the many editorials and tweets quoting great lines from her work – what was so striking to me about her life was the manner in which she exemplified how we as human beings are capable of major redemption and recovery. She proved that it is truly possible to transform oneself and to move beyond the bounds or limitations of human expectations or past experiences.

Based solely on her early years, many would have written off a young Ms. Angelou. She was raped at seven by her mother’s boyfriend, became a single mother shortly after high school, and would later work as a stripper and madam before becoming a mainstream singer and dancer and, eventually, the writer most of us know her as. Hers was not the trajectory that would have been expected of most black women in her situation. Anyone else might have been a lost cause.

Her life though was an embodiment of the words she put to paper. She asked her readers to soar, to rise above their defeats, to love, to hope, and believe in themselves. With Maya Angelou it wasn’t lip service. It was how she lived her life. Her passing is a reminder that it’s how I – how all of us really, should live our own lives.

Signing off,

Y.

Lupita
Captured By: Christian MacDonald

Captured By: Christian MacDonald

I don’t know her, and am unlikely to ever meet her, but I am so happy for Lupita Nyong’o. (Warning: in this post, I will proceed to gush at length). She appears to be a woman who is truly rising to the upper echelons of Hollywood – where I hope she’ll stay. It’s wonderful to see someone like her receive so many accolades and such a high level of attention worldwide. A woman “like her” wouldn’t ordinarily be found on the cover of a magazine (check out the latest editions of Entertainment Weekly – with Nyong’o sharing the cover with the great Cate Blanchett, or Vanity Fair‘s Hollywood issue, or Dazed and Confused), or be the subject of a fashion campaign (i.e. Miu Miu) and fashion editorials (Vogue Italia), but she has somehow defied convention and won.

She’s dark, even by African standards – and gorgeously so. If one scrolls to the comment pages on websites featuring her image, the first thing most people remark upon is her beautiful, glowing skin, along with her otherworldly face. But more than that – which is significant given the emphasis placed on looks in the entertainment industry – people are drawn towards her and compelled to root for her too because of her personality. She comes across as highly intelligent, articulate, bubbly, happy, and…nice. (How refreshing). She has a perfect pairing – beauty and brains. A perfect package.

Even her fellow comrades in Hollywood are “Nyong’o-ites”. Celebrities want to meet her, hug her, or take a picture with her. Check out The Hollywood Reporter interview featuring Nyong’o, Oprah Winfrey, Julie Adams, Julia Roberts, Octavia Spencer, and Emma Thompson. Oprah is ecstatic to sit beside her during this roundtable discussion and one can witness a certain level of awe from these actresses towards Nyong’o. When she speaks, they listen. When she tears up, overwhelmed, perhaps, by the position she’s in, as well as bearing the scars and memory of playing a tortured slave, they seek to comfort her.

It may not seem like it should be so significant, beautiful actresses are a dime a dozen after all, but when was the last time we saw someone like Lupita Nyong’o ascend to these heights? One may think of Grace Jones – although the only commonalities between the two may be their dark skin and natural hair, closely cropped – but Jones was more overtly eccentric than Lyong’o whose sartorial bent favours the feminine and brightly hued, over Jones’ dominatrix staples and hard demeanour.

Before Nyong’o came around, I wasn’t sure that Hollywood was prepared to have a woman such as her enter its mainstream corridors. Unfortunately, colorism in our society still exists. I’m optimistic that this will not be the end of the road for her. Aside from winning the Oscar for best supporting actress (not to jinx the process, of course), the next test for her will be to carry a leading role in a film. I hope it happens and that audiences come in droves. And I hope that there will be other similarly hued and similarly amazing Lupitas down the road who break down the still-present barriers in the entertainment industry and shine their light. Wouldn’t that be a sight to behold?

Signing off,

Y.

Tortured Artist
Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinhoodh Matadin for The New York Times

Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinhoodh Matadin for The New York Times

I had the intention of posting something very different this week, but upon hearing of the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman I changed my mind.

Like other people who have posted comments on social media or entertainment or news websites, I too am saddened to hear of the circumstances of his death. I can’t, and don’t want to imagine what it would be like to die so utterly alone, wasted by an addiction that was stronger than my own will.

Hoffman was devastatingly skilled at playing complex and sometimes very dark individuals. His livelihood often necessitated venturing to the dark core of humanity to authentically bring a character to life. Having only ever done minor and small scale acting stints, and always for fun, I don’t know what it would be like to constantly mine the depths of human frailty, or the world’s shadows, while trying to prevent such a craft from working to the detriment of my own personal happiness and well-being.

The tortured artist is a common archetype in society. We’ve become accustomed to attaching melancholia, a life tinged with darkness and the murky depths to artistic greatness – the kind achieved by the likes of Hoffman. Perhaps Hoffman would have still suffered from his addictions even if he wasn’t an actor, play acting the lives of others for our own joy and amusement. But I can’t help but wonder if it all, for him, went hand in hand – the self-destruction mixed with creative genius – to make him shine so bright.

Rest in peace Philip. I hope the demons no longer haunt you.

Signing off,

Y.

Daddy Issues

Daddy Issues PicSo, I’m a big fan of Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal. (I’ve written about the show before). I wouldn’t describe myself as obsessive exactly, but let’s just say, I haven’t missed an episode. If you haven’t watched the show before, in sum the story is as follows: the show focuses on Olivia Pope, an African-American ‘fixer’ and owner of Olivia Pope and Associates, a crisis management firm that gets important people out of trouble. Olivia used to serve as the White House Communications Director for the Republican (and married) President of the United States, Fitzgerald Grant, with whom she has had an on again/off again relationship. Their relationship is something of a star-crossed lovers, unfortunate timing given that you’re a sitting president and married kind of variety. Typical, right? It isn’t The West Wing, but it’s a fun political thriller with some light elements of soap opera thrown in to make the hearts of its many female viewers swoon.

While Scandal stories can sometimes – deliciously – stand on the precipice of plausibility, many aspects of the show are grounded in tropes that are identifiable to its audience. There are these little nuggets of truth, quotes that characters sometimes say under their breathe, sometimes in an offhanded way, but other times, purposely directed in such a way that you become more alert as you watch the show.

For me, it’s these little nuggets of truth that bring me back each week and keep me interested in how the show will progress. For example, this season, we learn more about Olivia’s backstory, particularly about her relationship with her father; a relationship made acrimonious when Olivia learns that her father doesn’t, in fact, work as a curator at the Smithsonian, but who orders the assassinations of enemies of America because he’s the head of a secret black ops agency. It is, obviously, an everyday run of the mill father-daughter relationship.

So, while that storyline is a bit on the outlandish side, there are zingers that come out of the mouth of Olivia’s father that serve to ground the show and that add weight to their fractious relationship.

In contrast to the unfortunate depictions of absentee African-American fathers, Olivia’s dad has always been around. Perhaps too much. He’s been strict and rigorous in the manner in which he has raised his daughter, a girl without a mother from the age of 12. He reprimands his adult daughter like she’s a wayward teen, and delivers a message that will be familiar to many in the Scandal audience. As he chastises her, he says, “You have to be twice as good as them to have half of what they have”. It’s a statement that many ethnic minorities or immigrants have heard from their parents – parents pushing their children to work hard, knowing firsthand that their difference (ethnic background, accent, skin colour) could act as barriers to their success. The statement alone is enough to tell the audience that Olivia was pushed (hard) towards excellence and to being above average.

So, even when the show veers on the unthinkable, it still manages to anchor itself in reality.

I know I’ll be coming back for more.

Signing off,

Y.