Hi again everyone! Thank you to all who read my first post introducing this project. To recap, I am recording a collaborative album, co-writing the songs with artists from seven different countries. I am currently a senior at Dartmouth College, and I’m spending my senior year completing this independent project -- which includes a scholarly ethnography -- in lieu of classes. Over the past month, quite a bit has happened, as the project comes to life.
Much of the month was spent writing the ethnography, which explores the themes that are emerging in my cross-cultural collaborations. It is entitled Sojourner’s Song: Retracing Afro-diasporic Pathways through Collaborative Songwriting (a mouthful, I know). I recently submitted the first 30 pages to the fellowship committee, who will review my work throughout the year. In these pages, I discuss my ‘hyphenated identity’ as a African-American-Jamaican, and share the ways I have been able to connect with each of my collaborators. In this section, I also “unpack” my songwriting process with Peddo Brian, a collaborator from Nairobi, Kenya. I share the ways we trade lyrics back and forth, and work across languages other than English.
Working on the album itself is also very exciting. Over the last month, I have delved into the songwriting process with my collaborators. Each piece is unfolding uniquely.
My collaboration with Peddo has birthed a song called “Wanipenda,” which translates as “You Love Me.” It features an intertwining of Swahili, Luo and English. The song is a duet, narrated by a pair that is geographically separated. The rhythm and progression draw primarily upon reggae, with neo-soul and jazz influences. I found this fascinating -- a song inspired by a Jamaican genre, and featuring a compilation of East African languages.
This song was birthed over a year ago, when Peddo sent me a draft of it, proposing a collaboration (I still treasure that first moment of musical connection). Below is a chart including a section of Sheng lyrics and their English translations.
From his Sheng lyrics, I’ve been able to gather the concept and elaborate upon Peddo’s words. Although the full English translations are not always seamless, I thank I’ve captured and expanded the intent.
VERSE (Sheng original):
I’m sitting by myself, talking to myself
siku gani nitakucheki ma
I’m calling from my cell, chatting kwenye text
siku moji nitakumarry ma
VERSE (English translation):
I’m sitting by myself, talking to myself
when will I see you again
I’m calling from my cell, texting
one day i’m gonna marry you
if you love me for real
On a personal note, the lyrics also speak to my collaboration with Peddo and our ability to connect, despite the literal sea that separates us. The melodic dialogue of the piece reflects our ongoing correspondence, as we have gotten to know each other. The song is an exchange, our vocal parts diverging and coming back together, as Peddo and I overlap lines, swap languages, and tell a story together.
When song comes together, it is so exciting. Here's a video of me singing with Joel Almeida, one of my collaborators from Cape Verde. He translated sections of a Cape Verdean song into English, so we could sing a duet. We recorded it at Dartmouth last summer, while he was here completing a fellowship.
As with any large project, challenges are emerging. A big one has been setting up rehearsals. My band is located in Boston, and I am in Hanover, NH. It has been difficult to schedule rehearsals -- which is where I had planned to spend time with the band on each piece, gaining a stronger sense of what the song will sound like, how to improve upon it, what to add and remove. Thinking I would have time in the room with the musicians to flesh out the songs, I planned to simply put together lead sheets for the band, from which they would improvise. (A little explanation: Lead sheets are a popular way of communicating the chords of a song, often employed in jazz and popular music. Rather than specifically notating each instrument’s part, it includes only the chord changes, leaving room for players to improvise more freely.)
Since rehearsals have been tricky to schedule, I decided to produce a demo of each song, in addition to lead sheets. I am using an audio production software to create a virtual mock-up of what each live instrument will be playing. This is more work for me, but it gives me a way to work on developing each song itself, even before working with the band. These demos will also be helpful to the band, giving them a sense of each song’s structure and feel, so we can maximize the time we have, and focus on bringing each piece to life. Although a challenge has emerged, I have learned from past projects that flexibility is essential. When things aren’t falling into place, I know that I have to make adjustments and calibrate my plans in order to bring the vision to life.
The first month has been an adventure in other ways. I am working to juggle the varied schedules of my collaborators and band members, along with my other commitments at Dartmouth. I’m a member of several ensembles, and perform frequently across campus. I also take jazz piano and vocal lessons, and serve as a teaching assistant for two music courses.
To be honest, things began to feel slightly overwhelming. So I took a step back, to regain some perspective and inspiration. I thought back to dreaming up this project my freshman year. I travelled back in time, retracing the path that has brought me to this moment, this opportunity. Being able to pursue this project is such a blessing. It’s easy to begin taking it for granted, to get caught up in the details. So many things have aligned in order to make this a possibility. I’m so grateful for the experiences that led me here, and the plenitude of support I’ve received along the way.
Hearing the songs, even in their beginning stages, is so exciting. I look forward to hearing them continue to evolve. Even more so, I can’t wait to share them with you! Thank you for taking the time to read and follow this journey.
Tyné Freeman has performed at the Kennedy Center, composed for the Grammy Foundation, and been featured in Seventeen Magazine. She has released several EPs, and most recently recorded a charity album in support of the Global Village Project, which runs a school in Georgia for teenage refugee girls; she composed a song for the girls to sing and featured their voices on the record.