“I’d love to begin by playing a djembe drum and singing something from the Baga people of Guinea,” percussionist, composer and producer Michael Wimberly shares, opening his Winter keynote. “This is a Song for Kakilambe,” he continues, describing how, called forth by ritual rhythm and song, a mythical being comes out of the forest and into the village every seven years to bless the people with crops, children and health.
As Wimberly sings and summons good fortune on behalf of the Sitka community, a wave of optimism washes over me, enlivening my senses and lifting my spirit. At home and throughout the pandemic, I have listened to lots of recorded music, but there is something viscerally resonant in Wimberly’s offering of blessing and remedy. If ever we needed a benevolent, healing forest deity to make an appearance in our lives, this is one of those years.
As the Song for Kakilambe culminates, the weather outside picks up. “It’s raining very heavily right now,” Wimberly smiles as, from our own homes and time zones, we all tip our chins skyward, listening, the downpour building and subsiding like the rolling of a timpani. “There’s a wonderful sound on the top of this roof!”
Witnessing Wimberly respond with real-time reverence to the December symphony outside while welcoming us so warmly into his studio and creative practice, I am reminded of what it means to be an active listener. We are actively listening when we not only quiet our own inner anxieties and opinions enough to hear what others are communicating but also allow ourselves to be moved and changed by what we hear.
The more Wimberly takes us inside his love affair with rhythm, the more apparent the healing power of deep listening and attunement becomes. “You can’t wake up without the feeling of rhythm in your body,” Wimberly encourages. “Rhythm is in everything we do… your heart beats in rhythm, we brush our teeth in rhythm… our galaxies move around in rhythm, seasons are rhythmic. The water we’re hearing now reminds me of a story…” Wimberly reflects, recalling a time when he was five or six years old and asked his mom, “Do you hear the melody that’s coming from the rhythm of the rain?”
The next day, one listener shared their experience this way, “"I confess I logged onto Michael's talk dubious about the connection between drumming and ecology. In just the first minutes he opened my ears and eyes to how narrow the definitions of art and ecology I have been holding are. Thank you for expanding Sitka's horizons." Another shared, “I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest my whole life, and I will never hear the rain the same way again.”
Each time Sitka hosts an online guest speaker or resident practitioner I am transported. Last week, four more Sitka residents took us inside their practices, from accordion music and Native art curation to poetry and stop-motion animation. You can view the full November 16 Resident Talk here. Our next Resident Talk takes place on January 20, and you can read more about the presenters and their work in this newsletter. Let’s all, with new purpose, tune in together.
As the virus mutates out from under us, it is natural to feel powerless. When we actively experiment, however, with different ways to connect, listen and share our full creative selves and experiences with each other, we exercise our own restorative superpowers.
For those who have lost loved ones, who are struggling with hardships and who continue to work on the front lines of public health and public service to care for us and communities around the world, may we all listen for what is needed and helpful now with heightened awareness and compassion as this New Year dawns.
Wishing you and your loved ones health and peace,