Over the last few months I have been collaborating on a song with Climbing PoeTree for their upcoming album, which is being produced by the extremely gifted Toshi Reagan. For those of you who have heard of the powerhouse duo, Climbing PoeTree, then I have already said enough to get you excited. For those of you who don’t know of Climbing PoeTree, then I have the distinct honor of introducing to you Alixa Garcia and Naima Penniman, two of the most visionary human beings I have met. For over 11 years Alixa and Naima have used their art to transcend injustice in all the ways that it rears its ugly head. Indeed they are the type of people who help make social and environmental justice movements move, by harnessing music, poetry and visual art as tools for popular education, community organizing and personal transformation. This collaboration with Climbing PoeTree means so much to me that I would like to tell the story of how it came to be.
I first met Alixa and Naima, during the winter of 2014 on Hawaii’s Big Island. My younger brother, Guy, and I had just started our first Hawaii tour under our musical collaboration, Selkies & Cedars. That same winter Climbing PoeTree was touring Hawaii with Leah Song and Biko Casini of Rising Appalachia, and they were all staying with our older sister, Lena Moon.
Lena had previously met Leah and Biko through some mutual friends, and she had agreed to be their “tour mama”, so to speak, while they were on the Big Island. The connection Rising Appalachia and Climbing PoeTree had with Lena was instant and the two groups soon traded in their complimentary stay at a beautiful resort, just outside the small town of Pahoa, to stay with Lena in her one bedroom, jungle cabana.
It was during their cramped yet enjoyable stay with Lena that Climbing PoeTree and Rising Appalachia discovered that Guy and I were also on tour. After meeting us only a few times, they decided to let us open for one of their shows. The night we opened for them was unforgettable and the many nights that followed were even more so.
Almost every night, we would find ourselves making music together underneath the stars, free flowing whatever came to our minds and through our hearts. I would sing and hold a rhythm on my guitar; Guy would add to the singing and weave beautifully around the guitar rhythm with his Ukulele; and Alixa & Naima would sing too – adding heart expanding melodies and mind blowing rhymes, completely off the cuff. We would often bring these musical sessions to a close with hysterical laughter, as we reflected on the sheer magic that was born of our playfulness.
One evening in particular sticks out above the rest. The night began just as I described above, though as we approached the wee hours of the morning we lost many of our playmates to their sleeping pads on the floor of my sister’s cabana. The only ones awake and still making music were me, Alixa, Guy, our friend “Deva” (of the internationally known Sufi Qawwali band – Fanna Fi Allah), and, of course, the Koki frogs.
With most people sleeping we “decided” to move our music making away from the house, relocating to Deva’s car at the end of the driveway (said sarcastically). Or we may have moved down the driveway after Leah Song came out of the cabana and, in the sweetest and softest way, reminded us that she had a flight to catch in just a few hours. I admit that it wasn’t my finest moment of self awareness (Sorry again Leah!)
Anyway, I digress. Alixa, Guy, Deva and I found our way to Deva’s car at the end of the very long driveway, far from our little cabana and sleeping playmates. When we were within a few feet of the car it began to rain torrentially. We rushed into the car laughing and wiping the heavy rain droplets from our skin, clothing and hair. After another hour of blissful musical collaboration we transitioned out of our most recent free flow with our usual excited laughter and wonderment. We sat quietly in the dimly lit, completely fogged up car – listening to the symphony of our combined breaths, the rain on the top of the car and the Koki frogs in the jungle. Alixa broke the non-silent silence with a rhetorical question that we all decided to answer anyway. “Isn’t it so exciting that we’re going to be hanging out with each other and making music together until we are all like 80 years old?” I couldn’t help but laugh at the image of the four of us, 80 years old, sitting in a small car in the middle of a tropical rain storm, all high on life and making free flowing music together. Oddly enough though, the image made sense, because there was that feeling of family connection between us all.
Fast forward about a year and a half later, to the summer of 2015. My world felt like it had been turned upside down. I was mending a broken heart from an unhealthy romantic relationship that had begun to negatively affect all my relations. Guy and I were also starting to take some time off from playing out, since we had been on the go almost non-stop for just over two years. I was feeling lost in all the right ways, but my mind kept trying to convince me that it was all so very wrong. It would say things like “If you slow down now, you’ll lose your momentum and everything you’ve worked for over the last two years will be lost. You need to keep going after it!”.
I had previously witnessed a pattern in myself of feeling like I was always chasing the next musical achievement. Therefore, I wanted to be careful that I wasn’t using my desire to feel some sense of achievement in the musical realm to keep me distracted from actually being with myself during this uncomfortable transition. If I gave into the fear based mental chatter – telling me to GO, GO, GO or I would LOSE, LOSE, LOSE – then how could I process through my pain and heal my broken heart without actually giving it my focus and attention? Ignoring it would only result in its suppression – an unhealthy pressure built up that would ultimately result in an illness or an establishment of an unhealthy relationship pattern that would resurface over and over again.
I decided to quiet my fear based thought pattern and simply be present and observe myself in my painful transition, allowing love and healing into my heart. After three weeks of being mindfully slow with myself – taking care of my healing needs and creating an emotional landscape that felt like the antithesis of chasing after anything – I received a phone call from Alixa. She was so excited to share with me that Climbing PoeTree was releasing an album. Then she asked a non-rhetorical question, “We would really love it if you wanted to be on the album… would you like to collaborate with us?”. I started to laugh, because all the fear-based mental chatter that told me it wasn’t possible if I didn’t keep “chasing” was just mental chatter after all. Mental chatter is fleeting, like the wind, but we all too often give it immense power over us, allowing it to misshape us into something unrecognizable, as it festers and permeates our sense of self – which is beyond thought.
I answered Alixa in a heartbeat, the same way I’d answered her rhetorical question a year and a half before. “Heck yea!”