Cracking the World Open

“Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge.”
—Audre Lorde

Bessie_Coleman_and_her_plane_(1922)
A photograph of early aviator Bessie Coleman.

A little while ago I was at an event put together by Daniel Alexander Jones, performing as Jomama Jones, focused on spirituals. The theme of the night was “Light in Darkness,” and in the words of Sharon Bridgforth, who gave the invocation, the songs being performed and explored were a form of “spiritual technology” that helped to instill in their recipients and conduits things like beauty and courage.

Among the very talented people who were part of the performance was Helga Davis. I had never seen or heard Davis perform before. That evening, she improvised, along with the bass and guitar player, a rendition of “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” that quite literally cracked something open. Of course, as with all great live performances, there’s no adequate way to capture it in words. The simplistic description would be to say she created a raw, emotional, and visceral deconstruction of the song that not only revealed the layers of its meaning and feeling, but also some deeper truth about human condition, about struggle, about being cut off or abandoned, but choosing to carry on, to continue to give voice.

Jones assigned the value of courage to her that night in the exploration of how one generates light in the darkness. It was impossible not to feel courage pulsing in the waves of sounds she produced that night. It was impossible not to feel that performance, full stop.

It would of course be too much to sit in an endless performance of it, but I have wanted to have just that ever since hearing it. Not in order to possess it, but to feel it again—still a desire for possession if you get down to it though. We were on our feet at least four times through its duration. For me, at least, it was that resonant feeling that made me stand. As if those sounds had cut straight through not only my body and my psyche, but also down through the earth’s crust and back out into the universe. It felt that big, that altering. I’ve never experienced any performance quite that powerful before.

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