*Warning: Some language may be inappropriate for children. Reader discretion is advised.
“I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: no fear.” – Nina Simone
In 1967, Nina Simone recorded the song “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” on her album Silk & Soul. The song went on to be one of the anthems of the civil rights movement. It’s an original Billy Taylor composition, previously recorded in 1963, that he had written for his daughter.
As we close out 2016, I thought Iʻd take the time to write up a personal reflection of this past year (maybe more like the whole of 2015-2016) through music. Nina Simone is one of my heroes, therefore, I picked a few of her songs that basically tell the tale of my life in a year. Her music has become my go-to sanctuary in the toughest of times, as well as the theme during my most celebratory moments. So why not reflect on my year through her music?
“I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”
I hit a really rough patch sometime in the last year or so. I’d never spontaneously broken out into tears so many times in my entire life than I did in that one particular month (driving and sobbing at the same time is not exactly easy or safe, folks).
I wished, at that time, that I knew how to free myself from the pain and hurt I so honestly felt. Yet had I not gone through that hardship, I wouldn’t have learned how to stand up and be honest about how I feel. I also wouldn’t have found out what it means to be a true friend, or who mine really were.
It was during this time that I realized how much this song resonated with me. Perhaps freedom was to be found by breaking the chains that tied me to how I was expected to act/react. Or that freedom could also be found in saying all the things that I needed to say – loud and clear, for the whole wide world to hear. It also reminded to love and be loved, despite the uncertainty of it all. It was that uncertainty, and the fear of being hurt that kept me chained to negativity.
Special shoutouts and mahalos on this one go out to DJ LNM, DJ KNO-KNAME, my Kai Oni paddling ʻohana, KTUH advisory Sarah Yap, and whoever else ate pie with me. Thanks guys, y’all the real MVPs!
“Ain’t Got No – I Got Life”
But what have I got?
Let me tell ya what I’ve got
That nobody’s gonna take away
Feel like throwing yourself a pity party like I did? Well, let Miss Simone remind you of everything you’ve got that nobody can take away from you. Even through the bad times and the bullsh*t, you’ve got everything you need that makes you uniquely you. Nobody can take that away from you unless you let them.
“Baby It’s Cold Outside” (duet with Ray Charles)
Go ahead, take a chance. Find an excuse to stay a little later and dilly dally with whoever it might be. Do it. Enjoy life as it comes at you. Or as the kids say, YOLO.
How does this song relate to this year? Cuz Trump won the election. #nuffsaid
“Here Comes The Sun” & “Ooh Child”
Anytime I find myself in a funk, I turn to two things to pull me out of it: the ocean and music. They’re the two things in my life that I can lose myself in. You can usually tell how bad of a funk I’m in by which beach I end up at, and what songs are playing on my way there. For me, it’s like being able to hit the reset button. Dive into the ocean and let it wash all your troubles away. Dive into a song and let it lift your spirits to the sky.
Throughout every trial, tribulation, and moment of adversity that decided to slap me in the face this past year, there was a dawning of light at the end. Every time I needed a pick me up, these two songs were there for me. While tossing and turning in bed at 3:00 AM, “Here Comes The Sun” was the first song to play when I hit “shuffle”. Alright Universe, I see what you did there.
Driving home tonight right after checking my grades and finding I finished this semester with straight As, the first thing to pop up was “Ooh Child” (the Nickodemus remix, of course). Definitely a moment for celebration! Hopefully, the universe is giving me a preview of things to come in 2017. Will it really be easier, though? Perhaps it will be, as long as we don’t lose any more musical icons (RIP David Bowie, Prince, Natalie Cole, Sharon Jones, and Phife Dawg, just to name a few).
Well, I think that pretty much sums up my year.
Mahalo to you, dear reader, for making it this far. I know this was a long one, but I hope you got a feel for how the music told my story. If I may, I’ll leave you with some lyrics from the song this reflection is named after, as a reminder that in order for us to truly be free, we have to find it within us to love beyond our bars:
I wish I could share
All the love that’s in my heart
Remove all the bars
That keep us apart
I wish you could know
What it means to be me
Then you’d see and agree
That every man should be free
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, folks!