David Byrne & Deathlessness
Last night at incredible David Byrne concert, the opening act was gorgeous French/Cuban/West African duo: Ibeyi. Twin sisters, stunning, Afro-Cuban Haitian inspired music. They live in Paris. They introduced a song about the importance of strong girls and women and, referencing the current president's exhortation to grab women by the pussies, they decided to sample Michelle Obama's speech (with her permission) in their song. A few seats down from us at the Shrine Auditorium, a man yelled, with ferocious hatred "Get out of our country!" to the women on the stage. I know this is a small instance of the grander horrors going on, and I also know that freedom of speech is a vital right. what struck me though was the hatred. the tenor of the room shifted, like the air ripped apart, and hatred tore through the seams. My own body flushed and fumed. What exactly was this man threatened by? Here these women are on stage being so generous, so full of life and spirit, so powerful. oh. oh yeah. that is exactly what he is threatened by.
The power of empowered physical presence. The threat of embodied joy.
It was actually hard for me to concentrate my attention back on the show, because i was having images/fantasies of finding that man and literally hitting him in the head with a bat and saying "no sir, YOU get out of OUR country." like, really strong violent imagery. which was super important to notice. because the painful thing is my violent urge is not different than his yelling "get out of our country". and the true power was in how Ibeyi continued, undaunted, undeterred, undiminished by the hate. in fact they went on to sing a stunning anthem called "Deathless." and then of course there is the incomparable David Byrne. who came out on stage holding a brain like a hyper contemporary hamlet, as an opening to his epic tour, "American Utopia." As two gorgeous dancers/harmonizers, a black woman and a white man, backed him up, he sang/spoke to all of us:
Put your hand out of your pocket
Wipe the sweat off of your brow
Now it feels like a bad connection
No more information now
As it passes through your neurons
Like a whisper in the dark
Raise your eyes to one who loves you
It is safe right where you are
Here is an area of great confusion
Here is a section that's extremely precise
And here is an area that needs attention
Here is a connection with the opposite side
With twelve musicians and dancers of every shape, color, and size, the ridiculously amazing evening ended with a rendition of Janelle Monae's "Hell You Talmbout" in a call and response inviting the audience to say the names of black women and men who have died by law enforcement in this "American Utopia." It was hard not to wonder what the hater a few rows down from me was feeling when the rest of the crowd was screaming the names of Sandra Bland and Freddy Gray. But perhaps David Byrne and Ibeyi showed me by example that rather than waste energy (and hypocrisy) reacting to and seeking to harm the haters, there is indefatigable power in taking the space, keeping the space, dancing, singing, screaming, being, saying the names. So rather than meeting hate with hate, the night met hate with love. and the hate was drowned, dissolved in the percussion and the pulse.