I've spent the best part of the afternoon listening to Brandon Wint's spoken word album The Long Walk Home. I essentially have it on repeat, and I've drifted in and out of moments of sitting by the speakers, listening to the stories, and walking around my home, cooking, the voice and music calming and warming the air of my rooms.
I think this is the greatest compliment I could give to a spoken word album, to be honest: that it can be listened to and that it can also just be heard. It doesn't demand close difficult attention, but invites it. It is music that is as lovely to listen to as any folk music I tend to want to hear on a lazy Saturday afternoon. And it is also storytelling, as rewarding as any novel. One of the ways this album achieves this is in the musical compositions and production that flows with a slow, sentimental sweetness.
The Long Walk Home is a conversation between the poet and musician Alex Millaire, who plays piano on the album and guitar on the track Home. The album also features Marlena Pellegrino (violin) Emily Kennedy (cello) David Endemann (viola) and Noah Waters (violin and spoons) - all students at University of Ottawa. The album was recorded and mixed by Don Charette of Naskigo productions and mastered by Jason Jaknunas of Metropolitan studios. The music and the mix are perfectly and equally matched to Brandon's gentle voice - even the slight vibrato of his voice plays like a soft violin. Canary is wonderful with both Brandon's voice and the strings descending in lines - it reminds me of the falling two-note violins in Bernard Herrmann's score for Vertigo (that might sound strange until you recall the more gentle parts of that score!)
Since I featured two tracks (Home and Arson) in this month's podcast, they have seeped into my consciousness already. But hearing them now as parts of this whole, gives those pieces a deeper sensibility. Brandon made a point to me that the tracks should be listened to in order, and I would repeat that instruction to you. The Long Walk Home is, as the title suggests, a journey ... says Brandon ... "one which takes its listeners through articulations of isolation, loneliness, mortality, desire, deep love and belonging ... a meaningful site of reflection on humanity, spirituality, personal narrative and healing."
The journey begins in a place of questioning, and arrives to a place of understanding. Beginning with Study Me ... "study me, if you wish, assess my postures, my phrases, the pauses in my speech ... hold me inside your ribs; do what you must do to love me ..." Brandon's voice is ceaselessly gentle even when reflecting on anger, loss, pain - these things which make us stronger, combine with joy and love to make us the people we are. The deep reflection of these pieces invite deeper reflection in the listener.
"Do you know they tried to stop me? Tried to force me back into the swelled dwelling of my mother's womb as though hers wasn't a labour of love... What then is my entire life, but the grace that follows the breakthrough?"
Born in Canada to a Bajan mother and a Jamaican father, an only child, and born with cerebral palsy, Brandon has said previously that "being perceived with a lens of difference is part of what makes me better disposed to be a poet – because if you are always aware of how the world is taking you in, how the world is looking at you, then you are forced to be more aware of how you are seeing the world. The way I see the world becomes my poetry." This heightened self-awareness, this kind of gentle searching into the pains of life, magnify our own experience, and I do believe that listening to voices like this develop our ability to feel and understand ourselves, and by extension, our brothers and sisters across the world. It's not just a matter of empathy, but of reaching into the more timeless aspects of life we tend to cover over with work, entertainment, and the business of living.
There is definitely something timeless about this album, as Brandon reaches for love, for healing, and in the end, for home and belonging. Before you ask pictures Samson "breathing like a baby" in Delilah's arms - such a beautiful and unexpected image. Here, in the middle of the journey, he connects love between people with love between elements, animals, nature.
Before you ask of my love for her ...
Ask what poem the moon would write for the ocean, and the ocean for the shore,
Query every affinity hidden in nature's ceaseless dancing,
And you'll reveal the same story, the same songs, which bind my life to her
The journey ends with two tracks that are essentially love poems for place; for home. Recalled.. is questioning and yearning, a cry for a felt but displaced identity. As a child of Jamaica and Barbados, a child of diaspora, seeking belonging.
Whose language; whose books; whose flags soiled by rain and blood; whose words, far off, linger in some memory of mine
Survived, so that my father could have his eyes, my mother her lips, her smile,
And me, all of this history and confusion, all of this blackness, and beauty, and life?
... To the closing track, Home ... which I featured in La Danza Poetica this month, and which, if you tied me down and made me choose, would be the poem of choice from this collection. It is the most beautiful poem to belonging - not to mention to winter, and snow, and the quiet loveliness of a cold climate.
There may have never been hibiscus flowers parting their red lips
as I walked to school as a child
or mangoes dripping fragrance into my city streets
but on nights when I lay my body
against the calm, snowed earth
the crests of my flapping arms bring angels to the surface of the land.
There is a home for me between the magic and the struggle of each icy breath.
I feel sometimes that I rarely get to really express sentimentality without tempering it with pragmatism, the apparently necessary cynicism of modern life. I'm thankful for poets like Brandon Wint who remind me to feel it. This is definitely an album for timeless afternoons. Turn off the "shuffle" and listen to the story the poet wants to tell.
The Long Walk Home is released today (April 22) on Bandcamp: