The song about Freedom was the hardest to come to life. The first time I experienced freedom was in a dream. One night, when I was just a little girl, I placed an oak nut on each shoulder, just like in a magic ritual; I twirled it, started to move my feet upwards, and that was it, I started to fly. I flew above the houses, through the telegraph lines, I ventured above the fir trees, as much as and however I liked, I was in total control. This freedom with a flavour of flying was fantastic!
I woke up, that morning, very light, joyful and with a sense of fulfillment. This dream repeated throughout the years, and it always took me by surprise, leaving me the same joy with a scent of freedom. The story of the oak nut takes me back to my childhood. I was born in Oneşti (which was named Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej back then), at the height of the communist regime, in a generation of children who were proud of their communist red tie. In my family the word “commie” was smouldering in the air, unuttered. My father lived through the nightmare the communist hatred, which had destroyed his everything: his house, his family, his belongings, his confidence in himself and in life. He was so terrorized by the communism that even before he passed away, in 2010, he was still shaking if he got pulled over by a policeman for a routine check. The chains of this fear clung to his feet ever since he had to leave his home to make a leaving as a little child, after he saw his brothers and sister die, his father lose his mind in prison and his mother – left on the streets. The communists did not allow him to attend school, because of his ‘unhealthy origins’, so, when I came to this world, my father was trying to make up for the lost time, and was attending night school; he wasn’t that young any longer, and his hopes of becoming famous one day and “showing them” slowly turned into tears of resignation. An extremely generous man, my father sensed when others were going through hard times, and he always helped, with a lot of compassion, with anything he could. He was dreaming of having a lot of money – he dreamt about it until the very end – for one reason and one reason only: he hated poverty, which makes people weak, small and submissive.
My mother, on the other hand, was part of the first generation of villagers who was able to continue her studies, and became an intellectual who lived in a town. She was part of a category of people supported by the communists, the sort of people with a ‘clean record’. The communists provided her with a house, and, working with ambition, she managed to make her way in life on her own. She was respected; she worked as a teacher and loved her job. The fear of losing everything was present in her soul as well, but it was coupled with a sense of pride for making it on her own in life, after breaking away from her most-revered land worked by her great- grandparents. She worked in a town, she was loved and respected, had a noble job and a wonderful family whom she was totally devoted to.
‘May our children be protected – at least them; no one should touch them!’, my father used to say through gritted teeth when he was feeling that fear, that morbid monster in him with its hideous grin. In our house we laughed a lot; laughter was a way of masking our fears, our pain, a way of feeling stronger and avoiding conflicts. It was a form of defense that was triggered quickly and naturally, even in the harshest of moments, like an instinctive defense mechanism.
I was a good child, maybe a bit of a chameleon. Above all, I loved harmony. I didn’t learn what chains were for a long time, as I was a child adored by my parents, and I was the kind of leader who was loved and admired within my circle of friends. And I was feeling good that way. I have felt the calling and the joy of being on stage ever since I was child. I liked being the centre of attention, and everything I did attracted people’s attention and admiration. I just loved being on stage. The artist seed in me was growing slowly, without anyone in my family noticing it. It grew like a wild plant, vigorous and resilient. Neither the wind, nor the rain or the drought could shake it.
I wasn’t a rebel in my time, maybe because of my chameleon nature that served me for a long long time as my most-trusted crutch. This wish of mine for harmony, for being liked, was my first Master. I did everything to serve it, and it repaid me; it was a mutual exchange. I served it without feeling the taste of the chains or of the rust. And I felt good like that. When I was 20, I chose the most liberating form of art, that of music improvisation… jazz. I didn’t know what that word meant, I wasn’t familiar with this genre or the state that jazz could generate. I had never listened to a jazz song in my life. I simply didn’t know it existed. All of a sudden my whole life changed, it had a new meaning, and I had a new purpose in life which was so strong that no one and nothing could stop me. My destiny changed abruptly, and so did my dreams and my priorities, my wishes and my thoughts. Everything changed that memorable day when I had my first encounter with Jazz.
The stage won me over slowly but surely, without my realizing it; it became my reason to live. Every day started with this extraordinary pleasant taste of this new type of slavery that I had recently adopted. My new Master sent shivers down my spine, I kissed its hand with so much love and reverence… Its presence wasn’t always sweet, I sometimes bowed humiliated, hiding my tears, some other times I was ecstatic and felt like I was flying. But I was His now, and I didn’t oppose it. Not even one atom in me was rising against it. I desired it and I gave myself totally to it with all of the passion I was blessed with (and Passion was one of the most powerful gifts I came with in this world). I considered I was free to live as I desired, even if that called for great sacrifices. I was feeling strong in the shade of my adored Master.
“At the city gate and by your fireside I have seen you prostrate yourself and worship your own freedom”, says Kahlil Gibran’s Prophet.
Sometimes, in my dreams, I meet my oak nut: we fly together and this flight is like a purely platonic type of love, pure and bright, no promises made, like a tear of joy. My oak nut.
After 21 more years, I started to write the music for Kahlil Gibran’s masterpiece, The Prophet. I had a small and cozy studio by the restaurant ‘Maimuța plângătoare’ (‘The Crying Monkey’) from Cluj. I used to go there every day – that was my island, my hideaway. Step by step I was getting closer to something big; most importantly, I started to hear the music that my soul was dictating to me. It was there that the Songs about Love and Death and all the others came to life. I didn’t try to understand every single shade of meaning, instead I was trying to be open, to receive what I was given without much judgment. Music and ideas were flowing through me.
The song about Freedom had the longest and toughest ripening period. It was a time when I was trying hard to understand my own chains, and the crutches I used throughout my life. Getting to know myself and the music for the Prophet came hand in hand. I was asking myself questions every single day: do we feel free when we can act as our heart desires? Do we feel free when we manage to do what we wish for? But what we wish for is utterly subjective. Does this mean that there are as many types of freedom as there are types of wishes? In other words, are there as many types of freedom as there are people on this Earth?
The answer was taking shape very clearly: I think there is a single form of freedom; the other forms that we call freedoms are in fact forms of slavery. Freedom is a personal matter that has nothing to do with the exterior world. Authentic freedom is by no means of a political, material, social, religious or cultural nature. It has to do with our inner being, which cannot be chained. Genuine freedom (which is only one) is attained directly, when you are totally in tune with your inner self, when it comes from the inside and has no connection with the outside. Other than that, according to our passions, wishes and fears, we become the slaves to some masters that we choose voluntarily. Our chains become our responsibilities. We create them, accept them, and we carry them with us and within us; some of them are shinier while some others are rougher. Slavery becomes more or less justified. And as time goes by, we change the ropes, we leave behind one rope and choose another, higher or lower, and the string pulls us higher or lower, according to the Master we chose to worship at that point in time. And the Master can take various shapes or forms: sex, money, art, being a mother, a father or a child, political convictions, religious beliefs, intellectual or spiritual principles, according to our wishes and our happiness. ‘Tell me what you wish for so that I can tell you who you are’’, a wise man from the East once said.
I understood this entire mechanism, but now came the big questions: How do we become free? Is there an algorithm? What are our chances to become free? I would search the answers to these questions for days on end. The days I went to the studio, I was trying to find these answers through the sound, just like I had done until then. But the music refused to come this time! More than that, my mind had already started to seriously interfere, to create patterns – ha! Anything but patterns! No! – I told it half-laughing, half-crying.
One hot summer day, I took a break from my project and went for a walk; I love walking, it inspires me. I went uphill on Marinescu street, got home, there was nobody there, and I went in our lovely living room which was flooded in light, in that scorching hot afternoon. The air was filled with a scent of conspiratorial solitude, and a sort of ringing that you can hear in your ears when you are on your own and you clear your mind of any thoughts. I was feeling like Alice in Wonderland. I think I was waiting for a sign, the atmosphere started to feel very tense, very heavy, just like it does before a storm. I realized I was longing for the earth, for the roots – I felt my extension lied in our African roots – , I suddenly missed the vibe of African music which flows straight from our true root; this vibe comes like a river that clears everything in its path, it comes with a lot of force and faith. I remember my trip to New Orleans, when I used to go to African-American churches on Sundays, and I was the only white woman there. At the end of the service, with tears in our eyes, everyone would hold hands, sing and dance. There, children learn how to pray while singing since a very early age. There is no difference between God and Chant. The chant is their prayer.
I took a random CD with an African beat, the drums were burning in the air, I could feel the pulse of the musicians, my black roots (that I always thought I had) were in tune with those African instruments. I felt the need of being connected with the earth, I took my shoes off and felt the pulse of the earth, the soles of my feet were burning, they were touching the earth, just to pull back for a second, and then to reunite with the earth once again. I was dancing a new dance. The dance of my roots.
From this earth my body started to grow, from the soles of my feet came my ankles, my knees, my thighs, my hips, my womb, breasts, neck, mouth, cheekbones, forehead, my whole reborn body was trembling, vibrating and growing from the depths of the earth. Inside of me the African woman was growing, with bracelets around my wrists, my ankles and my neck, my soles were painted with henna, my skin was dark brown, tongues of fire were burning my torso, and the sash around my waist was touching my thighs. I was dancing freely, just like I was flying in my dreams.
From the same earth and flesh, my feet were becoming stronger and more muscular, my eyes were starting to shoot flames, my neck was adorned with amulets and hunting tools. The Woman was turning into a Man, just like magic. The Woman and the Man were becoming one, like in a tantric ritual, they were reborn one from the other, uniting due to the force of the earth and rising once again – as one. The scent of frankincense and the light of candles were sweeping into the room, delicate, translucent waves and magical sounds were completing the mystery. I was dancing more and more passionately, like in a Dervish dance, I was twirling, and the whole sky was twirling with me. I slipped on the carpet and I remained there, wide-awake and aware of everything that was happening around me. I was then and there, immersed in the present moment, there was no past and no future. I was FREE! FREE at last! When I woke up, my fists were clenched and tasted like Earth and Oak Nuts. Then and there I finally understood: the one who lives in the present, free of his past and of his future, is free indeed. Yes, I found out the big secret. I don’t know how many of us are truly free, because we have strong desires, we love passionately other beings, we live for our dreams, convictions and ideas. We are not free as long as we are playing this wonderful game of life. But, from time to time, we can access these memories that make us feel strong for a few fleeting moments, we can remember our ‘oak nut’, and learn how to introduce ourselves to the art of flying, even only for short periods of time. Today – just for a bit, tomorrow – for a bit longer, and, step-by-step, we will learn how to fly – in our dreams, as well as in this dream that we call Life. And so the oak nut turns into wings. Flight within flight – that would be my definition for Freedom, after having received this gift from the Prophet. In the concert, my Freedom will be my Dance.