Tag Archives: Artist

Damali Speaks Art on A Monday

Hey Speakers, 

I made some new glasses! Check out more like them, or message me for a personalized pair!

https://depop.com/damalispeakz

Love Always,

Damali Speaks Xx

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The Contours of Voice: Meditations on Vocal Revolution

I’ve been a reader all of my life. I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t read or didn’t pick up a book intent on sopping up the words written inside like a giant sea sponge. Books helped me to understand voice. As the descendant of enslaved peoples who were forbidden from reading as well as a grandfather who only went to 6th grade because he was needed to work on the farm but read the New York Times every week, my mother insisted that we read instead of watch television. Reading was revolution and believe me, we did it well. 

 I remember reading Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” one summer. I was 13 and had just gone through a traumatic rape the summer before. Unlike Pecola Breedlove, there was no unexpected pregnancy to broadcast my shame and I hadn’t told anyone, not even my mother or best friend. I remember sitting with this book in my hands and feeling as though I could escape to a better world. Was it true? I still don’t know. What I do know is that books have saved my life. In high school through to college and even now after “entering the real world”, I find myself caught and enthralled by the words of black women writers. Audre Lorde and Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Ntozake Shange, Toni Cade Bambara, L.A. Banks and Mia MacKenzie. 

What is it about black womxn writers? We’ve found a way to save ourselves, to continue to use our voices even though to know your own voice is revolutionary in itself, and to transmit that voice is power. But lets back up, because as usual, I fast forward when I talk about black womxnhood because I get excited. 

Reading is one thing, writing is another. I’ve never really been a good writer in the conventional sense. I hated writing papers but I’ve always kept journals from childhood to present day. Something about academia and the way it sought to stomp out my individual tone rather than build it up gave me intense anxiety. I am a procrastinator by lack of spirit at the right moments and while I intend to to do things in a certain fashion, if inspiration doesn’t hit, well then I’m stuck there in front of my computer wishing and waiting for the writing gods to bless me. I don’t do well with deadlines and finality. But isn’t consistency, key? In the polarities of life, how am I finding my voice?  

Voice changes. Literally. Our vocal capacities change with time. It’s proven. Sometimes our voices get heavier with time, raspier, etc. As our voice changes literally, does it change with perception as well, our artist voices a mirror of what our physical realities offer? Reading young Maya Angelou is very different from reading the seasoned woman. If we continue living, our views should continue changing right? We continue to adapt to the world around us or we die. I keep finding myself in states of aporia, where everything I thought I knew is actually what I don’t know at all. I’m constantly back to the beginning. I may not be a huge fan of old Socrates, but he was definitely on to something with the method of Socratic questioning that he learned from his African predecessors. Yes, I had to sneak that in there. 

Learning my own voice is a constant state of questioning. Nothing is final. What I love today, I might despise tomorrow. Everything changes just as the seasons do or don’t. #ClimateChange. But seriously, what is my style today? Who is it that I am today? What helps me to find my voice? In the midst of a world in turmoil, how do we, black womxn and on a larger scale, human beings find our voices? How do we reach those who need the physical help, and soul soothing needed during times of pain and struggle? 

Love Always,
Damali Speaks Xx

In the Quiet/In The Closet/In The Space: On Thoughts of Self, Success & Androgyny

“If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it” – Zora Neal Hurston

I don’t really remember the moment that I knew I was queer. I just know that I knew. I had a crush on Josh* and Helen* and I liked them both equally. I wanted to be close to both of them always, hold them always, play “Duck Duck Goose” during recess and all the other cute things that children desire to do with crushes. I remember being asked if I had a crush on Josh* and never being asked if I had a crush on Helen*. Queerness in whatever form it came in seemed to be something that was silently made fun of and only okay if you did it on the terms of straight people, if you adopted their ways, if you picked a side of either masculine or feminine presentation. I remember those silent and unspoken rules vividly.

I’ve always dressed weirdly. Kudos to those who find true expression. I love the feel of clothing, just as I love the feel of removing it. Clothing is expression to me. I’ve always loved the idea of androgyny and the reality scared me. I’m not shaped like a boy and most of the views of androgynous people that I see are with those who have a very “boy-like” shape. But my androgyny exists outside of those boundaries. I love experimenting with what my breasts do in mens clothes, and just how I can both accentuate and disguise my hips and ass in various wears. MY androgyny is based in inclusion and experimentation. Just how many new ways can I find to fuck up the binary?

The other day, I sat with a family member who asked me, “Why can’t you be Queer quietly? Why do you have to broadcast it?” In the moment, I rationalized the sting and said something rehearsed, but I also thought to myself about why I do “broadcast” my Queer, my Polyamory, my Self. Well, because that’s who I am. It is just as much a part of me as is my sex, my skin complexion, my eye color. Who I love, how I love is important because love is what makes the foundation for a world worth living in. Frankly, I’m out, because I can be. I love myself enough to be all of me, whether that’s privately or publicly.

With the invention of internet and apps, we have much less privacy now than we did 10 years ago. What’s your personal threshold? How often do you broadcast your life and what do you choose to keep to self? It’s a constant wondering for myself. I don’t like to put out all my business but I do choose to display some of it. Is there a right and wrong in that? Does it matter?

I’ve always been a creator. I would create clothing/crafts/songs/poems/plays/ etc. as a child and it all seemed to carry over into adulthood. I occupy space in this world as an actor/dancer/singer/director/designer/singer/songwriter/advocate/activist/writer/etc. I am the slash in a world where the slash is confusing. But isn’t that the fun of the all? How do we manage? How do we fall? How do we choose to fly? Confession: I have not gone a single audition in months. I have no desire to. There’s nothing that grabs my heart and truly makes me want to be a part of it. I am not just an actor. I’m an artist. I want to create space where there is no space. I remember being in school and being taught how to manage and maneuver auditions because it would be “so much of life as an artist” and I wanted to vomit. If Nina Simone had spent all her time auditioning, would she have written Mississippi Goddamn? Maybe, maybe not. Let me make this clear, I am not judging those who choose to audition frequently. I’m simply stating that for me, it’s not the way.

Currently, I’ve done a lot. I released an album, finished a play, started on two projects, got asked to do a few more with some wonderfully talented artists and am simply living, teaching and learning. I’m content with the world and growth that I see from my life. I can see a pattern, a place, a space to occupy. As a millennial, I feel that I have to make the space. I not only don’t want to, I am not willing to endorse the system that doesn’t work. If it’s broken, don’t hop on it and try to ride. I’m not here to apologize, to be nice, to participate in so far as abiding by rules that are clearly messed up. Be bold in seeking your truth. Be brash. Be loud. Make mistakes. Make corrections. Find new ways to love both yourself and others. I’m here to re-frame, to burst through, to hold space, make space and take space.

To all my wonderful fellow beings,

I see you. I support you. I live you.

Love Always,

Damali Speaks Xx

 

I’m Insecure & Queer: The Importance of Visibility & Big Dreams with Even Bigger Plans

I’ve been glued to Issa Rae since The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl. I was in the early years of college or maybe late years of high school, I don’t really remember now. I do remember being glued to my computer screen thinking, “Oh shit! She knows my life!”. I loved everything about Issa, her style, her awkwardness, her confidence, her work. The joy I felt at watching not only that series, but the appearance of a whole YouTube Channel eclipsed anything else that I might have wanted to watch. My friends and I would call each other up or message each other post episode drop, “Oh snap girl, she finally gave White J some!” and we would launch into laughter and recalling of our own lives, sighing in relief that we finally were feeling and being seen. It wasn’t just a dream. There was nothing to wake up from.

When Insecure was finally announced on HBO, I remember doing a happy dance in my bedroom. I had moved on from being a semi-awkward Theater & Africana student to a semi-confident Education Intern at one of the best theater companies in the US and yet still felt like so many things were missing. I was one of the very few people of color in most spaces, including my living space and I was hungry. I oftentimes found myself in situations with either queer men of color who could and would shut me down and desire my silence or with white women who wanted to empathize but not actually do any work required for change. These people all wanted change to happen at a comfortable pace for them, but I needed to see and speak with people in the entertainment world who looked like me and who were visibly making change. I needed to know that it was possible, that all of it was possible. I didn’t have to choose between being an actor and writer. I didn’t have to only put down director or producer on my resume. But at the same time, I didn’t have a black theater/film fairy godmother to guide me along. So I looked to Issa. Issa always got me through. The first episode of Insecure, Season 1 found me hunched in front of my computer screen yet again, and having finished an entire bottle of wine, I don’t remember much, but I do remember screaming “TAKE THAT LENA DUNHAM!” and then falling off to sleep. As Season 1 rolled into Season 2, I continued to watch, joy filling me at the fact that the 20s are just messed up and I’m just normal and that black people look gorgeous in all shades, sizes, sexual positions and hilarious anecdotes.

But still, in all of that visibility and glorious blackness, messiness and realness something was always missing for me. I’m Black, Womxn, Queer, Pansexual and Polyamorous and I want to make work that highlights the art, realness, and humanness of the spaces that I find myself in. Most often, the shows and web series that I find center either white women or drama. The L Word, was the first show that I watched that featured queer women. I remember sitting in front of the computer in college thanks to Netflix and binge watching The L Word. Although it made me feel invisible because of my blackness, it made me feel seen because of my queerness. I’m not saying that the world of queer womxn of color isn’t dramatic, cuz it certainly can be at times, but people don’t need to be murdered for a following to build. So then, what’s the point?

The point is that visibility is possible in all it’s variables. We already know that POC make money. No one wants to see all white anything anymore unless it’s the Bordelons dressed in all white on Queen Sugar (Cuz that was black people magic on all levels). But the thing about production that bothers me is the who. No matter what, are we always engineered by white men because they are the ones with the bank? Literally. How many Oprah’s and OWN Networks are there? Right now? Oprah. That’s it. She’s got it. But even in that, there’s a closed door. I love Oprah, but Oprah isn’t queer, poly or foregoing the idea that GOD isn’t the end all be all for the black community. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up going to church, but at this point in my life, I choose to believe that there’s a lil bit of truth in everything but that doesn’t mean that I have to subscribe to it. So what’s next?

I’ve made it my mission to center varying art forms alongside black, womxn, and queer. I know that’s what I want to see. So why not make it? It’s hard. My biggest obstacle so far is capitalism. I need a team. I want a team. I want to work with artists who are just as hungry as I am. But most of the time, that means money and at 20 something, who has money? But where there’s a will, there’s a way. Right? If that’s my only obstacle, then I’m doin pretty damn well. I also want to highlight theater.

I don’t work loudly. I work mostly in silence. You don’t see that I’m doing work until the work is done. So often, my friends and I sit and dream and plan for our future world where there’s artist housing that’s cheap, studios to work in that houses various forms of art and a collective of beautiful people that just get us. Isn’t that the dream? As good as all this visibility and dreaming feels, how good will it feel when we finally get further along in our process? Maybe that’s the whole point. That it’s never ending and each moment is in fact a process to be savored. I used to say, “I’m the next Oprah”. Now, I simply say that I’m the best version of me, day to day, I’m working towards elevation and building and creation and art.

Thank you Issa for pushing me to be better. Thank you for being visible. I may never meet you and you may never read this, but know anyway, you’ve helped more than one black womxn to find her purpose, just by being you.

 

Love Always,

 

Damali Speaks Xx

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Instagram: @blackgirlhope
YouTube/SoundCloud: Damali Speaks

 

Flash Forward Friday – Passage Two

“Mommy!” A little girl screamed with joy as she ran around in the tall grass, woods surrounding her as she was chased by her mother. “I’m gonna get you!” The woman, her mother screamed after her. 

They moved with such grace, the woman and the small child who seemed almost a carbon copy of her mother. Through trees as tall as the sky itself, they ran and ducked and dodged. In this time, no sounds of modern technology surrounded them as they ran and played. No planes or trains. No cars or buses or cellular phones. With no shoes, clothes made of animal skin and the golden and strong look of brown skinned people who spent precious time in the sun, the two looked perfectly at home in a natural scene such as this. Around and around they ran, laughing the whole way. It somehow seemed that the more they laughed, the faster the world whizzed by.

 Finally, in one swoop the mother of the child, let’s call her Andrena, picked up the young girl and down they fell in the tall grass, the sounds of a waterfall thundering close by. They continued to laugh, mother and child until they could laugh no more and together, they rolled and looked up at the sky.
 “Mommy?” the little girl said, inquisitive as ever. “Yes, my love?” Andrena responded. “What’s up there past the sky?” the little girl turned and looked at her mother with such a look of earnestness and curiosity that seemed beyond her young years. “Well, no one truly knows. Some say heaven, some say space, some even say the Gods and Goddesses.” The little girl snorted a laugh. “But what do you say mommy?” Andrena turned and looked at this little girl; her little girl. The only child she had ever truly given birth to. The child’s beautifully coiled braids had come loose during their time of play and her big poofy hair framed her face like a lions’ mane. 

Her pupils were a light green and as Andrena stared into them, she knew very well how interesting life would be for her “new-being” daughter as different as she was. “I say that discovering your own truth is the only way you’ll know. Now come my little Cora. It’s time for us to be going.” 

Andrena held her daughter’s hand, the girl’s eyes returning to their original deep dark brown and together they flew onward. 

Flash Forward Friday: Passage One

Cora sat sequestered in bed, the air conditioner whirring to her left while sunlight streamed in gorgeous and full view right in front of her face. Her pillows protected her back as she sat with her legs crossed attempting to meditate. “What is my life?” She wondered. All yesterday she had been lazy, watching episodes of The Flash on Netflix and while it had been a much needed relaxation period, it was also a distraction. A distraction from working, from creating, from responsibility. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s go back.

Cora Strong stood, watching the waves roll back and forth. Here she was on Venice beach and felt the cool night air as her toes sank in the sand. This was her last night in Los Angeles and she wasn’t exactly sad to be venturing away. The time here had been difficult as all new beginnings are, but there was something in addition. The move wasn’t opportune. It didn’t fit her and she decided to leave and go back home to the east coast where her family and support system could hold her up as she decided for herself the direction in which she wished her life to flow. “I’m going to miss you.” she said aloud to the ocean and it rolled gently to her feet in a light caress of a response. “You will find us wherever you land” the ocean responded. The tears rolled lightly down her face and she breathed in the ocean air. She lived for moments like this. Moments where she didn’t have to speak or think and could simply exist in the world if only for a short time. Cora didn’t quite know why she cried and she didn’t care to dig through the wave of emotion to categorize and give the reason a name. After the tears dried, she cleared her face with ocean water, turned and walked back to the car, where her friend expected her.

“How was your time alone?” Brenda questioned. Brenda was Cora’s friend, sister and business partner all rolled into one. They met during Cora’s time here in LA and already their duration of time together had been fraught with challenges even while they knew so little about each other. “Time being a social construct aside, it was much needed. Thank you for letting me have that.” Cora responded. Brenda laughed in response. “Had to add that social construct in there didn’t you?” Cora said nothing and Brenda started up the car. “Last night here. Tomorrow morning you get on your way home.” Brenda was engaging in small talk, which Cora despised. She said nothing, unwilling to give energy to a moment that didn’t matter. “Why so serious?” Brenda pushed lightly. “Nothing. I hate small talk. I’m sorry. That was a snap. What are we doing tonight?” Cora finally turned her head and gazed at Brenda.

In the mix of street lamps and headlights, Brenda’s skin almost glowed. She always looked like a fairy; something not belonging to this earth and in so many ways Cora fell in love with the spirit that shown threw every time their eyes met. “What do you want to do? You wanted to go to the water. What’s next is up to you.” Cora loved when Brenda cultivated riddles. It made her mind race and sometimes, most times that was all she really craved, to figure out the puzzle of life. “Let’s go to the house. It would be great to experiment.” Brenda glanced over at Cora. “ Okay. To the house it is. Any particular idea of what you’re making? Do we need to stop at Pavilions or Trader Joe’s on the way?” She could almost see the wheels in Brenda’s mind working on what turn to make where to get to either place. “Nah. We have everything we need.”

Cora was one of those cooks that wasn’t really a “cook” in the traditional sense of the word. She didn’t use measurements and recipe’s in the way that most people did. She just sensed what it was that she wanted to make and voila. It was made and it was usually amazing. She cooked to dig. Whenever she cooked, her mind would work in such a way that allowed her the time and space to sort things out and to truly be at peace. She cooked, or “experimented” as she called it, to cultivate the energy she needed. So here she was, baking a cake. The kind of cake, she didn’t know, she just continued on. She could feel Brenda as she slowly moved threw the hallway to stand right at the kitchen door. “Hey”. Brenda said to announce her presence. “You know you didn’t have to announce yourself.” Cora kept stirring the big bowl of flour, eggs, and a host of other ingredients as she talked, her back to the doorway. “Yea. I know. I just…” Brenda let the thought trail off. “What’s wrong?” Cora continued to stir. “I’m gonna miss this. You and me. Us.” Cora stopped stirring for about 10 seconds and gestured to the cake tin. “Oil that for me will ya?” She continued to stir. “Sure. Just what are you putting in this cake that it needs to be stirred so thoroughly?” Cora continued to stir with a gentle laugh. “Just love. Lots of love. Also, if you wouldn’t mind turning on the oven, that’d be great.”

Brenda moved swiftly to turn on the oven and oil the cake tin like Cora had suggested and then wash her hands in the sink next to where Cora was standing. She kept trying to get a good look at Cora’s face and Cora kept dodging and averting her gaze. “Why won’t you look at me?” She finally asked out of aggravation. “All you had to do was ask. The cakes’ ready to bake anyway” Cora stopped stirring, poured the batter into the cake tin and moved around Brenda to put it in the oven. After closing the oven door, she stood and looked at Brenda directly in the eyes. “Your eyes…” Brenda started to speak and stopped.

Cora’s pupils were glowing a light purple.