Sisterhood

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If I told you where this photo was from…would you believe me?

I have a lot of sisters, blood and water.

A few of them are sisters by way of my non-nuclear family. Women that I grew up with and shared bedrooms and clothes with, and the daughters of the men that treated me like I was their own when they could have turned a blind eye and let me figure it out alone. Those are my sisters for life, and we have grown up and seen each other flourish and evolve in a way that only family truly can.

But I also have sisters by selection. Lifelong friends that I bonded with over a song, or a book, or a common plight and eventually built stronger, deeper ties with. I know the trope is that girfriends are all “drama” and “catfighting”, but that has honestly never been my experience with these women. Some of them I’ve known since we were teenagers, and we’ve only ever disagreed on matters of principle, and done so respctfully. For the most part, these friendships have built and moulded me into the woman that I am today, and I want to pay tribute to them by way of the first post in a series of posts that I will be starting to publish periodically as I feel inspired.

What Are Sundae Songs?

Sunday Songs are those pieces of music that sneak into your heart and tug you into a nostalgic mood. They’re the songs that remind you of a time and place, a scent, a flavour, a feeling. They’re the songs your grandmother used to play while cleaning the house, or the songs you had your first kiss to, or the songs that made you realise that, for you, music was more than just a pleasant collection of songs, but a means of expression and a wellspring of meaning. They’re a decadent piece of luxury, a treat that makes you smile because you haven’t had it in so long and can’t imagine why not.

I’ve decided to start breaking down what certain songs remind me of and how they’ve moved and inspired–or simply entertained–me over the years. There are no rules for this series. Some posts will be comprehensive, in depth studies that will bore casual music listeners to tears, while others will be quick “Play This” recommendations that will leave muso’s scratching their heads in confusion.

Oh, wait. There is one rule. It’s the only rule that ever matters when someone’s sharing music with you. You’ve got to wear earphones. This is a non-negotiable. Go, on. Grab them. I’ll wait. Ready? Good.

Sisterhood In Song
Corinne Bailey Rae: Put Your Records On
[Corinne Bailey Rae (2006)]

 

The Meaning

Three little birds sat on my window
And they told me I don’t need to worry

When I first heard this song, I took this to be a very basic metaphor that was just setting the tone for the rest of the song. But over the years it has come to represent quite a powerful image of my friendships and the diversity within them. For me, the three birds represent the friends I’ve made in the three stages of my life so far: my two best high school girlfriends, the ladies I trudged through medical school with, and now my post uni friends who I’ve grown to love just as dearly. I’ve never been one for a million acquaintances thinking they’re my best buds, but the imagery of these three little birds being close enough to a vulnerable Rae’s heart encouraging her is something I can relate quite strongly with.

Summer came like cinnamon, so sweet
Little girls double dutch on the concrete

This light-hearted line made me smile for reasons I can never fully express. Growing up in areas with mainly people of colour, children played outside in the street quite freely with each other. There were no fences or high walls separating the neighbour’s kids, and often you could walk out and see someone had drawn chalk patterns on the ground for a variety of street-games that could go on until sunset. Ironically, as an introverted child with zero coordination, I would never really play for too long, but I loved to sit and watch for hours on end. When I was younger, the kids would tease me for being a loner or being weird because I liked to watch more active games rather than play them. But when I got older and found “my” people, we “double dutched” in completely different ways and I’m so grateful I held out for my social summer instead of being pressured to be someone I wasn’t.

Maybe sometimes
We got it wrong but it’s alright
The more things seem to change
The more they stay the same
Ooh, don’t you hesitate

A tonal change heralds the fact that this song’s optimism is sprinkled with some realism. Friendships aren’t always going to be easy. Life isn’t going to be easy. But being afraid of change, of forward progression, of outgrowing or being outgrown is futile. A true sister will understand that change is constant and that, even as you change and discover who you are, the core of the friendship won’t. So, don’t hesitate. Embrace it.

Girl, put your records on
Tell me your favourite song
You go ahead let your hair down
Sapphire and faded jeans
I hope you get your dreams
Just go ahead let your hair down
You’re gonna find yourself somewhere, somehow

This song sounds to me the way my friends’ love has felt over the years. Nothing is more beautiful than surrounding yourself with people that encourage you to be yourself and to be free. Nothing is more powerful than knowing you have people in your corner who believe in you to accomplish what you set your mind to. (“Frienemies”, on the other hand, know what you are capable of and are jealous, hateful and say things to deter and discourage you while claiming to only have your best interests at heart.) True friends want and trust you to grow and discover who you are truly meant to be, and don’t hold you back to how they met you or what you were like when you were less aware than you are now. They want you to feel comfortable and completely confident in the person you’re becoming, even if you aren’t yet sure who that person is.

Blue as the sky, sunburned and lonely
Sipping tea in a bar on the roadside
Just relax, just relax

This part of the song starts getting quite personal for me. As I’ve alluded to throughout this blog, my melancholy, introverted, independent, quirky, creative side can be a lot for some people to navigate. That’s why a lot of ‘trial’ friendships of mine fizzled out and why I appreciate the ones that have lasted. The people who love me and have chosen me to share their lives want me to feel comfortable at my most authentic, they don’t want me to get wound up doing things or behaving a certain way just because that is socially expected. The image painted here is gentle and celebratory instead of accusatory and bitter (compare: You’re such a loner! You bring down the party! Get out of your skin!) because it truly takes a beautiful spirit to want someone else to be comfortable in their own way of being.

Don’t you let those other boys fool you
Gotta love that afro hairdo

Yet another lyric that makes me feel like Corinne was reading my diaries as a kid. It’s so powerful to me whenever I hear music celebrating blackness and encouraging young Black women who look like Black woman never to feel the need to whitewash themselves into a eurocentric beauty ideal, especially not for male approval. That’s not because these ideals are not real or not painful, but rather because they’re not important. My friends have always celebrated my Blackness instead of trying to ignore or overlook it or pretend to be “colourblind” because they know that it’s tough out here for a Black woman to be held up as any kind of standard. All my university friends are Black women who have been more vocal on these issues, but even before that I gravitated towards progressive people of all colours who never required me to dim any part of my cultural and racial light–none of this “You’re my white black friend” foolishness–and I’ll always love them for that.

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I mean…I guess this could count as a form of encouragement…couldn’t it?

Maybe sometimes
We feel afraid but it’s alright
The more you stay the same
The more they seem to change
Don’t you think it’s strange?

As a continuation of that thought, it’s important to me that I’ve always been quite deliberate about not camouflaging myself to various people’s tastes, because I think that’s the litmus test for authentic people. If you keep being who you are, the fake friends will actually weed themselves out. This happened in my group of friends when someone we’d loved for years slowly started separating herself from us, and the harder we loved her and fought for the friendship, the more clear she was that she wasn’t interested. As much as this hurt, it was the best thing for us at the time. Never compromise your values to win anyone over. Friendships are self-cleansing and you don’t need to worry about the ones that move on–they were never in it for the long haul anyway.

Girl, put your records on
Tell me your favourite song
You go ahead let your hair down
Sapphire and faded jeans
I hope you get your dreams
Just go ahead let your hair down
You’re gonna find yourself somewhere, somehow

Gotta keep it moving, life’s too short to be worried by the setbacks in that verse when there’s so much beauty and acceptance in the friendships that persist…

‘Twas more than I could take
Pity for pity’s sake
Some night’s kept me awake
I thought that I was stronger
When are you gonna realise
That you don’t even have to try any longer?
Do what you want to
Girl, put your records on

This bridge sounds almost like a conversation between a young woman who has heard the encouragement of the preceding verses, but is confessing to her friend that she is close to caving to the pressure to be something she isn’t. Her friend’s response isn’t to dismiss her concerns anymore, but rather to celebrate her again and urge her to be authentic because that’s when she’s at her best.

Girl, put your records on
Tell me your favourite song
You go ahead let your hair down
Sapphire and faded jeans
I hope you get your dreams
Just go ahead let your hair down
Girl, put your records on
Tell me your favourite song
You go ahead let your hair down
Sapphire and faded jeans
I hope you get your dreams
Just go ahead let your hair down
You’re gonna find yourself somewhere, somehow

The Writing

This song is split not only into dialogue, but also into three different moods. There is story telling in the verses, pleading in the pre-choruses and bridge, and celebration in the chorus. Rae uses both musical and lyrical shits to demarcade these.

Whimsy in the strumming during the verses creates an effervescent, youthful feel which works infinitely better than a forced lyric saying “Girl we’ve been friends since childhood”. (Although, that kind of lyric worked well in a minor key ad-lib Beyoncé threw into the 2005 Destiny’s Child song “Girl”, another one of my favourite songs about the vulnerability in friendship. But I digress…) The pre-choruses are light and airy and almost have a fantastical edge tinged with a sophisticated realism. It’s a great bridge between the more childlike verses and fuller bodied chorus. And what a chorus it is. Full, free, fun, edgy. Horns lend it a depth of sound that makes the chorus sound less kindergarten than it could. And then we slip into a bridge that sounds like a jam-session (sparse instrumentation, strong base, light harmonies and lots of breathing room) which makes the conversational tone feel quite organic. (Another aside: she accomplished this brilliantly in another song off the same album called Enchantment where the bridge quite literally sound like she’s having an internal argument with herself. But as we were…)

This song was written and produced to perfection. Rae doesn’t have the biggest voice, but she injects personality and detail into her writing that takes you on a journey and leaves you wondering why you were concerned about the size of her voice to begin with.

A Dedication

I’ve always adored this song and the album it came from simply because I found the writing relatable and simple, yet at the same time meaningful. As I said before,  this song sounds the way my friends’ love feels and I can only hope I’ve loved them with a similar intensity and positivity of spirit.

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I hope my friends feel my love as acutely as your retina see this red…you do see the red don’t you?

What song(s) makes you think about your loved ones? Do you have friends you consider family? Are you also a firm supporter of the power and beauty of sisterhood (or brotherhood) or are your friends more people you have fun with and not to be confused with your true family?

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