If you had ears in the ’80s – adult ears, teen ears, or even baby ears – you were probably grooving to the sounds of the Parachute Club and the unmistakable voice of singer-songwriter Lorraine Segato. Bringing pop sounds, world beats and important social issues to the top of the pop charts, the Parachute Club, along with artists such as Peter Gabriel and Tracy Chapman, made music that was more than just something to move your body to, but to open your mind and heart to.
In the ’90s Segato went on to a successful solo career, with albums Phoenix (1990) and Luminous City (1998). As well, she continued lending her voice and credibility to causes she believed in, including collaborating on “Can’t Repress the Cause” alongside Michie Mee, Maestro Fresh Wes, and Dream Warriors, which was an early spotlight on the issue of Hip Hop’s exclusion from Canadian music media.
But it’s been a moment since music fans last heard from Segato. Now she’s back, with Invincible Decency. It’s an album that finds her even wiser and radically compassionate. Check out my illuminating talk with the iconic Lorraine Segato. Chaka V.
Lorraine Segato: Yes, over the years I’ve heard Stephen Lewis speak many times, and he really is quite a beautiful orator. He has the most eloquent command of the English language. He’s discussed the resiliency, grace and dignity of the Grandmothers of Africa, as he saw them dealing with the loss of their children to the ravages of HIV/AIDS. Many were left alone to raise their children’s children, most times without money or food or medical supplies. He spoke of their “Invincible Decency” in the face of this destruction and I felt a lightning bolt race through me, as if his words had reached in the farthest reaches of my emotional being. I thought, imagine living a life in which you would be referred to as “Invincibly Decent.” Imagine the legacy of a life lived, if you knew you could actually aspire to that. So it became a mantra, in a way, that I secretly held up. [It created] a desire to look for the ways in which I could live a life that might lead me there. I asked Stephen if he minded that I’d basically scoffed his phrase? And he was very generous about saying I could use it.
LS: I’m glad to hear that you find it hopeful and light filled. I often refer to this album as a mess of songs for people who’ve been through stuff. Coming out the other end of some interesting and challenging moments in my life I found that writing these songs allowed me to find the hope I needed in order to find my way back to enthusiasm. It is basically an insane world at the moment, and I found myself wanting to write something positive and reflective at the same time. I did not want to become a cynical person. That is the easy way out.
LS: There were many events that lead to the making of this particular album. Some of these songs I started writing a very long time ago and I wasn’t sure where they were going to go so I’d hung onto them for years. I was in the middle of writing a one-woman show and some other material started to surface (“We Gave the Night Away” and “Hole in the Wall”), and I found that the themes were similar so I decided to put them all in the same project. I for sure went through a rebirth, and I’m happy to say that I’ve been through several in my lifetime. They seem to happen every seven years or so and I tend to do a big look at my life and ask myself where do I need to grow into now? What patterns am I running here that no longer serve me? And what is the best lesson I can take from this experience?
LS: I felt great revisiting the territory of a Parachute Club style groove in the songs because it comes easily to me and to David. We’ve been working together for well over thirty years now and so there is this shorthand that comes into play when we write or play together. We both like funky grooves and percussion etc. and Dave tends to lean towards a lot of chord changes. He likes to keep the song evolving and lifting harmonically as it goes along. I’d been feeling like I really missed the vibe of being in a room with great musicians and jamming it out together, and Dave and I both agreed we’d do a live off the floor portion of the record to give it the feeling of all of us jelling together. The timing was right to revisit the grooves and that made me happy. Our dear friend and the original drummer (also cofounder with me) for Parachute Club had passed away during the making of the record and in a way the project evolved into an opportunity to honour him and how he’s inspired me/us over the years.
LS: Femi Kuti (Fela Kuti’s son–famous sax player) is fabulous. I still listen to Peter Gabriel’s older records. I love that band The Roots who play on Jimmy Fallon’s show. They are killer players.
Closer to home Alex Cuba has a great mash of world and contemporary styles. Don’t have to go international anymore to catch a wave of great world music because Toronto has so many wonderful Cuban and Latin Artists, as well as reggae etc.
LS: Great question. You know I was asked the other day whether I felt there were bands that I could name that either considered themselves socially conscious or felt they had message music, and I was having a difficult time referencing them. In the ’80s you could refer to The Clash or Billy Bragg or any number of bands that took up issues because it was important to them. Perhaps, I am not looking or hearing in the right places but that doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment. It is true that there are more artists who are black or diverse who are being played on radio now, however that is a very specific sound you have to have to get played on radio now. I don’t even know what the definition of radio is anymore because they all pretty much use the same playlist. I believe there is a company that compiles the hits that could be [played] and they distribute the list to all the stations. The only station playing anything diverse these days is CBC Radio. Ten points for the Mother Corp.
Things have indeed changed radically. I think what is great is that you no longer need to have a deal with the record company to be considered a good artist. Sure it helps to have marketing money and video money etc. However, given where the business is right now nothing is guaranteed. You just have to find a way to reach your audience. There is an audience for everyone and they are waiting for you to find them. So it makes you work hard as an entrepreneur. It’s a business and you have to value your time in that way. I tend to look upon the situation like this: Record companies are like banks. They give you the bridge financing and you pay them back the big bucks first with interest (recoupables). They can get you somewhere, but they have to not lose interest in you and most often they do because even though they might like you, they have another slew of releases coming down the pike line and if you don’t hit it right away they have to move on. As an independent it is possible to do a slow build and work your people from the grassroots roots on up. It makes it possible for a David and Goliath moment to happen. That’s okay by me. I tend to love the big mythology stories where the underdog won the day. Hee Hee. (Wicked grin crossing my face)
One thing I think has declined is the idea of the good song. I hear a lot of samples and song constructions or compilations of sounds but I don’t often hear where the musicians are playing together. There are some fabulous young artists however who write great songs like Ed Sheeran for instance.
LS: Thank you so much for hearing my intention for this particular album. I wanted it to come off as being positive and yet if you dig in there, there is actually some heavy stuff in there: grief, death, betrayal and transformation. I like this phrase I heard a while back: “Death brings life.” We are in a constant state of transformation, not only personally but also collectively, and when I look at the insanity of the world at the moment I really feel our psyches are locked in huge epic struggle to find light in a somewhat shaded world.
It is true that the industry itself might be fickle, superficial and competitive but that is because the collective mantra is, “We love music, but we have to make money!” You can’t blame them. They’ve already told us that their god is Capitalism. It’s a free market, a free for all driven by faceless shareholders who want to see their investments perform. And I am saying this somewhat sarcastically, but also with a maturity of knowing this is the way it is. I don’t have to buy into it and that is what is truly liberating. I’m not a young pup with a dream of a big break coming around the corner. I’m a pragmatist with experience, who still believes that there are good people everywhere. You will always find people who work in the industry who really do love music and really do want to get it into the world. Unfortunately, it’s not their circus to run.
I believe in people not products, so I tend to invest my energy in the intelligence of my audience and try not to get caught up in what the “industry” (whatever that might mean now) is thinking of what I’m doing. I’ve always been an outsider who came into mainstream success through the back door. It was the audience who got me/us there. Somewhere in this big big world there are people who will hear or see themselves in my/our songs and that’s where I’m setting my gaze. I’m looking for my tribal family to reconnect and say, “Hey I think you might want to hear this.”
LS: Presently, I am the Artist in Residence in the Regent Park area, and I have a whole slate of events planned over the year to bring some energy and attention to the area. I am also doing the editing and preparations for a workshop of my one-woman show that I’ve been working on, so I am hoping to perform a lot this year. If I were to tour, it would possibly be later in the year. But I will be doing one off performances here and there between my other creative commitments.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chaka V. is a writer, journalist and the founder of The Winehouse Mag.
© Journalist/Author Chaka V. and the Winehouse Mag, 2013-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material on this blog/website, without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner, is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Chaka V. and the Winehouse Mag with appropriate, visible, and specific direction to the original content and site.