Welcome to this week’s edition of Sifting, shifting, and lifting . . . a weekly column in which I ask clever, curious, compassionate people my three favourite questions.
Today, I am introducing you to Annabelle Chvostek, a gifted musician whose songs never fail to transport me out of the everyday into what I can only call the holy now. A place in between. A place where possibility reigns.
Check out the video for “Walls,” the first single off her sixth album, String of Pearls, which was released in 2021 in both stereo and in mono. (The latter production decision informed by the permanent hearing loss she sustained in her left ear following a feedback blast during a sound check in 2008.)
Annabelle Chvostek is a Toronto-based artist whose musical achievements range from folk to jazz to indie pop. She has composed music for dance and film, co-written songs with Bruce Cockburn, and was once in the band The Wailin' Jennys. Her work has been nominated for both JUNO and Canadian Folk Music Awards.
Read more about Annabelle Chvostek.
What wicked problem is engaging your head, heart, and hands right now? Why?
I am generally obsessing over some aspect of white supremacist hetero-patriachal capitalism. How is it that it got like this? And how are we finding our way out of it?
Two years into the pandemic there are a number of related issues that are grabbing at my heart. On the most local level, I am living in Toronto, one of many urban centres where our parks have become temporary homes and battlegrounds as houseless people and allies negotiate violent attacks on encampments by police.
Meanwhile, the government has sat on 2.7 billion dollars that was meant for COVID relief in Ontario, and the cops enact militaristic evacuations of encampments that are costing in the millions. As some organizers have mentioned, imagine what could have been done with that money? With a little respect, thoughtfulness, listening to the voices of the folks affected, so much of the precarity that pushes people into such stressful conditions could be memory.
In the wake of the floodgates of empathy that were opened by the murder of George Floyd, towards black people hurt and murdered by police, and now with the unearthed residential school system victims as well as the continuing awfulness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG)—there are so many powerful critical voices emerging, and a whole new language around these issues.
I practice some mindfulness that lets me stay open and process the pain. Because the truths are brutal and people are needing to feel through things. I want to be a witness. As someone with white privilege I’m being asked to sit with the discomfort, so I do that a lot. There is a massive outpouring of incredible communication and commentary happening across so many platforms. So for me it’s really a time of listening. I am very lucky to be part of a micro-world that embodies a common humanity amidst diversity. Within my chosen family I get to be grounded in a big love that proves to me every day that another world is possible. It’s incredibly life affirming and joyful. I want to do the work because it’s worth it. Everybody benefits. Together we imagine the way forward.
What artists or works of art have had a profound impact on the way you see the world and your place in it?
Right now I’m a bit obsessed with Django Reinhardt, the Sinti Romani guitar player who spawned a worldwide niche of music that started to thrive in Paris in the 1930s.
A lot of my latest album carries a clear Jazz Manouche influence. There’s a wonderful delight that I find in this music, a positivity. And it also has a very cool cross-cultural through-line, with its close relationship to American jazz, and its connections to South America and Eastern Europe as well. There’s depth, complexity and intensity to the music. Plus I love having so much emphasis on the possibilities of acoustic instruments. But the thing I’m currently digging the most is the joy. Having that as a bass-line somehow carries all the hard stuff towards something so much more manageable.
I listened to Django and Grappelli play “Minor Swing” a lot of times when one day it hit me on a whole new level. The exploration, the curiosity, the fun! It’s the dancing part of the revolution.
Playing with these forms has been a great way to turn lament or hardship into something softer – to stay open to the sweetness. And it gives some bounce, some smile to the determined step. The music of Django and his collaborators and followers has definitely lifted me these last few years.
There are so many good people working to transform themselves and our world. Who would you like to lift up?
I want to lift up the land defenders and the water protectors: Indigenous warriors who are taking a stand and facing up to the entire backwards system. As the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference barrels forward, last chance in the minds of many, I do think supporting and following Indigenous action is a key aspect to solving planetary crisis.
One group that I’m following daily is the Tiny House Warriors who are facing off with the Trans Mountain Pipeline, building tiny houses placed strategically along the 518 km Trans Mountain route, and dealing with harassment from ‘Man Camps’ and RCMP every damn day. On an urgent and tangible level, money can be sent to help pay for legal bills.
Other groups to follow or support:
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