Musician. Painter. Educator.
August 8, 2021
Welcome to the second issue of Sifting, shifting & lifting, where I sit down with some of the most interesting people I know (or want to know) and ask them my three favourite questions.
Today’s guest, Natalia Zukerman, continuously delights and inspires me with her music, her art, and her way of walking in this world.
It was her music that first drew me in.
“Natalia’s voice could send an orchid into bloom while her guitar playing can open a beer bottle with its teeth.” –New Yorker
“a strutting brass band one minute, a sighing lover the next.” –The Boston Globe
“a wise mix of rootsy styles from torch blues to country swing. If you’re a fan of Madeleine Peyroux, Bonnie Raitt or even Amy Winehouse, you’ll find stuff to connect with here.” –Philadelphia Daily News
As incredible as her music is, I soon realized that she is a gentle, creative powerhouse in more ways than one. Want to know more? Read on for her bio, our conversation, and an invitation to practice yoga with Natalia on Sunday mornings. (Yes, really!)
Musician, painter, muralist, and educator Natalia Zukerman resides, writes, plays, teaches, and paints in the Hudson Valley in the state of New York. Having released eight independent albums on Weasel Records and her own label Talisman Records, Natalia has toured internationally as a performer since 2005. Alongside her touring career, she continues to teach songwriting and guitar, paint private and public murals and portraits as well as illustrating books.
In 2017, Natalia became a Cultural Diplomat through the U.S. Department of State, touring throughout Africa with her trio, The Northern Lights. This 2021-2022 season, Natalia will once again serve as a Cultural Diplomat (this time virtually) with the band Raining Jane, teaching, performing and exchanging ideas around the world.
Natalia, thanks so much for chatting with me. What wicked problem, or social justice issue, is engaging your head, heart, and hands right now?
I like to think of problems as opportunities—when I have enough sleep and serotonin, that is!)—chances to learn and grow. That being said, there has been no shortage of growth opportunities lately. There is a lot about this time that is fomenting. Things feel fragile and on the precipice of collapse on the one hand and simultaneously like we are about to push evolution thousands of years forward on the other. I have hope that the awakening to injustice and inequality that has happened over the last year and a half will continue to turn the lights on and we will collectively and individually refuse to go back to sleep or return to "what never was normal."
For me, personally, I've had a real brush with the realities of climate change on a very personal level. My little area of the Hudson Valley recently got 14 inches of rain over a very short period of time. Long story short, we had a flood in our basement and spent several days sweeping, pumping, drying, crying and doing our best to stave off another flood as the rains refused to let up. What we discovered quickly is that the way we navigated the crisis was the most important thing. We found ways to comfort one another and work together as a team. We also took stock of how lucky we are and how much worse it could have been. We were able to save almost all of our belongings . . . and are saving up for a generator and maybe another sump pump.
Knowing that home is not a person, place or thing has never been more profoundly clear and with that came the overwhelming feeling that even though that's true, everyone deserves to feel safe. Knowing how many people don't is devastating and makes me want to work tirelessly to give that feeling to as many people I can.
Climate change is changing the way we live. This wicked problem is engaging my head, heart and hands pretty much every moment of every day.
What artists or works of art have had a profound impact on the way you see the world and your place in it?
There are so many artists and works of art that have laid the foundation for the ways I view the world. The list of women, BIPOC and queer/trans artists that have given me permission to even BE let alone create is too long for these pages, but the first person who jumped into my brain hole with this awesome question is Judy Baca. Muralist, community organizer and activist, I read about Baca’s work in college as I was insatiably inhaling any and all information about murals (and the Chicano/a mural movement in particular) that I could.
I remember reading something she wrote at one point and a lightbulb went off like a torch that has really lead the way for me ever since. She was talking about graduating from college. If I remember correctly, she may have been the first woman in her family to do so. In any case, I do remember that she was writing about showing her grandmother her art work and explaining to her some ideas and concepts about her process. An incredible painter, she was able to capture lifelike semblances of people, still lives, landscapes. She was talented, that was clear, but her grandmother looked at her work, slowly taking it all in. She finally looked up at Judy and simply said, "But what is it for?"
That simple question rocked Judy's world and changed the trajectory of her work for the rest of her life. Just because she could imitate and recreate reality on paper and canvas wasn't enough. Judy realized that her life's work was going to be to tell people's stories in order to bring about real change in people's lives. I think of this question as I make music and art and it often drives my process—even stops me in my tracks at times. I can't say that everything I've made always has transformative meaning. Not even close. But that's an ideal that I strive toward and feel driven by.
Who would you like to lift up?
Thank you for this question! There are so many amazing people and organizations doing THE WORK. One that I've been following and supporting through their Patreon is The Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust. They're creating land based wealth redistribution and reparations for BIPOC farmers.
I live in a gorgeous, agricultural part of the United States and have been educating myself on not only food inequality and the effects of global climate change on BIPOC communities but also land ownership as it pertains to BIPOC in this country. As this organization says, to be truly regenerative we must be reparative.
Check out their work and support BIPOC farmers when, where and however you can.
Want to do yoga with Natalia?
The artistic director at SoulCall Global, a global conscious community, Natalia is also a certified yoga teacher and life coach. She is starting a free (donations gratefully accepted) online Sunday morning yoga class through SoulCall beginning August 15, 2021. Interested? Register now.
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Coming up next:
The Weekly (August 11, 2021)
Sifting, shifting, and lifting with . . . Fran Westwood (August 15, 2021)