a note from jolie holland

This week’s very special guest columnist comes all the way from Houston Texas, via Los Angeles and everywhere in between. Jolie Holland is her name and if you don’t already know her music then you should go dust off the record player and immediately purchase a copy of her album Escondida. You need her music in your life, even if you don’t know you do. Currently on a run of gigs around ireland, she took the time to stop in at Boneyard Headquarters at midnight. As the moon shone in the window and merged with the candlelight, she wrote with her quill, which she acquired earlier that day from the graveside of W.B Yeats. Welcome to the Boneyard, Jolie Holland! Well, hello. I’m your guest columnist here this week, a jetlagged musician visiting from the states. Mark McKowski very kindly invited me to come over to play a few shows and record some music together, so here I am. The plane took off in Los Angeles, sailed through the clouds across the ocean to Dublin where Mark picked me up and drove us to Omagh.We rehearsed most of our set then went out to the pub to wait for a session to start. I practically don’t drink beer at all, but the Guinness was incredibly delicious. Soon the musicians arrived: Shane McAleer on fiddle, Larry on whistles, and another wonderful musician on guitar and fiddle whose name I unfortunately lost to jet lag.Fools rush in where angels fear to tred, and so I pulled my viola out of its case. Irish fiddling isn’t something I’ve ever studied. But I come from experimental scenes where we aren’t afraid to improvise. My own regional and familial styles of playing, zydeco and Cajun fiddle is the folk world I am more grounded in. That style of fiddle is like blues slide guitar, with a vocal, weeping tone in nuanced, microtonal scales.I joined in with the session as best as I could, hanging with the guitarist’s chords. When he put the guitar down, and there were no chords to ride with, I kept to a low alto supportive voice as fiddles and whistles laced through the air, like intricate lightning. I managed to hang in the session past midnight, then back at the BnB jet lag kept me staring at the ceiling till dawn.Hearing, and trying to join along with the music that’s from the people who are from here, really from here helps me shake off the propaganda of colonialism that I was raised under. I grew up in Houston and would visit my grandparents in East Texas. Some people in the community there would pick on my sister and me for our city accents, for not being from there. But almost all of us weren’t really from there.Americans, as you might know, are raised in a fog of myth. We pretend that all the cities named after forts aren’t from wars that were fought where we live. Fort Bragg, California; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Fort Ticonderoga, New York State and many, many more. In a confusing blur we simultaneously forget the history and valorize the colonizers, even bumbling dunces like the murderer Cristóforo Colón. Our parents played cowboys and Indians, but we pretended that was some Disney story, and not literal re-enactment.On top of the myth-making, some of us have been paid to forget where we come from. My grandmother from New Orleans spoke French Creole as a child, passed for white, and was adopted by the Italian mafia when her folks died. She moved to North Louisiana and made the same Devil’s bargain as a lot of passing people at the time- she lost her connections with her darker skinned family, who (whether they had a choice or not) went on to make their living in the criminalized underworld. So in some sense she fled two mafias to join the whitewashed world.In her older years, she told the truth about where she came from. The weight of the racism was something I couldn’t have wrapped my head around at all. When I was about 9 she gave me some smoothly polished smoky quartzes that she called Indian tears, supposedly crystalized tears that had fallen on the trail of tears. It was the first time I’d heard of those genocidal relocations, since they didn’t teach it in schools. The trail of tears is a poetic name for the death marches that settler forces pressed whole nations of people along, from ancestral homelands to “reservations” that were often about as lethal as concentration camps.I remember her chirpy voice in her 60s, her extravagant New Orleanian accent: “I’m half black, half Indian and half French.” My racist father pretended she only said that to piss off her racist husband.She didn’t tell me the nation her family came from, but it was easy to research when I got a little older. All the people with that spelling of her maiden name are Choctaw.I was raised in a place with transplanted names. The rivers and the mountains are either saints or surnames from across the ocean. The indigenous names, if you can find them all have really succinct descriptive meanings. A few of the original names come through: Topanga, in LA means “where the mountains go into the sea.” Cahuenga is the “place of wild bees.”More than 500 nations are from my country, with some forgotten languages, some remembered only in shreds. Whole histories have been disappeared.Seeing the indigenous names spelled above the English ones here is a testament to struggles of the past and present. It’s good to see them on the signs, and not only as remnants.Like James Baldwin said, not everything can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is understood.It’s a pleasure to be here with y’all, meditating on indigeneity, playing music, sharing culture, and drinking delicious Guinness.

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