Fix the Bend (The Song Series)

FixTheBend

I’ve decided to start a little songsmith series here on Bind Girl Chronicles, detailing the inspiration, inception, and creative process behind the songs that I’ve composed.   I wouldn’t, by any stretch, call myself a prolific writer. I’ve written remarkably few songs in my 3 decades as a musician.   But each one has been an undertaking that has felt meaningful, has had its mountains for sure, and hopefully translates in finished product as something meaningful for you, the listener.

And so I’ll start with Fix the Bend, a song I wrote in 1989, but didn’t feature on any public recording until 2004.

CS Lewis, in his science fiction / fantasy novel Out of the Silent Planet, called us, “us” meaning earthlings, the Bent Ones, because of his book’s assertion that we divide the beautiful forces of the world with our intolerance, ignorance, and hubris. And so from Lewis’ label “the Bent Ones” came the title for my song Fix the Bend, an ode to human beings’ struggle to find meaning through works, and through legacy.

As I began to compose, and instantly chose a 6/8 rhythmic pattern, and an “empty fifth” riff, the song seemed to find its way toward something very Africanesque.

(Geek Warning!   An empty fifth, which is also sometimes called an open fifth, is a chord with the root and fifth only, and no third.   The third determines if the chord will be major or minor, and so the absence of one makes it a chord that can fit in most any harmonic environment.  There’s an angularity and a stoicism to the empty fifth, IMO.)

And so, since it seemed to be developing in a vague sort of neo-Carribean/African way, I asked my brother-in-law, McKinley Thomas, who had spent many years living in Tanzania and therefore spoke fluent Kiswahili, if he would translate the phrase “fix the bend” for me, something to use as a kind of chant to churn beneath the bed of the song. What he came back to me with was so enigmatic sounding.

Kulekebisha Imeeda Kumbo translates roughly as to “right what is wrong” or even “repair what is broken.”   I just loved its power. I loved its ancientness.   And I loved that it had so many syllables and hard consonants!   Something I could really work with in terms of creating a chant.   That seemed to be the completing factor of this song about the human race just scrambling to give their lives meaning in a world that is growing increasingly bent.

The song was written years before I produced my album Resting on the Rock, but other than a home studio recording that was largely sequenced and synthed all out of early-90s-style proportion, it had never appeared on any record.   So, when it came time to assemble a body of material for Resting on the Rock, I pulled it off the symbolic dusty shelf, and brought it to the guitar-led trio that I was calling The Global Folk.   The Global Folk (who, on rare occasions any longer, do still come out of hiding for a special occasion), consists of  multi-stringed instrumentalist Ken Rosser, bassist Ross Wright, and drummer and ethnic percussion whiz Paul Angers.  And they brought the song to life in a very different, very organic, very folkloric way. Ken Rosser plays the electric 12-string guitar and his iconic electric sitar on the track.  Ross Wright plays the fretless bass.  Paul Angers contributes a wonderful layering of African drums, which include the tbilat, djembe, tsanatsel, and tiwa shakers.   And even I contribute a little “marimba” synth sound for flavor, playing the main empty-5th riff, and of course lead vocal.   The crowning factor, however, are the deep baritone voices of Glenn Carlos and Kellum Lewis chanting the haunting words that McKinley had given us.

I am really tickled with this song, and its treatment by the Global Folk.   One thing I really know about Ken Rosser, whom I’ve often called, in all earnestness, my musical soul mate, is his way with an electric sitar.   He plays the real gourded thing as well.  But when it comes to the electric, he has absolutely no interest in trying to replicate the acoustic sitar sound, texture, tone, even style.   He considers it a different animal altogether.   And as such, his takes on a most unexpected role in this song.   His solo, on the electric sitar, is almost blues . . . and with every bit of pathos that goes with the blues.   Very exciting for me.

I’d originally had the composition move into a brief 5/4 cadence before rushing back into the loping 6/8, which was meant to be a kind of power-trio moment, which really worked well in its original synth-y form.   But with these real instruments playing something more aligned with nature and a folk-culture stamp than with the synthetic gloss of the original conception (and that lovely, self-indulgent, time-signature-change-every-3-bars, dated, 1993 sound), the 5/4 moment really no longer had a place.  I didn’t want to lose the “spiritual zone” of the 6/8.

The song opens with just the tiniest grace note of Martin Luther King’s 1963 speech on the Lincoln steps. Seemed appropriate.

I hope you enjoy Fix the Bend.

 

Click here to listen on Bandcamp

 

men will try to give their sons the moon
boys in turn they leave their fathers soon
women fight to raise their daughters right
and they try,   and they try

 lovers pen the epic prose of spring
preachers preach the words “let freedom ring”
soldiers fight the battles they are sold
and they try,   and they try

fix the bend …

painters leave their lives on muraled walls
heroes leave their mark upon us all
live to shout that we must fix the bend
and they try,   and they try

fix the bend …
(kulekebisha imeeda kumbo)

creatures say of us from other worlds
“look see how they’ve dulled their shiny pearl”
mother earth she screams to fix the bend
we must try,   we must try

fix the bend …
(kulekebisha imeeda kumbo)

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

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