Claire: Malou Beauvoir had always loved music and performance, but as the daughter of Haitian immigrants, she was encouraged to focus on a more lucrative and stable career.
Malou: I was the straight A student, so of course they put everything on me, so I ended up going to, to university and I ended up going to business school and getting an MBA.
Claire: And Malou was incredibly successful. Over the next 15 years she worked her way up the corporate ladder. But then, she found herself in a crisis
Malou: I started having a lot of difficulties. At work in different places and it reached a head with things just collapsing around me and I said, this is completely ridiculous.I don't understand what's going on.
Claire: She called her uncle Max, who was a Voodoo spiritual leader in Haiti.
Malou: And he said, “Wow, you finally woke up.” I said, “Max, what do you mean 'I woke up'? He said, I think it's time for you to come home and get acquainted with your spirits.” And I remember hanging up the phone and saying, he must be cuckoo. I said, “I can't just leave everything. Everything's falling apart.” And he said “The opportunity will arise.” And sure enough, four months later I was in Haiti with him being initiated. Opening my mind to my spirits and to my spiritual world.
Claire: Malou spent seven days in deep meditation. She learned voodoo history from her aunt and uncle, and – for the first time – took her spiritual premonitions seriously.
Malou: There is a sublime feeling of being able to face or do anything. But the best part came after, once the initiation ceremony was done, I was told to keep a journal for a year. And my aunt, who is also a, a priestess, told me, don't think now everything is still jumbled in your head. Keep your journal and see how you evolve from the young woman who walked in here to the woman who gained strength as her spirits join her. And that's exactly what happened.
Claire: You’re listening to ARTS.. WORK. LIFE., a podcast from The Association of Performing Arts Professionals.
I’m Claire Caulfield.
So, every time you walk into a room, you’re not walking alone, you’re bring your personal experiences, your family’s history and your cultural roots. This mix is the basis for creativity and gives you a unique perspective. But I can sometimes be a burden… especially if no one else in the room can relate.
Today’s episode, we’re exploring Roots and Responsibilities
Starting with a reflection on how to honor your roots while still finding creative ways to express your individuality.
Then a story about how being taxed with representing your entire culture can hold you back.
And ending with a story about legacy – and what one artist and parent has to teach the arts community about true community.
Act One: The Roots Remix
Claire: For our first story today, we return to Malou Beauvoir. After her transformational time in Haiti, she left her job and ended up winning a karaoke contest. The prize was a professionally-recorded demo, which ended up launching her music career.
She spent the next decade touring the world, learning different musical styles and releasing recordings of her own.
Malou picks up her story shortly after the death of her Uncle Max. She was in Haiti supporting Max’s daughter Raquel. And Malou and Raquel had a conversation that changed how Malou viewed her responsibility as an artist and as a Haitian.
Malou: Raquel was always brilliant. I mean, I was good at school. She was brilliant.
And when Max passed away, she was very frail and I remember saying, lean on me completely.
So, together we moved forward and as she regained her strength, she said, “Malou, we have to do this together. I cannot fill my dad's shoes.” I said, “I, I can't, you guys are like these Ph.Ds, double triple Ph.Ds. I'm, I'm a singer and a business woman.” She said, “So you'll have to sing about it.” And so we decided at that point, let's do this together.
She said, “Come join me for Christmas.” I said, “I can't. I have a family. I can't. I'll meet you in January” and on the 5th of January, she died unexpectedly.
At that moment, I was in Haiti every three weeks or so, and I said, “The buck has finally stopped. All of our teachers, all of those who were transmitting the knowledge are passing away.”
I realized that that time had come. I had to use my voice speak out, for my culture, to speak out for those people who were in my family and who had done such incredible work. And as Max had told me, he said, “Speak about the changes and the profound changes that this culture, these beliefs have brought about.”
>> Song: Rasenbleman
And I said, “I would like to do a Haitian album.” I said, “I want to sing for my spirits.”
I said, “I don't wanna do it in a traditional way. I wanna mix country with it. I wanna a rock guitar on some of the stuff.”
That's the way Spiritwalker came to be, and I dedicated it to Max and to Raquel.
“Rasenbleman” was a song that was written by Toto Bissainthe. She was a Haitian artist. I heard it with almost a battle cry saying that it's time for us to put our heads together and find a way to move forward.
And although it is in Creole, although I sang it for the Haitian people, I find it more and more pertinent for the world. We are in a complicated world right now. Greed, power, domination, bullying, and an indifference to not only the environment, but to the other people who inhabit and creatures who inhabit this earth.
“Rasenbleman” is calling out to those people to say, “I know that I'm speaking from the point of view of voodoo, but I've seen you, I've seen you in the Jewish faith. I've seen you in the Christian faith. I've seen you as Buddhist. And I recognize so many of these spiritual warriors, from all communities and I'd like us to reach our hands out. And take each other's hands.”
There is a need for us to watch out for each other, to watch out for the earth, to respect our environment.
I know that Max and Raquel dedicated their life to speaking about that, about this one energy that unites us.
>> Song: Rasenbleman
Companies want to do the last thing that's sold. And that this whole thing of we need to make money by this quarter, otherwise, uh, voila, we'd rather have somebody who imitates this or who imitates that trend.
I think that like everything else, we are eventually going to kill our own industry. We must celebrate the different uniqueness that exists in nature. And in cultures, it's not hard to find it. It's everywhere. Just instead of stamping it out and trying to make it all look the same, focus on it and try and develop the things that are beautiful in it and do that. But, voila.
>> Song: Nwaye
This has been a transformative journey for me, a coming of age late, but a coming of age. I started singing things that were fun to sing, but I really feel that my joy of singing. And creating came when those things that were important to me infused my music, and it gave my voice and my art a new dimension. So, I had always hesitated to be too personal about my choices, so I encourage any artist, while you're finding your path, of course, you have to listen to others to develop your craft but ultimately it's important, as important to find your unique voice as it is to sing well.
>> Song: Nwaye
As time goes by, and we get older, we have a tendency to think that things are ending. That it's too late. The only thing I can say is that has not been my experience at all. And the past 10 years have been the most fruitful of my life. So musicians, fellow artists, don't listen. When people tell you, “Oh, you're too old, or this and that, we only get better.”
We only get better.
>> Song: Nwaye
Claire: Malou Beauvoir is a singer, songwriter and actress who lives in Brussels and New York.
>> music ends
Act Two: Seasons of Change
For years, Heena Patel felt like mainstream arts organizations were overlooking a lot of Indian and South Asian artists.
So in 2016, she founded her own company, MELA Arts Connect, and built a deep and diverse roster of South Asian storytellers, performing artists, dancers and arts professionals.
And while the work was incredibly fulfilling, she began to realize that she was making a lot of personal sacrifices in the name of greater representation.
Heena: When I first entered the field I remember going to APAP and other conferences and walking around and going, Hmm, there's maybe. Maybe seven or eight South Asian artists being represented in the hundreds and hundreds of artists being repped. and they're all being repped by white people.
But there was no, I was not really finding others that looked like me doing the behind the scenes arts, being the arts professionals, arts workers.
So I founded MELA Arts Connect in 2016
When I started doing this work, of advancing South Asian performing arts I didn't see it as a burden. I didn't see it as a weight. I saw it as this is what I do.
But being one of the few in a dominant arts sector, that's where it started to feel over time becoming a burden
In February of 2020, I was in India preparing, a new company of musicians and dancers. We were in rehearsals every day getting ready to go on this tour, and we start hearing about this thing called Covid that was starting to cancel shows. And I am at this point where we've put down deposits. The deadline was coming up to finish payment in 10 days.
So I sat down with my operations manager and we're like, “what are we gonna do?” I am getting ready to take 25 people from India to the United States. How does this feel? And something didn't feel right, so I was like, “I am not gonna do this.”
The artists were devastated. You know, they had been preparing for months, But it was hard. It was definitely really hard.
So In January I started working with a business coach, and I had told her, Naomi, “Once I'm done with this tour, I am ready to slow down and change things in my life” and then this happens.
And I remember calling her up and going, “I said I was gonna slow down. And I guess the universe thought I needed to do it sooner rather than later.”
I think one of the blessings I had through this whole process is that I was connected into a group of people that were not in our sector.
People who were really just all about Heena and her wellbeing. knowing what her goals are and holding me accountable and reminding me of that.
?I came to a point where I was like, ”I think I need to close down my company.”
I called up Rika, who's a friend and a mentor, and I was like, “Rika, I'm tired. I've given my entire working career to this sector.”
And she says, “Heena, you've done the work. You have the networks, the relationships, the reputation, the goodwill. They're not gonna go away. It’s ok.” That was huge.
There is a creative, generative force to all that we do, whether it be a presenter curating a season, an agent manager curating a roster or supporting and nurturing the careers of the artist they work with. And to create, we need to allow for pauses.
I had to disengage from a lot of conversations happening in the sector because I could feel and hear the fear. And how, how deregulated everyone was getting because what they knew was changing and they didn't know when they were going back
There was trying to hold on to this like summer of what they knew. Instead of allowing things to die, go back into the soil and be composted for something new to emerge. And I was so in my fall going into winter, but I saw the sector very reluctantly, maybe, maybe going into fall, but not really.
While I was already looking forward to, I get to compost this and create something anew and believe that whatever new that will emerge is going to be abundant and serve me and serve those around me. So the past two or three years, I have been in the season of fall and winter. You know, rediscover who I am today.
What now drives me? Who am I? What do I wanna do in the world?
And now here we are in 2023. There's a more of a sense of being and recognizing that everything has its own cycle.
And professionally, I'm in early spring. I have more clarity about the work I wanna do that feels meaningful, that feels regenerative, and we will see what emerges.
My parents migrated to build a better life for me. So there was a lot about working and doing and always being in the mode of doing, in order to survive.
I am grateful for the sacrifices that my parents made, that my ancestors have made. And the result of their labor is I get to focus on thriving.
Claire: Heena Patel is the CEO of MELA Arts Connect. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina.
Act Three: Movement Forward
Claire: In 2020, Dominic Moore-Dunson and his wife were expecting their first child. After George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers, Dominic realized that he didn’t know how he was going to talk to his son about police violence.
So Dominic began asking people in his community for advice, which led to conversations with victims of police violence, politicians, community organizers and Black police officers.
And these conversations were really illuminating. And because Dominic is a choreographer, he began working on a dance piece about all these revelations.
In this story, Dominic shares his creative journey, touching on themes of resilience and hard conversations. He shares how a parent should teach their children about their shared roots, and how the performing arts industry should approach such sensitive topics.
Dominic picks up his story in 2023, with the moment he realized exactly what he wanted his young children to understand about Blackness in America.
Dominic: I get on Twitter, I get on Facebook, I'm looking around, and all of a sudden I start seeing the name of this individual named Jalen Walker. And I was like, what is happening? And come to find out, Jalen was killed by police seven to ten minutes away from my house, and he was shot at 90 times. And the video was viral and started going around everywhere around the country.
And when Jalen was killed, one, I was in shock because somehow I convinced myself that I know this happens, but it would never happen here, and it completely burst my bubble. And I felt stupid and I felt ashamed for thinking that. And now this conversation about what do I tell my kids. It’s in my backyard. It's at my front door ‘cause it's in my city.
And then as the summer goes on, I started thinking to myself, I need to get back in the studio. I actually know what this piece is about now.
When these incidents happen, there's an aftermath. Someone's killed, There's a viral video. There's a lot of news outlets that come outta nowhere, alter your city, but then the video goes away.
And then there's a silence for a long time while like they're trying to figure out like, are the police guilty? Are they not guilty? All these things. And it happens for months and months and months and months. And then there's a verdict. And I was like, this is the aftermath. And so the pieces about what happens to a black community in the aftermath of police violence, how do they heal as a community?
So in the piece you have these four characters. One's name is The Mourner. And he's the individual who for the first time realizes he's not safe because of his skin color, but also is watching his community try to figure itself out and is just mourning what's happening to all of us.
You have The Questioner, and he represents the black police officer who spends the entire show asking himself the question, “Am I a hero or am I a villain?” The third character is called The Untrusting, and he is a young black male who is as equally afraid of police as he is of people who look like him because in Akron, the other thing that's happening is gun violence is at the highest it's ever been, and young black men are killing each other at a rate we've never seen in the city.
So The Untrusting can't trust anybody, and they're trying to deal with that. And then my character is called The Protector, which is the black father trying to figure out what he's gonna tell his kids.
The show starts with this funeral procession and all the characters, they have these interactions that are kind of negative, which makes 'em kind of all move away from each other.
By the time we wrap up the end of the show, they end up back at that same grave. Some of the relationships have gotten closer. Some of the relationships aren't great, but at least there's some level of respect there.
There's a general sense that they realize they need each other. It's not Kumbaya at the end. But they do realize that if we are going to move forward and make sure this doesn't happen and continue happening, we have to go together instead of trying to just deal with everything in isolation and alone.
But what's interesting about when my agents start talking to presenters about the piece, the content is, um, seen as political because that's to do with police violence. Although I would argue that the piece isn't about police, it's about community healing.
It's just police violence is in the backdrop of the conversation. I think there's a lot of presenters who really, really want it, but they're incredibly fearful of how their community will react, how their board will react because it's, you know, it's, it's a piece about a really, really hard conversation that a lot of people wanna stay away from.
But I think that one of the things I have to continuously do is create the right kind of marketing materials to help people realize that it's going to be complex. It's gonna be super hard, it's gonna be difficult. And one of the reasons I'm a storyteller as a dance maker is because I believe stories, the point of stories, are to give survival information to other people. So this piece is about trying to give other communities the information of how when things go wrong, this is what you should expect in the healing process.
The reason we make work as artists, but the reason you also do work as arts leaders and arts administrators is because you are continuously working to be deeply connected to the community around you, One of the things that's difficult for some big institution presenters is that there are sometimes already broken relationships with the communities around them, and sometimes it feels like they're in an, you know, an ivory tower and they're trying to figure out how to be connected to the community.
And this isn't a plug for myself. It's really for all artists who do the same kind of work that I do. These like community-driven artist who knowing how to connect to communities, it's a part of our DNA and it's a part of how we make work. And I bet you have a lot of those in your city.
And it's about connecting with them and starting to build real relationships with those artists, like true relationships with them.
One of the things I just, I continue to reiterate for people is that this isn't a protest piece. This isn't a social justice piece.
There are people who do that. Very important.
But that's not what I make stuff about. Not everyone's making a Black Lives Matter piece. We're, we're making pieces that are highly accessible and high relatable to anybody from any color or creed.
And the other part is for presenters to hear that same thing, and to not be afraid of the works that artists like me make. And if you feel yourself feeling resistance to it, the way to solve that is to be curious.
Just be curious, ask more questions.
Maybe the, the answer isn't, we're gonna present that work, maybe you can't present that work, but you can bring that artist in to do workshops, to show people how they do what they do.
There's always an opportunity to partner and to build relationships.
And so my big message to both sides, artist and presenter, is allow yourself to see past the big social justice themes and Black Lives Matter themes or whatever the thing is people say that you're doing, and get to the communication relationship part because that's what's most important to me.
And at this point I have two children. I have a two and a one year-old, and I'm just like I can't even begin to imagine how I'd feel losing one of them.
And getting back into the studio. Now I have these moments of like what if I just stopped and just said, “Hey guys, It's too hard for me. Here's the rest of your money from the contract. I, I'm not gonna put myself through this.” Because it did, it felt a little hopeless. Like there's a part of you that's like, well, why am I doing all this? Right? Ultimately, if it feels like we have no power to leverage as citizens against police departments and police unions and city officials, and the judges who are on their side, and the councilmen who are on their side. What's it matter if I sit and make a dance piece?
What is a piece of dance gonna do?
I had to keep reminding myself that this piece isn't about centralizing the police, the police union, those judges, those councilmen. It's about centralizing the people this is happening to.
Legacy is something I think a lot about. How do you leave a lasting legacy that's not centered around you?
How can the stories I tell people last forever. How do you leave a lasting legacy that’s not centered around you?
Claire: Dominic Moore Dunson is a choreographer in Akron, Ohio
Claire: Thank you for listening.
ARTS. WORK. LIFE. is a production from APAP – the Association of Performing Arts Professionals.
APAP is the national service organization for the performing arts presenting, booking and touring industry. You can join APAP at apap365.org.
I’m Claire Caulfield, your host and producer.
Jenny Thomas is our Executive Producer.
Music today from Blue Dot Sessions and Malou Beauvoir.
This podcast wouldn’t be possible without the generous support of The Wallace Foundation. So thank you.
Other thank yous to Shanice Mason, the APAP staff and board of directors, our storytellers today, and the hundreds of thousands of arts workers across the world.
Your stories matter. and arts workers ARE essential.
Speaking of stories If you work in the performing arts and want to submit your own story to this podcast visit apap365.org/podcast.
And if you enjoyed this episode which I really hope you did, please leave us a review. It helps other people find the show.
Carolyn: Arts, Work, Life. that’s real. *laugh*
Claire: And next time on ARTS. WORK. LIFE….
Beatrice: If I can't have my own kids, perhaps, this thing that I'm doing with childrencan become an institution that allows families to have access to positive queer role models.
Brian: One of the problems I think clogging has had is a lot of cloggers limit their self-view they don't see themselves as legitimate artists.
Amacay: It feels very similar to the difference between an acute injury and a chronic medical condition because when you break your leg, everyone's very sympathetic. But if you have chronic pain There's this feeling of, why aren't you better yet?
>> music sting