Firstly, some of you have received HA!News messages in short shrift lately. Before you think i am going to clutter your inbox from now on, this has been a coincidence. As always, the regular HA!News will reach you once a month at most, the tour reports only come by once a year, or in South Africa's case, perhaps twice. And this one, obviously only once a year. What is left are event notices for your area, on average, once a year. So, no stress!
An "annual report" is about the bigger picture, a summary of sorts. And this one is about 2021, a most difficult year for me, for us, in a long time.
Of course, it was about COVID and getting used to arranging things just to have to cancel them again. The lack of income. The lack of movement. The lack of socializing. Depressing world news dripping in on a daily basis. On top of it, I was separated from Joke and Mira for three months. A little bit of alone-ness is welcome. But three months! Especially with Mira still at a fast-developing age. It was hard on all of us.
But there were upshots to all of these negatives. Joke and Mira got to spend time with family on the Belgian side. Mira now lives with a solid awareness of her grandfather and -mother and regularly remind us that after many nights and days we will fly again by aeroplane to visit them. If i have to make a list of all the expectations she has for this future visit.. impossible! Regards the world in turmoil, no individual can change or fix it all. But i found strength in the limited things that i can do to speak, converse, create - as contributions, not ultimate solutions. How valuable or effective they are, i cannot know. But somehow, in the doing, in the flow and interactions with friends and contacts and audiences, even if things are not going well, a certain balance sets in. It is not so much about a positive outlook. It is about engaging, and the fulfillment that comes with being who you are.
We have not seen much of our friends the world over, but we have seen each other. We have not moved around a lot (four very short tours, a total of 11 weeks), but we were able to enjoy our little cottage and the richness of nature around here. We have not earned enough, by far, but we were supported by family, friends, you - from substantial to small ways - all in all carrying us through, so we did not have lack of anything that is important. And regards the threat of the virus, both Joke and I are sure that we had COVID from at least two variants, even though we do not have prove of it. But we came through rather lightly and enjoy good health in general.
As i mentioned before, a major challenge came with Joke's PTSD, since September. Apart from the decision to cancel most of our touring since then, it was like a psychological bombshell that hit us. I am not here going to go into more detail, but i would like to say this: my life partner, my fellow parent, has been carrying a pack of rocks on her back for three decades, as she climbed the mountains of life. This pack was mostly invisible to her and everyone else, including me. And yet, she carried it in such a way that most would not think there was anything amiss. This is witness to her exceptional inner strength. Just imagine the fullness she will strike once this burden is fully un-packed!
I also like to compare her process to a house that is built on a cracked foundation - a foundation cracked by others in her primary years. This house might seem solid from the outside, but she lived with a constant fear of collapsing, affecting her on all levels in life. Now that she is finally able to get down and restore this crack, her whole life is in the process of being reassembled - this time, on a solid foundation. And this foundation is the body, the nerve system in particular. After all the other areas of healing - the mental, psychological, the emotional and spiritual, it is the body that carries the brunt of the wounding, down to a central nerve that sends messages of life and death to all the rest. I cannot tell you how much i respect and admire the way in which she is following through on realizing who she is and can be. Not to mention the very special people and therapists that have given her so much critical support up to now.
On the work front, 2021, along with 2020, gave me the time to upgrade and stabilize a lot of background "systems" that i work with on a daily basis. I hardly ever talk about these, but thought to let you in just a little bit.
Managing my own career is a second job (besides even more jobs i do, that are usually down by others, like being a sound engineer or a publicist!). To me, managing is about communication, and a career is about relationships, to begin with. I am not the best relational being around and had to learn a lot about maintaining good relations over the years. And because i have a certain love for systems, i can tend to place the system before the living contact with people. And yet, these digital systems are necessary tools. Their purpose is to facilitate a good and integer flow of contact with a network of people often far and wide.
The management system consists of a database that brings together information about people, events, scheduling, admin tasks and budgeting, to be translated into daily prompts of communicating via email and phone. It has evolved over twenty years and i still use the same software that i started with (IBM's Lotus Approach, 1997). This is how the customized interface looks (diminished):
A similar system exists for creations. This is crucial to maintain our online service, keeping track of its more than 1500 library items and weekly releases (the total number of creations across the various media, like recordings, videos, writings and visual art counts in the thousands). This is how its interface looks:
I have also made quite a shift with the interface i use during performances. It used to be a simple folder with music and video tracks listed as ordered files, that i click on during a performance. I have changed this into a data interface that shows only one of the nine categories of creations at a time, basically giving more structure to the flow of a performance (i still pick on pieces spontaneously). And this is how that one looks:
For anyone working with data systems, you know how it eats at your hours, your days, your weeks, months, even years.. It is a lot of work. But once it has been streamlined and fine-tuned through a lot of use, it does bring the multitude into a simple flow. A child can more easily be spontaneous, because the raw materials are still so basic and few. It is harder as you grow older and accumulate all sorts of things and non-things. You can lose your sanity even, if there is just too much to retain one's orientation and sense of presence within it all. How do i retain the HA! within a live performance, having recorded so much over the years, covering so many styles and moods and sound textures? These databases help. A lot.
And then there is Mira, in her third year.
It wants to slip form my tongue that she is just a joy, simply because thinking of her, i immediately see this singing, dancing, dramatizing little focused energy that is charging at life at full speed. But she is not just a joy. She is hard work too. She can be a menace sometimes. She is not shy about her feelings of all sorts and she is the only child in this house. The little queen needs downsizing every now and then. She has a playmate on the property, a year older than her, and they have become thick friends. She's gone to crèche and generally likes it there. Her African teacher "auntie Toby" is a big favourite. And she has absolutely no idea what COVID is. Her world is still truly innocent, as it should be.
And so, after another year that saw many artists and performers struggle, even leave their vocation, we count ourselves lucky and priviledged to be able to continue. Especially within the context of a music industry that is more and more living in the past with shrinking space and support for new music.
For me, at least, it is not so much about being new all the time, but being creative. Call me stupid, but that is what being an artist means to me. By its very nature, being creative is a vulnerable thing, with or without a pandemic going on. There is much to be said about the courage it takes to create and the ways in which creative inspiration can be kept alive, and besides that, also remain viable - financially and psychologically. But all of this means nothing without the human relations, without the taking of hands with others, without remaining open to other's worlds and the otherness of the world.
2021 is not a year i wish to be repeated. but if it has taught me one thing, it is that being human is more fundamental than art. Meaningful art can never be an escape from the human reality. And whatever Mira will become in her life, it will suffer without a foundation of just being that two-legged bundle that came into the world as a little screaming animal..
We cherish all of you. May 2022 benefit from what we all gained through our ongoing global quarantine time.
May the pain of loss and disruption be purifying. And may things return to a healthier normal for all of you.
Francois (and Joke and Mira)
HA!MAN (Francois le Roux) spontaneous performer in partnership with Joke Debaere