top of page

There is not one composer or musician I know who is not influenced by another composer or musician. Not one. I do not believe in "original ideas" or "original sounds" or even "original thoughts". Everything I am and everything I think has been influenced (consciously, unconsciously and subconsciously) by the world I live in. For me to argue otherwise seems foolish. If we locked ourselves in a room with no outside contact for our entire lives, I suppose then you could claim originality and ownership. Let me be clear: I own nothing. I came here with nothing. I will leave with nothing. 


I personally do not believe that music "belongs" to a culture or to a race. It does not "belong" to a sex. It does not "belong" to anyone. We simply have different ways of making it. Music, in my mind, is the one platform where we have the opportunity to witness and to even feel equality and unanimity. Oneness. Synchronicity with not only humanity but the planet itself and every organism it encompasses. We are all, by our nature, creators and musicians. From the moment we are born we make noises and sounds, we learn words, we all sing or clap or make rhythms with our body parts and objects. We dance. We move. That inherent nature and instinct does not belong to any one person or entity. It is shared, it is our right and it is free. 


For me music means freedom. It is a refuge. It is a communication that doesn't need words. It is one language that everyone knows and understands. It is to some a religion, a meditation, a beacon. It is entertainment. It is a sound track to our lives. It is memory. It is comfort. It is distraction. It is love. It is humility. It is the one place where I can unload my suffering and also be completely and humbly immersed in it, sometimes alone and sometimes with the world. It is channeling negative energy into positive. It is building relationships with other human beings. It is learning about other people's cultures, their music and their ways. It is sharing ideas and merging our worlds, it is actively breaking down walls and barriers, it is the thing that will always bring us closer together despite the world's predisposition to rip itself apart. 


What I feel from your approach here, Tanya, is that you are reinforcing a barrier and a division among us. This is a disservice to musicians everywhere. These tweets are about you. They are selfish, uninformed and mean spirited. They are transparent. They incited a thread full of baseless hatred, read for yourself. They divided a community. So, a hard no thank you to your brand of activism and protest. I unsubscribe. This is not leadership. 


I am white, yes. I will never understand, I get that. But I am human, I am a woman and I am a musician. I get what it is to be those things and I try every day to understand more and to know more. What I get is that your approach to this matter is on the wrong side of history. It is counterintuitive to your cause and it is counterintuitive to society as a whole. 


I read your threads, from even before your verbal assault on Caroline Shaw and Roomful of Teeth, and what I see is someone who is in pain. I see venom. I see off the cuff and ignorant remarks flung without much thought or care. I see the red you apparently feel. I see that social media and posting consumes a great deal of your time. It makes me wonder: where is your love for music? Because here I cannot see it in your words. If anything, reading your words made me feel ill, sad and angry too. You translated to me that energy and I do not thank you for it. I do not want to fight on your side or help you, since you appear to present yourself as unique. As if we don't share some of the same battles; proper crediting and compensation, equal opportunity in our field ... this only scratches the surface. I mean if I went after everyone who has wronged me, the way you are, I'd probably have no friends or colleagues to speak of.  I'd have to literally tackle the entire music industry. I would have ZERO time to do what I love. Beneath the anger I initially felt reading your posts, what remained were pity and empathy for you, Tanya, the individual, not the the Inuit people you are fighting for.


I am certain that there was a time for you(because there is a time for all of us) when music was just music and we loved it without context or thought beyond that love. No causes or political agendas. We just loved it and we wanted as much of it as we could stand. That love is why I am a musician today. There was a time when it was not something which would bring us money or credit or aplomb, prizes, rewards, streams or likes on social media. We didn't feel this anger or resentment of others' success or the industry, we didn't make accusations, claim ownership or appropriation or fling insults around on the internet, hiding behind avatars and computer screens. It's cowardly to me. Come speak to me in person, call me(want my number? just ask). Say it to my face the way you sing it to thousand's of people on stage. What you do on stage? That is real. That is compelling. That has my full support and my respect. Not this.


What good does it do anyone to witness your vitriol and personal vendetta splattered on twitter with the specific intention of trending and getting publications like the Times to notice you? What good does it do anyone to see the response, which, while very thoughtful and considerate, even forward thinking(and far more tasteful than would have been my response) can also be viewed -- based on the very nature of its prompting and the platform on which it took place --- as a very polite, impersonal way of ending their involvement in the argument you are having with yourself, one you bullied them into.


We, your audience, are then bated into choosing sides and jumping on a band wagon, out of context and with no tangible connection to it, instead of seeing an honest interaction and resolution between two women, two humans, two musicians ... instead of seeing two people from different cultures work towards an understanding of their shared love for music ... all we see is you exploding and them shielding themselves from the shrapnel that is being hurled their way. NOTHING WAS ACCOMPLISHED. You got yourself a few printed names in programs and a forced apology. What you didn't get, are more friends and supporters. You didn't get yourself respect from your peers or your public. You didn't get yourself allies for your cause and, clearly, your choice of weapon wasn't enough to enact change that can be perceived as genuine or motivated. If I were you, I'd try a different approach next time. Maybe listen when Caroline herself is telling you her intention and thought behind the music she wrote. Her perspective and experience. Do you honestly believe that this woman knowingly took a song that she knew was an actual Inuit composition and plagiarized it in her Partita? Do you honestly think she spent time with those teachers and listening to that music thinking, wow, I'll just use this and not credit anyone and pass it off as my own, cause it's a cool sound, and I am white and now I can pretend I know Inuit music, and I don't need to spend any time at all thinking about other people or other cultures (even though it's basically my job to do so). I mean seriously, have you that little faith and respect for humanity? NO. Absolutely no. And furthermore, how insulting and ignorant can you be, Tanya, assuming the absolute worst of a person you have never even met. Accusing her(publicly) of plagiarism and cultural appropriation (which implies so much more). This is reckless and irresponsible. 


I know Caroline Shaw. I have known her for more than a decade. I have shared meals and gatherings and music making with this woman. I have seen first hand the positive impact she has had on this community as both a person and a musician. She does't have a nasty bone in her body. She is a good person. She is gentle. She is open hearted and she is someone I know in this business who has always carried herself in a genuine and professional manner. She did so in her replies to you as well. She pays attention and she cares about the world around her. She is an empathetic creature. No, she is not perfect. Neither are you I am afraid. Caroline would be the FIRST person to aid you in your cause and message. And you have attacked her, needlessly.  


So what is appropriation? It's definitely a conversation that needs to be had, and this Twitter feud has at least gotten me to think more carefully about my own role within it --- "the action of taking something for one's own use, typically without the owner's permission" -- Is it not more about the intent and the context of it, the actions behind it, than the actual acquisition of something that doesn't belong to you?


If I were to put feathers on my head and start dancing around slapping my hand to my mouth ... or if I were to paint my face black and mimic a someone who is black with the intent to poke fun at or minimize/diminish a race ... well yes, I would be an asshole and, at best, I would be culturally or racially insensitive. I would be ignorant. To me it is about the intent, not the theft. 


My 6 year old cousin wanted to dress up like a Native American(I am sure even that nomenclature is somehow unacceptable these days) for Halloween because he is deeply curious about their culture. He has memorized every tribe's name, learned about their customs, the food they eat, where they live and how they differ from one another. All of this … outside of his regular curriculum, on his own time. He genuinely wants to learn about their history and people. He knows more than I do about it at 34. He wanted to celebrate this love and curiosity by wearing traditional tribal clothing for his costume. His school forbade it, for obvious reasons. Is he too, at 6 years of age, an appropriator? Is he too a thief? Is he on the wrong side of history? He comes from a place of innocence, and we should remember that at one time, we were all innocent. Some of that innocence is still in tact within us.  


If I wear braids in my hair, or dress a certain way, sing a certain way, speak a certain way that is not indigenous to where I come from, I am, by definition, an appropriator and I am doing something wrong. I am overlooking my own privilege, I am doing something without the knowledge or understanding of what those customs truly signify, the weight they carry for those people of those cultures and races. I am reaping the benefits of something I did not earn. OK. This is crystal clear. So I will choose to do it or I won't. But I feel that whole concept is based on the past, no? What about the future? In what way are we promoting unity and acceptance, how are we creating more awareness or equality with these deep lines drawn in the sand? To me they are borders and walls of a different kind, but they are walls just the same. How do we bring new meaning, how do we heal the past and make it right if we keep insisting that these weights and lines and attachments stay in place? I ask honestly, and I welcome any enlightenment or constructive criticism here. 


How will we ever know a world that is just if we don't make mistakes, try, experiment or take risks? How will we make music that is truly all-inclusive and boundary breaking, if we are told we don't have the right to incorporate it or expound upon it, evolve it into something that is universal and free? Something that lies above and beyond our inherently flawed nature as humans. 


If you keep it for yourself, then the world won't know it. And they will see it as something they have to steer away from, avoid, and section off. It will remain far away, remote, caged and ostracized. Exactly the opposite of what you claim to want, Tanya. It is not your message or cause that is flawed, I feel it is your approach, entirely. 


Caroline and Tanya, why don’t you try to have a conversation and show us a new path forward here? I’ve no doubt you are both amazing, strong and capable women.


bottom of page