Once in awhile, you encounter an original mind. I found such a mind in the beautiful Brandi Chase. Brandi's interview was thought provoking and her answers some of the most unexpected treasures I've uncovered to date. While sometimes 180 degrees from the expected, she communicates loving kindness and acceptance. And in that way, I've come to think of her as an excellent role model for my approach to playing and teaching the didjeridu. And I've learned something about the value of acceptance over expectations or hopes. - Ed Drury
[Brandi] The first time. The first time I heard a didjeridu was at the actual literal physical Rounddoor Gallery where I worked for Marko Johnson as an artist/carpenter/painter/can-do girl. The gallery was situated in the Old Salt Lake Hardware building back before the place was renovated and turned into trendy office lofts. It was towards the end of my employment there that Marko first started getting into the didjeridu. I was getting involved then with my soon to be husband, but I heard Marko playing on it relentlessly (and he was sounding pretty good to my ears) and I loved the sound. Marko and I parted ways for a while. I saw him again in December 1995 when I sought him out to buy a didjeridu for my husband, who I hoped would play. I was just getting involved at Yoga at the time. (I don't know why I mentioned that) Oh yes, because Marko said that the sound of the didjeridu would be the perfect accompaniment to my meditation practice. Well, in short my husband rarely played the didj. I tried to do it once or twice while no one was looking but then set it down, thinking somewhere in the back of my head that I couldn't play it because I was a woman and my lungs weren't "big" enough.
My marriage deteriorated and I left my husband in February of 1997. After settling into single-hood I immediately sought out the folks I knew before I took off into my strange marital reality. The first person I contacted was Rusty Kirkpatrick, a mutual friend of Marko Johnson, of didjeridu fame and Kenvin Lyman, who lead me to the Miracle manor. That night we cooked up some fish, and Rusty drove me up to Kenvin's house for a visit, Kenvin agreed to take me on as an artist's apprentice. Rusty and I drove up Emigration Canyon to meet Marko, who was hosting the first annual SOLSTICE DIDJ AROUND THE WORLD EVENT in conjunction with the famous didjeridu emailing list. There was a whole stack of didjeridus and Marko let me play his favorite.
As the evening wore on. I tried and tried to get a drone with relatively no success. Then someone passed around a concoction of Peyote Tea, at least that is what they were calling it, and I took a sip. I don't know that I particularly hallucinated, But I certainly felt altered, and my focus was driven more and more to the didjeridu. The rhythms swelled around me and I felt a part of it. Rusty looked over at me as I surrendered to this new breath occurring within me and said, "Is that you?" I said, "I think so." Then I looked up into the night sky. In my mind's eye, the clouds started to move together to form the outline of a square, it was like a doorway, my doorway out of my current life, into a new one. And I walked through it. Then the sun came up. Then I laid myself down and went to sleep.
The next morning it was just me, Marko, and a smoldering fire. I helped him clean up the mess, and he drove me home.
A month later I asked him if he had a didjeridu I could practice with. He sent me with a little D ASPEN he had made. I couldn't even get the drone for weeks. I didn't cycle breath until November. But still I played it everyday, until I did, because it was really what I wanted to do.
So the short story is, 5 years ago, all I really wanted was a didjeridu, but I didn't think I could have it so I got a husband instead, and bought him one. Then I realized my mistake, ditched the husband and got a didjeridu of my own and have lived happily ever after ever since. Its funny, my last boyfriend and I had a conflict over the didjeridu too (among other things) and I picked the didj in that situation too. hmmmmm, weird.
[Ed] Did you think at that time you would become as involved with the instrument as you are today?
[Brandi] Well, yes and no. I never know what or how involved I will be with anything. What I do know is that I never do anything half-way, once I commit myself I want to see it all the way through.
While I was married for example I owned a deli in down town Salt Lake City. We called it the KIND SANDWICH AND DELI, and we sold phat hippie sandwiches and PRO-HEMP and Marijuana Literature. We had big signs hanging everywhere saying "LEGALIZE LEGALIZE" I was 50 feet away from the Mormon Temple, my clientele was primarily conservative Mormon lawyers, and Insurance professionals and my business thrived. I also worked as a hemp activist, grew my hair into dreadlocks and accepted Rastafarianism as my faith, I had 40 marijuana plants growing in my bedroom, people called me Mamma Dread. Before I knew it, High Times was knocking on my door and the local conservative newspaper. I flew to Jamaica to hang out in Kingston with the Marley Clan, living with my friend Ras Balie Reid (their art director) & his family, and meeting Georgie, who Bob Marley sang about in "No Woman No Cry" (this is the same man who taught Bob about Haile Selassie I, Jah Rastafari), and a whole host of others. Jamaica was a huge crossroad in my life. Everything changed for me while I was there. In any case, this is what I mean, by all the way. When I become something, when I focus on it I become one with it.
I don't know if its because of anything I do, or if its just because I have the good fortune to believe that ANYTHING is possible. Once I started cycle breathing there was no turning back for me. Suddenly I "got it" and I wanted to "get more." I discovered that the didjeridu was a language, spoken not written, and I needed to learn more pieces of it. In order to do this, I need to meet more people who spoke this language. As soon as I decided this, it immediately started happening. My list of influences is really long, now on every side of the know-how spectrum. Its almost ridiculous, and I am constantly amazed by it. Especially considering I picked up the didjeridu to play it only a little over a year ago. My experience reinforces for me one thing: I AM SUPPOSED TO BE DOING THIS. I am eternally grateful that it means I must meet and communicate with more people. Learning this language (music?) is one of the primary driving forces in my life, now. Communication in general I suppose.
[Ed] Although your list of influences is long, can you mention a few which are, perhaps, come to mind instantly? Perhaps a few who have the most impact on your learning this new "language" which is the didjeridu?
[Brandi] To the point, okay, first off, of course is Marko Johnson, he introduced me to the didjeridu and the didjeridu emailing list. He taught me how to circular breath. But the best thing that he said to me was this, "here, try the didjeridu, I think it will really help you." If there is one thing that Marko is famous for, its understatement.
Next on my doorstep was Dave Crowder. Dave introduced me to the importance of actually meeting the members of the didjeridu list. Dave gave me another important piece to the didj puzzle. He taught me the importance of controlling the inside of my mouth while I played, particularly the tongue. Of course when he taught me this I said, "oh man! Now I have to start all over, this sucks." and Dave said, "do you really mean that?" and I said, "well no." I couldn't even circular breathe with this new information! But luckily I figured it out again, this time in less time than it took me to get it (CB) the first time, (which was 3 months by the way).
Suddenly my life turned on a dime and I was off to Southern California and Desert Hot Springs (20 minutes NE of Palm Springs) to check out the Miracle Manor. While I was there I thought I would just stop off in San Diego to visit Randy Graves and LA to see John Pascuzzi. For some odd reason I was under the impression that San Diego, LA and Palm Springs were you know, 20 minutes apart. In short they aren't, so...short was the time I got to spend with these two gentlemen. I didn't get to play with JP at all, But I did get to hear and play with Randy Graves. It really changed my life. Suddenly the didjeridu was a MUSICAL INSTRUMENT that is played with intention. It wasn't something that you plugged into and mindlessly followed along behind, it was something to be directed, planned. And I realized that the didjeridu was a discipline, and to play it was to study it and to study it meant that I would have to learn about music.
I resisted when I took piano lessons as a kid learning all this stuff and there it was again. What's that saying? the only way out is through?
A week later I was in Tucson. There I met a good portion of the didjeridu family at least in the US. Just being in that atmosphere convinced me that the didj brought together a special group of people and that I wanted more of it. Never have I been in an environment where everyone was so supportive of everyone else's growth and excellence. No one was in competition, everyone was in exhaltation. It was awesome.
Back in Utah, Back in New Orleans, Back in Utah, relocated to Southern Cal. All of this within 2 weeks. Just as I stopped by Marko's house to say good-bye there was a post in his email box from Peter Spoecker, some guy who lived out in Joshua Tree, just 30 minutes from where I was moving. I sent him a post about that fact and asked to meet him, and felt relieved that I would have someone to play with after leaving my didj community in Utah.
So, next influence was definitely Peter. Peter broke the didjeridu down into bite-sized chunks. Instead of some blanket sound suddenly I became aware of the vocalizations, articulations, breathing patterns and interruptions that were the didjeridu. Peter is very good at distilling a larger whole into its many parts. I suddenly had the building blocks with which to create my own songs. I recorded my DP2 tune at his house on April 15. At that point I had been playing steadily since November. I must admit that I don't love the recording but its done and its a start.
Then I ran into Carl, Tim, Rob and Kosan at the street fair and started performing, and working with other musicians, Well, I called them the musicians at the time because I was just a hack... :) This experience completely opened me up to Rhythm and started me singing. Wow, suddenly I had a singing pipes in addition to the didjeridu. Being a Leo (I guess this has something to do with it) I thrived on the crowd...my confidence and ability accelerated.
While San Diego I was smart enough to take the workshop with Mark Atkins and Janawirri Yiparka. Thank you to Mark for sharing his riffs with us, and for making so plain something that seemed so unattainable.
Most recently a guest staying at the Miracle Manor changed me again. His name is Michel Deschuyter, and he taught me that I could teach. Nothing snazzy, just the drone, but it was something. It said to me, I am able to speak at least part of this language well enough that I can communicate it to an initiate, and he could understand.
Thanks to the close proximity, Randy Graves continues to inspire me. Also I owe great thanks to Kristen Cunningham, Julia Wilmerding, Tom Lambrecht, David Blonski, Bill Hudson...thanks for playing with me!
Folks who've influenced me through their recordings? Primarily Graham Wiggins (thank you),Stephen Kent and Alana Cini (who I've only heard live).
[Ed] Of all the influences you mentioned, I counted only two other female. Tell me about "Chicks with Sticks"? Have you found more women taking up the instrument recently and probably most to the point, have you received any negative comments about gendor taboos and the didjeridu?
[Brandi] Kristen Cunningham and Alana Cini I think are the ones mentioned above. But don't forget Julia Wilmerding, Laurie Hatch, Jane Stein...Chaos Ranch & Freakout(sorry I forgotten your actual names!) I haven't. I just haven't played with or been influenced directly by these women much. I should have a better appreciation for Julia after this weekend is over, after the MICROSCOPIC ALL WOMEN DIDJERIDU WEST COAST GATHERING takes place. Which basically will amount to me and Jules. There are some women I've met in the desert who are just getting started, namely Shawn and Jennifer. Met another woman in San Diego.
The women are there, they are for the most part just getting started or still into those silly catty games women often play where they think they are stronger by staying separate. But they are there.
Chicks with Sticks. hah! Chicks with sticks came out of a post sent by Marko Johnson to the didj list around Christmas time. It was a spin off of my post back in November about skydiving. The story goes like this: I went Skydiving, and it was a mind-blowing experience, everything that I believed was true about space and time was not true anymore. I had to rewire. SO, naturally I shared this with the didj list. I also mentioned that my instructor told me that If I went skydiving naked next time I could go for free (couldn't help but throw that part in, I mean hey, I'm first to admit that I am a sexual being and the whole experience was very sexual to me...). Well, someone suggested that I should go naked with my didjeridu and then there was the obvious whistle joke. Ha ha, we all laughed it off, then Marko in an attempt to be funny wrote to the list about the gig he, Dave Crowder, myself and a whole host of didjers were going to be participating in on New Year's eve and he said something about "if we're lucky, maybe Brandi's all girl naked-skydiving didjeridu marching band 'CHICKS WITH STICKS' will come and play for us."
Well, in an effort to protect my honor, and not knowing that Marko and I were friends and that this didn't offend me one of the list members came to my rescue. This developed into a feud that eventually went away probably for everyone but me. I thought it was hilarious. And I loved the "chicks with sticks" name. I think it is very powerful when a group that has been "categorized" by a name picks it up and uses it themselves. and hey, it rhymed. From there came the didji girls, found on my web site, and from there, other top secret projects soon to be revealed. But chick's with sticks is a Clarion. It says "hey girls, let's play".
As far as the gender taboos go, I've found that most of what I've encountered has come from within myself and my own fears. A recent conversation with Janawirri Yiparrka really changed my perception on women playing the didjeridu. He told me that Aboriginal Women in Australia do not play the didjeridu because they do not want to. They choose not to. All the time growing up it was his aunties telling him that women do not play the didjeridu. Not the men. Then I realized that it was a choice. I looked down deep inside myself and said, "well what do you want to do" and everything that I am answered back: PLAY.
So once reconciled inside myself, my outward reality seems to reflect back to me that I am playing the didj, that I can play and what's more that I should.
[Ed] I've often thought that women (women I know anyway) approach the instrument a little differently than men. Obviously, most have a higher vocal range and that's the thing I think most people thing of as an 'advantage' women players have. But I think there may be something more subtle, more in the way they view life and understand it, which contributes to the woman players who I have played with. I'm wondering if you agree or disagree with that and what, if anything, you feel gives women a different style of didjeridu 'language'?
[Brandi] I suppose that if you are speaking of "Women" as a cultural group, like Europeans, or Aboriginals, or Africans that I agree with you. But not for any other reason than as a group defined by what separates them from other folks they have had a set of different experiences reinforcing the fact that they are different which causes them to gel as some kind of "organization" of creatures defined by their differences.
whoa. What I am trying to say is that we often get caught up in using what is different about us to explain *something* Like difference has become some new GOD. Women, the idea of Women is some big word to cover a group of entities that have no penis. What does this mean? Nothing.
I come to this question just after finishing the first annual "Chicks with Sticks" didjeridu gathering where I attempted at least in my mind to get a handle on WOMEN as DIDJERIDU PLAYERS, and I discovered that didjeridu players are didjeridu players and just because I was playing with Julia, the sole attendee, and she was a woman really made no difference in what or how we played. The difference was that it was JULIA, and Julia's unique voice was what was important to me, not what her gender was.
In the preliminary planning stages of the Chicks with Sticks Gathering I got a message from a didjeridu mailing list member asking my why everyone was so excited about the idea of putting on a Sexist Gathering. And you know, I never really considered it before then, but it is sexist. What do we have to gain by separating? Really, its much better with all the voices represented.
and even women.
and even DRUMMERS!
Because it has been my experience that every voice has something to add the melee, no matter the vehicle or the medium. The point is that the voice gets heard. No, that's not even correct, its more important that the voice speaks what it has to say, that it expresses itself, somehow.
Janawirri, while he was in the Desert of California commented that when he hears the didjeridu played by a non-Aboriginal it sounds "disconnected" to him somehow. It sounds "weird" because they don't have the culture to connect them to the instrument. It might be that some folks feel the same way when they hear the didjeridu through a woman. But what it is easy to forget is the didjeridu is a hollow tube that pulls whatever is inside whoever plays it OUT. You can not separate the person, and their experience from the sounds they create. They are forever bound together. I don't think that I view this instrument this way because I am a woman. I think I view it this way because I am a BRANDI.
I believe, think and feel that everyone has something important to bring to WHATEVER it is that they do. If we all were to believe, think, and feel this, perhaps we would all evolve in one, single, giant rotation.
I have attended several "men's" drum circles. I found what was
different about them had little to do with drumming. If I had to guess
what the difference between a "male" drum circle and a "mixed" one was
(never having been to the "woman's" drum circle, I'd say there was an
element of safeness" to discuss....hmmmmmmmm...."man stuff". The reality,
for me was, that I missed women being there. I thought it was a very
artificial situation to have all males gathering to play music. It
was *sexist* and I could help but think the drumming was unbalanced and
overly ego driven. Do you think you will plan another such event,
microscopic or not? And if so, will it be a "woman's" didj gathering?
The safeness we feel here is such an illusion. How can we assume that just because we are all without Penises that we are somehow the same? Even though growing up "as a woman" has its common themes I haven't found in my experience thus far that these themes are exclusive to any one gender. It's funny how much gender is shaking down into "unimportant" at least for me. The other day I was talking to one of the fellows I drum with, he said, "I guess what we are all looking for in life is a good strong woman and a faithful husband." I couldn't stop laughing when I heard this! What a change from ten years ago, where you would have heard "a good strong husband and a faithful wife!"
I guess the point I am driving at is its really not so great, the exclusivity, because what good does it do to continue talking to people who already feel the same as you, who already have the same experiences? Its like going to a "Pot Legalization" Rally and talking to a whole bunch of people who already agree with you that pot should be legal. Where is the effect here? Where is the change. In order to effect change you must communicate with the difference. Not to convince the "other" that they should drop their experience and jump onto yours, just to make each other a little more aware of the other so that we can respect the differences and celebrate the diversity.
Will I plan another gathering? and will it be "All Women". Well, the reason why I wanted an all woman gathering in the first place is because I wanted to bring the women out of the wood work. Many are still functioning like women do, that is IN ISOLATION OF EACH OTHER and not because they are bonding better with men but because they are camouflaging themselves amongst men. Men are like thick forests, its easy to get lost in them. And of course NOT ALL, but many. In any case I guess the "all woman" thing was a safe-zone call to other women. But remarkably enough several women canceled because it was all women and they thought it might be a woman "sex fest" hilarious. Women are even afraid of other women. So, no I will never plan another all woman gathering. Not because of any other reason than I think it defeats the purpose. Women are strong, Men are strong. Imagine what it can be like when we put that together! So enough separation.
As far as a "plain old" gathering. Well, I am in a strange situation because I live in a place that lets rooms for a price its a business. So, a whole bunch of Internet people can not just come and crash at my place with out paying the price. So, I don't know if I could host anything on the scale of say the Tucson Gathering. There was some talk about moving the Summer Solstice gathering from Boulder to Desert Hot Springs but again, I couldn't have everyone crash at my pad and the place would have to be booked with didjeridu players because of the noise involved and the traffic. Of course there are many cheap places to stay at in my town, and this is just remote enough a place that once its booked LOUD would never be a consideration. My hesitation I guess is that it wouldn't be for "free" and people would have to make a commitment to attending and that just isn't something I've seen folks (including myself) capable of doing.
What I would like to host however would be an Didjeridu retreat weekend for 3 days, where a small number of folks come and stay at the manor to talk didj business, play together and teach each other and generally relax and meditate and go hiking with me. But again, the entire place would need to be booked in advance and paid for. So I guess I'm just dreaming :).
[Ed] Speaking of men and women playing together, I see that we are both on the same CD. I'm speaking, of course, of Didjeridu Planet Volume 2. I wonder if you tell us a little about your track and I also know that you've been quite busy preparing the liner notes and layouts for the package which I'm sure has been quite an experience as well?
well, It was recorded in one night in two takes, and I don't like it much. I does not represent what I imagine for myself musically, in the future, it definitely represents a moment in time, and to me that is valuable. It says, this is where I begin, where I come from and it's everything different from here. Peter (Spoecker) and I recorded this using one of his infamous drum tracks on APRIL 15 tax day and Peter's birthday. Maybe I should have called it "Peter's Birthday Surprise". But the title "Coming From Cold" seems appropriate enough: Peter said "hey, you want to record something?" I said, "sure" and there it was, it starts off pretty weak but ends up okay.
This sounds really negative, and maybe its just my fear of being heard by a group of people who I communicate with on the internet. Maybe its that silliness that comes with, "what if they think I suck!" and the truth is of course that I wish when I blew into my didjeridu that out would come melodies as effortless as those created by Stephen Kent seem...and then I realize, hey, he's been playing for 15+ years. He has studied music. I will sound that good too, when I put in as much effort as he has.
My piece on DP2 is where I plant my flag in the didjeridu world. It marks the spot where I began to discover my own creative territory.
well, for me the cover is a great deal more to me than just the project. For me, it is the end of a behavior pattern that has pretty much been a problem of mine for a while, that is over-committing and undervaluing my time. I really love and care about this project, for its own sake, but when it is done, it is the last time I will volunteer for anything, not because anything BAD has happened, its just the timing, it's my last free gig. :)
[Ed] I had a lot of the same feelings about my track on DP 01. I hate the whole permanence trip. Recordings are definitely snapshots in time and once they are released....Can you describe where your playing is now and were you want to see it go?
[Brandi] My playing is in pieces right now. In formulation like a puzzle. When I sit down to play I consider a series of sounds, maybe 4 distinct sounds. I rearrange the order I think they should come in, find one that sounds nice and then sew it together so they come out of me "seamlessly". Once I get comfortable with those sounds I think about changing one of them slightly, either by adding a trill, or a vocalization or dropping the original sound out all together and replacing it with something new. Then I return to the original phrase, to the variation and then back again, until this is comfortable. Then I try a digression, a variation on the two parts that is similar in tone and intent, but definitely different, then return to the first variation, then the original phrase.
I consider this a song, but it has an evolution, and gets "worked out" in my process. If a listener has the patience to follow the process, s/he will get a pretty decent song, but it does take time. I figure, as I refine this process and get more comfortable with it, it will come easily, more fluidly. But I am not in any hurry. My exercises are in knowing what physical action produces what sound, my exercises are in getting clear on intention and reality, and making the two jive.
Of course, this is true in my waking world too.
A second aspect of my playing is definitely an emphasis on rhythm. I work with two drummers right now. Tim, a drummer's drummer, which I guess means he is all about maintaining the rhythmic structure of a song. And Mike a tabla player and percussionist who seems more concerned with the musicality of rhythm. Its a good combination.
Final focus for me is to develop my singing voice which, since picking up the didjeridu has been released from the stranglehold I've had on it for the past 5 years or so. Actually, my entire voice. Spoken, written, sung. For some reason, I feel like I have something to say, and I just can't stop saying it.
Where do I see all this going?
Into happiness I guess. That is the point of existence, is it not? Musically I hope to communicate with everyone I come in contact with. In some way. I hope to play with armfuls of players in every genre. I see music one of the ways truth ekes out, where whatever you are feeling can't be stopped or censored. Art is truth, and truth is what I want to talk about.
I guess I see the didjeridu as a megaphone. damn, I never did get the cheerleader out of my system.