For most of my life, I have been someone who was for the most part visibly, identifiably mixed race black, but lacking any other evidence of my ethnicity — biological relatives, genealogy, language, cultural items or history — beyond an adoption file that listed me as “Negroid.” I had no roots.
I knew that my white heritage was English and Irish. Unlike black peers who have often been asked where they were really from and to protect their dignity might simply answer “here,” I didn’t even have somewhere to refer back to had I chosen to disclose. Beyond being racialized, I was/from nowhere.
This year, I made contact with a birth relative, learning more about my background in the process. At the same time, an app on a personal genetics site pointed to Haïti and Jamaica as my countries of ancestral origin. The plot only seemed to thicken during 2013. [2015 update: Cuba, the Bahamas, Italy and Nigeria are listed, too, in addition to my birth and parental roots in Canada, the UK and the USA. 2018 update: France, Germany, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone.]
With this theme in mind, the title of the piece is a reference to the poem “I Am – Somebody” written in the 1950s by Reverend William H. Borders, Sr. and widely popularized by Jesse Jackson.
There is a procedural approach to harmony, with root-progression clusters moving in parallel, alternating diatonic, harmonic minor and melodic minor scales. The music has nothing to do with the subject per se, but seems to fit with it terms of weight, density and tone. It is a reflection of my frame of mind during these developments. Some sense of mystery is present.
Composed August 2013, recorded October
Roland digital piano direct to file
Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce Russell 2013