Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Code

by Mele Martinez

“Jason and I are on tour.”

I don’t get to say that phrase very often, but when I do, I always feel a bit strange. I’m afraid that some may think I am making myself out to be a lofty artist, deserving of recognition. I’m also afraid that people will think being “on tour” means that I am somehow more important than all the artists who are not on tour. All during this particular tour, I wanted to avoid saying that phrase (all together) to anyone who might wonder where Jason and I were all this time. But I’ve decided that I will say it. And furthermore, my own worthiness is not the reason for pronouncing that phrase.

Jason and I are not dancing on this tour. Not at all. Well, maybe a little, but that is not why we are here. We’ve actually been hired as musicians for the CBJ Flamenco Ensemble; Jason is on cajon, and I am singing. It is a nice change for us – a way to flex our “other” flamenco muscles. It is both a blessing and a joy for us to do this kind of work. We get to travel to different places, we get to hang out with friends, and we get to do flamenco. It’s like a dream.

But as I reflect in this dream world, a little voice inside my head tries to bring me down, as is often the case when dreaming. Some of you know that voice – the one that convinces you that you have no business doing your art form, the voice that tries to convince you to quit, tries to make you feel guilty for trying to be a performing artist. It can persuade you to believe that you are inferior, that you are inadequate, and it preys on your every insecurity. This voice is something I battle, and sometimes it is a voice coming not just from inside of me, but from outside too.

Many flamencos believe that only certain individuals should be “allowed” to perform professionally (which usually means for money). I get it. I even speak in agreement. Flamencos want to live by a special code; the code makes it clear that you have to “pay your dues” before you can be respected as a professional. Ironically, most flamencos I know believe they personally are on the right side of this rule, while other artists require more payment of dues.

I agree with the code, but I also understand that this man-made code is not always in line with a higher code that I try to live by – God’s. In God’s plan, “… the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16). Our personal standards of WHO deserves WHAT don’t always apply. For me, the final word is God. For me, He is the One who blesses us based on His grace – not based on what we might think we have or haven’t earned.

That being said, I know many flamencos would probably put me in a category that is completely undeserving of touring as a flamenco singer. I haven’t earned those dues – especially in the most respected aspect of the art form: cante. And yet, here I am, on a plane to a big city where people who fill a 1000 seat theater will hear me sing. In this case, I sort of agree with all those who think I am undeserving of this. I do not call myself a cantaora. I probably never will.

But just because others may believe that, and just because I will probably never call my self a FLAMENCO SINGER, doesn’t mean that I don’t belong here, in this crowded plane, floating my way thousands of feet in the air to that gig. I may not be a flamenco singer, but I certainly will be singing flamenco. I know it is part of all that things in my life that I am meant to do, so I will do it.

And so too, I quiet that voice that aims to discourage me, I shield myself from my own inner-dialogue, and I even squelch the sound of those who would dissuade me with words and looks that aim to dishearten. On the nights of this tour, I will sing, out loud, to drown out the opposition.

And if anyone should ask you, friends, “What makes you think you can sing flamenco? What makes you think you can dance? What makes you think you can be on any stage?” Just tell them that not one of us is really worthy. Tell them that being on stage is ALWAYS a privilege, never a right. Tell them too, that our job is to do our job, and not to compare our selves to others. As I believe, ultimately, it is simply our duty to perform for an audience of One.

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