While typically documentaries make the rounds of the film festivals circuit, college circuit, and (in the case of a big release) in theaters and/or on television. Hence people get to view or at least know of a film. However, most of the time, if that film is a documentary and has music in it and is not solely about a musician, you don’t get to know the story regarding the music in said documentary. The documentary Sins Invalid, which previews in Oakland this weekend (Oct 11th & 12th) at the New Parkway Theater, is a documentary about a performance project that celebrates artists with disabilities, centralizing artists of color and queer / gender-variant artists. Since 2006, its performances have explored sexuality, beauty, and the disabled body. Sins Invalid is an entryway into the taboo topic of sexuality and disability, manifesting a new paradigm – disability justice. Here I will focus on some of the music in this film that was produced by artists who are from the Bay Area and elsewhere.
Sins Invalid, the entity, is a Bay Area-based performance project that incubates and celebrates artists with disabilities, centralizing artists of color and queer and gender-variant artists as communities which have been historically marginalized. Our performance work explores the themes of sexuality, embodiment, and the disabled body. Conceived and led by disabled people of color, we develop and present cutting-edge work where normative paradigms of "normal" and "sexy" are challenged, offering instead a vision of beauty and sexuality inclusive of all individuals and communities. Patty Berne, Todd Herman, Amanda Coslor, and myself (Leroy Moore) started Sins Invalid in 2006. Since then it has grown from one annual performance to a year-round program with different kinds of performance workshops, disability justice education at colleges, and local and national organizations. In 2007 the beginnings of work on the Sins Invalid film, a documentary about our annual performances, took root. Throughout the seven years of Sins Invalid we have worked with dancers, poets, performance actors/actresses, visual artists, and musicians from Canada, the United Kingdom, and all over the United States. Poetry and music were always a part of Sins Invalid, since our first show back in 2006 with the soulful voice of Lee Williams, a wheelchair user who played Porgy in George Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess at the Black Repertory Theater in Berkeley, CA and who has appeared on the big screen in Made in America starring Whoopie Goldberg and Ted Danson. Williams’ CD of spoken word & music, Phase V, was released in 2006.
The music and singing that came into Sins Invalid since 2006, and which is in the documentary, have deep meaning to the film. We were blessed to work with and still have a relationship with Juba Kalamka, an African American bisexual activist recognized for his work as a founding member of the homohop group Deep Dickollective (D/DC) and his development of the micro-label Sugartruck Recordings. In 2010 Juba met Patty Berne and the creative sounds and vision started to grow into what we called Domino Effects, where Juba not only acted in the piece, but also produced the music and video for that piece for Sins Invalid’s annual event in 2011. Juba and I had fun with the music for this performance piece for Sins Invalid. The music samples from the past few decades coupled with images of black men engaged in stances of power flow perfectly behind two Black actors (Juba and I) who are showing both tension and their love for each other. I can’t give it away, but let’s just say that it felt good to sit back and watch Domino Effects take shape, giving a whole new way to look at Black men – through a lens of disability and queerness.
Looking at my library of music by Black disabled/blind musicians – from Teddy Pendergrass to a back-in-the-day artist like Blind Willie Johnson, and many more – and taking small sounds clips for Domino Effects, we had conversations about how disability played out for Black men who were hard-core activists in their community back in the 60s and 70s, at the height of the Black civil rights movement and the Black power movement with their music. Juba also told me that his mother acquired a disability through polio. Juba also provided a hot instrumental piece for Sins Invalid’s artist and poet Maria Palacios’ 2011 piece, Peep Show – let your mind wonder. Juba had this to say about the music he did that is in the documentary: "The music for me and Leroy’s piece “Domino Effects” was an interesting space of both solo and collaborative effort. I was in the midst of finishing production on my second solo CD, which contained a lot more experimental flourishes than the tracks I created as a member/producer of Deep Dickollective (D/DC). My previous group production work was only collaborative to the degree that I had certain group members in mind, as well as certain themes when creating music, as well as being hyper-conscious of not letting my particular weirdo tendencies sonically overshadows the entire project." Leroy was incredibly gracious and generous with his sharing of his library of music by disabled artists, and I really appreciated his trust in my skill set. Hanging out and brainstorming around the various themes we were exploring were really inspiring. Parsing our own experiences of alienation, otherness and the struggle to define self through our converging and diverging experiences of race, masculinity, ability and the like seemed at first like a bit of a slog. Once we got going trading ideas, we realized we had a bottomless pit of material to work with, and the nice “problem” of trying to distill some of those ideas into a 10- minute piece. What we ended up with was a undulating bed of interconnecting and repeating verbal and tonal motifs; blues guitar and melodic moanings juxtaposed with recontextualized r&b and rock vocal samples. The late Teddy Pendergrass’ “Turn Off The Lights” became a vector for all the track’s later riffs and our verbal and physical interactions. Pendergrass’ physical and symbolic embodiment of queerness, blackness, hypersexual masculinity (and following his 1982 automobile accident, reconciling those things as a disabled person in the public eye) was perfect for a conversation around social inclusions and isolations. The idea of what “man” is or isn’t and how those often arbitrary shifts affected our self-concepts enabled us to engage an intersectional dialogue that neither of us had been able to in our previous work."
Like Juba, Nomy Lamm lent her musical talents on stage and in the film of Sins Invalid. Since 2008 Nomy has been a very important artist, adviser, and worker behind the scenes of Sins Invalid. Beyond the stage, Nomy was the director of Sins’ Artists In Residence Program in 2010, supports Sins Invalid’s political discussions in the Bay Area community – what we call, Making Connections – and travels as one of Sins Invalid’s artists to college campuses, among other things. She is a singer/songwriter and political activist; Lamm has described herself as a "bad ass, fat ass, Jew, dyke amputee.“ Her left foot was amputated at age three in order to be fitted with leg prosthesis, to treat a bone growth disorder. This trauma influenced Lamm's later work concerning body image. She is known for her activism around fat oppression. Lamm was involved with musical theater during her youth. She became part of the queercore scene in Olympia, Washington, where she performed with various musicians.
In 2000, Lamm released The Transfused, a soundtrack to the anti-corporate rock musical. Her current project is entitled nomy lamm and The Whole Wide World, which is a platform for collaborations with other artists of any genre, such as Dylan Shearer, Mirah, Annah Anti-Palindrome, EPRhyme, Felonious, and many more. You can see the gorgeous Nomy and hear her beautiful music in Sins Invalid, the documentary. Here Nomy talks about how she was introduced to Sins Invalid and her songs that are in the documentary:
"I was brought into Sins Invalid I'm sure in part because of my politics, but mostly I think it was because of my singing. I sat with Patty in her living room and I sang "Nobody Knows What We've Been Through," a song I'd just written, and she asked if I would sing it in the show. This was in 2008. I wrote another song for that show, "Wall of Fire," which repeated the phrase "stroke, one two three, breathe, one two three" throughout the whole song while I took off my fake leg and used it as a drum, sang and wailed and got projected as a huge shadow on the back of the stage. Since then I have developed a few musical performance pieces for Sins, a couple of which are featured in the film. One is "Bird Song," which is about creating a song so beautiful that it draws to you exactly the kind of love that you need. The other is called "Belly Up," which is like an underwater fairy tale about learning to trust other creatures with your body and heart. I like to develop a piece of music and then bring in other elements like costuming, set pieces, video, puppets, etc., to bring a whole world alive. I want to take people there so they can feel it and interpret it through their own experience."
Nomy and I will be collaborating by way of accordion and background vocals on love songs that I wrote for my girlfriend, Darla Lennox, at Sins Invalid’s Crip Soiree Speakeasy event on October 11th & 12th at the New Parkway Theater in Oakland, CA. More details below. Along with Juba and Nomy, Mat Fraser from the United Kingdom is internationally known for his performances and music. Sins Invalid was blessed to work with him in 2009 and he is in Sins Invalid’s documentary sharing the acting and music knowledge that he came up with in Beautiful Freak, with music by the UK band The Eels, and the other piece he did for Sins Invalid that same year, entitled No Retreat, No Surrender. Mat is a writer and actor who regularly hosts and does performance for cabarets as well as solo theatrical work and film work; he also chairs conferences, does key notes and after dinner speaking, lectures on his work in artistic and disability framings, and provides performance skills workshops for disabled people. Mat has a deep music background as a professional drummer of over 25 years experience. Born with phocomelia of both arms, with his short arms between 1980 and 1995 was a drummer with several rock bands including Fear of Sex, The Reasonable Strollers, Joyride, The Grateful Dub, and Living in Texas.
Like other artists in Sins Invalid, Mat’s politics and understanding of sexuality is impressive. Mat’s been hosting and appearing in cabarets for over 15 years, mostly in London and the U.K., and in New York where over the last 5 years he’s regularly hosted at The Supper Room, NYC’s legendary and longest running burlesque house, as well as others such as Starshine, Burlesque at the Beach, etc. His own series of Mat Fraser’s Sex Variety Cabaret were sold out ribald events, and he hosted The Whoopee Club back in their earlier days, including that legendary first Edinburgh Festival outing back in ‘05, when it was the only burlesque in Town. With all of Mat’s background no wonder he treasures his work with Sins Invalid and thinks that “Sins Invalid is a breath of fresh air and holds my politics and views of sexuality as a disabled man!” In 2011 Patty Berne and Sins Invalid got a quick education on getting rights for music from musicians that we didn’t have working relations with, and who are “mainstream” popular. It took a lot of digging to get in contact with the Eels and Sins Invalid also learned that it is not cheap to gain the rights and permission from “mainstream” popular musicians. We are so grateful that most of the music in the documentary came from artists that we worked with or had close relationships with!
The documentary also has a local, Bay Area Latino hip-hop band, Brwn Bflo (Brown Buffalo). Sins Invalid fell in love with Brn Bflo when their self-title debut on Cinco de Mayo of 2009. Patty and I saw them live in Oakland in 2010 and that nailed it for both of us – especially the song, "Powerful People." Brwn Bflo are also big fans of Krip-Hop Nation and are real community activists/cultural workers. So when we went to ask Big Dan of Brwn Bflo if Sins Invalid could use the song "Powerful People" for the documentary, it was like going to family. Yet we were still shocked and excited that he said yes and let us use the song for the film. Big Dan describes Brown Buffalo as follows: "BRWN BFLO (Brown Buffalo) may be everything the modern day Tea Party fears, but they are impeccably and diversely talented. Proud U.S.-born descendants of Mexican immigrants and Chicano activists, they are high caliber Hip-Hop storytellers, songwriters, public school educators AND they know how to rock a party! GIANT, BIGDAN and SOMOS ONE, each born in vastly different regions of California and into distinct circumstances, represent for their rebellious ancestors, for youth on the streets, as well as those who overcome odds to earn college degrees and fight for their place in academia. Though from distinct cohorts, these three Hip Hop emcees all graduated from UC Berkeley and earned reputations for turning parties into unforgettable musical experiences. Currently residing in Oakland, the members originate from all over California but blend effortlessly in the studio and on stage. They have performed alongside Immortal Technique, Chingo Bling, Michael Franti, Goapele, Bambu, and Zion I among others. BRWN BFLO’s musical influence is as varied as their upbringings; they credit War, ‘Chente, N.W.A., and Wu-Tang Clan as sources of inspiration. These diverse influences have given way to a truly unique style of exciting hip-hop music."
It takes a talented, people person capable of multitasking to incorporate not only acting but also music, poetry, scenery and a disability justice political themes on stage and in film. Patty Berne, executive director/artistic director, has done that and more, as you will see in Sins Invalid, the film documentary. Sins Invalid, the documentary, has been in the works for seven years. As the director of the documentary, Patty Berne has worked with all the musicians and artists in the film, editors Robert Arnold and Lindsay Gauthier, consulting editor Nathaniel Dorsky, and the core of Sins Invalid over the years to deliver this extordinary 32 min documentary, Sins Invalid.
If you are in the Bay Area be sure to attend the October 11th and 12th screenings at the New Parkway Theater in Oakland to witness the power of embodiment & sexuality, stripping taboos off sexuality and disability to offer a vision of beauty that includes all bodies and communities. Additionally Sins Invalid is presenting a Crip Soiree and Speakeasy, where we can mingle, flirt and nibble as artists Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Nomy Lamm, Maria Palacios, seeley quest and myself, Leroy F. Moore Jr., entice you with song and poetry, culminating in a Preview Screening of the Sins Invalid Film! This revolutionary independent film promises to be a paradigm shifting experience as it reveals crip eroticism at its finest! Get advance your tickets here.
- by Leroy Moore: frequent guest Amoeblogger, founder of Krip-Hop Nation, and co-founder of Sins Invalid