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  • Writer's pictureHina Siddiqui

Queer Lives: Season 1 | Episode 2

The story of how I connected with Angela Davis is a truly fascinating microcosmic narrative. Which I will share in its entirety with episode 4 of this podcast series. For reasons. That is also where I will explain the origin of the ZAMI part of ZAMI NOBLA, so stay tuned. I do want to state that one of the random coincidences of my connection with Angela is that she and one of my foundlings were classmates on the James Hill certification for ukulele teachers course.

Side-Note: My foundling’s name is Luv - no, like literally, I am not making that up. He is one of the first people to call me mother and has been the biggest support on my own queer journey. He teaches the ukulele - really awesomely. And I am not just saying that because I am his mother. You can check out his work and sign up for his classes and attend the community ukulele events he puts together on his Instagram, right here.

Angela Denise Davis is an ordained minister and a ukulele teacher. Yes, you read that right. And we get into what that means for her as an older queer person in the podcast.

She is the founder of Uke Griot (pronounced gree-oh, by the way - the word harks back to the oral tradition of West Africa, where the word referred to a travelling poet, musician and storyteller.). Uke Griot is a programme that offers ukulele music instruction. Angela’s ministerial work focuses on the fusion of art and spirituality and we talk about that a lot, because Angela’s work is truly fascinating to me. She is also the Creative Director of ZAMI NOBLA (National Organization of Black Lesbians on Aging) where she is the creator, host, and producer of the ZAMI NOBLA (National Organization of Black Lesbians on Aging) Podcast and directs the community music program, UKE-In.

She is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University where she earned a B.A. in Art. She also holds a Master of Divinity from Vanderbilt University Divinity School, and a Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counselling from Georgia State University. And she is a level 2 certified teacher in the James Hill Ukulele Initiative teacher certification program.

I am tagging all these educational institutes because a large part of putting this podcast together is to demonstrate how people got from where they were to where they are and education certainly plays a role in that.

Talking to Angela was one of those really deep experiences of sitting down with an elder (and by this I am not referring to Angela’s age, but rather her stage in life) and absorbing their process of becoming and being. There were several moments of affirmation for me, as well as questions that rose from the conversation. This was also the second recording of the podcast and I was a little less on edge and able to truly engage in the flow of ideas and anecdotes. Angela was speaking to me from her home in Atlanta Georgia, on a bright winter’s morning. I on the other hand was trying not to think about the enormous list of tasks that I have to finish to move home a few days later. But from the moment we started talking, the connection across miles solidified and even through interruptions by cat, I found myself holding on to every word Angela spoke like it was a gift being given specifically to me.

We speak about Angela having a Call Experience at the bare age of six, of her memories of growing up with the church and community as essential components of her life in Kansas. The experience of music, of people coming together to make a “joyful noise” and why music “should not be left to the professionals.” Angela gives a very honest account of her coming out journey, the onset of blindness and how queerness and disability intersect with her everyday life. We talk a lot about community and practising authenticity - some of the most heartening conversation I have had about the two things. Angela also talks about how she preaches and the role music plays in bringing together communities of faith. And then we talk about her ukulele children and her cane.

I wholeheartedly recommend listening to the podcast from start to end. Or watching it on YouTube. Do note, the video is unedited and the time-stamps won’t match the ones mentioned below.

But I also know how life can be and sometimes, all we can do is zoom in on a synopsis. So here are some key moments from our conversation.

07:10 | The Eternal Rhythm

Angela tells us how “where there’s a song, there’s a story" and how we all have an innate connection to rhythm right from the womb.

20:34 | Coming Out

The journey of accepting her identity as a lesbian and owning it. And of owning the struggles, learning to be open, allowing people into her life and building authenticity.

35:41 | Disability and Queerness

About queer spaces and ableism, and how we can change the narrative.

40:24 | Preaching Inclusion

I ask Angela how she would preach the concept of inclusion, expecting an answer about sermons. What I got was an explanation of how Angela considers her presence in public space to be the most powerful form of her preaching. She talks about how “sharing space with people who are different” is something we all need to consider in day to day life.

43:14 | Getting Tired of Teaching

As minorities/marginalized communities, the burden of justifying our presence and educating conventional society often unfairly falls on us. And Angela talks about the practical notion of choosing who to educate with some anecdotes from her life.

51:46 | Talking to Children

Angela recalls moments from her life where children were curious about her cane and how the adults often react to it.

56:26 | Ukuleles

We talk ukuleles and the names Angela has given to them. The two most prominent ones being the ukes named after Mahalia Jackson - an American Gospel singer, a vocalist who basically shaped and influenced a whole generation and genre. She was also known for actively encouraging black and white audiences to sit together and mingle during her concerts at a time when Jim Crow Laws were still alive and segregating America along racial lines. The song I have tagged here is a 1956 recording of Summertime / Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child. I hope you enjoy the beauty and the pain and take a moment to acknowledge the life that shaped them.

The other ukulele was named in honour of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who was also a gospel singer, but of a very different kind from what I understand. She played the electric guitar and all of you people who enjoy rock’n’roll? Take a moment to acknowledge that Sister Rosetta was where a lot of those stylings originated. She is the Godmother of Rock and Roll. Make sure you mention that at the next party. The video I have linked in here has actual footage of her performing. I chose it because it exemplified for me the vibe that Angela mentioned at the start of the episode - of music bringing communities together through the joy of sound.

And as per tradition, at the end of the recording, I requested Angela give the listeners a prompt or provocation of some kind. For those of you who are new to the whole shebang, this prompt could be a question, a line from a book or a piece of art, a suggested activity - anything really. And the hope is that you, dear listener/reader/watcher will respond to this prompt and get back to us with it, even if it is a keyboard smash on my social media.

1:04:48 | Prompt

So here is Angela’s prompt. You can here explain it herself in the recording. But what she suggests is an activity. Where we just sit by ourselves and be present for 3 minutes. That’s it. 3 Minutes.

So see if you can do that.

And in case you need some guidance with the being present part of the 3 minutes: here’s a good place to start: The Beginner’s Guide to Being Present

You can also get in touch and pick my brain on it, if you really want to.

And finally, if you are or know queer people who’d like to talk about their Queer Lives, with me, please do get in touch with me over social media or send me a message here.

That’s it for now. Hope to see you next time for more Queer Lives.

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