Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Speaking the “the universal language of music” with inspiration and instruments from around the world -- The musical stylings of Daniel Moen

Saturday May 20th I had the amazing experience of witnessing—and being a part of—the first solo concert of Daniel Moen, accomplished Detroit-area musician, photographer, graphic designer, animator, and all-around entertainer. I’ve been close friends with Dan for about seven years, and have had the privilege of witnessing his personal evolution—and human revolution—that led up to this production.

Dan was encouraged last year by the folks at Starkweather Arts Center in Romeo, Michigan, where he is a regular at their open mic night, to do a solo show. Starkweather hosted the show at the Romeo Masonic Lodge 41, as part of the two organizations' concert-series partnership. Dan has been composing and recording his music at home for a while now, and regularly uploads his songs with videos on his YouTube channel. He records tracks in layers, combining himself playing live instruments, electronic tracks, sound effects from nature, samplings of chants and vocalizations from various languages, and even occasionally himself doing different forms of indigenous throat-singing.

One of the distinct features of Dan’s live performances is that whenever he plays an instrument from another culture, he will give a brief introduction to it and to the cultural group it’s from. Far from simply picking instruments at random because they sound cool, Dan has done in-depth research into every musical item he owns, as one of the ways he applies his passion for learning about and experiencing cultures.

His music also has a deeper purpose than simply entertainment. He composes and plays multicultural music in the spirit of honoring the cultures and people who inspire him, not to appropriate or capitalize on their style. He hopes to one day be able to give back to the cultures of origin from any monetary proceeds he makes from selling music that features instruments or musical styles from those cultures. He also maintains sensitivity to concerns about cultural appropriation, to make sure that what he is doing is respectful to the cultures of origin rather than coming across as an uninformed American interpretation of their music.

Some of his songs he will never sell, due to the personal nature of the songs (such as musical tributes to specific people), or if the cultures he’s drawing inspiration from have been disproportionately victimized by—and are particularly sensitive about—cultural appropriation for profit (such as Native Americans).

While the dozen or so instruments Dan brought with him to the show in Romeo—including the Chinese guqin, Chinese bawu, Irish tin whistle, Native American cedar flute, African mbira, African mukuri, Australian didgeridoo, Indonesian suling, Hebrew kinnor, Brazilian berimbau, African djembe, and my personal favorite, the Chinese hulusi—don’t even represent his entire collection, they do represent a pretty good cross-section of Dan’s style and the cultures he draws most of his inspiration from. (Click on the names of the instruments to learn more; you can also go to YouTube and type in the names of the instruments to find demo videos of what they sound like.)

Dan performed several of his original songs, most of which are featured on his YouTube channel, including “Bawu Dreams,” “The Yi Wedding,” “The Water Emperor,” “The Spring Clan,” “Temples and Jungles,” “Northern Grasslands,” “The Sky,” “Song for Joe,” “Mediterranean Groove,” “Daughter of God,”, “The Peaceful Sanctuary,” “Soar Across the World,” and “Triumph of John.”

The latter song is one of the most personal songs Dan has ever composed, and it never fails to draw tears from almost every person in the room who knew John Suggs, the father-figure for our friend group, as well as we did. The first time Dan aired this song for other people to hear was at John's funeral last year. Musically, what is distinctive about this song is that Dan did use every single instrument he owned at the time in the song, laying down layer after layer in the recording until he captured every sound that he wanted—including audio clips of John’s laugh that was pure joy to hear, and John leading our drum night group in singing ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s prayer of welcome.

All of Dan’s art is not just about connecting people to cultures but people to each other, so it was only natural that Dan wanted to share the stage with some fellow artists from his inner circle. I was delighted and honored that he invited me to recite my poem “My Heart Tells Me Something Different,” while he played the African Mbira in the background. Guitarist and composer Ryan Muns served as the opening act, delivering heart-stirring monologues and a few songs from his new album “Selah.” A few of Dan’s songs were also accompanied by the dancing of multimedia artist Kona and professional dancer “Angelique Ziara.” Our dear friend Joe Black also performed a song with Dan, to which I added some light percussion on a Hawaiian gourd instrument.

We concluded the show with a freestyle drumming circle during Dan's “Soar Across the World,” all of us feeling that we had indeed done just that.

Miigwetch, Dan, for one of the most heart-warming, original, and memorable musical experiences of my life.

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Image: “Soleiluna” by Karla Joy Huber, 2013; Prismacolor marker, Sharpie marker, metallic gel pen, white gel pen, highlighter

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