Live Authentically, Love Out Loud, Disappear Fear
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Cindy Bray of the Gay Community Center of Richmond.
SONiA and disappear fear will be at the Gay Community Center of Richmond on Sunday, February 19 at 8 pm (doors open at 7:30). Tickets are $12 in advance, available at Diversity Thrift, DT2 and online at www.gayrichmond.com; tickets at the door are $18. SONiA is an incredible person as well as a great songwriter with meaningful, impactful music. I’ll admit from the beginning that I am not at all objective about SONiA and Disappear Fear; I am a huge fan, and I recently had an opportunity to sit down and talk to SONiA via phone about her life and her music.
SONiA performs socially relevant songs with deep, impactful lyrics that sit right in your gut. They typically aren’t angry songs, but they do call all of us to account. Many of her songs address deep social justice issues: peace, poverty, racism, and homophobia, among others. Ultimately they also speak of the healing power of love, and the power of love to “disappear fear “.
In addition to having socially relevant lyrics, her music spans many styles. Most of her albums probably fall somewhere in the folk rock spectrum, but, her three most recent CD’s reflect the diversity of styles. Her most recent release “Get Your Phil,” is a collection of Phil Ochs songs, more in a folk tradition. “Blood, Bones and Baltimore” was very bluesy. “Tango,” on which she sings in English, Spanish, Hebrew and Arabic (all the songs are translated into all 4 languages in the liner notes) might be considered “world music.” SONiA has released over a dozen albums and sold over 500,000 worldwide; whatever mood you’re experiencing, you can find songs in SONiA’s music that reflect that mood, both lyrically and musically.
I also like how her music is described in her bio on her website (www.disappearfear.com): “SONiA writes and performs captivating love songs and confronts the hypocrisies and biases of our culture with a positive message of openness and optimism. Having performed in Israel/ Palestine and in many parts of the world, SONiA’s Judaic roots live in the colors of her songs and paintings.”
For a moment I want to talk about SONiA herself. It is still somewhat unusual to find out artists today. When Disappear Fear was formed in 1987, it wasn’t unusual to find lesbian artists who were open but playing only in the “women’s music” circuit. SONiA , however, was unusual: an out lesbian artist who sought to play to wider audiences in mixed venues who took her uncompromising social justice message wherever she played. Her uncompromising integrity and dedication to the message may have at times kept her from playing larger more profitable venues; her refusal to tone down her political message actually recently lost her a booking at a large conference (note: when I use the term political here, I’m not speaking in terms of Republican or Democratic politics, but global social justice politics).
When the band was formed in 1987, it was SONiA and her sister Cindy. SONiA at the time was working for the Baltimore Center for Victims of Sexual Assault, which was looking for a new name. SONiA suggested “The Disappear Fear Center” because ultimately she felt that helping victims overcome their fear was one of the greatest challenges, and at the very core of work with domestic violence survivors. When a person is assaulted and abused, they become very afraid of their world, and to get their lives back, to become confident and empowered, they must find a way to disappear fear in their lives. The shelter didn’t adopt the name, but when SONiA and Cindy were looking for a name for the band, the name was still on SONiA’s mind. Music is one thing that reaches beyond borders, whether they are personal, political or geographic, and helps to break down barriers of fear and anger. Thus “Disappear Fear” was born.
There have been many configurations of Disappear Fear, but SONiA has been the heart and soul from the beginning. SONiA has played as a solo act, duo with her sister Cindy, recently with Laura Cerulli, and with various sized bands. One of her tours took her to Israel and Palestine in 2006, when Israel and Lebanon were engaged militarily with bombings. While on this trip she performed at a Palestinian girls’ camp. When SONiA was leaving the camp, some of the girls wanted to keep her guitar. She did not leave her guitar, but she promised to get them one. This group of girls just wanted a means to musically express themselves. Sonia said “music is a great way to pull yourself out of a difficult situation” and dispel some of the pervasive fear. She fulfilled her promise not long after returning home and Guitars for Peace was born. Guitars for Peace delivers guitars and musical instruments to children in the Middle East and Third World countries.
This trip to the Middle East amidst an armed conflict is another example of SONiA’s dedication and integrity; it was a trip that involved risk and fear, and a lot of people urged her not to go because they were afraid for her safety. When we talked, SONiA said that she had to be true to herself, to the underlying message of Disappear Fear, and that she felt she had to go. I had heard the story before, but each time I feel more respect for SONiA.
SONiA also puts her money where her mouth is. She has performed at a number of benefits to raise money for causes she believes in, to help make our world a better place in which to live in. She has been involved for a number of years with The Friends of Daniel Pearl Festival (FODfest). Daniel Pearl was a Jewish-American journalist who was kidnapped and brutally murdered by Pakistani extremists in 2002. Shortly after Pearl’s death, his parents founded the Daniel Pearl Foundation. The foundation’s mission is to promote cross-cultural understanding through journalism, music, and dialogue. FODfest, Inc. is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to strengthen, empower, and educate communities through the universal language of music, which obviously fits so well with the mission and vision of SONiA and Disappear Fear.
Consistent with her social justice vision and mission, SONiA’s independent record label disappear records, also donates 18% of sales to the UN World Food Programme, which provides food for children throughout the world. Donating part of her sales to the UN Food Programme and being involved in FODfest are just two of the many ways that SONiA gives back. I believe sharing her gift of music is also a tangible way that she gives back because it is hard not to be moved by the music to live more authentically. If we all lived more authentic lives, I think the world would be a better place.
Talking about SONiA always comes back to the music. It’s hard to pinpoint favorites, because I have different favorites depending on how I’m thinking and feeling on any particular day, but I’ll mention just a couple of songs that I have been listening to a lot lately. One of these is “By My Silence,” from the CD Splash, which is based on a sermon by Pastor Martin Niemoller in Nazi Germany, and talks about how people are complicit in violence through silence. In our conversation, SONiA brought this into today by talking about bullying. Bullies, whether they are youth or adults (look at the current public language about LGBT people), do not act in a vacuum. When good people do not stand up and speak up, bullies are empowered.
Another one of her songs that has resonated with me lately is “Is There Anybody Here?” a Phil Ochs song, which is included on several of her CDs including “Get Your Phil.” One line is particularly impactful: “Is there anybody here that thinks that following orders takes away the blame?” When I mentioned that line and the song, SONiA also pointed out that this has relevance not just to the military, but to other entities like the police. I think it particularly resonates with me right now because of the Occupy Movement and the violence that has been occurring against non-violent protesters.
While I could talk all day about SONiA and her music, I doubt I could keep your attention that long. You can find information about SONiA at www.disappearfear.com. I hope to see you here at GCCR where you can experience SONiA for yourself. You can find out more about the Gay Community Center of Richmond and our activities including other concerts at www.GayRichmond.com.
I want people to leave with knowledge of what their community center does,”March 31, 2015
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