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Geoff & Michaela Smith
singers, songwriters, musicians, U.K.
Geoff and Michaela Smith, U.K.
Michaela: I began writing some pretty embarrassing songs when I was about 16, most of which I cannot recall now. However, my husband can be relied on to remind me of my earliest attempts when he wishes to take me down a peg or two! I began writing in earnest when Geoff and I began playing in bands together from 1981 onwards. The material then was more jazzy and funky, reflecting my need to compose upbeat music to impress the others in the band with my musical prowess and get the audience’s attention. The lyrics were the usual love-song variety, with the occasional social or environmental comment. When I became a Bahá'í, I suddenly had so much to write about and was inspired like others to set the Writings to music. My best-known song was my first one, which was written in 1987 and is called One People, One Planet. It is a very simple children’s song with hand actions. I’ve performed this song hundreds of times in all sorts of venues.
I’ve always been fascinated by chord structures and sequences in other people’s songs and have tried to utilise as many interesting chords as I could. At the time, lyrics were usually secondary to the music, but now I’ve become very concerned about the quality of the lyrics and will spend hours agonising over the right word.
Michaela: In the past, the songwriter was the transmitter of news and wisdom to communities that were dependent on oral transmission, there being no media and little literacy. Nowadays there are still great songwriters who have brought the problems of the world to the attention of ordinary people through song. This is why song is so important for promoting the teachings of the Bahá'í faith. We often incorporate some of Bahá’u’lláh’s words and it is wonderful to see people from all walks of life singing along with us.
I Believe In You is a significant song for me because it describes how I became a Bahá'í as a result of a dream. I dreamt I was held in a huge hand curled up in the foetal position and the message of the dream was that everything would be all right. Really, this was the atheist being told it was all right to believe in God and given confirmation that I was loved and protected by my Creator.
Geoff: We’re both musicians and singers, though my vocals are usually used as backing or harmony vocals. Michaela plays a lot of the guitar on our latest CD. We collaborated on the arrangements of the songs, often improvising on the songs for long periods, which helped with the arrangements. I tend to liken the recording process to sculpture. You start with a solid mass of material, which is the recording of the song consisting of many parts. Repeated listening allows you to pare away some of the superfluous sound to reveal the structure of the song underneath and this could be likened to how a sculptor gradually finds the shape of the sculpture by cutting away the stone that isn’t required. My input is in engineering and mixing the tracks and trying to support her songs with sympathetic playing. The instrumentals are written by me.
The song Dreamtime was written in response to several themes. One was Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines, which is a description of the aboriginal songlines and mythology about the Dreamtime, hence some of the lyrics such as:
Where Lizard Man named the cave and the waterhole
Spinning out the songlines
An ancient voice sung the world into existence
The same spirit moved the dream.
Spinning out the Songlines
An ancient voice sung the world into existence
The same spirit moved the dream
But I've heard a strange bird calling
bringing sweetness to my soul
I've learned melodies on the breeze
Of a greater alchemy
Than base metal into gold
You walk in the foothills of the ancestors
Every step on sacred ground
You talk of the spiritual landscape
And wrestle with your needs and doubts
A chosen path that severed my connection
Left no fruit upon the tree
But I've heard a strange bird calling...
In the lyrics, a contrast is made between this and Bahá’u’lláh’s theme of the transformation of the human spirit as being like the alchemical transformation of base metal into gold. The song is also partly a response to a friend of Michaela’s, who wrote from Australia talking about the spiritual landscape and the native spirituality. The "bird calling, bringing sweetness to my soul" is a reference to Bahá’u’lláh. The middle eight lyrics refer to love underpinning all existence from the quantum level to the universe and beyond. The tail section of the song came from a spontaneous jam that Michaela and I had - it’s almost like a little journey, the percussion, including derabukhas and djembe, helps to build the intensity. In addition, one of the guitars is in a tuning called E unison, from low to high EEEEBE, which accounts for the underlying musical drone.
When I was young, friends would take me to the local folk clubs in Cornwall, which were fairly singer/songwriter dominated. I remember being very impressed. Later on, growing up in the 70’s, I was lucky to have an older brother who exposed me to a predominantly black American mixture of music including Soul, R ‘n’ B, Rock and Jazz. As I’ve got older, I find that I’m more interested in music that touches the heart. I’ve noticed that folk/traditional music has a much broader range of subject matter than the songwriters of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, whose work often centres around their relationships and personal angst...
Most people who hear our music wonder how we manage to work, raise four children and put a CD together. I suppose the children have been both a hindrance and an inspiration, because we have precious little time to devote to our creativity yet their emotional impact upon us feeds it...
...We’ve found that our local folk clubs are great places to perform. People listen to songs with spiritual themes, such as The Seven Valleys, as long as this is done sensitively; that is, allowing people to have their own responses and avoiding inappropriate promotion of our religion. I tend to introduce the theme of the song Through the Valley as an idea/myth from the east - the journey of the soul through seven valleys in search of the beloved - if the atmosphere is receptive. We may mention that a man called Bahá’u’lláh has taken this myth and rewritten and commentated on it in his book, The Seven Valleys. Mythology is a very popular subject these days, as is self-development, so there is a common thread here that makes some Bahá'í themes appealing and accessible to audiences whatever their beliefs...
...Lyrically I believe that you have to understand what it is that you are saying before you can communicate it to others. Although I am of course aware that music will also communicate on subconscious levels.I am sure that many people will point out the validity of stream of consciousness type lyrics and poetry and Paul Simon argues that lyric writers needn`t be so literal but for me personally I`ve come to appreciate the succint and the razor sharp lyric. I like protest and political song writing as well as songs that educate and inform a wonderful example which I would like to mention is Muir and the Master Builder on Dick Gaughan`s Redwood Cathedral, C.D [ Greentrax 158 ]. Of course it probably all boils down to personal taste doesn’t it. This is the music that interests and moves me now....
Stories (myths) have been extremely important in all revelations and in our faith we have The Seven Valleys in which I believe Bahá`u`lláh has presented us with those stories, myths and fragments which he deems to have relevance to our time. Some of our work tries to respond to what Bahá`u`lláh has said, done or indicated we should meditate upon. I am of the opinion that the work of Bahá'í artists of the future will be transformed by the challenge of responding to the Bahá'í writings just as artists have produced so much that is transcendent in response to the sacred texts of their cultures. Much art of the past was produced in response to sacred texts illuminating the texts, painting scenes from the texts visual symbolical imagery, Christian and Islamic sacred architecture and non representational islamic art. The same goes for music...
...Whatever your art form there is an underlying theory or way in which you work. A lot of conceptual art can be paraphrased or its meaning conveyed by words, so, if at the end of the day we are still painting words or responding to them then we may wish to go back to the word of God. How we do that is another matter...
Excerpts from Arts Dialogue, February 2001, Pages 10 - 12
About some of the tracks on the CD
Little Eyes was my response to the murder of James Bulger, the two-year-old boy in Liverpool. My son was the same age at the time and looked very similar, so I was imagining how I would feel if this was my child.
Why can’t we see they’re all treasure
In His eyes?....
The song The Whole Me
reflects on the incredible potential of the embryo. It is the experience of having children and the consequent personal transformation you undergo that informs and expands creative potential....
...One cell that keeps on dividing
Latent power mirrored inside
A whole well of potential in hiding
A vein of jewels in the deepest mine..
...the lyrics to Dreamtime which refers to Quantumn mechanics; the Aboriginal Dream time; the symbology of Alchemy; and "a strange Bird calling" (a reference to Bahá`u`lláh)...
Excerpts from Arts Dialogue, February 2001, Pages 11 - 13
Our CD can be purchased in the US from http://www.special-ideas.com/
or from the US Bahá’í Publishing Trust.
In Europe, you can order it from our web site http://freespace.virgin.net/geoff.michaela
- Review: Geoff Smith, of the CD Myriads by Richard Leigh, Arts Dialogue, November 2002
- Review: Geoff Smith, of the CD En.Trance by Henri Cross, Arts Dialogue, June 2002
- Review: Geoff Smith, of the CD Te Ripo, by Mahinarangi Tocker, Arts Dialogue, February 2002
- Review: Geoff Smith, of music by the band: Praying for the Rain, Arts Dialogue, October 2001
- Review: Michaela Smith, of Sacred Verses by Grant Hindin Miller, Arts Dialogue, October 2001
- Artist Profile / Interview: Arts Dialogue, February 2001
Arts Dialogue, Dintel 20, NL 7333 MC, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands