Tonight the oppari singer didn’t just stop singing when she was asked to. She wept as she stopped. She wept like it mattered — and it did matter.
We were in a home with a small baby and no death in sight. Only poetry. And yet she wept as she took her seat. Somebody took her in their arms and kissed her on both cheeks, led her to her chair. Someone else brought her, and the other singer she came with, fruit.
Their work is the mourning song. When asked to sing lullabies, they could not. Their melody could not change: it was entrenched in the work of grief, the work of allowing the bereaved to shake loose from their spirits the weights of loss.
The singer and the song. The poet and the poem. There is a moment of transcendence in which the two are indistinguishable, and this is rare. Epiphany. To perform is to be; to be is to perform.
Months ago, I wrote: “The work of the oracle is through body and voice. The work of the oracle is to give voice to the bodies upon which are inscribed our fates. The work of the oracle is to go beyond body-memory, to transcend into ancestral memory. To excavate. To restore. The work of the oracle is as much past as it is future.”
And so, too, is the work of the oppari singer. The one who serenades death and the departed, soothes those who are left behind. As much future as it is past.
It didn’t matter that only the song was real. No funeral. No reason to sing but an audience. Because the song was the only thing that did matter.
Sometimes I stand on stage and I don’t know anything but the page before me. I forget the life I must return to, the life from which I came. Sometimes I stand there and I cannot see a thing. I cannot feel my body. I am only a voice.
And sometimes I can feel my body but only because it is so small, it cannot contain me, it cannot contain this voice with which I am so full that I am fit to burst.