WHAT IS THIS GATHERING?
Artist and song tender Alexandra "ahlay" Blakely has written an album entirely dedicated to grief. Written in the community singing tradition, the intention of the songs is to inspire communities to create their versions of contained circles together to sing + become more agile in their relationship with grief.
The album is inspired by the five gates of grief from Francis Weller’s book The Wild Edge of Sorrow. Ahlay dreamed of recording the songs with a choir and from this vision, WAILS: Songs for Grief - Album Recording + Gathering was born.
The 4 days will be centered around 4 recorded song circles (3 hours each), recording 5 songs (the five gates) with a professional sound engineer. The recordings will happen inside a lodge and will be woven into the album WAILS: Songs for Grief.
Ahlay teaching the 3rd gate of grief: Sorrows of the World. Song: "One Body"
Interlaced between the recorded song circles (daily flow) is spaciousness to be well fed and rested, to be with the land and the creek, to explore art installations (here) and to come together in the evenings for learning, playing, grieving and moving together. These times are guided by a diverse group of artists, facilitators and circle tenders (meet them). Late Sunday evening and all day Monday we'll shift towards integration and prepare ourselves to face the outside world once again. We'll close with a song circle with Mamuse and a closing circle with our Wails Circle Tenders. Over the entire weekend, we'll be together as one group, with a few optional activities.
Joining the recorded choir is optional and we welcome folks who want to attend but don’t want to participate in the recorded song circles. There is plenty more we want you to know about the weekend - read here.
these songs are vitamins for western culture to continue to become more agile in our grieving
may this album ride the ripple of communal grieving initiated by the Elders
may we be reminded time and time again that we are not alone...
...may the more than human world receive these songs as offerings of remorse and gratitude
may the future ones, when they listen to these songs, somehow feel that they were being thought of when we made this
may the ancestors, ALL of the ancestors, know there is healing in our grieving if they chose to accept it
and may the soul of the world be reminded that we are still listening
WAILS gathering takes place in the Skagit Valley Basin, cozied up alongside a creek feeding into the Skagit River. (exact location will be given post registration). It is a rich ecosystem full of Salmon, Eagle, Garter Snake, Cedar, Cottonwood, Beaver, Squirrel, Chipmunk, Deer, Coyote, Red Fox, Gray Wolf, Raccoon, River Otter, Skunk, Peregrine Falcon, Hawk, Owl, Nettle, Moss and Fungi families, Hawthorn, Devil’s club and many more. This land has been home to humankind since time immemorial.
We acknowledge the WAILS gathering to be taking place on stolen land of the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe.
“At the time of the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855, members of these bands carried on fishing, shellfishing, hunting and gathering activities from the saltwater areas all the way to the mountainous upper reaches of the Skagit River, adjacent areas and, for hunting and gathering, even into Eastern Washington. Upper Skagit people hunted game (including deer, elk, cougar, and mountain goat), on mountains and high locations, at streams and lakes, at meadows and on the plains. A two-mile logjam at the site of the present-day town of Mt. Vernon discouraged white settlement along the Skagit River until it was dynamited in 1878, but Upper Skagit people resisted the movement of settlers and surveyors up the Skagit Valley. Conflict in 1886 led the Upper Skagit to warn all settlers to leave the area or be harmed. More than one hundred canoes of people met with settlers to protest the seizure of their lands.”
(Upper Skagit Tribal website)
We are hungry to learn more about the ecosystem where this gathering will take place. If you are someone who can support our learning. Please email us.
Please check back for additional context to come.
SOME OF THE DROPS OF THIS WATERSHED
from artist alexandra "ahlay" blakely
francis weller and his book The Wild Edge of Sorrow (specifically the 5 gates of grief), joanna macy, sobonfu somé, malidoma somé, martin prechtel, the mikonenet, whales, scandinavian "time of living in the ashes," the dagara elders who sent sobonfu + malidoma to the western world to support the descendants of colonizers (+ westerners in general) to grieve as an antidote to colonialism + imperialism. prison abolitionists + black feminism, professional mourning folk of old europe, deborah miranda, winona laduke, laurence cole, nala walla, bj star, grief to action, resmaa menakem, rain crowe, sylvia linsteadt + those unnamed
from artist alexandra "ahlay" blakely
"a five year old girl in walmart just let out a scream in the middle of an aisle, paused, and then said ‘okay now i'm better’ and i don't know if i've ever related more to something in my life." -hannah mccracken (twitter)
grieving: one of the most sane responses to the times we are living in - i do believe.
communal grieving: one of the most sane collective responses to the times we are living in - i do believe.
this album, these songs, this entire journey from conception to birth was held with the intention for the future ones and the ancestors to know we were/are thinking of them. i sense, with many others, that we are amongst a great collapse AND a great turning (as joanna macy would say).
as a mother, i look at my teenager and try to imagine what Earth might feel like 40 years from now when she is 54. i sit with her generation and hear their frustration for the collective inaction to make the drastic shifts needed to curtail the climate crisis. i sit with the grief of my own heart at the irony of our children’s anger at our generation, when indigenous people have always said to not make decisions without considering the future 7 generations. i hear the screams of our black and brown siblings missing their lost ones, lost to injustice, to systemic oppression, to the prison industrial complex, to environmental racism. i hear the wails of the parents who have buried their children from school shootings + the opioid + mental health crisis'. i fall asleep to the cries of my people of european descent from the rootlessness, the ancestral deracination, the disconnection from ritual, earth practice and mutual aid and the guilt and shame for perpetuating harm on others in the same ways harm was inflicted on us generations back. i have seen the aching, curled up bodies on the floor from not being able to be next to their beloveds as they die alone in hospital beds. it is becoming more and more difficult to mitigate grief without systemic change, without fundamental shifts in our conditions and environments. and i just don’t know if we were meant to carry so much grief in one body.
and yet, one body: the collective. we were not meant to hold any of this alone as we have been socialized to do so here in the west: in our nuclear families and little boxes. it is all this that makes this five year old girl in walmart seem like one of the wisest humans on the block.
in a book called “dangerous voices” (holst-warhaft) about the almost dead tradition of the professional mourning women in greece. the state strategically abolished their grieving practices because grief is a threat to the justification of war. if we grieve people going to war, we can more deeply connect to the absurdity of it, but instead if we make the soldiers heroes and glorify them, we can legitimize such state violence. i am calling upon the hysteric heretics of our time to fall upon their knees in the streets and mourn together. to show the world that WE ARE NOT OKAY WITH THIS. what would happen if hundreds of thousands of people were grieving in the streets together in protest? this is my activism. grief is my activism.
grief isn't something we get over. do you get over happiness? or have we accepted happiness as something that comes and goes? something that ebbs and flows? grief is this way too. grief is not a sign of weakness or to be pathologized. NO. 'grief is a sign of the depth of our love for the world.’ (paraphrasing joanna macy) this album is a vitamin for my dear people who have been taught to swallow their grief to the point of numbness.
may these songs be vitamins for the softening of your tender heart. may it lead you down a river into the ocean of communal grief where you are reminded that you are not alone. not at all. not even a little bit. and that your grief can breach the stagnated dams in your body and become an ally. perhaps an ally guiding you deeper into your aliveness. and perhaps it is through accessing that aliveness from within that can transform into a gateway to noticing the life that lives all around us. the beauty that is already here. heaven on Earth. magic in the ordinary, the small things, budding trees in early spring, the millions of distinct melodies living in bird song, the landing of a butterfly on ones hand, the silence only snow creates.
WHY WAILS / WHALES?
from artist alexandra "ahlay" blakely
i was born on Coast Salish land, a rich and diverse ecosystem that is fed by the nutrients of the decomposing salmon bodies dragged deep into forest by bear + wolf and then spread throughout the mycelial network beneath the soil. salmon is also food to the resident orca whales of the salish sea. i grew up loving the wild + free killer whale swimming in the san juan islands.
i moved to mexico in 2005 and lived there for 11 years. when my father (who lived in seattle) was dying i began to be visited by orca in my dreams every single night until eventually they led me home, to my father's transition as an ancestor + i remained on coast salish land once again.
upon my homecoming i had a dream: i am standing on the edge of the shore + i can see a group of people staring into the horizon of the sea where blood + salt water are splashing together. i walk toward the ocean + into the sea, feet weighted to the sand, lungs breathing under water. i arrive at an underwater temple and perch myself there in order to witness the commotion. orcas are bringing down boat + human both. they seem angry, tired, exhausted, fed up. i sense they are protesting something. one by one pods of narwhal, porpoise, blue whale, dolphin, humpback + beluga arrive. they begin to create a circle around the orca, this feels like an act of solidarity. and as i am watching, a massive sperm whale swims towards me: slow, steady, undeviating. i have this feeling, "this is it, this is how i die." and i don't feel fear, just acceptance. and when they get really close to me, they stop. and their eye looks straight into my eyes and i hear them say to me, "we are glad you are here." and then i wake up.
i have no way to know if whale song has any connection at all to grief (WAILING). i cannot pretend to know anything at all about the mystery that is the majestic whale people. what i do know is what i feel in my body when i hear the sound of whale song. and that is an invocation to drop into my sorrow. the best way i can explain it is when i hear a song in a language that i do not speak. the melody, the texture of the voice, the instrumentation all may invoke a feeling in me, however what they are singing about, i have no idea. and they could be singing about something i don't even agree with on a moral level! but i lean into the reverberation of the song and what it is eliciting from within my core.
through my dreams + my deep love of whales my entire life, this apprenticeship is continually teaching me to breathe into my body so that I may grieve. whales live in the unseen realms (to the human eye). to me, they are underworld travelers, the shadow swimmers, the navigators of the unknown. they model that it is possible to journey into the darkness and rise back up again into the light, to travel between the conscious and subconscious. they are teaching me that (em)oceans are transient + that they ebb + flow, come + go. again, again, again.
from artist alexandra "ahlay" blakely
this album was conceived in the height of covid-19 in 2020 and it floats upon a concentric ripple of a vision held by elders of dana, the dagara people in burkina faso, west africa. this is the story that i have heard from those who studied with malidoma and sobonfu, as well as from malidoma's book of water + the spirit: the elders of dana had experienced and witnessed the horror of colonization in their homelands, and having witnessed those horrors, they made the decision to send malidoma somé (whose name means: one who befriends the enemy) and sobonfu somé (keeper of the rituals) to the west to help westerners remember how to grieve. they believed that only those who had forgotten how to grieve could cause as much harm as the colonizers had caused.
i never had the honor to sit with sobonfu or malidoma before they transitioned into ancestors. but I feel deeply connected to the ripple initiated by their elders and taken forth by sobonfu and malidoma. i found grief ritual through my mentor laurence cole and he learned grief ritual from sobonfu and malidoma, alongside the likes of francis weller, who is also influenced by these ripples. more about my grief lineage here.
this album was conceived in my womb on lummi land, lummi island to be exact. and as many of us have heard, it takes a village. these songs are my babies and they need the community to raise them up, sing them to life, and bring this album - completely community funded - into reality. WAILS: Songs for Grief attempts to contribute to a broader western culture of grieving as one possible antidote to cultural appropriation.
on 11-11-22 we launched this fundraiser and 1 month and 4 days later we collectively reached our goal of $11,111. on March 11, 2023, we had an in-person fundraiser in Seattle, WA and collectively raised $10,000 in one night, in 3 hours! over a hundred people joined us that evening to support the eagle-eye vision of WAILS. visionaries are we. to create an album that will reach into the homes of thousands, if not millions, to invoke this apprenticeship with sorrow (as francis weller would say), and hopefully inspire the act of not only communal singing but communal grieving.
although we have reached our online goal, our second fundraising strategy for the production of the album will be through this gathering. this means we are seeking sponsors + still accepting donations through the gofundme campaign. every contribution gets poured into the making of the album. if you would like to become a sponsor in support of this album, please email our team.