Surfing the Wave Rock
The poem, “Wave Rock,” spawned without moisture in an arid sack. In my living room, I lay in stupor upon a field of sunburned carpet, legs like petrified branches crossed in a crime scene, my arm a tolerant log for my head to rest, breathing so shallow I could be pronounced dead. I wasn’t. But, I wasn’t living either. I was suspended in canicular mourning, levitating grief in the state of in-between.
“You Can’t Clock the Rock, You Can’t Stop the Wave” That’s for
you Mommy, that’s Wave Rock, You Can’t Clock the Rock, You
Can’t Stop the Wave, that’s for you mommy, that’s Wave Rock!”
From my disintegrating tomb, my upper appendages limped and shuffled on parched hands to push my dehydrated torso perpendicular to the floor. Sitting as broken kindle wood, I was a rocking chair crumbling to sawdust. I faced a wall of glaring windows. The open sky wore a foreboding brightness that almost pushed me back to my ground level cave. My eyelids, glued and dried by gravity, bore the weight of an abandoned rusty draw bridge that could not hoist despite attempts. Retracted cheek muscles squeezed crow’s feet into accordion pleats to leverage the lift. Squinting, barely prying open planks of hardened eye tissue to a sliver, I could almost see my legal pad and pen only a stretch away.
Emotional rigor mortis had set in, as every filament, every vein and artery was stiff with misery. I inched toward the lined yellow paper to scribble dictates from ether, from Robyn, my newly departed daughter, who was instructing me via spiritual satellite to breathe in the message of Wave Rock. I was to write it, study it, and follow it, all while self-incinerating— all while I was bleeding fire.
“You Can’t Clock the Rock You Can’t Stop the Wave.
That’s for you, Mommy. That’s the Wave Rock.”
The lines of this couplet pooled like droplets swelling into a rising sea, tides rolling into a tsunami for justice. Wave Rock was more than an anthem for oppressed people, which alone would have been a gift. It was more than a womanist manifesto; that too would have been a treasure. I have always been a poet for suffocated voices. Wave Rock was forced nature, consuming me, to save me from the inferno that was extinguishing me by the minute by the day.
Once my mind received my daughter’s voice echoing what would become the essential chorus of Wave Rock, I was on a fulfillment mission: Wave Rock, the poem, morphed into Wave Rock, the musical soundtrack. First, I counseled with Brother Dawud: “What was the meaning behind this gift of extended metaphor?” He answered with the badest bass riff ever, which became the introductory and driving pulse of the musical soundscape.
At that time, my poetic domain was largely odd meters and polyrhythms, more like Charlie Parker or Faruq Z. Bey than the repetitiveness of a disco beat. But did Wave Rock require something different from my comfortable Out-Cat, freestyle structure? I declared, “I will go 4/4!” Undaunted, I wrestled content into form, creating a consistent wave that people could ride.
I visited Bert’s Place for the express purpose of finding JB (Dr. James Brown) to assist me with perfecting 4/4 rhythms. He was a drummer noted for holding down the bottom in his music ensemble, the Millennium Drummers. The rehearsal date was set. Echoes of my mother’s etiquette so engrained in me raised the question: What will you serve this wayfarer who travels to assist you? I was quite the cook — or I had been. Following my daughter’s death, everything I stirred on that stove, I burned, and if my intention was to roast or sauté, I blackened. I decided bag salad would be safe. While in the market, I hazarded to purchase a pound of ground turkey.
Turkey burger and salad was a hit. JB was notably appreciative, “Semaj,” he said, drawing out my name into three syllables with a big smile, “You’re feeding me like I’ve never been fed before!” I smiled demurely. Turning to look from my ninth floor window, I was surprised to see signs of spring, buds on trees and the state bird, a robin. In our four-hour session, we recorded the beats that set the tempo and underlining rhythm for what was growing into a grand production.
In the final recording, JB’s djembe galloped, made war, kept pace, and just jammed. Having lived my life in the realm of the acoustic, I continued my search for a new sound – something different, for which I did not have a name. I visited technological genius, Baba Heru, who was creating strangely beautiful electronic music. It was cutting edge. I did not understand the processes. I listened to several pieces and was intrigued. I purchased the preeminent sound of Wave Rock. It was ethereal, a foreboding, moving musical mystery.
Meanwhile, I received a call from Brooklyn. Jasmine Murrell, an internationally renowned artist, then a recent Parson’s School of Design graduate, was deft at trying to convince me that I had agreed in the previous year to be the subject of an art video. “No, Jasmine, I remember no such thing.” Jasmine was coming to Detroit in less than a month to capture the Wave Rock. Arranging and rearranging the score consumed me.
But, who would sing the chorus that swam continuously in my mind? Mama Het, who was the second half of the stalwart marriage of Heru and Het, cut searing lead chorus vocals. Her voice was beautiful, haunting. My dear friend, Arlene Williams brought a unique, other world quality to the chorus, lifting it to yet another level.
A journalist who came to cover the Wave Rock phenomenon for a major newspaper could not deny the energy, broke protocol and dove into the wave, lending striking soprano dexterity under a pseudonym.
Wave Rock, true to its chorus, will not be stopped. It is a powerful poem that asserts the will of the people. It became a lyrical soundscape to an iconic art/social justice video by Jasmine Murrell. Wave Rock is a spontaneous art collective, a production performed by various musicians and vocalists at Michigan Opera House, Mt. Elliot Park, Millennium Theater, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, and elsewhere. Its creative energy helped to fuel the marriage between Semaj and James Brown, MD. It is a literary study; it affects and engulfs people from Detroit to New York to Cali and London. Wave Rock was instrumental in restoration of my life, infusing me with the indelible spirit of the wave and the time-honored body as rock. Long live the Wave Rock!