“I feel very good. I really do see music as art, and I want to take pieces from different places in my life and present them to the world. And the only insurance we really have is a process that transforms us in the making of the thing.” – Lizz Wright
She forces us to be still. And in our stillness we briefly remember what it feels like to be free. She has the ability to stop time, how we experience the here and now, which is only a reminder that we are not. She vocalizes what we can only (hope to) experience.
A melodic patience. A harmonic reckoning. A rhythmic insistence. It is the sound of liberation.
But a liberation that is resonant with what it must have been like before. Before we were interrupted, cast adrift, moved to an away place, away from a place that beckons us to return. Maybe physically. Definitely spiritually. A sound that reminds us of a way, the way. It is a sound of a knowing that some have never known, but must come to know if we are to know how we knew. She is Lizz Wright. And she stops time.
She comes to us from the past. The infusion of African culture in stolen lands, the deep African soul of her “Georgia soil.”
Georgia on my mind.
Ebo’s Landing on our mind.
She comes to us from the present. Black church folk, making sense out of unreality. Leaning on everlasting arms, holding to unchanging hands. Yet we will remember her for capturing something else, something familiar, but something else. She ushers us to a break. The world as we know it, as we experience it, is confronted and transcended. And we need sound to understand that. We need to be touched by tone, by timbre, by the calm cadence of belief. She gives us that feeling.
She remembers, she believes.
In our stillness, we remember, we believe.
She arrived on the scene a little over a decade ago with her debut album, Salt. A work that stopped us, provoked an arresting of our consciousness, and forced us to take note of her arrival. It was a work of presence, a reaching back to an earlier time, but nevertheless a work of presence. She had announced her genealogy, but she had laid claim to her own contribution to it.
Maybe we are all just morning glories “lost in a tangle of vine.”
Or of time.
With Dreaming Wide Awake, she transported us out of time. Allowing us to think ourselves timeless. Letting love become an embrace of separation, a dance of distance, a movement away from the things that make loving our Black selves difficult. Love in her evocation of its beauty only becomes possible with stillness, with patience, with deep commitments to ourselves and an inward gaze, a satisfaction that we can be.
Know thyself. Love thyself.
“Take a look at my life, I’m a lot like you were.”
The Orchard reconnects us to earth. A bond broken by movement, migration, by the ugliness of the urban. A concern present in all of her work, yet one which here is connected to our understanding of what it means to love. It is the natural world that reflects our best senses of what love can be.
Drops of rain.
Fellowship is a celebration of who we were, who we will be. It is our collective song. We are reminded of our amazing grace, our rhythms, our creations, our God. But it is not a singular conversation, beholden to one tradition. To fellowship with our deepest selves, we must also retrace notions of life that some may have lost or have folded into other traditions.
So she calls Oya.
We remember, we believe.
Fellowship is a belief in the beauty of suffering and sacrifice. And a belief that it ain’t gon’ last always.
If Black lives matter, then Black life has to matter. What was life, what is life to those made Black? Herein lies the uncharted terrain for those energized simply by movement, a movement that in some ways disdains stillness. There is value in resisting by moving, by rejecting the accepted and acceptable stations of Blacked life. But there is a need to think about direction, orientation. To think about where we move to. For the Black radical tradition has not simply fought against conditions, it is inherently a fight for life. For the ability to define life. For the ability to live a life, to live lives, “lit by some large vision” of what it means to be fully human. To be in possession of the full range of our possible selves. To think about how we would develop a world that renders the statement “Black lives matter” unnecessary, even absurd, for this world would implicitly affirm that fact. To live on one’s own terms. To be unencumbered by a social structure that negated those terms to meet its own political interests. To think beyond, against, and through the logic of a liberal tradition that presents itself as the only option. To imagine a freedom beyond John Locke and Thomas Jefferson—and Barack Obama. And then to possess it.
These were the terms under which that “collective intelligence” which defined the Black radical tradition struggled for. The stakes could not be higher. Black struggle meant possibilities the modern world never thought possible. The Black radical tradition sought not to learn how to phrase its language and idiom within the bounds of normative discourse, it sought a “new note.” And it is through the language of sound, that these possibilities can be read anew, and applied today. For sound is what they could never take from us. And it was sound that guided how we imagined a future. A work song. A field holler. A way out of no way.
Her latest gift came after a seven-year silence. The way she explains its evolution is poignant. Hurt, but not broken. Searching, but not totally lost. She explains the need to return to a place, where she could be grounded. Spiritually, emotionally, and in touch with the physical evidence of the Creator—nature. She had to in effect, escape time and come to experience eternity. To be still; peace, be still. Of her creative process, she penned: “I remembered the feeling of being found. One of the most moving songs from its inception was, “Somewhere Down the Mystic.” Playing on the simple wonders of my rustic Appalachian life, we imagined a love lost to death and the feeling of its lasting warmth, a nod to love’s reach across life’s threshold.” The result was Freedom and Surrender. A deep meditation of life began anew. A reminder that we can all begin again. We are the authors of the world. Our God directs our path. No one can take our freedom and thrive forever. We can only be confident that things will not simply change, but that they will never go back to this. The way over “that with tears that have been watered” is not a two-way street.
When we hear the call, will we answer?
Yes, yes, we will.
We find solace in her words: “In surrender I experience freedom. The gift of an end is a beginning.”  We surrender all. For in our stillness, in those moments when time stops, we hear the voices of freedom that our ancestors evoked and we know that the Black radical tradition still lives.
 Nate Chinen, “The Lizz Wright Interview,” Jazz Times, December 16, 2015, http://jazztimes.com/articles/171164-the-lizz-wright-interview
 Ossie Davis, Life Lit by Some Large Vision: Selected Essays and Speeches (New York: Atria Books, 2006).
 See Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).
These quotes appear in “Statement from Lizz Wright,” http://www.citywinery.com/chicago/catalog/product/view/_ignore_category/1/id/1077925/.