“Truth is a part of our foundation…even though pain may come from being vulnerable, beauty will surely follow.” –Tatiana Zamir
Tatiana Zamir wants to touch you.
Yes, you read that right.
Not only does Tatiana Zamir want to touch you, she wants you to know that it may be one of the most moving experiences of your life.
The word touch carries a lot of meaning for us humans. Being touched is a basic human need—but because so many of us have been injured or betrayed or abandoned in our quest for intimacy, we have forgotten how uplifting and nurturing it is to allow ourselves to feel the healing and serenity that comes from letting another human authentically meet our need to be touched.
Zamir, who is a graduate of UCLA’s renowned World Arts and Cultures Program (and is also a licensed massage therapist and graduate of the Institute of Pycho-Structural Balancing), believes she is on earth to remind us not to lose our vulnerability.
Talking about truth and touch and vulnerability with this multi-talented healer, dancer, teacher, writer and theater producer reminds me of the opening quote from the Oscar-winning Paul Haggis film Crash a movie which, at its core, was about how we hide our truths and our vulnerabilities in an effort to feel safe:
“In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.”
Zamir is on a mission to change that—one human being at a time.
Whether Tatiana is transporting a client to “another realm” via her “Healing Hands” massage therapy practice, or delivering messages of hope and healing to packed audiences through her sold-out theatrical dance production, “Moonlight Reflections,” or teaching her students to “sweat joyfully” via her popular “Afro-Hip Hop Dance Class,” Zamir has made it her life’s work to share her temple and her truths in ways that are healing, inspiring and spiritually uplifting.
“I grew up dancing and I always hated going to dance classes in Los Angeles because they were so competitive and I just wanted to have fun. Then I found this class and I couldn’t be happier. Not only is it dance, but it is a serious, fun workout!
The best thing about the class is, the studio is filled with students from no experience to dancers, so the instructor, Tatiana, creates an incredible workout and choreography that allows you to either just keep up or stylize it to your own skill set. Tatiana is sweet, challenging, fun and super talented.” –Ashley L, Afro-HipHop Dance Workshop student
“This class is the most enjoyable cardio style dance class I’ve taken in my 20 years of taking classes at various studios and gyms in LA. It’s a great workout whether you are a beginning dancer or a professional. Tatiana is a knowledgeable teacher with great energy and she creates such a welcoming environment. Everyone is there to have a good time and a good time is ALWAYS had! I always walk out of this class with a smile on my face.” – Tracy M, Afro-HipHop Dance Workshop student
“Through a diverse range of topics, from the female African American experience, to spirituality, materialism and struggles with family and the pains of growing up, Tatiana Zamir weaves these dramatic vignettes to tell a story of love, creativity, roots, forgiveness and healing that is truly inspirational…I left the theater floating on a higher physical and spiritual vibration!” ~Dustin G.
“[Moonlight Reflections] was AWESOME, I was moved!!! I laughed, cried, danced, etc.!! The entire cast… amazing. Folks NEED to see this work…” ~Leslie G.
“Tatiana truly has a talent of transporting your body and mind to a whole new level of bliss with her intuitive touch. “ – Taylor D, massage client
“I have traveled the world, literally, getting massages and body treatments everywhere I go. I have had just about every type of massage; shia-tzu, swedish, thai, spa pamper. Throughout every experience I always find something to complain about; it’s too hard, not hard enough, not long enough or just not all around complete. Healing Hands by Tatiana is the only time that I get to fully let go, not think and enjoy the love my muscles receive. ” –Yaani King, massage client
If the ultimate Purpose of Life here on earth is tied in any way to how effective we are at using our bodies, our minds, our talents and our time to inspire growth and healing in others, Tatiana Zamir is setting an excellent example of how to get that done—and how to have a great time doing it.
I recently sat down with Tatiana for an in-depth discussion that reveals how and why she is so committed to and effective at touching others, and why she is so good at telling the truth:
KC: Why are you on earth?
TZ: I’m a truth teller. I’ve always been a fan of the truth. It’s always come easy for me to express it, and I hope to inspire others to be closer to the truth–whatever that looks like in their own lives.
Why is truth telling so crucial to you?
In the Baha’i writings it is written that “Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtue,” so we can’t really grow or develop spiritually if we cannot be truthful about where we are now. We are essentially spiritual beings and part of what helps us to be spiritually successful is to be truthful.
If Tatiana Zamir were a brand, what would that brand represent?
Vulnerablity. Truth. Healing. Creativity. Inspiration. I’ve been hearing so many people say how inspired they were by Moonlight Reflections. Whether inspired to go create something themselves, or to finally address some situation in their lives that required truth telling and honesty. I think people saw on stage tangible examples of how being vulnerable can be the foundation for real change in our lives and in our relationships.
What does vulnerability mean to you?
There are no walls. Or fewer walls. I have a couple of walls as an artist and as a human, but there really are not many emotional boundaries I won’t cross. I’ve had people tell me that creatively and emotionally I’m really brave and courageous, though I don’t really feel that way because it comes so naturally to me. Sharing is not something that’s hard for me. I think vulnerability is letting your walls down and not being afraid of what people will think and knowing that the truth is part of our foundation and that even though pain may come from being vulnerable, beauty will surely follow.
The ways that you reach for your fellow human beings are very tangible. Why are you so open to sharing your temple in such visible and tactile ways?
What else am I here for? If I can’t fully be myself and fully share myself with the world why do we even exist? Because I’m so attracted to the truth, I always want to get to the core of who people are and I want them to see me right away. I believe it gives people permission to be their true selves when I do that.
What inspired you to want to be a massage therapist?
It’s something I’ve always loved to do and I was always really good at it even before I received formal training. I hadn’t really considered massage as a career, but I have always been attracted to healing, and I know that when I massage a client I’m literally making the world a better place. Healing touch produces so much good in the world.
Your clients really do rave about your technique. What makes you such an awesome masseuse? There are a bazillion massage parlors in L.A., why do your clients come back to you?
I think people come back to me because I’m really in tune with what’s happening with people and I really nurture them while I massage them. That may sound like “duh doesn’t every masseur do that?” But, unfortunately, the answer is no, they don’t. I get massages myself all the time and I’m often disappointed because I feel like people are so disconnected from the touch they are putting on your body and the work they’re doing is not reflective of the frequency your body is at. I’m really good at connecting with people and being present with them. People often say to me “I’ve had massages all over the world and I’ve never experienced that before.” My clients say they go into a zone. They go to another realm. They get their muscles worked on but they’re having an out of body experience as well.
You are a person who lives and breathes dance. What are people missing out on when they have no dance in their lives at all?
I really feel everyone’s life would improve tremendously if they danced every day, and I believe that so strongly because of what it does for me. Dance really takes me to a higher place. No matter what frequency I’m at, when I dance, it takes me to an even higher one. If I’ve had a bad day, after dancing, no stress can touch me. If I’ve had a great day, I’m just that much happier. I don’t know if it’s from releasing endorphins and relieving stress or what, but I feel closer to the Creator. I feel a real spiritual high.
Can I experience that spiritual high vicariously through watching others dance, or do I need to experience it by actually dancing myself?
I think you could have a piece of that high by witnessing it. I think you can feel that and I think you can experience some of what we’re feeling. I think you take it to another level when you do it yourself. You’re feeling things that are unique to you and depending on how your body’s feeling and where you are, you’ll experience it at a uniquely personal level. It’s a different experience when you put yourself out there.
If I attended a session of your Afro-Hip Hop Dance Workout, what would make me want to come back?
I believe my students come back week after week because they get a great workout–they’re drenched at the end–but they’ve had an amazing time doing it. They’ve told me they really love the music. I mix up my playlist with Afro beat, dance hall, salsa and hip hop, and I”ll mix contemporary radio hits with old school artists like Common and the Roots. You would love the intimacy of the class too, and the uniqueness. It feels like family. Everyone is supportive and loving and you don’t always get that in a dance or exercise class. But my class is like a family reunion every time. People say they feel very supported and supportive there.
Your decision to create, choreograph and produce Moonlight Reflections must have been a huge leap of faith. Is this a new direction for you? Will you venture further into dance theater?
In the process of creating that show I felt a happiness I had never experienced before. It felt so right and it was clear that it was where I needed to be. It’s very new for me to even be thinking about this right now. This is a new dream for me. I had a burning desire to bring my ideas to life in a theater and have people witness it. I had no idea it would sell out two weeks in advance and that people would call for me to stage it again. I don’t know yet how this calling will continue to express itself in my life, but I do see myself in the future as a producer of work that heals and hopefully inspires others to heal and inspire others.
What did you learn about yourself in taking that risk?
Being a producer requires bringing a lot of skills to the table that I might not really need to use too often in other areas of life. Hiring and assessing and critiquing the expertise of staff for example. I had endless learning experiences, but the thing that really floored me was that I never anticipated how deeply moved people would be by my work. It’s inspiring and humbling to see how sharing truth can ripple out into other lives in meaningful ways. I am still receiving letters from people who were moved by Moonlight Reflections. And, I mean written letters sent in the mail. In this age of technology, that is so stunning to me. People must have been really moved and inspired for them to sit down and write me letters and share their stories with me. I’ve had so many parents say the show made them think twice about their relationships with their children. They really want to be different and open and truthful and work harder at nurturing their relationships. I also had many young people come up to me after the show to say they felt like I told pieces of their story so truthfully, without me even knowing their actual story.
A significant part of Moonlight Reflections entailed the abusive-turned-estranged-turned-healed relationship with your mother. Through movement, music and spoken word you told many truths about your childhood experiences with her that were not cute or sweet. You really exposed some hurtful things that many mothers would not want exposed. How did your mother feel about that?
Her friends were like “I can’t believe you let her say these things about you.” My mom’s response was, It wouldn’t have been as powerful if she didn’t. What Tati shared is the truth. It’s what happened. The healing part of our story is so powerful because the painful and uncomfortable part was truthfully and fully shared. The show created even more healing and love between us. I had never had so much support in my life from my mother as I did with developing and producing this show.
Our healing occurred because my mother was able to finally tell the truth after she was in denial for so long, and she was able to truly apologize for hurting me all those years. A true apology is when you really mean it, and I knew for the first time in my life that she meant it. In the past I felt her apologies were followed by a million excuses. “I’m sorry but I was a single mom and this and that…”
This apology was different in what way?
It was something I truly felt. It was genuine. It wasn’t an angry apology. It wasn’t an I’m sorry, but…” It was genuine and it was beautiful. And, more importantly, after my mother apologized, she actually changed. She actually became a different mother. She doesn’t yell at me. She doesn’t verbally abuse me anymore. She came to a place where she really wanted something different for us.
So many people were touched in amazing ways by your journey. What do you think we can all learn from your story of injury and healing?
The truth really will set you free, if you allow it to. That saying has a whole new meaning for me now.
If you are a serious aficionado of “conscious” hip hop music, you are no doubt familiar with the name Kumasi Simmons, a.k.a., Kumaserati, a gifted hood-born poet with a unique flow that has attracted souls from as close as Brooklyn and Compton to as far as Paris, Jakarta, Tunisia and Ghana.
Kumasi has collaborated with some of the most creative and prolific artists in popular music, including Kanye West, Adam Levine, Mos Def, Malik Yusef and The Game.
When The Game heard Kumasi’s soul-stirring flow, he welcomed him to the Black Wall Street label as “Kumaserati,” BWS’s sole “conscious” contributor. After recording curse-free, drug-free, woman-respecting songs under the Black Wall Street flag, in May, 2012, Kumasi independently released a 27-track hood gospel project entitled Soul Music.
Soul Music is a majestic offering of uplifting, inspiring and cautionary songs with titles like Same Soul (f. Tara Ellis), Change (f. Mos Def), Highway to Hades, Promised Land (f. Kanye West and Malik Yusef), Be Kind to Your Mother, and, my personal favorite, Amazing Grace.
As if Kumasi wasn’t busy enough in the studio making his Soul Music dream a reality, last year this Compton, Cali native was sponsored by the U. S. State Department to travel the world as a cultural attaché, visiting developing democracies in Indonesia and Africa, where young, mostly Muslim, citizens are both curious and dubious about American culture and freedom of expression.
Kumasi performed with fellow Muslim artists via the group Remarkable Current in an unprecedented cultural exchange program through which they delivered messages of peace and brotherhood across barriers of language and ideology. For more information about this project, visit remarkablecurrent.com .
The video below (f. Kumasi), paying homage to Tunisian revolutionary hero Mohamed Bouazizi, is an example of the incredible creativity and passion hip hop music lends to messages of freedom and calls for progress around the world. Is it just me, or is this track SICK? And by sick, I mean AMAZING.
I recently caught up with this self-described “servant of God,” to find out what motivates him musically, what’s keeping him busy now and where he is headed next.
KC: When you released your first album, Change Gon’ Come, you used your given name, Kumasi. Now you have adopted this new moniker, Kumaserati. What’s the story behind this name change?
Kumaserati is an alias that was created to help young people remember my name. Kumasi is the name of a city in Ghana, and until I can popularize that name as an artist, I want to help people find me and find my music. I want to leave a positive impression on impressionable young people who will respond to that name because it is associated with something they value. A Maserati is a vehicle. Kumasi is a servant. Kumaserati is a servant of God first and foremost. The way that I serve may require different strategies.
Speaking of strategies, I understand you’ve joined a music group called Kaj (www.thekaj.com). What is Kaj and how is it different from the music of Kumaserati?
The Kaj is another strategy for Kumasi to exist in service to God. The word Kaj is a combination of the names of its members, Kumasi, Anas and Joel. We came together to do a project that is soulful and that is inspired by people that inspire soul music–like Curtis Mayfield. Like The Ojays. The Kaj is using the language and diction and the integrity of those times with the sound of today.
It seems to me there’s this gap in music today where some of us feel we really have to look and listen hard to find contemporary music that is still soulful or soul-filled. It sounds like this group is the perfect fit for us.
We weren’t really trying to specifically fill any void. We were just trying to make music that we like and that people like. Our intention is to create music that is about love, and is also correct towards women. Theres’ a song about domestic violence. There’s a song called The Sounds of Making Love.
Is there a percentage of The Kaj’s sound or style that you would call hip hop, or is it a departure from your hip hop roots?
That’s an excellent question. The attempt here is to be intelligent and at the same time be cognizant of using simple yet meaningful words. You won’t hear us saying words like “swag.” You might hear words like “darling” and “delectable.” The word choices are deliberate. Our music is supposed to make you feel happy and make you feel like you want to make love to your woman and retain the respect due to women.
On your new album, Soul Music, you included a track called “99 names of God.” Tell me three of those names that are embodied in your music.
“Sublime. Gracious. Mighty.”
How did an artist so focused on heavenly goals, end up at Black Wall Street with The Game?
He really wanted a conscious artist on his label. My affiliation with Black Wall Street provides an opportunity to broaden my reach as an artist. I will always have love for The Game for opening that door for me.
What is one quality of The Game that would surprise people?
People might be surprised that he has a great sense of humor. People may be surprised that he’s a family man. People may be surprised that he’s a man who is striving to be a better man and a better person. You might be surprised to know that he is in tune with his Creator.
You have collaborated with some heavyweights in the industry. Who would you like to work with that you haven’t yet?
I love Jamie Foxx as a person and Pharrell as well. After meeting and vibing with them, I would love to work with them. Also Will.i.am. I admire his creativity. Cee-lo is really gifted and down to earth–really for the people. I would love to work with him. Of course, Tupac, when he comes back.
Thank you for that awesome segue to my next question. If you died and God sent you back here as a woman. What would your mission be?
To be an example of class. An example of motherhood. We need more examples of strong women who are powerful generals who have command. A powerful woman doesn’t want a man with a nice vehicle with nice rims. She cares for her people. She cares to improve lifestyles besides her own. Some women believe that sex is their power. Their body is their power. But that is not the extent of a woman’s power by any means. If more women could set powerful examples, young women in our culture would create better humans.
Speaking of women and how we are perceived, in hip hop culture certain women are afforded a measure of respect and others are not. You were involved in a controversy in which you came to the defense of Kat Stacks, a self-described “hoe.” What made you think Kat Stacks deserved to be defended when she attracted so much drama and negative attention through her own actions?
When you meet a man in the hospital or grocery store that man is your brother. If that man is white or that man is black that man is your brother. If that man is Chinese that’s your Chinese brother. Whatever mind state a woman is in and whatever decisions she’s making that may be wrong, whether its to use drugs or to sell her body, that woman was born a princess. On earth we are all family members. Once you have that outlook, you can act accordingly. When it comes to a person like Kat Stacks you wish better for her. You don’t have rancor in your heart, you realize that that is a woman who was created by God and you have to respect that. He gave her lungs and eyes and she was not a mistake. She is a creation of God. How does God feel about that which God creates? If we ask ourselves that question we may find ourselves being careful to not dishonor that which God created, even if that creation has not begun to honor themselves.
You recently traveled on behalf of the United States as a cultural ambassador where you addressed thousands of young men and women whose impressions of of this country were deeply and positively impacted. Is this a new direction for Kumasi? How does civil service fit in to your goals?
This was another opportunity to serve God. I’m not into politics. I’m into people. I’m into peace. I was able to be peaceful with the people of Indonesia. I was also able to go to northern Africa. I did a song with El General (Hamada Ben Amor), the young rap artist who got locked up for speaking out against the president of Tunisia. Last year, Time magazine named this young rapper one of the one hundred most influential people in the world.
It’s important to create alliances everywhere you go. In Paris I was able to do this. In Africa. Eventually if your voice becomes big enough you can invite people to hold hands. I’m very grateful for the opportunity.
What can we look forward to next from Kumaserati?
I am currently in the conception stage of a project that will ultimately bear magnificent fruit. I am collaborating with two women whom I deeply respect and admire, not only for their amazing talents, but for their pure intentions to help heal people’s pain and to serve the human family.
Myself, Hope Shorter and Tilly Key, along with producer Christian Shorter, are putting together a project that, in spirit, will be like having Lauryn Hill, Sade and Bob Marley collaborating to serve. I”m not trying to equate us talent-wise, though the talent here is crazy, but spirit-wise the intention is that huge.
The project is called “Child of The World,” and it will be geared toward educating young people about nutrition, healthy lifestyles and philanthropy via a series of non-profit concerts in major urban areas like downtown L.A., Chicago and NYC. We will bring music, message, and meals to the streets with the sole purpose of connecting to and serving our fellow man.
He’s an award-winning actor, a playwright and a published author. He composes and performs original music and is a gifted singer, lyricist and poet. He’s a sex symbol. A motivational speaker. He’s a philanthropist and a father. It is an impressive list of titles, adjectives and accolades that describe this man, which makes it even more praiseworthy that in a line of work where there is so much focus on success and celebrity, Malik Yoba sees himself first and foremost as “a servant.”
That actually makes perfect sense when you know his backstory. Named Abdul at birth, which means “servant” in Arabic, Yoba was raised in a strict Muslim household by a fiercely religious and activist father. Malik’s father was a black nationalist who rejected his own birth name, Milton Myers, and instead called himself Erutan Yob—a name he created by spelling backwards the title of the popular Nat King Cole song, “Nature Boy.” Erutan Yob then added an “a” to his new surname and defined the word Yoba as “wrath of the slaves, a new generation.”
I recently spoke one-on-one with Malik Yoba and learned many interesting things about this brilliant and intriguing brother:
“My parents named me Abdul Malik which means ‘servant of the King.’ Growing up in Harlem, people never said my name correctly. I was called Adoobee, Abdoobuhlee, Aboo. Ab. I remember consciously deciding at seventeen that no one was going to call me servant anymore—If you’re going to call me anything, call me Malik; call me ‘king.’ The irony is, today, in terms of my life and my purpose, I see myself as a servant, and I’ve come back to embrace the name I was born with.”
Yoba has found that one of the many ways he is able to be of service to others is in the entertainment industry, where he can stand up for and reach out to young people who very often don’t have a healthy or accurate representation of manhood in their lives.
“I know what my presence in popular culture has meant to many many men and boys. And to women as well. I’ve been in this game 20 years and I know what my impact has been with the roles that I’ve played, and I know who comes up and talks to me about that. I believe in the power of film and television and music and art to communicate ideas. Not to preach, but to communicate.”
Hollywood is a place that has chewed up and spit out many an aspiring actor, yet Malik‘s longevity is as impressive as his filmography is diverse. Among the many roles Yoba has played, there has been an Olympic bobsledder, a beat cop, an astronaut, a judge, and most recently, a uniquely gifted FBI agent on the new series Alphas, which airs on the SyFy Channel Mondays at 10pm.
“I haven’t had this much fun doing anything, and I’ve enjoyed a lot of the projects I’ve worked on. There’s action, there’s comedy, there’s the human element, the sci-fi element and it’s a thriller. I just read the episode we’re shooting next week and I’ve never had this experience where I’m reading the script and I’m shook. It’s scary.”
As pleased as he is to be connected to the Alphas project, ironically, when Malik was first approached to do the series, he declined. His manager and agents pressed him to read the script and he found the project too unique to resist. But, the fact that he’s in Toronto filming Alphas for months at a time hasn’t distracted Malik from pursuing the next phase of his career—the one in which he produces and directs his own projects.
“The first film I’m going to direct is called “What’s On the Hearts of Men. One of the central themes is fatherhood and manhood and different perspectives of what fatherhood means to different men. So many young men don’t have men in their lives.”
The impression Malik’s own father left on his life stands as a testament to what the film’s intention is—to explore how manhood and fatherhood are acted out on the real stage of life.
“I honor my father in the film even though there are many things about him I did not like and I definitely won’t pass on to my kids. The way I got beat as a kid would absolutely put him in jail today. I got beat with extension cords like a slave until I bled. Butt naked extension cord abuse. And, my father was tied to a chair and beaten by his father, and his grandfather was a slave. So, when you think about all of that legacy-wise and what your parents leave you with…I will not pass that on to my children. I am super affectionate with my kids.”
Malik and his children, Josiah, 9, dena, 10, Pria, 13
Malik has three children by two women he did not marry, which contradicts his long-held desire to create and maintain a solid family.
“I had been wanting to get married since I was a little kid. Like how little girls dream about their wedding, I was the little boy who did that,” Malik admits. “I would pull out maps of the world and, literally, I was living in the Bronx and wondering where my wife was…I always thought she was somewhere else on the planet. And then my life and career happened and you see the world for what it really is. I was disillusioned about marriage because I saw so much infidelity around me, particularly in my 20s. But, after having children and having relationships that didn’t work out, I felt it would be nice to finally get that part right.”
Malik married the beautiful actress Cat Wilson in 2003, but the marriage didn’t survive. They separated in 2010 just as Malik’s appearance in “Why Did Why Did I Get Married 2” was on its way to theaters.
“Now I don’t feel the need to get married…I have my children, and after everything I’ve experienced I don’t have regrets. I definitely love women and I’ve been loved. I date now, but I won’t commit.”
Malik’s own answer to Tyler Perry’s cinematically explored question, “Why Did I Get Married?” is not a simple one. He says his observations of his own and other men’s actions have just led him to ask more questions.
“There is a different conversation to be had to really, really get into why we get married. What’s really going on in the emotional lives of men? Men are liars. Priests lie. Politicians. Business men. Sportsmen. F***ing Liars. What are we going to do about that? I think we need to have honest conversations about that. No one’s honest about all this abuse of women. Where is the outrage from men? Men are not outraged. Men are not outspoken against the abuse of women or children.”
These are themes Malik Yoba will continue to explore as he tackles future film projects, and pursues his music and singing career—a career only his most devoted fans (or those who happen upon one of his live performances) are aware of.
“Music is my little bastard child. My acting career has eclipsed my music, but the goal is to do more. I would love to have a music career that is on par with my acting career. I’m a 43 year old black dude who plays and sings soulful acoustic music and the labels are like ‘If we put you out, how are we going to market you?’”
Acoustic soul from the ever sexy and sincere Malik Yoba sounds good to this fan. Hello, record labels. I’d definitely buy that.
It has been nearly 20 years since the “conscious rapper” Common released his debut album, yet he continues to treat his fans to new and deeper insights into why he is, and will remain, a cultural icon.
–And it just keeps getting better.
This handsome and grounded multi-talent has had so much success of late, 2011 might as well just be called The Year of Common Sense.
Not only did his memoir, One Day It’ll All Make Sense, recently debut on the prestigious New York Times Best Sellers List, but Common the actor followed up his 2010 success starring opposite Queen Latifah in Just Wright, by turning up the heat beneath his thespian aspirations. He appeared in BET’s sizzling new, “Single Ladies,” has a recurring role in AMC’s dramatic western, “Hell on Wheels,” is currently promoting his first voice-over role in the animated feature Happy Feet Two, and was pegged to star in Quentin Tarantino’s gritty (what else?) western Django.
All that, and Common made time for the studio. His 12th album, The Dreamer, the Believer drops on December 20th-just in time for one of my loved ones to make it an extra special Christmas gift (hint, hint).
Common recently sat down with me to speak on the things he’s been learning along the way:
What is your purpose?
My purpose is to encourage love. Is to enlighten and inspire people to love…to be free and loving themselves. My purpose is to bring as many people closer to God as possible.
If self esteem was measured on a scale of 0-100, where is yours today, and where was it at at the lowest it’s ever been?
Today 97. The lowest about a 30. I had a breakup with Erykah Badu and my esteem was low. I think around that time I released an album called Electric Circus and it didn’t do well. People were talking a lot of stuff about it but the talk didn’t really affect me as much. I don’t really let how people are talking affect me too much.
How did you climb back up from there?
I really had to get to a place where I wasn’t trying to dim my light to please the person next to me. You have to love yourself strongly. Love God, love yourself, then love others. You can’t defy yourself in your generosity to others.
Do you have another book in you?
I do have another book in me. I will write another one at some point because there are things to talk about that can inspire and give people hope. I recently had a woman at the airport stop me…She put her daughter on the phone to tell me how she got through a breakup by reading my book [I Like You, But I Love Me]. She said, “As soon as I read it it made me realize I’m okay. Other people go through this.” I know I have more experiences to share and give a perspective on. I realize that art can really provide motivation for people.
When something awesome happens in your life, who do you call?
If I’m in a relationship, I call that person. My assistant is someone I’m really close with, so I’ll call that person. There are a couple of best friends of mine from Chicago I call. I’ll call my mother. I’ll definitely call her. She may be the first.
Why aren’t you married?
I would like to be married. I’m really at that point in my life where I would like to settle down and have a family. I don’t know why I haven’t married yet. God hasn’t put that right there for me yet but I know it will happen. The power of intention will bring that about.
Speaking of the power of intention, was there ever something you initially thought was impossible, yet you used the power of intention to bring that something into being?
I do believe where I am as an actor, I really put my intention towards these things. There are a lot of ways to climb, and I have a long way to go. I want to become one of the greats. My intention is there, and I believe that’s a place where i’m seeing it happen. That’s why I named my album The Dreamer, the Believer, because of that. Because when you dream you gotta believe in it with all your being.
What song on The Dreamer, the Believer would change my life if I really listened to it?
Blue Sky would help motivate your life and The Believer would solidify changing your life.
If you’ve seen the music video for Idris Elba’s sultry new single, “Private Garden,” you have experienced a sample of the creative eye and spirit of filmmaker Crystle “Clear” Roberson, but if you haven’t viewed any of her award-winning short films, you are in for a real visual feast.
Roberson has been writing, producing and directing her own material for five years, and she already has an impressive collection of awards and honors from the industry. In 2006, she received a film grant from Kodak, which she used to shoot the short film The Song of Time, chosen as an official selection in the TOMI Film Festival of New Orleans, and honored by Women In Film & Television’s International Showcase.
Roberson went on to write and direct two more shorts, Friend In A Can and Standing Reign. The latter was awarded Best Film of Atlanta in the 48 Hour Film Festival, Best Short in the TOMI Film Festival of New Orleans and Best Narrative Short in the International Black Film Festival of Nashville, Tenn. Standing Reign was also featured on the Best of 48 Hour Film Project 2007 DVD, which includes 16 selected films of over 2,000 entries.
In 2008, Roberson was honored by Women in Film & Television/Atlanta with the esteemed Woman to Watch Award and was chosen as one of four filmmakers, nationwide, to compete in the Chase Legacy Film Challenge, an opportunity for young filmmakers launched at the SundanceFilm Festival. She wrote and directed “Next Door’s Next” and won the Challenge’s HBO Filmmaker Award, for which she received an additional film grant from Kodak.
Roberson also served as associate director for the award winning short film, Before I Wake, which won Best Film Grand Prize in The Doorpost Film Project. Her short film “The Black Cage” starring Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump) also earned “Top Film” status in Doorpost. Both of these films were selected as 1 of 7 Top Films for BET’s Lens On Talent 2011. Crystle was the only director to have 2 films as Finalists in this esteemed competition.
On Nov. 11, Roberson will wrap her first independent feature film, Echo at 11 Oak Drive, which tells three stories that transpire under the same roof over three eras-1951, 1973, and 2011. Although each occurrence is unique, the dialogue is identical; proving that history repeats itself in the oddest of ways. Famed film producer Will Packer (Stomp the Yard, This Christmas, Takers, Obsessed) is a supporter of the project which he says he is sure audiences will find intriguing.
Crystle “Clear” Roberson and I spoke recently and she offered exclusive insight into her film career and the mission she is on as a filmmaker:
What qualities do you possess that make a career in film the perfect “lane” for you?
I’m a woman. Women have always been the natural storytellers of their respective culture. Back in the day, we were responsible for ensuring the next generation knew the history of their ancestors. Also, we are the best at telling bedtime stories and we’re at the center of every fairy tale.
I’m an observer. I naturally observe life and humanity from a fly on the wall perspective most of the time. I walk into a room and immediately take in the sound design, lighting, and view the people as characters. First, I thought I was crazy but then I realized, I’m not crazy… I’m just a filmmaker.
I was sheltered as a child. This speaks through the surreal or sci-fi genre of films I usually write. My single mother was strict, and since I couldn’t go many places as a child, I would sit in my room and read a lot, then I would create worlds and stories of my own. My imagination had to be active, since my reality wasn’t. Also, Not being exposed to a lot as a child helped me maintain innocence (and ignorance) to what I could and could not do. I didn’t know that Black Female Directors were almost non-existent, so I didn’t know that I couldn’t. I just did it.
I’m extremely visual. I was always attracted to beauty. I’m also a Libra. I love pretty pictures and pretty colors. Visuals speak to me so loudly that sometimes I can’t hear and watch things at the same time. I took up photography as a hobby in high school and was amazed at how I was able to capture my visuals and show them to other people.
When did you know this was your passion? How did that reality hit you?
I was a sophomore at Valdosta State University when my passion hit me. I remember sitting in my dorm room writing my first short film and as I wrote, I began to cry. An intense feeling came over me, my heart began to beat really fast and I couldn’t stop crying and smiling. I felt like I was in love. And from then on, I thought about film every single day and dedicated my life to it. My professors had my cell number and would call me if I missed class, I was all the way into it.
What inspired your film, The Black Cage? What do you see as the solution to the immaturity referred to in the ending narration?
I have some very close friends that are near and dear to my heart that are struggling with their own “Black Cage.” I believe everyone finds themselves trapped in their own cage at some point in life. The great thing is that the sooner we wake up and realize we are in a cage, as the man in the film did, the sooner we can find our way out. The solution to the ending, is simple. The man still has the key.
How did you come to direct Idris Elba’s “Private Garden” video? Did you conceptualize, cast and direct the project?
I met Idris on the set of Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls. I was a production assistant on the project, and he was the lead actor. Part of my job was to get his breakfast every morning and one day Idris handed me a cd that he’d recorded. At first I was like “great, another actor-singer.” But on the way home, I popped it in the CD player and I genuinely thought it was dope. I was pleasantly surprised. Then, about a year or so later, Idris held a contest on Myspace for filmmakers to win a free trip to London to attend a film festival. Of course I was all over that. I did a mini-video to one of the songs on the cd he’d given me and I won the contest. That kicked off an amazing working relationship that eventually led to my direction of the “Private Garden” video. Idris is very creative and I have no doubt that he will also be a genius director when he chooses to go down that path. I directed the video, although Idris and I both collaborated on the concept — but I have to take credit for the body paint. The girl in the video, Iman Ramadan, was a friend of theirs and was a joy to work with.
When you wrap a project, who, in your heart of hearts, are you hoping will be proud of what you’ve produced?
I like to think I made sort of a “deal” with God. We came to an agreement that if He could lend me a certain amount of creativity then I would use it to spread His message to the people. So every time I finish a film, I hope that His message shines through as He intended. If God is pleased, then I know my friends and family will be as well.
How do you imagine your future in the industry? What will success look like to you?
Honestly, I believe my future in this industry is much better than I can even imagine it to be. So I find it hard to imagine whats about to happen. Instead, I focus my sight on my craft and let my career cards fall as they may. Success to me is creating a comfortable lifestyle for myself and my future children [or] family by directing and writing films that I love.
What advice can you give you give to young people who are drawn to a career in film, but are wondering if it’s too ambitious a goal for them to ever reach?
I would tell them to adopt The Bumblebee Theory. A bumblebee, aerodynamically, isn’t supposed to be able to fly. However, the bumblebee doesn’t know that, so it flies anyway. Don’t realize what you can’t do, just do it. Just fly. If you want to make films, just make them. Practice makes perfect. Film is art, indeed, and there is no “right or wrong” way to express yourself so long as it is your art with your own voice.