Hum From The Hive ~ July 2019

  New Abraham Jam Album Track Listing Released  ●  Wrapping Up Thirty Years of Puppetry  

New Abraham Jam Album Track Listing Released

The second Abraham Jam album is complete!   It has been recorded, mixed, mastered and is now in the capable hands of the talented forest elves who paint, print and process the music into lovely little CDs with colourful cover art.

“White Moon” features eleven studio tracks and will be officially released both digitally and on CD, this coming July 27th, 2019 at a special concert in Asheville, North Carolina.

Those of you who have joined me at performances over the past several years, may notice some familiar titles on the album’s playlist.  “Jerusalem” and “Bach’che Ki Du’a” have been standards in my solo concerts for quite some time , but until now, they’ve never appeared on any albums.   It has been so wonderful for me to finally produce them with my Abraham Jam brothers Billy and David.  We’ve also given a fresh arrangement to one of my old tunes, “Rhythm of Surrender”  and taken a unique approach to the traditional muslim hymn “Tala’al Badru Alayna“.

The album is packed with new material, covers of a few classics, mystical mash-ups and the talents of incredible guest artists.   We simply cannot wait to get “White Moon” out this summer, in our effort to put a little more love into the world.

Check out the album teaser trailer here on Youtube to hear samples of the new songs.  Here is the full musical menu of what to expect:

Abraham Jam ~ White Moon
1. Tala’al Badru ‘Alayna (White Moon)
2. Love Is The Seventh Wave
3. Jerusalem
4. Braided Prayer
5. More Love (Karleigh’s Song)
6. Drink Deeply
7. Song of Peace
8. Rhythm of Surrender
9. Bach’che Ki Du’a (Child’s Prayer)
10. Grassroots
11. Peace Train / People Get Ready

Wrapping Up Thirty Years of Puppetry

Back in 1988, I was a short, shy, introverted young man in my mid-teens with an ironic dream of one day becoming a professional actor.  A pre-occupied student with little interest in the traditional “three R’s” (Reading, Riting and Rithmatic) and even less  patience for an eight-hour day at a school desk, I was excited to discover that my high school offered a co-operative education course.   With the assistance of an advisor, a student could seek out a local business of potential career interest, volunteer daily for several hours as an apprentice and earn two high-school credits for the experience!  The possibility of landing work as an actor and be outside the classroom each day was exciting until my advisor told me that, the only place seeking drama students was a non-profit organization administrating an educational puppet troupe called Kids on The Block.

My early puppeteering days, circa 1990.

Started in the late 1970’s, Kids on The Block aimed to teach primary school children about various physical and mental disabilities, during an era when children with Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome or blindness who had been segregated, were suddenly being streamed into the public school systems of North America.   Ignorance surrounding disability issues, and prejudices toward differences in general, made it hard for children to smoothly integrate in those days.  Attitude barriers were more of a problem than a lack of ramps, accessible washrooms or braille books in schools.  Children with disabilities were telling their parents, “I don’t want to go to public school!  The teachers treat me differently and the other kids make fun of me!”

Fostering discussion through the medium of theatre, Kids on The Block enabled children to interact with, and openly ask questions of, “kid puppets with disabilities”.  The hope was that, all kids would quickly learn:  “kids are kids”, regardless of the physical, mental or emotional differences they may have.   Once the path to knowledge was paved,  and the doors of communication were opened, the worst accessibility barriers to children with disabilities would be gone.

As a primary school student, the Kids on The Block Puppets had visited my peers and I many times, so I was quite familiar with their charming, colourful, comical and covertly educational performances.   But puppets?  Me doing puppet shows?    “Playing with dolls” wasn’t exactly my idea of “theatre”.   My hero was tele-playwright Rod Serling, who’s often dark scripts oozed with social commentary. . . I wanted to explore the works of Jean-Paul Sartre. . .I wanted to sing selections from Hair!

Reluctantly I went for the interview, read through some scripts, slipped a puppet on my hand and was hooked.  Though still short and introverted, the shell of my shyness was gone!  The people I worked with inspired me with their passions for social justice and equality.  I became deeply devoted to the disability movement and, within weeks, I was out in schools using puppetry as a means of connecting with young children about social cohesion, respect and diversity.   My work may not have been as dramatic as TV Drama, as philosophical as an adaption of “No Exit” or as hip as a staging of West Side Story, but each script I performed did  ooze with social commentary and, day by day, those scripts were reaching hundreds of children.

Following my term as a co-op student, I continued to puppeteer voluntarily for another two years.   Upon graduation from high school, I was hired into a part-time position as lead puppeteer and shortly thereafter, found myself as the local troupe’s full-time coordinator.  Being out in the community performing in schools opened doors for me to many other professional endeavours, acting roles and teaching positions.  But no matter what other projects I took on, I remained a committed accessibility advocate for the disabled community and an active puppeteer with Kids on The Block.

“Coping with Crisis” script at a primary school in Bristol, UK in June 2010.

In the early 2000’s, when my work as a travelling musician increased, I acquired my own Kids on The Block puppets, using them in schools throughout the United Kingdom, as part of a “Coping with Crisis” program in the post 9/11 and 7/7 world.   In those times, it was children with muslim names, turbins or hijab’s who were the targets of ridicule,  prejudice or Xenophobia by teachers or other students.  Moving back to my hometown of Kitchener, Canada in 2011, it was only a matter of months before I was, once again, working with my original Kids on The Block troupe, alongside my ongoing musical projects.

Looking back on my life, I realize that my decision to work with the Kids on The Block at fifteen years old (before I was even able to drive a car!) shaped my personality powerfully and introduced me to some of the most important mentors in my life.  The music-based school programs and workshops I offer in schools to this day, would not be what they are without all I learned from my work with KOB.  Songs like “Sing Children of The World”, “Theeverythingsong” or “All of Us” may never have been written, had it not been for KOB.  My work as an assistant puppeteer with productions like the Adam’s World video series or Muslimfest may have never materialized.

My time with Kids on The Block, and the skills needed to coordinate the program, also changed my life in other ways I never suspected they would.   Research into learning disabilities and ADHA, required to ensure scripts were clinically accurate, helped me identify my own learning struggles that had made school so difficult for me growing up.  Scripts dealing with depression and the importance of maintaining strong mental health, also hit close to home and were as therapeutic for me to perform as they seemed to be for those watching them in my audiences.   Kids on The Block guided me into years of part-time work as a personal care giver to adults with physical disabilities, acquiring skills I have used while caring intimately for aging relatives during their last days, and which I use regularly as a father of two children.

Last performance, June 2019.

After thirty years, and thousands of shows presented to tens of thousands of people ~ I decided earlier this year to pass my script book on to a new puppeteer and give my shoulders a rest.  It was a tough decision, but a necessary step for me to take as my family responsibilities intensify, my work with Abraham Jam ramps up and the aches and pangs of middle-age make it harder and harder for me to keep a heavy puppet up on a stage for an hour at a time.

My last KOB performance was in early June 2019, followed shortly thereafter by a lovely farewell party hosted by friends and colleagues affiliated with Kids on The Block over the years.   The troupe will continue on, of course, and I will always be in support of their work.

Thanks to the multitudes of people I have worked with since the 1980’s (Dianne, Angelika, Paula, Fred, Joan, Brandy, Andrena, Jim, Jeff. . .Oh, goodness me!  Too many to list!) who gave me such friendship, guidance and fun memories.   And thanks to “The Kids”. . . all those crazy puppet characters I have assumed over the years.  They are all still within me and their personalities will continue to live on in my cluttered brain, no matter where I go or what I do in life.  

Every print on every finger of each human on the earth,
is different from each other finger print since the start of time.
Nadia speaks with her hands, not a sound comes from her lips.
Abdullah doesn’t use his eyes, reads with his finger tips.
Every face and you and me,
and every stripe on every bee,
every creature that you see,
swim, fly, run, or crawl,
every flake of snow is different,
every place you go is different,
everyone you know is different,
that’s the beauty of it all.

– d.wharnsby
from, “Theeverythingsong”

7 Comments on “Hum From The Hive ~ July 2019

  1. All the best with your new CD!

    Congrats on 30 years in the puppeteering business! I’ve recently been inspired to get into puppeteering and ventriloquism myself, being heavily inspired by Jim Henson and Edgar Bergen. Do you have any tips on how to get started?

  2. Thank you my friend! How exciting that you have taken up an interest in puppetry. There are so many worlds within the world of puppets! Hard for me to give tips as each style have their own charm and technique. Shadow Puppets, hand and rod puppets, wooden puppets, marionettes… there are so many styles of puppets. Taking up an interest in puppetry is like taking up an interest in “music”, or any kind of art for that matter… you must listen with your own heart and spirit to understand what aspect of those artistic mediums “calls” out to you! For those interested in taking up an instrument for example, I suggest going to a music shop and holding different instruments to see which “feels” right in the hands or which “sounds right” in the heart. We all enjoy listening to different styles of songs, for different reasons….and likewise, we also “speak”, “sing” or “play” music with our own voices and styles. Similarly with puppetry: perhaps seek out a folk fair, festival or farmer’s market where artisans sell original puppets of differing styles… seek out one that appeals to you or “speaks” to you. Or perhaps, get some materials and build a little character… paper-machete, fabric whatever… See who appears before you and then give them a piece of your personality…a voice, a character!

  3. Jazakallah Khayran for the advice! It makes a lot of sense! I’m currently attracted to the hand-and-rod style as well as the classic ventriloquist dummy. But we’ll see how things go, Inshallah!

    P.S. Have you ever met anyone who worked with Jim Henson Company before?

  4. My dear friend Tom Vandenberg worked with Jim Henson Company in the 1980’s. He worked on one of the Muppet movies and was also a puppeteer for a Henson TV series called Fraggle Rock. Tom and I have worked together since the mid 1990’s on the Adam’s World series and are working together on the Adam’s World re-boot, due out later this year.

  5. Made me cry , Masha Allah beautiful they were

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