Shame, Orientalism. Why Am I Re-releasing Red Ship?
Red Ship, as someone observed to me, was a very inspired album. Inspired by my then-job as a sex worker, the Arabic music I had adopted as the new hyperfocus, the creative energy I had as I discovered a new side of myself.
I was really proud of it. I loved the songs, I loved the musicians I played with, the new sound I adopted. The reviews were glowing.
But I was so burnt out. I fell off the face of the Earth and landed in Tacoma, WA. For 10 years after that I immersed myself in Egyptian belly dance or "raqs sharqi", regional and folkloric dances from Egypt as well as the Levant. I traveled to Egypt and studied with some of the most sought out instructors. I danced in Lebanese restaurants, festivals, and even on a fucking boat in Cairo, accompanied by Egyptian musicians. I won competitions. I taught what I knew and am still in love with this beautiful art and the music it's tied to. Forever thankful for these experiences.
It gave me a chance to recover.
And my brain.
I've since learned that I'm autistic and have adhd, on top of the cptsd I didn't have a name for until recently. It makes sense then that I just wasn't up for all of the self promotion, 'networking', socializing, collaborating, and DIY stuff that was expected of small time folks like myself who wanted to thrive with my art. Plus, I was so desperate and everyone smelled it. I'm not shaming myself for that desperation because all things considered, it was rational. But still hurtful to people around me, disabled or not.
And then there's the internalized Orientalism.
Red Ship was dripping in it. I knew that in a sea of indie rock whiteness, I had to make my other-ness an asset somehow. I wasn't self-aware or even just aware enough to lean into the feminism and punk community I was surrounded and influenced by in DC. I grew up being complimented on my physical appearance and musical talent, and I instinctively knew white men (no, not ALL white men, calm down) loved what's 'exotic'. So I set out to make Red Ship (and myself) as seductive, exotic as possible without being too foreign, exploiting the Black and Arab cultures I was so enthralled by.
In addition to this, I didn't 'come out' as a sex worker when I released Red Ship in 2011. Instead, I told the press it was mostly fantasy. My friends knew. My husband/then-boyfriend knew. My collaborators knew. But for some reason, I just didn't feel confident or safe enough to share with the world even though nearly the whole album was explicitly about the work. I stopped escorting ages ago and the detachment from that scene helps but I'm especially encouraged by the growing calls for respect and equity for sex workers now.
I want to do it all over but without the racism and the shame. I value harm reduction and authenticity. That's why I'm rereleasing it with new vocals and mixes, a new approach. You get the songs without the Orientalist BS. Yes...I was genuinely inspired by music from North Africa and the Arab world so it wasn't complete BS. The tweaks might appear small but to me it now feels so authentic. That's what I want to put out into the world, something that feels good and true to me.
And honestly. I'm small potatoes, I could just release it as "Red Ship" without all this commentary about Orientalism and the past and pretend it didn't come out in 2011. But the album is not small potatoes to me, and documenting this growth publicly is very therapeutic no matter who is or isn't listening.
The 2011 version is no longer available for streaming or downloading anywhere. I just couldn't let it stay up. But I want to be heard! So I've got to get this updated version out as soon as possible, yea?!
For a long time I thought I was done with writing songs and singing for anyone but myself. But the pandemic came.
I actually began rerecording vocals and guitar and worked with TJ to update these songs beginning in late 2020, early 2021 but due to my brain on motherhood (had my 2nd baby late 2021) it has been painfully slow. We've got several tracks mixed already, just waiting on me and my perfectionistic tendencies. You can listen to some here. I'll be throwing in a couple of new songs as well, featuring TJ on drums. Pretty proud of those, too.
The hardest part was setting up this website! I needed to have cleared enough shame and negative self-talk first to begin the 'self promotion' part. I think I've made it.
The first single should be out this Spring. Yes, we do have songs ready but as I said I want things to go my way and my way is to get one of the songs that isn't ready to come out first. I can say that it WILL be out though because I've at least done this, and see the path forward very clearly. AND I now have people holding me accountable.
Thanks for listening. See you soon.