The human condition forces us all to consider our ultimate demise. I have come to terms with the one guarantee in life; that we will all one day return to the place from whence we came. I believe that accepting this ultimate fate helps us to live in the present moment, to embrace our loved ones, and to appreciate what we have. It is so easy to get caught up with the past and to worry about the future, even though we have no control over either. While trying to keep up with the breakneck pace the society we have created has imposed on us, coming to terms with this truth is perhaps the most empowering tool we have.
I was traumatized by horror films as a child, yet somehow I developed a love of Halloween. Trick or treating for candy bars felt safe in my neighbourhood, and I continue to watch in awe as people’s imagination bubbles to the surface on this day. I managed to separate my fear of the supernatural and the gore that became associated with this peculiar ritual, to appreciate the creativity that my friends and neighbours put into their costumes and decorating their homes each year. It has always felt like a magical night to me, and every year I imagine the orange glow of jack-o-lanterns across North America from space.
It wasn’t until I met my lovely South American mother-in-law Soledad, who helped explain to me the beautiful tradition of making food on the Day of the Dead, and holding space for the dearly departed. Somehow this practice melded together with the ancient Wiccan and Pagan rituals of Samhain into the tradition we now call Halloween.
I still can’t take horror movies and I don’t care much for the concept of zombies. I felt as though I stood alone against the fashion trend that depicted skulls on t-shirts, hoodies and hats since the early 2000s. I had a suspicion that wearing signs of death would conjure a bad omen. With the exception of Halloween, when I somehow manage to quell my superstition, I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing images of morbidity. When I take a moment to explore this phenomenon further, it has become obvious to me that humankind has developed an obsession with death. It is as though we have gone beyond the fear of dying to embracing death as a titillating sideshow. Netflix is rife with films about serial killers and literally every other TV show involves sexual assault and bloody murder, in increasingly gory detail. While I don’t have the statistics to back it up, I am certain that there is a correlation between the glorification of death that we consume on our screens, of which we can’t seem to get enough, and the ever-increasing incidence of murder. Rampant, seemingly random, hate-driven, senseless mass shootings that used to shock gun toting America have now tainted our shores in Canada. It is no coincidence that the desensitization of our youth through murderous video games has normalized mass killings in our society. Life has become cheapened as we are bombarded with a constant barrage of violence, disproportionally against women, further promoting a misogynistic culture. We would do well to exercise better judgement in what programming our society funds. By not producing TV shows and movies containing insidious violence, perhaps we can bolster respect for women and re-sensitize today’s youth to the precious gift of life.
These are stressful times, to say the least. Modern civilization is witnessing unprecedented death around the world. In the early days of the pandemic we watched in terror as our brothers and sisters succumbed to pneumonia. Over time, a certain amount of acceptance has been required for our mental health, and with it death tolls increasingly become statistics.
Adorned with all the bells and whistles, the stereotypical sounds of Halloween, my song “The Graveyard” was initially inspired by my friend Jay O, who grew up in the crime-ridden capital of St. Lucia. The Wilton’s Yard district of Castries became known as “The Graveyard” due to its high mortality rate amongst the youth. The lyrics address many subject matters, including the persecution of herb dealers, the plight of ghetto living where education is a luxury, the brainwashing of our society by elitist regimes, and the universal challenge of conquering our respective egos. I attempted to temper the severity of the subject matter by adding a verse about a grave robber (itself a real thing) who tantalizes the Grim Reaper, in fanciful verse. The song has since taken on new meaning for me.
In light of the rising death toll around the globe, I considered leaving this track off my collection of singles. It is somewhat of an anomaly in my discography in that its roots are in reggae but it simultaneously employs a modern dance groove. It is not intended to make light of a serious situation. Though it is cloaked in poetic frivolity, “The Graveyard” certainly reminds us of our mortality. It is meant to be an affirmation of life.
As such, I have decided to donate the proceeds of the sales of my 25th Anniversary collection ‘The Singles’ to the COVID-19 emergency support effort in South Africa, where many thousands are on the brink of starvation. My trusted friend Catherine Robar works in Donor Relations and Fundraising at UNICEF in South Africa, where she heads the Themba Project, specializing in resource mobilization. All money raised will be spent directly on providing food to the community.
If you have not already purchased ‘The Singles’, this is a wonderful opportunity to support your fellow men, women and children who are struggling to find enough food to survive amidst the government lockdown in South Africa. For only $10 you will get a copy of my new compilation via secure direct download that may help to inspire hope over the coming months, while helping to save lives. Get your copy here: www.halfwaytree.ca/music
Alternatively, please consider giving generously to The Themba Project here:
Thank you for your support and may God bless you with guidance and protection and with health and happiness ~ Andru Branch