In November of 2015, Shayfer James, a musician residing in Jersey City, jumped off the PATH train with the idea to solicit art from Jersey City artists. He would collect the art, hang it in his room and use it as inspiration to write music. He posted on FaceBook and within a day or two, had to close the call. And he achieved his goal. He wrote some great music. Magical enough, right? But that’s not Shayfer. A true artist of the people, his work follows a life cycle birthed in the outside world, into his heart and consciousness where he coddles and nurtures songs before releasing them into the wild for us to hear and experience. In that sense, March of Crows can be seen as an initiation of ideas for them to truly understand their own power. But then he goes back again, refining, redefining, searching, expanding and returning, not always with anthems, (although, in my opinion, Gaslight/Gunfight, inspired by UnApologetic is a welcomed battle song) but with decrees, questions, evolutions, to remind us of what we may have missed the first time around.
Shayfer James isn’t a true artist of the people only because of his music, or because of his individual quest to create culture that acknowledges and respects pain but is nourishing all the same. What makes him an artist of the people, a revolutionary cultural warrior, is because of his immense talent AND the manner in which he produces it. The form shares the stage with the content, ego is subdued: Shayfer is relentless in opening up space for everyone to participate. We aren’t just the audience, we are invited to interpret, to speak, to dance, to sing.
On Friday, March 10th, 2017, I sat on the floor with over 100 other people in a glorious church, a community sanctuary for people and art, a true Jersey City institution, surrounded by walls painted by the hands of a man whose hands have held protest signs and revolution and love for the better part of 65 years, with my mouth agape, eyes and ears and heart wide open, not only because of the talent, not only because of the quality, not only because of the sentiment, or the wisdom, or the melody, but the power held by the performers offered, up for grabs for us to take.
As I write this today, March 14th, 2017, a fearless, ignorant monster cabal of lunatics are stomping, with breakneck speed, all over everything democratic forces have built and I am afraid we will forget, having never really seen the real thing, that having to build all over again, we will settle on a mediocre idea, we will forget our vision of true democracy. But there it was, when Ceallaigh Pender was performing with Debra Devi, and when Meagan Woods was dancing, and Bryan Elkins was performing, and Ariel Guidry was singing, and Mary Valentine was speaking and Crystal Davis was reading and Shayfer and Gabe Perry and Andres Lo were playing and the art and the jewelry and the tapestry and the photography bringing the city inside of itself and just all of it.
Shayfer invited me to participate in March of Crows in 2016 as a photographer. We met a couple of times, and just couldn’t hash out a way that felt significant or inspiring, how photography would fit in to the project at that stage. I suggested filming it and making a documentary and we both felt like, “YES!” I am indebted to Paul Kelly, who worked on this edit tirelessly, and to Chris Lees and Meredith Whitefield who contributed their immense talent and skills and shot with me to make this beautiful doc. Thank you Shayfer for giving me the space to do what I love to do and for producing this project that makes us more beautiful, stronger, wiser and kinder.