A few weeks ago while attending a community event, a beautiful song in French start playing over the speakers during the devotional portion of the gathering. I had had to know who the singer was and where I could find the song.
It turns out the the song was by Delia Olam, a Baha’i who lives in Adelaide, Australia and she’s someone whom I had met several years ago at a conference. As someone quite involved with music and the arts, it makes me sad to think that there are so many great Baha’i inspired songs and other initiatives happening around the world that unfortunately go unheard to the vast majority of friends. One of the main aims of Baha’i Blog and our Resource Directory is to make sure that these wonderful initiatives are shared with others, and Delia Olam’s album HELLO … i Like You is one of those gems which has been hidden away from most of us for some time now.
I immediately caught up with Delia to find out more about her album, and she’s also allowed us to stream the song I heard at the devotional. The song is called O Ami, and it’s the Hidden Word “O Friend! In the garden of thy heart plant naught but the rose of love…” in French. You can play the song at the bottom of this post.
Baha’i Blog: So can you tell me a little about your album and how it came into being?
Sure, love to. Well, this album, content-wise, was a long time in the making really. Because I began seriously songwriting at around 16 (that’s if we assume that pre-teen Madonna-inspired a capella love ballads don’t really count). Yeah! So at 16 I ‘caved’, and had my dad (who is a really great musician, actually; both my parents are and they always sung together professionally) – I finally allowed him to teach me guitar. And out it all came! That guitar became a very valuable companion to those, you know, ‘interesting’ years [laughs] and songwriting became the tool through which I would explore and gradually understand these vast, internal landscapes. It was really such a bounty.
Anyway, that’s when the songs began, and a couple of songs written when I was 17 made it on to the album, along with a few from every year after that, up to when I was 24, and started to record. On a recommendation I approached the multi award-winning and highly experienced producer and sound engineer Mick Wordley of Mixmasters studios in South Australia. He’s also worked with Jeff Lang, Ben Folds, The Superjesus, The Yearlings etc, and he favors a kind of stripped back, acoustic sound. I discovered not only a great working relationship with Mick himself, that was really energetic and exciting, but also a studio environment that was deliciously old-school and …sort of, nurturing, which is what I needed I guess. Because they really foster a space where a band can just get in the groove, play a song, and then that’s what gets put down on tape. Literally. Because they still do analogue recording there, which is so great, and has a beautiful, raw, warm sound. And that’s pretty much how it went, once we finally got down to it. A really laid-back and joyful experience that still makes me smile to think of.
I had been living overseas for a while, and had been mostly singing solo until then, but Mick introduced me to an amazing group of musicians who became the band for the album, and subsequent shows. There was Damien Eldridge on percussion, who was also the drummer for e-type jazz at the time; Emma Luker on violin, who plays solo and also with The Fiddle Chicks; Lyndon Gray on double bass, who was also the bassist for The Audreys at that time, and leads his own jazz trio. Apart from that, Jasmine Ridley played a bit of piano and Daniel Pierce, also known as my ‘hubby’ did some very beautiful second guitar work. Mick’s own musical credits on the album are also pretty extensive, because he would just pop into his studio a lot of nights and try out a bit of tiple here, a bit of organ there… He had fun, it seems.
We got together as a band whenever we could over the period of about a year, probably spending about a week’s worth of time, maybe two, actually IN the studio. Then there was post-production, having a baby, directing a bunch of theatre shows, going on pilgrimage, during which time I was involved in the mixing and mastering of the tracks with Mick, until finally – we were ready for the debut album launch! It was such a great event, and at the pretty legendary Governer Hindmarsh Venue, with support from Josh Spiers and some collaboration on the night with special guest Heather Frahn. It was a big crowd, lots of love, lots of fun.
Baha’i Blog: Why was it important for you to record this album and what effect did doing this have on you personally?
Mm, gosh; Why WAS it important?! Well, it was important for me personally to record because – quite primally, it had grown into a compulsion that, had it been ignored, would have caused me great pain! [laughs] No, but, having just spent two and a half years singing several 3-hour gigs a week to mostly non-English speaking audiences in Tahiti – whilst my performance craft was growing considerably, I did begin to feel quite strongly that if some of these songs weren’t recorded – as in, the record of an event – the event of my youth, really – then I would soon have lost the heart for it, and it would never happen; it would be time for the next generation of songs to live in me, and these would be forgotten, somewhat. But I had experienced them as strong connectors to people, emotionally AND spiritually, and sensed that they had enough worth to be honored in that way. So there was enormous satisfaction with the making of the album, in that sense.
But also, as I said, there was this sense that the songs possessed the capacity to connect with people in occasionally quite profound ways and, with that, there was this growing, still very open-ended question of what “Baha’i Art” or, more specifically, “Baha’i Music” can be? And really feeling called, as an artist who happens to be a Baha’i, (and my music IS so often inspired by the Writings and Teachings of the Baha’i Faith), to be part of the discourse by contributing my share, you know? Just giving it a crack, and learning through the experience. Hopefully, to grow.
Baha’i Blog: What advice do you have for other Baha’i artists who want create their own music?
Do it!! Definitely, just do it. There is still so much for us all to learn and explore and create and discover in the realm of, as I was saying before, “Baha’i Art and Music” – that, if you have that impulse or that calling within you, then that is such a bounty for you, and for everyone else who would be inspired by your courageous example, and nourished by the gift of your music, and that may prompt others to create their own music too. Let’s all just get in the game, you know? That’s what I think. Plus, you’re bound to know something about how highly the Arts are praised and how strongly they were encouraged in the Writings, by Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha, and The Guardian… so you know it’s not gonna, like, make God angry; No matter what your parents say! [laughs]. Personally, I get so much out of playing the albums of other Baha’i artists, being lead through virtual devotionals and deepenings or just emotional landscapes, all in one sitting, and all in a way that goes straight to the heart. So; Do it! Just do it! I’ll buy your music. And listen to it. Promise.
Baha’i Blog: You had done a year of service in Vanuatu, and then later went pioneering with your husband to Tahiti. You had mentioned to me that some of your songs were inspired by these experiences and the concept of service in general. Can you share with us a couple of key learnings which really stuck with you as a result of these experiences?
Aah… ‘learnings’. Wow. Well, yes, I hope I can! Because I know I learnt a lot! .. or I think I did. I’ll give it a try. Let’s see…
First, Faith means almost nothing unless and until it is accompanied by action, and that when it is, it suddenly comes into focus and means everything!
I say this especially because, right up til about 6 months before I actually went to Vanuatu for a year of service, I was pretty troubled by this misunderstanding that I had; a sneaking suspicion that to “be a Baha’i” maybe just meant sitting around, feeling smug and knowing the latest, most ‘up to date’ answers to Life’s eternal questions. And I really could not reconcile that to my desire not only for adventure but more specifically for – maybe even a spiritual quest! You know? I wanted to ‘discover’ and ‘be amazed’ as both my parents had and frankly, felt a little ripped off. Well, what I ‘discovered’ on my year of Service was how absolutely sublime and.. engaging it is to live your life animated by the one constant question, “How can I be of service?” – which elevates even the most menial task and suffuses it with joy. That year in Vanuatu was (and probably will remain, in my memory) the happiest year of my life – albeit the most exhausting and confusing and challenging. Perhaps even because of all that, actually. And I was ‘amazed’ to reflect on all the years I wasted before that, wishing idly for adventure, when it turns out that there is just so much uncharted territory to explore as we all consciously contribut to the building of the ‘New World Order’ that Baha’u’llah has set in motion or, ‘DIY Peace on Earth’ as I also like to call it. All of which is an exhilarating quest! There is, mercifully, no time for sitting around, feeling smug, after all.
Secondly, balance is so much more ‘gansta’ than extremes of any kind, and comes recommended by both Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi. So, I say THIS because, when it comes to a whole Life of Service, (which is what I began to learn about when I arrived in Tahiti, a newly wed, newly 21, and new to the concept, even, of a ‘Pioneer’ as such) where there’s more than just you, your guitar, and the immediate task at hand (that basically describes me in Vanuatu); because now there’s family responsibilities and community life and maybe studies and work, whatever that might be for you… Suddenly it’s difficult to apply the example modeled by the role models of one’s youth. You know, the completely unhealthy, mostly dysfunctional, beautifully fragile, tortured geniuses who sacrifice almost everything but their calling to bring into to the world eternal grains of truth and heart breaking brilliance. …Or was that just me? [laughs] Well, having carried that ‘ideal’ within me I also carried a deathly fear of – what I perceived as the ‘mediocrity’ of a well-balanced life, like that would be the ‘easy way out’ or something! (And I abhor the notion of taking the ‘easy way out’). But in practice, striving after Balance – where you carry all those threads forward, steadily and carefully, and are constantly checking yourself for false dichotomies, so that you can allow your Faith to really breathe into every aspect of your life, and experience something like wholeness – REALLY going for that, and still nurturing yourself and the precious people in your life (Imagine that!?)… Well, it’s the new Rock’n’roll, that’s all I’m saying. Just try it. [laughs] Plus, super rewarding, and much more sustainable than the other way.
So yeah. Those are a couple of my little ‘pearls’, for what it’s worth.
Baha’i Blog: What was your experience of pioneering in the Pacific Islands like and how has that shaped you?
My experience of pioneering in the Pacific Islands was, first of all, a whole lot of fun! And in an environment of almost over-the-top lushness and beauty. I really enjoyed the all-pervasive and almost pig-headed joy for life that appears to grow so naturally under a tropical sun. Its a cultural attitude to all of life’s seasons that really resonated with me, and – when I’m in that environment – it brings out an aspect of my self that feels more, sort of, raw and maybe ‘genuine’ than a lot of other ‘incarnations’ of me that have existed, either before or since; does that make sense?
Or maybe I should say, living in the Islands, and (perhaps more to the point?) striving after deeper and deeper understandings of what it is to live in submission to God’s Will and to follow the promptings of the Spririt, to experience the meaning of true sacrifice (ie. that it’s an exchange of pearls for rocks, so cheer up and enjoy!), and efforts in that epic Balance described before, AS WELL as this infectiously laid-back and creative approach to challenges modeled by my Islander friends… (not to mention the pretty common attribute of fierce, heart-on-your-sleeve strength of conviction and an irony-free Wonderment at God’s mysteries)… All of that revealed parts of me that I was, obviously, really grateful to discover, and which definitely continue to shape me today, in other environments, tropical or otherwise. The pioneer spirit; even the ‘Islander’ spirit for that matter, you soon realise, are something that you can carry with you anywhere, even to, say, suburban or rural Australia, where there are a lot of people who seem to be very happy – even relieved – to engage with someone who is raw and optimistic and inclusively action-oriented – or trying to be, anyway… you know.
Baha’i Blog: What do you hope listeners will walk away with after hearing your music?
An album! [laughs] No, seriously, though… I wonder if I know the answer? Because we’ve already talked about how the album came about and the spirit in which it was made, which was not concept-based, and therefore it’s a bit of a gamut in there, from love woes and highs, Baha’i principles explored through experience, emotional tragedies and victories. All very personal and honest, though, which I am very conscious ends up on the receiving end having very little to do with the songwriter themself, but (hopefully, really!) rather with an equally honest place within that person listening. Nonetheless, I get the sense that that honesty inspires a feeling of closeness, of friendship even, which I’m only too happy to endorse. Hence, the name of the album: “HELLO …i like you.” That little phrase was actually a badge that I made and wore for a while before bestowing it on the album, because of how often people responded to the inert badge on my jacket like they hadn’t heard such a thing since early primary school some time, and were overwhelmed with gratitude at the offer. And I genuinely really like people! So, I do kinda hope listeners might walk away feeling a bit, well, liked, and confided in, and as if a conversation has begun that we’ll continue together over coffee at a later date. But also, considering the pervading themes …Maybe a few of those things I mentioned before: A bit of that raw, optimistic, action-oriented vibe. Maybe?
Baha’i Blog: Do you have any plans to release or work on more music in the future?
Yes, I do! I’ve had a couple of girls since the creation of those “…i like you” tracks and the fresh persecution of Baha’is in Iran also occurred since that time. These and other landmarks, and travels, new launguages learned etc – are things which have inspired new songs which are beginning to worry at me the way that first lot did. That feeling that they’ve just gotta be thrown in the ring, especially before their ‘life force’ is spent. Wow, mixed metaphors?! [laughs]. I’ve also spent a fair bit of time writing and developing a theatre piece on Tahirih the Pure, (as I also work as a theatre maker and director), and I’ve been incredibly moved by her poetry, some of which I’ve begun to compose around. I can see this growing into a full LP, with some Middle Eastern instrumental collaborations… Watch this space, I guess. Or better yet, drop me a line if you want to be involved! Yeah!
Baha’i Blog: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview Delia!
You can check out Delia’s album here, and here’s the track O Ami which I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Happy listening!