What is the value of an apology? That is one of the questions that JUNO-nominated singer and songwriter Khari Wendell McClelland is exploring in his new concert, We Now Recognize. The show, which consists of all new songs, will tour six Canadian cities for Black History Month. It comes to the Lincoln Alexander Centre in Hamilton on Feb. 19 at 8 p.m.
We Now Recognize is a partnership between McClelland and Project Humanity, a non-profit organization that uses the arts to raise social awareness. The two collaborated in 2017 and 2018 to create the documentary theatre musical of the Vancouver-based artist’s debut solo album, Freedom Singer. Freedom Singer interpreted songs that might have accompanied McClelland’s great-great-great-grandmother Kizzy as she escaped from slavery via the Underground Railroad.
This show is another personal work, although McClelland originally took inspiration from the current sociopolitical landscape. The number of political apologies that have occurred struck him in the past decade or so and especially in Justin Trudeau’s term. He began to question what constitutes a substantive and meaningful apology.
In writing the show, McClelland found himself reflecting on being wrong and the extent of his compassion for those who do wrong. He considered how recognizing wrongdoing feels and how to move forward from it. With this, he also thought about the relationships he has with the generations of men in his family.
“[I was] looking at my grandfather and my father and my brother and even considering what it would be to be… a father and what the implications might mean for a larger society… [I]t's men who are exerting power and have a lot of control in society… What are some of the ideas… I grew up with that I have at different times perpetuated in my own life and trying to figure out like what that might look like through a generational lens,” said McClelland.
The show explores other ideas that McClelland cares about, such as community and the way we wield power over the natural world. In bringing different ideas in proximity with one another, McClelland sees the work as an assemblage like a quilt or collage.
McClelland sees being able to explore a multitude of ideas as a way of celebrating Black life. Unlike his past work with Freedom Singer, which tackled the history of slavery head on, We Now Recognize, is a subtler approach to Black history that it more rooted in the present and in the future.
“I feel like there are ways in which black life can be can be understood as a monolith, that black people in Black communities aren't allowed to have a diversity of experiences and perspectives. I'm very curious… about creating some kind of radical subjectivity around Black life, like being able to be all these different ways that we are just as human beings,” McClelland said.
Not only will the concert allow McClelland a chance to bring forth the multiplicity of Black life, it will allow him to stretch himself and grow as an artist. The personal show will force him to be vulnerable in a way that he hasn’t been before with the communities across Canada that has supported him.
McClelland sees the connection to music as something that erodes for many people over their lifetime. For him, however, it is something that he hasn’t stopped doing ever since it became a part of his life as a kid growing up in Detroit. It moves him in a way that isn’t necessarily positive or negative, but just is. He also sees the medium as essential to building community.
“I feel like healthy communities move together. That they practice together, that they have rituals together… [O]ur connection to artful practices actually has the potential to heal us as communities and individuals coming together… has this real potential for a deep kind of healing… I think it is just a deep medicine in the way that we come together and make music and make art,” explained McClelland.
McClelland is looking forward to this tour to see how audiences connect with the new songs. He is eager to see the way in which people are moved by this meditation on wrongdoing and apology, whether positively or in a way that is a little uncomfortable.