Image by David Sylvian
Ingrid Chavez exploded onto the scene in the early ’90s as perhaps Prince’s most thrilling, and very young new protégé. Her still shiver-inducing debut album, curiously titled May 19, 1992, was released on Paisley Park Records in 1991 to tremendous buzz—and the tracks “Elephant Box” and “Hippy Blood” remain favorites of ours to this day.
But as happens with sometimes being thrust into the spotlight too soon, she opted out of pursuing a further career in music, instead choosing to focus on raising a family. She finally returned in 2010 with her follow up, A Flutter and Some Words. Then last spring she released the stunning new album Memories of Flying, perhaps her most perfectly realized creation to date—and including the moving Prince tribute “You Gave Me Wings.” It decisively exhibited an artist shot through with an entirely new creative vitality.
Having just before lockdown left behind her rural New Hampshire existence for a new life and new challenges on the West Coast, we asked her to share her thoughts on the twin anxieties of pandemic and racial strife mercilessly marking this moment in our history.
A Long Deep Breath
In February of this year, after having spent two months in Big Sur, I decided that I was ready to pack up my old life in New Hampshire and make a move to the west coast. Carefully picking the things that were essential for starting a new life here, I put the rest into storage there and made my third drive cross country in as many months. I arrived back in Big Sur on March 2, just as the first COVID-19 community-spread cases in Northern California were announced. I set up my house just in time. The shelter-in-place order here went into effect March 18.
And just like that, as if some Divine Being pushed pause on the old boombox, the world came to a grinding halt. Time out.
It felt as if the earth and every living thing on it took a long deep breath, held it for a minute, and in the exhale, the curtains were blown wide open and the racial disparity in America was on full display. The past few years have worn the fabric of this nation thin. As thick skinned as we think we are, there is only so much rubbing of old wounds we can take before we break.
The coronavirus was the straw that broke the donkey’s back. Being an artist, I seek such moments in life where I am alone, without distraction. I am used to living on little money. It’s the hustle I prefer. But for most people living in the United States, COVID-19 has shown a big bright light on the great divide, the two Americas. As tensions grew over the rising death toll and unemployment, it was the black and brown people who were disproportionately effected. The last thing we needed was a president stirring the pot, too much salt, and no pepper.
So here we are two and half months later. The lid blown off the pot, we find ourselves a nation united despite the current administration’s efforts to divide and conquer. Everyone at home with little distractions, we were more tuned in to the news than we might have been had we not been in the middle of a pandemic. The killings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd brought the country to its knees, literally. Had they not been caught on camera for the world to witness such heartless brutality, we wouldn’t be here today. Those caught on camera brought awareness to those not: Breonna Taylor. Tony McDade. Manuel Ellis. David McAtee. White America had to ask itself, “Am I okay with this?”; and furthermore: “What can I do?”
Having lived in Minneapolis for 12 years, I am well aware of the racist underbelly of the city I love. I am not surprised that the murder of George Floyd occurred there under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer causing the spark that caught the world on fire. I moved from Georgia to Minnesota in the early ’80s. I am reminded of growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta in the ’70s. A black family moved into the all-white subdivision I lived in as a child. One morning when I went to the school bus stop across from their home, there was a cross on fire on their front lawn with ‘KKK’ burned into the grass and into my memory. They moved shortly after.
COVID-19 is not the only virus that this country is dealing with. Systemic racism is a virus very much alive and coursing through the veins of America. We are dealing with an administration fanning the flames, desperate to hold onto power at the expense of our peace and liberty. If anything can give us hope in these dark days, it’s the tens of thousands of people, black, brown, white, everyone, flooding the streets of every major city in this country and others around the world, marching together and protesting the racial injustice that is eating away at the soul of this country.
Vote. Not just for the presidential candidate. He is weakened without a senate majority supporting him. Educate yourself. Vote down ballot. We are the majority, and it’s more important than ever for us to flex.
Wouldn’t it be great if as a country, once a year, we could all take a pause together? Not because of a pandemic, but because we sometimes need to stop, give the planet a break, to re-evaluate our priorities, to think about where we are going as a Nation. Pause to reflect on our actions and how we might be blind to our own prejudices. In this pause, the planet took a deep clean breath and readied its empty streets to be filled with a new generation united in protest to a world gone mad.