“Sacred Land” By MB Bolin, The Mystic Bard 1. There’s a dream of the forest green Far north, I was a queen. Soft earth held my royal sleep And my palace was the trees. My heart still lives in the woods up there While I dwell in this stolen land - Everything that I ever had Given me by thieves with violent hands. Chorus: I’ve been singing all these lifetimes, Telling stories, making rhymes. This I’ve got to say, and I’ll shout it ‘Cross the eons of time: Sacred Land I’ve got to give you back, now Sacred Land I’ve got to set you free. By the strength of all I’ve got left in me, I’ll Take my own responsibility. 2. I trust in those whose ancient lines Thrived for eons in this place. I trust in those whose stolen power Built this country, but were given no grace. I trust in those who know this is their time To claim their justice, freedom, life. Control is just a twisted, inner dying, So I trust in this earth’s own crying. (Chorus) I’ve been singing… 3. I don’t know where this country’s going ‘Fore we change, how much pain there’ll be. Can’t go back to that ancient forest Across the eons, across the sea. Earth I feel you, deep inside You hold the light of my humanity. By the strength of all I’ve got left in me I’ll take my own responsibility. Bridge: You’re not mine to abuse anytime, Precious soil, precious life. You’re not mine to abuse anytime, Precious life… (Chorus) I’ve been singing… (X2)
Writing, singing, and recording this song has all been a lesson in stepping out of control and letting a powerful spirit come through. The song was two years coming because, even though I felt it’s spirit ready to come for a long time, I wasn’t willing until recently to let that degree of power into my body, and my music. I first felt the spirit of this song after I finished reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ famous Atlantic article, “The Case for Reparations.” It was a full moon and I had a borrowed guitar. It was January 2020, and I sat in my little room, swayed, cried, and sang about “giving it all back.” I recorded the song at the time, but the next day when I listened to it, I quickly dismissed it, and my voice, as not presentable.
I might have forgotten the song completely if I had not come back, in January of this year, to consider this deep calling that I’ve been trying to follow. It is a calling to sing, to communicate a different message about what music is and what purpose it has for us, and to break through a culture so full of fear and of control. I spoke to my community about my experience of speaking with a prophetic voice, a voice that in the past I had channeled in the context of a sermon and a pulpit. Now, my voice feels much more at home within songs and outside of large institutions. As I spoke of this prophetic voice, I remembered the old song from 2020 and wondered if it was time to bring it out again.
When I heard the sound of my voice on the old recording I was amazed at how strong and beautiful it sounded to me. I thought my voice had changed in recent months. Really, it’s my perception that has changed. That night in my room, at least, I had been letting my true voice through. That version of the song itself was far simpler, and a little more clunky, than what I could now feel its full spirit deserved. So I set about rewriting it.
But I couldn’t get any traction. I felt so afraid that I would fail to do justice to the cause I was uplifting. I was trying too hard and getting thoroughly in my own way. And yet, I could feel that this song was already alive, was asking to come through me, and so I knew what I had to do. I went into a meditative place and asked to see the spirit of the song. When I met that spirit, it took me to a place I had already been in my visions … a deep green woods in the far North. There, I had seen a single, gorgeous bed, sitting out amongst the trees, and I had rested on it for a time. This vision, for me, is connected with my ancient ancestry, and so I knew that the song wanted to begin in these woods.
I asked the spirit to stay with me as I got out my blank book and wrote, letting my pen move fast, letting lots and lots of words flow. As the flow continued, I eventually came upon the chorus, and recognized that I needed to be singing this song to someone… and the someone I am singing it to is the earth, herself. Specifically, this sacred, aching land that we now call the United States.
After I had lots and lots of words, and lots of ideas flowing out on my page, I took out my guitar, picked some random and very simple chords, and started singing lines in a simple, very basic melody. I knew that the full melody wouldn’t come until later, but when I want to let my words take the shape of meter and rhyme, I find it is extremely helpful to just be singing something. And so I sang my metered lines until I found the words that wanted to fit. Sometimes an idea would naturally find a rhyme on its own. Other times I would stop, and think about how to make one. When I do this, I often find an even deeper truth, one I hadn’t yet discovered, ready to emerge. Searching for a rhyming word is like pulling a card from a tarot deck, and seeing new possibilities for what other words belong there, too. This is a line that was inspired by the rhyme itself: “Control is just a twisted, inner dying, / So I trust in this earth’s own crying.”
Within a day or two I had written the lyrics to the song, as you know them. But when I went about finding a melody I once again got stuck. Trying too hard. Getting in my own way. This time, I couldn’t figure out how to step out of the way. So I put the song away again, and almost forgot it for a few months.
When I stepped away from this song I went through a dry spell in my writing. I had a suspicion that abandoning a half-born song doesn’t do good things for my creative flow. But I didn’t know when I would “feel” this song again, and I definitely knew I couldn’t force it. After reading the song’s lyrics again one night, I felt their power. I knew, deep down, that the reason I had left the song incomplete was because I was still afraid of that power. So I vowed to find that melody… sooner rather than later.
Then, I went about my crazy busy week, laundry, school lunches, preparing business paperwork, etc, etc. After one extremely draining day, when my son was finally asleep, I wanted to sing, but I didn’t feel an ounce of creativity in me. I didn’t even feel like singing my own songs. So, I got out the chords and lyrics to one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs, “Shelter From The Storm.” I started to learn that fast, driving guitar rhythm, and to try to sing along. My voice was not finding Bob Dylan’s melody so nourishing – it seemed to belong in his body, not mine. But I loved the simple, repetitive, fast chord pattern. I kept transposing it to different keys to find one that suited my voice. And when I got to the key of “A” something clicked, and I felt the guitar bring me into another state.
I realized, for the first time, what this was. I remembered the rhythms of Candomblé in the Afro-Brazilian dance that I’d studied, each one meant to create a trance state for connecting with a certain Orixá. I remembered the time when I wrote two bars of music on the piano and then played them over and over again, for two hours straight, with no sense of the passing of time. I remembered the incessant drum beat that accompanies the shamanic journey. I remembered that full-moon night after reading the Coates article and getting out the guitar. This was trance, created by the driving rhythm and echoing harmony of the guitar. And those first two chords from Bob Dylan’s pattern, now transposed to “A, Esus4,” were bringing me into another place, far from my exhausting day, where I could feel the spirit of my own song, present, and alive, and ready to come.
I started singing my “Sacred Land” lyrics to Dylan’s pattern, but my lines were longer. And so I went searching for the chords that could keep me in that state. They were much different from the 1-4-5 chords that my fingers often gravitate towards when I’m writing a song. I realized that this song needed more complex, tense harmonies, to reflect the tension of what it means to live upon this stolen land, with such a violent history. The chords I found for the verses were “A, Esus4, Cmaj7, E7, A.” Once I had that pattern, I was finally able to live in the space of this song, and let its melody come. The chorus opens up to the super simple, ringy, “A, D, A” pattern… which, to me, feels just right. It feels like relief to devote to continued, thorough reparations. It feels like relief to take our own responsibility.
And so, I introduce to you this song-spell, this newest friend of mine. A helping spirit, ready to infect us all with a deep desire to heal what’s broken. Here, for you, is “Sacred Land.”
MB Bolin, The Mystic Bard
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