On Wednesday, May 10th, a motley crew gathered at Todd Snyder Madison Square for its inaugural "Whiskey & Words" event. The energy was electric. Those present opened their hearts to hear the sounds of Grammy-Award Winning trumpeter Keyon Harrold. And I had the tremendous honor of sharing stories through poesy which included new work from "Days After Your Departure." Footage of my performances from that evening can be seen below.
Earlier this year, I curated a discussion with my friends about their artistic craft and the practice of creativity. It was a chilly evening in February, but we still gathered at the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn to go OnAir courtesy of WorkxWork.
Our conversation touches on a number of topics synonymous with creating in the modern age; from creative inspirations to the waning shelf-life of social media as a platform for artists. Take a listen below to hear from myself, Daniel Randall, Tamika Wilkins, Jeremy Mitch, and Ludget Delcy.
It's been a long time since I last wrote a journal post on here. But! We're back! Thank you for your continued support. I am writing today to announce that my Kickstarter for my book + film project is LIVE!
Support via this LINK.
For those you haven't seen it yet, check the cover below along with a brief write-up about the book.
"In his second self-published effort, poet and author, Joekenneth Museau, presents an arresting and undeniably emotive work entitled Days After Your Departure. This collection of writings, spanning the course of four years, candidly explores facets of Joekenneth's life directly affected by the untimely death of his mother. Days, albeit difficult to categorize, is best described as a multimedia memoir formed by a tapestry of prose, poetry, and photography (Rog Walker). Like a work within a work, the book's design (Cleon Grey) adds a layer of visual storytelling that accentuates Joekenneth's narrative. The author's journey in faith, grief and mental health, challenges his audience to look inward; encouraging them to confront the delicate nature of their own lives."
Oh! If you're into teasers, you can preview the first few pages by clicking the download link below.
The name itself beckons an instant stream of adjectives. Earthquake. Poor. Dirty. Beautiful. Rich. Majestic. Not to be forgotten are the litany of nouns as well. Home. Family. Hope. Faith. Bill Clinton? Still, we can agree that our opinions and associations of Haiti are a matter of perception and perspective; with the latter being influenced by the former. I remember when I used to be at the mercy of media portrayals and kids in elementary school who hurled racial epithets like dodge balls in gym class. "Haitian booty scratcher" and "banana boat" were the most popular of those ethnic slurs. The initial shock was, admittedly, crippling but I knew that my family (and many other Haitians) did not fit those descriptions. Although I was born in America, I was raised to embrace and appreciate the nuances of my culture; which was a far cry from its supposed barbaric, primitiveness.
More than a decade later, I would visit the land of my heritage for the first time. The following explores my second visit back "home" within two years. So, here are my two cents.
This is Haiti.
Six years have elapsed since an earthquake uprooted Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince. Unfortunately, not much has been done to repair the damage caused by the quake. The reasons follow a vicious cycle of misused relief aid (some billions of dollars pledged never made it into the country), a lack of organization and a “fend for yourself’ attitude prevalent among the inhabitants. As we drove from the airport, I observed a scene from the backseat that played like a looped video clip. Unpaved roads inundated with refuse, street vendors waltzing amongst the flow of traffic, and people decorating storefronts in deep thought; as beads of sweat congregated their foreheads in protest to the sun’s presence. It’s a sobering reality, especially when you know that this part of the country does not capture its essence as a whole.
Our car ride led us to Wahoo Bay Beach Resort; located along Haiti’s western shoreline in the town of Carries. Granted, I’ve been to resorts in other Caribbean islands but this would be a first for me here in my mother’s land. The waters were transparent, the palms swayed with a mesmerizing nonchalance and the food was everything I love about Haitian food. The medley of spices and sauces commonplace in the cuisine were authentic; not compromised for the taste buds of tourists. Here was where I saw a glimpse of what could be a booming industry for Haiti. Wahoo Bay isn’t the only resort. In fact, there are similar locations sprouting around the country. With the right infrastructure and hopefully an all-inclusive resort on the horizon, Haiti could attract more tourism to boost their struggling economy.
The resort was a nice getaway from reality for the first few days but I primarily come here to spend time with my in-laws and extended family. I hope those of you who have seen photos of my wife are not saying to yourself, “Oh! She’s Haitian too?” I’d be thoroughly disappointed. Anyway, my in-laws reside in the south; in the small town of Fond des Blancs. Nestled amongst the mountains, Fond des Blancs is a stark departure from the country’s stifling metropolis. The route is a snail’s journey because of the jagged road littered with rocks; scattered debris from a carved mountainside. Navigation is best described as videogame-esq. Just think of playing Mario Kart in real life.
Outside the confines of the vehicle were passing motorists (the Ubers of Haiti) chauffeuring residents to and from locations. Also sighted were cattle and goats trotting in front of their herders as well as people riding atop donkeys. The serene landscapes and the liveliness on the road entertained us for a time. Then came the petulant, “Are we there yet?” complaints from Sara and myself. I mean, it took an hour and a half to drive 12 miles (20 KM).
In Fond des Blancs, life is very, very rural. Roosters crow incessantly at the break of dawn. Freshly baked bread from the local bakery is prepared during the wee hours of the morning. And the dirt roads silently await the comely feet of passersby. My circadian rhythms weren’t impervious to the sun’s commanding presence; so I found myself up at 6 AM on average.
With the days beginning with so much potential, we did well to make the best use of our time. This included galavanting around the land surrounding the house. Directly outback was fresh vegetation; either to be eaten from its branches or to be used as an ingredient for dinner later that evening. The livestock on the grounds also play a major part in day to day sustenance for the locals. I’m talking about real life farm to table. Cage-free, organic and all that jazz sans the Wholefoods co-sign. We even got to observe the bakers at work in their boulangerie. The structure and the materials used for the bread making process were all built by hand. A true testament to the ingenuity and innovativeness of the people.
On our final evening in Fond des Blanc, my father-in-law flexed his culinary muscles and orchestrated a salivating surf and turf dinner. The arrangement of grilled lobster tails and lobster stew created the perfect harmony when paired with dishes of rice, macaroni, and bbq goat meat. Sara was on hand to document the process, while I waited patiently impatient to commence the face-stuffing.
*Disclaimer: All the food was devoured before we could snap a photo of the complete spread. This is one of those “you had to be there to see it/eat it” stories.
Our finals days in Haiti were marked by more driving and intermittent rainfall. Of course, we decided to travel here during the rainy season. Tickets were super cheap so...yea. Nevertheless, most of my favorite captures were taken through the droplet-ridden window of our vehicle. Life either slows down or hastens during a downpour. I witnessed people dashing for shelter while others defeatedly walked through the storm. There was something poetic about it all.
Eventually, it was time for us to return to New York. Before we boarded the plane we made sure to stock up on duty-free Barbancourt Rhum. This sentence is in no way #sponsored by the aforementioned but if you’re into rum, I strongly suggest you try it. But on a more somber note, as I settled into my seat, eyes peeled onto the runway tarmac, I reflected on my time in Haiti.
I felt torn.
It’s the most fitting adjective when I think about the land of my inheritance. The beauty that I see in Haiti is scoffed at by the older generations who speak with bittersweet nostalgia about the good ‘ol days back home. Life was much simpler before the rampant political corruption which weakened the country’s economy. The U.N’s occupation of the land is also telling of how Haiti’s natural resources have been divvied up by various world powers. At this point, It’s hard to imagine that its infrastructure is capable of repair.
Beyond those heavy, layered complexities are the Haitian people as a whole. The resilience, the love, the pride, are tightly woven threads that have kept the fabric of the population intact. All of their struggles told through astonishing artwork, charismatic storytelling, and riveting rhythms. Engaging my senses to experience a fraction of the accounts my mother related to me at our kitchen table, solidified the intrinsic bond that I have with Haiti.
I’ll never cease to tell of its wonder.
Photography by Joekenneth and Sara Museau
And just like that, I scrapped everything I wrote. There was no joy in writing this book so why even continue in this attempt to make something that would be devoid of love. It wasn't the task at hand...it was me. For the past year and a half, I had been trying to tell the story of how our lives---mine and my relatives---had progressively changed after my mother's passing; all the while failing to acknowledge that I was still living in grief. There were no words that could convince me to believe that I was telling this inspirational tale of how I went from being a forlorn caretaker who gracefully transformed into this optimistic survivor. That's not who I was. It was the furthest notion from my reality.
The writing ceased.
I pretty much just lived my life over the course of the summer. Learned a great deal about myself through my first year of marriage. Traveled to Europe for the first time in the fall. And more than ever before, I confronted my depression head on. I had frank conversations with God about how I felt and how I really needed His help. I didn't want to continue in this vessel of turmoil. Living was becoming a challenge that I no longer felt equipped to handle.
But things got better.
In addition to a renewal of my faith, I made a concerted effort to find the good in any given situation. It's a change in perspective that I actively pursue from day to day. I had completely exhausted myself with negative energy. That was never the way I imagined my life would be. And I know for sure, my mom would tell me to go on walking with my head held high. "Things are bad but they're not that bad." I could feel the soothing vibrations of her voice calming my countenance by simply typing those words.
Soo....I'm writing again!
I have a clearer focus now. I gave myself a deadline. But more importantly, I found my smile again. The content of my book has shifted from a narrative of several perspectives to that of my own; a memoir solely about my life after my mother's passing. It spans four years of time; right up until I pen the final words. I'm excited, nervous yet hopeful. I have no expectations from the masses. This healing is for me. And I think I have a right to be selfish in this regard. I deserve happiness. If I didn't feel like I did before. I know better now.
Photography by Jeremy Minchella (@jchukm)
At first listen, Leon Bridge's song "Coming Home" can be described as a soulful ode to a woman who Leon deems wonderfully unique; the sole subject of his innermost feelings. However, given the artistic value of the song, the muse described throughout the ballad can either be a literal woman or Leon's hometown of Fort Worth, Texas. This apparent ambiguity coupled with the many connotations that we associate with the word "home" opens the way to discussing this theme in its physical, mental and spiritual layers.
I had the inestimable privilege of teaming up with my brothers Joshua Kissi and Travis Gumbs of Street Etiquette, and Rog Walker to flesh out their vision for the VSCO assisted short film. With direct inspiration from Leon's "Coming Home" title track juxtaposed to the historical aspects of the Old Bronx Borough Courthouse, which served as the venue for the project, I wrote and performed a poem that explores the idea of "home" in light of the racial inequalities that continue to be perpetuated in America's legal system.
In my opinion, the blatant disregard for human rights based on racial differences is the poisonous soil upon which America was established. Nonetheless, we must also acknowledge that injustices of this kind have worldwide implications. Millions of individuals across the globe are not able to enjoy the warm embrace of family members, the freedom to take a walk down the street or the God-given right to live without being hunted as prey, simply because their human features differ from that of their fellow man. It's a protracted issue that pains everyone who does well to nuture their sense of justice. And yet, despite all that is wrong with the world today, I have hope that there will come a time when we're all able to live on an earth that feels like home. "...And the former things will not be called to mind."
The judge said, "You’re free to go.”
It’s been 5 years, wrongly accused, no parole.
But the gavel to the sound block creates vibrations
Strong enough to break the shackles from off his bones.
He calls up his wife and tells her, “Baby, I’m coming home.”
She weeps, knowing that men adorning shades of his skin tone
Rarely make it back to the comforts of their living room
To hear the laughter of children whom they call their own.
Home is where shower solos are sung in falsetto
For the water reminds us of the beauty in baptism.
And assures us that love will always rule as conqueror
Even in the face of perceived defeat.
He kisses all ten of her fingers
After being nourished from a meal his soul had sorely missed.
They dance, eyes closed, barefoot on kitchen tiles,
Choreographed by the pulse beating in their palms.
The same ones used to pray for the boys homesick in prison yards
And the families who’ll wait in vain for their sons
Who won’t make it home today.
It’s been a little over two years now since I began writing drafts for what would become a book of memoirs chronicling my life before and after my mother’s untimely death. The skeleton and content of “Days After Your Departure” (DAYD) has thus evolved simultaneously with my growth as an individual. As with any long-term, creative endeavor there has been a constant fluctuation of trials and triumphs. However, the emotional magnitude of this project has been taking its toll on me.
The first day after my mother’s death was the genesis of my battle with depression. I have had difficulty maintaining my joy as a living, breathing human being from that point up until now. An unrelenting emptiness has seemingly become a loyal occupant within the interior of my heart. And it’s not that I consciously, always miss my mother but her absence along with the anxieties that come with adulthood has seemingly knocked the wind out of, what used to be my optimistic disposition. In these circumstances, writing is more of a chore than a cathartic practice. The latter sentiment is why I began writing in the first place in my youth.
Nonetheless, on the days where I can find the courage to confront my keyboard and write a story about a new discovery of self or a happy memory of my mother, it is met with apprehension. Despite how much I try to channel my energy toward positive thoughts, I face the risk of encountering sadness along the way. What used to be a fascination---possibly an obsession---with nostalgia is beginning to manifest itself as a distaste for anything that does not relate to the present. I don’t want to carry my mother on my back anymore. She’s been gone for three years and counting. So, forasmuch as I remind myself that this work may be able to provide some solace to other individuals who are caregivers, family members, friends or whoever, I am learning that it is no easy undertaking.
Aside from the emotional aspects embedded in this project, it is important to note that DAYD is a collaborative effort. I have teamed up with Rog Walker, who serves as the photographer responsible for adding texture to my compilation of written work. Rog, too, has his obligations as a creative while caring for several facets of his family life. As you can imagine, attempts to synchronize our schedules with the intention to document such delicate content has been quite the challenge. Therefore the work has faced its share of setbacks.
All in all, I am striving to complete my book. I have tremendous support from my loving wife, my dear friends, and the VSCO Artist Initiative team, who continue to cheer me on as I write my story for me and for those who’ll read it. My mother taught me to live with a heart filled with goodness and charity. To pass that on to others through my creativity is a beautiful struggle; one that I’m battling every single day.
Credits: Asiyami Gold, Assistant photographer
It was the afternoon of December 25th, 2014. My wife and I were cuddled up at home, enjoying the day off. I was listening to music, while she held her phone, scrolling in an upward motion aimlessly looking for something to catch her attention on Instagram. Suddenly Sara leans towards me and says, “Do you want to go to Dubai?” In what can be said to be a knee-jerk reaction, I burst out in laughter and answered her question with one of my own. “What are you talking about?!” She tells me tickets are $179 (USD) for a roundtrip flight. I brush off her excitement and deem her gullible. I’ve seen enough of those fake Instagram accounts, advertising that the first 50,000 people to follow @JetBlueAirlines wins a free flight to anywhere in the world. Yeh...right. Sara yanks at my arm one more time in an attempt to persuade me otherwise. “It’s not a scam Kenny!” Fine. It wouldn’t cost me anything to check Orbitz and see if this “thing” was a hoax or not. We put in some dates for April/May that were confirmed by some our of friends to have worked for a flight to Abu Dhabi and to my surprise, we were successful! With no hesitation whatsoever, we booked our flight to Abu Dhabi for a total of $433.00 after taxes, fees, insurance, etc. You can never be too careful.
We knew absolutely nothing about Dubai or Abu Dhabi. All of our preconceived notions about these cities were based on hearsay. “The roads are paved in gold!” “Everyone drives a Bentley out there.” After an hour of consulting Google, we were experts about life in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Which included the fact that Dubai and Abu Dhabi were not the same place; they're separate cities in the UAE. We had a little under five months to prepare for our trip and yet, we still chose the day of departure to pack and run errands before our 10:40pm flight. I really think our melanin is to blame. Nonetheless, after running shoeless---I had no time to put on my shoes after the TSA scan---for what felt like a mile inside the airport we arrived at our gate minutes before takeoff. I sat back in my chair and smiled at that fact that I had more than enough time to sleep on this 13-hour flight.
The following day, we safely landed at Abu Dhabi International Airport, eight hours ahead of our folks back in NYC. I was instantly amazed by the modern structure of the airport. Clean architectural lines, candescent lighting and technological amenities (like free-Wifi) had me drooling already. With no pressure to speak or read Arabic, we freely communicated in English to the helpful airport staff and was quickly directed to the car rental area. With the keys to our Chevy hooptie, we got on the road en route to our hotel in Dubai. The highway was virtually devoid of any traffic. It took some time to adjust to smoothness of the pavement. There were no potholes, bumps or any kind of chasm in the asphalt. For a New Yorker like myself, this was a driver's paradise. However, after witnessing cars fly past me to my left and my right, I realized that driving 95 kph (approx 60 mph, for my fellow Americans) was burdensome to the other drivers heeding and exceeding the 120 kph (75 mph) speed limit. Adjusting to the ways of the road felt strange at first, as if i was disobeying the law back home, but the thrill of driving a car to its potential made so much more sense. An hour and a half later, I was handing my car keys to the valet, checking in at the front desk then plopping down in the bed of our hotel room; which was serendipitously upgraded to an executive suite for free ninety-nine. The room had an air of affluence that was befit for individuals who are privy to the perks of a six or seven-figure salary. We’re talking about a view of the marina, a shower unit separate from the tub, a living room adjacent to the bedroom and a plush pillow weaved from a cotton my brain had yet to comprehend as I fell fast asleep.
To be honest, I didn't fall asleep until four in morning and was wide awake by 10am. Jetlag terribly skewed my circadian rhythm for the first two nights in Dubai. My wife and I stayed up at night and slept during the day, as if we were acquainted to midday siestas. Our listlessness could've been partially attributed to the hours we spent galavanting in 100 degree fahrenheit weather. But we still found the motivation to explore the city in the evening. This led us to Ravi Restaurant in Satwa. There, we came to the unanimous decision that we had eaten the best Indian cuisine ever!
Within 48 hours, I began forming some opinions about my experience in Dubai. Through my observations, whether on foot or driving, it was clear to me that this was a fairly modern city. There are buildings lined up side by side on each block. Banks, hotels, trade centers, and more hotels. All of them of five-star quality, with the most luxurious hotel boasting a seven-star rating. My friend Brandon described Dubai by comparing it familiar cities in the United States. "It's like Vegas meets Miami." I've never been to Vegas but from its depictions in the media, I could understand and agree with his analogy, especially at the sight of Dubai's statuesque palm trees. And the more I saw the city, the more disillusioned I became by the lack of Emirati culture that existed. We visited the marketplace (souks) and wandered around Old Dubai hoping to find something distinctly foreign to what we're exposed to in America. To our dismay, examples of Western influence were more prevalent than we expected. From fast food chains like McDonalds & KFC to name brand products that originate in the USA. I can comprehend how such familiarity does well to quell nostalgia for tourists while providing an exotic experience to natives but I did not readily welcome remnants of home when I traveled 6,853 miles to get away from it.
The conversation that led to the above rant about my first-world problems ended with Sara and I, unexpectedly joining friends on a yacht sailing the coast of Dubai. Being at sea, helped me to reflect on my blessings and further appreciate where I was and who I was with. We watched the sun gradually find rest on the west side of the horizon; dazzling us as its slumber smeared the sky with soft shades of orange and red. At the end of our cruise, we parted ways with our group of friends to embark on the road to Abu Dhabi.
The drive back to Abu Dhabi took longer than expected due to traffic congestion in Dubai. I counted about four car accidents on the way to our hotel. Up until now, I doubted the statistics of the high rate of motor vehicle accidents in Dubai. I thought that the residents had mastered the art of driving fast and erratic. Clearly, I was wrong. Thankful for us, we made it to the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr unscathed. The hotel entrance was buzzing with guests who tacitly competed for the award of "Most Ostentatious" as they arrived in vehicles representative of their wealth. It seems that luxury is a common necessity in the UAE. On our way in, we could hear and feel the sound of music thumping from a lower region of the building. Evidently, there was an exclusive party taking place and the crowd was just arriving. We made a beeline to check-in and went up to our room for some shut-eye.
In Abu Dhabi, the weekend starts on Friday so that explained why the scene at the hotel was energetic at our arrival. However, the morning after was marked by a calm quietude. Despite having every desire to sleep for the 10 hours I thought I desperately needed, I was up by 6:45 AM watching daybreak over the serenity of barren streets. Most places don’t open until later on Saturday, leaving us to venture out for breakfast an hour before noon. We dined at the popular and Yelp-approved, Cafe Arabia. Upon entering the restaurant, we suddenly felt transported into a hipster sanctuary that bore the resemblance of cafes in the neighborhoods of Park Slope and Fort Greene in Brooklyn. It had an eclectic decor featuring a library of books, hanging lights and reupholstered furniture among other things. Staying firm to our determination to try something out of the norm, my wife and I chose a Palestinian egg dish. I don’t recall what was in it, but it was incredibly delicious.
Later that evening we reconvened with our friends, who were now also in Abu Dhabi, for a dance party at their hotel. The DJ impressed us all with a vibed-out mix of contemporary and nostalgic hits. For the first time in a long time, I was drenched in sweat from contorting my body to the rhythms played throughout the night. I mean, one simply cannot refuse to do the “dougie” when “Teach Me How to Dougie” vibrates through the speakers. This time, we’d definitely be exhausted enough to get ample rest for next day.
I woke up with unbridled excitement, aware that today was day set on our itinerary to tour the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. We had seen photos of the architectural wonder online and were taken away by its beauty. To see it in person could only wow us even more. Out of respect for the place of worship and its dress code, Sara and I wore traditional garments encouraged to be worn when visiting the mosque. Our eyes feasted on the white marble covering the entire structure. Intricate gold-plated leaves decorated the pillars of the courtyard. While the top of all 82 domes were crafted with 24-karat gold detailing. Inside the mosque, luminous chandeliers, handmade carpeting and floral designs create a uniquely sublime decor. I could go on about my time at the mosque but as cliche as it sounds, you had to be there to see it.
By contrast, Abu Dhabi has a slower pace than Dubai. As the UAE's capital, there seems to be a keener awareness to preserve Emirati culture. To be noted, however, was the strong sense community that permeates among the residents of the UAE. The immigrant population is made up of individuals from countries in South Asia, Africa, the Philippines and others areas across the globe. Their ethnic enclaves operate as a support system aiding to care for the needs of one another. I did not see any kind of homelessness or poverty during my stay. I feel that the employment opportunities in a land that continues grow at a fairly rapid pace has improved the quality of life for many of its inhabitants. And, that is something to be praised.
On our final day, we ditched the city to journey into the desert. The boundless, desolated land provided a panoramic view of mountainous sand dunes. I was reminded of how insignificant I am in comparison to the vastness of the earth. We engaged in a number of activities while outdoors. This included dune bashing, quad biking and riding camelback. It was a satisfying end to a well-spent trip. Until the next adventure!