Originally featured on Hollyhock Talks, a leadership and learning blog.
I’ve never met Morley before but when I was preparing to interview her, what I discovered was quite daunting: a multi-award winning, activist mobilising, spiritual teaching, classical dancing, singer-songwriter from the “City that Never Sleeps” – New York.
Furthermore, this Hollyhock presenter has been compared to the likes of musical royalty such Joni Mitchell and Sade. I was doing my best to not psych myself out.
When I made the call, the voice on the line was soft and melodic, but at the same time pronounced and powerful, with an accent that transported me onto the F train towards Jamaica, Queens NYC, Morley’s stomping grounds. Each word spoken was laced with passion.
Morley bends musical genres with connections to global sound and natural sound. Being raised in Jamaica, Morley knows what it means to live amongst, what at times felt like, the world. Her love of global cultures and traditions stemmed from going to a UN international elementary school and living in one of the most culturally diverse places in the United States.
The smells and sounds of food and music from the Caribbean, Philippines, India, and Greece stimulated her senses as she marched to the community’s hypnotic drum. It was amongst these differing tastes, languages and cultures, Morley had the revelation: “There is no other world… This is it… We need to humble down and fall to our knees in gratitude for each other.”
No matter where you originally came from, you are Queens.
“Culture is: music, dance, food, poetry“
Being from Queens meant Morley was in good musical company, with innovators such as Simon & Garfunkel, A Tribe Called Quest, and The Ramones hailing from the same borough. Despite breathing the same air as these greats, it wasn’t always this way for Morley.
She wanted to dance and be of the yogic lineage but eventually felt like she could connect deeper with something more primal, more visceral and innate. “Song is the ultimate way to connect… It’s like sitting around a fire in a circle.” Sharing stories, song and tradition.
“All children sing; leave them alone long enough and they will start singing – the main reason why children stop singing is because someone told them to.” Morley explains. I delicately ask, “Did anyone ask you to stop?”
In Morley-style, she enthusiastically confirms. I was puzzled at first with her positive outlook, but it quickly became apparent that resistance was only funds placed in the right investment. She would eventually take singing lessons: she had to sing, one way or another.
[Song] creates vibration in the body and tickles the cells that are
made of water which ripple out like waves. It’s healing.
Morley began her journey through song sheepishly, singing to an audience of one – herself. Her vocal coach advised, “you must sing to the air directly in front of you!” She would master this and then challenge her voice to carry a foot away and then across the entire room. Morley explained to me that she was her own roadblock and the way to overcome it was to change perspective – “it’s 90% psychological and you have to visualize it, then your body can do it.”
Morley has since released 6 albums, named by the New York Times as the Emerging Artist of the Year, awarded Songwriter of the Year by ASCAP, toured globally under the banner of love, justice and inspiration, and has had the honour to perform for His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, and Ban Ki-moon. Visualization to fruition indeed.
Nature is always in collaboration.
As if she weren’t busy enough with this bevy of work, Morley will be with us for the second time in July. When I asked about the most impactful moment from last year, she found it was simply impossible to pinpoint just one. I suspect it has something to do with being surrounded by the forests and waters of Cortes Island versus the small plots of grass in Queens.
Despite the minimal green space, it was in New York City that she fell in love with the natural world:
“I was 7-8 and we moved to Parkway Village. It is a place where people who work for the UN [live]. There was a little patch of grass in the front of our apartment. I would sit there and they had dandelions… I was vibing out with those dandelions. The contrast of the green and yellow… and the sun! I would sit out there for hours.”
She admits that at that moment the transmission between her human body and the natural world began. The natural world has since become a place of wonder, where she hears sound in all things, even the colours. The vibration of the purple in the flower petals to the buzzing nodes and scales of the bees all providing inspiration for her music.
But even still, there is something about Hollyhock and Cortes Island that is different, something different then going anywhere else. Morley recounts, “[At Hollyhock], everyone comes together to better the planet and themselves.”
Open gentleness is the definite way to continue forward.
That’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? Being around like-minded people building towards a better tomorrow. Hollyhock is a place of wonder and freedom, where you can let your inner child roam free. A place to rest and refresh; recharge your batteries and tap into a side that you aren’t normally connected to. Join Morley, alongside Sheila Wahsquonaikezhik, in their program “Music for Collective Sound” to flourish your creative spirit through Indigenous tradition, yoga, dance, and song.
As Morley states, “we can write ourselves back into the sun and from the sun – from a big luminous space”.
Shine with us this summer.