All of the Colors
On September 20, 2017, Sofar Sounds partnered with Amnesty International to put on 300 concerts in homes all over the world. Together, they both succeeded in Sofar’s mission to “bring the intimacy back to live music” and raised money for the Give a Home campaign.
In colors as bold as their lyrics and with voices as captivating as their personalities, Camille Trust, Cha’ves Jamall, and Michael Blume arrived to the “Give a Home” show on September 20 with a message to spread. Over the course of the night, the talented triad of primary colors delved into the problems of today and ultimately, aptly, answered the question “What does ‘home’ mean to you?”
One of the most potent themes of the evening was temptation, specifically the temptation to fit in by being an inauthentic version of yourself. In his song “Deep Sea Divin’ ”, Cha’ves Jamall compares his struggles to fit in with the NYC way of life to a deep sea diver’s exploration of an exciting and shiny underwater world. The diver is submerged in fun and stimulation but leaves the truth and light of the surface behind. Because he “[wasn’t] the average boy” and because “there’s nothing worse than being found out”, he “tried to deploy a single droid [that] was artificial, superficial.” Underwater, he could hide his secret self, but it came at a cost: this “not-average” boy “couldn’t be legit when he rhymed.” He was living a lie.
Ultimately, such pressure to conform to societal expectations takes its toll. In his song “How High”, Michael Blume addresses the consequences of such repression. Blume prefaced his performance of “How High” by explaining all the emotions and experiences that inspired the song. As a gay man, he missed out on the classic romantic experiences of adolescence and young adulthood. (“Remember candy stores / And countless romances / And middle school dances”). Repressing his true self as a young man was “a dark path,” and he was “doing a lot for show.” As a result, he admits he is still “catching up on love” and asks “What does it taste like? How does it feel? What is it made of? Will you wait for me?” By the end of the song, Blume expresses the anger caused by these struggles and asserts, “I’m unprepared and I’m underserved… I’ll never be the man, so yeah I’m actually kind of fuckin’ pissed.”
Camille Trust takes a slightly different angle on the theme. She addresses the importance of being honest with yourself (especially vis-à-vis relationships) and heeding your inner voice. In her song “Bad Habit,” Camille sings about an unhealthy relationship; she was holding on to an idealized conception of what the relationship could be or used to be; she needed to “let go of the fairy tale,” because in reality the boy was just a “nasty … bad habit,” and Camille didn’t “want to have to go and find the antidote to the venom in [his] bite.”
On the flip side, she also talks about the importance of being honest emotionally when you can’t get over someone. When you’re struggling, it’s healthier to express rather than repress your emotions. “It’s okay to not be okay,” she says, introducing her song “Move On” in which the lyrics “Laying in our bed alone and I can’t move on. Why’d I give you up?” give voice to a sentiment we’ve likely all felt at some point (and may or may not have vocalized).
In the music industry especially, the pressure to conform to expectations is notoriously ubiquitous. In his song entitled “Glass”, Cha’ves Jamall explains what it’s like to be a victim of this pressure. All too often our favorite artists “ain’t saying what we wanted to hear / They ain’t saying what we all fear.” Rather than talk about real things, they’ve been bought out by big labels offering fame and riches in return for inauthentic lyrics, and as a result, have failed in their mission to convey the truth. If the “glass” is the truth, these artists who sell out have “dirtied the glass.” The up-and-coming artist is left with a choice: “Should I stay or just press play?” Cha’ves seems to decide he won’t be a victim to the traditional cycle of getting popular and then selling out: he “can’t wait for them to run the cycle again.” He won’t be just another artist who succumbs to temptation.
Michael Blume echoes this sentiment in his song “I am Not a Trend (No Rules)” when he says he “make[s] real shit and they don’t want to listen / They want a number one single that glistens / money, love, bitches.”
As if responding to Blume’s request for “real shit” instead of the “money, love, bitches” genre that the labels ask for, Cha’ves presents the song “Field Trip” which explores the all too swept-under-the-rug topic of mental health and its affect on relationships. Cha’ves openly confesses that despite people who “tell [him he] should be ashamed … my mental health affects my courtship game.”
Luckily for the listeners on September 20, the talented artists did not just present the issues in today’s society and culture; they also demonstrated their resilient rebuttal of the request for artificiality. Unabashedly themselves, Michael, Cha’ves, and Camille overcome precedent and refuse to “let them run the cycle again.” Cha’ves may have been a deep sea diver once, but in his song “Crown Me,” he concludes in a celebratory tone, “Cuz you could have drowned me / but I found me / I’m a man among men / Come and crown me.” Delivering a similar message (in “I am Not a Trend (No Rules)” ), Michael celebrates his beautiful, unique self: “[They] look at me like I’m from the planet Mars / But it’s okay I’m in the stars.”
Ultimately, life is more vivid when you can be your true self.
But individuality means little without the context of community, and a sense of community was the very reason we were gathered together that night.
Thousands of people in homes across 60 countries had congregated to enjoy music and raise money for Amnesty International’s “Give a Home” campaign, and this show was particularly special due to its unique format:
The night began with the MC, Steph, explaining that rather than the three acts performing sequentially like a typical Sofar show, they would all be taking turns. Moreover, many of their songs were performed, written, and/or arranged jointly, and much of the band was shared across the acts. Michael explained that he, Camille, and Cha’ves are in fact great friends¹ and were very excited to perform together and that “the theme of community is particularly apt for what we’re doing tonight.”
Tying in beautifully to the theme of community and home, Camille and Michael sang a song entitled “Mackenzie and Nick”, whose refrain, “Thank you for the ride home” was inspired by a time when Camille and Michael were in Florida visiting Camille’s family. They found themselves lost (aka sans cell phones) in a park when finally, after many hours of waiting, two teenagers (Mackenzie and Nick) drove by and offered them a ride home. It was a lighthearted song, but Michael expanded upon it by saying, “Everyone deserves to have a place that is theirs and they belong.”
If the evening were an academic paper, the thesis goes something like this: All people deserve a home — both a physical one and an emotional one. All people deserve a place where they are safe and free to express all of their colors.
 Fun fact: Michael first met Camille when he heard “that beautiful alto” harmonizing with a subway performer