This is a piece of creative writing. In 1971 Sly and the Family Affair released their album ‘There’s a Riot Goin’ On’. It is seen as a classic. This piece was set running by listening to the music again.
Quietly spoken his voice crackling barely above a whisper sometimes.
‘It brings the volume down in the house. People have to listen and adapt, like playing in the band.’
50 years on Sly still has a band.’ It’s the same as it ever was, a family affair is everyone involved. Everyone in the home is a musician or working at it. We say we don’t have referrals; we have auditions. What we look for is their ability to adapt and add. They bring their rock, soul, gospel, funk.’
‘Family is having focus, you don’t want everyone doing different, you want them doing differentiated parts of a whole. Some keep the rhythm going, others harmony and others melody. L&M is direction, containment to let all that come out’.
It isn’t at all strange for Sly, to be running a children’s home after headlining a band. ‘It’s an extension, it’s so logical when you think about it. Bands are multi layered, management, roadies, band members, audience (don’t ever forget the audience), and connection. People get blown away when I quote EM Forster’s ‘Only Connect’, they think I won’t know…. then link it to, ‘It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing’. Unless, as Lindisfarne told us, ‘We can swing together’ and connect it ain’t working.’
‘I had the money to do what I wanted to do. What better legacy to leave is to have helped children in desperate times and help them to realise they are not alone? They have family. It’s a big family, and constantly growing. Somewhere in this family is that someone who is going to know this child as soon as they see them and the child will know them. I’ve seen it happen inside a second. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t get tested, “Are you really going to stick by me?, and it doesn’t mean we don’t get exasperated and need the help of others to survive. It takes a family to bring up a child. As Nile Rodgers tells us ‘ We are family. I got all my family with me’
Sometimes Sly says it’s like the end of Chic concerts at the home. The people present, all focussed, all in time, all together. Everyone contributes, giving and receiving.
‘Are we militant advocates for our children? Yes we are! We are not letting them down. We need them and they need us. It’s what a band does? It’s why it is called a group. Bands fall to pieces when they become individual pieces and lose the vision and idea that the group comes first’.
He leans back on his chair. ‘Humans are social beings. There’s always someone plus someone. As individuals pursuing individual goals we all fall apart. An individual idea of history is madness. In fact when you think about it, there is no such thing as a society of individuals. That is madness. Do they have individuality? Yes, of course but it’s the melding of all of those individualities that makes it a society.’
What you get when you meet Sly is unrelenting positivity. ‘Yeh, of course, culture occurs at the point of contact. My identity meets yours and we make another. It requires empathy, if you go too strong that’s impingement into another maybe triggering a reactive cycle. Together we can dream. Alone we face our nightmares’.
Fusion. Unity. You hear him say these words repeatedly. ‘They allow Truth to exist among us. We can feel and say things here among each other as we know we will be carried by the music that exists between us’.
And the Family do play. Friday night is music night. No one goes anywhere as the home is ‘the place to be.’ ‘It’s the moment we realise what we think, we make it all live’.
Things got dark at one time for Sly. ‘I’ve been there, so have others, so we can stick with the child longer than anyone. And pass the baton on. We ain’t going nowhere unless we are all going somewhere’ He bursts into song that voice as good as ever, ‘One child grows up to be somebody that just loves to learn. And another child grows up to somebody you’d just live to burn.’ Running away is addictive, intoxicating. Running from or running to? Our job is to find out and fix it’.
Sometimes Friday night starts with everyone just playing one chord. Slowly it evolves, gets elastic, another hears it and goes along stretching while the other looks and says, “Go on I’m holding this place, I’ve got you covered. I’m still here”. And it gets very loud, it envelopes you, shakes you with the power of something bigger than anyone, or any one. New people have to literally hold onto someone else. It’s a community of sound. Immersive. We are all floating. This helps us be intensely quiet at the start of our family meetings, so quiet you can hear each other’s heartbeats. People are so used to so much noise today that many who become part of the family think nothing is happening or ‘it’ hasn’t started yet. Abused children turn to noise and away from quiet. Something we learn here is that anyone can make a noise, and it doesn’t take much, but it takes a lot to make quiet. A shared silence is a remarkable moment, we say we are gathered. Then when we are off in our lives and we need to connect we only have find silence, and there ‘we’ are’.
‘And sometimes we fall apart. Then one starts again, and we pick it up. We call these moments Phoenix. Life unravels and we knit it back together’.