finding a better way
by Lorena Kelly
July 31, 2009
At a Garland Headley concert you will be spiritual fulfilled, but as he says, "don't expect praise and worship, because you get that already on Sunday morning." It's not the typical approach to gospel music, but it's exactly that original attitude that is directing attention to Headley.
Saskatoon's Garland Headley is nominated for a 2001 Prairie Music Award in the category of Outstanding Christian Recording for his 2000 album, Dimensions of Faith. The nomination is an accomplishment that he describes as "taking two years to get to, and twenty years to prepare for."
Garland won his first singing competition at age 6, and wrote his first song at age 8, when he began performing with his father's musical group. His training is largely informal, with his dad passing down knowledge from his own professional courses through a strict musical regime in the Headley home. Garland is quick to point out that music was entirely a voluntary pastime for him as a child, but adds that his father made it his duty to make musical talent and interest a natural occurrence within the family. "There was almost every instrument in the house and we weren't forced play them - we just took naturally to playing them. Instruments were pretty much like furniture. Singing also became a very popular pastime in our house. And it wasn't just limited to background singing; we sang anything, anywhere and it didn't matter what!" Formally, Headley took short courses with leading vocal artists in Trinidad before travelling to Canada. "It's been quite a process when I look back on it now. That's why I say it took me 20 years to prepare for it; to develop the ability and the mental agility that you need for a project like this."
That project, Dimensions of Faith, echoes the musical freedom of Garland's childhood. In both style and message, he resists traditional categorizations in favour of his own forms of expression. For starters, he's added hip-hop to gospel music. "Being from the Caribbean, we are exposed to a lot of styles of music. Two are hip-hop and reggae, and that is the approach I've taken with the album." Dimensions is all about the variety in people's ways of worshipping God that Garland has had the privilege to experience. He has been able to describe how Christians feel about worshipping God in their own ways, as unique as those ways may be. Ironically, many of the (Christian) album's songs were born of a resistance to the traditional ideas of worship. "A lot of it came out of my teen rebel days and only because I hated to conform to standard issues. Why do we have to do this the same way every Sunday? There's no point...the humdrum continues and then you lose the essence." He adds that the days of God meaning 'to sit down and shut up' are over, and that worship music should be allowed to spread beyond the church.
It is, perhaps, these rebellious thoughts that appeal to Garland's young fans. His music has been a welcome alternative for Christian teens in Canada. "The response I've been getting has been tremendous. I have been approached by a lot of young people at the churches that I've been to, and their consensus was that this was the kind of music that they've been looking for all along. They were tired of hearing so much rock and pop and country in their music and this was the alternative that they needed."
He also found an unexpected fan in his father. Garland was nervous about presenting the project to him, given its unique and untraditional style. "I was a bit timid to let him have a listen to the style of music on the album, only because his style is a lot more structured, like the old time gospel stuff, and he prefers that. And he shocked me by saying, 'Wow, this is good, this is awesome. I'm really proud of you.' So I thought it was pretty cool of him to support me."
Garland's musical journey is also supported daily by his biggest fans - his wife and new baby boy. Maintaining a healthy relationship with his wife and playing a big role in his son's life are very important to Garland. "That's the main part of my challenge, only because a new baby is always demanding and means no sleep. And between no sleep and demanding, you still gotta find time to practice. We try to work a good schedule and work ourselves in properly. I think above all, human life is a lot more important than any achievement that an individual can attain, so I would like to be around as much as I can for his first few impressionable years. That doesn't mean that I'm going to forsake my audience, my fans, because they helped me to achieve the kind of lifestyle that I have. So it's mutual respect on both grounds."
Garland speaks very passionately about the message he would like his music to carry - not one strictly of Christianity, but of something bigger. "There's no need for arguments or debates on the issue of worshipping God. If we want to take that internationally...you can't tell a tribe in Africa (who's worshipping God) that they can't play their drums, that the rest of the community is using them for spiritual invocation because that's their culture. If you come to my country in Trinidad, most of the music will be geared toward a version of Calypso we call Soca. The variety of ways that people worship belong to them, and we underestimate God by trying to limit people in their forms of worship. I think that ought to stop, and (we should) allow people to express themselves in God the way that they best know how. Everyone has a different spiritual growth. Let's let people grow."
Garland recently carried that message to Edmonton for Prairie Music Week, planning to network with industry contacts and meet up with old friends. He appreciated the chance to attend several workshops last year in Saskatoon, including the Cowboy Junkies' Internet session and a songwriter's workshop.
Garland found the writer's session especially interesting, as his personal songwriting approach is not what would be expected. "Taking lengthy periods of time to conceptualize a song is not something that I am used to. Songs come to me (music and lyrics) in one go, and the song is usually done in an hour. Now I can appreciate the fact that I have that ability, and I think of it as something very rare, very precious. In terms of getting the idea together, I basically get to the studio and toy around with ideas until one works to express the song."
Prairie Music Week will culminate in the annual awards ceremony, and this year he will attend with a nomination. Garland is not a stranger to the Prairie Music Awards, however - last year he volunteered backstage, assisting talent to and from their seats. "Last year, being a backstage volunteer, I thought that was just totally, utterly cool. And I'd feel a lot more comfortable now being front stage."
He may be there soon. His confidence and faith is clear as he compares his music to the competition. "Outright, I feel it's much more intense. Intense in terms of the arrangement. Intense in terms of lyrical construct. It's hard to say...the five nominees, we're all pretty good and I think the jury had their hands full with us."
Regardless of the outcome, the nomination gives Garland a sense of accomplishment at this point in his career. "I feel very comfortable and confident that we deserved this nomination."
Editor's note: The Prairie Music Awards were held on September 27. Garland wowed the crowd at his Saturday night performance at the Industry Awards. For more information Garland, visit www.5-starproductions.com/garlandheadley.
By Lorena Kelly for SaskMusic. Originally published October 2001.
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