The Dialogue Magazine

Table of Content and a few notes from the Magazine team

The Dialogue Magazine


Intellectual theft, disco, and Bollywood

Bappi Lahiri and music’s winding international networks

You may not realize it, but you’ve probably heard a Bappi Lahiri song. Regardless, the melodies of some of his biggest songs will sound familiar — more than a few of them lift sections of American pop hits. Lahiri, an Indian soundtrack composer who hit his peak during the 1980s, is responsible for some of the music now automatically associated in the West with Bollywood. Kitschy synthesizers, lush string arrangements clashing with Hindi vocals recorded loud and distorted, drum machines competing with traditional percussion, and blaring horn sections, danced out in front of glittery backdrops — all Bappi Lahiri hallmarks.


Even if Lahiri’s popularity at home and the lyrics of his music make it somehow representative of India, to think of it as intrinsically tied to India’s classical traditions would be a mistake. His songs are a complete fusion, injecting 1970s and 1980s Western pop into the Indian film industry. Lahiri’s biggests hits, like the soundtrack to 1982’s Disco Dancer and 1984’s Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki, were released in an era when socialist India was still mostly closed to outside business and investment. By referencing or even directly plagiarizing foreign music, Lahiri brought new genres and instrumentation into India at a time when they might otherwise not have made it in.

In this one-sided conversation, Lahiri took elements from pedestrian pop and disco songs, and put them to use in completely different settings. The brilliance in Lahiri’s theft was his ability to create new songs from trashy old material by stretching playtimes, adding new layers, and radically changing mood and energy. “Mere Jaisa Mehbooba” from 1984’s Baadal adds female vocals to Herbie Hancock’s robotic hip hop song “Rockit” to build it into something seductive and creepy at the same time. “Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Aaja” from Disco Dancer steals its structure from a piece by French disco duo Ottawan, but strings, plaintive vocals, and a more propulsive drum machine groove take the song far beyond its inspiration. “Everybody Dance With Me” (from a 1978 B-movie named College Girl) tears the riff from “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” and lands it in a glammy stomp, complete with wildly echoing boy-girl vocals. Lahiri’s more original songs are equally thrilling, from the infectious call and response of “I Am A Disco Dancer,” to the relentless bass line and out-of-control synthetic tones of “O Beraham Tune Kiye.”

If Lahiri’s songs had only been popular in India, his story would simply be that of a few good songs and an amusing anecdote on plagiarism. His soundtrack to Disco Dancer, however, was massively popular in Russia and China, indirectly bringing traces of Western culture to the Communist world. Since then, Lahiri’s songs have looped back into North America and Europe. While Lahiri was originally the one taking from foreign music, hip hop producers are now sampling his songs, and songwriters are adopting his aesthetic. M.I.A. repurposed “Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Aaja” into the track “Jimmy” on her 2007 album Kala, and in 2011 Lahiri claimed that Jennifer Lopez had plagiarized elements of “On the Floor” from his 1990 song “Sochana Kya Jo Bhi Hoga Dekha Jayega.”

Today, Lahiri is an over-the-top, chubby figure, and appreciation of his music can unfortunately focus on its novelty factor. Below layers of flash and outmoded production values, however, the back-and-forth at the heart of his music remains captivating for the way in which he took sounds from the West, presented them back to the world as Indian, and kick-started a global exchange of songs and styles.

Learning to read the signs

The development and use of sign language

Learning to read the signs

For as long as there have been people there has been sign language, in some combination of hand shapes, body movements, and facial expressions.

One of the earliest references in sign language in literary history is found in Plato’s Cratylus, when Socrates declares, “If we hadn’t a voice or a tongue, and wanted to express things to one another, wouldn’t we try to make signs by moving our hands, head, and the rest of our body, just as dumb people do at present?”

A strongly held misconception about sign language is that it is somehow reliant on the principles of spoken language, and is simply a translation of spoken word into gestures.

In reality, the only element of sign languages that is influenced by spoken languages is the manual alphabet. Not considered a true component of sign language, the spoken alphabet can be finger-spelt to spell out proper names.

Sign languages have developed almost entirely independent of spoken languages. This is most clearly seen in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, which share English as their dominent spoken language. However, American Sign Language (asl), used in the US and Canada, is almost unintelligible to those who know British Sign Language, used in the other three countries. The grammatical structure of asl has more in common with spoken Japanese than it does with English.

When you find yourself on a night out and can’t make yourself heard over the loud music or noisy patrons why not try communicating with sign language instead?

Cross-cultural Christmas

Bilingual dialogue in Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence

Cross-cultural Christmas

Director Nagisa Oshima, who passed away this January, is known to have said, “My hatred for Japanese cinema includes absolutely all of it.” Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, made in 1983, was his first “English” film, but it isn’t completely English — the story is the experience of British prisoners of war in a Japanese camp during World War II.

Two of the central characters, Captain Yonoi and Sergeant Hara, are Japanese, and the other two, Lieutenant Lawrence and Major Celliers, are British (Celliers, played by David Bowie, is supposed to have a faded Australian accent, but we don’t really notice, thanks to Bowie’s understated approach to everything). The film incorporates both languages, but we hear English spoken the most by both sides.

The way the characters interact in English involves more than just a verbal exchange. Captain Yonoi, the highest authority of the camp, speaks in English and has a great technical command over the language, but his expression of it is unnatural. In a courtroom scene, we see the dramatic articulations of Major Celliers’ face against Captain Yonoi’s, which makes only the slightest movements. Celliers’ drawn-out, musical voice contrasts with the tight speeches of Yonoi, who speaks like he’s hitting something (which he frequently does throughout the film).

The nature of the spoken dialogue reveals a greater cultural dialogue between the East and the West, which is one of the world’s fundamental discussions. The film presents a number of divergences: each culture’s interpretation of war, how men on the same side treat each other, and the best method of punishing transgression. The Englishness of the film’s perspective puts more focus on a few extreme Japanese customs; for instance, the prisoners are made to watch a soldier being punished for a homosexual act commit seppuku, a suicide ritual fulfilled by stabbing one’s own abdomen. In Yonoi’s mind, this is a privilege to the guilty soldier, because in the war it is better to die by one’s own hand, and generally it is less shameful to die in the war than to survive.

The only Englishman to speak Japanese in the film is Lawrence, who is familiar with Japan and has great respect for its culture. He is called upon to mediate violent situations several times throughout the film. As Hara says to the non-Japanese-speaking British commander in Japanese, “You don’t understand. Only Lawrence understands.”

But Lawrence doesn’t understand. Despite knowing the language, he appears to be more tormented and confused by the brutality of the Japanese officers than any other British prisoner. Criticizing Yonoi’s ideas of justice, he says, “You think that if there’s a crime, then it must be punished, and it doesn’t matter who is punished.” These punishments, such as seppuku, are easier for the rest of the British soldiers to accept, because they assume the practices of this strange, alien culture to be as foreign as the Japanese language itself. They know that the war itself makes so little sense.

It is Lawrence’s unique relationship to Japan, his human experience of it, which causes him to expect the Japanese soldiers to transcend the role of enemy.

Reading between the pixels

How digital media is changing the way we communicate

Reading between the pixels

At home over Christmas, my father came into my room and declared I was spending too much time on the Internet.

Showing him the emails I was writing did nothing to assuage his feeling that I was wasting time that could be better spent. It wasn’t the solitary act of writing that bothered him, but the medium I had chosen for it. I ribbed him and called him a Luddite, because his complaint ­— that digital texts are an inadequate way to communicate — is mind-numbingly ancient, the literary equivalent of shouting about “kids these days.” Even Plato lamented that the written word rendered focal memory obsolete. But perhaps my dad had a point. There is a distinction of more than format between writing a letter and dashing out an email, or spending 10 minutes crafting the perfect tweet. I began to wonder: does the medium in which we write to each other change how we communicate? Could it even change what we choose to say?

Anyone with a university semester under their belt is probably familiar with Marshall McLuhan’s exhortation that “the medium is the message.” My father’s worries aren’t unfounded: when Facebook-chatting or emailing, I simply click lackadaisically between my 11 Google Chrome tabs. Browsing the web encourages a flightiness of attention that can result in serendipitous discoveries, but the experience of writing or receiving a letter is a sort of lexical solipsism — there’s only one communique existing at a time, only one text which is realized by the act of reading it. Digital communication naturally emphasizes the new: your phone buzzes with a new text before you can even hit send; you can follow a Twitter livefeed of a sports event and its ensuing riot. This flightiness is rewarded on the web, because the brain can easily make intuitive connections between pieces of information. Compare this to the physical act of writing on paper, which forces the writer (and the subsequent reader) to temporarily immerse themselves in individual texts in order to absorb their information.

Maryanne Wolf, a professor of childhood development at Tufts University, has said that humans were never meant to read. Each new reader’s brain must create its own method of reading; learning to read and write is not an automatic process which humans are as predisposed to as, say, spoken language. Rather, it is an “open architecture,” and how we learn to read depends on the formal structure of the language read (for example, readers of character languages which use logograms, symbols for entire words or syllables, such as Chinese, rely more on visual memory), as well as the time we put into learning how to read affects this architecture. This means, writes Wolf, that learning to communicate in a digital medium, where a shorter attention span is rewarded, could have dramatic effects on the fundamentals of how we read and write to one another. In 300 milliseconds the brain can access a huge array of visual and semantic information which allows us to decode what we are reading, but it takes another 200 milliseconds for us to further process what we have read, to begin critical analyses of the text. The way we talk on the web rewards skipping this second step, meaning we often don’t absorb or analyze this new information: in high school anatomy you might have been told to write out your notes, in order to better retain the names of 206 bones, but you can skim an email without fully absorbing its content, facilitated by the physical act of scrolling.

In his 1977 work Image-Music-Text, Roland Barthes, a literary theorist who had been bemoaning the decline of text since at least 1940, wrote about the distinction between an “author” and a “scriptor.” Though at the time of his writing the Internet was but a glimmer in the eye of the US military, this distinction between the two types of writers aligns quite neatly with the different mental processes and experiences of communicating on paper and on the web. Barthes’ “author” is our Romantic concept of a God-like artistic creator, one who forms an entirely new world out of their imagination alone. The “scriptor,” on the other hand, can only combine and re-combine existing texts and concepts in new ways, never creating anything truly original. Barthes was writing specifically about books, but we can see similar patterns emerging in e-communication. According to Barthes, the scriptor has no past, but is born with the text as it is written. This creates a new openness for the reader, who can discover in a scriptor’s text whatever she sees fit, but it also means that it is possible to get by on a much shallower relationship with the written word. Grammar sticklers decry the ruin of language brought on by instant communication, and practically speaking, they are correct: digital dialogue rewards reactionary speed and relevancy over accuracy and depth.

My father’s distaste for communicating on the web is two-fold: as a writer, I think he finds the very act of scrolling through emails, rather than holding them in his hands, to be inadequate, and he intuitively worries about what Wolf has confirmed, that when reading and writing on the web we skip those extra 200 milliseconds of analysis and understanding. As digital communicators, we choose words for their immediate value because the nature of the digital medium rewards peripheral attention to the present. This means that the web provides an amazing platform for minority opinions and marginalized voices (witness endless articles on the phenomenon of the Arab Spring and social media) where as hard texts, like letters, do not. Alternatively, physical texts protect information in a solid way that is simply unavailable to digital ephemera, but they are less intuitively accessible.

When we communicate via digital mediums, on Facebook or with email and texting, we can see patterns of shared thought emerging: on a cold day, everyone will be talking online about the weather. Social media urges us to take part in whatever the zeitgeist is presently, a communal reaction to the current mood. Alternatively, written communication like notes passed in class, or letters and postcards, is intimate by nature. We hold them in our hands, and the thoughts expressed by the writer are just for us, the reader. On the web, topics of discussion tend to be cyclical — what’s trending on Twitter, what links are being shared, ad infinitum — because our attention is so divided. No one was addressed directly, so no one was listening and everything must be shared again.

Food for thought

Bloorcourt restauranteurs talk about the art of collaboration in Toronto’s food scene

Food for thought



Who: Claudia Bianchi and Justin Cournoyer, co-owners of Actinolite.

What: Actinolite is a cozy, 30-seat restaurant inspired by European cooking, specializing in fresh ingredients with a seasonally rotating menu.

Claim to fame: Certain items (such as the pavlova) get reintroduced by popular demand, but the menu is probably best known for its novelty — it changes frequently to accommodate what’s fresh and in season, so it’s rare to see the same item twice.


View Larger Map

Foodspeak: For Bianchi and Cournoyer, it’s all about communication and collaboration. As head chef, Cournoyer often tries to open up the dialogue about food to people who don’t work in the industry. As Cournoyer says: “You can learn from anyone. That’s my biggest thing.” Recently, he asked his Sicilian neighbours whether they’d eaten bottarga (a dried, cured fish roe), and how it was prepared. They told him about being served bottarga “with grapes and bread when we were working in the fields,” so he developed a menu based on that response.

Bianchi tells me how much she and Cournoyer enjoy using their food expertise to collaborate with other industries. For example, they recently worked with Fuze Reps (a Toronto-based agency representing photographers and other artists) to host a ‘Bang’ themed event at the event space Metropolis Factory. “We had to work with Metropolis and the decor of this warehouse, and we had to then collaborate with the photographers and all of their works so that the food worked for all of their pieces,” she says. “‘Bang’ and ‘Rock’ were, I think, the two themes, so the food had to ‘bang’ as well. We did some things with pop rocks.”

Thanks to Bianchi’s experience with the Top Chef television series,  she was able to create a pop-up kitchen in a couple of days that included satellite ovens and refrigerators. She describes the experience as “an amazing collaboration of an agency, reps, photographers, interior designers — it was a lot of fun!”

971 Ossington Ave. 416-962-8943. Tuesday–Saturday 6–10 pm



Who: Shawn Macdonald, owner of Disgraceland.

What: Disgraceland is a music-based bar that offers, in addition to the usual meat-based pub fare, a bevy of vegetarian and vegan options.


View Larger Map

Claim to Fame: The “accommodating comfort food,” which includes extensive options for both vegetarians and vegans, and the $14 pitchers of PBR.

Foodspeak: As a vegan, Macdonald knows how difficult it can be to find hearty vegan and vegetarian meals in Toronto. “You know when you go to a restaurant with a group of people and there’s always somebody who can’t [eat meat], so they only get to eat appetizers all night? Well they don’t have to worry about that here. We have lots of vegan options, vegetarian, and meat.”

Macdonald maintains a healthy scepticism about the food scene that’s been emerging in Toronto over the last few years. “I think there’s maybe too much of a [discussion] going on,” he says. “Because you get all of the Food Network followers and it turns everyone into a ‘foodie.’ Everyone thinks they’re one of those guys who critiques food, that they know more because they take whatever they see on TV and use it as their own vocabulary and their own sensibility or their own experience.”

“So they talk about things ‘finishing well’ or ‘pairing with this’ and about 10 years ago — no, two years ago — ask anyone what that was about and they wouldn’t have a clue.”

He says this with a laugh, though, and adds that one advantage is that more than ever people are starting to consider what’s going into their food. “I think people are talking about fresh ingredients when they want to ‘eat better,’ so I think it’s maybe teaching people to watch what they eat or to at least investigate what the ingredients are maybe, and I think that’s good.”

965 Bloor St. W. 647-347-5263. Monday–Friday 4 pm–2 am; Saturday–Sunday 11am–2 am


Who: Rosanne Pezzelli and Christopher Stopa, co-owners of Bakerbots Baking.

What: Bakerbots Baking began as a specialty cake shop that grew into the local go-to spot for quality homestyle baked goods and ice cream.


View Larger Map

Claim to Fame: Special-order custom sculpted cakes, and their ice cream sandwiches, which are made from their homemade cookies and ice cream, and are available year-round.

Foodspeak: Pezzelli and Stopa love that people in Toronto are talking about food — especially if the food is theirs. “We haven’t spent one penny on advertising,” Pezzelli says. “We don’t even have a business card, but word about what we do, and the quality of our product has spread rapidly, in a very organic way.”

Both owners credit their customers for the fact that pictures of their food, a few of their recipes, and numerous reviews of their store exist on the Internet.  Pezzelli adds: “People know we care very much about what we offer. They aren’t afraid to ask questions, or to push us on an issue, or to share their own personal experiences. I have a sacred collection of recipes that I’ve built up through customers who wanted us to re-create their grandma’s walnut cake, sugar pie, butter tarts — stuff that made them giggle growing up.”

When asked about her collaborations with Sam James Coffee Bar, Bellwoods Brewery, and her brother Arthur (who creates the ice creams), Pezzelli says: “When you admire and respect what someone else has created, and you know they’ve put themselves into what they’re sharing,  you want to get involved. We’re all similar in that we depend on word-of-mouth and the quality of our products to sustain and grow our businesses. It’s always great to sit with Sam and Luke [from Bellwoods Brewery] and dream up food ideas, to get excited about what will get people talking.”

205 Delaware Ave. 416-901-3500. Tuesday-Thursday, 6–10 pm; Friday: 4–11 pm; Saturday, 11 am–11 pm.; Sunday 11 am–10 pm

Stepping on stage

The communal joys of karaoke

Stepping on stage

Growing up, I learned that you could not have a proper party without breaking out the karaoke machine. As someone who was and has always been somewhat timid, I didn’t quite understand the entertainment value of karaoke. It seemed natural that I wanted nothing to do with karaoke — until recently.

Some people would never consider the idea of singing in a bar full of strangers without first having some liquid courage. But once you get over the initial fear of singing, you might find that karaoke is an experience that extends beyond the individual. You might be alone in your wholehearted attempt to belt out Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia.” But you should do so in full confidence, knowing that everyone who knows the song will either be mouthing the lyrics along with you or assuming the role of backup singer.

Recently, I decided to explore Toronto’s karaoke scene by visiting a College Street bar that has its own established karaoke night. I spent a bit of time poring over the bar’s expansive songbook, entertaining the idea of doing a Smiths song. Before I could even make up my mind, my friend was quick to chime in, reminding me that I “wouldn’t want to be that person who sang the Smiths.”

He was telling me that if I went ahead with any song from the Smiths’ catalogue, I would be the buzzkill of the bar. I realized that the point of karaoke is to have fun. To many, this often means singing songs that are upbeat and catchy. But to me, this means choosing a song that makes me happy and that I will have fun singing. Even if it means singing the Smiths, Joy Division, or the Cure — all of which I’ve sung in the past and I would sing again if given the opportunity to.

I never gave song choice much thought. I picked my songs according to how I felt. Sometimes my friends influenced my choices, but most of the time they didn’t. The key to enjoying karaoke is to simply not care. No one is going to judge you for doing “Call Me Maybe” because deep down inside, they, along with everyone else, will regret not choosing that song. One night, I did a duet of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” Shortly after I was done, someone by the name of — I kid you not — Jude approached me to thank me for choosing that particular song. It’s surprising to see how such interactions can stem from something as simple as a popular Beatles song.

Ultimately, you will come to realize that there is no point in arguing with your friends over which song you should sing next. Karaoke isn’t supposed to be as taxing as selecting courses for next year. You’re not supposed to overthink song selection because then it becomes a burden. If you’re putting too much thought into karaoke, then you’re doing it wrong. The essence of karaoke is simple. It’s to have shameless fun, and lots of it too.

Native tradition, new theatre

Discussing community, ceremony, and cacao with director Dr. Jill Carter

Native tradition, new theatre

Comfortably perched in her desk chair, Dr. Jill Carter laughs as she huddles around the warmth of the large Second Cup coffee that she holds in her hands. “Sorry about that!” she says smiling, having just been bombarded with a myriad of questions from eager students waiting outside her office.

Carter, who identifies herself as Anishinaabe-Ashkenazi, is a faculty member in the Aboriginal Studies department at U of T. She also describes herself as an actor, a writer, a playwright, a student, and a mentor. While lecturing is her full-time job, she makes sure to include time for her greatest passion, the theatre, and for the stories that can be created on stage.

As an integral part of Native Earth Performing Arts’ newest production, Chocolate Woman Dreams the Milky Way, Carter knows all about stories. The play incorporates creation stories of different groups of indigenous peoples from all over the Americas — specifically the Haudenosaunee (Great Lakes region), Rappahannock (Virginia), and Guna (Panama) peoples — in an attempt to reclaim indigenous cultures through art. Focusing on the elemental females portrayed in these stories, the play is centred on Chocolate Woman, a Guna feminine spirit associated with the cacao plant.

Carter, who recently received her Ph.D. from the Drama Centre at U of T, is the remount director of Chocolate Woman Dreams the Milky Way, and has been involved with the play since the beginning of its production. Nestled in the warmth of her office on a blisteringly cold day, she spoke to The Varsity about Native Earth Performing Arts, and the role of theatre in the reclaiming of indigenous cultures.


How did you become involved with Native Earth Performing Arts, Canada’s oldest professional native theatre company? 


 I suppose being a young native woman, I was drawn to them… My first experience with Native Earth was seeing Tomson Highway’s The Rez Sisters, and I remember very clearly how it galvanized me. I came up in a time when a lot of Native artists came up — you know, people who wanted to be theatre professionals [but were] not seeing their role models and… Not seeing ourselves at all on stage. And if we did see ourselves on stage… or saw what purported to be us on stage, we often saw some very ugly pictures, so it wasn’t something to be proud of. Seeing The Rez Sisters changed everything, and it changed everything for a lot of native artists, but also for mainstream [theatres]… It really put Native Earth on the map.


So you think Native Earth Performing Arts has been instrumental in jump-starting Native theatre?


Oh I would say so… Although it had its financial struggles, it has been the cornerstone, I think, of native theatre in Canada. It’s been the place where artists got a voice, and where artists could become developed. They have a Young Voices program, and in that program they invite young people who are interested in playwriting… to work with professional dramaturgists… and they do a lot. I mean, they help young native artists through every stage in their careers. It is really ground zero, so to speak, still today.



One of the mandates of Native Earth is to encourage the use of theatre as a form of communication and dialogue. How or why do you see this as being especially important in communicating experiences unique to native peoples in contemporary society?


Oh, that’s such a layered question! Twenty years ago, Canadians did not know who [natives] were. Canadians had an image of us, [but] they knew nothing of us… So having our artists come out and speak to Canada in our voice, about our concerns and through our lens was and is still crucially important today… To be the one who tells your story, that’s important. It’s interesting though because the issue has changed. Yvette Nolan [former artistic director of Native Earth] said, and I think quite rightly so, [that] at one point, the struggle — or the question — was, ‘Who gets to speak?’ Now the question is, ‘Who is listening?’  Is anybody listening? It gets awfully exhausting, educating the main populace… And many [artists] are pushing back against that and their plays are not necessarily for mainstream Canadians. Mainstream Canadians are welcome to come, to receive, to be affected, to learn, but their plays are for their own people.

I often think of theatre as urban ceremony, in the sense that it unites a scattered body politic. The best of it creates communitas; it creates that sense that we in the audience are connected to each other… The best of it offers real healing, and permanent transformations, in that we can come away knowing something we didn’t know before… I mean, I’m not saying, ‘Go see a play’ and you’re fine! But, go see this play and something begins to work within you, that medicine begins to work within you. I think it can also be a gateway to our culture. So many of us have been separated from our communities, our languages, and a venue like this can be a gateway in. It can get us understanding a little more about ourselves and [make us] curious, eager to push further and go further.


There is a lot of silence surrounding the Native community in Canada, especially for the average citizen who doesn’t go out of his or her way to become informed. Do you see Native Earth playing a role in filling that silence?


I think it is, but it’s one piece of the puzzle. We don’t necessarily live in a theatre-going nation… So there are those that love the live experience and who come to see the theatre. But there are many who don’t, and we know that, and that’s certainly been an issue with Native Earth, an issue that is shared by theatres across Canada. The one thing you hear from [Canadian theatres] is the struggle, dare I be crude, to get bums in seats, and to bring people out… So there is always that struggle and certainly Native Earth has not been immune to that. But when we think of how many people in Toronto will be touched and educated by a piece, [it’s] not many. So Native Earth is part of something that must be larger. However, the thing about Native Earth is that in its support of plays and artists… it allows that work [to maintain] life after the production… These plays are published texts, they have a life in remounts and on tour, other theatres take it up, and I think this can all be traced back to the ministrations of companies like Native Earth.


Can you tell us a little bit about the idea behind Chocolate Woman Dreams the Milky Way, and how it goes about reclaiming Indigenous cultures through art?


I’ve been involved with Chocolate Woman since its inception in 2007… It began before that however as a drive, or a need that Monique Mojica [the play’s author] had. Monique was going through a very serious… Time in her life. [She] required healing, required something to get up and go on, and began to look back at Creation stories, and the elemental females of Creation. And I say Creation stories and elemental females, because Monique is Guna and Rappahannock… She is also by marriage and adoption Haudenosaunee. Since she has all of this cultural material to draw on, the show is an interweave.

Chocolate Woman is a Guna figure, an elemental female, I hesitate to use the word goddess because it’s not the same thing, but she is this feminine spirit that is associated with the cacao. Cacao for Guna people is a medicine… But it can also work at you from the outside in, can shield you from your enemies. So this cacao is really important. [Mojica met] with a Guna consultant and traditional teacher, who taught her these songs and stories. Rather than adopting Western theatrical form, she went back to tradition and ceremony to figure out how to… tell an ancient story to a contemporary audience, with contemporary expectations, in a contemporary venue, but to be able to affect the audience as an original rendering of the story would have affected traditional people.