The subject of death and dying is often a road less traveled. The notion of stepping into the astral plan can conjure up feelings of loss, pain, pride and uncertainty, leaving the entire concept of dying and the connections we have to those who died as certainly an unsettling one. Despite this-or maybe because of it-there seems to be an undying fascination with what can be described as the final phase of typical human development. Sari Lightman of the Halifax outfit Ghost Bees sees death as just that.
"It fascinates everyone because we've never personally experienced death first hand-I've never died before-so I think there's a fascination and a terror and a fear and a response to it," she says. "It's not unnatural to be conscious of it and for it to be at the forefront of your daily life."
Lightman and her sister Romy, along with Calgary native Amber Phelps Bondaroff, are taking on some of their spiritual exploration through musical means. Their first offering, Tasseomancy, is a melancholy, sadly sweet and sometimes poetically morbid effort with soul-melting, lamenting vocal harmonies inspired by the stories of their great-great-grandmother, Clara, and of infamous dictatorships throughout history, as well as many others.
"I think that a lot of what we're singing about is embedded in us," Lightman says. "There's a lot of heaviness and a lot of guilt that's fed to you unconsciously throughout your ancestry and lineage and when we sing those songs, it comes out. By singing about these things and acknowledging history and recognizing your
own past, it's not a burden or a suffering, but can be liberating."
While the sisters seem to share an uncanny bond to each other and their ancestry-something apparent in the music-it is their contrasts that often produce the most spine-tingling material. Lightman is hesitant to condense their complicated personalities into a simple comparison, but explains that their intrinsic differences may come from beyond this lifetime.
"Whenever we go to see a psychic or intuitive, they've told Romy countless times that she has a really old soul and that she wasn't supposed to come back this time around," she explains. "She has such an ancient soul and there are very few souls on the planet that are as old as she is and I don't have that. Sometimes, when I think about a day that we're not working on the same wavelength, it's because Romy's got an old soul and I'm a lot younger than that."
Though the music of Tasseomancy was so close to the Lightmans given its subject matter and execution, bringing Phelps Bondaroff into the mix was far less taxing than it would appear at first glance. Lightman cites the two families' similarities in personal lineage as a common bond.
"I feel like we were all back in a village somewhere," she says. "I think that she can definitely relate to it. When she is playing music with us, she recognizes that she is not necessarily emotionally involved in it, but she works in a supportive role because she knows where we're coming from."
The emotions evoked through Ghost Bees' music is undeniable, a testament to the group's ability to tap into the most grim and raw elements of history. With their flavour of audio imagery, both Lightmans could be seen as the 21st century's answer to the bards and allegorists of the past, as they take the role of the storyteller-in a traditional sense-and make the shift towards more musical inclinations.
"I think that the role of the storyteller manifests itself in a lot of different ways," Lightman says. "There's still the role of the storyteller in films, television and books, but that really intimate, personal exchange between the storyteller and the audience is definitely in its most potent form with a songwriter being at a performance."
Ghost Bees play at the Pumphouse small theatre on Thurs., June 26 at 7:30 p.m.