Ty's Take: Book Of Gaia
“We think of ourselves as the three diva-goddesses.” Nedra Dixon, a member of Book of Gaia.
Motherhood, spirituality, education, these are some of the words that should cross your mind when you hear the name Book of Gaia. That was the purpose when Angela Hagenbach, Nedra Dixon, and Pamela Baskin-Watson formed this trio last July, after stellar solo careers in their own rights.
Hagenbach is a retired fashion model, record label owner, and has several solo albums under her belt. Dixon is a triple threat in the entertainment industry, has been a part of several Broadway productions, has choreographed shows, and has taught acting and singing both privately and at universities. Baskin-Watson was commissioned by Opera Ebony of New York to create a musical work about Langston Hughes; she created the Vocal Jazz Program at the Harlem School of Arts, and is a highly sought out composer and accompanist. Each of the women has various takes on how the group came up with such an inspirational name.
“We are all lovers of literature, we love to read, and we wanted something that sounded spiritual,” said Hagenbach. Music is our top priority, but we also love to tell stories. You can’t be a lovely woman of a certain age without having a story to tell. This was the perfect name for us.”
And finally the group’s musical director, Baskin-Watson, summarized it all saying, “We also wanted to find something, that we felt would focus on what our purpose of coming together was.” said Baskin-Watson. “The word gaia spoke to us. Basically it means mother, nature, earth- mother and we’re all mothers and women of a certain age and that’s a part of our philosophy. The book part of it speaks to the fact that we all have our own singular careers, and when you put it all together you get the book, the Book of Gaia.”
Despite the complexities behind their name, the group actually didn’t officially become Book of Gaia until about 30 minutes before their first performance together last year at a workshop/concert in Nebraska. The women had known of each other at this time, but didn’t really have a close connection. The set they did that day was to inform people about the roles that women and children played in helping the Harlem Renaissance movement that took place from the 1920’s-1930. Each of their desires to convey this message led them to collaborate on an educational piece of music, which also solidified their newly formed bond.
“You don’t really hear about the women and children of the Harlem Renaissance,” said Hagenbach, “you always hear about the men, and of course we covered them as well, but we wanted to add something that jumped out.”
“That show was to showcase the women of the Harlem Renaissance movement period.” said Baskin-Watson. “We included the women and the children and the part that they played, and we did that because you always hear about the, W.E.B Dubois’s, the Langston Hughes’s, and the Duke Ellington’s, but you very seldom hear about the women.”
With that successful performance under their belt, the trio realized that they had something special when they joined forces.
“We have become extremely close friends,” said Dixon. “The motivation for us to be together is to create together. We bounce ideas off of each other, we all write, we all take part in the arrangement, we sing at each other and ‘Go, oh that’s cool’. We have a fabulous energy as 3 women together.”
The group has also made it clear that despite their individual expertise in jazz, they consider themselves a multiple genre type of act.
“Our genre is varied”, said Hagenbach. “We have music that dates back to the 1450’s, we got original compositions, we do the old standards, and we even do Motown.”
Their debut album is still in the works, and no time table has been set for its debut but it will be released on Amazon Records, Hagenbach’s label that she founded in 1994, and will be filled with a ton of original content. Hagenbach, as a taller woman faced a lot of ridicule growing up about her height, and Amazon was one of the most constant taunts thrown at her. As she grew up she learned to turn that negative energy into something positive which is something. Positive energy is one thing that all the members of Book of Gaia seem to live by and thrive upon.
Each of the women gave their take on the first year together. “This year of working together was intense for me personally,” said Dixon. “And what I think of working with these beautiful, brilliant women, is that it is magical, it’s productive, it’s highly creative and it’s barrier breaking. It’s challenging, because we all come from different backgrounds and we take everything we have and throw it on the table and say, ‘Ok how do we make all of this work?’”
“It’s been quite a journey of learning so many new things and new ways to use my voice,” said Hagenbach. “One other thing was we had to figure out a way to monetize this.”
“For me, being with these ladies has saved my musical life,” said Baskin-Watson. “When I moved from New York to Kansas City, even though I grew up in Kansas City, my musical life was in New York. And it has taken me a long time to establish myself here. I was beginning to think that stuff wouldn’t happen anymore. And I was also thinking that I am a woman of a certain age and there are certain things that life doesn’t offer you anymore. ..” Hagenbach stepped in and said, “So we created and added to it. We have a plan and we work at it.”
Baskin-Watson then continued with her thought. “And that has been the audience’s that we have played to so far. We have had very positive feedback from women of our age, because you don’t really see three women of a certain age doing what we do.”
Dixon then enthusiastically chimed in, “We are warrior princesses!”
About Ty Rushing: Ty is a Communications-Journalism Major at UMKC. He is currently serving as a marketing intern at the American Jazz Museum and does concert reviews, feature stories and blog posts for their various sites.