Thursday, August 25, 2011

Remembering Aaliyah (January 16, 1979 – August 25, 2001)

Today, as Hurricane Irene storms over the Bahamas, we also mourn another tragic event that took place on the island ten years ago today.

On August 25, 2001, I was downtown Toronto celebrating my friend Melissa's birthday at a club when the DJ announced the news: Aaliyah Dana Haughton and eight others had been killed in a plane crash.

We thought it was a prank...but at the same time, realized that the DJ wouldn't stop the middle of a nice vibe unless he was absolutely certain it was the truth.

The night was, of course, dampened by the news. In fact, I can't remember if the night even really continued after that. The dancing subsided. People filtered out of the club. How could they enjoy music, after all, when one of music's treasures had just lost her life?

Every time we hear "Rock the Boat," I know we all remember her last music video. Her last hit song that she would enjoy...and the way death was plaguing the urban music community far too frequently, it seemed.

I remember "Back and Forth" when Melissa first bought the CD, and listening to it relentlessly. The plaid shirts. The bandannas over the hair. Baggy jeans. We were all about that style, that era, that moment in time. That was our coming of age, and Aaliyah provided the perfect young woman's soundtrack.

I remember "Age Ain't Nothin' But a Number," and how we'd sing it out in adolescent confidence, knowing that we felt much older than our naive years.

But my favourite musical Aaliyah memory was going to a party at the Warehouse (now Kool Haus) in Toronto in 1998 with my friend Sonia. It was probably the second time I'd heard this particular song, and the beat was so dope, and the vibe was so nice, I literally stopped in my tracks to just take it in.

I remember watching everyone bounce to the new hit song, and watching the hundreds of young adults packed in Warehouse enjoying themselves to the tune.

Do you ever have those moments that give you goosebumps, strictly based on musical energy? Do you ever have memories about songs that never go away, no matter how many times you hear them in how many different contexts?

Well, that was my favourite Aaliyah moment, when "Are You That Somebody" was new and fresh, and one of the best songs I'd heard in a long time.

She was only 22 when she died, yet every year at this time, the music community embraces her legend, remembers her humble persona and beautiful voice, and celebrates the musical library she has left behind.

We've never met her. Many of us have probably never even seen her live. But the good thing about that when it hits you, you feel no pain. And all of the sadness, the regret, and the darkness that approaches us whenever we think about people vanishing "too soon" and going "before their time" is easily subsided when the music is played, and the talent is remembered.

Many of these recording artists and entertainers are dear to our hearts simply because of that. Because of their creations, and because of the moments, and the feelings they have left with us as a result of their music.

Whether it's Tupac, or Nick Ashford of the legendary Ashford & Simpson (who just passed away 3 days ago, RIP), music is a power that truly never dies.

We thank Aaliyah for her contribution to our culture, our personal histories, and hope that those in the Bahamas going through their own devastation, ten years later, are safe from Hurricane Irene, and able to quickly recover.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson, for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales."

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