The prayformance of Thoth & Lila’Angelique is a truly unique experience. The two (together calling themselves Tribal Baroque) prayform every Wednesday-Sunday (weather permitting) in Central Park’s Angel Tunnel in New York from 3-5 PM. Thoth first showed up on my radar eleven years ago when I recall reading an interview with him around the time when a documentary about his life, Thoth won an Academy Award. Since then, I’ve accidentally stumbled into the audience of his (and Lila’s) prayformances three times, and been blown away each time. I was able to interview both of them over the phone yesterday.
What do you guys do on your days off from performing?
Lila’Angelique: We usually do all the things that we can’t do when we’re performing. We do our laundry. We rest. We work on things. Thoth works on Photoshop a lot.
Thoth: On our days off we get ready for our prayformance. We prepare our costumes. We do a lot of study and quiet time. Some times we treat ourselves to a nice meal (laughter).
Do you go out for food or do you cook yourself?
T: We cook our food most of the week, but on our days off we save money to go out, and have a nice romantic meal. We’re going to have a treat tomorrow. We also buy things that get us through the week. [Before our prayformances], we have smoothies so that we can sustain our energy throughout the day. We don’t eat anything…
Really? All day long?
T: Yeah, all day.
So just one smoothie gets you through the day?
T: Yes…. And also, the world is so… You learn to eat too much. And the reason you do is because everyone is selling food and they’re advertising really hard to people, so you have three meals a day, but you can [survive on just] a little snack. We have our snack bars right after the prayformance, and then we have a meal of whatever we feel like later. Usually [something] simple when we’re doing the prayformance five days [out of the week].
I was going to ask about your prayformance. I watched the documentary about you last night, and I know that at the time you were doing a solopera, which was all about this mythology and about a hermaphrodite. Correct?
T: I still do that.
Is there new material though that you’re working on now?
T: The new material is ours.
L: Yeah, we’ve created new material. Together we don’t do the solopera. He does the solopera every day, but we’re creating our opera.
And what’s your opera about?
L: Love and devotion.
T: They’re more miniature and more individual. They’re more thematic, whereas The Herma [his solopera] was more various chapters of an epic.
Is it still in the same world as your solopera though? Festad [Festad is the mythological world that Thoth invented]?
T: No. I can’t say it’s the same world because Festad is mythic, and we’re dealing with love and devotion and the paradigm of the movement to being.
What about the language, because I know you invented your own language. What is the language you are using now?
T: We’re still using invented language.
So, how complex is this language? Does it have its own grammar?
T: My language has its own grammar, but what we do together is a little more simpler, more improvised.
L: His has 252 characters. We’re basically starting from the ground up again together. He built his own language and his own opera, and we’re building our own opera and our own language. His whole thing was his personal thing. He’s my teacher and he’s teaching me all the things that he learned, but now we’re building up our own thing. And we’re making an opera about how we met each other and how our lives have been. And that’s very epic too.
Can you tell me at all about that? How you met?
L: I met him in New York in the Angel Tunnel in 2008. I saw him a few times. I saw him on America’s Got Talent just in passing, and I saw him in the Tunnel and I didn’t think much of him at first. And then I saw him again, and I was really just head over heels in love basically from the moment I heard him sing, and I ran up to him, and, “Oh my God, you’re a counter tenor!” And he was really impressed that I knew that word, and I started dancing with him, and then I started singing with him. And after that winter, we teamed up and started playing together, and have been ever since.
So are you a trained opera singer?
L: Yeah. I studied to be an opera singer. That’s what I wanted to do. And then I met Thoth and realized he was making his own opera. And I found that more interesting than what I was doing singing old dead peoples’ music. That we could create our own music—I really liked that idea.
Read the rest of the interview after the jump
I wanted to ask Thoth about this documentary. How did it feel to have so much of your personal life exposed like that? Basically your whole life…
T: It’s funny because none of it exists anymore (laughter). None of it exists anymore. Looking at it is like looking at a snapshot of a past existence. It really is weird.
Would say that your life has changed a lot because of the documentary?
T: It’s changed in spite of the documentary.
But you got to go to the Academy Awards…
T: And I had the police trying to throw me out of the Academy Awards.
Right, right, yeah. I read about that.
T: Really I think the documentary is an interesting side issue for my life. It was fun to make and it was interesting that it got an Academy Award. In retrospect, I would have thought that it would have more of an influence on the world. There were several things that didn’t happen. It was basically squashed by HBO. It could have been placed on PBS. You know, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s very accessible. It’s not X-rated or anything. But it didn’t go anywhere. It was played so much more in Sweden and Israel still plays it. And hardly anyone knows about it in the United States. They happen on it by accident.
Do you think it’s more popular in Israel because your father was Jewish?
T: It’s possible, but it was the most popular in Sweden, and I don’t really have direct Swedish ancestry (laughter). It’s possible, but in Israel, they’re really not excited about mixed people so much, so I’m not really sure. It may be, but may not. Canada also really liked the film. But in this country hardly anyone has seen it. Isn’t that funny?
Yeah. Have you heard of Searching for Sugar Man?
Yeah. You saw that?
T: Not yet.
Oh. It’s great. This guy Rodriguez, a singer from Detroit, for some reason he was really popular in South Africa and not in the US. No one knew him here.
T: He didn’t even know he was popular in South Africa (laughter).
Yeah. He was bigger than Elvis in South Africa, and he didn’t even know it… So I’ve seen on your Facebook page that you’ve had some issues lately with the Afrobats…
T: We’ve had issues with everything. We’ve had so many issues this year.
So this seems like a pretty difficult situation. Do you have ideas on how you can deal with that?
T: I do not. The only way to deal with that is to enforce the rules. But the police do not understand the rules. They think that playing a boombox is the same as playing a violin. And that’s in general, they think that. When they stop the Afrobats from playing, they don’t really understand why they’re stopping them. So then the other day they stopped two other musicians. One was playing a guitar, and the other was playing a tambourine. They claimed, “This is a quiet zone,” and they shouldn’t be playing. And at the same time, Summer Stage and the Bandshell were playing full volume. And it was so loud, they couldn’t even hear them anywhere. But then they’re stopping these two musicians playing a guitar and tambourine. They don’t have any clue what they’re doing. What the Conservancy could do is the Conservancy could step in and say, “This is how it works for the Park.” And educate them. The difference between amplification of an electronic thing and a natural thing. If they say, “No musical instruments allowed,” does that mean we can’t walk around in that area? That’s a discrimination against us because we are musical instruments. We don’t have to have the violin, and we don’t have to have any other thing. We can make quite a nice racket just by singing. So it’s very, very disturbing. And we’re just being pummeled and injured by the loud sounds from everywhere. We’re being injured by the Bandshell because they turn their volume too loud. My thing is that anyone who is using amplification, all they have to do is turn their wrist 180 degrees and they have all this power and sound. And when we want to raise our volume, we have to use our inner spirit. And that is a big difference.
In the documentary, you talk a little bit about how when you were growing up, your parents were Communists…
I don’t really remember it. But my parents met in a Communist Party meeting. And at that time people who were interested in Communism and Socialism were very very interracial. So all the black and white people were together, and it created a lot of mixed race families. And all of us were very unusual.
Do you consider yourself to be a political person?
No. I find the political climate and the political situation to be completely one-dimensional. If there were parties, if there was a feeling that there was something people could do by voting, I would definitely stand for the good and supportive environment. But right now, all there is is money and big corporations, and spying on people, and injuring people and killing people for the sake of stupid ideas. It’s very difficult now. I really really have a lot of cynicism about the government when you have a person like Barack Obama, who does nothing whatsoever, and it’s very disturbing for me.
I agree with you actually. I was watching the Senate Judicial hearing on NSA today. It’s really frightening I think.
T: I really in honestly think it’s connected to why they allow a boombox to drown us out. Because we’re totally free. We don’t have any connection with the economic situation. A boombox is connected. You have to buy equipment to support it. And we continue living and supporting ourselves without having to invest in that amplification. And all artists presently, almost all of them, are invested in that kind of creating. They need to invest in a computer program to keep growing. Once they get into Photoshop—you know, I like Photoshop. Once you get into Photoshop, they will put out a new Photoshop, and you will have to buy a new Photoshop. Now there are Clouds. So if you want to keep at the cutting edge, you have to sign away your life for five years because if you drop your subscription, your Photoshop dies. And I find that horrifying. People who I know who are in computers are shocked by Clouds, that everybody just went for it. It’s not on your computer. Almost everything seems to be veering toward that, which is interesting to me. I’m sure this is not where the interview was meant to go (laughter).
Actually I’m pretty interested in this stuff. Another thing I saw on your Facebook was you said that people are becoming cyborgs…
T: (Laughter) Did we write this?
Yeah. On Facebook. Because they’re living through their iPhones and their iPods.
T: It’s shocking. You know, one of the reasons that really started to come forward in my thought is that we’re filming ourselves. And we did a silhouette shot. And while I’m watching this, I’m looking at the audience, and more than 50% of them had a screen of some sort blocking their eyes. And this looks like nobody sees us there. They go away and they watch it. So they’re not even energetically in contact with us. When I first played in the Tunnel, I used to look into people’s eyes. I made eye contact with everybody. Now, as I just said, less than 50% of the audience is in contact with us. Very interesting… So I think that’s the beginning. The next thing is the visor. The visor is one of the most important parts of the cyborg’s suit. Because then you have your screen-perceived reality. And they already have their Google Glasses. They’re ready there. They already have all that stuff. The next thing is to have a chip in everybody’s body, a computer chip they identify at the bank, so they don’t need to have a separate bank card or ID card. They just do a swipe over something. In any event…whatever (laughter).
Yeah, disturbing. But at least there are some people who want to be real people. So there’s always a bright side.
T: There are people who will stand their ground. And those who do stand their ground will see us standing our ground. And they will have inspiration to stand their ground. I love technology, but I don’t believe that technology is greater than humanity. I believe that humanity is the divine gift that we have. And I believe that we can do everything that technology has done for us.