IN CONVERSATION WITH DANA MASTERS - THE PERFECT INTERVIEW
photo: Neil Craigan
In introducing Dana Masters at the 4 Corners Festival I said, “Her voice is her witness but here life is a witness too.” For nearly two hours Dana then proved me more than correct.
I have been doing such interviews for some thirty years. Indeed, I have been shaping them as their own art form. I sensed early on that a good interview could communicate more than a number of sermons while people thought they were being entertained.
In my dreams, Dana Masters, was the perfect interview. Oh I loved doing Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody and Deacon Blue’s Ricky Ross but the ground that Dana’s life was able to cover made it exceptional.
Dana’s life experience and her response to that experience has honed her into a humble, gifted, mature, spiritual and deep soul. We covered race, civil rights, protest, community, personal acceptance, faith, Van Morrison, the music business and dream for a better Northern Ireland.
Everything was wrapped in humour and song, the most crafted songs, with the most stunning voice and the magnificent accompaniment of Cian Boyland on piano.
Remarkably Dana didn’t feel that she is a great singer in comparison to the voices that she grew up with. Her vocation she explained was in her connection with an audience. She learned that that was her biggest gift and longs to intercede, to “stand in the gap” for her audience. This came across tonight as she did that just as much in her conversation as in her singing.
What also came across was the spiritual and social formation from her mother, her aunt and Grandmother. These women taught her that when she felt “unpretty” with her kinky hair and flat nose that she was “highly valued”. They did a wonderful job.
Dana has always known the power of songs and stories. The place of the song in African-American is not as primarily a means of entertainment. It has always been important “telling us who we are, where we are from and where we are going”.
I found it fascinating that even in love songs Dana was looking for something more and deeper and more wholesome than falling in love but breaking up. Dana, inspired by Anita Baker, wanted songs about “the longevity of love”. More of it I say!
I brought her home to Dromara. Well, Andrew Masters did. Dana spoke of feeling at home and still unpacking why but that the Irish and our “hospitality” “roundedness” and "not think highly of yourself” was similar to South Carolina.
Settling into a home in the back end of nowhere, up a hill in Dromara Dana then shared how she and Andrew had integrated into a Catholic community, sending their children to school there. Earning trust.
Throughout the night Dana spoke about “fluke”, like singing with Kanye West. It seems like a fluke that a black girl from the deep south would meet a white guy from County Down and set up home in Dromara. Yet, it is a story that seems too well written, Dana’s soul seems too perfectly moulded for it to be a mistake.
So, Dana paused and started to share her dreams of here where she hoped her loudest stories would become stories of hope in what we’ve overcome rather than the wounds of the past. She wanted her children to see the world and know that there was nowhere to live like this. She cast her lot in with us.
She then finished the evening with what she called the African American national anthem Lift Every Voice and Sing and Call You Home her song about finding home here to push the emotion even higher.
It was all that I ever dreamed my questions might draw from anyone I was interviewing. The depth, the insight, the wisdom. Amazing.