Roots in the Water is a concept album inspired by the life of my great grandfather, James Inniss. Each song was written based on a story I heard, a photograph I saw, or by putting myself in the shoes of family members as I was researching his life. Although the album is complete, I will continue to seek and discover more about my family.

The songs on this album follow the same chronological order of events that the songs were inspired by. From the interracial relationship between my great, great grandparents in Barbados, to their son, James,  who came to Fortune, NL as a stowaway, I invite you to read the lyrics and inspiration behind each selection as you listen.

 Thank you for taking the time and I hope you enjoy Roots in the Water.

 

  

 

Recitation

 

Recitation was a common oral tradition of storytelling in my province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and we still have some artists who are trying to help keep it alive. This recitation is the first track of the album, and explains the details of the story that inspired “Roots in the Water”.

 

https://soundcloud.com/michelle-noftall/recitation

 

 

They say if you dig deep enough

Eventually you’ll find

That family trees grow seldom straight

And are most often, intertwined.

 

As is the case when I retraced

How it had come to be

My great grandfather arrived in Fortune

From the Caribbean Sea.

 

His name was James Inniss,

And at just fourteen years old

He left his homeland of Barbados

As a stowaway I’m told.

 

Never to return again,

And no one knows just why

He’d leave his family to think the sea

Had took their only boy.

 

The Sunday School headmaster-

Jenny King was her name-

Would take James in as if her own,

And with her he’d remain

 

Until he married Nancy Lake,

‘Twas the talk of the whole town.

“She’s marrying that black man?”

(He was the only one around).

 

But ‘deed she did, and ‘deed they had

A family of their own

They stood their ground in Fortune

‘Till their children were all grown.

 

True love endures criticism,

James already knew.

He’d seen it all before,

It’s what his own parents went through.

 

His father was a black man

On a plantation called The Risque.

And what a risk he took

When he decided he would kiss

 

The daughter of the owner

Of that plantation where he worked.

Of course, her family was white,

But they’d known each other since their birth.

 

They both were born and raised

In precisely the same place

But from very different circumstances

And of a different race.

 

They learned exactly what it was

To let your true love reign

Despite skin color or looks

Of disapproval and disdain.

 

So love in spite of circumstance

Is a theme, it seems to me.

And a flower that keeps blooming

On the limbs of my family tree.

 

You’ll never know just what you’ll find

Or how far your roots will reach

But these stories are worth digging for

And the lessons that they teach.

 

 

 

 

Love Is Love

 

My great, great grandparents took a big risk when they decided to be together, as the Recitation described. They not only differed in race, but of social status. For the daughter of a plantation owner to marry a worker’s son would not have been widely accepted. Love is Love is a reflection on breaking rules and ignoring public opinion in the pursuit of true love.

https://soundcloud.com/michelle-noftall/love-is-love

What if what you thought mattered really meant nothin’ at all?

What if walls they’d been buildin’ for years just started to fall?

What if rules that were written in stone could be broken now?

And all of this happened and you were still alright, somehow?

 

Love is Love

Love is Love

 

What if the consequence of givin’ your heart was just love in return?

And other’s opinions were no longer any of your concern?

What if tellin’ your truth didn’t tear you apart?

And the last one you thought who would understand was the first place to start?

 

Love Is Love

Love Is Love

 

So don’t even worry ‘bout rules that you’re breakin’

You just makin’ the love that you’re makin’

 

Love Is Love

Love Is Love

 

 

 

Last Thing

Sometimes we think that we are the last thing on someone’s mind, especially at the beginning of a romantic relationship when we don’t know if our feelings are reciprocated or not. But, sometimes we are. And sometimes they are; our last thought before sleeping, and the first upon our waking.  “Last Thing” is a reflection on these uncertain feelings that I imagine my great, great grandparents may have experienced before they made their true feelings known to each other.

https://soundcloud.com/michelle-noftall/last-thing

I’m not one for crossin’ lines

But here I am, ‘cause love is blind.

When my mind wanders, you’re all I see

But the last thing on your mind is me.

 

I’ll never speak all I’d like to say

Notes I write won’t see light of day

And the truth don’t always set you free

‘Cause the last thing on your mind is me.

 

And this feels right, but they’re sayin’ it’s wrong

And maybe it won’t last long

I could walk away, and maybe I should

Forget about you if I could.

 

If I could.

 

Nights full of dreams that can’t come true

Then the first thing on my mind is you

But I know that we weren’t meant to be

‘Cause the last thing on your mind is me.

The last thing on your mind is me.

 

 

 

 

Together (abbrv.)

This track is an abbreviated version of a song that will come a little later. At this point, my great, great grandparents have surrendered to their love and have begun their life together, despite judgement and criticism of their interracial affair.

https://soundcloud.com/michelle-noftall/together-abbrv

 

Stowaway

James Inniss was my great, great grandparents only son. When he was 14 years old, he left Barbados as a stowaway and ended up in Fortune, NL. We don’t know exactly why he left, but some family members surmise that he was mistreated.

The tune of this song was taken from a Barbadian plantation work song. The original text describes the oppressive relationship between a master and slave. Although slavery was officially abolished in Barbados in 1834, dynamics of these relationships lasted well beyond this time. Upon reading the handwritten manuscript and plucking out the tune on my piano, I was haunted by the melody and felt it would be fittingly placed at the point in my great grandfather’s journey when he ran away from home. I composed new lyrics, written from the perspective of whoever/whatever it was he was running from.

Craig Young (producer) arranged a second part, which is the jig at the end. Musically, we felt that the use of a Barbadian folk song as well as the congo drums was reflective of where James’ story began. Craig’s idea and arrangement of the jig is reminiscent of where James’ would finally end up, heard through the traditional NL jig, as well as the instrumentation commonly found in our folk music (accordion, mandolin, etc).

https://soundcloud.com/michelle-noftall/stowaway

 

There’s a boy on that ship out at sea

There’s a boy on that ship out at sea

He’s alone on that ship out at sea

He’s got nothin, but now he is free.

 

There’s no storm he can’t weather alone

There’s no storm he can’t weather alone

He will ride any storm on his own

Cause there’s none worse than the ones he left at home.

 

There’s a boy on that ship out at sea

There’s a boy on that ship out at sea

He’s gone far as he could from me

Now he’s more a man than I’ll ever be.

Why Stay

Although James Inniss was fortunate that Jenny King’s family took him in when he arrived in Fortune, NL, he wasn’t obligated to stay once he became an adult. I wonder about what it was that made him choose to live here, once it actually was his choice to make. The people? Perhaps. Love? He did find that with Nancy Lake. Or maybe it was the sense of home that he didn’t have and was hoping for.

“Why Stay” was inspired by these questions. But I also have my own questions about what makes us stay here, sometimes. When it’s a difficult struggle to make things work, to get ahead, or even to survive, we all think about the reasons why we stay. Or go.

https://soundcloud.com/michelle-noftall/why-stay

Why are you here?

What’s in your way?

With no ties to bind you, why stay?

Was it the ocean that you already loved?

The grey, foggy sky when you looked up above?

Did you feel it move you, give you peace of mind?

A sense of belonging you were hoping to find?

Why stay when you could go?

What keeps you from leavin? Do you even know

Why you are here? What’s in your way?

With no ties to bind you, why stay?

How long will you love her? Will you remain?

When others are leavin, will feel the same?

Will you want something more than she’s able to give

Or will you remember why you chose here to live?

 

With no ties to bind you, why stay?

Together

“Together” was eluded to earlier on the album; an abbreviated version placed in the part of the story where my great, great grandparents were facing the criticisms of an interracial romance. Now, you will hear it in its entirety. In writing this song, I hoped to create a tone of the same uncertainty as that situation. However, this time it is heard within the context of James Inniss and Nancy Lake in Fortune, NL. James was the “only black man in town”, and Nancy was “talked about” for having a relationship with him. Their romance caused quite the “kerfuffle” in Fortune at the time, so they both must have had some reservations. It didn’t stop them, though. And as one lady (Grace Sparkes) put it, “(I knew) they would be ok because they loved each other.”  And so they were.

https://soundcloud.com/michelle-noftall/together

 

Divin into waters never waded in before

Fighting undercurrents we can feel, but can’t ignore

Together

 

Tides full of resistance, knowing what’s at stake

Leaps of faith and chances we’re not sure that we should take

Together

Together

 

We’ll be each other’s lifeline as sail unchattered seas

Knowin that the course we choose will echo through eternity

Forever

 

Divin into waters never waded in before

Fighting undercurrents we can feel, but can’t ignore

Together.

 

 

 

Where Is Mary

A phone conversation with my aunt is what led to this song, and it was the first one specifically written for the album. During our chat about my great grandfather (her grandfather), she told me the saddest story of loss. Great grandfather worked as a cook on different ships throughout his life. He would be away for up to a year at a time, with no communication with home during those times. Upon arrival of one of his return trips, he asked his wife Nancy, where Mary and Thomas were, their two youngest children. Nancy replied, “Up on the hill.” The “hill” she was referring to was the cemetery. Unbeknownst to James, his two youngest children had passed away while he was gone. Some say it was the “summer complaint”; others say they were berry picking with their mother and had eaten some “poison” berries. This song is their conversation, as I could only imagine it may have transpired.

 

https://soundcloud.com/michelle-noftall/where-is-mary

 

Where is Mary? Where is Mary?

I have tarried for so long

Through storms and rough days thoughts of her sweet face

Kept me going, and kept me strong.

 

Where is Thomas? My boy, Thomas?

For at long last, I am home.

So many tales to tell him of all the places I’ve been

And to see how much he’s grown.

 

They’re together. They’re together

On that hill where they’d wait for you

Holding hands together just like they always were

Let’s go up now, it’s time you knew.

 

There is Mary, there is Mary

With our Thomas by her side

They’re together, holding hands together

And forever, they’ll abide.

Nancy’s View

Later in life, my great grandmother spent a lot of time sitting and watching through her window. Some people in town found this strange, although most knew the losses she had suffered. I like to think that she was reminiscing about happier times and finding comfort in those memories.

 

https://soundcloud.com/michelle-noftall/nancys-view

 

She hears them say, “For pity’s sake, have you seen poor Nancy Lake?

Just in the window rocking slow, her heart still broke from years ago.

Her shifting eyes, just watch them roam across the garden overgrown

Past the bridge with broken stairs, her lips move to whispered prayers.”

 

And if she could, she would reply and they would know the reason why

The window Nancy’s looking through; from her mind’s eye, has a lovely view.

 

From where she sits, the fence still stands; her children play, they’re holding hands

The grass is green, the flowers bloom as she looks out from her lonely room

And for a while she can relive, and to her heart some comfort give

It helps the time pass quicker by, this lovely view from her mind’s eye.

 

And if she could, she would reply and they would know the reason why

The window Nancy’s looking through, from her mind’s eye, has a lovely view.

A lovely view.

 

And if she could, she would reply and they would know the reason why

The window Nancy’s looking through, from her mind’s eye has a lovely view.

A lovely view.

 

 

 

Wait For Me

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get to spend your life with your soul mate. My great grandparents, James and Nancy (Lake) Inniss, were one of those couples. They spent a lot of time apart because he worked at sea, but they raised a family and loved each other through a life of distance and tragic losses.

James passed away in 1967, and just a month later, Nancy followed. They say she ‘fretted’ for him, or died of a broken heart. “Wait for Me” is a reflection of how I imagined Nancy may have been feeling after James passed; that time in between where she was missing him and longed to be together again, and was perhaps biding her time before she was ready to go.

Special thanks to Chad Murphy, who co-wrote this song with me.

https://soundcloud.com/michelle-noftall/wait-for-me

I’m not in a hurry and I don’t wanna leave before it’s time

But I guess I’m just like everyone I don’t like bein’ left behind

Some days I wish we’d had a little longer

Or that I could be a little stronger

Wait for me

Wait for me

 

Time went rather quickly but now feels like it’s movin’ way too slow

I try to make it pass by lookin’ for and tyin’ up loose ends before I go

If I knew when, I’d be countin’ down the days like I used to do until I’d see your face

Wait for me

Wait for me

 

I’ll be there soon, I’m right behind you

Don’t go far so I can find you

And in the space where you still linger, I could swear I feel your fingers runnin’ through my hair

I’ll be there soon, but in the meantime you’re the only thing on my mind

That keeps me smilin’ in between the tears, even after all these years, I love you.

 

And as you’re walkin’ up that hill and through the gate

Take a moment, turn around and – wait for me, wait for me

 

I’m leavin’ home so I can find you

Where the white lights almost blind you

And in the space where you still linger I could swear I feel your fingers runnin’ through my hair

I’m almost there but in the meantime you’re the only thing on my mind

That keeps me smilin’ in between the tears, even after all these years, I love you.

 

Wait for me, wait for me.

Wait for me. Wait for me.

Rooted in the Water

The title track for this album, “Rooted in the Water” expresses the love of a life at sea, which can come in many forms. For my great grandfather, it meant working as a cook on several different ships for most of his adult life. In Newfoundland, people’s lives traditionally depended on and were centered around the sea. And for most, they wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

 

https://soundcloud.com/michelle-noftall/rooted-in-the-water

 

I know that I’m surrounded by the ocean, but I always have to keep the sea in view

There’s a freedom when I gaze on its horizon, and I feel myself pulled by the Atlantic Blue

Cause I’m rooted in the water

I find myself when I get lost at sea

I’m rooted in the water

Ridin the ebb and flow of tide that carries me

 

They say a man will make his home where his heart, but I’ll never stay for long in any place

There’s no life like the one out on the water, the reflection of the sun and sky’s the only face I love

I’m rooted in the water

I find myself when I get lost at sea

I’m rooted in the water

Ridin in the ebb and flow of tide that carries me

 

There are many who have tried but they can’t keep me, but there’s nothin in this life that I want more

Than to always smell the scent of her salt water and keep movin to the rhythm of the waves that crash the shore

And to be rooted in the water

I find myself when I get lost at sea

Rooted in the water

Ridin the ebb and flow of tide that carries me.

This site was designed with the
.com
website builder. Create your website today.
Start Now