War and Treaty
Bluesfest | 9–13 April
If you’ve seen War and Treaty at BluesFest then you don’t need to be told they’re something special.
Husband and wife Michael and Tanya Trotter came from different paths, and when they converged, magic happened.
After winning a talent show when she was 13, Tanya knew singing would be her life. Growing up in a tight-knit community just outside of Washington, DC, Tanya had a voice that was already hinting at the force it’d become: honeyed and bold, guttural but angelic. She’d discovered writing, too, and every blank space was an opportunity.
Michael started writing later, and for different reasons. He spent part of his childhood, with his family, in and out of homeless shelters – a limbo Michael would experience again as an adult. He became a soldier and was sent to Iraq. Stationed in one of Saddam Hussein’s demolished palaces, he had access to a piano that had emerged, miraculously, unscathed. A captain heard him play and sing with his once-in-a-generation volcano of a voice, and he encouraged Michael to pursue music. When that same captain was killed, Michael sat down to write – really write – for the first time.
Officers noticed the tribute, pulled Michael from the front lines, and gave him a new charge: write and perform songs for the fallen. So whenever a brother- or sister-in-arms died, Michael spoke to buddies, uncovered the story, and penned a song for the memorial. When Michael returned home, he was booked on a festival that also featured Tanya Blount. After his set, Tanya approached him and asked if he’d written his songs. He had. The two exchanged numbers, but Michael, battle-weary, scarred, was daunted by Tanya’s beauty; when Tanya called, he didn’t call back. He didn’t know why she would be calling him! The two eventually hooked up though, and the rest is history.
Tanya reflects on meeting Michael. ‘I was running across the field, at the festival where he was playing, in my heels, telling him I wanted to work with him – I gave him my number and he told me he threw it away!
‘I’m not normally like that,’ says Tanya. ‘But I wanted to get to know who he was as a person, and I wanted to write with him.
‘There’s a level of genius that comes with Michael, and without him trying to challenge it, he receives a song. He gets the music and the beats and the lyrics – I have never seen anything like it before. He is prolific.
‘He writes four or five songs a day. I didn’t know when we got married that he had been in the military – I didn’t know that story of his writing; I didn’t know that about him for three years! The soldiers weren’t received well by Americans. So there was a shame about having been there,’ says Tanya.
Gospel is the most natural genre for the Trotters.
‘We write about humanity, love, and peace – that’s how we approach it, what people are going through… gospel still touches people – it is the good news, people want to hear the good news – there’s so much bad news on TV, and in the paper; you want to have moments of inspiration.’
Rivers feature in a lot of their work.
‘Water is life,’ says Tanya. ‘It is cleansing, it revives you – it keeps you alive. When you are trying to clean yourself up from a situation, it’s symbolic for that, so you hear a lot of people sing Take me to the River. It’s where we go to renew our soul.’
Tanya believes that, through music, you can make a tiny neighbourhood out of the world.
‘Everyone looks different, they have different stories, but you can make a neighbourhood out of your world.’
That’s pretty well what War and Treaty do, every show!
War and Treaty are at Bluesfest this Easter. Tickets and program info from bluesfest.com.au