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Avion Blackman  

With a voice as smooth as Sade’s and as soulful as Queen Latifah’s work on the Dana Owens Album, Avion Blackman will leave you breathless. This soft spoken Trinidadian along with producer husband Mark Mohr have created a debut album Onyinye (Owe-neen-yay) that drifts seamlessly from ethereal to prayerful and back to world beats. Mark, who fronts Christafari and owns the label Lion of Zion Entertainment, joined Avion and I as we talked about her album, career and musical influences.
Instrumentally, this album is easily the best I have heard this year. Mark’s arrangements and use of Peruvian flutes, violins, cello, saxophone, percussion and acoustic guitar provide a dreamy, almost mystical appeal to many of the songs. Just so we don’t mislead you into thinking this is only a world music album DJ scratching, synthesizer, electric guitar, keys and drums combine with the smooth R&B notes that drip off the tongues of Avion and Mark as they combine for a duet on "Blue."
About the production of Onyinye Mark says, “I set out to do something that was complicated yet understated. On some songs there are thirty stringed instruments. You can feel it but you can’t hear it.”  
North America first got a glimpse of the talented Avion in 2003 when she joined Christafari as a bassist and lead vocalist. The songs "My Sustenance" and "Hiding Place" from the Gravity album ushered in a new songstress that the world will not soon forget.
At home in California, Avion is far removed from the jungles of Trinidad where she grew up as the daughter Ras Shorty I, considered the father of Soca and Jamoo music. For the uninformed (such as me) Mark provided an impromptu concert “Feeling hot hot hot.” Okay now I get the picture. Avion explains that her father was the first one to take the sound of an Indian drum and combine it with both an African beat and a very fast paced Calypso tempo. “Jamoo is the spiritual side of Soca,” explains Avion. The very word Jamoo refers to Jehovah’s music.  The influence of island beats and reggae is also ever present in songs such as the title track Onyinye. Originally, Reggae was not part of the plan but with a passion for that genre, it was hard for Avion and Mark to suppress their instincts.
The album is dedicated to the memory of Blackman’s sister April who passed away at the age of nineteen. April was a prolific songwriter who penned the CD’s prayerful "I’m Sorry" and "Show Me." The later is a tune that Avion refers to as her favorite song on the CD and a prayer to God. “April and I used to sing that song together a lot,” she says. It is therefore not surprising when she tells you that prayer is at the center of her relationship with God.
"Heaven Above," another April Blackman tune. provides an almost eerie foreshadowing of her early departure from this life; 

And it’s heaven above
That’s where I want to be
Heaven above so I can live eternally
He prepared a place so that I can be free
I can be free.
This space simply does not allow the room to discuss the often tragic life that was April Blackman’s. Her life came to a sudden end when she was diagnosed with leukemia and passed away within 24 hours. While listening to Avion sing her sister’s poetry, one is drawn to this Enoch-like woman of faith. Listening to Avion and Mark talk about April, one wonders if she knew that earth was only a temporary resting place and she would not be here for long.
This story, however, is not about the words of the late poetess but it is about Avion Blackman, a songwriter extraordinaire in her own right. It is also about a love story of a man who went to Trinidad to teach a reggae seminar and was introduced to his bride by a man named Don Juan­true story, but it would take too long to explain so we will keep you wondering.
At home in Trinidad, Blackman came from a musically gifted family and has 22 siblings. Giggling, Avion reassures you that they did not all live together­only 14 of them.
Originally, the family had lived in relative luxury inhabiting a home in the city of San Fernando while her father toured with his band. When Avion was four years old. her father converted to Christianity after experimenting with many world religions. Drastic changes were in store and he moved the family deep into the jungles of Trinidad. Their nearest neighbors were in the Indian village of Piparo, seven miles away. They inhabited a log cabin without windows, doors, electricity or plumbing.  She describes her father as an extremist who seemed to abandon any concern he had for money. “Most of the time, we would live off the land,” she says. “It was exciting for me being able to do all of these things like picking mangoes off of trees.” Another turning point came in her father’s life when his entire band abandoned him while he was touring in Canada. At that point he decided to return home and commit himself to training his children how to sing and create music.
Music was an everyday part of Blackman’s life as her family often would sit in a circle singing harmonies while passing the guitar back and forth. “They have more talent in their pinky finger than I would ever have,” says Mohr, “I have to sit in the studio for hours or years to get something to sound right and it just flows from them.”
As if Blackman’s talent as a vocalist isn’t enough to blow you away, you have to almost coax out of this quietly modest lady the fact that she plays bass guitar, acoustic guitar, keys, percussion and then she says quite nonplussed, “nothing much really,” which prompted your correspondent to blurt out, “That sounds pretty talented to me.” Then again that is Avion Blackman, a talented singer, songwriter and musician not to be missed.

By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved

Joe Montague is an internationally published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18. All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague. 


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