John Ware Reclaimed: A Conversation With Cheryl Foggo And Miranda Martini
Cheryl Foggo’s highly anticipated documentary John Ware Reclaimed—a re-examination of the mythology surrounding John Ware, the famous Black cowboy who settled in Alberta—is now available for free on NFB.ca. Read this conversation between the filmmaker and musician and songwriter Miranda Martini, whose music is featured in the documentary (and who also happens to be Cheryl’s daughter).
Miranda Martini: I can’t believe it’s been five months since John Ware Reclaimed came out. It feels like we were at the premiere yesterday.
Cheryl Foggo: It really does. Time seems to unfold differently in the era of COVID. If it hadn’t been for the virus, the premiere would have included a live music party featuring Kris, Janelle, Corb and you of course.
Miranda Martini: Oof, I’m not sure I could’ve handled the pressure of playing on the same billing as Corb Lund. At the live screening I attended, one of the audience members noted your many amazing hairstyles on display throughout the film. They may not have realized that was intentional: you made a point of getting your hair done before each shoot to ensure that you wouldn’t have just one hairstyle in the film. Why was that important to you?
Cheryl Foggo: I like my hair, what can I say?! The shooting schedule was such that I actually wasn’t able to get to the hair salon every time, so there were definitely shoots where I had to pull it together on my own. Dionne and I often joked about me taking her along on shoots, but that never happened. Regarding changing up the styles, that’s typical for me. I get bored with the same look after a while and my hair does lend itself to sculpture, so why not?
Miranda Martini: Flaunt it if you’ve got it, I say. For the people at home, Dionne is a stylist at Iconic Salon in Calgary, and she’s been doing my mom’s hair since I was in my teens.
Cheryl Foggo: Do you feel the music you were exposed to in our home as you were growing up influenced the songs you composed for [the 2014 play] John Ware Reimagined and John Ware Reclaimed?
Miranda Martini: So many of my formative memories are tangled up with the music you played around the house. We listened to a lot of gospel and soul and R&B from the ’60s and ’70s, but also a fair amount of “soulful” country—Hank Williams, Sr., Ray Charles, that kind of thing. So I grew up understanding that country, bluegrass, jazz and blues are all cousins, well before I had the music history education to back up that understanding. So when you approached me in… what was it, 2009? 2010?… about writing a song about John and Mildred Ware that was “soulful country,” I guess you could say I’d had a lifetime of preparation for that exact request.
Cheryl Foggo: It would have been 2011, because it was in prep for a Black History Month event in 2012.
Miranda Martini: Right. I was in my last year of university studying Creative Writing at UBC, and I workshopped an early version of “Spring 1902,” the first song I wrote for the show, in one of my songwriting classes.
Cheryl Foggo: You once told me that the Wares are reliable muses for your songwriting. When writing songs about and for them, do you start with the lyrics or with the music?
Miranda Martini: When I’m writing about the Wares, I usually build the songs from the lyrics out, since it’s easy to imagine them talking to one another, or to me. I have old notebooks going back to 2011 with snatches of lyrics from the songs in John Ware Reimagined, and they often started as lines of dialogue before I thought about rhyme or meter. It’s amazing to look at those notebooks and realize how long I’ve been hearing their voices in my head.
Now that you’ve had your say about John Ware’s legacy, it’s time we started thinking about yours. Who would play you in the biopic of your life?
Cheryl Foggo: I’d go for an all-Canadian slate. When you were a baby, your Pops and I took you to Montreal for a couple of weeks when we were shooting a short film we’d written called Carol’s Mirror. The young girl who played the role of Carol was terrific. Her name was Annette Bouzi. I don’t think she’s still acting, but in this imagined biopic of my life, someone who is as talented as Annette was at the age of 11 would play me as a child, followed by a cast of many through different ages—Amanda Cordner, Makambe K Simamba, Janelle Cooper, Kirsten Alter, Karen Robinson, Jackie Richardson, because she’s also a great singer, and why shouldn’t I give myself a great singing voice in this biopic? I suppose I could allow one American actor: Angela Bassett.