One of the beautiful voices of our CEZNJA:BORN LONGING quartet, writer and performer KARMA MAYET JOHNSON shares her thoughts on the project.

Find out more about Karma at

A few of my Reflections on Ceznja…

I have several new Croation Aunties in Astoria; one of them made me promise after our performance together at the Kitchen to return to church and sing again. For me, it started on the G train–to the 7 to the N, on a gorgeous summer Sunday. In the church basement cafeteria we sang Happy Birthday to Mirjam, and tasted the layered cake prepared by a friend.

Stories of taking refuge on an island, or on the sea, or in song, abounded in the lyrics we learned. A people of water, I felt I could hear the Croation islanders’ relationship to the swish in their consonant-laden tongue, as I focused on letting melody help me elide syllables. Translating lines of Croatian poetry into English led me to access what I recall of my own legacies of water.

To watch and participate as Abena and Kristina directed this multifaceted collaboration was inspiring and instructive; each offered a deeply grounded sense of how community is created. And it actually happened. I was fortified and lifted by the contribution of each writer/storyteller/remember-

er/audience member/artist, and felt my gifts were received by the collective as well–as well working a definition of community as any I’ve heard.

I was reminded that the perspectives of African American artists on the history of migrations (forced and voluntary) to this hemisphere are a crucial ingredient to any discussion of what it means to become American. I learned of the Croats’ history of being subsumed in their homeland by a succession of tribal wars, conquering empires and wayward republics.

And I ate lots of cake and cookies. And met a number of amazing artists. And feel renewed in the clarity and number of purposes served by historically based art: making metaphor to document the unspeakable, making documentary work to detail the unbelievable… Thank you Cezjna project.

-Karma Mayet Johnson

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