In our second episode of season two’s Raise Our Voices video performance series, Artistic Advisor Chioma Anyanwu selected Ahafia Jurkiewicz-Miles to feature.
“Ahafia is unflinchingly open to artistic collaboration, masterfully flexible to evolving ideas, genuinely kind, and exhibits an almost saintly patience in stressful situations,” Chioma said. “They are what I think of when I hear the title, ‘artist.’”
In their performance, Ahafia shares a powerful original poem about coming to accept and celebrate themselves as a human of indeterminate gender and how their life as a musician has influenced their understanding of gender. A trained pianist, Ahafia was studying Toccata in E minor, BWV 914 by Bach and constructed the poem parallel to the structure of that composition.
"This piece was a creative writing challenge that my professor gave me at the end of the semester. She knew my deep connection with the piano and wanted to see what I would do if I created a spoken-word piece directly inspired by the work I was doing in my piano performance degree,” Ahafia said. “Incredibly, the length of the piece and poem are almost exactly the same.”
At the time of composition, Ahafia was a year and a half out from having come out to their family as transgender, and roughly a year out from having started hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and then having stopped HRT. They also were in the midst of dealing with the beginnings of an injury that halted their piano playing for months. The poem was a way to connect to the piano despite a temporary inability to touch the keys. When Ahafia first performed the poem, it was emotional for them, but over time they have found power and confidence with every repetition.
“This was a (sometimes painfully) intense poem to write,” Ahafia shared. “It is the essence of myself, one of the most raw and truthful things I have ever been able to express through words—something that previously I had only been able to do at the wordless world of the piano.”
Ultimately, Ahafia has a desire to make “trans art for trans people, and queer art for queer people.” The more queer art they can make, the better, they said.
In the immediate future, Ahafia plans to continue teaching piano, accompanying folks at UMKC and play shows with Stephonne—a Kansas City-based R&B singer-songwriter. One day, they hope to reproduce their own one-person, one-piano show that they originally performed at the KC Fringe Festival in 2019. Titled “With Me, and Such As Me, It Is Different,” focuses on bringing music’s long history of queerness and queer individuals to light through classical music and prose.
“I think that it is only through authentic expression of our trans selves that we garner more understanding—not through sugarcoating it or cis-coding it to make it more ‘accessible’ to all audiences,” Ahafia said.
They add the beauty of theatre, music and performance is understanding. “Every performance of any art discipline is an expression of the individual maker, which is then removed and abstracted into something that each individual observer resonates with and puts in their pocket to help them clarify something they hadn’t quite understood before.”