Lois Ann Dort
Wake Up Call: Music helps family, community, grieve and hopefully start an important conversation
Chronicle Herald Dec. 2, 2017
ANTIGONISH — “I don’t want Josiah’s life to be just another statistic, another young black guy who got killed and forgotten about. I wanted people to see that he was a real person, despite whatever choices he made, he was our son and we loved him, unconditionally,” said Jamie Sparks of his son, Josiah Sparks, who died last September outside of Halifax in what police have ruled a homicide.
Jamie Sparks, a well-known R&B singer / songwriter / producer, has been working through the loss of his son over the last two months and part of that process has involved music. On Monday, November 20 he released a video for his latest song Wake Up Call; a very personal reflection on grief and the violence affecting young, black men in Nova Scotia.
At his home in Antigonish, Jamie and his wife Richelle sat down to talk about their son, the music and the need for the violence to stop before another young life is taken.
The grieving process can take many forms and for Jamie the most natural way to express his emotions was in song. “For me, it’s helped. I don’t know if I can put into words exactly how it has helped but it has allowed me to get my thoughts and feelings out in a way that I wouldn’t normally be able to; I’m not much of a talker. For me music is a much more natural and organic way to get out what I am thinking, feeling and I like to share with people…through music I can definitely do that.”
It has been a few years since Jamie has worked on new music, he thought it might be time for him to retire from the business. “People asked me all the time if I was going to put out any more albums but I’d say, “I’m done with that.” This brought it back out. Honestly, I did not know if I could write any more songs. I had not written for the last little while so this woke something up in me. Not the way I wanted or hoped or expected.”
Wake Up Call addresses the loss and violence that has so recently touched Jamie’s life. “With Josiah’s death, it made me pay attention, to see things that are all around me now…Wake up call is just me paying more attention to what is going on, to live life more fully, do things I think I am supposed to do. Helping people around me, helping humanity, and my other son.
“One of the lines in the song is, ‘greed, power and murder has gotten out of hand,’ and that is basically what’s going on. A lot of guys these days they want the money, the fast money. Sometimes there is no end to how much they want or how much they’ll get or what they’ll do to get it,” said Jamie about the violence that took the life of his son.
In this, their first interview since their loss, the Sparks spoke about their son. Named after a benevolent King in the Bible, who came to power at a young age, Josiah was an inquisitive person, who challenged the received wisdom of newscasts and history books, looking for the truth behind what was reported as fact. “He had a thirst to know the truth,” said Jamie.
“He was always looking into the other side of things; he never took any news at face value…He was a great debater. He would have made a great lawyer,” said Richelle.
Josiah also had a strong connection to his family. “He loved time with his family. He had a really sweet girlfriend who he was going to marry, I think,” said Richelle.
In some media coverage of Josiah’s death, it was noted that he had some brushes with the law. The Sparks believe he was turning his life around. “He was no angel,” said Jamie but, “he paid for those errors. He was moving on; his past kept pulling him back.”
“It’s one of those deep dark circles. It is hard to dig yourself out,” said Richelle, “He lost his life.”
It’s the most difficult thing a parent can face; the loss of a child. Richelle said she had some peace knowing that he’d found the love of his life. And Jamie said that he had visited with them shortly before his passing. They’d had a good weekend, made some memories, played a little monopoly.
Jamie hopes that his music will help start an important conversation on the violence that youth face in our communities. While it is a common trope in American rap and R&B music to highlight the issue of violence perpetrated against young, black men, the problem, as it exists in Nova Scotia, isn’t commonly addressed in the arts.
“I hope, that if nothing else, it will get people talking. I hope that it will bring some awareness to this problem that we have – which has plagued the black community and young people in general. I don’t have the answers but I do hope that we can find a way to stop this violence. I don’t want to see any more lives lost,” said Jamie.
“It was hardest thing I have ever done, making the song and then the video but I felt like it needed to be put out there so people can see, life is short. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. That aspect is part of my wake-up call as well; you just never know.”
The investigation into Josiah Sparks’ death is ongoing. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Halifax District RCMP at 902-490-5020 or anonymously through Nova Scotia Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).