Musical therapy: With ‘Beautiful Trauma,’ Frank Colmenares seeks to heal
A lot of fans and wannabes are attracted to music stardom through the tantalizing prism of songs and lifestyles about sexual pyrotechnics, nonstop parties, and elegant material consumption for the sake of it. But dig a little deeper. There are as many artists who use music for therapeutic purposes as for pathways to indulgence.
The Geto Boys’ “Mind Playin’ Tricks on Me.” “Shout” by Tears for Fears, a tune about primal therapy by a band NAMED after primal therapy. Amy Winehouse and “Back to Black.” Hell, Elliot Smith’s entire catalog.
New London rapper Frank Colmenares, though, has taken the concept of musical therapy in a fresh and inspired direction. Long known in the region as the artist Franc Grams, “Beautiful Trauma,” released on March 10, is the first album recorded under his real name. It’s a six-song work that takes the idea of a “concept album” to a new level – and at its musical heart embraces mental health. Each tune addresses a different aspect of mental health with a particular focus on Black people.
“Therapy has been a taboo for people who look like me,” says Colmenares. 33. “I’ve never been in therapy in my life and none of my friends have. The only time we’ve seen therapy is maybe in a movie and it’s something that was happening with a rich white family. The idea is not embedded in our culture. The attitude is like, it’s not designed for our culture. We don’t need it. But you know what? A lot of us are hurting.”
The twist in the performances is that, after every song, Colmenares is joined onstage by New London licensed mental health clinician and social worker Jewell Jones. They dissect the lyrics and the cause and meaning behind the tune — on the album, Colmenares addresses such things as death, incarcerated loved ones, long-suppressed anxiety over childhood conflict — and then encourage participation from audience members.
The first presentation of “Group Therapy — A Musical Performance of ‘Beautiful Trauma’ by Frank Colmenares in Open Therapy Session with Jewell Jones, LCSW” takes place June 25 in the Oasis Room at New London’s Garde Arts Center. It’s sponsored by the Black Health Collective of New London.
A welcome and familiar figure
Colmenares is well known in New London and the area. In addition to his Franc Grams persona, he was a founding member of Writer’s Block Ink, the pan-arts service outfit for young persons, and the New London Talent Show, where his focus was mentoring the performers over the decade-long run of the annual event. For his dedication to community service, Colmenares was given a “Forty Under Forty” award by the state of Connecticut and also given the Key to the City of New London.
In a civilian guise, he also worked as a paraprofessional at New London’s ISAAC charter school and later started his ongoing ReelE Media video production company. Through ReelE, Colmenares connected with the Ledge Light Health District some years back, doing films to promote awareness and treatment for substance abuse and addiction. During the pandemic, Colmenares continued with Ledge Light and the Black Health Collective in efforts to let people in the community about vaccinations data so they could make informed decisions.
Also with the Black Health Collective, Colmenares interviewed and filmed Black clinicians and patients in therapy, talking about their journeys and experiences with mental health. That’s where he met Jones and where his early concepts for “Beautiful Therapy” began to coalesce.
“Working with the Black Health Collective and Jewell was a revelation,” Colmenares says. “It made me think about certain conversations I was having with people as well as things I was seeing on social media. I realized my peers are in pain. They aren’t dealing with things. We live in a world where it can be harsh. You see memes or jokes online that are cruel, and we walk around all day reminded of our insecurities — which we then internalize.”
Back to the music
Having focused for years on making ReelE Media successful, Colmenares felt the tug to get back into music. Last October, he decided he would write and record 10 songs in 30 days for the purpose of releasing an album. The process was to work on lyrics at night, then get up the next morning, head into ReelE, and record.
In fact, he finished 14 songs, but it wasn’t until he was going over the material that he realized six of the tunes were very much about the mental health issues he’d been thinking about and documenting. And it hit him that he was talking about the issues from a personal perspective. Those six songs immediately became the album.
“Beautiful Therapy” is a refined work with lyrics and rhyme schemes that eloquently poke, prod, empathize and eulogize. Sonically, Colmenares, with collaborative efforts from longtime musical pal Jus Cuz and new friend Th3 Saga, employs sturdy beats with an almost orchestral funk-pop score — the sort of thing The Roots did so well on albums like “Undun,” their own conceptual masterpiece.
For the live show, old friends John Void (bass), Kolton Harris (drums) and keyboardists Jaron Wilbur and Malachi Jarmon will provide the music.
Reaching a wider audience
“A lot of the work being done at the Ledge Light and the Black Health Collective is trying to push the idea of therapy to people who feel like it’s a resource that’s not for them — but who could utilize it now more than ever,” Colmenares says.
Given that the songs deal with very personal aspects of Colmenares’ life — a brother in prison, the death of a friend/mentor, childhood memories of his mother being abused — “Beautiful Trauma” indeed became the artist’s own brand of self-therapy.
“It was through this music that I learned ways to open up about a lot of things that have troubled me,” Colmenares says. “For just one example, my mother and I were able to have conversations about something that happened many years ago that she wasn’t even aware that I remembered but was still heavily on my mind. And it was good for both of us.”
Not long after the recording was finished, Colmenares ran into Jones in downtown New London and in an instant realized she could be the next step in the evolution of the “Beautiful Trauma” project. What if, he thought, they used the performance stage as a way to explore the pain of the songs and introduce the idea of therapy to a demographic that needs it but has been conditioned to believe they don’t?
“I’m fortunate that I’ve had a certain amount of love from my community,” Colmenares says. “And, with this art, Jewell and I are trying to show the world I’m just like some of these people who feel alone. Maybe they’ll think twice about themselves as well as the way they interact with others.”
A fitting spot for a premiere
Given his longtime involvement with the Garde Arts Center through the New London Talent Show, Colmenares thought the venue would be an ideal place to stage a premiere of “Group Therapy.”
“We had a brief conversation with Frank some months ago about a ‘new project’ and a different kind of music event at the Garde,” says Steve Sigel, Garde executive director.
After a Zoom meeting with Colmenares and Stephanye Clarke from the Black Health Collective, plans moved forward.
“As Frank began to describe his artistic concept, we realized the importance of hosting this very creative and intimate conversation on — and observation of — mental health therapy, especially how it is inspired by and integrated with musical and lyrical self-expression,” Sigel says. “Its honest content will be significant for healing — for both Frank and the audiences he intends to reach — and timely as we navigate this post-COVID PTSD world.”
Colmenares indeed hopes that the “Group Therapy”/“Beautiful Trauma” concept has the potential for ongoing success.
“The idea is to use art as a bridge to therapy,” Colmenares says. “I want people to enjoy the music, of course, but it’s more than just a concert or just a conversation between me and a therapist. We welcome and want people to participate and connect and feel better about themselves and the world.”
What: “Group Therapy — A Musical Performance of ‘Beautiful Trauma’ by Frank Colmenares in Open Therapy Session with Jewell Jones, LCSW”
When: 6 p.m. June 25
Where: Oasis Room, Garde Arts Center, 325 State St., New London
How much: $5
For more information: gardearts.org, (860) 444-7373
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