Joel: Please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us how long you have been in GMCW and where we may have seen perform on our local stages?
Michael: My name is Michael “Cabbie” Caban. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY from Colombian and Puerto Rican parents. I moved to DC in 2012. I’ve been performing with GMCW since January 2013 and I’ve performed on various stages with them: Lisner Auditorium, Main Stage at the Pride Festival, Church of the Epiphany, and The Lincoln Theatre just to name a few places. I also did a little stint with some of the guys from GMCW for Frenchie Davis. We sang “Seasons of Love” at the HRC Inaugural Ball at the Mayflower Hotel in January, 2013. That was actually the first time I sang with these incredible men.
How has GMCW changed your life and why is it important for the Gay community to come see the show?
GMCW has changed my life in so many ways. We really are a family and this family has allowed me to be out and proud and just be me without judgment and with unconditional positive regard. This chorus has also changed my perception of what a gay chorus is. Before, I thought gay choruses were all about singing Cher and Madonna in 18-part harmony. But musically, this chorus is so much more than that. In the 2 years I’ve been with the Chorus, We’ve sung some really beautiful music with such incredible musicality and heart. We’ve sung songs from everywhere: showtunes, pop songs, protest songs, anthems, carols, songs from cartoons and animated movies… I mean, EVERYWHERE!!! And yes, we’ve sung some pretty “gay” songs too, but I’ve come to realize that when we sing it – when you have 200 gay men singing a song in glorious harmony and passion – there’s something really powerful that I can’t articulate. Its just magical. Special. And important.
Socially, the Chorus has been a haven and a home. But the biggest piece that stands out for me the most is the political context of the GMCW organization. The fact that we are the GAY MEN’S chorus of the Nation’s capital is huge! And we are fighting for something more than just presence. Through song, we fight for equality. Through song, we fight for love. Through song, we fight for understanding and acceptance. We are not asking for our audiences to jump on the bandwagon and agree with the LGBTQ+ agenda. We are asking folks to understand who we are as humans, and we are a culture, and we are a people with beliefs and values, just like anybody else.
What solos do you have in the show and what special meaning do they have for you?
It’s really funny to answer this question, because, in the Chorus, I’m known as a dancer. In just about every show that I’ve done since I started, I’ve always been in a dance number. But this time, I auditioned to sing “America” (My Country ‘Tis of Thee”). And, there is something very special about the way in which we’re singing it. I’m singing this song with three other GMCW brothers, in 4-part harmony and in Spanish.
Though I was born in the U.S., I was raised bilingually. And so, to sing this song in Spanish is very special to me. And to sing it with three other Latinos – it is a real honor. It is important for me to sing this song because my mom emigrated to the U.S. when she was 17 years old from Colombia. She was one of many immigrants who has busted her ass to make a life for herself, for her family here in the U.S., and for her family back home in Barranquilla, Colombia. I sing this song for my mom and for so many other mothers who have broken their backs to lift up their children.
Can you share with us how this show reflects experiences you have had in your life as a Gay man?
Growing up in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, New York, I was bullied for being perceived as gay. I was an effeminate kid who just didn’t fit into the gender roles that society pushed me to be in. So, I got spit on, teased, thrown rocks at, and beaten for being different. This show reflects my experiences as a gay man because I’ve had to fight to be seen and to be loved. But this show not only reflects my experience as a gay man. It also reflects my experiences as a person of color. I’ve had experiences in which if you weren’t of a fairer skin color and your last name might be seemingly ethnic, you got put in special ed classes, had folks look at you funny, and were spoken to as if you were an idiot. I often found myself not fitting in anywhere, so this show is a big decry to those who didn’t believe in me – for those who tried to silence me. But this show is also a show to salute those who did see me, loved, and supported me.
What songs that you are not singing move you and why?
Just to get out of the political context of this conversation, I’m going to say Brahms’ Shicksalslied always moves me to tears just about every time I listen to it. The harmony, ascending and descending melodic lines, and counterpoint… it is just a gorgeous piece of music. And the way in which Brahm’s resolves the rhythms and the harmony from the second part, the allegro “Doch uns ist gegeben…” in the orchestral postlude is just brilliant!
Another song that does move me is “Hablemos El Mismo Idioma” by Gloria Estefan. This song is a great salsa song, so it actually physically moves me. I can’t help but move my body to the beautiful Cuban rhythms. More importantly, the song talks about the importance of being united as Latinos. See, there is a ridiculous rivalry between Latin American countries. There’s always an us versus them mentality when folks from different Latin American countries interact.
What Gloria is saying in this song is, “we speak the same language, give me your hand my brother.” One of my favorite lines is “Hablemos el mismo idioma, que hay tantas cosas porque luchar y que solo unidos se lograra” -which means, “We speak the same language, there are so many things to fight for, and only united will we achieve them.”
What do you want the audience to take with them after seeing Born This Way?
I want the audience to take away understanding and the will to fight for something larger than themselves. I want them to leave empowered and with humility.
Meet the Performers of GMCW of DC’s ‘Born this Way’: Part 1: JJ Vera and Marcus Brown.
Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC to Host Dialogue on Equality Following The 3 PM Performance of ‘Born This Way’ on Saturday, May 16th.
Read DCMetroTheaterArts’ coverage of The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC.
GMCW is awarded a Special Award on DCMetroTheaterArts.