Album Review | Tabi ‘I Wrote Life’

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing singer-songwriter and disability activist Tabitha “Tabi” Haly, who, like me, lives with a form of muscular dystrophy.
Tabi performing songs from her debut album
You can read my interview with Tabi here!

Tabi, who has spinal muscular atrophy Type 2 and uses a powered wheelchair, is a 35 year-old musician from New York City. She began singing to exercise her weakened lungs and writes about the physical and social obstacles she faces.

She is already an established performer, having opened the first ever Annual NYC Disability Pride Parade in 2015, followed a year later by her own show, ‘A Concert on Life, Love and Being Different’. In 2017, this show sold out at the Rockwood Music Hall. Tabi has also performed at the Prudential Center and Brooklyn Dodgers stadium.

Her self-penned debut album entitled, ‘I Wrote Life’ covers numerous musical genres and is both uplifting and poignant. With soulful, catchy melodies, this impressive first outing demonstrates artistic skill and authenticity.

The album was produced at Dubway studios by Russell Castiglione, who previously recorded Trey Songz and Norah Jones.

“Producing this album was like helping her tell her story, her struggles, and her achievements to the world and that was very humbling.” ~ Russell Castiglione

It was master engineered by Dave McNair, who has worked on albums by Maroon 5, Cyndi Lauper and the legendary David Bowie !

“Tabi puts her life into her songs. It’s refreshing to hear an artist being so real in their work.” ~ Dave McNair

Track listing for the album ‘I Wrote Life’ by Tabi

Tabi is a talented lyricist and storyteller with a distinctive tone and impressive vocal range. The album is a well-crafted, subtle infusion of R&B, rock, folk, jazz, blues, country, and dance, with a notable 90s pop vibe.

Each track is a candid representation of the different elements of her life. Though revealingly autobiographical, it is also highly relatable, owing to universal themes such as love and loss. The songs ‘I Won’t Hide‘ and ‘I Am Able‘ reveal deep insights about falling in love and healing after a broken heart.

The self-penned album is optimistic and motivational, with songs such as ‘Keep Rolling On‘ inspiring strength and hope in the face of adversity.

The title track ‘I Wrote Life‘ recounts a specific childhood memory, which summarises Tabi’s attitude to life…

“I remember as kids the teacher would say, write on the board a word today, so then everyone wrote their favourite thing, and there I was just imagining, how great it would be to live long and happily”

‘I Wrote Life’ is available NOW at Amazon and Spotify

Tabi with a framed album disc

www.tabinyc.com

Interview | Singer-Songwriter with Muscular Dystrophy

Tabi, who has SMA Type 2, on her debut album, ‘I Wrote Life’

Album cover for ‘I Wrote Life’, by singer-songwriter Tabi

Tabitha ‘Tabi‘ Haly is a 35 year-old singer-songwriter from New York City. She has Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2, a progressive condition, causing muscle weakness and contractures.

Tabi cannot walk and therefore uses a powered wheelchair for mobility. She is now unable to use her hands to feed herself and uses voice dictation software. With 24/7 support from “home health aides” and physiotherapy to maintain as much strength as possible, Tabi leads a highly proactive lifestyle.

I recently had the pleasure of talking with Tabi about her music career and debut album entitled, ‘I Wrote Life’, (released January 2019).


Tabi, what and who are your biggest music influences and why?

I grew up listening to classic rock, pop and R&B, but I appreciate all genres. I enjoy catchy, soulful melodies, so that has heavily influenced the songs on my album. I am most inspired by artists who write their own songs because that is what I like to do. I love timeless songs and I feel motivated to write when I hear something that I wish I had written myself. I also admire artists who write about personal experiences.

I love Mariah Carey because she writes songs that touch upon insecurities and feeling like an outcast. She writes about her faith and she has clever lines and an impeccable vocabulary. I also love singer-songwriters such as Anna Nalick, Sara Bareilles, Christina Perri, and Jason Mraz. They write about love and heartbreak, which I can relate to.

I also admire a wide vocal range because it is fun to sing songs that are vocally challenging. That is when my R&B influences come into play. It’s really enjoyable to improvise and jam along. I like to challenge myself in general, so I definitely apply that to my music in terms of the lyrics, melody, and vocal styles.

Tabi performing live in her powered wheelchair

How would you describe your debut album?

I would describe my album as real and soulful. I allowed myself to be vulnerable to reveal my struggles and hopes regarding my disability, love, and life in general. The different subjects lend to the spectrum of dark and light tones.

My album is also fun, diverse, and uplifting! There are a lot of upbeat, empowering songs. People like to dance to them, and it was definitely a blast recording them.

The album is diverse because it crosses multiple genres including R&B, pop, blues, and reggae. It was difficult to select which songs to put on this debut album. Ultimately I wanted to make sure there was something in there for everybody. The order of the tracks matters to me because it tells a story and hopefully feels like you are being taken on a memorable and moving journey.

Tabi proudly holding her framed debut album

How autobiographical is the album, and why was it important to you to write the songs yourself?

This album is my baby! I know people use that term a lot in reference to personal projects, but I intentionally released it on my 35th birthday. At this age, many women, myself included, start to worry if they have not yet had a baby.

SMA presents challenges in every part of my life, but I am highly ambitious and set out to conquer my goals. I haven’t yet had a baby, so until then, this album is my baby. As an artist, it is my portfolio.

This album epitomises all that I have accomplished thus far; buying my own home, getting through college via financial aid and scholarships, having a successful full-time career that allows me to be financially independent, owning my own wheelchair accessible van, volunteering regularly, helping implement change for people with disabilities, writing and managing my music, managing my home health aides, being a motivational speaker, and being able to perform throughout New York City at cafés, bars, church, and schools.

As great as this is, it does cause alot of stress, sweat and tears! So I hope people enjoy the album and heed the message that faith and hard work have afforded me the life I have. This allows me to remain positive and to inspire myself and others.

Tabi smiling on stage, performing songs from her debut album entitled, ‘I Wrote Life’

Is important to you to inspire other disabled people who may have musical aspirations?

It is, especially since we are now at a time where there are so many groundbreaking opportunities. A few years ago, I saw many people with disabilities acting on Broadway, which took my breath away and really inspired me to continue doing what I’m doing. I would love to inspire, or better yet, collaborate with other musicians with disabilities.

During the bridge of my song keep rolling on I sing, “there’s so much left to change, more than we even think. More face in media, presence in arenas”.

Tabi, dressed head-to-toe in purple, holding a card displaying the hashtag #IWroteLife to promote her debut album

Have you faced any opposition, challenges and/or stigma on your journey to becoming a musician, due to your disability?

Surprisingly, the biggest challenge is sometimes getting onto the stage to perform! Most stages are not wheelchair accessible, so I have to be prepared for that. Another major challenge is having less live music venues to choose from because not all of them are wheelchair accessible.

Tabi performing live in NYC alongside her guitarist

How do you overcome these obstacles?

In the early days, I didn’t want that to be an issue or a dealbreaker when pitching to venues to book a show. So I would have my band members and friends lift me in my wheelchair on and off the stage. I have a powered wheelchair that weighs at least 300 pounds! So that was a lot to ask, and I am thankful for the support. This still happens sometimes, but I am now more confident about asking venues to consider investing in a ramp.

There are still the same challenges surrounding the inaccessibility of venues, both for the performers and attendees. I think this is just one of many accessibility issues that exists and for which we need to implement improvements.

You were the opening performer at the first ever Annual NYC Disability Pride Parade in 2015 to celebrate the ADA’s 25th anniversary. How did that make you feel?

That was such an amazing feeling! I had just started using my wheelchair again after having been stuck in bed for a few months due to ill health. So this experience was a huge comeback and it was an honor to be a part of this event. I have to reflect on this sometimes and remember how privileged I was to perform outside, in front of so many people, during the first parade specifically for people with disabilities.


I would like to thank the lovely Tabi for taking the time to answer my questions. Her brilliant debut album, ‘I Wrote Life’ is available to purchase and download NOW!

Follow Tabi on social media:

Twitter  Facebook  Instagram  YouTube

Theatre Review | Birmingham Hippodrome

On Friday 5th April, I attended an evening performance of Les Miserables at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Over the years, I’ve seen several different shows at this theatre, and have always been impressed with their accessibility.

I am a non-ambulatory wheelchair-user, and so my primary focus is wheelchair access. However, the Birmingham Hippodrome is continually making improvements in order to be more inclusive and cater for all disabilities.

Tickets and Les Miserables theatre programme.

Accessibility at Birmingham Hippodrome

Booking & Parking

We all know how difficult it can be to book tickets for shows and concerts when you have a disability. But I can honestly say, I’ve never had a problem booking wheelchair-accessible seating at the Birmingham Hippodrome. I’ve never had to dial the booking line the minute tickets go on sale, which is often the case for other venues, and there’s even a choice of where to sit!

The Arcadian is a manned carpark situated just around the corner from the Hippodrome. It offers sufficient disabled bays and cost £7:50 for the duration of our stay (around 4 hours). This is Birmingham – parking aint cheap!

Wheelchair Access ☆☆☆☆

The Birmingham Hippodrome, refurbished in 2000, is easily accessed via the main entrance. There are multiple double doors as well as an automatic door, with security staff always on hand to assist if required.

The main front entrance of the Birmingham Hippodrome – fully accessible to all.

There is then a wide, gradual ramp to the right of the central stairway. This leads to two large glass lifts/elevators. Again, there’s always multiple members of friendly staff available to assist with doors, directions and the operating of the lifts.

The main entrance from inside the Birmingham Hippodrome.
Inside the Hipppdrome – multiple levels accessed via stairs and two glass lifts/elevators

We sat on one of two raised platform areas at the back of the Stalls (lower level), known as the Lounge. Despite being at the very back of the audience, we had a great view of the stage, and since we were elevated, we didn’t have to head-dodge!

There was also plenty of leg room and space for multiple wheelchairs, so it was very comfy.

Seating plan showing the accessible Lounge area at the rear of the Stalls (lower level).
Our view of the stage from the Lounge seating area.

There are multiple accessible toilets, all of which are clean, spacious and impressively well-maintained. They even smell good! From my point-of-view, the only thing lacking in this department is the addition of a Changing Places facility, which would no doubt be a huge asset. For this reason alone, I had to deduct a star from my rating.

In 2018, the theatre made a conscious effort to be all-inclusive by installing gender neutral toilets.

Gender neutral toilets

“The theatre offers a programme of signed, audio described and captioned performances. Touch tours have been introduced, so blind and visually impaired can familiarise themselves with the props and scenery before attending a performance and assistance dogs can be accommodated with care being provided for the dog during each act.” ~ Birmingham Hippodrome website

Click here for a full accessibility guide, provided by AccessAble

Les Miserables ~ The Show ☆☆☆☆☆

The current touring cast of Les Miserables

I had already seen the 2012 film starring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, and was therefore familiar with the songs and storyline. But honestly, there is no comparison!

Now, I’m generally a fan of Russell Crowe, but as Javert he was total crap. The guy who played the same role in the theatre production puts old Russ’ to shame! Man, what a voice.

The entire cast was brilliant, with no weak links. How they maintain such a high quality performance, night after night, demonstrates the talent and professionalism of each individual.

Warning: Spoilers..!

All credit too, to the costumers and production design. Particularly impressive were the ensemble scenes at the barricades, and the moment Javert meets his watery end.

For me the highlight was the solo performance of Bring him home by protagonist Jean Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman in the film version). NOTE PERFECT!

If musical theatre is your thing, go and check out Les Miserables!

Les Miserables balloons at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Wench Wars | Disney Villains

1, 2, 3, 4, I declare a WENCH WAR!!

Daily, we’re bombarded with news stories of sadness, badness and madness. Sometimes, you just need a little escapism and light relief to raise a smile. What better way than a Disney villains showdown with the cleverest of clever little wenches, Miss Lucy-Lu Hudson!

I’m already battling it out with fellow MD’er, Mitch (twodoughnuts) in a series of ‘Top 5’ blog posts. So far, we’ve debated our favourite songs and actors. I apologise in advance for Mr twodoughnuts ~ he’s so very young and uncultured!

Mitch’s Top 5 Songs (bleurgh!)

My Top 5 Songs (yay!)

Mitch’s Top 5 Actors (meh)

My Top 5 Actors (fine choices, indeed!)


So, my wise wench of a friend, Lucy, kicked things off with her pick of the Top 5 Disney villains (damn, she’s good!)

Here, I attempt to take her down with my comeback (well, it is a wench war!) Though, I freely admit, I think she’s got this first round in the bag. Let us know what you think…!

Top 5 Disney Villains

1. Chernabog, Fantasia (1940)

This is without doubt the darkest and most menacing sequence in Disney history. I was only three or four when I first saw Fantasia. I swear, even at that age I thought it was one hell of a trippy film!

The demonic Chernabog (funky name, right?), based on Slavic folklore, is God of the Night. He is the representation of pure evil, with fearsome wings that form the peak of Bald Mountain, which leers ominously over the village below.

As night descends, the delighful Mr Chernabog unleashes hellish realms and summons sinful spirits to watch them dance maniacally. He then throws them into the mountain’s fiery pit before a new day dawns. Well, that’s not nice at all is it!

I’m flipping glad I don’t live in that village!

How is this a kids film, seriously?!

2. Claude Frollo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

I was eight when this was released. To this day, it’s one of my Mum’s favourite Disney films. But call me crazy, I think it’s all a bit much for kids of that age, with hard-hitting, mature themes including religion, sin, lust and genocide!

(Sorry folks, there are no happy-clappy, ‘bibbidi bobbidi boo’ moments in The Hunchback of Notre Dame!)

From Disney’s ‘Cinderella’

I’ll be honest, it still freaks me out. Not least because of the lack of magical element so typical of animated Disney features. Okay, so there are talking gargoyles, but hey, they needed something to lighten the mood a little!

Frollo, Paris’ Minister of Justice (oh, the irony), is the first Disney villain to attempt infanticide, having almost drowned a newborn, only to be stopped by the archdeacon who accuses the corrupt official of murdering the baby’s innocent gypsy mother. To atone for his sin, Frollo begrudgingly agrees to raise the child as his own. He cruelly names the baby Quasimodo, meaning ‘half-formed’. (Dave would have been a better choice, surely?!)

The manipulative Frollo hides Quasi away in the bell tower, excluding him from society, telling him he will never be accepted by the world due to his unusual physical appearance. What an ass!

Unlike other Disney Villians – often magical and mythical – Frollo the super-creep is so threatening and unnerving because he is such a realistic representation. He is, after all, just a man. A pervy old man (oi, Esmeralda, be mine or you can burn!) fuelled by power, skewed religious motives and a licentious desire for busty babe Esmeralda.

3. Evil Queen, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

She’s the original diva bitch, driven by vanity, and all credit to her, she’s got one hell of a pout going on!

I can’t help but be on the side of the Evil Queen who so easily outwits squeaky-voiced, simple Snowy (never trust a girl who shares a house with seven old men. Methinks she’s not quite as pure as snow!).

Yes, she’s gone to all the effort of transforming into a horrifyingly wretched old wench. But y’know, needs must!

If THAT poked it’s head through your front window and tried to tempt you with a juicy red apple, would you willingly take a bite? Or would you tell the interfering, hook-nosed, eye-bulging wrinkly to buggar off?!

I rest my case. Snowy, it’s your own bloody fault, love!

4. Professor Ratigan, Basil the Great Mouse Detective (1986)

Arch-nemesis to the famous mouse detective Basil of Baker Street, crimimal mastermind Ratigan is a comically ruthless brute. For one thing, he is voiced by horror legend Vincent Price (Michael Jackson’s Thriller, anyone?!).

A status-obsessed professional crime lord, his ultimate ambition is to overthrow the mousey monarch and proclaim himself “supreme ruler of all MOUSEDOM”. Aim high, I say! 

Unflinchingly wicked, conniving and with no morals, it is revealed in his singy-songy dance number that he previously drowned widows and orphans. What a pleasant chappy! 

Ratigan declares himself to be a “superior mind”, yet is angered when called a rat by intoxicated minion Bartholemew, despite the fact he is indeed a rat. The clue’s in the name, dude! 

His extravagantly ostentatious appearance conceals an intimidatingly feral visciousness. Though generally maliciously cheerful, calm and composed, his manacingly savage violence is unleashed in a shocking final showdown with heroic Basil.

5. Mad Madam Mim, The Sword in the Stone (1963)

“I find delight in the gruesome and grim
‘Cause I’m the magnificent, marvelous
Mad Madam Mim” ~ A bit morbid there, love!

The eccentric, shape-shifting Mim is a proper tricksy wench witch, and rival to the legendary wizard Merlin. We’re introduced to the purple-haired hag when young Arthur, in the form of a bird, mistakenly flies into her not-so-classy abode. Having declared his alliance to the all-powerful Merlin, Mad Madam Mim attempts to “destroy” the boy. Seems fairly reasonable to me!

For all her arrogance and mischievousness, I can’t help but root for the haggered old biddy. I mean, for one thing, she has purple hair! (I remember, as a young kid, being fascinated with an elderly neighbour who had a purple rinse. Super cool!)

The villainous Mim is LOUD, bat-shit crazy and pessimistic yet playful. A ditzy and deceitful game-player, she repeatedly cackles, “I win, I win” – as do I when defeating Mr twodoughnuts at ‘Blog Wars‘.


Thanks for reading!

Top 5 Actors

A while back, I was invited by a strange young chappy named Mitch (twodoughnuts) to write a guest blog. The fool even gave me full access to his blog, including his password!

I was told I could write anything, as long as I didn’t “take the piss”.

Would I?! (Well, yes I seriously considered it for a moment).

Therein started what has been dubbed, by Mitch, ‘Blog Wars’.

I’m a bit of a music freak, and so I chose to list my ‘Top 5 Tunes’. Admittedly, some were thrown in there just to annoy Mr Twodoughnuts.

Let battle commence!

Mitch then tried (and failed) to win round #1 with his ‘Top 5 Tunes’ – poor attempt, man!

Now the war continues, as we present our ‘Top 5 Actors’. You can check out Mitch’s picks here.

Though it grieves me to say it, he’s set a pretty high standard on this one. It appears the boy has some taste after all.


1. Tom Hanks

‘Forrest Gump‘! Need I say more? I’ve seen it countless times but it still gets me. With universal appeal and timeless endurance, it’ll make you laugh, cry and wish you had a mate like good ol’ Forrest. Unless you’re Ross (A Life on Wheels) – Another strange boy who is not a fan of this frequently quoted classic. Sort it out Ross!

“Mama always said, life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” ~ Aint that the truth!

Double Oscar winner Hanks has a lifetime of much-loved films under his belt including, ‘The Green Mile‘ (if you haven’t seen it, check it out), ‘Philadelphia‘, ‘Cast Away‘, ‘Saving Private Ryan‘ (surely the best war film ever made?!), ‘Apollo 13‘, ‘A League of Their Own‘, ‘Toy Story‘, and ‘Big‘ (remember that famous piano scene?)

How can you not love the guy?!

2. Robin Williams

The LEGEND! A comedy genius, Robin Williams proved his worth as a serious actor as well as the go-to funny guy, with an insanely quick wit and animated energy to boot. This versatile entertainer lit up my childhood in cherished films like ‘Aladdin‘, ‘Jumanji‘, ‘Hook‘ and ‘Mrs Doubtfire‘ – a role no one else could or should ever play. Pray they never try to remake it!

A true scene stealer, Williams had the rare ability to improvise like no other and appeal to any audience of any age.

His dramatic performances in ‘Dead Poets Society’, ‘Patch Adams’, ‘Good Morning, Vietnam’ and ‘Good Will Hunting’ (for which he deservedly won an Oscar – bloody great film!), mark him as an undeniable talent.

3. Matthew McConaughey

Okay, so the dude made some questionable choices throughout the early 2000s, and was somewhat typecast in crappy romantic comedies. But he’s certainly made up for it since, preferring more complex and intense roles such as protagonist ‘Killer Joe’ and troubled homicide detective Rust Cohle in the debut series of ‘True Detective’. If you’re into dark and disturbing, give these two a watch.

He then went on to play a supporting role in Scorsese’s ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, in which he arguably stole the show from the lovely Leo with that whacky chest thumping scene.

In 2013, the charismatic Texan babe dropped 47lb (21kg) to star as defiant Aids patient Ron Woodroof in the biopic ‘Dallas Buyers Club’. For his brilliantly impressive portrayal, McConaughey won every award going as well as audience and critical acclaim.

4. Joaquin Phoenix

Have you seen ‘Walk the Line’? If not, why not? Even if you know nothing about Country music legend Johnny Cash (shame, shame) it’s essential viewing if only for Joaquin’s dedicated, hard-knock cool performance.

Some might say method actor Phoenix is an acquired taste, having made some unconventional career choices. But you could never accuse the guy of being boring. He delves deep to create memorable, multi-layered, engaging and often quirky characters.

As Roman emperor Commodus in the epic ‘Gladiator’, Joaquin isn’t just the bad guy to Aussie Crowe’s hero. He’s vulnerable, damaged, desperate and played with sinister subtlety. Few actors his age could have pulled this off so convincingly.

Dark, brooding, intense and yes, a bit weird. I approve.

5. Morgan Freeman

So, Barack Obama was the first black President of the USA, right? NOPE! It was Morgan Freeman who helped save the planet from being struck by a comet in ‘Deep Impact‘. Now that’s impressive!

He’s the super cool, laid-back veteran icon with a mellifluous and universally recognisable voice. The kind of dude you wouldn’t mess with, even in his latter years, and especially if you’ve seen his award-winning turn in ‘Million Dollar Baby‘, in which he whoops some ass.

For me though, Freeman will always be synonymous with ‘The Shawshank Redemption‘. Tim Robbins took the lead, but that film belongs to Morgan. It’s an effortless and understated performance. If you haven’t seen this film, where have you been? Do you live in a cave?!

So that’s my Top 5 ~ who would be on your list?

Most importantly, who do you think wins this round – me or Mitch?? 

Leave a comment & let us know! 

Guest Posts | All Articles

Since creating this blog in October 2016, I have been incredibly fortunate to write for various websites and organisations.

I am a Feature Writer for Disability Horizons, Co-Researcher with Living Life to the Fullest, and a long-time campaigner for Muscular Dystrophy Trailblazers.

Here is my entire catalogue of articles:


The first article I wrote for Disability Horizons lists my choice of ‘The Top Ten Apps for Disabled People’.

No matter what your disability, there’s an app out there that can assist you in some way. With the help of such technology, we the disabled community can make our lives that little bit easier.

New apps are being developed everyday. But for the time being, here are my recommendations.


For the past decade, I have been involved with Muscular Dystrophy Trailblazers. I wrote a piece about my life with Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy, which you can read here.

The Channel 4 show The Undateables has proved highly controversial and divisive, particularly within the disabled community. Read my take on the debate here, which also features on the MD Trailblazers website.


 

  • For all my Muscular Dystrophy Trailblazers articles: click here

2009: My first involvement with Muscular Dystrophy Trailblazers.

 

  • For all my Disability Horizons articles: click here

  • For all my Disability Talk articles: click here

 

 

 

 

My interview with Disabled Living.

 


My interview with actor James Moore, for the March/April 2019 issue of Able Mag

Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook