Michael and Tanya Trotter have an all-American origin story. I had the pleasure to speak to the married members of War and Treaty on July 4th, before the sun came down and the fireworks were ignited. Very apt, seeing as they are an Americana band, a genre populated by the likes of Leon Bridges and The Luminners. War and Treaty were on their tour bus heading to a show later that night. Tanya picked up the phone, she’s soft-spoken and warm. Michael chimes in soon after, with an inviting welcome. We talk about love, music, and Lil Nas X.
The story of this band begins with love. Michael had dealt with houselessness for the better part of his adolescence. He had a daughter at 19. He adored her. She was his namesake. As a means to provide for Michaela, he dropped out of high school to join the army. The hardship of his teenhood, the violence, and nomadic poverty, gave no time for young Michael to say intuned with the political landscape. “What they showed on TV was my life – my life was the news,” he had told me, “so I never paid attention to it.” Unbeknownst to him when he joined the US Army in 2003, he would be heading to Iraq for war.
Years later, Tanya meets her husband at her very own music festival. She organized it to raise money for a children’s charity. She had been in the music industry for quite some time. Tanya’s talent was introduced to the world in Sister Act 2. “His Eyes Is On the Sparrow” one of the most memorable moments of the film. Her debut album, “Natural Thing”, was a successful effort. And when she saw Michael perform, she was struck by his honesty. They dated, they wed and three years later they decided to join forces musically.
I had asked the couple how they decided on their band name. Tanya giggled, “Well it came out of an argument,” she confessed. None of the other names seemed to stick, and in the midst of an argument Tanya said something along the lines of ‘not wanting war, we need to make a treaty”. Michael’s eyes lit up, and the rest was history. I wanted to know more about their attraction to the Americana genre, and for them it all about the sound feeling like truth. Tanya shared with me that one of the best things about having a husband as her musical partner is that she can be vulnerable with him on stage. And the audience can feel that authenticity.
And within this genre, War and Treaty are quite unique as a Black, married couple. That didn’t stop them however from being nominated for two Americana Awards this year. They are so honored to be recognized for their tremendous work. When I asked them whether the success of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” could be a signifier that the mainstream is ready to center Country and Americana music – Michael made it clear how critical the Americana sound to the music world. It’s sound is distinctly North American, and it’s indigeneity will always be it’s saving grace.
Their last project, “Healing Tide” is robust. Michael and Tanya truly made an album where you can hear their souls reverberate in each track. There is humility in their lyrics, and confident wisdom. It will transport you to times of simplicity or maybe to a hearty BBQ.
By Emeka Ochiagha