Imagine your father knew everything about you, everything you had ever done—the good, the bad, and the stuff in between.
Last year, Tribe House Artist Collective’s head guru, Nico Boesten, awoke from just such a dream. He vividly remembered hugging his father so tightly he could feel the fat on his back squeeze between his fingers, his dad’s mouth tucked close to his ear as the two locked in the embrace.
Henk Boesten had been dead for three years, taken by esophageal cancer in 2008, only a couple of months after the diagnosis.
Yet in Nico’s dream, his father was very much alive and well and imbued with an all-encompassing knowledge of his son’s accomplishments, disappointments and the transgressions all of us have and would shudder to see laid bare.
“He knew everything I had ever done; everything I had ever thought. It was the most vulnerable position, and I just put my head down…There’s things. There’s shame. There’s fear,” says Nico in an interview his friend, cinematographer Jan Vozenilek, captured of him retelling the tale.
His father went on to affirm that he was very proud of his boy—a husband, father of two, musician, producer and artist. The moment proved truly inspirational and Nico used the dream sequence as the basis for a song entitled What Matters, one of his first since leaving his band, also called Nico, in 2004.
After writing, recording and filming himself and his father’s friends playing the song at his father’s grave, Nico then posted it online. It’s received over 15,000 hits and Boesten says he wants to harness that momentum to make a few of the causes close to his heart, and his father’s, really sing.
“I finally wrote this tune that went beyond just entertaining people. There’s a place for entertaining. That’s what I did for a long time, but this is something that really matters,” he said. “The comments I’m getting are really blowing me away. I’ve been getting messages from people that say they are talking and hearing stuff from their dad that they’ve never heard before.”
A Kelowna native, Nico grew up playing music taught to him by Henk, a father he describes as aspiring to be “a father to the fatherless.”
In an antithetical characterization one doesn’t normally pair with dedicated parents, Nico introduces the man as a boisterous one-time drug dealer in Amsterdam’s red light district who let go of his habits to chase a woman.
The woman, of course, would become Nico’s mother.
Henk, a percussion player, raised his young son in Canada, teaching him to play the drums. Those drums, in turn, became the foundation for a musical career Nico would largely build far from the Okanagan.
Part and parcel of leaving the red-light district for Henk was a spiritual journey and when Nico decided it was time to return to the motherland to see what it was all about for himself, he did so as part of a Christian missionary group, Youth With A Mission.
“We did a lot of outreach with the homeless in the red-light district and drug users,” he said. “And we had a café that I worked in and did a lot of my music.”
His father was “stoked” that his son was meeting his old buddies, drug dealers or not, and the experience helped Nico meet his wife, Ingrid, and see the world, travelling to several parts of Africa and Europe before moving to live and work in Minneapolis, Connecticut and Boston.
Once in the States, he started to concentrate on music, playing festivals, commuting long hours to meet his band and raising two kids. The schizophrenic artistic life brought nightclubs and work in a church. He developed his own T-shirt company and eventually a website business designed to help artists develop websites to promote themselves.
Then, some three weeks before his father was diagnosed with cancer, the young Boestens decided they had had enough and made plans to move to Kelowna.
Though only 58-years-old, a strikingly young age to have illness consume one’s life, Henk’s diagnosis offered no time for haste. With his father’s health declining rapidly, Nico drove the moving truck straight to the hospital doors. He made it, though it wasn’t long after Henk gave his final blessing to his children from his hospital bed.
A number of Henk’s friends, guys he used to jam with, have helped Nico firm up the musical backbone of the new song. The group includes Andrew Smith and Norm Strauss (co-writers), Graham Ord on pedal steel guitar, Brian Wiebe on fretless base, Malcolm Petch on Hammond (organ) and Ari Neufeld singing back up.
The group are largely connected to Tribe House Artist Collective, a group started under Darva Enterprises, the same business behind the Streaming Café. As a collective, members of Tribe House use art and faith to approach social justice issues with an eye to growing new ideas like Nico’s song. And Nico needed their help.
The dream inspiring What Matters came to him as his wife was engaged in her own battle with cancer. Last year, though only in her 30s, Ingrid was diagnosed with stage-three colon cancer and underwent treatment.
“I think when somebody is sick that you love, your schedule gets thrown in the garbage and all of your priorities shift,” said Nico. “I started asking myself all of these questions about legacy and really appreciating things.”
Whether the dream was inspired by his father’s approach to life or his wife’s illness, or a mix there of, is anyone’s guess. And where their story goes from here really is as well.
But for now, proceeds from What Matters will go to support what matters to the Boestens today. Nico is hoping the Canadian Cancer Society can use it to either raise funds or awareness and is in talks with the non-profit. He’s planning to put current sales from the downloads toward the ongoing support of a young girl he and his wife sponsor in Africa.
Ultimately, Nico hopes the song will inspire others to really think about what matters and the people that matter in life. It has already started an interesting trail of reactions such as this one left on his website:
“Beautifully done,” it reads. “My dad died when I was seven. In my 40s, I had a dream that he came halfway down from heaven and I went halfway up. We sat on the window ledge of a building that was huge and made of stone—a bit like The Parthenon. At the end of the visit, as we walked out, I told him I really liked him and he said yes, I really like you too. We both laughed. We were friends. I asked him if we could meet again, but he said this was a one time only possibility. Closure.”