You Can Go Back Home

Whoever said you can’t go back home, didn’t know the indomitable Cyndee Pettice Strandell!  Cyndee is quite an inspiring Khamit Kinks client and we’re delighted to share news of her musical adventures. An intrepid spirit who has made a life and built a successful career in Sweden, Cyndee returned home to the U.S.last month after living abroad for 40 years! An acclaimed gospel singer, Cyndee (born Cynthia), performs over 85 concerts yearly, most in various European countries, but some also in Canada, Australia and sometimes in California. Add radio and TV appearances, the conducting of choir workshops, lecturing, dubbing films, running her production company and maintaining her music website, and you have one busy sister! She’s also recorded several CDs and you can hear one of her songs on Kirk Whalum’s A Christmas Message.

“I am a singer of gospels and spirituals primarily, but sing any song that has meaningful lyrics and beautiful melody,” Cyndee says. “I have several lovely Swedish hymns and folk songs in my repertoire as well. I write songs in Swedish and English and have twice reached near #1 on the Swedish Top 10 list! This was for duets I did with an Italian singer.”

Cyndee’s lived in Sweden since 1969. After graduation from City College, she and her best friend embarked on an 8-country tour of Europe, where, much to her surprise, she met her future husband during a two-week stay in Stockholm. Although her husband passed away in 1985, Cyndee stayed on, having made many wonderful friends and meeting with sincere appreciation for her music. She lives in Sollentuna, a surburb 12 miles north of Stockholm.

“Stockholm has really grown into a modern city since I came.  Its nickname is the ‘Venice of the North’. It’s built on 14 islands connected by bridges and highways and is one gorgeous city in the summer! To the surprise of tourists, it can climb to 80 degrees here. One of the things that still amazes me, is that in the middle of June I can stand on my balcony at 2am and read a newspaper with problem at all! The sun is on its way up!”

Cyndee counts this balcony routine as among the things she’ll miss about Sweden, along with its clean air, low incidence of violence and reverence for nature. She says that although Swedes can be a bit reserved upon meeting you, once they’ve warmed to you, they are loyal friends for life. She’ll miss her in-laws, extended family and many godchildren, and will always see Sweden as her second home and visit it often.

The majority of Black people living in Sweden are from Somalia, Gambia, Eritrea, and other African countries, Cyndee tells us. She guesses that the Black population is a few hundred thousand, but says it was much smaller when she first arrived. At that time most of the African Americans were soldiers seeking asylum after deserting the war in Vietnam. “There were very few sisters,” she said. Although one can find racists everywhere, Cyndee believes, she never experienced overt demonstrations, such as cross-burnings. While she admits it hasn’t been entirely pain-free, she feels life in Sweden has been viable for people of African descent who learned the language and were “pro-active.” (She became proficient enough in the language to author three books).

As Cyndee points out, however, the climate in Sweden changed radically during the ‘90s, when there was a great influx of immigrants from Africa and the Middle East, coupled with a declining economy. Attitudes began to shift and a conservative nationalist party was recently voted into the Swedish parliament. This is not the reason for Cyndee’s return home, however.

“I made the decision to return to the US five years ago. I simply knew/felt it was time. I have never seen myself as staying here forever, even if my friends here have. I’ve had the opportunity to, with hard work and determination, realize many dreams and discover dimensions of myself I knew nothing about. I never in my wildest imaginations would have thought that I would sing for Nelson Mandela, Toni Morrison, Rosa Parks or Pope John II, for kings and queens! Or be able to share our rich musical cultural heritage with Swedes and others!”

Part of sharing her cultural heritage, Cyndee found, was the wearing of her natural hair. Although some Black women in Sweden will wear natural hair, she says, most, particularly younger women, are influenced by MTV and Beyonce. Cyndee says that when she began wearing braids 25 years ago, African women there were puzzled by her choice. Swedes were fascinated, however. Today many Swedish women return from vacationing in Kenya and Gambia with their blonde hair in braids and fake dreads are popular among young Swedish men.

Cyndee found it took commitment to maintain her hair while living in Sweden. She started out with an Afro, but no one could cut it properly.

“Then a brother here opened a shop so I could get it shaped,” she recalls. “Later I started going to the US about every 3 months to get it braided, then, for the last 10 years, a wonderful woman from Sierre Leone has braided my hair. But I grew tired of braids and of the problem of getting quality hair.  I happened to see an article about Khamit Kinks in a magazine and went to the shop on my next visit to US. I’ve now been to the salon three times. Such service, diversity of styles and skill! It’s a paradise of endless possibilities for me!

“I have had twists with varying types of hair,” says Cyndee, “but now have the Chubby Twists, which is very good for me, my personality and my work! It gives me so many options! Me and chemicals have NEVER worked: They damaged my hair terribly! I chose the natural state because it compliments my facial structure, allows for variations, lasts longer, as is a part of who I am. But then as India said, ‘I am not my hair’… it’s what’s in my heart that matters.”

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