AAMAM: Nina Simone. Pushing The Ironic Show Tune! Part 12 of 30

simone

1933-2003

In 1963, in America, the Civil Rights movement was in full bloom. It was led by leaders whom held social sway with the oppressed. Collectively, leaders and oppressed, pushed an urgent agenda of freedom forward. Conversely, there were forces, which pushed back against the agenda of freedom.

On June 12, 1963, NAACP field officer, activist, husband, and father Medgar Wiley Evers was gunned down in the driveway of his Jackson, Mississippi home by the Ku Klux Klan who led the charge of pushing back against the agenda of freedom. Sympathetic Americans were outraged.

One outraged in particular was singer, pianist, and social activist Nina Simone. In response to the killing of Evers and the relentless brutality in the state against the oppressed, she penned, arguably her most famous protest song, “Mississippi Goddam!” In true and total frustration with the violent push-backs by white Southerners, she responded in her most natural way—in song! “Mississippi Goddam!” allowed her as well as her oppressed listening audience to vent their emotions in tune. However, juxtaposed to the song’s angry rant, Simone purposely recorded the song in an ironic cheerful show tune (like) style. Why? Because she could. (and I believe she wanted to hoodwink the white Southerners into tapping their feet while listening to her song.)

Take a listen to Simone’s angry response wrapped in a cheerful package. Watch your feet!

Happy AAMAM!

Ndegeocello Sings Simone!

Me'Shell NdegeocelloI confess I’ve been a fan of bassist/singer/songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello since she dropped her first album Plantation Lullabies in the early 90s.  I’ve watched her perform in L.A. several times and once in Atlanta in 2007, which was memorable I must say.  However, even more memorable than that was when I saw her years earlier live at the Virgin Mega store in Hollywood.  Ndegeocello played a small in-store set then signed copies of her second released Peace Beyond Passion (96).  I clearly remember asking her, as she signed the cover of my freshly bought CD, “Where’d you get that funk from?” like the P-Funk lyric.  She smiled and said, “Yes, right there!”  Wow! I just had a brief moment with Meshell Ndegeocello, whoa!

Over the years I’ve enjoyed the limitless range of Ndegeocello’s music.  As a serious soul music lover, I’ve especially relished in her exploration of the many nuances of soul. Ndegeocello and her music easily moved beyond the essentialist theory of the black artist.  She approached several other genres of music in her own unique way.

So, when I heard she was in the process of recording an album of Nina Simone songs I was excitedly perplexed (this is a good thing).  What would it sound like? Would it be funky with heavy bass lines? Or would the songs be reconfigured in emotion filled ballads with spoken word-like delivery? (You know how she does).

Nina Simone and Meshell Ndegeocello, on the one hand, are quite unique in their own right who together share some similarities.  Scholar Salamishah Tillet suggests, “Ndegeocello, like Simone, has dared to cross musical boundaries, express bold politics and be a steadfast presence as an African American woman instrumentalist in a male-dominated music scene.”  Also their similarities continue in terms of their fitting into socially comfortable places in America.  On the other hand, they are opposites in terms of the musical RESPONSE to their perspective eras; Simone confronted racial inequality amid social and civil unrest while Ndegeocello struggled in a post civil rights climate with her personal sexuality within rigid cultural mores.  A struggle afforded her by the work of Simone, in all seriousness.

Ndegeocello’s new album, Pour Une Âme Souveraine (For A Sovereign Soul) was released in October and is a wonderfully crafted tribute to Simone.  Pour Une Ame SouveraineFirst and foremost, Ndegeocello’s voice is perfect for the songs she sings while her musical approach is spot on.  She organically moves away–though not far–from the musical intention of Simone certainly due to the contemporary climate of the times. Ndegeocello finds a laid back groove for each song that departs from what NPR calls the “urgent” tone of Simone.  Her small group of musicians recorded the album with an obvious audible post soul aesthetic that is undeniably Ndegeocello.  She invited vocalist/musicians such as Cody ChesnuTT, Toshi Reagon, Sinead O’Connor, and Lizz Wright to join her on this tribute to Simone.  Collectively they sing with heartfelt respect for Simone whom Ndegeocello calls “royalty.”

This tribute album is a way to remember the indescribable force that was Nina Simone. Ndegeocello stated in a recent interview she hopes, “to get more people interested in her, check out her catalog and sort of revive it, and also use her story and learn from her story.”  After hearing the album it is clear to me that Ndegeocello was the perfect person to put forth this stellar tribute. Yes, Ndegeocello sings Simone!  In the end, I have to agree with Dr. Tillet when she suggests, Ndegeocello “has always been Simone’s heir apparent.

Your Sunday iPod add: Cold Specks

Why aren’t you listening to Cold Specks?  Hello! She’s only a click away.  Her music is probably better than anything you listened to today.  Trust me, she sings what you like.  You like Dylan?  You like Nina Simone? You like Sting?  You like Stevie Wonder?  You like the blues?  You like folk music?  You like coffee shop ditties on guitar?  You like turn of the century Southern gospel???  Chances are you said yes to one or all of these questions.  Why aren’t you listening to Cold Specks?  Besides having one of the coolest stage names in show business today, Cold Specks owns the most unique voice you’ve ever heard.  It’s slightly raspy yet soft enough to draw you near your speakers.  Also, her voice is magical.  It’s infused with the sound of wisdom–a wisdom far beyond her age of 24.  Her voice seems to come from a guitar strapped centenarian storyteller bent on telling you one more tale.  When I look at her face and hear her sing I am easily perplexed.  When was the last time an artist did this for you? 

A Canadian who now hails from London and a nominee of the 2012 Polaris Music Prize, Cold Specks has upped the ante on the expectation for the human voice.  So, again, why aren’t you listening to Cold Specks?  Now that you know about her you have no excuse.  Watch her videos below, add her to your iPod, and buy her album, titled I Predict a Graceful Expulsion.  You will thank me later.

Cold Specks is on tour. Check her out at a venue near you.