Whether born on the continent or anywhere in the world, many of us have a special vision of Africa. Too often, others think of Africa as one place, but we know the motherland melange is really many places, many cultures, many people, mashed up into a sometimes confusing but, nonetheless, optimistic, one-drop.
Here is a complex take on a continent that has often been at the geographic epicenter of change over the last five-hundred years. In a racially reductive sense, our motherland is the site where the clash of black and white, both historically as well as on a contemporary tip, has and will continue to play out.
While the tracks included here are relatively new, the interviews were conducted by writer Maimouna Jallow in 2015. Jallow gives us an insightful look at mixed-race women who are making music that represents Africa as a lived experience.
They do not speak for all of Africa but rather offer a specific slice of contemporary Africa and, hopefully, also an Africa of our future.
You were tall, statuesque. The system saw you as a model. Some of them were even so crass as to consider you a fine cut of meat, tailor made for mass consumption.
I interviewed you once. Was struck by how relaxed you were. No label handlers. No rushing through the conversation like you would rather be somewhere else. We talked about your younger days. I remember you relaying that you had been a member of the Congress of African People working in community programs.
You did a couple of tracks with Norman Connors, a jazz drummer who achieved momentary popularity producing singers who crossed over. That didn’t last.
I never thought of you as a pop singer, although that was your profession. Had a starring role in a Broadway musical of Duke Ellington music plus recordings on major labels. Was even in School Daze, a Spike Lee joint. Plus modeling and advertising gigs. But none of that totally defined you.
Your voice and enchanting physical appearance carried you all around the world, including a major stint at the Blue Note club in Japan.
What I really dug is that as a vocalist you made two jazz recordings. One with Pharaoh Sanders, when his label tried to push him toward pop, and the other with pianist McCoy Tyler. Both Pharaoh and McCoy had working relationships with John Coltrane. Neither of their recordings featuring you, Phyllis, made much noise outside of hardcore jazz circles. Those albums found you singing full out, sounding much stronger and saying much more than the prevailing pop music of that period.
The public sees the bright lights, the glamor, the twirls in high society. We seldom fathom how hard, lonely and depressing such fame can be.
Yes, you were a fabulous singer as well as a fashion icon, but all of that didn’t make your life bearable. Who really knows the heart of another? What we can do well may not be what we really love. What we deeply need.
After our interview, when I saw your performance, at one point you took your shoes off and just sang like we were in a cousin’s living room. You conversed with the audience treating us as you would a reunion with old friends.
And then you were gone.
If you had lived in this new millennium, there might be a discussion about your mental health and how we could have, should have done more to save you. But back then, well, we just woke up one day in the summer of 1995 (a little before your 46th birthday). The hipper radio stations said you had committed suicide. But most of us kept the circumstances of your demise on the down low.
That past is long ago, buried behind us, however, decades later, your voice continues to resonate within me.
Jamaica born. In NYC, Grace came of age. You want to talk about an adept at making a fabulous fashion statement? Grace Jones.
In one sense, she was self made. She tacked against the prevailing winds of western beauty. A short haired, statuesque, assertive, Black (color, culture and consciousness) beauty who, in many ways was an hypnotic anti-beauty who was neither blond, nor quiet, nor any-nordic ideal of what a wife, indeed anyone’s wife, would be like.
Grace Jones knowingly observed the sundry influences surrounding her. She twisted, twerked and transformed those realities, and then, on her own terms, consumed Anglo values and conceptions, into her being, her body, her way of thinking, of acting, of existing. Anti-matter. A veritable, non-normal, taste-challenging, un-feminine woman who both frightened and fascinated American audiences.
In another sense, Grace was both a prophet and a scientist. She not only foresaw the dominance of the image, she also enjoyed the constant motion of making and re-making her persona. Which is why she kept on moving. To be alive is to grow. And to grow means never settling for what you already know. Always willing, eager even, to critique cosmetic norms and facades, and thrust herself into the unknown.
She is not afraid of nudity. Not afraid to be different. To be dark and delicious. To explore as though all eyes were sub-consciously fastened on her wherever she went.
She became more than a model. After all, who could really replicate her? No one. She was only herself. She was inimitable. Subversive even. What ever you thought a man could be, Grace was. Whatever you had been taught a woman should be, Grace was more.
This woman made a living being a one-man show! Grace both confronted and epitomized the exuberances, and also the excesses, of the 80s and decades beyond. Moreover, and most significantly, although she is embraced as a hard partying fool–“ain’t no party like a Grace Jones party”–she did far more than simply shake her ass.
She was a “fool” in the Shakespearean sense that she is one of those who dares tell the cold, cruel truth to whatever powers that may be. That’s why tracks like “Corporate Cannibal” and “Hurricane” are cutting edge political statements. She was far more than just a jester. Grace on the case is a bad-mother… shut their mouths!
One day, long after she is gone, we will realize and reach where Grace had been. What Grace achieved.
She is no stranger to the assertive self, regardless of how strange we think that self was. When she sang, it was not mainly, solely, or “only” about the notes, the melodies, the harmonies. Inevitably it was also about acknowledging self worth–often contradictory–even, on occasion, ugly, but never boring, never ordinary, never just a tiny, pet peeve.
Grace waved her freak flag high! She brought the noise. She challenged all she encountered. Secretly, many of us agreed with her: surrendering and acquiescing to being the same piece of political Milquetoast over and over again is so jejune? Grace was never a coward, never feckless.
Grace might have been into haughty parading, into twirling hula hoops and sashaying in asymmetric fashions, but the dust of self-denial never covered her lips. Her dusky skin. Her iconic wild ways.
Being colorful was her calling card. Even when she is blue, she loves wearing red and black. And yellow. Actually, she enjoys sporting oodles of glitter and gold. Plus, of course, royal shades of purple. And yes, all is highlighted by the mirth of her hearty laughter while being militantly forward–yall remember when she slapped that white boy on television?
What is one to make of the person who sees bars as simply something to momentarily hold on to as she claws and crawls up and out, surmounting cages? Her inner spirit glows beyond whatever absence of light with which social adages attempt to cover her.
She smiles. She sometimes snarls. Her humanity exudes an untamable animal spirit. A lioness burning eternally bright.
Grace. Grace Jones. Amazing. Grace. A slave only to her own rhythms. She is: the one who runs away from conformity.
Natalie Gardiner. Ghanian father-Swedish mother. Soul singer extraordinaire. Her recordings are in English. Her parents had an extensive collection of Black music recordings. I don’t know how much blues she heard–and I mean stripped-down, stomped-down, acoustic country blues. That basic guitar and aching voice stuff. She does not have a rural sound, but she’s got the blues in aces with two useless/useful (depending on the situation) jokers in her deck. (If you don’t play cards, you don’t know nothing about them jokers, especially if you don’t much play bid whist; but that’s a whole other story.)
Anyway, this Natalie lady has a super-smooth sound. Although she ain’t cutting nobody, Natalie is deadly without being bloody. Her sound gets to you like a slow poison, sort of what Roberta meant when she sang “killing me softly with his song”.
Once you really listen, especially once you reflect on her lyrics, Natalie can be sort of a sonic suicide; ain’t nothing much to say after she has put her touch on despair. The way she sings. Lullabies of loneliness. She makes the demise of relationships sound beautiful. Natalie has a uniquely quiet, albeit thorough-going approach to articulating emotional pain.
She has three full-length albums and a set of three inter-related EPs. I’ve included selections from each.
Initially, she employs minimal instrumentation. Generally just a piano or a guitar, maybe embellished by touches of electronics, and judicious use of percussion instruments–enough for a backbeat but not no wilding out. One enticing track is fleshed out by a sax and trumpet duo, and while “Let’s Not Worry About Tomorrow” really makes one wish to hear her with backing horns, Natalie’s vocals don’t require any such support to burrow deep into us.
Indeed, she overdubs her voice to comprise an appropriate backing ensemble. “Lonely Coming Home”, her only solo voices track, is an a-cappella masterpiece. Hearing a chorus of over-dubbed voices on one track next to backing horns on another track is an interesting juxtaposition that truly highlights her strength as a vocalist, whether on her own or in the company of fellow musicians.
Her quiet lamentations of loss, hurt, frustration, and short-lived joys have a soft/strong sound that is stunningly beautiful. She does not shout nor get loud and dirty, but, still, she makes you wanna holler when she plummets the depths of emotional despair.
There was a major time break between the first three albums and the trio of EPs. Her last full-length was in 2011 and the three EPs are from 2020, nine years later, which is a couple of lifetimes in the contemporary entertainment industry. I was afeared that she had abandoned music, and then she dropped those EPs, all of which more than fulfilled the promise established in her earlier albums.
This is contemplative music. Like we all have, to one degree or another, suffered love cuts, may even have been deeply punctured to the quick, as in “don’t want to no more even much, go no where near love”. However, thankfully, Natalie’s music ultimately is medicinal. At the very least she offers a sonic bandage. Moreover, her aurally rich expressions of despair and disappointment might just be the balm one’s broken heart needs to mend. (This seeming contradiction–the blues can make you feel good about feeling bad–is perhaps one of the great secrets of GBM, i.e. Great Black Music–the music be a boat that ferries us cross beaucoup troubled waters.
In any case, even if you are happily hooked up, Natalie’s oeuvre will appeal to you, as in “how glad I am to be in love with you” rather than out there on my own searching for love or, worse yet, coming back home, abandoning the search as an impossible dream.
Although her music is produced in Sweden, Natalie’s entire collection is available at a bargain price on Bandcamp. Check her out, you won’t be sorry.
There are moments in one’s life that tingle in tender ways, and we respond, no matter how tough we think we are. Your feelings be stirred, usually by someone you really care for, yes, someone, in the moment, you even love. Mightily. Deeply. In ways you were previously unaware that you were capable of feeling, not to mention expressing. They open you to the world. To yourself. To discovery–as in “I never knew”.
Well, now you know.
Many times such meetings are not found among equals. One of you cares more about the other of you than… well, you don’t have a clue to just how much the other cares, but you are certain, there is no limit to how much you care. At such moments, you feel blessed to be encased in that special moment for howsoever long that particular specialness lasts.
Is this earthly nirvana a dream?
The human condition is so subject to change, to being shaped, or even overwhelmed, by outside forces, by imbalance.
It be rare when we are both found on the same page, at the same time, breathing the same air. And then, of course, if we hang together, inevitably there will come all the realities and situations that go with staying connected–unfortunately, it’s not always exciting being with the same someone, a situation that can also become a drag, not the someone, just the “always” part.
Regardless of how exciting the music nay be, doesn’t even matter how hard the band swings, no solo lasts forever.
And no use trying to recreate the joy that once was; a past bliss that we can never forget and, worse yet, we can never recapture. Only wistfully recall.
But as long as we are alive, why strive to dial back to the old when there is so much new yet to be experienced? Even if that new is bringing the weight of all the past connections stuffed into our bag of memories, totting those moments, those people, places and things, into wherever we now are.
Enough. Are memories sufficient or do we also always need presence and possibilities, could have been’s and what if’s?
We surrender because some lovers just know how to kill you with a combination of delicious cooking and sexy, intimate kindness.
One day we were eating something, like chomping on some lightly grilled salmon with roasted, small, red potatoes abetted by broccoli florets; or could be sucking and chewing on chilled, succulent sections of hand-fed, juicy, navel oranges; might even be as common as a well-seasoned plate of red beans and rice (yes, we are in New Orleans, or at least someplace that knows something about expertly preparing ordinary legumes, flavored by one or two sprigs of thyme, and maybe even a couple of crushed bay leaves along with a touch of love from the cook, whomever they be).
All of that undoubtedly tastes great, but, once again, what I most reminisce about is our skin on skin. After lightly dining we indulged each other with enchanting, exquisite, little somethin’-somethin’ caresses.
Sometimes when I am alone–really it’s more like when I am lonely, I revisit the tremors and thrills caused by your tender touches that special evening when we lay entwined.
Forget the future, I may never, ever, be moved like that again.
* * * * *
Pianist and composer Ahmed Sirour wrote about his work on a particular piece of music: a soundtrack for For Love Of Ivy (1968), a Hollywood movie from way back in the day, featuring Sidney Poitier and Abbey Lincoln. Sirour described what inspired him and how he put the music together. Check out what Sirour said.
“Midnight, Melanin, and Manhattan (A Ballad For Ivy)” – #AhmedSirour (2022)
Like many others did, since the recent passing of my fellow West Indian/Piscean/artist, Sidney Poitier, at the age of 94, I took a trip down memory lane watching some of my favorite films of his. However, not many people know of or have seen a particular film he starred and directed in called For Love of Ivy, which is kind of surprising since Sidney was THE biggest movie star in Hollywood at the time this film came out in 1968.
To put it in perspective, he started filming this movie (an original story he wrote, himself) in the Autumn of 1967, but just a few months earlier that year, To Sir With Love dropped in the Spring, followed by In the Heat of the Night that Summer, and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner was up next that December to close out what was without a doubt his undefeated year as the King of the Silver Screen. While each film in ’67 was a blockbuster hit (and all dealt with the topic of racism in unique ways), “Ivy” was very different as it was a rare mainstream film showcasing two Black romantic leads–Sidney and the magnificent Jazz singer/activist Abbey Lincoln (who had a dope afro but they gave her a wig to wear in the movie, instead…cultural norms for 1960s Hollywood 🙄)–and it even featured the very first (though not explicit) Black lovemaking scene in a Hollywood movie. Perhaps that’s why it didn’t get much publicity over time as those other films did, because more radical than a 1967 film about an interracial couple was a 1968 one with a Black couple being physically intimate on the big screen–kinda ironic. The scene that this message and song is even about takes place late evening/early morning where the character, Ivy, looked so serene, gazing out over Manhattan at midnight, in the afterglow of her and Jack’s (aka Sidney) tryst, before taking the “throne” and looking over her sleeping “conquest” 😉 It’s a sexy scene without music, but I wondered what it would sound like with it. 🤔
Interestingly enough, the legendary Quincy Jones did an amazing score to this film, though I was surprised he left so much room open in that bedroom scene I’m referencing, because the original version of that scene had no music at all for maybe a solid 3 minutes. So, inspired by that space & opportunity, I took it upon myself to create a short, 1-minute original score of my own just for that part of the scene that you hear in the Instagram post I mentioned in a previous message that I created just to showcase it, but then I liked it so much, I decided to build on it to make it a full length track…but God it wasn’t easy! Aside from creating an original score from scratch, I was planning to get real horn players to record solos to it, since I had arranged and played my own “horns”, on keyboard, for the hook. You see, while they sounded realistic enough for the hook/melody line, if you heard how fake it sounded when I played the trumpet or saxophone solo on keys?? Horrendous!! 😖 🤦🏾♂️ As for the horn players, they were either willing but unable to do it, or couldn’t do it until past my deadline (since I originally planned to drop this on Valentine’s Day, but had to settle for the day after). 🤷🏾♂️ Well, the next best thing I could do was scour the Internet for royalty-free horn samples that weren’t very long in time length, but I had to meticulously edit/cut/re-pitch/EQ/piece together sooooooo many different clips until I custom made solos for the “featured trumpeter and saxophonist”–sort of like a musical Frankenstein’s monster of combining many royalty-free musician recordings just to make two soloists lol
Despite all that, I really do hope you enjoy this piece, which I worked really hard on and feel proud of because I always loved classic jazz scores in films and this one feels like I’ve finally reached a point in my life that my musical skills have caught up to my mind’s imagination to create really good ones just like you hear in movies; all I need now is to have this additionally scored with a real string orchestra and it’s all over–next level stuff! And in keeping with Black History Month, I celebrate Sidney, Abbey, and this wonderful film and that historic & beautiful display of Black Love (and love, in general), plus this song will be featured in my upcoming album–22022022–that’s dropping on Feb 22nd, 2022…one week from today! 😳 I have so much to get done in such a short amount of time because some contributors I was waiting for didn’t come through (especially why it took me longer to finish this song) so I’ll have to see what I can use and what may have to get cut and released at another time…everything for a reason, though, and even if it’s just an EP of a few quality songs, I’ll be content with that.
Until then, I hope you really enjoy this one and that the inspiration that it infused it flows through to your ears and gives you something sexy to chill to, whether you relax and listen to it on your own, or if you share this with some pleasant company (post-Valentine’s vibes lol).
Available now on my ahmedsirour.com, here on Bandcamp, and later on on most streaming sites (in maybe a week’s time). Spread the word!
The profound sound of the human voice. The range, versatility, the ability to heal, to soothe, and satisfy. Bobby McFerrin has it all, gives his all. He makes us glad to be alive, and, to paraphrase the Bible, he can make even the rocks cry out just by the joyousness of his song.
The song “Discipline” features a solo cameo by Bobby’s father, Robert McFerrin, Sr. Bobby also convened an orchestra of voices to contribute to his music making live. The choral sound was in direct contradistinction from the over-dubbing and multitracking he did in the studio.
But as great as his voice is, the real beauty of brother Bobby’s ability is the way he can employ the fertile fountain of his imagination. His ability to come up with many, many, beautiful voicing leads him to conceive and produce a sonic geyser of unmatchable healing sounds–healing in that Bobby’s vocally produced music both fires us and simultaneously cools us.
We not only feel there is nothing he, and by extension, we can not do. We marvel that a musician can do so much without the aid of any instrument other than the human voice. One flourish on his sonic signature may be a little ditty he wrote called “Don’t worry. Be happy.”
McFerrin’s NPR interview ably explains his talent and just makes us want to hear him again and again, especially if we have been treated by imbibing the tonic of a concert with the man who makes medicine music.
Beauty is an afterthought. What we think whenever we behold someone or something we consider exceptional.
Hence, there is no beauty without humanity judging a person, thing, event, or process as being “beautiful”.
Beauty is oxymoronically both obvious and far more complex than it initially seems. Yes, like every tongue, we all have our own tastes, but at the same time, every element of taste is both universal and simultaneously subject to a wide range of individual influences, influences that sometimes deviate wildly from the norm.
Look out the window, watch tv or a computer, scan a magazine, a newspaper, an advertising billboard or peep the placards on the side of a bus. What are the human images we see? A world of women (most often servants, helpmates, care takers, workers, lovers or sex-mates, and occasionally executives)–behind, beside, arrayed in front of a modicum of powerful men.
Even when the models are people of color, they seldom look anything like who we, individually as well as collectively, actually are. They are not our size, our age, our way of walking, talking, sleeping, being. No matter how loathe we are to admit it, most of the model images of beauty we take in on a daily basis are alien to us, regardless of what color we or they may be.
The beautiful people we admire have money, attractive houses and apartments, wear fashion designed clothes, drive stylish vehicles, attend exclusive functions, etc., etc. When we are shown people like us, whether we are aware or not, we end “not wanting” to be the ones who are less than the beautiful people.
“We are the world” is a lie. We may wish we were the world, but most of us are not what the establishment world says is beautiful. We can work hard to acquire the accoutrements of beauty. Even mold our physical fitness… oh, why go on? Particularly in the world of fashion and physical beauty, we all know the overwhelming majority of us are not hot models in this cold-ass world.
The battle of beauty is to see the beauty in oneself while simultaneously seeing oneself as we really are, howsoever we are.
As I look at Renee Thompson, as I view this 2010 video (the more some things change, the more they remain the same), she describes her drive to be beautiful by industry standards; honestly, regards herself and decides, yes, that’s what I really want to do–as I look at this video, I not only see what is shown, I also, reflexively assess myself when I stare at her image.
At some point what we see is other than what is shown. Even if we don’t verbalize it to ourselves or to anyone else, too often what we take from what is presented to us is a want-to-be-beautiful wish.
That image, our psychic self-image, is most often so unlike Renee or any of those high fashion models, or so we may think. The question is not really what do we want to be but rather “why” do we want to be whatever we consider beautiful, even when the desire is in disconcerting contrast to who and what we are. Not simply what we actually look like but why do we want to look howsoever we strive, or resign ourselves, to appear?
As we seek to make ourselves become one of the beautiful ones, let us not transform into someone who goes for style over substance. The most substantial reality of being a beautiful human is caring for, helping, engaging and identifying with others–regardless of how you, or they, look while doing so.
Milton Nascimento (October 28, 1942) was born in Rio but grew up in the state of Minas Gerais in the interior of Brazil. His mother died when he was very young, he never knew his father, and he was adopted by parents who reared and cared for him. As a teenager he became a musician and as an adult one of the most revered of Brazilian artists.
He has written so many confessions, so many indices of respect, whispers and shouts of love and concern for others. His music is a map of the interior of us, of our true heartlands. Babies babble, adults conversate, Milton sings.
He wore the word “courage” like a badge declaring he was of the tribe of resistance. He titled an album that. During the dictatorship in Brazil, when so many fled, Milton elected to stay and confront the demons, sometimes in silence, sometimes in song.
Most of us have no actual idea what it was like for an artist to sing while your life was literally under fire. Great stretches of your homeland reduced to ashes and embers, and to dead people who were shot in the head because they had their eyes open.
To turn to the music when the military is in charge is a true act of courage.
In song we recall the hope of dawn, the danger of midnight, and the valor of living full out in the glare of daylight.
The music that asks questions, eats oranges and beans with rice mixed in. That in the lonely hours sings of lost loves remembered, future loves yet to be tasted. Some of Milton’s music is hard to authentically be sung if your life is one only of comfort.
Milton has a falsetto that angels envy. The sound of black earth rising.
He looks like anyone. You pass him on the street and notice nothing. Then when you hear him singing as he strolls by; you stop, turn around. Is it possible that that Black man could sound so much like the human alma of all of us, whoever we are, whenever we are real, whenever we nurture ourselves and each other.
Das sombras quero voltar Somente aprendi muita dor E vi com tristeza o amor Morrer devagar, se apagar Quero voltar Poder da saudade não ter Não ver tanta gente a vagar Sem saber viver Vou sem parar Das tardes mais sós renascer E mesmo se a dor encontrar Sabendo o que sou Não quero mais perdão Porque jásofri demais
From the shadows I want to return I just learned a lot of pain And I saw with sadness the love Die slowly, if erased I want to go back Power of longing not having Don’t see so many people wandering Without knowing how to live I’m going nonstop Of the loneliest afternoons reborn And even if the pain finds Knowing what I am I don’t want any more forgiveness Because I’ve already done too much
What do we do? How do we react? Dad is a convicted rapist–not just a rolling stone–but in truth a dirty old man, a predator of unimaginable proportions who preyed on women who were young, who were matured–all of them, black, white, whatever Cosby forced his way…
Wait. You say forced. America’s dad didn’t force–ok, connived, seduced, took advantage of–no matter how you dress him the man was a rapist. But what about if the woman doesn’t object, doesn’t flee, doesn’t fight back, doesn’t, just doesn’t.
So, if a woman doesn’t fight back, she wasn’t raped? Bullshit. Even if she likes her aggressor. Even if she is married to him. Even if she never says a mumbling word about the encounter. No matter what, it’s not about what she does or doesn’t, it’s overwhelmingly about someone (usually a male) forcing the issue. A rapist is someone who overpowers the victim.
Sometimes the overpowering has to do with the imbalance of power endemic to gender in America. Men overwhelmingly have more power than women. So much so, we take it as natural for men to hold power and for women to submit to, to be envious of or to be enthralled by, to desire to be close to if not only in the proximity of; but just because that’s the prevailing situation, prevailing to the point of seeming natural–that doesn’t make it right. That doesn’t make it the way it should be. That doesn’t make it acceptable.
Rape might be the dominant form of sexual expression in our society, but the way it is doesn’t equate to the way it should be.
Yes, that means rape is more common…, that many, many of us have been raped. Yes. The structure of this society implicitly means that rape is a common occurrence in American society, so common that much of it is overlooked.
Yes, we need to talk–even if it is only a conversation with yourself as you watch this truly controversial but necessary documentary. The needed talk is not just about Bill Cosby, but really about gender relations and the social structure of America, indeed, of human existence here, there, everywhere but hopefully not forever.