Me’Shell Ndegeocello is art dripping on a mic. She’s like a smooth shot of bourbon, neat no mixer. Her music is transformative with hues of John Coltrane and Miles Davis. You can hear her emotive sounds in modern day artists such as Esperanza Spalding and Frank Ocean.
I remember when I first saw her perform in Washington, D.C. She sucked the crowd in and never exhaled. Every one of us was snatched into her melodies and transported into a rapture of raw, uncensored art. Her vocals, guttural and sexy, awakened our sensual desires.
The Beginning of A Genius
Ndegeocello began playing the bass guitar because she wanted to play with her brother and by the time she was 17 she was performing two times a week. She’s ultimately known as the best female bassist in the music industry. Ndegeocello blazed the cover of Bass Player magazine.
She crosses most genres with sounds that are influenced by funk, jazz, reggae, soul, hip-hop, rock, and funk. And much of her music isn’t perfected through repeatedly practicing. She believes there’s something about creating music spontaneously that something overly practiced cannot capture.
“My father was a jazz tenor sax player. He played in a lot of big bands. So I had that sound around me all the time. The first record that really caught my ear was Clifford Brown’s ‘Brownie Eyes.’ I grew up listening to John Coltrane and Illinois Jacquet. This is where I come from… I love improvisational music.”
The Uprise to Activism
With a musically talented father and a mother who was a social worker, you can hear a lot of social commentary in her music. Using her platform to underscore issues about gender, race, and sexuality.
Ndegeocello even wrote a song called Hot Night in which she sampled Angela Davis’ speech about the profiteering of the prison industrial complex.
Ndegeocello has 12 albums under her belt and many Grammy nominations. But she discusses having a private life is a priority for her. She comes in and out of the limelight focusing on being a mother to her two sons and being a partner to her wife, Alison Riley.
Ndegeocello mentions not wanting the music industry to destroy her. Over the years she’s had to learn to balance sharing her music with the world while still maintaining her sanity. But she admits her mind continually obsesses over melodies, sounds, and grooves. And as a self-proclaimed introvert, she can spend hours by herself listening to music.
Your Identity Is What You Create
Ndegeocello shares her struggles with her sexuality and never feeling like she fit in. She never felt gay enough for the LGBTQ community.
“It’s hard being bisexual, omnisexual, multisexual, whatever you want to call it, when people have their agenda and expect you to just represent their agenda.”
And then there were moments she struggled with race. She never felt Black enough for the Black community but then also dealing with racism from the non-Black community.
The best way she learned to manage the complexities of her emotions was by going to therapy and creating more honest music.
A Remarkable Tribute to Music
Ndegeocello’s new album Ventriloquist comes out on March 16th of 2018. It’s a celebration of Black music and Black artists. An anthology of her music over her lifetime and everyone who has influenced her.
It’s an expression of what can happen when the old becomes new again and an expression of re-defining one’s existence. In the album, you’ll find a cover to Prince’s Sometimes It Snows In April and Tender Love by Force MD’s.
“Early on in my career, I was told to make the same kind of album again and again, and when I didn’t do that, I lost support. There isn’t much diversity within genres, which are ghettoizing themselves, and I liked the idea of turning hits I loved into something even just a little less familiar or formulaic. It was an opportunity to pay a new kind of tribute.”
Transforming Pain Into Triumph
This Black History Month, we celebrate Black creatives and their contribution to the fabric of our society. Because of the restrictions that were placed upon Black people the one (of many) solaces that sustained our emotional sanity was self-expression.
White America took away our instruments but, they couldn’t take away our minds, our thoughts, our words or our emotions. And with each passing day, they couldn’t avoid the Black excellence.
Because, this dates back to African hymns. Black music has residues of spirituality which is associated with The Negro Spiritual. It’s our response to the American conditions.
We still see this in modern day society with artists such as Frank Ocean coming out as a Black gay man on his album Channel Orange, and Kehlani discusses her bisexuality on her album Honey.
So, today we honor our Black creatives, we illuminate their struggles, their formidable courage to be their most authentic selves. Thank you for being a beam of light and inspiration to us all.
Frantzces Lys is a mom to an amazing music producer in the making, a teacher, and a Life Coach. She believes we only have one shot at this thing called life so we shouldn’t hold anything back. She also believes mindfulness and meditation can heal the world. She wrote 4 Easy Ways to Reduce Stress Anytime for Less Than 15 Mins to help people feel better. www.chroniclesabroad.com.