The fury of Nina Simone, recorded live at the Montreal International Jazz Festival on 2 July 1992.
“I’m an insatiable explorer. I’ll find music via any route I can, but vinyl is my favourite medium for its wonderful tactility. I’ve been collecting records since I was about 14. My pocket money didn’t stretch to buying CDs regularly, so I turned to second-hand LPs because I could buy speculatively and get a rush of novelty for R2 or R5 a pop. Every great record holds a slice of adventure – as it spins, thin air is transformed by sound into a tangible place you inhabit. You can take listeners anywhere your imagination and collection will stretch, and I think this can really expand your capacity for empathy.”
Read it in The Lake, and listen below.
Kate Bush – Hounds of Love/The Ninth Wave (EMI, 1985)
Choosing only six records to feature here was an ordeal because the span of what has shaped me is just so wide. I decided to restrict contenders to female artists, who are often under-represented in these kinds of list. I got down to about 20 possibilities but then had to shuffle and pick randomly with my eyes closed. So, for starters, what’s there to say that hasn’t already been said about the brilliance of Kate Bush? This album is a perennial go-to for me on grey, melancholy-drenched days – the second side, beginning with “And Dream of Sheep”, in particular. It’s also something of a litmus test. I’ve realised over the years that if someone new I meet loves this record deeply, it’s almost a given that we’re going to click alchemically.
Nina Simone – Little Girl Blue (Bethlehem, 1958)
This was Nina Simone’s first album, recorded when she was just 25. Despite her youth, her mastery of expression is already consummate here. I often listen to music medicinally, and this is one of those records I turn to when I’m really over the world in general. Nina’s voice and piano carry all the bittersweet weight of living. “All you can ever count on are the raindrops…” The notes spill out exquisitely, painting cathedrals where my spirit can shelter, smoky bars where my soul can dance. Any morning I’m struggling to pull myself together, if I drop the needle on “Good Bait”, by the time it’s resolutely swinging, two minutes in, the kettle will be on the boil and I’ll be thinking of what to wear.
Sathima Bea Benjamin – Windsong (Ekapa, 1985)
Windsong was recorded in New York in June 1985 and released on Ekapa RPM, the label launched by Sathima in 1979 to publish her own music and that of her then-husband Abdullah Ibrahim. A meditation on exile, displacement and yearning, the album opens with a haunting rendition of “Sometimes I Feel like a Motherless Child”, alongside Sathima’s own compositions. Windsong is dedicated to “the resilient, remarkable, and courageous mothers and daughters of the struggle for peace and liberation in my homeland, South Africa, to the heroines both sung and unsung”. My copy is extra precious to me because Sathima signed it for me just a couple of weeks before she passed away in 2013.
Forces Favourites – Eleven Songs by South Africans Supporting the End Conscription Campaign (Shifty Records/Rounder Records, 1986)
This compilation was released by legendary South African label Shifty Records in support of the movement for conscientious objectors against compulsory military service in the apartheid army. Jennifer Ferguson’s chillingly honest exploration of white privilege and paranoia, “Suburban Hum”, still feels relevant right now. It’s a highlight on this record for me, along with “Shot Down” by James Phillips’s Cherry-Faced Lurchers and the Kalahari Surfers’ “Don’t Dance”. I’ve owned the South African release for a long time, but last year, while living in a small university town in Sweden for a semester, I also picked up a US pressing with a different cover. While there, I was also privileged to meet Jennifer herself. She happens to live in the very same town, and is doing inspiring creative work with refugees.
Julia Holter – Ekstasis (Rvng Intl., 2012)
Los Angeles-based composer Julia Holter makes music which is conceptually dense, yet spacious and eminently listenable – hummable even. I saw her give a phenomenal performance last year in Stockholm. I already had three of her albums on mp3, including Ekstasis, so that night I grabbed this, which the merch guy told me was one of the last copies of the out-of-print 12” 45rpm double vinyl release. By drawing on archetypes from Greek tragedy, this album simultaneously abstracts personal narrative and renders the emotional content conveyed universal. It’s a clever conceit, but one you don’t need to be aware of in order to appreciate the music. An obvious comparison to draw would be with the work of Laurie Anderson (whose ground-breaking 1982 debut, Big Science, was also on my shortlist for this article).
The Raincoats – Odyshape (Rough Trade, 1981)
I read somewhere that following the release of their eponymous first album in 1979, the Raincoats were one of the first bands to be called “post-punk”. John Lydon said they were the best band in the world. Kurt Cobain wrote the liner notes for their first album’s 1993 re-release. None of this hype really prepares one for the shambolic assemblage of punk, folk and lo-fi that is the Raincoats’ second album, Odyshape, though. A wildly experimental departure into unmapped territory, the melodies float loosely over an assortment of unusually textured percussive instruments, including kalimba and balafon. This record still sounds extraordinary 35 years on: intimate and vulnerable, uncompromisingly feminine. I can definitely hear its influence on later artists such as Micachu and the Shapes, and Tune-Yards.
This profile was published HERE.
Great Interview with Margaret Chardiet AKA “Pharmakon” in Santiago, Chile, September 02, 2015, for her South American Tour “Sacred Bones”.
From Pastel Blues (Philips, 1965).
Nina is the antidote to everything.
This was recorded live at the Village Gate, New York City, in 1961.
Nina Simone – Piano
Al Shackman- Guitar
Chris White – Bass
Rob Hamilton – Drums
Just incredible. I wish I could have seen her perform, just once.
1. Little Girl Blue
2. Backlash Blues
3. Be My Husband
4. I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel to be Free)
5. Stars / Feelings
6. African Mailman
7. Someone to Watch Over Me
8. My Baby Just Cares For Me
9. I Loves You Porgy
10. Liberian Calypso
11. Four Women / Mississippi Goddam
12. Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don’t Leave Me)
Harlem Cultural Festival, 1969.
Thulani Davis writes of Nina Simone:
What Simone did for African American women was more liberating than the sweet elegance of her take on “I Love You, Porgy” (delivered without the fake dialect of all its predecessors), the thought-provoking militancy she added to spirituals like “Sinnerman,” or the wicked humor of “Old Jim Crow” and “Go Limp,” or the wonderfully ironic cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s kitsch hit, “I Put a Spell on You.”
First of all, her songs, whether covers or original compositions, always privileged the black woman’s point of view; they spoke for the dispossessed Sister Sadie who cleaned floors or raised children who would never in their lives again treat black women with respect.
Yes, you lied to me all these years/told me to wash and clean my ears/and talk real fine, just like a lady/and you’d stop calling me Sister Sadie.
“See Line Woman” viewed its exotic black female as an object of desire and admiration in a way unknown outside of the black poetry that was its source, or those raunchy blues songs that polite Negroes did not play, which nonetheless lauded the virtues of a full body and brown skin.
My skin is black/My arms are long/My hair is wooly/My back is strong/Strong enough to take the pain/Inflicted again and again/What do they call me?/My name is Aunt Sara. — “Four Women”
It was “Four Women,” an instantly accessible analysis of the damning legacy of slavery, that made iconographic the real women we knew and would become. For African American women it became an anthem affirming our existence, our sanity, and our struggle to survive a culture which regards us as anti-feminine. It acknowledged the loss of childhoods among African American women, our invisibility, exploitation, defiance, and even subtly reminded that in slavery and patriarchy, your name is what they call you. Simone’s final defiant scream of the name Peaches was our invitation to get over color and class difference and step with the sister who said:
My skin is brown/My manner is tough/I’ll kill the first mother I see/ My life has been rough/I’m awfully bitter these days/Because my parents were slaves.
For African American women artists of my generation, “Four Women” became the core of works to come, notably Julie Dash’s film of the same name, and it should be regarded a direct ancestor of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. This Simone song was a call heard by Alice Walker, Toni Cade Bambara, Gayl Jones, and countless artists who come to mind as women who gave us a whole generation of the stories of Aunt Sara, Safronia, Sweet Thing, and Peaches.
May the High Priestess’s cult widen to take in the unwise who made her as outrageous as she was.
Read the rest of this article over at The Village Voice.