The Artist and The Revolution II: Nina Simone

To create art in the service of life. My earliest memories of Nina are of my mother wrapping her head with kente cloth in the bathroom. In those days I didn’t like the sound of Nina, her voice put me off, it didn’t sound like EnVogue. Her lack of smooth vocals put her in the back of my mind.

In college, I found her again. She was tucked away in a series of clips from the civil rights movement. “I would have been a murderer” she boldly stated, later saying that she would go to the south and exchange bullet for bullet with the fascist white power structure. “Who is this womyn?” I thought. And then I heard this:

Never had I heard such passion. Never have I heard such a distinct sadness. Never had I heard someone reach though speakers and command that I listen. Command that I feel their profound emotion. In the service of the people, Nina travelled and played protest songs during the Civil Rights movement, including the anthem “Young Gifted & Black”. She represents a large portion of the Black population that lived under the threat of death in this country as they fought for freedom. At the same time, Nina is free. She lived as she sang. She lived a life of heartache, pride, disease, misery, joy, laughter, and contradiction and she lived it boldly. I see her as a jubilant womyn, someone who achieved a certain kind of clarity of spirit and freedom within the poisonous world we live in.

When I hear Nina sing I imagine Black children in fields running into and endless light, I see Harlem in the 1920’s, I feel my Grandfather’s breath graze my ear as he tells me stories of growing up in South Carolina in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. I feel connected to this vast history of Black life and struggle, to this search for liberation and I am saddened to think on the history of my people and others out at sea searching desperately for port. She means that much to me.

Take Your Time

When I think of joy and life I think of music. Throughout my life, music has been somewhat of a salvation for me. A port in the storm and a way to express more clearly than I ever could with a pen, what I feel. I literally feel like something seriously wrong when there is no music somewhere.

I remember first hearing “Take You’re Time” by the “S.O.S Band” when I was very very young and the bass line was too funky to resist, to seductive to ignore. This particular funk song fills me with love and pride for my people and my history and my life. It isn’t connected to any strong personal memories. It isn’t political in any sense. But it is pure soul force for me. I just have images of Black people in this country enjoying themselves and cultivating life from terror, pulling glorious light from circumstance. I see my family dancing and smiling. It’s amazing what music can do, the journey you can take. The legacy of Black people in this country, in addition to being one of the most revolutionary sections of the working class, has been one of art and culture. We have contributed so much to the culture which can be identified as American, whether credit is given or not. In anycase, it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t share with you all, something that gives me just as much joy.