Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Meshell Ndegeocello: Vive la différence!

Meshell Ndegeocello
Meshell Ndegeocello Meshell Ndegeocello

Meshell Ndegeocello - musician extraordinaire who refuses to be pigeon-holed. She is known to be outspoken yet she possesses a most laid back aura when you speak to her. She is revered by her peers and been in the music industry for 20 years - yet many still stumble in pronouncing her enchanting name. The release of her upcoming album "Pour Une Âme: A Dedication to Nina Simone" gave Blues & Soul’s 'sweet boy' Ricardito the opportunity to have another conversation one of his favourite artists...

The album is not a tribute album, or simply an album of covers, rather it is an album to honour the artistry and magic of Nina Simone. Indeed the title translates itself to mean “for a sovereign soul”, which to many Nina Simone was, in how she paved the way and continues to inspire many of today’s artists. The transatlantic conversation with Ricardito and Meshell covered the journey of the album, Meshell’s similarities to Nina Simone, views on modern music and the classic television program Soul Train.

Why Nina?

(laughs) Come on! [Do] you mean how did I get to make the project OR why? Well, if you have to ask why then I don’t know… I mean why not? Sorry, I’m like if you don’t get the connection or the reason I can’t help you there (laughs). What happened was, that I did a tribute to her for women in jazz in Schaumburg in Harlem, and everyone was asking me if it would be recorded, so that’s how it got started.

Noticing similarities with Nina

No I only notice [them] if someone brings it up, I don’t think so. I am hoping that my mind will stay rational and focussed on the here and now. I hope I do not suffer from…I don’t know her and never met her, I only getting this from what are in writings that I read, I hope my mind settles and I am not so tormented.

Speed recording of the album

Yes that the new wave; its back to jazz (laughs). I don’t want to sound arrogant but I have been playing with these people for a while so we have a really good synergy. All of them are phenomenal players in their own right, as improvisational players, and in many other genres of music. So I think that is why I feel humbled to play with these guys, because they are my teachers, I just watch them and try as well. But in terms of their minds and sonic gifts it’s incredible. All of them listen to so many different varieties of music and can tap into all those energies, but we all as group loved Nina Simone. We all came with our own emotional baggage; we all came with something that was highly personal to this recording.

As a unit we go in we discuss what we want to do and what we want to achieve. The only hitch was it took a long time for Sinead O’Connor to get off tour and doing other things; that was the very last track we recorded. We also waited till… I think we knew the song she wanted to do a couple of days before and then we knocked that out. As a production group all of us go in with a clear idea so that we know what we want to achieve. And then any of that ethereal magic that people believe comes out of just being imaginative and excited; but we can only get there when we are well organised and know what we are trying to achieve.

The album vocal guest list

From admiration and just love, I just picked the people that I really wanted to work with. The only wildcard was Cody ChesnuTT; I have to thank my publicist for recommending him. That is my stand out track; that’s the one I love to listen to the most. I just picked people that I truly love. Toshi she helped raised me; I have known her since I was like 16 or 17 years old. Her mother is Bernice Reagon from Sweet Honey in the Rock, so I just have respect for that lineage and all that they have done for vocal music.

Upcoming tour plans

I got out in October; I am trying to sort out some special dates. In my imagination it will be New York, Paris, London, maybe Chicago where we would try and get some of the gusts from the recording to come and participate. I would love to play Ronnie Scotts - not to be weird, but I think it would fit that environment and play tribute to that amazing recording she did there.

Could this album have been recorded 15 years ago?

Hmmmm, well hindsight is always 20:20, and I am kind of arrogant so I would hope so (laughs) I can’t say. I would never get in a time machine and go to the past, if I did have a time machine I would definitely head towards to the future. One reason is after studying her life [Nina Simone] I can’t imagine what it would be like to be of colour pre-Civil Rights. It was nice to look at the writings about her, and look back at the music and see that it came out such a beautiful place. Its also a great example of the record business…I mean the business of publishing and recording records has changed so much I wonder if she would have been happy here in the future having suffering what I call (laughs) “the singer syndrome” where you didn’t write a lot of the tunes, and back then no one got a performance royalty, so that would have been my question what would it have been like her for now?

Views on modern music

(Laughs) I just love anybody who is having a good time and who is exciting about doing it, and comes to it with some sincerity. As long as I can feel something from it I can get some enjoyment as well; I just love music in general. There’s this band called Beak that I would like to work with, also Talk Normal… I don’t know anyone that wants to work with me I will work them, that’s my new thing (laughs).

Having fun

What do I do for fun? Hang out with my friend that’s about it. Oh and write, I am working on some new stuff and stay creative and interesting. What do you for fun? That’s what I want to know (laughs) [this leads to a private conversation is not for the eyes of you dear reader]

What song to perform on the upcoming resurrection of the TV show Soul Train

Uh-oh who’s going to be the host? [rumour has its going to be Magic Johnson] I hope not, those are some hard shoes to fill. Hmm let me see… See Line Woman; definitely. I think Kat Williams should host Soul Train in my mind, that’s a much more exciting experience.

Final three questions:

What are your three buckwild songs that get you running to the dance floor?

"Love To Love You Baby" by Donna Summer; is an immediate for me. "You Make Me Feel" by Sylvester; I heard that the other day and almost lost my mind. "Mind" by Talking Heads; (laughs) um….this is just the mood I am in and this probably sounds crazy, but I heard and it was definitely so interesting and weird that I had to get up and move my body.

What three songs instantly take you back to your childhood when you hear it?

"Soft and Wet" by Prince, "Too High" by Stevie Wonder, and "My Favourite Things" by John Coltrane and transport me back to my childhood; such an audible memory.

Which three songs do you wish you had written?

Three songs you wish you had written: (laughs) "Blame It On The Sun" by Stevie Wonder, "Imagine" by John Lennon, and "Cosmic Slop" by Funkadelic, definitely in these days and times those words are profound.

Meshell Ndegeocello's album "Pour Une Âme: A Dedication to Nina Simone" is out now on Naïve
Words Richard 'Ricardito' Ashie

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