Category Archives: Women

Women’s History Month: Nina Simone’s “Four Women”

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Lately, between Andresmusictalk and my own blog Dystopian Dance Party, I feel like I’ve been writing a lot about Nina Simone. Not that I’m complaining, of course. Simone is one of my all-time favorite artists: a bold and daring a performer who nevertheless carried herself with an imperious dignity that earned her the title “High Priestess of Soul.” And, especially in the late 1960s, her voice as a radical Black woman made vital contributions to the very culture that marginalized her.

Take, for example, her 1966 song “Four Women,” an emotional portrait of the manifold ways African American women have been oppressed throughout history. Over an ominous blues piano line, Simone lends subjectivity to four archetypal figures: the dark-skinned slave “Aunt Sarah,” the mulatto “Safronia,” the Jezebel/prostitute “Sweet Thing,” and finally the embittered militant “Peaches.” With her last verse, she declares that the rage at the heart of the Black Civil Rights movement is both inevitable and justified by the indignities of the past; “I’m awfully bitter these days,” she admits, “because my parents were slaves.” And in inhabiting these figures–widely perceived as negative, racist stereotypes–she gives them a sense of humanity and empathy that could not be found in the women’s movement of the time.

The place of Black women in feminism has of course been contested since the days of Sojourner Truth; it remains, unfortunately, an ongoing struggle, seen most recently in debates leading up to this January’s Women’s March on Washington. But with songs like “Four Women,” Nina Simone ensured that the uniqueness of Black women’s experiences were expressed, whether “mainstream” feminism chose to acknowledge them or not. And her music continues to resonate–as evidenced by the above cover version, performed by the Berklee College of Music chapter of Black Lives Matter. It is, as ever, sad that a song written about the plight of Black women in 1966 could remain so necessary over 50 years later; things being as they are, however, at least now we can be glad it exists.

Remember to check out Dystopian Dance Party next week for five more days of music by great women artists! See you soon.

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Filed under Berklee College Of Music, Black History, Black Lives Matter, black power, Blues, Nina Simone, pro black, vocal jazz, Women

Women’s History Month: Yoko Ono and the Invention of Feminist Rock

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The last few years have seen a much-deserved critical rehabilitation for Yoko Ono: once reviled as the Woman Who Broke Up the Beatles (whatever that’s supposed to mean), she’s now widely recognized as a key figure in conceptual art; even her avant-garde music has entered the canon as an inspiration for punk and alternative rock. But one facet of Ono’s artistry that I think remains underrated are the more commercially-minded albums she released in the 1970s, while married to (and in collaboration with!) ex-Beatle John Lennon. These albums were not only, in many cases, more interesting than the records Lennon himself was releasing around the same time (yeah, I said it); they were also arguably the first serious attempts to marry rock music and radical feminism–decades before the riot grrrl movement, and using her famous husband’s musicians, no less.

On “Yang Yang,” from her 1973 masterpiece Approximately Infinite Universe, Ono takes a grinding blues-rock arrangement by the Greenwich Village street band Elephant’s Memory (with a certain “Joel Nohnn” sitting in on guitar) and pairs it with lyrics that make “I am Woman” sound like “Stand by Your Man”: “No kick is good enough for lifetime substitution / No brick will give you a lifetime consolation / And whether you dig it or not / We outnumber you in population / And leave your private institution / Get down to real communication / Leave your scene of destruction / And join us in revolution.” This is the stuff of radical women’s liberationist pamphlets, not mainstream rock albums released by the wives of former Beatles. And while, predictably, Yoko never got her proper due for inventing feminist rock, at least we can appreciate it now.

If this post has piqued your interest, check out the full-scale guide to Ono’s discography I wrote last year; last month, my sister and I also recorded a podcast about her larger influence as an artist. And of course, we’re writing about important contributions by women in music all March on our blog Dystopian Dance Party. And, if you’d like to start seriously getting into Yoko’s music, you’re in luck: Secretly Canadian Records is currently reissuing her albums on vinyl and streaming services, from 1968’s infamous Lennon collaboration Two Virgins to 1985’s Bill Laswell-produced (!) Starpeace. It’s quite the journey, but well worth checking out!

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Filed under John Lennon, New York, rock 'n' roll, rock guitar, The Beatles, Women

Women’s History Month: Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love”

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This month on my own blog, Dystopian Dance Party, we’re highlighting our favorite women artists to celebrate Women’s History Month. So I thought I would take the opportunity to cross-post a few pieces that Andre’s readers might be interested in, starting with today’s post on Tina Weymouth and the Tom Tom Club.

New York’s Talking Heads were many things, but as far as I’m concerned, they were most importantly the greatest white funk group of all time–and a lot of the credit belongs to their stoic, diminutive bassist, Tina Weymouth. Her unique style married P-Funk-inspired elasticity to the jerky rhythms of art-punk groups like Pere Ubu; she was also largely responsible, along with her husband and Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz, for introducing the rest of the band to the emergent sounds of hip-hop in the early ’80s. Basically, if you liked watching David Byrne dance in that big gray suit in Stop Making Sense, you can thank Tina Weymouth: without her influence, the beat he was dancing to would have been a lot less funky.

You can also thank Weymouth, and Frantz, for making Stop Making Sense happen in the first place. The story goes that they made their own 1981 album as Tom Tom Club when Byrne indicated he was quitting Talking Heads; it was only after he heard their lead single, “Genius of Love,” that he decided to reunite with the group and record 1983’s Speaking in Tongues. It’s easy to see why: “Genius” is one of the funkiest, most minimalist grooves ever set to wax, pairing Adrian Belew’s deconstructed Jimmy Nolen chicken-scratch with some heavily phased, dub-style percussion by Uziah “Sticky” Thompson, and a whole heap of New Wave quirk courtesy of the Tom Tom Club themselves. There’s a reason why the main riff has been sampled by everyone from Diddy and Mariah Carey to Grandmaster Flash (pictured above with Weymouth in 1982).

But there’s another reason why I’m highlighting “Genius of Love” for Women’s History Month, and that’s because it’s, well, unabashedly girly. We often fall into the trap of praising women artists for transcending feminine stereotypes, which can become its own kind of aesthetic cage: in order to be taken seriously, Women in Rock (or whatever) have to be rawer, tougher, and ballsier than their male counterparts. “Genius of Love” isn’t raw, tough, or ballsy; the vocals, by Tina and her sisters Laura and Lani, are sweet and feminine, and the lyrics are all about how much she loves her boyfriend. Even the music video, by future Max Headroom creators Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel, looks like the kind of thing an especially talented girl might doodle in her notebook during middle school. It’s a celebration of an oft-scorned “feminine” aesthetic, years before Taylor Swift and the “poptimism” movement made perceived girliness into a critical badge of honor, and it’s detectable as an influence in everyone from Swift to Sleigh Bells to our own Women’s History honoree, Grimes.

If you liked this post, remember to check in with Dystopian Dance Party for the rest of March–there’s a lot more where it came from! Thanks for reading!

 

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Filed under Adrian Belew, Chris Frantz, David Byrne, Talking Heads, Tina Weymouth, Women

Anatomy Of THE Groove Special For Womens Equality Day: “Street Corner” by Ashford & Simpson

Valerie Simpson is turning 70 years old today. That comes as very important in that today is Women’s Equality Day. As far as I’m concerned,Simpson is a pioneer female songwriter for so many reasons. She maintained a very close marriage and professional relationship with Nick Ashford until the day he died. She also kept her own name professionally throughout their career together. And this included,of course their salad years at Motown- spinning out hits for people such as Marvin Gaye & Tammi Tarrell. That’s not to mention the duo continuing to maintain a successful solo career well into the 1980’s.

Ashford & Simpson albums always tended towards the most elaborately arranged and musically diverse wife/husband duet albums I’ve ever heard. By the early 1980’s,the pair had hits for themselves and others in the form of  punchy funk,streamlined disco and elegant ballads. In 1982 the pair decided to put together a concept album. A decade before the arrival of hip-hop’s G-Funk sub-genre,the couple decided to use the contemporary post disco musical basis to present very personalized vignette with a street level basis. it was called Street Opera. And its biggest hit was “Street Corner”.

A slow and steady 4/4 drum just starts right up at the beginning of the song and continues throughout until the very end. On the intro,there’s a low thudding piano chord. Before each one there’s a thick guitar rev. After that,the bass line chugs along underneath a higher pitched piano playing a lead melody-with a string synthesizer joining the horn solos just before Nick & Val’s vocal chorus kicks in. On the refrains,the musical theme calms to a processed electric piano based melody and rhythm. But that instrumental chorus from the intro provides the basis for the entire song until it fades out.

Instrumentally speaking,this is one of the most lushly constructed example of the funkiest end of the early 80’s post disco sound I’ve heard. The main musical theme doesn’t vary all that much. But each instrumental statement the song makes is very strong. Lyrically its a very liberating tale of a ghetto woman who is…well either mistaken for naive or mistaken for a prostitute. Either way,Valerie Simpson is telling a man asking her for a ride that “the little girl has grown”. So it showcases how feminine dignity exists alive and well on the street corners across America.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Ashford & Simpson, concept albums, drums, Funk Bass, horns, Nick Ashford, piano, post disco, rhythm guitar, string synthesizer, Valerie Simpson, Women, Women's Equality Day

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 11/29/2014-‘We’ll Never Turn Back’ by Mavis Staples

Mavis Staples We'll Never Turn Back

I first purchased this album the day it came out and,upon listening to it on the way home decided to toss it aside and let it collect dust. It was not because I didn’t like it but it seemed like there was so much gloomy,dark sounding music coming my way during this time and because there was so much hype in the press about the “relevence” of this album it was only natural I’d be a little let down anyway-that commonly happpens. So four years later I decided to give it a listen and see how it impacted me now. First off it’s important to note that this album is firmly the domain of a fully mature Mavis Staples and not the youthful soul shouter of her classic days with the Staple Singers.

She sounds like herself vocally but her interpretations have a heavy,craggy world weariness about them that’s quite appropriate for the kind of album this is.Produced by Ry Cooder this album is mainly composed of moodily chorded,heavy reverbed hard modern blues/soul/rock style versions of civil rights era protest/spiritual songs such as “This Little Light Of Mine”,”Eyes On The Prize”,”In The Mississippi River” and “Jesus Is On The Main Line”. The fact the little to nothing is known of those who made up these traditional songs Mavis and Ry almost make it sound as if they wrote the songs together as originals. The songs are played as if they’ve been written by the musician and Mavis,as always has exactly her way with them vocally.

Most of the album follows on this slow,heavy handed level as Mavis has obviously come to the conclusion we must not be lax in our outlook on civil rights because,in particular in the era this was recorded in it seemed as if things in that regard were taking a turn back. Seeing how poorly many people behaved during the 2008 presidential election she may have in fact been onto something. Only “99 And 1/2” and “My Own Eyes” have anything close to a dance tempo here. This is not exactly a happy album but it’s not pessimistic either. It’s rather resigned and that might be why upon first listen I had little to no reaction to it. It’s an album you will have to take time to really get into if your interested. But if you take the time the rewards are very worth it,especially for your soul!

Originally Review Written On May 14th,2014

Link to original review here!*

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Filed under 2007, Amazon.com, Blues, Mavis Staples, Music Reviewing, rhythm & blues, Ry Cooder, Soul, Southern Soul, Women

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/3/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Best Love” by Georgia Anne Muldrow

One key musical inspiration for my part in this blog was when my blogging partner introduced me to the singer/songwriter Georgia Anne Muldrow several years ago. Her music was presented as an example of a jazz oriented vocalist operating in the modern idiom-someone rather in the Erykah Badu vein,only someone celebrating her own type of musical clarity.  Since that time? I’ve been searching out Muldrow’s new music as it comes out. And it does so in many different ways: under her own name,as part of different jazz/hip-hop groups or with her rapper husband Dudley Perkins.

Three years ago,it came to my knowledge that Muldrow was going to be making a collaborative album with Madlib,one of the key artists on Stone Throw Records along with the late J Dilla. Since this was in a way a creative inspiration to what Muldrow and Perkins have done with their someothashipCONNECT label? It only seemed appropriate that she would become involved with one of the people who was the architect of the musical movement she embraced: hip-hop era artists seeking to create jazzy funk music with what they had available to them. The best examples on Muldrow’s and Madlib’s collaboration entitled Seeds,at least for me anyway,is a song called “Best Love”.

The song starts right out with a slow grinding loop of a boogie funk number that has a sparkling high keyboard melody,a smooth jazzy guitar line and a big thick,chunky slap bass leading it along. Considering my inability to effectively gauge every sample I hear? It could be from Slave,Breakwater or any number of funk/boogie artists from the late 70’s/early 80’s. However instead of the sample being tied together with scratching,rappers and other commercial  hip-hop cliches? The music simply repeats itself in the manner of a regular song. It’s my personal favorite variety of hip-hop production. And Georgia Anne’s lyrical message,applying an individual act of love and sensuality as being a positive emotion to bring peace to humanity showcases her strong thematic connection to the prime years of the funk era.

One thing that Rique and I have commonly discussed is how funk can be found in any aisle of the record store. Sure most anything can be played in a funky way. But that instrumental cleanliness so important in funk music itself defines any different genre that actually functions as funk. Whether it be rock functioning as funk,disco functioning as funk or electronica functioning as funk. Though hip-hop is directly related to funk? It’s use of funk samples is often featured in a more archival manner,not always focusing in on the funk itself and more on rhythm elements of it. This song showcases the Madlib approach of allowing the funk sample to function as what it is and adds Georgia Anne Muldrow’s thick,jazz inspired vocals and melody in and around it. And therefore creates a new sample based variation of futurist funk for the world!

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Filed under Boogie Funk, Funk, Funk Bass, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Late 70's Funk, Madlib, Women

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 7/12/2014-Janelle Monae’s ‘The Electric Lady’

Janelle Monae The Electric Lady

It actually took several listens to Janelle Monae’s full length album debut The ArchAndroid to fully grasp it’s musical virtues before even being able to review it in my head,lead alone here in black and white. That was several years ago. And the review I did do here only came after seeing her live in concert a year after that. It was a truly captivating experience: “united funk” all the way-meaningful grooves,messages and an enormous amount of involvement and communication with the audience. Strangely enough after that,a certain level of cynicism began to sink in on my part. Attitudes like…what if Monae’s intense creativity was a gimmicky fluke? Would she become a generic artist pimping the pleasure principle like so many the next time,to sell more albums? And had the early 1990’s style critical negativity gotten to me at last? How selfish of me. Here was the very fulfillment of the musical desires and imaginative ideas I’d had since adolescence manifesting itself before my eyes. Why reject that for the sake of psychically numb realism? When I heard earlier in the year her follow up was about to arrive,it was a summer of waiting with baited breath to here the musical fruits of her passions. With no hyperbole intended,I am astounded with what was heard!

Beginning with “Electric Overture”, Suit IV a swirling blend of cinema and surf rock guitar we go into “Givin’ Em What They Love”-a thudding and minimal funk-rocker featuring of course Prince himself. Having heard a version of “Q.U.E.E.N” during the summer,this Erykah Badu duet is a superbly realized Minneapolis style rhythm guitar/spicy boogie funk synthesizer. “Electric Lady” slows the groove right down to a crawl with this heavily texturized electronics bubbling up from an heavily reverbed drum and bass line-Monae and Solange Knowles’s voice blending into perfect harmony. On “Primetime” Janelle and Miguel’s male/female duet is set within the musical framework of another spare,lightly beat heavy (and therefore very funky) mid tempo ballad. “We’re Only Rock ‘N Roll” jumps right into a sleeker interpretation of the classic James Brown groove than on the previous albums “Tightrope”-as well as having a more melodically constructed song craft about it. “The Dance Apocalyptic” goes right for the heart of this uptempo Caribbean-type funk jaunt while “Look Into My Eyes” brings in the Spanish tinge with a sensually flamenco inflected tango.

Suit V begins with the beautifully cinematic orchestral 60’s type next part of the “electric overture” before going into the early 70’s Chicago soul inspired “It’s Code” which,along with “Can’t Live Without Your Love” and “Victory” bring out that “sweet funk” sound of that specific musical ethic. With it’s theatrical blend of synthesizer bass and intense rhythm “Ghetto Woman” is complexly melodic electronic funk like you’ve never heard it before-asking for sympathy for it’s character rather than the derision of society.”Sally Ride” is a tight,slowed down foot stomper of a jam that’s full of honesty and a little attitude. “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”,with the equally talented Esperanza Spalding,is absolutely amazing-with it’s thorough understanding of jazzy style keyboard textures and sensual,truth telling rhythms. Not to mention melodic and harmony suggestions that are alternately passionate and paranoid in the best heavy on easy sophistifunk fashion before ending the album with the slow and dynamic boogie funk of “What An Experience”.

Many of the songs on this album feature interludes such as “Good Morning Midnight”,”The Chrome Shoppe” and “Our Favorite Fugitive”,narrated by DJ Crash Crash that illustrate this albums concept. Cindy Mayweather,the space faring archandroid has arrived at the threshold of an apocalypse-with only a group of Mayweather clones called the Electric Ladies providing a degree of satisfaction. Is it another P-Funk like conceptual tract? Not at all. This album is full of many different variations of what actually turns out to be a very important message to the listener. In an environment where a culture itself is almost entirely ruled by fear of one thing or another without realizing it,the best way to live life is to be aware and gain knowledge. But also to be in a position where you can change things for the better. This theme isn’t illustrated by mere preaching. There’s a theatrical storyline just as with her first two releases,as well as a set of characters with their own situations. The stage was set,the players were in place for this album and Janelle Monae more than showed she could dance-literally and figuratively. She has affirmed her place as the much needed innovator of the funk/soul/jazz/R&B spectrum and did so by diving head long into the funky gumbo of Stevie Wonder,Prince,James Brown,Gil Scott Heron and Curtis Mayfield that she channels into her musical orbit. An amazing piece of music that,on many levels,words may not be able to adequately describe.

*For Original Amazon Review,Follow This Link:

http://www.amazon.com/review/R33EVJELK0U6SA/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B00DNDR29I

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, Esperanza Spalding, Funk, Janelle Monae, Minneapolis, Prince, Solange', Soul, Stevie Wonder, Women

Anatomy of THE Groove 6/27/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Over My Shoulder” by Chromeo

Since there has been an ongoing disco-dance revival that’s existed pretty consistently since the late 1980’s? Its not surprising that so many of the most groove-centric and funk oriented instrumentalists have actually emerged out of the club/DJ scene that helped spawn the original disco era in the first place. France’s Daft Punk are a perfect example. One thing that evident about modern funk artists who grew out of the modern DJ/electronic scene is their admiration for the sleeker “sophistifunk” style that emerged during that late 70’s period. As for me,I discovered what was to me a totally unknown example of this via a friends recommendation of an artist called Magic Man. The act was called Chromeo. And hearing sound samples of them made me want to seek out more of their music. It was the song “Over Your Shoulder” from their newest album White Women that caught my ears the most.

Beginning with a growling,revved up bass the song goes straight into that a heavy bass/guitar interaction courtesy of David “Dave 1” Mackovitch-one half of this duo. The bass line to this song in particular is very perpulsive-bouncing and dancing along while almost jazzily improvising over the chord changes of the grooving lead guitar line and the drum rhythm. Because the basic song is so stripped down,this bass stands out very strongly. On the end of each chorus as sung by Dave on,the bands keyboardist Patrick “P-Thugg” Gemayel plays a melodic synthesizer solo with two different and exciting parts. One is very much in the vibrato oriented Bernie Worrell/P-Funk “video game” style and the other part more in the flamboyant,progressive style scaling similar to what Steve Miller Band used on “Fly Like An Eagle”. As the song fades to a close, Dave 1’s guitar solo takes on a somewhat more pop/rock oriented tone as well.

In the 1970’s Montreal had bought the world the exploitative jazz/funk delights of Gino and Joe Vannelli. And from what I hear Dave 1 and P-Thugg would appear to be bringing a similar impulse out of this Atlantic Canada city. Only thing time focusing in on that late 70’s sophistifunk and early 80’s boogie funk sound with an occasionally minor jazzy and psychedelic twist. Another captivating element of this song is its lyrical content. It tells the story of a man coming onto a woman who defines herself by the insecurity she feels about her looks and attraction to others. While traditionally classic funk and soul traditionally celebrated emotionally and sexually confident female virtues? The more visually conscious and often superficial modern outlook on youthful femininity is reflected lyrically in this song.

With lines such as “Oh the grass is greener everywhere you look/ So many people stare they got you scared of the girls out there/ This one’s cola-bottle size/And that one’s more of a model size/I know you heard this a hundred times” and especially “You see, your problems of self-esteem/Could be self-fulfilling prophecies/So arguably your best policy should be talking to me”? Dave 1 offers empowerment,rather than mere co-dependant enabling to his female romantic interest in the song. The polished,sleek yet instrumentally minimal nature of the song is equally reflective of the healthy and nurturing male attitude towards women this song projects. So this is not only strong modern funk with a heavy sexual subtext. But also one where a modern man is encouraging a modern woman to be confident,feminine and sexual all at once without losing anything.

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Filed under Chromeo, Daft Punk, Disco, DJ's, Funk, Funk Bass, Late 70's Funk, Women