MOS DEF feat. VINIA MOJICA / “Climb”
I’ve been listening to the honey-sweet voice of Ms. Vinia Mojica since 1991 when The Abstract One himself, Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest, memorably name-checked her on his solo piece “Verses From The Abstract”:
I hooked this funky beat With the loop and the feature Is the funky singing By Ms. Vinia MojicaI discovered later that I’d actually been listening to Ms. Mojica for a couple years before ‘91, but as I found out when I started reading through Vinia’s discography, it’s possible to know and enjoy her voice without actually recognizing it. Vinia has spent nearly twenty years building a career primarily consisting of guest appearances and background vocals. I love it when she shows up here and there on this or that hip-hop track or on more adventurous pop records, but the real question is: will she ever release an album’s worth of material under own name? Either way, it’s about time someone more enterprising and talented than myself puts together a Ms. Mojica mixtape. When that happens, I’ll be first in line with a crisp ten dollar bill in hand. Until then, here are a few of my favorite Vinia moments. A Tribe Called Quest – “Verses From The Abstract” – From The Low End Theory (Jive, 1991) It’s ten o’clock in the morning in the middle of May of 2008 and this classic record is sounding as good to me right now as it did when I had it stuck on repeat way back in 1991. Over the years, Q-Tip’s style has changed a lot; sometimes I forget that he used to do whole verses in a single, locked-in flow. I’m loving that. Vinia Mojica – “Guilt Junkie” – From 12” Single (Fruitmeat, 2003) This is the only recording I know of that features Vinia’s name by itself and above the title. Like Vinia herself, it’s gentle and unassuming, but oh so sweet. Is a record like this going to change the world? No. Have I listened to it something like twenty million times since I first got my hands on it? Yes. Hi-Tek feat. Mos Def & Vinia Mojica – “Get Ta Steppin’” – From Hi-Teknology (Rawkus, 2001) One of Vinia’s many collaborations with Brooklyn’s finest, Mos Def. Every time they hook up, these two sound like they were meant to be together. Since Mos seems unable to relocate his musical footing as a solo artist and Vinia’s never found hers to begin with, maybe these two should do one of those duet albums like Marvin and Tammi. How could they miss? Chocolate Genius Inc – “Amazona” – From Black Yankee Rock (Commotion, 2005) Here’s Vinia sweetening up Marc Anthony Thompson’s gruff crooning on a track from his 2005 album Black Yankee Rock. Vinia’s all over this release; we’ll revisit it a little later. De La Soul – “A Roller Skating Jam Named ‘Saturdays’” – From De La Soul Is Dead (Tommy Boy, 1991) Vinia getting her skate on. It almost sounds like she could break a sweat on this one. Man, hip-hop used to be fun. DJ Mehdi feat. Vinia Mojica – “Anything Is Possible” – From (The Story Of) Espion (Delabel, 2002) Even on a relatively uptempo track like this one (which was cooked up by the French-Tunisian DJ and producer Mehdi Favéris-Essadi), Vinia maintains that smooth, mellow vibe we know and love from all those hip-hop hooks. Probably because Vinia’s voice is the only one on the record, this is my second-favorite Vinia tune. My favorite one is up next. Mos Def feat. Vinia Mojica – “Climb” – From Black On Both Sides (Rawkus, 1999) It’d be difficult for me to say enough good things about “Climb” to sufficiently convey how much I like it. This record encapsulates everything I like about music. It’s got intelligent and mysterious lyrics. The music is lush and atmospheric and yet it’s got a good groove too. Both Mos and Vinia seem stuck somewhere between singing and MCing. Usually, that’s a bad thing, but in this case it works. I don’t understand everything Mos and Vinia are saying (still trying to figure out what a ‘zoot-colored zoot suit’ is), but even so, I don’t have any trouble understanding exactly what they mean. And when the two start humming little bits of Diana Ross’ “Theme From Mahogany” it takes me back to my carefree days of growing up poor but happy in New Orleans. That song was on the radio all the time – it sends me back. Knowing the hook of the older song (“do you know where you’re going to”) also builds on the theme of the new one (“where are they going? / what’s the rush?”). “Climb” is about lost people; lost people and their fancy clothes and shiny bottles; people searching the night for satisfaction and if not that, at least some temporary companionship. I never was much of a partier, but I’d go out and have a drink or two. The thing that always struck me (unless I was drunk, and I guess that’s the point of all the drinking, right?) was how desperate everyone seemed. And the later it got, the more frantic the small-talk and banter and bullshitting got. Sometimes, I’d have fun. But most of the time, I’d wake up the next morning wondering, like Mos and Vinia wonder in this song, “Why was I out last night? What the hell was I looking for?” Chocolate Genius – “It’s Going Wrong” – From Black Yankee Rock (Commotion, 2005) Let’s close with one of Marc Thompson’s trademark downer ballads, “It’s Going Wrong.” The pretty female voice in the background is Vinia again. Coming behind “Climb,” this record sounds like the soundtrack to the long ride home. You’re half-asleep and half-drunk and half-considering calling that ex-girlfriend or boyfriend who would really rather not hear from you – especially not at three-thirty in the morning. Looking out of the car window, you see the telephone poles and houses floating backwards through the night. The street lights looking all hazy. —Mtume ya Salaam Luv it big time Big ups, Mtume. Your focus on Ms. Mojica does what the best music writing should do: opens my ears and inspires me to seek to know more. Mtume, you ask an interesting question: when will Vinia get her own album? To use a basketball analogy: when can an extraordinary sixth player become the MVP? As important as it is to have a deadly defender and sure-shot big play maker like Robert Horry to come surging onto the court after sitting for three and a half quarters and not need no warm up before going to work, shutting down the up-to-then leading scorer on the opposing team and then with maybe three-and-a-half seconds left, coldly (the opposing fans would say ‘cruelly’) sinking a trey shot from deep in the corner, a mere half inch from being out of bounds, and winning the game by one point! God bless, good night, we’re out! I mean Ms. Mojica makes whatever team she’s on a winner. It’s more than just that she has a good voice, a pretty (OK, beautiful) voice. It’s more than a hip attitude wrapped up in an attractive package. Much more. Vinia Mojica has the vibe in her voice. The vibe. Think of the cry in Trane’s horn, the beauty in Miles’ mute, the ecstasy in Aretha’s whoops, the fierce determination in Nina’s utterance and visage. Or the stylish magnetism of Badu’s reed slender appearance as she pulls from deep down that hipness that is her signature sound. I could go on and on for a minute giving examples but the essence is simple: some singers radiate a vibration that resonates in a majority of listeners. It’s beyond style or even timbre, more far reaching than technical precision. (After all there are better three point shooters than Big Shot Rob but who you else would you want shooting a three with less than three seconds left?) No, what I’m talking about is not one particular sound possessed by just one or two people. What Mojica got, what the best of our singers have, is an ability to produce a sympathetic vibration within the majority of fans who hear her regardless of what she’s singing or whom she’s singing with. Look at the range of folk she’s working with. It’s all over the map: and not just the current hip-hop map either. She can roller skate with the old skool, weird out with the chocolate alternatives, get down with Common or go out with Andy. (Yeah, I know most of us have never even heard of Canadian pianist Andy Milne and that’s exactly my point.) She can do some heavy, conscious rap ish and at the same time go giggling goofy with Heavy D & the Boyz just having some fun. Listening to her forced me to listen more to her. Made me Safari thru the internet, chasing at every mention of a sighting. Ornithologists understand the impulsive and unrelenting trek to hear the mating song of a rare species. Call me a Mojica seeker. My search was rewarded. Hey, Mtume, you know that single you spoke about as being the only record under her own name? Check the b-side: “Sands Of Time.” And like you I was knocked out when I realized I already dug her just didn’t know it was her I was digging. Like on Common’s Like Water For Chocolate and one of my favorite tracks: “Time Traveling.” Why hadn’t I paid more attention? One thing is that in this age of stars, superstars and megastars, not much credit is given to the ‘background’ singers. Big mistake. Course this focus-only-on-the-lead is endemic to popular music, but, you know, being a jazz head, I know you got to pay the band. You can’t consistently win without a badass bench. Modern recording techniques de-emphasize the contributions of backing musicians, indeed, calling co-creators ‘back-up’ is a demotion in and of itself. But let’s raise up the higher orders. The evidence is here: Sister Vinia has produced an actual library of popular music and we need to spend some time hitting the books. Mtume provided the course outline, here’s my supplemental study guide. “How Come” by Wrekonize from the Who’s The Man single. My man drops some interesting questions. “Sands Of Time” B-side of Vinia’s sole single, produced by Ge-ology. “Tu Sais Quoi” by French crew Alliance Ethnik on their Fat Come Back release. I usually have an aversion to French rap but, well, when Vinia's doing vocals on this "qui qui" shit, I guess I can pull out my shovel for this track. “Take Your Time” by Heavy D & The Boyz from their heavy (as in a huge) Nuttin’ But Love release. Note that Vinia is all over this one including on the title track. “Time Traveling” by Common from Like Water For Chocolate. “Time Traveling” opens the album and Vinia’s voice opens the track, chanting Yoruba stylee. Setting the mood, establishing the groove. “KOS Determination” this is Black Star produced by Hi-Tek on their only album, the eponymous Black Star. I got this from an underground mixtape called Black & Blue. Note: Vinia “sings” a Minnie Riperton phrase—beautiful! “Free Man In Paris” by Andy Milne on his album New Age Of Aquarius. Milne comes out of the M-base jazz school, which is a whole other level of contemporary jazz. Moreover, this is a cover of a Joni Mitchell song. Vinia covering Joni in an experimental jazz context, wow, talk about reach. So, Mtume, you wanted a mixtape, well we got one for you in this week’s jukebox. Hey folks, pay attention. Don’t be like me. Don’t sleep, especially now that Mtume has shook us awake. Study up. Get your Mojica on. All hail Vinia Mojica. We bringing the background right down front! —Kalamu ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Monday, May 26th, 2008 at 12:11 am and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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