ANGELA BOFILL / “Under The Moon And Over The Sky”
Usually, I write about an entire album or about a group of related songs but for this week’s classic I want to talk about just one song. It’s Angela Bofill’s “Under The Moon And Over The Sky” – one of the best pop vocal performances I’ve ever heard. The arrangement’s not half-bad either.
Before getting into the song itself, here’s some quick bio info on Angela. I knew she was from New York and I’d always assumed she was black. Well, she is black (obviously) but not in the way I thought. She’s actually a black Latina – according to Angela’s website, her father is Cuban and her mother is Puerto Rican. Born in the Bronx, New York City on May 2nd, 1954, Angela Bofill studied music throughout her early years, eventually becoming a classically-trained pop and jazz singer with a three-and-a-half octave vocal range.
After a string of successful pop/jazz albums in the late seventies and throughout the eighties, Angela’s career as a recording artist fizzled, but she continued to perform successfully around the world until 2006, when she suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed on one side of her body. Angela recovered and began to perform again, even recording a well-received live album on her own label, Black Angel Productions. (The album, Live In Manila, was recorded before a rapturous Filipino audience; apparently, Angela is big in the Philippines – who knew?) Tragedy struck twice however and in 2007 Angela suffered a second stroke, one from which she is still recovering.
If you’d like to support Angela Bofill’s recovery you can click here to buy the live album, all proceeds from which go to Angela, or you can donate directly by going to her website.
So that’s the back story. Let’s talk about this record.
* * *
From the first line (“like the wings of a bird”) it’s obvious we’re listening to a singer in complete command of her voice. Angela sings the line with both power and grace – she’s strong enough to overwhelm us but skillful enough not to. I also dig the way she luxuriates in each word, gently bending the notes, letting her voice rise and fall so that ‘wings’ ends up sounding like it’s three syllables instead of one and ‘bird’ sounds like at least two.
I’ve read my favorite singer, Marvin Gaye, comment that it’s harder to sing softly than it is too sing loudly. If that’s true, Angela is working her behind off on this record because over and over she ends her phrases with long gentle notes so delicate that it’s sometimes hard to tell they’re even there.
Each time Angela hits the refrain (“under the moon and over the sky”), it’s thrilling to hear the way she almost cuts loose but never really does, giving you the feeling that there’s a great deal of fiery passion just below the smooth, easy surface.
Soon, “Under The Moon”
arrives at the bridge and we get the first hint of Angela’s famed vocal range. “The universe is waiting for you,” she sings, and she makes the ‘for you’ tangy and bittersweet, singing it high enough to get us to sit up and take notice. At the same time though, she sings it with enough straightforward poise that it’s obvious she’s nowhere near her limit. For the rest of that stanza, Angela is a graceful bird soaring across the tops of the trees. She stays right there in the mid-high range, not flying particularly far or fast; she’s just stretching out her wings, letting the wind currents carry her where they may.
Two minutes in now and the arrangement takes off with an intriguing Latin-esque break (one made more understandable and meaningful once we take into account Angela’s personal background). There’s flute and percussion, a twisting and wandering fundament of a bassline, Spanish vocals from a chorus and some high-pitched animal and bird noises from Angela – beautiful, beautiful stuff. The break leads straight into some of Ms. Bofill’s elegant scatting and then we’re back where we were, back to the top. This time, when Angela sings the first line, she takes us a little higher, it’s still appealing in that delicate, bittersweet way, but now there’s a little vertigo setting in too. If you’re not used to flying high, it’s breathtaking in both senses of the word – as unsettling as it’s thrilling.
As we get close to the end, Angela repeats the refrain several times before dispensing with lyrics all together, giving us a wordless version of the main melody. Along the way, she hits the highest notes yet. We’re way up above the treetops now, the clouds just above us. She repeats the refrain one last time – “under the moon and over the sky” and then, at last, she gives us what she’s been hinting at for the entire record. Angela takes us with her waaaay up, lifting free with a spine-tingling series of notes so high that only a handful of pop singers would even attempt them. We’re up where there’s no sky anymore, nothing to hold onto, just the steady glow of the moon, the twinkling of far-off stars and that divine voice carrying us along.
* * *
Bonus track: Angela’s excellent cover of Roberta Flack’s “This Time I’ll Be Sweeter.”
and “Under The Moon”
are from Angela Bofill’s 1978 release Angie
—Mtume ya Salaam
Not Quite Enough
Mtume, I dig where you’re coming from selecting these two cuts but (and you know there had to be a but), I can’t listen to Angela without hearing “I Try.”
Talk about a pop classic.
My generation grew up on slow dragging—and by that I mean a lot more than a simple slow dance with any girl who happened to be nearby when “that” song came on. Nor do I mean “grinding” on that chick from round the corner two blocks over who was fine as shit and who everybody was fiending to slow dance with on account of how fine she was. No, I’m not talking about none of that back street variety of teenage lust.
Angela’s Bofill had a deeper appeal. This song was the declaration that most cats never dared publicly acknowledge had crossed their lips but which that special someone had heard not only whispered in her ear but had also stood, leaning against the fence after the football game when man-child had mustered up all the courage contained in his soul to declare: as soon as we graduate, we gon get together and everything going to be everything and I swear I’m going to try with all I got to make it all come true. Angela Bofill’s song is the soundtrack for that moment, and so instead of gripping her in a modified bear hug and locking pelvises and doing the kind of twist Chubby Checker didn’t dare do on American Bandstand, instead of that (as pleasurable as it was), what happened was the first real male to female tenderness that ever happened in all eighteen (well, as of next week it will be eighteen) years on earth.
There was something about that song that captured the whole raw outpouring of unrequited love feelings, 'cause this was not only the first real love, this was also the first real heartbreak; the first time not understanding how giving your all, for some stupid, unfathomable reason, could not be enough. Angela said it in that song. Angela sang all that bitter teenage angst like as if she had a copyright on it.
And then she (this special young lady) would remove your hand from her upper butt, back off a step or two, shake her head slowly, real slowly, “no…I can’t…” and leave you standing there in the middle of the floor or wherever it was when she told you “no” with a crushing finality that would last a lifetime because though the heart would heal, the hurt would never entirely go away.
It’s a classic song describing a classic situation. Tragic but classic. Sad. But classic.
That’s the Angela Bofill I’ll never forget even when I don’t actively remember the song. All that has to happen is the first few notes rise up and I’m right back there confused as a motherfucker, trying my best to understand why my best was not good enough.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
This entry was posted
on Sunday, August 24th, 2008 at 11:58 pm and is filed under Classic.
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.
Leave a Reply
| top |