VARIOUS ARTISTS / “Asante’s Mix #5 (Demons)”
Source: Breath of Life - (BoL Mixtape – November 2, 2009)
Sometime in 2005, not long before Hurricane Katrina came along and backhand-slapped our city to near-oblivion, my sister Asante asked me to make a mix CD for her. She wanted something inspirational without being pretentious; something optimistic, minus the naiveté.
I put a mix together, called it Asante’s Mix, gave it to her and forgot about it. A few months later, I was at her house and heard the CD playing. Ironically, it happened to be a time when I was in need of a little inspiration and optimism of my own. Surprised that I liked the tunes as much as I did, I decided to do another Asante’s Mix. (And in truth, I was making it as much for myself as for my sister.)
Four years down the line, and I’m up to Asante’s Mix #5. Usually, I pick the tracks on my own, but this time, Asante told me she wanted songs in the vibe of the latest albums from Grace Jones and Meshell Ndegeocello. At that time (early 2008), both Grace and Meshell were on some different shit. Their new music was hard-edged and acerbic. Mean-tempered, even. I love both artists, but I wasn’t feeling what they were doing.
Months passed. From time to time, Asante would ask how her mix was coming. I’d tell her, “It’s coming, it’s coming. Relax.” Truth was, it wasn’t coming at all.
I did keep listening to Asante’s two albums though. (Grace’s Hurricane and Meshell’s The World Has Made Me The Man Of My Dreams.) Eventually I realized something: the music wasn’t angry. It wasn’t mean either. It was loud. And it was naming names. And it was saying ‘enough’s enough.’ Despite all of that, I heard no ill intent. I think I’d been mistaking righteous woman-power for something cynical and spiteful.
My prejudice out of the way, I started hearing what Asante wanted. All the other mixes I’ve done for her are inspirational in a ‘keep on keeping on / let’s smile in the face of hardship’ kind of way. But now she wanted inspirational music in the sense of ‘we ain’t smiling no more / we’re ready to stand and fight.’ She wanted some Sojourner Truth, Joan of Arc, Harriet Tubman, ‘Get your ass on your feet and let’s do this!’-type shit.
Joan Armatrading once said, “Don’t pick me up when the tears are dry on my face.” This mix knows what Joan was talking about. These songs are about, by and for women going for what they know. ‘Singing and swinging,’ like they said back in the day. These women might have tears on their faces, but they’ve also got fire in their bellies and fists in the air. Proceed with caution.
About the songs:
01 "Polaroid Girl" by Massive Attack – from Danny The Dog (Soundtrack) (Virgin, 2004)
The intro to let you know.
02 "Demons" by Fatboy Slim and Macy Gray – from Halfway Between The Gutter And The Stars (Astralwerks, 2000)
We’ve already decided Macy is completely off her rocker. That doesn’t stop her from making fantastically effective records. One question though. You ever felt “comfy like a cesspool”? Yeah, me neither.
03 "Corporate Cannibal" by Grace Jones – from Hurricane (Wall Of Sound/PIAS, 2008)
Grace knows what these thieves are all about: selfish in the extreme, ruthless by both preference and habit, and most of all, greedy beyond all comprehension.
04 "Empires" by Lamya – from Learning From Falling (J Records, 2002)
This record, from the late Kenyan singer Lamya, makes me think of imperialism, the space program, elephants, Cleopatra, ancestry, the Bible Belt, the second Bush administration and, most of all, war.
05 "Flute Band In Gauteng" by Jhelisa – from A Primitive Guide To Being There (Infracom!, 2006)
Jhelisa’s a wanderer by nature who’s been around the world (probably more than once) by sheer force of desire. All of that comes through in the rhythms and melodies of this trance-like travelogue. For as long as the groove lasts, you’re out there with her…just traveling.
06 "Threats" by Blue Sky Black Death with Jean Grae feat. Chen Lo – from The Evil Jeanius (Babygrande, 2008)
Jean is a lioness on the mic. Except once she’s taken down her prey, she’s not dragging dinner home to Papa. No, once she’s finished the hunt, it’s time for her and her babies to eat. If Papa wants dinner he better go chase it down himself.
07 "Freakshow" by Ani DiFranco – from To The Teeth (Righteous Babe, 1999)
Ani DiFranco likens the pop music business to a circus and the musicians to clowns. “Life on the inside,” she says, “ain’t easy.” Not that it’s any easier for the audience: “The circus comes and the circus goes / And they’re stuck in this fuckin’ town.”
08 "Funkier Than A Mosquito’s Tweeter" (Jazeem’s Remix) by Nina Simone – from Remixed & Reimagined (Sony Legacy, 2006)
Nina Simone (Breath of Life’s official favorite artist, in case you didn’t know) cuts you to the core, telling the truth so hard it hurts. E.g., “Nothing’s worse than an educated fool.”
Meshell’s music is all over the map and back (and never moreso than on this off-kilter electro-rock attack piece) but the one constant is her ever-present bass guitar. If it’s a Meshell record, there’s always going to be a deep-throbbing foundation.
10 "Message Of Love" by The Pretenders – from Pretenders II (Sire, 1981)
Chrissie Hynde’s been leading her own band since I was seven years old…and I’m thirty-seven now. That’s impressive enough for me. “We fall,” she sings, “but we keep getting up.”
11 "The Cell" by Erykah Badu – from New Amerykah – Part One (4th World War) (Motown, 2008)
A chaotic free-fall into 21st century apocalypse. Everyone’s strung out on something; using one other is the only currency; and if there’s a way out of this mess, no one’s found it yet.
12 "Love Is The Drug" by Grace Jones – from Warm Leatherette (Island, 1980)
This record has to be about more than it claims. “I got to have that drug,” Grace says, “Got to have that buzz.” She says she’s talking about love. But the swirling keyboards, steady-pounding drums and biting guitar licks point to something less innocuous.
13 "Ecclesiastes: Free My Heart" by Meshell Ndegeocello – from Peace Beyond Passion (Maverick, 1996)
I come forth from my mother’s womb
And naked shall I return
To the earth to go as I came
Of this supposed worldly gain
I’m so ready to go….
—Mtume ya Salaam
IT AIN’T OVAH
The strong women are still singing! Mtume has broken it down and now here is a bonus track added to the Mixtape, an encore uplift: Grace Jones live doing “Corporate Cannibal.”
Check Grace’s birthdate: 19 May 1948.
Check the significant trivia: May 19th is also Malcom X’s birtdate (1925).
The live recording of “Corporate Cannibal” is from Live at Electric Picnic Festival 08-30-2008. Grace was sixty years old!
Now you know.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
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