Abu-Jamal's Radio Broadcasts
be Young Gifted and" . . . Simone!
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5/7/03] Copyright 2003 Mumia Abu-Jamal
sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought."
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), 'To a Skylark'
When the historical
record of the Twentieth Century is finally written, a special chapter
will have to be penned about the remarkable and talented singer,
who was called Nina Simone (1933-2003).
In any true
history, words, no matter how skillfully crafted, or masterfully
molded, will fail to capture the brilliance of the woman. Some recording
must be appendixed, so that the student will be blessed to hear
her thrilling contralto, dark, full, rich as earth in
the promise of spring.
will be a collection of her lyrics, so that no one may miss the
words that she dared set to music and bring to life, with a fury,
a passion, and sheer artistic courage that continue to dazzle years,
decades even, after their creation.
She was an Artist
(with a capital 'A') in every sense of the word, but she was far
more than that term now suggests. She was proud, imperial, majestic
and deliciously arrogant as say, the late jazz great Miles Davis
was, in his prime.
The writer remembers
her appearing in the late 1970s, in an outdoor, mid-day concert
at the Bell Tower at Temple University. She looked out at the crowd
with nervous irritation, not fear driven by the uncertainty of her
performance, but a barely suppressed anger that there were only
hundreds of people gathered to hear her, not thousands.
She sang songs
with bite, and grit, and pride and longing... and rage. Deep, down,
boneset rage, at how cheaply life was lived for Africans in America.
Her "Mississippi Goddamn" was an anthem that stirred,
not merely the Civil Rights Movement, but also the Black Liberation
Movement: "You don't have to live next to me, just give me
my equality!", she demanded. Her songs could also be tender,
loving odes to the multiflavored beauty and spirits of Black women,
as in her signature "Four Women", which spoke of the various
moods and hues of her sisters.
Erykah Badu would wear the head wrap Simone did so, and walked as
regally as the Nubian princess that she became.
was born in the Jim Crow South, the apartheid way of quiet acceptance
was never hers, and she spoke out boldly, in her art, and in her
interviews, against the injustices suffered by her people.
When the Nixon-era
began, she bid her homeland adieu, and like a generation of other
brilliant Black Americans (like the writer, Richard Wright) who
could not abide the nastiness, meanness, and racial indignities
of the time, she migrated to live with dignity in France.
have pronounced her career essentially over when she left the U.S.
during the '70s, never to rise again.
But great artists,
like great music, have a habit of resurrection.
In the early
'90s, an American film emerged that was a borrowing from the French.
Bridget Fonda portrayed an alienated, drug-addicted, youngster who
got caught up in a failed drugstore robbery, turned killing. She
was spirited into a shadowy spy agency
where she worked for the government. The character, when she was
alone, invariably played Nina Simone records in the background to
reflect her moodiness. The film was titled "Point of No Return"
(a U.S. remake of "La Femme Nikita.") A generation of
young filmgoers were thus exposed to the wonder and power of Simone's
Where are the
Simones of this generation? They are there... in the shadows, perhaps;
but they are there.
They are perhaps
afraid of giving as much as their recently departed ancestor. For,
even they know that she sacrificed a good deal to sing the songs
that moved her great heart. Such a prospect is no doubt scary.
Yet, one wonders,
who among the madding throng will be remembered, not to mentioned
revered 30 years from now? How much of what is produced now furrows
its way into the heart, or rings the deep bell of recognition in
the soul? Who will sing of the wonder, the terror, the beauty, and
the madness of Black life in this new century?
Check out Mumia's
"Faith of Our Fathers: An Examination of the Spiritual Life
of African and African-American People" at www.africanworld.com
The Power of Truth
is Final -- Free Mumia!
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© copyright 2003 by Mumia Abu-Jamal.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of the author.