I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around,
and don't let anybody tell you different

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Friday, April 08, 2005

Me'Shell - Silently Funky

So I went to see Me'Shell Ndegéocello at the Jazz Cafe last night. Those who know me are aware that I've been quite an avid Me'Shell fan for a number of years now (I even posted something about her a while ago). Yet although I own all six albums she has released to date (each of which is completely unique in its style), I had never actually seen her live until yesterday.

Meshell in action.

Let me get straight to the point: The show itself was quite breathtaking. Me'Shell shared the stage with the "Spirit Music Jamia", a band of young and very talented musicians. The songs were, as expected, a 'spirited' mix of funk and jazz, focusing heavily on soli by her two saxophonists and the amazing keyboarder Michael Cain. Each of the songs (or rather, jams) played last night went on for at least 10-15 minutes. Me'Shell herself played bass all night and seemed perfectly content to leave the centre stage to her five male bandmembers.

And that's basically where the slight disappointment comes in. Now, as I said before, it was quite amazing to watch this group of musicians turn what mostly began with subtle basslines played by Me'Shell into complex musical paintaings, if I may be so poetic. But throughout the entire concert, there was one thing Me'Shell didn't do:


In fact, she made a point of it when she came on stage, saying something like "I ain't singin' tonight, be open to us cause we open to y'all". Of course, that's her decision to make. Also, it wasn't one I was particularly surprised by - her latest album, Dance of the Infidel, is full of jazzy instrumentals and a number of tracks with guest vocalists. But anyone who's listened to her previous efforts - above all, her acoustic masterpiece Bitter (1999) - knows just how great her voice is.

It is therefore understandable that some people - actually, quite a few - were visibly disappointed with the performance. At one point during the concert, a girl next to me shouted "Sing!" - at which point Me'Shell actually threw her bass to the floor and literally ran off the stage. The band members, looking slightly confused, started playing some tune. Two minutes later, Me'Shell returned, put her bass back on, pointed to the girl who wanted her to sing and said: "She must be one of those girls who's really hard to fuck - you can't do nothin' right for her."

Now that's funny, but unfortunately, it was - apart from her opening remarks - pretty much all Me'Shell said to the audience. Throughout most of the show, her eyes were closed, she had that funk face on (which, granted, is cool to look at), and she simply played the bass. I appreciate that Me'Shell - or Me'Shell Suhaila Bashir-Shakur, as she now wants to be called (that's her fourth name change in the past 10 years, I think; breaking even Prince's record) - is a stubborn woman. But it seemed like she forgot that every single person in that audience had paid £20 to see her. What is more, because Dance of the Infidel is not yet available in the UK, most people probably did not have a clue about her latest instrumentalist phase.

All that makes the concert sound like one huge disappointment. Which, in all fairness, it wasn't at all. Nobody last night could deny the energy (and virtuosity) of the Spirit Music Jamia, and those compositions - all written by Me'Shell - were funky, intricate and incredibly rich. Props also go out to DJ Jahi Sundance, who warmed up the audience with his skills and some classic tracks (when he started spinning "Irresistible Bitch" by you know who, I knew he had taste). Overall, I had an amazing time, but I won't mind hearing the woman sing next time she's in London (I'll definitely go see her again!). As for that little tantrum - well, it's definitely unprofessional, but at least she's got attitude.

I definitely recommend checking her stuff out to anyone who's interested in good music... find info on her first five albums here, and buy her latest offering here.

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