Ella Fitzgerald

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“ONE thing about music when it hits you, you feel no pain,” sang the immortal Bob Marley. To perhaps add to that, if an artist’s live performance doesn’t hit you, you may find yourself eternally scared by that experience.

I’ve not been fortunate enough to witness folk singer Adelle Nqeto live, but I’ve already been hit by her recorded compositions. God willingly in just a few hours from now, she’ll break that ice. Her music is so calming, that the imagery of her breaking anything is absurd.

The singer from Pretoria performs in Tembisa’s 4ROOM Creative Village this evening, as part of her national tour which has seen her travel more than three provinces. In each province, she consciously plays at small, intimate spaces which accommodate her music leaving onlookers with that fuzzy feeling inside. “This will be our second time playing in Tembisa, and we’re looking forward to it. Our bass player couldn’t join us last time around, so it’ll be great to play again as a trio. We had such as warm reception last time- we knew we wanted to come back,” Nqeto tells me.

In September she returned to the country after playing Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Germany. It wasn’t her first time gigging in Europe, “but it was my first time with my band though,” she says.

“…we’ve had great responses most places we play. I suppose there’s something novel about us when we play in Europe, being from the African continent, and we’ve had especially great responses over there.”

Some of the things she dabbles in while travelling, is try out different foods. “I also like to know the history of the place, as well as the art, so I do read up about that too, or check out museums and galleries.”

Apropos the band she keeps mentioning? It’s two fellas, drummer James Robb and Dylan du Toit who plays bass. She’s an ardent soloist who understands that being alone, is as valuable to her art as collaborating. “I’d like to be as versatile as possible, depending on the show. I still do play solo, but I especially love to have James and Dylan around, so the three of us have become the core for now,” Nqeto puts it to me.

Adelle Nqeto(center) with her band, James Robb (L) and Dylan du Toit (R). Photo by Susan van Tonder from Tiger & Lilly Production

Her vocal control is unassuming; it has an innocent fierceness to it. She’s the fine epitome that big things do come in small packages. But she’s had no formal voice training at any institutions, but with simplicity says she’s just been singing all her life and “learned a lot along the way. I’ve had few vocal lessons-to hone in on technique, but mostly, I’ve learnt a lot through experience.”

First time I heard her voice, I thought Soundcloud had made a mistake with her name, I expected the vocalist singing on her debut album Lights, to be a Caucasian female. I’m just another statistic, as other people too were gobsmacked by her race. “There are some interesting assumptions about my race, which are always great conversation starters,” she says.

 

There aren’t any songs sang in vernac in her album, but says she can and does write in isiXhosa. “I have reworked a song I wrote in French into isiXhosa that I’ve played for a French project I join every now and then, and have written some songs in isiXhosa that haven’t yet seen the light of day.”

She has a cocktail of musical influences, from Miriam Makeba, Ella Fitzgerald, Mango Groove, Ray Charles-all of whom she grew up listening to, added with the alternative music of Radiohead, Bon Iver and Sufjan Stevens.

Last year she released her heart-warming and soul reviving album, Lights.  The ditties in there have a sense of one who has overcome demons and realised the light inside themselves and those around them.  A bit like those sisters that have just taken up Yoga, using Namaste as their only pleasantry.

“The songs on Lights were written over a few years, with some difficult periods of course. I wasn’t going through a difficult time when I wrote Lights [the song], specifically, I was looking back at the bitter-sweet end of a relationship.”

They are headed to studio for a follow up to that album, which could be expected early next year she says.

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THERE’s a number of international artists who will pack venues this South African Summer/Spring. And if Erykah Badu’s recent performance on NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert is anything to go by, South Africans are in for an unforgettable, engaging performance at this year’s Delicious Festival from the Queen of Neo-Soul.

Her career spans more than two decades and in that times she’s released five studio albums, a mixtape, one live album, played a number of sets as a DJ and also released a compilation project. But there are three things which stand out about Badu. If you’re fortunate to have a ticket for the Delicious Festival, look out for these three things when she’s on stage:

HER STYLE

Google her and see the images that pop-up. It’s just amazing to see how much her look has transformed through the years. On stage, her style is another presentation on its own accompanying the music. She’s done the all-natural look before the doek became fashionable, mixed it up by rocking an orange hued suit swathed in an indigenous blanked topped with a hat, she has worn dungarees with accessories all over her-but still somehow looks cool!

Erykah Badu on stage. By Pinterest
Erykah Badu in 2014 clad in Givenchy. By Riccardo-Tisci

But whatever change she embraces, those beautiful piercing hazel eyes are a mainstay of her beauty. Her unique style, which is not influenced by a personal stylist, has and continues to inspire men and women to embrace their uniqueness and the comfort of expressing it without feeling awkward about it, but rather appreciating the cathartic experience that comes with the fun process. Her style is a symbol of her personality- she tries, if it works for her it does, if it doesn’t then it is what it is.

HER PERSONA

Some artists can express themselves as good in person, as they do behind the mic. They have a sense of humour, they articulate their thoughts well and don’t take themselves too serious. In the live performances I’ve seen and heard of Badu, she always throws in some banter and shares her opinion about anything between her performances- similar to a Clarence Carter. She’s a 47 year-old with a young spirit, who manages to have fun with her band on stage, like a new artist would.

At the beginning of her NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert performance, while introducing her band she quipped that drummer Cleon Edwards is her son, Seven, whose father is André 3000, which had the audience in stitches. It’s not surprising that she’s pondering the idea of stand-up comedy. More than just being a funny sista, she’s also in control and in charge. She never switches-off when performing- she’s like that classmate who caused trouble but somehow, got good grades.

She walked butt naked on the street, in the Window Seat video in protest. “…it was shot guerrilla style, no crew, 1 take, no closed set, no warning, 2 min., Downtown Dallas, then ran like hell,” she wrote on her Twitter about the video shoot. It took place at the site of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In the video, she walks on the pavement removing her clothes, until she arrives right where Kennedy was shot, stark naked.

In a television interview on, The Wanda Sykes Show she said “My point was grossly misunderstood all over America. JFK is one of my heroes, one of the nation’s heroes. John F. Kennedy was a revolutionary; he was not afraid to butt heads with America, and I was not afraid to show America my butt-naked truth.”

HER HIGH QUALITY MUSIC

I hope Jill Scott doesn’t read this, but Badu is the Queen of Neo-Soul. There is no other female on the planet, who truly embodies Queen of Neo-Soul as Badu. Record label executive Kedar Massenburg rightly dubbed it Neo-Soul, which is a better representation of our generation. What distinguishes Neo-Soul from other types of music, is that it embraces the other genres. Jazz, Hip Hop, Rock, R&B, Gospel, Soul, and everything else under the sun. Badu’s music captures that very essence, without compromising on the quality and her standards. The older generation appreciate her more because she’s like a conduit of great female vocalists of old such as Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone. While youngins connect with her funk and hop that even a young Janelle Monáe can’t match up to.

She’s a multi-award winning artist who equally receives love from the commercial space and also on the streets. You can’t deny her. She has five studio albums which include the poignant 1997 debut Baduizm and Mama’s Gun which has been changing the game since 2000 and three other albums to her name. The two aforementioned albums have classics which are favourites for a lot of her ardent and new listeners, but what’s pleasantly mind perplexing is how she keeps tweaking them but has maintains their core over the decades.

 

 


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