To open and be opened

Interviewer: what does freedom mean to you?

Nina: Its just a feeling. It’s just a feeling. Its like how do you tell somebody how it feels to be in love. How are you gonna tell anybody who has not been in love how it feels to be in love. You cannot do it to save your life. You can describe things but you can’t tell them. But you know it when it happens. That’s what I mean by free. Ive had a couple times on stage when I really felt free and that’s something else. That’s really something else!

Ill tell you what freedom is to me NO FEAR! I mean really, no fear.
If I could have that, half of my life – no fear – lots of children have no fear. That’s the closest way, that’s the only way I can describe it. That’s not all of it, but it is something to really, REALLY FEEL! Like a new way of seeing! LIKE A NEW WAY OF SEEING SOMETHING.

When you live chained to a life not of your own making, when you are born into it from a system that permeates even your mothers womb, freedom is a new way of seeing. And one of the most disturbing things is that we have been so inoculated by our oppressors that we have come to accept these chains as freedom, some kind of gift of modernity. Many people, especially here within the United States, have been robbed of an understanding of what has come before and what stands in front of us. The potential of real liberation if we dare to trust ourselves and each other to really live and fight for each other. One of my favorite quotes from Assata Shakur’s biography Assata speaks to the power of consciousness and liberation,

‘the less you think about your oppression the more your tolerance for it grows. After awhile people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free you have to be accutely aware of being a slave.”

And to understand what it means to be a slave in this system you have to be shaken up and opened up as Nina describes in this interview featured below. This is the role of the revolutionary, the dreamer and artist. To open people up from this mental/physical slavery so that they may feel something. It is the feelings that humanize us. Humanizing ourselves is a revolutionary act, which reaches its highest potential when the people are in motion doing this work together through real struggle that can take down capitalism and patriarchy. But before we can reach such critical moments in history, the people need to understand this task and it has always been the militants and creators through out time and space that have inspired the people to do so. Have planted seeds in ones consciousness, emboldening them to act. To conquer fear and self doubt, which stifle our movement. To be free. Womyn like Assata Shakur and Nina Simone are two very important womyn who have done that; and they dedicated their lives to doing that, because they feel. They loved their people enough to want them to wake up. To fight for something greater. I will forever feel close to these womyn, because that is what they did for me.

I’ve been intending to blog about Nina for quite some time. It is her song ‘in the dark’ off of her 1967 album Nine Simone Sings the Blues, which provided the inspiration for the title of this very blog. I was introduced to Nina Simone at the tender age of 15 by my super cool older sister Elicia, who sent me a care package full of cd’s that she thought I might like: An eclectic bundle of Nina, Louis Armstrong, Bjork and Alice in Chains. Elicia is 11 years older than me and a brilliant and creative person. I did not spend a lot of my adolescence living with her, but I always had interesting books and music and intentional gifts to look forward too via mail. Alice in Chains doesn’t make it into the rotation anymore, but I took to Nina quite instantly. Her music was like nothing I had heard before; it’s blending of gospel, soul, classical, and the blues. I have grown to have a deeper appreciation for the dynamic complexities of her music over the years, but even at 15 when I didn’t always get it, I drew strength from the fact that Nina always did her own thang, despite being a black womyn from North Carolina.

I love the slowness of ‘In the dark’. I love the ways the harmonica fills the spaces between Nina’s vocals, which capture a moment and feeling that pulls you in. Nina wants you to feel the music; there are no formulas or stale emotions expressed through lyrical cliches. Her music is very intentional; cultivated by her spirit with the purpose of touching others. It is a total experience. That is where the power of art lies in the ability to move you; compel you to connect with yourself in ways denied by the system. Any artist must reckon with themselves if they are striving to move people. It is this honesty that appeals to people. Nina understands she is a force and she wants you to reckon with it. This is reflected in the opening track ‘Do I move you?’, written by Nina and sets the tone for whats to come. The back up band brought together many great blues musicians, but the music is pretty tame in comparison to the passion and life that Nina’s performance brings to the songs. Some of the tracks have very stripped down instrumentation to expose the raw emotion of the tracks and the stories they weave. I am a romantic daydreamer type so I gravitate towards art that reflects some of those feelings, which is why the romance of ‘In the dark’ touched me. The whole album is quite good though, and a necessary addition to your music library if you don’t already have it.

Along with the song i have also included this short excerpt from an interview, which was recently shared with me by my dear and talented friend Justin. I have had it on repeat for the past 24 hours. I simply can’t get enough of it: her words, the feelings, the expressions, and the intent. This video feels like medicine to my tired spirit. What I really love about this interview is the poetically direct way she captures the feeling of alienation in our society, and the work she does to transcend it and how it relates to our overall liberation. Beautifully spoken here,

‘Everybody is half dead. Everybody avoids everybody all over the place in most situations, most all the time. I know. I’m one of those everybody’s, and to me its terrible. So all I am trying to do all the time is just open people up so they can feel themselves and let themselves be open to somebody else. That is all. That is it.’

This work is so humanizing and therefore so radical. Many of us carry our wounds daily from the trauma of living within this system, and it prevents us from opening up and connecting with each other or doing right by each other. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the ways we are harmed by the system and the retaliation we direct at each other. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the levels of sectarianism that permeate the left; the gossip; the cliquishness; the competitiveness. I wonder about the future and I fear the doubts that creep into my thoughts. But then I watch this video and I feel Nina’s energy and I am reminded of the path I have set for myself and the path that has been set for me before I existed. When I was just an idea. And I find comfort and inspiration in that. I only hope you can too and that we can together. Enjoy.

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