Letta Mbulu ask’s ‘What’s wrong with groovin?’ I say nothing at all…Posted: November 2, 2010
Letta Mbulu (pronounced “let-ah” “em-boo-loo”) is a South African jazz and soul singer, who was born and raised in Soweto, but left for the United States in 1965, because of apartheid. You can find an excellent little biography of her here: http://www.dougpayne.com/lmbio.htm
She is an incredible artist with a voice that embodies the fire and spirit of women for me. The picture above represents such confidence and power. The photo is also the cover of her 2nd album Free Soul. I love that she chose to use a younger photo of herself in African clothing, despite the issues she was having getting radio play and record sales in the US. I was reading the blog I linked above, and it said that radio stations refused to play music from her first album because they were afraid “that no one would understand the words (the Bossa Nova and the British were as multi-cultural as American radio was willing to get back then). As a result, hardly anyone ever heard the record and, worse, sales were slight.” I imagined that it was incredibly difficult in the 1960’s as an African Woman artist in the US to make a living off of your art. That is why I love that her response was not too to adapt to US culture, and change herself and her art, but to produce another album of African music that also represented her as a beautiful African woman. The title of the album, Free Soul, also reflects that spirit of the fiery independence and creativity of women. Letta never got the mainstream success or recognition that she deserved, but that is often the case in this country when you stay true to your art and message.
Letta Mbulu is also important to me because my friend, sister, and comrade in struggle, Ms. Julia Wallace, introduced her to me. She played me Letta’s song “What’s Wrong With Groovin”, and I instantly fell in love with Letta’s voice, and the chills it sent down my spine. When Julia played it for me she said the song represented the soundtrack of her life, and that made me think deeply about the song, because I think Julia’s life reflects the strength, determination, creativity, passion, and love of a revolutionary woman. She has dealt with serious challenges in her life, yet has this beautiful spirit about her, and dedication to the people and struggle that inspires me everyday. The song is amazing and represents this beautiful force that I think embodies my comrade sister so I am internally thankful for her sharing it with me.
When I listen to ‘What’s Wrong With Groovin’ I feel this power radiating from Letta’s voice and the content of her lyrics that represents a woman trying to get free despite the restraints placed on us in this world. Her voice is so raw as she belts out the lyrics in such a fierce and wild way, yet she is in control. It is so unique and beautiful, but also a force.
I relate to it a lot as a woman, who, let’s just say, has been labelled aggressive or intimidating at times. I definitely have those traits, and a large part of it is due to the conditions I was raised in. I was forced to grow up early in order to survive, and in many ways that hardened me. I had to toughen up to protect myself from conditions within my home, as well as the objective conditions in the world I lived in, which isn’t kind to poor women of color like myself. I have always felt like there was this force within me that could be used positively and creatively, but I haven’t always known how to do that effectively. Often I would unleash this force in wild ways that had bull in a china shop effects with my interpersonal relationships. That said, I have been reflecting a lot over that the last year and trying to learn and grow as a woman and love this force within me, and also know how to use it for growth, inspiration and liberation. Letta’s music, and this song in particular, represents this journey and growth within myself; a journey that I share with the countless fiery women in this world who dare to survive and struggle, and produce amazing art that sustains us all.