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SOUNDTRACK: MUMU FRESH Feat. Black Thought & DJ Dummy-Tiny Desk Concert #765 (July 11, 2018).

I recognized Mumu Fresh from when she appeared at a Tiny Desk with August Greene a few months ago.  Mumu Fresh was a true highlight of that show–her rap was political and personal and powerful.

Here she’s got her own concert (and DJ Dummy is back with her for this as well).

A regal combination of black power and Native American pride, Mumu Fresh — also known by her birth name Maimouna Youssef — is an abundantly gifted singer and emcee who prances between genres and styles. The Baltimore native fuses her rich multi-octave range and ferocious rap delivery with spiritually inclined lyrics so potent and mindful they precipitated a wellspring of emotion throughout the room.

Mumu began her own Tiny Desk in her native Lakota tongue with “Ink Pata,” signaling a call to prayer in a sacred ritual. Looped tribal chants of her own harmonies set the mood as delivered a stirring spoken word performance that journeyed through her ancestral lineage to the struggles of the present day.

Her looping is outstanding–she harmonized with herself perfectly.  After a minute and a half she speak/raps/reads a lengthy piece that is really powerful.

With a buoyant and thoughtful spirit, Mumu and her band transitioned into the classic-sounding “Miracles” from Vintage Babies, her collaborative album with group mate DJ Dummy. Declaring it a celebration of soul music, she mixed sweet tender melodies with lyrics to empower those devoid of hope.

She introduces “Miracles” by saying, we are always waiting for something to happen.  But what if your miracle is waiting for you to be prepared: “the teacher arrives when the student is ready.”  It was great having live strings on this track: Chelsey Green (violin), Monique Brooks-Roberts (violin), Kevin Jones (cello) and the backing singers (Amber Harmon) gave an excellent soul sound.

This song segued into the awesome “Work in Progress.”  Accented by the feel-good chords of The Roots keyboardist Ray Angry, and Chris Dave (drums) and Romier Mendez (bass), Mumu speaks t he truth.  With some of my favorite lyrics:

I wanna be a good role model to girls coming after
but sometimes I slip up and say some shit that’s wretched
Forgive me, I’m a work in progress

I don’t give a fuck about what you’re saying to me.
If I’m too big for my britches then give me a sheet.
I need room to grow I’m still figuring it out,
If you say you ain’t, you lying–what you talking about?

and my personal favorite

I’ve been through so much shit I’m surprised I’m still standing
so every time I see a mirror I pose dammit!

The set concludes with a new version of “Say My Name,” a song Mumu wrote about Sandra Bland, who died in police custody in 2015, and the impact it had on her. Starting off with a 1950s doo-wop circle, she blends traditional soul elements with politically relevant lyrics.

It opens with doo wop vocals and lovely pizzicato strings:

If I should die tomorrow at the hands of the policeman
and the papers say, hey, we’re going to call it as suicide
would you even question why?

We watched a woman get drug out and beaten
filmed on a highway
and all y’all could say was black women too mouthy
I’m vexed searching my timeline
See if people find time to criticize and villainize, call that shit a suicide.
What if Sandra Bland was your child

Audacity of hope
to believe you can succeed when everybody and their momma say no
Well fuck y’all. I’m different descendant of the fittest
I’ve been reincarnated just so i can handle business.

Black Thought comes out for a final verse, but it’s hard to hold a candle to what Mumu just laid down.  His flow is great though.  And she even tacks on an extra verse after the credits.

[READ: February 1, 2018] “The Requirement”

I rather enjoyed this simple story, told simply.  It begins with the narrator talking about how when you get older, you lose people.  You don’t care about people who have died until people your own age start leaving.

He says that when people who mattered to him died, he began to feel something was required of him. If he could do it, he did, but sometimes he didn’t know what the requirement was.

When his good friend Bog Ellis got sick he felt a requirement but had no idea what it could be or how to do it.

She tells us some great Big Ellis stories. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AUGUST GREENE-Tiny Desk Concert #709 (February 21, 2018).

A collective of artists is at the core of August Greene: Common (Lonnie Rashid Lynn), keyboardist Robert Glasper and drummer Karriem Riggins have known each other for a long time.

The blurb says

August Greene was born at the White House in 2016 during a special Tiny Desk concert. It was during that unprecedented performance that the then-untitled ensemble premiered the powerful “Letter to the Free,” an original song for Ava DuVernay’s Netflix documentary 13th that eventually won an Emmy for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics.

Common says they came together to be an inspirational collective who wanted to foreground women and put women in the foreground.  It is unfortunate, then, that the first song features all men.  But their hearts are in the right place “That’s important in hip-hop, which has long been dogged by an old-line adherence to misogyny, as it lays claim to the world’s most popular genre.”

For the trio’s first visit to NPR headquarters, they brought some special guests: vocalists Brandy, Maimouna Youssef and Andra Day. The band performed four tracks from its upcoming self-titled album (out March 9 on Amazon Music), an impromptu freestyle, and Day’s Oscar-nominated collaboration with Common, “Stand Up For Something,” from the film Marshall. Common described the theme of the Tiny Desk as “Foregrounding Women,” alluding to the attendance of Brandy, Day and Youssef, as well as the spiritual presence of Glasper’s younger cousin, Loren, who passed just a few days prior.  [Common says she “transitioned” which I thought meant she was undergoing gender reassignment surgery–euphemisms are dangerous, people].

This five song Tiny Desk Concert is over half an hour and I enjoyed most of it.  I really like Common and his delivery.

August Greene’s latest single, “Black Kennedy,” connotes dreams of an African-American dynasty, the kind only a royal family assumes. The stark contrasts of disenfranchisement are highlighted by every wish expressed.

Common does the rap, which is solid (Common’s voice is so good) and Samora Pinderhughes sings the chorus. I’m rather surprised by how wimpy his voice is.  He sounds either nervous or like he can’t hit the notes he wants.  And yet somehow I find this charming and his part of the song to be very catchy.  I like the D Dummy is there scratching as well.

Up next is “Practice.”  Glasper doesn;t say much during the show, but he is hilarious when he does.  Common says Robert was playing these chords in the studio.  Glasper: “It was the best thing he ever heard” after some laughs, Common retorts: “I was like it’s a’ight.  Once we my raps, the song turned out right there.

“Practice” is how “Life takes work.  You gotta work on yourself and any craft, any relationship”  The song features one of the queens, Maimouna Youssef, we call her Mumu Fresh.  She sings backing vocals and then does a great rap

sometimes being a woman is like being black twice
i gotta shout fire instead of rape
and you tell me to act nice
look pretty stay slim don’t talk loud
don’t think, don’t feel, don’t act proud
but if I’m at my lowest how are you 100%
god made woman and man for the balance of it
so will the real men please stand up.

While Common is talking a phone goes off.  “So yo, who phone is that?”  ha ha

He talks about one of their favorite songs, “Optimistic” by Sounds of Blackness.  As a hip hop artist, I usually don’t do remakes, but as August Greene I can do what I want.

Common: Anything yo want to say rob?
Robert: Yes, i wrote your rhymes.  Just want everyone to know that.
Common: Yea that’s why on this song my rhymes are sub par cause her wrote them

Rob said we need to get brandy.  Brandy came in with that light.

With a buildup like  that I wanted to like this song a lot more than I do.  Even though Brandy’s voice sounds good, I don’t like her delivery. This was my least favorite song of the day.

He introduces: Burniss Travis on the bass; DJ Dummy, on the 1s and 2s; Karriem Riggins on drums

Common shows off a truly great freestyle.  There’s some great rhymes referencing previous tiny desk episodes, and lines like “rob g cant rhyme like me.”

Introducing that amazing “Stand Up for Something,” he says that people worried with this administration that the world is ending.  The world ain’t ending it’s just god bringing the best out of us.  What’s more important than standing up for something you believe in.  It is designed to inspire hope, to bring the message of Thurgood Marshall to a new generation: “it all means nothing if you don’t stand up for something.”

We had to bring in a revolutionary to sing it so we got the sister Andra Day here.  She jokes “I usually like to underpromise and overdeliver.” But she nails it.  She sounds amazing.  It is by far the best song of the day and a great song in general with a great old-school soul sound.

Common ends with this great rhyme

a president that trolls with hate
he don’t control our fate because god is great
when they go low when we stay in the heights
I stand for peace, love and women’s rights

Later, in “Let Go,” vocalist and August Greene collaborator Samora Pinderhughes sings of overcoming darkness within yourself and finding hope at the bottom of Pandora’s box. It’s about releasing the demons so the hands can hold the blessings.

Common says they first called it “Nirvana” because it reminded them of Nirvana “the group from the 90s who we all love.”  (I love that he had to qualify that).

Pinderhughes, sings “I need to let go.”  It’s such a nice sentiment with a groovy opening bass line and pretty keys at the end.

I love the idea of hip-hop rising to this terrible moment in our history and working together to make things better.

[READ: December 4, 2017] Pelé: The King of Soccer

When I was a kid, Pelé was the be all and end all of soccer.  He was the man like nobody else was.  So I have been surprised in the previous two decades or so to find that he is barely mentioned among the greats.  And I have a theory about that.

Most of the people who care about soccer are not from the States (this is changing a little).  And most of the people I know who support soccer are from Europe.  Pelé is Brazilian and, more importantly, he defeated a lot of Europeans.  Plus, and this is probably the real crux, Pelé was instrumental in introducing soccer to the U.S.–right when I was impressionable enough to fall for it.  My then close friend’s family was really into soccer and we went to a New York Cosmos game (I wonder when that was.  Did I see Pelé play?  I must have).

Anyhow, Pelé was a pretty amazing player, and I’m glad to have this book confirm that for me.  What’s interesting about this book, though, is that it also talks about his personal life.  He was amazing for the kids of Brazil, but a little less amazing for his family (I was surprised to see his terrible personal life in there, primarily because this is a kids book.  But it’s important not to gloss over that kind of thing, too).

I also realized that I knew absolutely nothing about Pelé.  Like, nothing at all.  So this was a great book to fill me in. (more…)

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