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Ndegeocello, Meshell (b. 1968)  
 
page: 1  2  

The video for "Leviticus: Faggot" (directed by Kevin Bray) highlights the heavy price of religious intolerance: the danger the gay son faces hustling on the street is less of a threat than the violence he is subjected to at the hands of his Christian father.

With the release of Bitter in 1999, Ndegeocello shifted her attention from an electronic, funk-heavy vibe toward a sonically softer, contemplative soundscape that utilizes orchestral strings and acoustic guitars. This musical shift caught many listeners off guard, leading some to conclude that Ndegeocello had irreparably damaged her career because she had alienated so many fans. However, Bitter was critically well received, and Ndegeocello was compared to such musical legends as Nina Simone and Joni Mitchell.

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On her fourth release, Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape (2002), Ndegeocello explores racial, national, sexual, and cultural identities, as well as individual and social transformations. The tracks also trace Ndegeocello's musical journey through jazz, rock, funk, hip-hop, and soul.

"Berry Farms," one of Cookie's tracks, tells the story of Shorty, a woman who enjoys sex with the female narrator of the song but makes sure that people see her out with her boyfriend rather than with a female lover. Ndegeocello asks, "Can you love me without shame?" Even though Shorty enjoys sex with women, she retreats into the closet, afraid to live her life openly loving someone to whom she is attracted.

As Martha Mockus explains in "MeShell Ndegéocello: Musical Articulations of Black Feminism," "Central to [Ndegeocello's] musical ethnography are her political convictions about the search for freedom and the struggles against capitalism, racism, sexism, and homophobia in African American cultural history."

Comfort Woman (2003) finds Ndegeocello shifting to a soul-infused reggae groove. Lyrically, the songs are focused on the peace achieved through fulfilling romantic relationships; many critics have noted that the songs on Comfort Woman, which include "Love Song #1" and "Love Song #2," represent a notable departure from those about the disappointments of love relationships found on Bitter.

After converting to Islam, Ndegeocello legally changed her name to Meshell Suhaila Bashir-Shakur. Although she still records using the name Meshell Ndegeocello, she produced The Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of the Infidel (2005) as Meshell Suhaila Bashir-Shakur.

Although she rarely speaks publicly about her conversion to Islam, much of Ndegeocello's music has always dwelled on spiritual matters, and has made references to various religions (including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam).

She explained to Teresa Wiltz of the Washington Post that, having been raised as Baptist, she was used to "fire-and-brimstone ideas going through the house." As a Muslim, she prays five times a day. Prayer, she told Wiltz, "gives you a moment to stop, to think outside yourself, not wallow in your own dismay."

On The Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of the Infidel, Ndegeocello worked with several established jazz musicians, including saxophonists Oran Coltrane and Kenny Garrett. Though the tracks are mostly instrumental and Ndegeocello does not sing on any of the songs, some notable jazz vocalists, including Cassandra Wilson and Lalah Hathaway, contribute to a few tracks.

In the liner notes, Ndegeocello explains that her goal with The Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of the Infidel was to compose songs that encourage the artists to interpret and improvise as they collaborate and communicate with each other. In this spirit of collaboration, she dedicates the track "Dance of the Infidel," to "those who struggle for community."

Ndegeocello's most recent release, The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams (2007), incorporates tracks from The Article 3, an EP released in 2006. The songs on The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams--an eclectic mix of hip-hop, rock, funk, and soul--continue to resist clean categorization. In many ways, this CD represents a culmination of her musical efforts, containing some of her most complexly textured musical compositions, including "Michelle Johnson," "Lovely, Lovely," and "Relief--A Stripper Classic."

In addition to containing a meditation on a parent's love for a child (Ndegeocello dedicates "Solomon" to her son), The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams also reflects on apocalyptic war ("Haditha") and suicide bombers ("The Sloganeer--Paradise").

Ndegeocello's music has also been featured on several motion picture soundtracks, including Kevin Rodney Sullivan's How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998), Moisés Kaufman's The Laramie Project (2002), and George C. Wolfe's Lackawanna Blues (2005).

There are surprising twists and turns to Ndegeocello's music. Long-time fans of Ndegeocello appreciate the breadth of her talent and anticipate each new release, wondering what kind of album she will make next.

These fans know that they can count on Ndegeocello's talent wherever it leads her. They also know that she will not compromise when it comes to her beliefs about living life by being true to herself and to her values as an artist.

Krista L. May

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arts >> Overview:  Blues Music

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arts >> Overview:  Music: Popular

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arts >> Overview:  Music Video

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arts >> Overview:  Rock Music

Although rock music has been closely associated with freedom of expression and rebelliousness, it has not been particularly welcoming to gay and lesbian performers.

arts >> Gold, Ari

Ari Gold, the award-winning recording artist, is unusual for his openness in an industry that has not exactly welcomed openly gay performers.

arts >> Kaufman, Moisés

Award-winning writer and director Mois├ęs Kaufman specializes in theatrical works that explore watershed moments in glbtq history, such as the Wilde scandal, the murder of Matthew Shepard, and the experience of East Berlin transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf.

arts >> Wolfe, George C.

Tony Award-winning director, writer, and producer George C. Wolfe is known for his abiding commitment to bringing cultural diversity to the stage and a culturally diverse audience to the theater.


    Bibliography
   

Dunning, Stefanie K. "'Ironic Soil': Recuperative Rhythms and Negotiated Nationalisms." African American Review 39 (2005): 231-43.

Kort, Michele. "Jazz Metamorphosis." The Advocate 940 (June 7, 2006): 66.

Meshell Ndegeocello Website: FreeMyHeart.com.

Mockus, Martha. "MeShell Ndegéocello: Musical Articulations of Black Feminism." Unmaking Race, Remaking Soul: Transformative Aesthetics and the Practice of Freedom. Christa Davis Acampora and Angela L. Cotton, eds. Albany: SUNY Press, 2007. 81-102.

Wiltz, Teresa. "Meshell Ndegeocello Breaks Step with Pop." Washington Post (June 19, 2005): N1.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: May, Krista L.  
    Entry Title: Ndegeocello, Meshell  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2008  
    Date Last Updated September 18, 2008  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/ndegeocello_m.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2008 glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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