Nina Simone (1933 – 2003) is our featured singer for this Monday edition, not only because she was a brilliant singer/songwriter, a Juilliard-trained pianist, but also because of her pivotal role on the Civil Rights Movement and the liberation struggle.
Each of her songs carries an event, a story, a name. Urging us that preserving history -no matter how traumatic- is how we heal as people. With Nina I learned to imagine how the world looks like outside fear. Nina’s music is an incessant form of storytelling, and an organic archival place of collective memories the media often fails to document or encapsulate. I am honoring her today because she never disconnected her musical gifts from her commitment to black power.
“Who Knows Where the Times Goes” was the song that brought her into my life. A haunting cover that reminded me how as women, we constantly need to have access to the spaces that would renew us emotionally and creatively; to intellectually forge new ways of dealing with what hurt us as individuals and/or groups. The raw emotion in the song proved to her audience that her fearlessness cannot be separated from her vulnerability, neither her politics from her performances.
Nina has me searching for the black women in her songs in my own community. I learned that Aunt Sarah from “Four Women” could be my lonely neighbor, and “Sweet Thing” could be the dropout student with a sharp mind and a broken home.
With Nina’s music comes the responsibility to create chaos and demand our rights. To interrupt the dominant discourse that continues to marginalize women’s stories and voices. There is purpose in her music, and there is an abundance of truth that can help us determine when a “social change” moment is authentic or not. I trust Nina, I trust her rage, I trust her voice, and I trust her as someone who was constantly protesting racial prejudice while looking at the root cause of the issue. That’s the glory of Nina.
As tomorrow marks the beginning of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, we can start by listening to this playlist. It’s dedicated to the courageous black women fighting all forms of violence. Most importantly, it is about freedom and transformation through activism and self-love.
- Music Matters, a little history on Nina Simone.
- “Four women”
- Interview clip/Freedom: “I tell you what freedom is to me, no fear!”
- “Black is the color of my true love hair”
- Interview clip: Nina Simone talks “Blackness”
- “To be young gifted and black”
- “Mississippi Goddamn”
- “I wish I knew how it would feel to be free”
- “Strange Fruit”