Monday, February 25, 2013

80 yrs. ... and, well, some days

Last Thursday, actually Nina Simone's 80th birthday, I tossed about in my sweaty bed, driven from one edge of the frame to the other by feverish dreams, when damp showers and drizzling snow finally had knocked my immune defenses down (There more so as I just had returned from a 6-days trip to Rome). Friday seemed better, but the weekend had me down again. Now, over those last days I had ample occa-
sion to meditate whether it would still make sense to post something in honor of Nina Simone ... and this in turn led me to think about the value of anni- versaries in general. My conclusion was that Nina really doesn't need any special remembrance. As she is present in the hearts and minds of so many, one day is as good as any other. So today be it.
I don't remember where I read that somebody characterized Nina Simone as »undefinable«. It sounds like a non-description, as something said for want of better terms, but if you think about it for a second or two it might just turn out to be the greatest compliment any artist could ever hope to receive. (For my part, I tried to come up, before my inner eye, with artists I wouldn't know how to define for their sheer breadth of achievement and talent, and I couldn't come up with more than a handful.)

(Click to enlarge)
What would do justice to Nina in a special (if belated) anniversary post? First, recalling to mind, once again, her most troubling and indeed thoroughly haunting LP cover, viz. that of her last RCA album released in 1974 (but recorded in '73). And it's not the title (It Is Finished), for all its sinister undertone, that I find most disturbing. It is rather the way she poses and stares right in your eyes: innocent yet menacing, stubborn yet weak, resigned yet provocative, gloomy yet radiant with inner strength, human yet strangely outworldly, in a colorful summer garb with a bright straw hat yet sitting among dried-out and dis- carded coconut shells as if before a heap of skulls. I don't know why but the whole composition strikes me as Van-Goghesque for the importance it gives to color over matter and for the fact of how the simplicity of shapes and expression lays bare the underlying complexity of sentiment and life.
Second, the LP that comes under this cover is a string of masterpieces from the beginning to the end. But there is one song in particular which translates the visual art of the cover shot into a magical sound experience. The song is called Dambala (after a Voodoo deity; the song was written and first performed by Bahamas-born musician Exuma in 1970). I personally feel that this song comes nearest to summing up Nina's being (if that were ever possible). And it shows her, by the way, as the great great pianist she was. And a lot things more. Thanks for everything, Nina!

Nina Simone: »Dambala« from the RCA LP It Is Finished (1974):

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