Before the Boom Box there was the record player. Ah the record player, can’t say I have fond memories listening to records as a child, but I have created more recent ones I’ll forever cherish. There’s something unusually captivating when the music fills the room. When that needle scratches the record, you are the music. The melody pulsates through your nerves and veins and next thing you know your body is moving. You don’t even feel it coming, it just happens. Unlike the vibrations that travel to your ears from the typical radio speaker, the sound from a record instantly possesses you. There’s nothing else that can quite so literally illustrate the power of music.
I’ve had quite a journey with music…
My first conscious memory of music like most African ascendants was in the church. At first I loved to sing the hymns and praise songs I’d learned in Portuguese. Although I didn’t speak Portuguese, I sang it fluently. The church we went to was predominantly Cape Verdean but the pastor and primary language of the church was Portuguese. It wasn’t until years later that my parents led the way for the movement that would create the local Cape Verdean Creole speaking church in Boston. We have our political “independence”, but there’s still so far to go to remove the stains of colonialism. So as far as music goes, my childhood was spent painting the finest soprano strokes in the language that continues to oppress the African dialect of Cabo Verde.
Eventually my first opportunity to sing outside of church was in the 5th grade singers show case at the Mather School – America’s first public elementary school. The 3rd place trophy didn’t keep me from affirming my dreams of becoming a singer in the school yearbook, but it did mark the start of this dream deferred.
I became very sensitive about my voice. Instead of feeling proud and liberated, I became hesitant and shy. I can still recall my heart sink when my siblings called me “jiggly puff” (the Pokemon that sang super high-pitched and nasally). It wasn’t so much an insult but it was the rise of my insecurities relating to music. I became disinterested in my piano lessons, participation in the choir, and church altogether. I slowly convinced myself that the only reason they told me I sounded so beautiful and gave me so much praise at church was because it was church, I was a child and people had to be nice. Eventually I stopped singing my special songs and solos, quit piano lessons and by the time I got to high school I was saying things like “I can’t sing”. It was buried deep inside myself along with all the other things I suppressed.
It wasn’t until I met Preston, who always encouraged me to go inside myself, and we lived through our transformational experience in Cabo Verde that I remembered my first authentic dream. I became aware that music was going to be integral to healing all of the traumatic experiences I had bottled inside… And so it is. I have been experiencing music in a whole new way, actually creating it. I’m writing poems and songs, learning to play the strings and struggling to find my voice again.
I was so turned off by the music that I had been listening to on the radio that I just stopped listening to music completely. I quickly realized something was missing and eventually Preston introduced me to a whole world of real music that wasn’t making it to the radio. I hadn’t even considered looking for music that wasn’t mainstream prior to that. This alone opened up a flood of inspiration and an unlimited perspective on music. I added lots of old school jazz and blues to the mix and quickly began to see what had been removed from contemporary music – SOUL. Artists like Billie Holiday and Nina Simone weren’t just performers or even simply artists, they were real women who were dealing with real sh*t, aware of the hostile racial climate, and weren’t afraid to be active politically with their art.
I’m deeply inspired by the raw, unrefined genius of Billie Holiday’s emotionally riveting voice and innovative sound. Nina Simone’s mastery of classical music, and her dedication to the people motivates me to find the balance between skill and purpose. These two Queens created timeless sounds that are still relevant to this day and influence me creatively.
Greatest Hits Vol. 2 – Billie Holiday & The Town Hall – Nina Simone
If I could only have 2 records, these would be it.