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Giving Nina Simone her propers

David Goodson | 10/11/2012, 2:55 p.m.
Giving Nina Simone her propers

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Giving Nina Simone her propers

Remember back in 1996 when the Fugees came out with "The Score"? The game is still shook because of it!

On the third single, "Ready or Not," the focal point of the group, Lauryn Hill, laid down the ice-cold line: "So while you imitating Al Capone, I'll be Nina Simone and defecating on the microphone."

Mentioning Capone and Simone in the same sentence was utter brilliance. Capone was infamous for his brazen disrespect for authority and his penchant for violence. Simone was similar in scope and just as lethal, her attention focused on holding a mirror up to society, beautifully expressing through her art the ugly realities of America. ("Old Jim Crow," "Mississippi Goddam," and "Four Women" are perfect reference points.)

With that one lyric, many began to look at Hill as continuing the work of Simone, so it would seem natural that when reports of a Nina Simone biopic being in development began, that Hill, who had a few acting gigs under her belt, would be atop that short list. Other names were co-stars of the current Lifetime film "Steel Magnolias" Queen Latifah and Jill Scott; Mary J. Blige, who allegedly had the part; and Zoe Saldana, who, it is now reported, will helm the project.

Whatever! While Hollywood plays musical chairs, there is an active artist who has put in work to see that Simone's legacy remains at the forefront. A true music virtuoso--she writes, produces, sings, raps and is one of the premier bassists in the world--Meshell Ndegeocello has played with talents such as the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Alanis Morrisette, James Blood Ulmer, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Tony Allen, John Medeski, Billy Preston and Chaka Khan. After 20 years in the business, she continues to push the envelope of innovative expression.

Ndegeocello's catalog will be expanded following the release of album No. 10, "Pour une me Souveraine," a dedication to Simone that marks the second project at her current label, Nave. Produced by Meshell and guitar player Chris Bruce, this album is a labor of love, a reflection of Ndegeocello's awe, affection and gratitude for the pioneering work of a woman who refused to be owned by genre, industry or expectation.

Ndegeocello and Bruce turned well- and lesser-known songs into new experiences, inviting collaborations by Cody Chesnutt, Valerie June, Sinead O'Connor, Lizz Wright and Toshi Reagon. As to why she chose to record the music made famous by Nina Simone, Ndegeocello said, "Nina Simone was unusual, unruly and unparalleled. She has an unmistakable voice and an unavoidable spirit--she's terse and angry and expressive of her despair and her joy and her sexuality.

"She is not an industry player, she was obviously difficult and volatile. She wanted success, was pressured to make hits, but her own sound was still irrepressible. She had things to say, she protested. She was a loud, proud Black female voice during a time when Black female voices were not encouraged to make themselves heard."

On Oct. 16, Ndegeocello brings her latest project to life with special guests Wright, Chesnutt and Reagon for a celebration of Simone. The Jill Newman-produced show will be held at the Highline Ballroom, 431 W.16th St. Doors open at 7 and the show begins at 9 p.m. Tickets are available at the venue's box office or via ticketweb.com.

I'm gone ... holla next week. 'Til then, enjoy the nightlife.