Having your own unique sound is the prize possession in music. Smart artists know to work with what they’ve got and keep it moving — imperfections, conflicts, grittiness and all. Faithful supporters of this music get it. You never give up, and you continue to negotiate change with style. One such artist who has mastered this approach in an artful way is Virginia born and based singer-songwriter René Marie.
About seven years ago, some of you may recall that Marie made the decision to use her skills of improvisation to create something meaningful that she felt was worthy of sharing: She used her poetic license by substituting the words to the “Star-Spangled Banner” with the Black National Anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” during the mayor’s State of the City address in Denver. This decision caused a lot of controversy.
Marie continued to display her own patriotic spin with the 2011 album, The Voice of My Beautiful Country (Motema), her “love song to America.” The CD included a suite by the same title, with a mixed arrangement of the national anthem, plus “America the Beautiful,” “My Country Tis of Thee,” and “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.”
According to the 2011 JazzTimes piece by Christoper Loudon, Marie noted it was, “her way of celebrating her love of country, while also acknowledging that, having been raised in the segregated South, her Americanism requires “distinct expression.” But this isn’t the first time she’s utilized her genius ability to contrast songs. She also combined the songs “Dixie,” and “Strange Fruit,” a song popularized by the great Billie Holiday. Marie has also recorded songs to express her feelings on everything from homelessness (“This is Not a Protest Song“) to racial injustice in Jena Louisiana (“3 Nooses Hanging”).
For her return visit to the Dakota Jazz Club March 3, expect to hear songs from her new Grammy-nominated album, I Wanna Be Evil: With Love to Eartha Kitt (Motema). Trust me, I’ve interviewed Kitt, and I am certain that she would be proud of the work Marie has done and continues to do. And if you know anything about Marie’s backstory, you know that she has a firm grasp on the importance of expressing her uniqueness and individuality. Not to mention the ability to work with people when interpretations of those feelings are misunderstood. How can you not have a deep respect for someone like that?
Another artist of profound distinction, who was in exile from his South African homeland during apartheid, and knows a great deal about poetic freedom, is trumpeter Hugh Masekela. On March 7, Masekela along with legendary singer Vusi Mahlasela will be featured in the “Rock the Ordway” lineup which, according to the Pioneer Press, helps kicks off a week of celebratory events and gives the public a first look at the new $42 million Concert Hall.
Whether he’s playing his trumpet or flugelhorn, his blend of jazz with the exuberant sounds of South Africa is as singular as it gets. Like many great artists in various fields, his music speaks volumes about universal themes such as hope, joy, and youth that are fundamental to the human experience. Masekela’s 2012 album, Jabulani (Razor & Tie), touches on traditional wedding music and dances as recalled from his youth.
Music lovers of the Twin Cities, here’s your chance to be in the midst of two of our most genuine and brilliant creative thinkers of this music. Don’t waste the opportunity. Revisit Marie and Masekela.
See a glimpse of Hugh Masekela in action at the clip below: