Category Archives: Media

Listen Up!: New Labelle Single "Roll Out"

“Roll Out,” the lead single from Labelle’s first new studio album in over 30 years, represents just one dimension of the group’s genre-bending sound. The modern mid-tempo dance track produced by and featuring Wyclef Jean (and Jerry ‘Wonda’ Duplessis) highlights bouncing synth drumbeats and soaring vocals that deliver an empowering message to women. The single is from the upcoming Labelle recording, “Back to Now” to drop on October 21 on Verve Records.

Listen to “Roll Out” now:

From their formation in 1961 at the dawn of the girl-group era, through their pioneering years fusing rock, soul, and funk, Labelle’s innovation has set them apart in a genre all their own. With additional production by Gamble & Huff and Lenny Kravitz, ‘Back to Now’ embodies everything Labelle has ever been.

How the Labelle Reunion Came About:

After Nona found a song that was a tribute to civil rights leader Rosa Parks, “I asked Pat about us doing it as a group. Pat’s been talking about us getting back together for thirty years!  I said, ‘we should either stop announcing it…or do it!’” For Patti, the idea of coming back together to record and tour was all about timing: Every time it came up, I was working.  I knew it was long overdue but each time, I was not ready to do it and I had so many things on my plate. My manager Damascene Pierre Paul kept asking me to do do this; he was begging me and finally, I gave in.  Then I said, ‘I don’t want to half-step…I will make time to do this.” Adds Sarah, “We’d been talking about it and we had a meeting in 2007 to see what we could put in motion. We never did a farewell tour.  We just stopped.  This is a way of bringing completion for the fans who were with us from the beginning.”

The result of what Nona likes to call the trio’s “re-ignition” is a bold new album which embodies everything Labelle has ever been. With the group’s ever-distinct harmonies and high octane vocals, LaBelle, Hendryx and Dash bring something new and fresh to their latest work.  Producers Lenny Kravitz, Gamble & Huff and Wyclef bring out the best in the trio.  “I had just seen Kenny and Leon receiving their induction into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame and Pat performed “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” recalls Sarah. “I called Kenny and asked if he would meet with us.”  Nona brought Kravitz to the table: “We’re friends and admirers of each other’s work. We talked to him about the idea of us getting together and invited him to a session. He showed up that day at 5:00 and we haven’t stopped working since.”

“Working with Lenny was a blast!” says Patti.  “He played every instrument, even sang all the leads on the tracks.  That’s how good he is.  Kenny and Leon are like brothers to me. I trust them and they let me take credit for being myself.”  Notes Nona, “Working with Lenny, Wyclef, and Kenny & Leon was meant to be.  I really think the music led us to the people who would understand the new Labelle credo ‘back to now’.  The past and the present, existing in the now!”  Adds Sarah, “Lenny reminds me of the newness of today. I learned a lot from him. I really saw his vision for us. Our producers took the old and brought us right up to today.”

The songs are a perfect fit: “Without You,” began as an original idea from Nona: “The initial impetus for writing the song was as an ode to Labelle.  You could hear it as a traditional love song or as the sentiment behind our re-ignition as a group.”  Kenny Gamble “had an idea for another section for the song,” says Nona, while Patti added her input to the song (“from the first time I heard it, I loved it”).  The final result: a dramatic, intense ballad in the best tradition of Labelle, building and building with soaring vocals.

“Our audiences came to expect all three of us to sing lead on different songs,” says Sarah. “That made us unlike any other female group. That’s what we do on ‘System’.”  It is, Nona says, “an old song, something we performed thirty years ago that was intended for our next Labelle record in 1977. It means more today than it did even then. I love the rugged track Lenny created for it, reflecting the aggression that the ‘system’ represents.”  Patti: “It’s about what’s happening now.  It’s about the lies that have been told. It’s about not doing what the system tells you but about following your heart…”

Other album highlights include “Candelight,” a Hendryx original (“That’s old-styled Labelle!” says Sarah), “Super Lover,” a Hendry/Celli collaboration, and two G&H productions:  : a rocking version of Mother’s Finest’s “Truth Will Set You Free” and a dance classic cover of Sylvester’s “You Make Me Feel Mighty Real.”  Nona remembers, “I worked with Joyce Kennedy (of Mother’s Finest) with the ‘Daughters Of Soul’ tours I did in Europe and Asia.  “Truth Will Set You Free” was a great song from a great band and I felt it was something we could do.”  For the dance floor, what better choice than reviving a song made famous by a dear friend: Sarah smiles, “What can I say?  Sylvester was an icon. I loved doing this.  I got use all aspects of my vocal range on this track.” As Patti says, “It ain’t nothin’ but a jam. It’s gonna make you dance like a fool.”

Labelle, known for delivering a potent message-in-song have been given the perfect vehicle, courtesy Gamble & Huff with “Tears For The World,” a new 2008 classic, sweeping, driving, thought-provoking.  Patti recalls, “I was in Kenny’s office. It wasn’t raining that day but it felt dark.  Sarah had just shown me her diary in which she had written ‘Let’s pray.”  Nona, “After he heard Pat talking, Leon (Huff) went away and came back with the song.  It talks about all the things we want to change.”

Concludes Nona, “Our new album is like going home and eating your Mom’s cooking, if your Mom was a good cook, that is!” Labelle sings of change, of love, of sex. A genre-shattering  female trio who had social, musical and political statements to make in the ‘70s, re-emerge with the same kind of triple-threat power, bringing it all back to now.

I Heart Fonzworth Bentley, Kanye, Andre 3000 & Sa-Ra

How You doin?

How You doin?

I JUST saw this video on Vh1 Soul and I think I am in love with it. It is a new video by Fonzworth Bentley, called “Everybody,” with Kanye West and Andre 3000. I like how playful it is with the choreography and the cute stylized winking and smiling, how hot they all look in their suits, and I think producers (the fellas in the band in the video) Sa-Ra Creative Partners are the next big thing in Black music. This new image of Black masculinity gives me hope that we won’t all perish under the hegemony of hip-hop. I know I’m being dramatic–this song is just as misogynist as most music these days, but I am happy to see the cultural swing away from artists selling Black death.


American Apparel Goes Native.

It seems that being white and hip was simply not enough for skeevy American Apparel CEO Dov Charney. At some point, they always go “native.” By native, I mean usually appropriating some form of Black culture when being just plain ole white becomes too, dully. Until a few years ago, hip-hop culture was the choice way to throw off the doldrums of whiteness–from “ghetto and gangsta” themed frat parties, and “hoochie and ho” nights at hipster bars in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, and rasta and afro costumes at Halloween.

But with Madonna and Brangelina adopting African children,  Bono’s Jesus complex, and the Gap’s wasteful Red campaign, who needs hip-hop to escape whiteness? Hip-hop is way too American and co-opted now, you can just go straight to the source! And if you can’t afford a safari, or a child, you can get an ensemble from American Apparel’s Afrika collection–leggings and a top with some kinda busy-ass print from what part of Africa I don’t know. But who cares? Who needs specificity for mass consumption? (Dripping sarcasm.)

On No Homo

I’m sure you’ve heard this “No Homo” phrase for the last several years from Hip-hop artists and now regular people on the street, as a way to break the normal social mores around same-sex interaction, and still assure the person to whom you’re speaking that you’re not actually gay. I know, a mess. But Hip-hop blogger and radio host Jay-Smooth over at his blog Ill Doctrine (that has me jealous on the style/layout tip), made a pretty funny video spoofing and explaining the “No Homo” foolishness.


Afro-Latinos in Colombia

In the last couple years there have been an increasing amount of news stories in the US about Afro-Latinos. I have been glad to see some of it because oftentimes I feel like in the US, it’s as if slavery didn’t happen in Latin America and there are no Black people there to speak of. Or that somehow or another, the Spanish speaking Caribbean and South America has “gotten beyond” racial categorization, when it was only a generation ago that people like Cuban singer La Lupe (among many others) proudly declared she was Black. And why don’t any of these Baseball players from the Dominican Republic get discussed as Black people? There’s also this thing that happens, where I have been told that I, as an African-American, don’t understand the nuances of what happens in terms of race/racialization in Latin America.

OK, I am not trying to take over that conversation, there are plenty of Afro-Latinos organizing on their own, but I know that when many of these organizations of Afro-Latinos in Latin America are referring to Black American struggles for inspiration, and sometimes directly seeking assistance from groups like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (as did organizations in Brazil) to help address legal forms of racism in their countries. That says something to me about how Afro-Latinos in those organizations see what Black Americans have done as a possibility, and not as some group of people who don’t get it. And I do, ultimately, feel responsible for what happens to Black people wherever we are, however we got there, and no matter what conquistador language we now speak.

Anyhoo, I found this interesting story about Afro-Colombians, which are even less talked about than Cubans, Dominicans or Brazilians. What interests me most about the many different movements of racial justice happening in Latin America is in what ways are notions of “nation/nationhood” informing conversations about gender, sex and sexuality–that is, as a cautionary tale from many Black Nationalist configurations in the US–is the Afro-Latin revolution being formed as a (hetero) dick thing?


A Note on DNC Protesters…and Activists In General!

Today I came across this video report, from the American News Project, about police intimidation of protesters at the Democratic National Convention in Denver this week. This video, we’ve seen a million times since the infamous Seattle WTO protests of 1999, of mostly white protesters, exercising their “Constitutional right” to assembly and protest, and being righteously indignant if they’re impeded from that glorious goal. I stopped going to these kinds of anti-globalization/anti-war protests several years ago because of everything you’re going to witness when watching this video, but can ultimately be summed up in three words: WHITE LIBERAL ENTITLEMENT.

First of all the video opens with a quote from the First Amendment to the US Constitution which reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Note to protesters: Congress, in this case, did not make any law. You are dealing with the police. They kick ass and ask questions later. Your Constitutional rights can always be violated, and you can sue to get them back, only after the fact. But being white, you don’t often have to deal with the daily stop and frisks, arrests, detainments. So I guess thinking that you have rights in the first place that the police are supposed to respect ahead of time is a case of white entitlement. To the contrary, an older Black woman activist said to me in New Orleans years ago, “Why do we do these ‘know your rights’ trainings when we know you don’t have any?”

Everything else here flows from there.

Hordes of white people shrieking “Who’s streets? Our streets?” Well, we know. These same white hipsters/activists have priced Black and Latino people out of many neighborhoods across the US. I am well aware they are “your streets.” In a different context, say, Harlem, the policing increases ten-fold, to protect you from me. That protest slogan, which I have heard comes from the Gay Liberation Front (which was not without its race issues) post-Stonewall, has long outlived its usefulness, because of the dynamic witnessed in this video. White people do own the streets. The police getting in your face to protect the property/image of the State is not new or shocking.

Peep the woman in the red shirt shouting to the police THIS IS AMERICA!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? My question is, What does she think America is? What does she think the police are for? This, to me, IS America. Period. This is not some aberration, or some recent (i.e. post 9-11) devolution of a once free state (the two terms are almost an oxymoron).

The two white men explaining that “they’re not protesters,” and yet they got hemmed in by the cops for two hours just the same. I wish the time I was nearly thrown to the ground by some kind of private security (I believe was Blackwater) goons in New Orleans I could have had that excuse. I was just Black and that was all they needed to know to assume I was trying to rob the mostly non-black friends I was trailing behind slowly on a bicycle. When you’re white, you assume that you have a personhood separate and distinct from your race. I’ve never made that assumption–or I’ve never been allowed to.

And to the point about racial profiling, peep the people with the scarves pulled above their faces. I know that is in part to protect one’s self against the use of tear-gas and mace, but it is also to protect one’s identity. Let me tell you, if my Black ass walked around any street in America with a scarf pulled above my face, I’d be assumed to be robbing some shit and be shot to the ground, no questions aked. Once again, the assumption that you have an “identity” to be protected from policing and surveillance, versus knowing that you are constantly policed and surveilled because of your racial/gendered body.

For all of this white liberal outrage about their right to protest being denied, they cut a 6 minute video piece (from what was probably several hours of footage), and got ALL UP IN the face of these police officers without an act of retaliation or violence.

I think that the protest hopping Left really gets off on these huge displays police intimidation and violence enacted because of protesting. They’re mostly content with other forms of police violence, and these displays seem to make them feel oppressed and gives them a relevance they seem to relish!

Oh yeah, watch this bullshit.