Oil on Canvas, 24/01/2019 – Nina Simone Painting
“I’ll tell you what freedom is to me… No Fear!”
She’s the voice behind my favorite version of the song that goes ‘It’s a new dawn it’s a new day it’s a new life, and I’m Feeling Good’, and the dark optimism in ‘Ain’t got no/ I got Life’
I fell in love with her though when I saw her perform her first activist song ‘Mississippi Goddamn’, which she wrote within an hour about the racially charged murder of 37 year old civil rights activist Edgar Meyers. She sings “Keep on sayin’ ‘go slow’…to do things gradually would bring more tragedy. Why don’t you see it? Why don’t you feel it? I don’t know, I don’t know. You don’t have to live next to me, just give me my equality! “
…which naturally led me to ‘Young, Gifted & Black’ , which she sang as an affirmation during a time when it was daring to proclaim it.
And ‘The Backlash Blues’:
“When I try to find a job
To earn a little cash
All you got to offer
Is your mean old white backlash
But the world is big
Big and bright and round
And it’s full of folks like me
Who are black, yellow, beige and brown
Mr. Backlash, I’m gonna leave you
With the backlash blues”
She was an activist through her music – bringing the message of self love, sharing your story, feeling your feelings.
“I choose to reflect the times and situations we’re living in. That to me is my duty.”
On a more personal level, as someone with a Jamaican heritage her words on identity resonated with me:
“I want to make [young black people] more curious about where they came from, and their identity. We don’t know anything about ourselves, we don’t even know where we came from. It’s like a lost race”.
I loved the way she embraced her African heritage in a culture that rejected it, with her style & dark skin. I love the song ‘Obeah Woman’ (‘I can eat thunder and drink the rain […] ain’t nothing I can’t do’).
How she described being in Liberia as being home & free, she said how “It was vast, and open, and everything was natural. I have seen lightening in Africa not flash, but hover! And it electrifies you into complete speechlessness. I have seen it!”
I love how at 8 years old, when her parents were sent to the back of the room during her piano performance, she refused to play until they were seated at the front.
There’s a documentary about her on Netflix called What Happened, Miss Simone? – I highly recommend it.
She’s still human, and had plenty of flaws, no one is blind to that. She didn’t believe in non-violence, and she had her demons. But what I love most about her is her authenticity, how she didn’t shy away from exposing her feelings on screen, or her temper, hilariously spied in her performance of Stars in this youtube clip, which I based my painting off of.
“We all have a story”, she sings, and she inspires me to tell mine.
Needless to say, I really love Nina Simone.