Friday, June 25, 2021

Meshell Ndegeocello’s Tiny Desk Concert

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Meshell Ndegeocello
 Peter Matthews under CC BY 2.0 License – No changes were made to the image

Groove priestess, bass guitar legend, and neo-soul pioneer Meshell Ndegeocello, also known as Meshell Suhaila Bashir-Shakur, was finally featured in NPR’s Tiny Desk (Home) concert series. Accompanied by Chris Bruce who has long-played guitar for her live and studio bands, Ndegeocello effortlessly pulls off one of the most intimate and focused performances in the history of Tiny Desk.

It’s no coincidence that it happened near the start of the year. In the U.S., February is Black History Month, which NPR celebrated this year by featuring all black artists from a variety of genres and generations. As one of the most influential black women in music, Ndegeocello represents the veterans of American soul, funk, jazz, rnb, and hip hop. Although she has never been and is unlikely to ever be as famous as the Billboard-breaking pop and RnB stars of today, whether they’re aware of it or not, these stars are walking on paths that were paved by this legendary genre-bending musician. Known for both amazing original songs and some of the most stellar cover work, there’ no doubt that many fans and fellow musicians have long awaited Ndegeocello’s Tiny Desk (Home) concert.

Shot in black and white, the concert opens with a spoken word version of her song Step Into The Projects, pulled from her 1993 debut album, Plantation Lullabies. Normally a funky tune, this barenaked, spoken version of the song sets a somber tone.

She employs a similar strategy in the song Forget My Name, which is from 2014’s Comet Come To Me. The song is one of Ndegeocello’s more popular and requested jams during live performances. Forget My Name has an infectious reggae-soul groove that shows off how well she harnesses her delay and compressor bass pedals, an effortlessly cool jam that rides on Ndegeocello’s notoriously thick bass tone and stylistic creativity. In this Tiny Desk performance, Bruce takes over the job of playing the song’s infectious riffs via acoustic guitar, while Ndegeocello uses her fat tone to accompany the guitarist and her own voice. As a result, the lyrics take on a deeper, darker feel.

The somber set ends with Fool Of Me, a song from her 1999 album, Bitter. Ndegeocello puts down the bass and sings a raw tune, accompanied only by Bruce’s acoustic guitar. Throughout the entire affair, this particular Tiny Desk (Home) concert is a very tightly arranged and executed performance with copious amounts of soul. Without changing the lyrics and only shifting the arrangements of Ndegeocello’s own songs, the two veteran musicians succeed in adapting these beloved melodies and poems with the times.

It’s the type of performance that any kind of music fan can appreciate. But for long-time fans of the soul siren, bassist, rapper, and songwriter, this Tiny Desk concert has been a long time coming. And not surprisingly, Ndegeocello still knows how to exceed any and all expectations.

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