By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Passion, not diplomacy
Adore or despise her, Madonna has surprised us once again. We're not talking about her pregnancy here, but her recent incarnation as a big-wigged music-biz executive. Her Warner Bros. vanity label, Maverick, boasts a double dose of lightning strikes: a megaplatinum superstar named Alanis Morissette; and a true maverick--the 27-year-old talent known as Me'Shell Ndegeocello.
If you want to find a kindred spirit for the music of Ndegeocello (pronounced "In-day-gay-oh-chello"), don't look to her labelmate Morissette or other tough cookies du jour like Sheryl Crow and Joan Osborne. Listening to her remarkable CDs, Plantation Lullabies and Peace Beyond Passion, it's clear that the primary influences for instrumentalist-songwriter-singer Ndegeocello have been men from a generation before her--Barry White, Marvin Gaye, and especially Curtis Mayfield, whose naked laments about inner-city crime and racism form the confrontational backbone of Ndegeocello's urban-contemporary meditations on these Disunited States.
She was formerly known as the bassist and co-singer on John Mellencamp's "Wild Nights," but currently enjoys her distinction as rock's only Muslim, African-American lesbian single mom who used to be a heroin user. Pissy hip-hop meets sweet soul on a Ndegeocello album while the singer--who can croon or rap with the same sinuous mastery of style--lays down her philosophy on race, sexuality, and religion. Her hallmark is a refusal to mimic any particular agenda. "Shoot'n Up and Get'n High" from Plantation Lullabies is a sultry shuffle that suggests the joys and pains of junk without trying to convert anyone to any lifestyle. On the other hand, "Leviticus: Faggot," the first single off her new Peace Beyond Passion with a bass line that's pure Bootsy, gets pretty specific about the link between Christianity and homophobia as the Christian mother of a murdered gay man prays "Amen, let it be" over "his bloody body, face-down."
Above all the proselytizing, Me'Shell Ndegeocello makes sure you can dance and sway to her tunes. She knows the secret of every great preacher--rhythm is the key to a successful sermon.
Me'Shell Ndegeocello performs September 25 at Caravan of Dreams in Fort Worth.