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By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com

Saturday, October 29, 2011.


I listen to a lot of music, constantly checking for new stuff, as well as constantly re-visiting older work. There are always surprises in both categories. Finding someone whom I previously didn’t know and being knocked out by their work is always a thrill. But, equally, it’s also a thrill to be knocked out by some old work I didn’t remember liking or even had never listened to—in fact, the truth is there is probably more quality older work to discover than there is quality new work; but that assessment is just my bias showing.

Any how, I’ve got four recent works by young black women, I like them all for different reasons but I want to briefly concentrate on a common thread in terms of subject matter. As is evidenced in these four artists whose styles and approaches are very different, the main thing they have in common is a search for social fulfilment.

Back in the day, the search was called looking for “Mr. Right.” While this has always been a serious topic for sisters, in the new millennium the situation has become critical, some would even say desperate. And the music reflects that social crisis. Whether expressed as a soft moan or a shrill curse, as the goal of stable male/female relationships becomes harder to achieve, more and more singers focus on the frustrations of trying to find nuggets of gold amid mountains of what is perceived as male madness.

We all know the statistics: more black men in prison than in college; well over half of all black households headed by single women. There’s more bad news but we are all too familiar with that. There is no need to whip that dead mule. Besides most of us are just looking for a little relief, and thus we turn to entertainment if not to take our minds off our problems, then at least to have a brief respite of fun and dancing.

Yeah, yeah, we know. A song is not going to change our conditions but a well sung song can make the load a little easier to bear. Consider these lyrics as modern day work songs, because for sure, making a relationship work is hard work—hard, hard, real hard work.

And that little preamble brings us to a roundup of young sisters trying to make a career out of music. So here is a brief breakdown of why I chose these artists:

teri tobin 01.jpg
I like Teri Tobin’s smoky voice. She has a classic R&B sound, reminded me of Anita Baker when Ms. Baker first came on the scene, especially with that “Angel” song. This is some moody, late-night soundtrack for extended one-on-one sessions. Each track oozes sensuality and promises of deep bliss or laments about the absence thereof.

I particularly dig “Wide” and “Lovesong.” These might be called sexy, slow-motion funk.

arinmaya 01.jpg

ArinMaya is really, really on some other tip. Her Let The Love Come release features just voice and guitar, and she manages to pull it off. This minimalist approach takes a bunch of self-confidence to sustain. There is a genuine warmth and intimacy in these grooves. The most immediate reference is India Arie—I guess you can call this some urban folk music. ArinMaya is the kind of artist who provides the music for the spoken word sets down to the Second Cup Cafe.

I found myself thinking this is okay but not great, but then every time I returned to her tracks I would catch myself listening attentively, and I came to the conclusion that some of what attracts me to music is not technical but rather deep sincerity. Obviously she’s not going for commercial success; this must be life force for her, must be a commitment to self-expression and the sharing thereof.

aaries 01.jpg  
AAries is a twin-duo who and they have just released CoverGirls, a six-track EP of cover songs. Of the grouping on this Mixtape, AAries are technically the strongest. They have picked up where The Emotions left off. The blend of their voices is harmonically stunning and melodically entrancing. Plus the musical arrangements have a twist of difference while remaining familiar so that you can appreciate the re-modeling of an old song.

These young ladies might be considered aural interior decorators whose little touches and major make-overs combine to convert that dingy musical den in our head into a resplendent showcase for lounging and reminiscing.

 k michelle 01.jpg 
K. Michelle has the closing words and her last song on the Mixtape is practically an admission that she tried to play the game but ended up getting played. Her stage persona is of a street-wise, no nonsense, I-do-me and can take care of myself, self-made “chick.”

With songs like “For My Birthday,” “Fakin It,” and “Girlfriend” she presents herself as though she was in total control as she does whatever she wants to. But other songs paint the downside of a rough-ass mountain: “Turn The Radio Up” and “When Crying Is Easy.” She really gets to the grime behind the glitter.

For me, the attraction is not the hip-hop orientation or the quality of her voice, nor am I really a big fan of some of the concepts but she’s got two elements in spades. First, there is an in your face fierce and honest rawness that moves way beyond the pretense of exaggerated braggadocio as evidenced by the lyrics that describe in detail her lows and failures as sharply as she emotes when she’s bragging about being on top of the game. Second, the whole production is a step beyond competent engineering and merely clever hooks mated to a few phat beats. In this case, this is album-quality production values, plus this is more than a mere handful of songs on her Mixtape that runs 20-tracks deep.

But there is more, not just to K. Michelle, but indeed to the others as well, and that is the fact that all of them are on the outside trying to break into the big time. None of them have a major label release yet. All of them are doing EPs and Mixtapes that they offer for free distribution or for nominal donations.

In a perverse twist of the social reality, they are struggling to get attention from a man to be a mate and also struggling to get general attention as artists who are female. It’s one thing not to be able to find a spouse but not to be able to connect to an audience has got to be the ultimate frustration. Shit, what’s a girl got to do to get a break?

One of the subliminal motives for this feature is to give some spotlight time to young artists who’ve yet to successfully break onto the national scene. We all know about all the local rappers, wherever your “local” is, who are worthy of national attention but how often do we think of all the young sisters who are trying to make it in an industry that is built on the principle that sex sells? The pressures to conform are massive, and then when you do conform there is still no guarantee that you are going to get any attention.

Anyway, here are some recent sounds that you might find enjoyable if you give them even half a chance.

black woman song cover 01.jpg 

Love Infinity - Teri Tobin

01 “Whatcha Say”
02 “Applications”
03 “Wide”
04 “Why”
05 “Lovesong”

black woman song cover 02.jpg 
Let The Love Come - ArinMaya
06 “Nothing Even Matters”
07 “Love’s In Need”
08 “Around”

black woman song cover 03.jpg 
CoverGirls - AAries
09 “Funny How Time Flies (When You’re Having Fun)”
10 “Baby, This Love I Have”
11 “Don’t Ask My Neighbor/Nothing Even Matters”

black woman song cover 04.jpg
Signed, Sealed, Delivered - K. Michelle
12 “For My Birthday”
13 “Self Made (ft Gucci Mane)”
14 “Fakin It (ft Missy Elliott)”
15 “Girlfriend”
16 “Turn The Radio Up”
17 “When Crying Is Easy”

black woman song cover 05.jpg 
18 “Acura Integurl”unreleased single – K Michelle

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