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On Ike's Fragile

 

By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com


This piece combines three ingredients I dig to the upmost: Brazilian music, Isaac Hayes, and hip orchestration on top of a groove. Actually, this is four cuts in one.

 

Part One, Ike’s Plea is an opening rap from Ike about saving the Earth done over a heartbeat. Part Two, Life’s Mood is Ike’s introduction to the song. Part Three, Fragile, is the song itself. Part Four, Life’s Mood II is the outro.  The opening heartbeat morphs into a Brazilian samba and before you know it we are listening to Ike’s take on Sting’s famous composition.

Rather than bore anyone writing a description of what is better appreciated by listening, I would prefer to point out that this 1995 recording in many ways proved that Ike still had it him to make beautiful music.

 

This one did well enough to be released as a cd single (as did another track on this album, a smoldering love song, Thanks To The Fool (Who Let You Go). While Fool is easily recognizable as an Isaac Hayes song, Fragile displays Ike’s ability to own someone else’s song. I have heard other covers of Fragile but none in the same league with Ike.

 

Isaac Hayes is a musician. I remember seeing him in 1970 at an event in New Orleans called the Soul Bowl. It was about four o’clock on a Saturday afternoon when Ike took the stage on the infield of the once-famous, now-demolished, Sugar Bowl stadium at Tulane university. The program had been going since noon and would not end until near midnight; I didn’t know how Ike was going to pull off doing 15 minute ballads in that atmosphere.

Before Ike’s entrance, it looked like about half of the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra climbed onto the stage (actually it was only about a 20-piece string section with a few woodwinds). I believe Stax co-hort Dale Warren was the conductor. Anyway, Ike did a theatrical entrance and immediately had the crowd roaring (see the WattStax movie to get a “partial” idea of his entrance).

 

    Isaac Hayes perfoming at the LA Coliseum in Wattstax Special Edition

Old School days: Young Ike on stage with Jesse Jackson at a political rally

 

But it was not the rockers that got to me and about 70,000 other folk (you read right, 70-some thousand in attendance), what we reveled in was experiencing the bliss-out of the longer, romantic numbers. Ike could put you in the mood any time, any place, under any set of conditions.

There is just nothing as rapturous on a sunny Saturday afternoon as the exquisite sound of an orchestra of acoustic instruments using hip arrangements, conducted by a suave Negro rhythmically waving the baton as he glides them through Rhythm and Blues changes powered by a super funky rhythm section all in support of a multi-talented singer/keyboardist/composer.

 

Because of that experience I am predisposed to dig songs like this cover project, however, if my flesh had never had the experience of soaking up Ike’s rapturous vibes, I believe I still would have been infatuated by this 14-minute mini-suite.

Even if an artist was inclined to do so today, I don’t believe this kind of music making could be pulled off on a regular basis. In many ways, Ike is a throwback to the Big Band era, a period that we will never see again, not only because of the economics of carrying such a large number of musicians, but also because of the prevailing musical tastes and the prevailing sound which is heavy on electronically-produced and electronically-augmented music. 

 

Ike revels in the acoustic, and as such he’s sort of a dinosaur, but even so, he’s a hip dinosaur, a dinosaur I think we can all appreciate when he’s on top of his game.

 

Issac Hayes on Fragile

 

Ever since the days of “Walk On By,” I’ve been known for covers. I love the challenge. I love putting myself deep into someone else’s song until it starts getting good to me.

I brought in a group of children to sing on the track and asked them what “fragile” meant to them. “Something delicate” said one. “Something easily broken,” said another. I wanted to make sure I could reach these children. I wanted to take the message to a universal level, to point out that fragility applies not only to
Croatia and drive-bys in South Central, but the very planet we occupy. I wanted to break it down to day-to-day reality. For me “fragile” is a very righteous word.
—Isaac Hayes

 

With thanks to www.kalamu.com/bol where this piece was originally posted.

 Kalamu ya Salaam is a New Orleans writer and filmmaker. He is also the founder of Nommo Literary Society - a Black writers workshop. 

 

Please e-mail comments to comments@thenewblackmagazine.com

 

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