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Grace Jones: Slave To The Rhythm


By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com


Grace Jones is Josephine Baker reincarnated and updated.

Born in Jamaica on May 19, 1948. She is the daughter of a preacher and the family moved to Syracuse, New York when the young Grace Jones was 12. After two years of college, Grace jetted to Paris.


A model who has appeared on the cover of Vogue, Elle, Stern magazines. An actress - Schwarzenegger the “Barbarian” recalls that she was too rough for him. A vocalist with ten albums between 1977 and 2003, Grace Jones is the epitome of a performance artist.


Grace was her own greatest hit. Her performances became legendary. But rather than a spectacle to be consumed, she was a knife that sliced the eye of every voyeur. Who could look at her and not be forced to see themselves in ways they had never noticed before?


When she returned to America, this ultra-powerful woman was doing her celebrated “One Man” show.


Here in England, the broadcaster Russell Harty interviewed her. At one point he turned his back on Grace and proceeded to talk to others. She attacked him. Literally. Slapped the man.


As “May Day,” Grace bedded James Bond on screen (A View To A Kill, 1985). When I saw the movie, I remember some man in the audience hollering: “Oh, no!”

Que horror! But who’s afraid of Halle Berry?


Grace pushed every sexual button America had.

In 1998, she got kicked out of Disney World and banned for life — they said she flashed her breast. 


Didn’t they know who Grace was when they invited her?


There was something repulsively attractive about Grace. She approached sexuality as though she was free to explore whatever she chose, present herself however she chose, and confront any mythologies, expectations or restrictive social mores she chose.


Imagine: a lithe, muscular, dark-skinned, Africanoid-featured black woman (i.e. by American standards, an ugly duckling) transforms into cat-woman — cat, as in panther; no sexually submissive meow, instead, a sexually aggressive growl.


Grace Jones-CWP-000363.jpg


Grace Jones at Summer Stage Concert Series in Central Park, New York.
06/29/2002: Wild1 / Photorazzi


Grace’s French paramour and ex-husband, Jean-Paul Goude conceived and directed her image until, as he admits, the image consumed him. Andy Warhol painted pictures of her. Keith Haring painted pictures on her. Yet her career has outlived all her image-makers. Pygmalion is dead, long live the statuesque Grace Jones.


Grace is the prototype survivor. She was the premiere, the ultimate, disco diva, and as an encore became the first and perhaps only successful ex-disco diva to continue diva-hood beyond the dance floor. For Grace there was always more to life than whatever living she had already mastered.


Musically, many people prefer her “Pull Up To The Bumper” or the sentimentalism of “La Vie En Rose,” but for me there is only one Grace Jones record that bears repeated listening, even thirty years later.


Produced by Trevor Horn with the assistance of S.J. Lipson, some have called the recording an opera, others call it a symphony or a concept album. Officially, it is subtitled “A Biography.” All eight tracks are permutations of the same song: Slave To The Rhythm.


"Slave" is a 20th century experiment that is right at home in 21st century culture. The music constantly morphs. Disco. Funk. House. Classical. Electronic. Ambient.

But there is more than music.


There are two sets of Grace Jones interviews woven throughout. Plus, commentary from Jean-Paul. And, the instantly identifiable siren-sound of Grace’s magnetic voice. Even if you don’t like it, you listen.


It is not just what Grace says — the pauses are sometimes more effective than the words themselves. Her singing, although minimal, is captivating; yet, befitting the album’s title, it is the industrial-strength drumming that dominates. And conversely, the interludes, the vocal snippets, and the ambient sounds successfully highlight the powerful and dense rhythms. Here is a visionary work of popular culture built around an iconoclastic icon of popular culture.


There is no other dance music album of the Eighties that so thoroughly transcends its period and becomes not just a snapshot of its time, but an image for all time.

Ladies and gentlemen: Miss Grace jones.


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


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