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Why Jhelisa's brilliant New Album is Good Music Infused with Political and Personal Messages

 

By Dirk Binsau of Jazz not Jazz

 

Was it really nine years ago when Jhelisa Anderson had released her second album Language Electric on Dorado back in 1997?

 

Time really flies!

 

In these nine years, a lot has happened and the world has become a powder keg like never before with western societies on the verge of collapse ready to sacrifice fundamental rights to fight terrorism.

 

And it looks like more and more countries are run by mad men who care more about big corporations than they care about the people who’ve voted for them. Of course these nine years also brought many changes in Jhelisa’s life.

 

Her former musical home Dorado Records somehow disappeared for a while from the scene, she recorded songs with amongst others Courtney Pine, Block 16 and a version of Goldie’s Inner City Life for the German label, Infracom!

 

Jhelisa travelled the world and finally went back to her native country, the United States of America. In 2004 she went to New Orleans and soon began working on a new album which initially was titled Discovery of Amazing.


The included DVD documentary “One week with Jhelisa
- Rediscovering America” -
gives you a good impression about Jhelisa’s time in New Orleans.

 

But natural and man-made disaster occurred when Katrina destroyed most parts of New Orleans.

 

Unlike many other people Jhelisa was fortunate enough to escape in time. Eventually she finished the album, which is now renamed A Primitive Guide To Being There, in Atlanta, where she now lives.


I certainly look at our humanity as primitive,” she
says. “I look at my developing ways as “primitive”, but hopefully, I am growing into advancement in my struggle to “BE THERE”, to arrive at an ultimate strength of faith and hope and unpenetrable endurance of spirit. Much like evolution. From my perspective, “a primitive guide to being there” is to me like a global gumbo, ready for consumption, in all of its varying degrees.


A musical gumbo with a meaning would sum up her new album in a nutshell. Jhelisa soaked up the music she heard in recent years whether it’s the blues and soul of New Orleans, the local music of South Africa or hints of Native American music and Asian influences.

 

One look at the song titles will assure you that Jhelisa is still fighting for the right thing as she did with songs like That’s Bullshit Woody or Sell Me Away.


The album kicks off with the funky and fast stomping Freedom’s Land with Terence Higgins from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band on drums. Jhelisa
ministers in a New Orleans church and you are invited to dance and share her motto Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.


Flute Band In Gauteng is inspired by Jhelisa’s visit of Johannesburg, South Africa. Gauteng is the native word for Johannesburg. Despite the title this has a distinctive UK electro soul flavour. Fans of Chaka Khan may look out for a cover version Chaka promised Jhelisa

Culture Of Silence is her
statement about what’s wrong in the USA.

 

It angers me, it frightens me, it most of all puzzles me. I do not understand the nature of injustice, and how it can dominate, when there is always only a few in control of the many. A culture of silence, perhaps this is process of a dying star.


Actually this phenomenon, that the masses are just silent about the injustices forced upon them by a few, isn’t limited to the USA. It’s something most western democracies are going through, like Germany or the UK
.


The epic Journey Of Life In 9 Minutes is one of my favourite songs on this album. This musical tour de force with lots of Asian inspired percussion by Pandjit Danish is certainly a winner for everyone who’s open for musical experiments.


The beautiful soul song Love Is A State Of Mind is a welcome change and further proof of Jhelisa'
s versatility, who delights us with a soulful ballad with classical patterns in the tradition of soul music’s halcyon days.


Walking On Air, a fast song with some pop appeal, features Terence Higgins again plus James Singleton on bass. I must admit that’s the song I will surely need more listenings to really get into it. Although I like the ethereal harp at the ending very much.

 

Walking On Air was such a different departure for me melodically, it was so simple I was afraid of it,” Jhelisa states, “of course I had to try to corrupt it the best way I could, put two moods together that are not supposed to go, I had to put suspense in happiness, plopped in the middle is the darker verse, the hesitant seductress contradicting the good and pure mood of love from the chorus, I felt new about love again and it felt so so good."

 

" When I wrote this song. I was suspicious of this much happiness, but I explored it anyway. Thanking another New Orleans native son Terence Higgins on the African Latin New Orleans rhythms, and New Orleans based James Singleton on acoustic bass. Our work was cut short by Katrina, but we managed to make this song live.


Far I Have Come Far I Must Go is a pleasant mediative downtempo track with the title sung like a mantra. In some way it reminds me of Death Do Us Part from Sunny Sumter’s Freedom Sampler
.


Another highlight is the album’s closer Survivin’ (I The Key Of Eflat). This slow and emotionally touching track was finished in Atlanta after Jhelisa
’s escape from Katrina.


On the whole, A Primitive Guide To Being There is a more than welcome inspiring return of Jhelisa
and this album has truly been worth the wait. Let’s just hope that we don’t have to wait another nine years for the next album.

 

Tracklisting of A Primitive Guide To Being There: 1. Freedom’s Land/ 2. Flute Band In Gauteng/ 3. Culture Of Silence Part I/ 4. Culture Of Silence Part 2/ 5. Journey Of Life In 9 Minutes/ 6. Love Is A State Of Mind/ 7. Walking On Air/ 8. Far I Have Come, Far I Must Go/ 9. Survivin’ (In The Key Of Eflat) + DVD documentary “One week with Jhelisa - Rediscovering America” | released April 7th, 2006 by Infracom!

 

For more infos visit infracom.de.

 

Binsau is an expert on Jazz and contemporary music. He broadcasts and blogs at Jazz not Jazz

 

Think you can do better? Please help us educate other readers by reviewing music of any genre featuring Black musicians.

 

E-mail: editor@thenewblackmagazine.com

 

 

Jhelisa: A Primitive Guide to Being There

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