tv Talk to Al Jazeera Al Jazeera March 25, 2016 6:00pm-6:31pm EDT
this week on talk to al jazeera grammy winning cassandra wilson >> singing it from the heart, telling a story she was in a home filled with jazz, she played the piano followed by the guitar and was working by the mid 70s >> there was something that was missing in my life she incorporated folk music in her songs >> i bring disparate elements
together and realising common ground. i think it is important to do that musically and i think it is important for us to do that in the world she left jackson more than 30 years ago but says the delta is an important part of who she is >> there is a certain creative that you drop as a result of all of the pressure that there is in being and living here she comes from the linage of billy ho already beening liday. she pay-- holliday. she has a touch of her own in her music. i caught up with her at jenny's supper club. so good to see you. >> thank you so much we should share with the audience that we have a
connection, same home town, a lot of same friends >> yes and i'm a huge fan >> thank you let's talk about home. what kind of musical influences did you have growing up? >> so many. the home was filled with instruments because my father was a musician and he had a huge jazz collection. so i listened to mile davis to hank williams. during the 70s you had to listen to r & b wokj. >> yeah. you work, you ride i understand that your blews. >> not a lot. there was not a lot of traditional delta blues. i don't think there was many, actually why was that? >> my father had this idea about
the blues being, how to put it, it was a rather common form of music. he was a great propose opponent of jazz because it is a complex form and you have to be extrem extremely-- so -- sophisticated? >> yes. that's true you say your house was filled with instruments. what did your dad play? >> he started off on the violin and then he picked up the trumpet and played in the army band during world war ii and then he went from the trumpet to the guitar and that was the first instrument i remember him playing when i was young. then he went from the guitar to
the base and he played base. most people know him as playing the base which did you pick up first? >> i didn't pick it up. you can't pick up a piano. that was my first instrument. i went to someone's house with my parents and they had one and i just fell in love with it. my mother tells me the story that i started playing on the piano instantly. i was about 3 or 4 years old guitar? >> i was about 12 years old did you know at that time musician? >> i think at that time i felt as if i were a musician already 12? >> yes. i started to write, not sing so much, you know, as - i can't describe it.
it's like what you do when you write little songs. i call them little songs did you major in music? >> no. i had studied music all of my life, so it was just kind of redundant to go into college and get a degree. my mother actually encouraged me to get a degree in something else. she said "you know music. why do you need a degree because you've been doing it since you were 5 years old" why is it important for you birth? >> that's a great question. i never left. i really never felt as if i could say that i was a new yorker. whenever anyone asked me, where are you from, well, the natural
thing to say would be mississippi. i didn't leave there until i was about 25 years old. i've lived longer out of the area, but still the memories are so strong there i know that you had a musical group. was it high school? or college? >> there were always little musical groups the one i'm talking about is the one where you were playing dillon and riche havens and jonie mitchell. those? >> the times. if was the 70s, late 60s, so you play the music of the times. i don't know if you remember back - well, of course you do. f m radio stations used to play different genres of music and it
would be on one station. so if you were listening to a certain station, you might hear bob dillon and then someone would turn around and play james brown. there was not that kind of delineation between genres as you have now how did you find yourself in the north-east? >> by accident. i married a gentleman who was from baltimore, but his uncle had just been elected the mayor of eastern ranch and this was in 1980 something. i can't remember when. we travelled to east orange. i had a job at a television station, wbsu and i left that job to go with my husband because he had become the public relations director for his uncle so you get up to new york.
i assume you're looking for a job in communications. >> yes difficult to find. >> very different -- very difficult how did you get your music career started? >> because i couldn't find a job in television. i went back to the music. i thought i had to do something. i couldn't be the traditional housewife, which was what was expected of me being part of a political family. i enjoyed being a housewife, but there was something missing. so i started to go out and go to the jam sessions that they used to have a lot of in new york and that's when i started meeting other musicians and it got gigs. we played in the original red rooster you have been described as someone who has a very unique
voice. is that something that you deliberately worked on or a god-given gift? >> i think it's a little bit of both. i think you have to have a desire to create a unique voice in order to have one. everyone comes into the world with their unique voice. the question is do you know how to develop it. it takes a lot of work to do that. there are a lot of influences thatou have to allow in your singular voices based on all of those, but not imitating. i don't know if that makes sense influences. >> there's so many. the first was actually an instrumentalist miles davis. i heard sketches of spain when it came out. i was maybe about six years old. i believe it was released in
1960. so in between being five and six years old. [ ♪ ] >> and that was the music that just really expanded my consciousness. if you can imagine the toddler living to that kind of music and going, wow, what is that later you did an album. >> a tribute to miles davis i know every song on that, but do you have one song that you always want to include? >> the voodoo one run the voodoo down. >> yeah. it's a very strong piece that arose from that project, so that piece lingers ebony lincoln was a strong
influence >> yes what did you clean from her? >> abby lincoln was a creativity lyricist. >> she would go right to the heart with her voice. i learned a lot about just taking off all of the froo-froo. i call it that. just focusing on what you need to say when you talk about froo-froo with respect to music, what do you mean? >> i mean showing off your agility, showing off your shops, singing something for the sake of showing that you can do it
as opposed to? >> singing it from the heart, telling a story and singing it from the heart that's what you like about billy holiday. >> yes your release is a tribute to her, coming forth by day. tell me about her legacy and why you decided to focus on her. >> there's a wonderful article that i read and it is called the hunting of her. there's so much about her life that we don't know, it's all surrounded in all of this selatiousness. it is about her addiction or the man that she was with her whatever, but they don't really focus very much on her artistry. it is if she is a primitive creation who was able to sing
the way that she did, that she had this natural instinct for the music. she was much more than that. she was a great musician. she was an incredible interpreter of the stories don't explain. >> don't explain, yes what is that about? >> it's about telling your musts or your lover that no matter what happens i'm going to be here for you you don't have to explain whatever you're doing >> where you don't have to explain. explain. >> when i sing it , it's more i
do a little twist on the lyric and say that you don't have to explain, but if i catch you doing it again, there's hell to pay. there's a little twist there so you changed the lyrics r >> slightly. in the lyric that billy sings, you get the sense she is a victim. i'm not the victim you're laying down the law >> yes strange fruit. as we know, it's a song that is connected to a horrible legacy in america of black men being lynched, hung on trees publicly to be seen. many people would like to believe that that's a part of our past. what do you say? >> i say it's very much a part of our present.
the rachl is subtle, not as obvious. then again there are places where it is quite obvious-- racism. we still have to wrestle with the problems that we have here in america with racism. so really i don't think that much has changed. so when you're selecting the music that you're going to perform, are you doing it in part because of its social meaning as well as what it represents for you musically? >> yeah. i think that enters into it because you can't separate what it represents musically from what it represents socially. they kind of blend together in my mind, in the way that i absorb music. i don't separate the music from the content you are watching talk to al jazeera. more in a minute.
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someone asks you what is your legacy as a musician, how would you describe cassandra wilson's legacy to music? >> i love what you said earlier about being a peace maker. i think that's a very important part of who i am and what i do is bringing disparate elements together and realising common ground. i think it's important to do that musically and i think it's important for us to do that in the world. so i want to be remembered for doing that and i also want to be remembered for the spirituality, tapping into spirituality inside of the music. that's very important i understand you're teaching workshops. >> we have begun to do workshops at the yellow scarf in jackson
mississippi. we take on young children who are interested in music, try to teach them about the industry and music. it's not just learning about working with the notes and tones, it is also about how to carry yourself in the marketplace. that's a very important thing to me now it has been my honor to have the opportunity to interview my home girl and one of my favorite artists, the fabulous legendary cassandra wilson >> thank you. my >> singer / songwriter natalie merchant. >> i became fully human when i became a mother. >> devoted community activist. >> people become victimized by their circumstances. >> revelations about her new solo album. >> i was just trying to make music that transferred what was in my heart to other people.
>> i lived that character. >> we will be able to see change. >> today, a fascinating poll of american muslims was alsod, asking about religious identity. american identity, political identity, civil engagement, and it found that muslim americans answered those questions like americans. during the hotly contested primary season, a look at a small and fascinating group of american voters. muslim and american. it's the "inside story".