Chapter Two


“Ethos is a Greek word meaning "character" that is used to describe the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology. The Greeks also used this word to refer to the power of music to influence emotions, behaviours, and even morals.” - Wikipedia

Collaboration – not stardom or cocksure display – is at the center of her ethos. While she has played – exquisite - backup to dozens of well-known performers, she has also forged an ongoing conversation with numerous longtime collaborators including Chris Bruce on guitar, Jebin Bruni on keyboards, and Abe Rounds on drums and percussion, as well as Steve Coleman, Oliver Lake, Jason Moran, Sanford Biggers, Walter Kitundu, Matana Roberts, Toshi Reagon, Marc Ribot, Deantoni Parks, John Cale, Charlotte Braithwaite…
“Meshell Ndegeocello is a band,”
she has said multiple times.
“I feel that musicians are in a fellowship, and that fellowship is a responsibility.”
“…I realized that the collective – the places you can get to harmonically if everyone is playing together and creating a tapestry – seemed much more interesting than having these ‘guns blazing’ kind of musicians…” [With this ‘cooperative aesthetic’] everyone has their part and if we all do it, then the collective larger picture will be much better. Then you’re not doing it for you. You’re doing it for the listener. [And for] the greater cosmic thing if you want to believe in that too.”
Inspired by those that have come before her – by poets such as Countee Cullen, June Jordan, and Claude McKay, and texts like speech by Angela Davis – you might say that Ndegeocello has “collaborated” in time as well as in present spaces.
She has described the influence of Gil Scott-Heron and spoken word:
“For a musician, it was the first time I had seen that sort of spoken word style with such interesting music that borderlined on improv.”
Ideas emerge from within as well as without.
“…when I'm not listening to other people's music, I hear all these other things in my head…I'm just constantly hearing melodies or grooves or structures. Not words, but just instrumental vignettes inside of my mind.”
Through her poetic storytelling and spare, fierce, and tender lyrics, what does she write about?
Sexual desire.
Power dynamics surrounding race, gender, sexuality, class and religion.
Drug overdoses.
Women’s empowerment.
Homophobia in the black church.
The complexity and radical power relationships and love. 
She makes music that moves straight into your blood and your bones.


Here, two descriptions of her sound and effect:

“The dark, breathy quality of her voice, tied to her pensive bass and poignant lyrics, turn each of her songs into part atonement, part lament and part seduction” [4]

“[Her] political audacity…spiritual beauty…brutal honesty and nakedness…intergalactic funkiness…wicked sense of humor…deep sense of history, and her glaring humility…” [5]

“Classical musicians live by the music that's written, and somehow bring their own personality into it. I approach covers the same way. I think I love doing covers, ‘cause it allows me to…take really good songs…and just filter them through my imagination.”
Known for her arresting covers that are, at once, a kind of collaboration and resuscitation, Ndegeocello has revisioned songs by Prince, Tina Turner, Sade, Marvin Gaye, George Clinton, Hector Lavoe, Fela Kuti, Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, Gil Scott-Heron. Someone likened her covers to “revelatory improvisation, in the spirit of John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things."
Ndegeocello’s most recent tribute album is Pour une âme souveraine: a dedication to Nina Simone.
“…I just try to concentrate on the music, that's why I called it a dedication. I wanted to make something that shows an appreciation for all the amazing music that Nina Simone did. It's not a reenactment or a retelling of anything…”
“…doing the Nina Simone [work] was being able to take other people's words and bring them to life out of my body…”
Bringing it Home

“…For each of us as women, there is a dark place within where hidden and growing our true spirit rises…These places of possibility within ourselves are dark because they are ancient and hidden; they have survived and grown strong through darkness. Within these deep places, each one of us holds an incredible reserve of creativity and power, of unexamined and unrecorded emotion and feeling…”

Audre Lorde


“…I have tried in new ways, with new rage and hope, to connect to whomever is listening, and to underline, capture, express, and illuminate stories that might engage and bring in, create understanding or empathy, comfort and explain. I am certain some will fail and others succeed. But there is much living in the attempts, in the trying…”
– Meshell Ndegeocello
Here, then, some of the great attempts:
Ventriloquism (2018)
Comet, Come to Me (2014)
Pour une âme souveraine: a dedication to Nina Simone (2012)
Weather (2011)
Devil’s Halo (2009)
The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams (2007)
Dance of the Infidel (2005)
Comfort Woman (2003)
Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape (2002)
Bitter (1999)
Peace Beyond Passion (1996)
Plantation Lullabies (1993)



4. Salamishah Tillet

5. Claudrena N. Harold

from "No More Water | The Fire Next Time: The Gospel According to James Baldwin"
Park Avenue Armory, 2018 (c) Da Ping Luo. Directed by Charlotte Brathwaite


from "No More Water | The Fire Next Time: The Gospel According to James Baldwin"
Park Avenue Armory, 2018 (c) Da Ping Luo. Directed by Charlotte Brathwaite


See me on the Sea, from "No More Water | The Fire Next Time: The Gospel According to James Baldwin"


"Comet, Come to Me : A Journey into Meshell Ndegeocello's Work
"Directed, Produced & Edited by... Karen B. Song Starring... Meshell Ndegeocello Featuring... Christopher Bruce, Guitar Jebin Bruni, Keyboard Abe Rounds, Drum Paul Bryan, Bass The 2014 Naïve Label Album Release of ""Comet, Come To Me,"" Produced by Meshell Ndegeocello & Christopher Bruce Executive Produced by Alison Riley"
Shopping For Jazz (Official Video)

Meshell Ndegeocello - On The Name of The Album 'Comet, Come to Me' (Interview)

Me'Shell Ndegéocello - Bitter
from the Album Bitter (1999)
“I have this belief, now, that a song is just the lyric, the melody, and the beat. I feel like those are the things that connect with the people…To me music is audible collage and I’m just trying to make all the colors and shapes work.”
Tender Love - Meshell Ndegeocello - 4/28/2018
Live, from the Album Ventriloquism (2018)
Meshell Ndegeocello - Waterfalls (Official Video)
Directed by Damani Baker Produced by Inga Eiriksdottir – Iceland Creatives Director of Photography - Thor Eliasson Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir/ Shoplifter - styling & wardrobe Photographer - Kári Sverriss – Iceland Creatives Edited by Damani Baker & Jon Fine Color - Shawn King Fx - Ben Weaver CAST Rekah Selvam – Australia/India - volunteer with the Red Cross Karim Birimumaso - Uganda - living in Iceland Muhammed - Africa - Asylum seeker/ Refugee Bella Gunnarsdóttir - Iceland Þorgerður Edda Eiriksdottir - Iceland - Daniel Thors - Iceland Guðbjörg Guðmundsdóttir - Iceland Ragnheiður Caroline Kessler – Iceland/NY Joshua Kessler - NY Bryndis Guðnadóttir - Iceland Judith Rapp - Germany - Neitah Eckerlin - Germany Sandra Smithers - Mexico Asanteva Feaster – New York The United Nations University Gender Equality Studies and Training Programme (UNU-GEST) Fellows Harriet Achieng – Uganda Sophia Nabukenya – Uganda Luca Lazovic – Serbia Andrea Jovanovic – Serbia Tereza Vujovsevic – Montenegro Amira Khader – Palestine Marwa Kouki – Lebanon Maaref Fadel – Lebanon Marko Matovic - Bosnia Mercy Chaluma – Malawi Chinenye John - Nigeria Rosa Maria De Lurdes - Mozambique Ahed Sboui Hedhili – Tunisia Mahmood Yama Namjo - Afghanistan Cecilia Sibambo – Mozambique Joas Carlos - Mozambique Frida Amuron - Uganda Hlynur Már Bagguley Árnason - Iceland Elva Rut Guðlaugsdóttir – dancer and founder of Plie dans school Eydís Arna Kristjánsdóttir – dancer and founder of Plie dans school -- Waterfalls [TLC] (Marqueze Ethridge / Lisa Nicole Lopes / Patrick L. Brown / Raymon Ameer Murray / Rico Renard Wade) © EMI April Music Inc. / Belt Star Music / Tizbiz Music LLC admin. par Roynet / Hitco Music / Organized Noize Music Courtesy of BMG Rights Management, EMI Music Publishing & French Fried Music

Make Me Wanna Holler
from the Album, Peace Beyond Passion (1996)