In a year of crisis—medical, spiritual, financial, and racial—music is more important than ever. For our minds and souls. Y’all Don’t (Really) Care About Black Women follows in the footsteps of Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Dinah Washington and contemporaries like Kandace Springs, Shirley Crabbe, and Catherine Russell (etc.). Charles makes new and makes music her own way. So many sounds, soul, funk, jazz, pop blend together so well under this singer’s watchful eye.
With the second track, “Perdido (Reimagined),” the theme of reinvention is enacted. Cut and paste-like. It is a fun and creative remix of sorts working off Dinah Washington’s version and expanding it with her own voice. Like a disc jockey playing around with a record at a club, Charles plays around with rhythm and timing, subverting the traditional version. This is not only an act of homage but of defiance as well, of wonderful rebellion. For years women may have dominated jazz vocalese, but perhaps they have gotten the credit, the recognition that their male counterparts have received. Well, this album is a great example of poetic license and reclaiming familiar tunes and melodies.
The funky spirit work to great effect. It livens up old tunes and gives voice to Charles’ (and many other female artists’) grievances with the industry. As with Audre Lorde’s “Poetry Is Not a Luxury,” music is also not a luxury. It is a creative force, a force to bring people together, to change minds and lives. The sixth track, “Pay Black Women Interlude,” adds to this discourse by suggesting that it is also an activity that needs to be paid for. It’s not free; it can be, but in a Western Capitalist society it isn’t—it just can’t be. (It shouldn’t be…)
“Woman of the Ghetto” was originally written in 1969, sung by Marlena Shaw. Charles funkifies it and adds her own vocal energies and electronic effects to the injustices recited in the lyrics. Though to some these “intrusions” may seem disjointed, they are actually very precise and are meant to surprise and disrupt. By cutting and pasting her own versions within the original track, Charles blends the female voices together and strengthens, reinforces the composition. It is still a debate whether this sort of “erasure” (as it is called in the literary world) is ethical. Does it not just use bits and pieces of someone else’s work and say: here’s a new song, all my own? Well, Melanie Charles is the last person, I think, to think that way. She is celebrating and bringing to the forefront issues of black struggles and female struggles through song.
Y’all Don’t (Really) Care About Black Women is cutting and digs deep. It wants us to (really) think about how we think about artists and about race and about gender. At the same time, this album is energetic and enjoyable because it is music with soul and spirit. It is playful in a sincere way that engages the listener on multiple levels. (“Spell on You” by Ours Samplus similarly reimagines Nina Simone’s song in this sort of way.) Though there is a sort of disturbing undertone to these tracks—through repeated cut sound clips and fading and isolating sound—this only highlights the worrisome negligence from audiences and from society when considering “Black American Music.” With this release, Melanie Charles makes new and honors the old.