www.jazzdimensions.de: jazz, worldmusic, songwriting & more
home / interviews / portraits / 2006

Jocelyn B. Smith - "Girl, you go!"

Jocelyn B. Smith is back to her roots: A long journey passing through different phases well documented by her annual CD-publications. And as well visualized by her ever changing hairstyle, each fitting perfectly to her present mood and album, like a butterfly stripping off its cocoon, each time slowly emerging to something very beautiful and always different. With her new album "Phenomenal Woman", Jocelyn returned to Curtis Mayfield and the cover-photo she consequently provokes with an 'Afro', the old symbol of Afro-American rebellion ...

Jocelyn B. Smith

Carina: "Phenomenal Woman" is the title of your new album and also the title of a poem written by Maya Angelou. In what way do you feel connected to Maya Angelou? Is she a sort of hero for you, an idol or an inspiration?

Jocelyn: Let's start with women. For every black woman, for every African-American woman, Maya Angelou represented a doorway for us to walk through. She was very big in the 60s and the 70s, very active and her reputation, it lives on. It's still there. And I am glad that I was awake enough to see that as a possibility to go through the consciousness of the black women in today's society. It is a little bit different from the European women, it is different from the American women. I mean, women, we stand together anyway: But I would say, in all honesty, every culture has a different duty for the people that belong to their group.

This poem that I have picked, in reading through it, reminded me again of what Maja stood for. She was never this model, this type of show-person. So this kind self-consciousness – not in a negative form, but the self-awareness what she always had and what she was able to put into verbal and word form – I got in touch with that again: What I need to see when I look in that mirror - and it's not just the make-up and the beauty, but to understand from how long we have come and how long this journey has been. And the beauty and all of the things that one cannot find words: what it means to be a black woman at this time, what it means to be a black woman abroad in Europe. And that respect that some of us will loose in this business unfortunately. In this music-industry we sell ourselves just to stay on the top.

And not to forget what it has taken ... – the integrity, that it has taken for us to get these steps! And for us to hold the steps and hold the growth that we have acquired over this time. – So when I read that poem she reminded me of how strong we were, what it means to be alive. The beauty that is in us, so innately, the beauty that we have and also this beautiful warm side. Not only the black woman, of course. But her poem was talking about phenomenal women: what we do have, and to always look for that balance between our strength and our beauty – that's how I phrase it.

Jocelyn B. Smith - "Phenomenal Woman"

Carina: The poem is not included in the booklet - one stanza says

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
I say, it's in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman.

... being a woman, how important is it to keep for oneself a female view on the world around us? What is your favorite stanza or verse of the poem? What is the important message for you behind that poem?

Jocelyn: My experience has changed now since I have had two children. That means that ... – I am not saying that every woman's value becomes more or less because of children: But it separates the experience. I also don't say a woman without children has had less experience. But from my point of view, what has happened is that there is so much hidden from the outside. A woman's world, her universe, grows from the inside with these children.

The work becomes more intimate, the growing becomes intimate. And for us it is not to underestimate the value of that growths. There is a lot of women that you see physically on the street – and you have no idea of what they are moving in their communities, inside of their circles. And still to remain respectful and to love and honor also this quiet picture which you might see from another woman – because you have no idea, where she has left her fingerprints – and enjoy this silent way that most of us have chosen now to walk.

And that part of Maja's poem – she said, "men tried to figure out what my secret is", you know, because they don't understand – it's not a glamour model face or whatever. It's just that the magic and the mystery is on the inside. And while one stays in touch it will keep growing and growing. And now I realize myself – with so many years behind – , taking care of children, how important it has been for the women who have.

Because women have come out right to the front row. We have so many women that are in the government, that are working in very active positions, moving things. And I think, it gets even more move because of the experience that one has had – in this community-circle, in that church-circle, in that cultural circle! And I am thankful for that. All of this I perceived when I reread Maja's poem.

Carina: Nearly every of your album covers seems to show you with a new hairstyle. Is that of importance to you - each album a new outfit and something left behind?

Jocelyn: I have explained this maybe before in the past - this is the typical craziness of the leo-woman. It's very clear that I have gone through another change. And – o.k., let's say it on the humorous side – what I saw: everybody, right now (and this is no offence to you), is wearing their hair "glatt". Everyone is going "glatt", man. Naomi is "glatt". Janet, Anastacia, Sarah, they are all "glatt, glatt, glatt!"- Christina: "glatt", Jennifer Lopez: "glatt". And I said, o.k., wait a second: I need the other side – let me get some curls in this picture! Just like "wilde Locken". And the music was this way connected to a retro-soul with a meaning behind it.

Because, we currently have the neo-soul-wave, we have this "German Neo-Soul", but there is nobody, who is coming from the old school. So I wanted to put the old school together with some of the new school. And I said, well, come on, this is definitely the time for an afro. You know, when I saw Erykah Badu's afro, I said, girl you go! The afro that Erykah wore on the concert was over one and a half meters wide. I mean, that was bigger than Billy Preston's afro! And he had a big afro, then. It was so great, you could not go over that point of what the afro, what it symbolizes: Everything! The afro was the sixties, and the seventies. And there is a lot of information in that afro – not just the "frizzy" hair, but the rebellion and the radical side that it had represented. So Erykah put that up in your face.

You know, I didn't have such a big afro, but something that I could really work with. It just feels good ... anyway!

Jocelyn B. Smith

Carina: New experiences in life, experiments and a new approach to music – like on "Phenomenal Woman" where you appear to coquet with rock music – are they the greatest challenge in life?

Jocelyn: The greatest challenge in life – the musical differences, or...?

Carina: ... new experiences.

Jocelyn: New experiences – I look for that, just, where one would see it. "Oh, Jocelyn changed her hair again": you know, the hair is just the end-result. It's all the information that got me to the hair – if you want to put it like that: The journey to the hair. For you to make a decision to change your outfit, to change your styling, that means that you are really working on the base information, the base construct of your personality. That doesn't mean that anything is wrong: It means that I am not in fear, nor am I fearful of personal development. I have no fear in letting old things go.

And this is the beautiful opportunity, the luxury that I have – for making a record each year: I get a chance to go through a personal development, a personal discovery. Maybe some complain: "Yeah, but you change and the style is changing!" But the routine kills me, I need that space. And I think it has become apparently clear for a lot of us now with the way that the society, the economy and everything is going ... – Thank goodness, that have allowed myself as a human being and as a woman the freedom of personal development! And to allow it to change, to leave space for a spontaneity.

You know, you "can die out there:" The way everything is changing, you have to be ready. That means, that you have to be flexible. And in the flexibility you allow change. And I enjoy this, this is the biggest challenge for me. Because as you let go you have to leave room for something new to come in. So that means you gonna be challenged. Maybe you are a little insecure when you are confronted with something new. Fear is only in that first second, when you have the confrontation. But then you have to let it go – I have been doing it for so many years that it is o.k. – to let it go and just fly on the next level.

Carina: "Move on up", Curtis Mayfield's motivation-hymn is also part of your new album. The movement of the black people, that stands behind the lyrics (Jocelyn: Yes!) – was that also part of your motivation (Jocelyn: Yes!) to take this song on the album?

Jocelyn: Oh, now we are getting to the point! These are the steps to the "Frisur". Curtis Mayfield was the voice of the sixties. Without him we would have died. We had him and Isaac Hayes, you know, and some other beautiful mentors – I can't grab all the names right now. What I did, I brought in the sound from the soundtrack of "The Matrix", and put this guitar and this edge inside of the mix of Curtis Mayfield's song. The plot of "The Matrix" has a lot of parallels to what Curtis Mayfield did forty years ago: That we have to look at what politically has happened to us as a people. Where we have lost ourselves because of the outside information coming in, taking away your humanness, ruining your humanness, paralyzing us.

Because you can't move on when you can't let it go. The information that sometimes comes in over the TV, over the newspaper sounds really big. But a lot of us have not learned how to discern. Discern means to "find the white and the black" of it, and where you stand inside of that and what you can do for yourself – inside of that. Curtis used to say: "You got to make up your own mind. Look at what's happening, look at it, it is a reality. You have to see where you being sold." And to bring the awareness of the people, he was speaking to black people, because we knew what was happening in America then.

You know, and so then "Matrix" with Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne – he is amazing in this role! – , that whole message and the information of the story completely relates to what we have heard forty, fifty years ago. So I try to bring these two worlds together for the ones that are fit enough to realize: "Wait a second, something is happening!" Because Curtis didn't sound like that, we symbolically put that matrix-thing on there in the refrains, but we did do the rest of the take "one to one" how Curtis did it in the sixties. And I thought it was appropriate to bring this together.

Jocelyn B. Smith

Carina: Do you have a philosophy for life?

Jocelyn: Wow, oh, you called me off guard! Because this time I really don't have like a "specific" answer. And I think this was always ... what is the problem? You know, some people say: "What is it that you want - can you just nail it on the wall? What is the philosophy?" I would say - since the last interview, that we had – , I have been working clearly more to bring it all in balance, to just find the balance with all the philosophies. Because you can't say one philosophy is better than the other. Even though one philosophy has proven longer to be right or correct, it doesn't mean that it's the only answer.

Because time shapes change. And to be able to go into the next time, to go in to the next movement of whatever spiritual dimension we'll feel as a people, as a human community, one has to be open to another philosophy. So I would just say: constantly look for the "blind spot" in all of the philosophies. There's always gonna be one that has a little bit "more percentage", but it could also change in the next month or the next season or the next year. And just to be open for that flow!

Carina Prange

Aktuelle CD: "Phenomenal Woman" (Blondell Prod.)

Jocelyn B. Smith in Internet: www.jocelyn.de

Fotos: Jim Rakete

Jazzdimensions-Service in Zusammenarbeit mit MusicLine:
more artist-info / listen to CD at musicline.de
© jazzdimensions2004
erschienen: 22.07.2004
   home | interviews | reviews | clubtermine | tourtermine | festivaltermine | news | links
Sitemap  |   Impressum

live/on tour
Diese Seite drucken/Print this page