I got on the Amy Winehouse love parade pretty early, and I’ve listened to Back to Black so many times that I almost feel like I know her. When I see her videos on VH1 Soul, it makes me happy for the Winehouse. And so when Concrete Loop did a feature on her recently, I was really excited. It was yet another sign that Amy Winehouse was breaking big stateside.
The post compared her to Lauryn Hill, and included a quote from Questlove of the Roots: “this is the album that Lauryn Hill wanted to make.” Apparently, them’s fighting words.
As of this post there were 258 comments from fans and haters alike, many mad about the comparison to L Boogie. Personally, I don’t like when any artist is labeled as “the next” anyone. I remember being even more annoyed back in 2000, to hear Lauryn Hill called “the next Bob Marley.” There willl never be another Bob, or another Lauryn. Having said that — Amy Winehouse did a pretty little awesome cover of That Thing in a recent live performance, and I happen to think she did Lauryn proud.
On The Loop’s second Amy Winehouse post, commenters were calling her an exploiter of black culture, still complaining about the Lauryn Hill comparison, and questioning her soul credibility. I had to jump in at that point. Amy Winehouse might be all strung out on God knows what, she might be getting too much hype and too much press, and she might be too retro for all tastes. But true talent deserves to be recognized.
To me, a major sign of Amy Winehouse’s soul street cred is her backing band. When Amy Winehouse plays live, she’s been backed up by The Dap-Kings. And The Dap-Kings are the usual backing band for Sharon Jones, who is 110 pounds of sweet soul excitement. Winehouse has been spotted backstage at Sharon Jones shows, and that’s invaluable mentoring for an up and coming singer who’s really serious about soul music. So if you don’t know about Sharon Jones yet, pull up a chair with your girl Afrobella. We’re about to take a musical journey.
There must be something about Augusta Georgia. Great musicians like James Brown, Alice Smith, and Sharon Jones came up in the town and steeped their voices in the church. Like Sharon says, â€œOnce you get moved by the Spirit, you just gotta let it out and share it with the people!”
Sharon Jones moved to New York City in the height of the disco and funk movement of the Seventies, and became a successful backup vocalist. By the Eighties, her sound was out of fashion. To make ends meet, she worked as a corrections officer at Rikers Island.
Her talent wasn’t rediscovered until 1996, when she won acclaim across the pond. English fans labeled her the “queen of funk,” and she signed with the Dap Kings in 2002. You can experience real soul singing with her first Daptones album, Dap Dippin With the Dap Kings. But her real energy is even more apparent when she performs live. Sharon Jones is known for bringing that old school James Brown flava. She isn’t afraid to preach her politics on stage, neither. And I respect her for that.
Now here’s the kicker. I gotta keep it real with you all — I had no idea who Sharon Jones was until last year, when my friend Calvin introduced me to her. His enthusiasm made me give her album a try, and I haven’t turned back.
If you want to see Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings in concert and you don’t live in a big metropolitan city like New York or San Francisco, you might have to trek to traditionally Caucasian hippie fests like Bumbershoot in Seattle, or South Florida’s own Langerado Festival. When I saw her on the lineup this year, I was dying to go. But that was the birthday weekend, when I was in NYC. I’m still dying to see Sharon Jones live. This review by SF Gate really makes her live performance sound like an experience not to be missed. But lots of people are missing out on some Sharon Jones. Especially in the black community.
Although Sharon Jones hails from the classic tradition of soul singers, she doesn’t get nearly as much love and recognition as she deserves. This was discussed intelligently over at Soul-Sides.com. (Soul-Sides is one of my favorite sites, and if you’re really into music you should bookmark it now.)
The writer, O.W, says: “What I want to say right now is that it does bear the question: would Winehouse seem as intriguing if not for her British + Whiteness? Coincidentally, I recently interviewed none other than Sharon Jones, who rightfully deserves recognition as the pioneering retro-soul singer for our era, and though she had nothing negative to say about the woman who’s currently touring with the band she normally rocks with, Jones did note that she finds it disappointing that she’s never enjoyed the same level of media attention as a lot of these new soul singers coming out of the UK (most of whom, notably, are young, handsome/pretty and White). The fact that Jones is a Black woman in her 50s does make a difference here – in being seen as more authentic, she’s also less a novelty (though her age does put her into a different generation entirely) and thus less likely to have a platoon of publications trying to profile her with the same fervor that Winehouse as enjoyed. Is there some kind of double standard going on here? Yeah – absolutely.”
I completely agree with the writer in the sense that Sharon Jones’ age has worked against her in terms of gaining national popularity. If she was 25 and just coming out the gates with that sound, I am sure she’d be the next big thing. But the nature of the music biz is to overlook the foundation-setters and promote what’s next, what’s hot. And this happens to quite a few really talented black artists — the audience that’s coming out to show them love in concert and at the record stores isn’t necessarily their own people.
I noticed it first when I went to see Robert Randolph and the Family Band. Talk about a band you’ll probably never see on BET. I was one of very few black people in the audience, and all of the other brothers and sisters were on stage, rocking out as part of the band. (Interestingly, Robert Randolph’s new album is called Colorblind).
I noticed the same thing when I went to see A Tribe Called Quest last year — aside from some backpacker rap fans, over 60% of the audience was white. Same when I went to see George Clinton and P Funk at the same venue, and I have heard similar reports about recent local performances by Slick Rick, Wu Tang, and The Roots.
What does this all mean? I prefer to see it in a glass half full kind of way. To me, it means that hip hop, soul, and funk have truly become universal. A lot of traditionally black music is getting mad love and respect from white, hipster audiences, and I am sure the artists themselves aren’t complaining that much — as long as the ticket money is still green. But it does mean that these artists remain more or less undiscovered and unappreciated by mainstream black audiences, and you might as well forget about urban radio airplay.
There are so many factors that could possibly explain the Sharon Jones phenomenon — a lack of big record company dollars equals a lack of big media hype. Her age is a factor, definitely. Even though the verve and the energy is still there, the kind of soul music that Sharon Jones plays seems to have lost favor among the majority of young black people today.
It will take a lot more thought to unpack all of the possible causes for the audience and attention that Sharon Jones gets, versus that of Amy Winehouse. But at the end of it all, real recognizes real and I’m glad there’s a crossover between this older, established artist and the new hotness. If it brings any additional attention to Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, then I’d say it’s all good. They both get my feet tapping and my hips moving. And I’m gonna do my part to fly the Sharon Jones flag high, and to shine a spotlight on some of these bad-ass soul sistas who are out there performing under the radar. We’re bringing real soul music back to the people, can I get a witness?
The most perfect Sharon Jones performance to share would have been this appearance on Conan O’Brien, but I STILL don’t know how to embed Dailymotion videos into WordPress. Any tech advice would be much appreciated. For now, check out the video below to get an idea of this woman’s energy and talent. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings live at Southpaw in 2005. How sweet it is.
Sharon Jones, you are just beyond bad. Nuff respect to you, you’re Afrobella of the Week!