What to make of this little firecracker with the giant afro and wicked bass playing? When Esperanza Spalding walks on stage or comes across your radio, it’s hard to know exactly what is going to happen. The title of her new single “Black Gold” is a hint though. Ms. Spalding is going historical on the world. And she’s doing it with equal parts sly soul, smooth jazz and all around block party goodness.
You remember Ms. Spalding don’t you? I’m sure Justin Bieber fans do. They took to Twitter with a vengeance after her surprise win at last year’s Grammy Awards, taking home the Best New Artist award that according to the majority of teenage girls out there rightfully belonged to The Biebs. But they were wrong. Listen to Questlove kids. He knew what was up. Talking to the Village Voice after Spalding’s surprise win, Questlove said “Man. I felt like I won. When they announced her, the collective gasp in the room...us, B.o.B, Janelle [Monae] just stood up and said, ‘HOLY SHIT! Really?’ That was the greatest moment ever.” In the days following the Grammys Questlove was one of many artists who took to Twitter, denouncing the venom coming from the malls of America and praising Spalding on her win, proclaiming how happy he was that the secret of Esperanza Spalding was out. Last summer Spalding played the Roots’ Picnic in Philadelphia, backed by the very own Legendary Roots Crew themselves.
On February 1st, the start of Black History Month, Spalding dropped “Black Gold,” a song off of her upcoming album Radio Music Society, an album that aims to introduce her to a wider audience with a little less jazz and a little more pop. The song is delightful in the way that soup on a chilly winter day is delightful or cold lemonade on a sizzling summer day hits the spot. Oh it’s smooth baby. It’s funk so succinctly in the pocket that you can’t help but groove when listening to it. Spalding has (hopefully only) briefly put aside the acoustic bass, trading it for an electric and weaves her silky vocals in and out of those of her partner in crime on the tune, singer Algebra Blessett.
Lyrically “Black Gold” is a reminder about the glory of Africa and the dynamic history that the continent has. It’s a positive tune and at one point Spalding sings “Think of all the strength you have in you/ from the blood you carry within you/ Ancient Man/ Powerful Man/ Builders of civilization.” Spalding also released a video for the song, featuring her drummer and collaborator Otis Brown III teaching his two young boys a much longer and more meaningful history of Africa than the one they learned in school that day. For Brown, it’s not good enough for his sons to simply know that Africa has 86 countries of the continent. He wants them to know about the arts that came from there and the origins of democracy, science and math that were birthed on its soil. Outside, Spalding and her band play what looks like the most polite block party ever and are soon joined by Brown and his sons as the crowd breaks into a sing-a-long.
Spalding issued a statement with the release of the song and video, in which she says that the goal of “Black Gold” was “to address the part of our heritage spanning back to pre-colonial Africa and the elements of Black pride that draw from our connection to our ancestors in their own land.” But through her music and the song “Black Gold” Spalding issued another statement- she’s the real deal- a creator of easily accessible jazz/funk with a soaring voice and tremendous grace.
Radio Music Society is scheduled for release on March 20nd on the record label Heads Up International.