Canonized, marginalized or just scrutinized, Meshell Ndegeocello has given up trying to explain herself. After 20 years in an industry that has called her everything from Avant Garde to a dying breed, what unquestionably remains is the fearsome bassist, prolific songwriter and the creativity and curiosity of an authentic musical force. With that, she has earned critical acclaim, the unfailing respect of fellow players, songwriters and composers, and the dedication of her diverse, unclassifiable fans.
Devilís Halo (2009), Meshellís eighth album and her first for Mercer Street, harkens back to the way records used to be made - no click track or electronic synthetics, with a focus on musicianship and live band energy. Meshell feels that Devilís Halo represents a return to a place that she truly appreciates, music that is created and performed by peopleís hands. Produced by Meshell and guitarist Chris Bruce, and influenced by a wide breadth of sounds - from The Human League to Wu Tang to Yes - Devilís Halo displays Meshellís vocals and diversity throughout.
Meshell says of Devilís Halo, ďI guess Iíve ended up believing in the gray area, the dichotomies and the unknowable. This record is all about contrast - then and now, raw and polished, beats and harmonies, Devilís Halo, good in evil in all things. I know some people want more of what theyíve heard and I know other people want the envelope pushed every time and I feel like this record makes peace with all of themĒ. She adds, ďI love heavy bass and dub and beats, but I also sit and play the piano and write a song inspired by a pub in Dublin. Iím not representing anymore - Iím a musician, thatís all I can offer. Each record is just meant to say: hereís where thatís led me today.Ē
Meshell Ndegeocello was born Michelle Johnson in Berlin, Germany and raised in Washington DC. By the early Ď90s, she had landed in New York armed with a demo recorded in her bedroom, joined the Black Rock Coalition, and was soon signed to Madonnaís label. Her records, eight to date, have offered lyrical ruminations on race, love, sex, betrayal, God, and power, and she has simultaneously embraced and challenged listeners with her refusal to be pigeon-holed musically or personally. Meshell has been both celebrated and berated for her politically charged lyrics, sexual boundary crossing, and for choosing the road less traveled - a winding adventure through her own musical ambitions rather than the industry formulas.
A vast array of influences have informed all of her albums, including Devilís Halo, and there are traces of her native go-go, hip hop, rock, R&B, new wave and punk in each. Each album has been a step away from the last, each used as a chance to investigate and integrate new sounds and ideas, and fans have been treated to everything from the deep-funk of Plantation Lullabies to the raw and confessional Bitter to the hip-hop loving Cookie. Possessed with instrumental gifts as diverse as her interests, Meshell composed, arranged and produced a jazz record in 2005.
A bass player above all else, Meshell brings her signature warm, fat, and melodic groove to everything she does and has appeared alongside the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Alanis Morrisette, James Blood Ulmer, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Tony Allen, John Medeski, Billy Preston, and Chaka Khan. As for her own bass-playing influences, she credits Sting, Jaco Pastorius, Family Man Barrington, and Stevie Wonder. Meshell was the first woman to be featured on the cover of Bass Player magazine and remains one of few women who lead the band and write the music.
Her ninth album in 20 years, Weather (2011) finds the eclectic songwriter expanding on her iconic style, a lush album of intimate songwriting. Produced by Grammy-winner Joe Henry (Aimee Mann, Solomon Burke, Ani DiFranco), Weather is the latest addition to Meshellís diverse catalog. A strikingly organic record, the album finds Meshell experimenting with the sparse, orchestral melodies paired with thoughtful lyrics, all performed by a band of fearsome musicians. The album also features all-star collaborations with the likes of Chris Connelly (ex-Revolting Cocks, Ministry), Benji Hughes, and Joe Henry.