Tasha Jones has worked on a spoken word tribute to Nina Simone for the last five years.
“I am kind of a perfectionist maybe, I don’t know,” laughs Jones. “This is something I have been working on for a while. I love the audaciousness of Nina Simone. … She shared a lot of what was happening in her community and for her people. I love that component of that. I love the component of the poetry and the imagery that she set.”
For Jones it’s words that need to be spoken now more than ever. She mentions “Mississippi Goddamn” as an example.
“I think that this is a time where it’s almost reminiscent of the period where she wrote it,” says Jones. “… Seventy years after that we are still needing to write these types of materials. It says something about the country… and those of us who want change and want a revolution and pushing and standing and protesting for that kind of thing.”
NUVO spoke with Jones about the story and timing behind her work.
Emily Taylor: In what ways have you seen her writing and her music become so prominent right now?
She will always be present, because her words and her music was transcendent right? It wasn’t for a particular culture… it was human. I do think that also she was very clear with the way she wrote her words and sang. … I just think the time is so right for Nina Simone and the audaciousness of her voice, and her pen and her fingertips. To have so much political courage — we need that. We need people of courage… Everybody can’t just watch and pull out their phones.
Emily: As an artist how do you see your role in humanity [as a writer and spoken word artist]?
I think Mari Evans said it best, it’s my job to speak the truth to the people. You have to speak the truth to the people. And the truth does not enslave. It’s not loud. It’s not ever revolving. It’s the truth, it’s not an alternative fact. (laughs) So I do that… It’s an alternate way to see how we can live together.
Emily: You started this project five years ago. What sparked it for you?
To be honest with you, I was trying to learn the piano. I love music, and my whole life seems like it’s been revolving around this empowerment push for women to be stronger, to be better, to be greater. … I am saying that my competition is not based on one thing that a physical essence of the way that you look or the way I look. Or who you are with and who I am with. My competition is for me to be better, for me to be more humane, for me to be a better woman. And that I push you also, in competition, — to be a better woman, a better you, a whole you.
So when I started deepening my knowledge of who I am, of what I was going through at the time, it seems like that as an artist you have this extreme high as an artist… and some of those times are the lowest times with family. … Without those experiences, how then can you write so you can heal yourself and then heal somebody after that? Five years ago, I began to study Nina Simone and the choices that she made, because I was in the middle of a life choice for myself. She made a choice to say, I have to do this for my art and for what I am here for. I am not really for sure if at the time she felt like she would or would not get blacklisted, or if she realized the consequences. … That being on a national TV and telling people that you are going to burn like flies for the way you are treating me and my people was a very audacious thing to do. So audacious that they are going to say, you are never going to work in this city again. Then what happens to your livelihood? What happens to your children? How can you afford your child? … You have spoke truth to power, and who does that? Who does that at their job? Who does that without worrying about the consequences? Studying that and the women who make those kinds of choices — you understand what your path has to be. That’s what happened to me.
Emily: What was it that kept you from sharing this series until now?
If I am still emotional over something then it’s just for me. I have to get to the point where I can get through it. It took that amount of time to get through it. I am okay with that. That time was needed to write ... What if everybody tomorrow wakes up with an afro? Would it be an issue? Everyone in the United States has to look European, I can’t get a job if I don’t. I can be a president if I don’t… What if everyone woke up tomorrow and took on my culture? ... If everyone wore a dashiki. Everybody. What if that was okay? What if that was the norm? What if everyone had to run out and get what I looked like? … It’s those type of things where I am finally okay with the work. I don’t get emotional. The work is not an illusion bundling and questioning. I am resolved and I am satisfied with it. It’s ready because I’m ready.