Meshell Ndegeocello is one of the world’s greatest female bass players. Her name is pronounced Mee-shell N-deh-gay-o-chel-o or also known as Meshell Suhaila Bashir-Shakur, was born August 29th 1968. Her electric live performances have scored her incredible music journalism critic reviews and her records have earned her fans worldwide.
Here is a little background about her for those who may not know about this wonderful artist. Meshell NDegeocello was born Michelle Lynn Johnson in Berlin, Germany to father Jacques Johnson and mother Helen Johnson. However, Ndegeocello was raised in Washington, D.C, United States. She attended Duke Ellington School of the Arts and Oxon Hill High School. Her first record deal signing was to Maverick Records, and decided to let art take its stride and change her name from Michelle Lynn Johnson to Meshell Ndegeocello. Meshell’s last name Ndegeocello mean’s “free as a bird” and represents her music well. Meshell is bi-sexual and had a previous relationship with feminist author Rebecca Walker, she suffers from photosensitive epilepsy and is predicted to seizures induced by flash photography at live performances, and in 1989 her song Askia was born.
Having signed and secured a record deal with Maverick, Meshell Ndegeocello was one of the record label’s first ever artists to sign. Previously, she had performed with bands such as Prophecy, Little Bennie, the Masters and Rare Essence. Eventually, Ndegeocello released her debut album Plantation Lullabies out in 1993. The record itself is gritty and soulful flavoured funk music. It offers the music lover thirteen songs, songs such as I’m Diggin’ You (Like an Old Soul Record), If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night), Dred Loc, and other underground gems like Shott’n Up and Gett’n High, Soul On Ice, Outside Your Door, and Sweet Love.
Meshell Ndegeocello’s musicality branches out immensely; she is a singer, songwriter, rapper, bassist, and multi-instrumentalist. Whose music also varies genre to genre, excitingly enough she can create funk, soul, R&B, hip-hop, reggae, rock and jazz. Musicianship does run through her family and her father Jacques Johnson was (is) a saxophonist. To date Meshell NDegeocello has released eight studio albums and one EP. Mostly released on Maverick Records, in 1993 she released her debut album Plantation Lullabies, in 1996 she released her second album Peace Beyond Passion and in 1999 she released her third album Bitter. Then, still on Maverick Records Meshell Ndegeocello released in 2002 Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape, and 2003’s Comfort Woman. After her successful studio album’s released on Maverick Records she switched up her record deal to independent based record label Shanachie Entertainment to release a highly eclectic record The Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of the Infidel in 2005 and then in 2007 she again changed record label to EmArcy to release The World Has Made Me The Man Of My Dreams. Devil’s Halo is the latest musical offering from Meshell Ndegeocello and is very similar to her 1999 Maverick Records third album Bitter. Her EP The Article 3 is a live jazz EP, which showcases her musicianship 100%, and earned herself a new wave of fan bases across the world.
After twenty years of music industry experience under her belt, Meshell Ndegeocello has given up trying to explain herself and leaves it up to her fearsome force as a powerful songwriter, talented bassist, and curious creativity. Many berate her sexually charged and political lyrics, while others celebrate. Each album has stepped away from the last, allowing Meshell’s musicianship to be challenged, explored and identified as a talent to not question but to embrace. Devil’s Halo musically represent traces of her native go-go, hip-hop, rock R&B, new wave and even punk music. Her signature bass playing is warm, fat, and melodic with groove in announces.
Many of the major and independent artists a like admire Meshell Ndegeocello’s music, she has performed alongside Rolling Stones, Madonna, Alanis Morrisette, James Blood Ulmer, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Tony Allen, John Medeski, Billy Preston, and Chaka Khan. As a bassist in her own right, she has gained credits working with Sting and Stevie Wonder to name a few. She was also the first woman to be featured on the front cover of Bass Player Magazine and remains one of the few women in the music business to lead the band and write her own music. As a music fan (without undermining her right as a musician herself) she admires the following artists such as Curtis Mayfield, Joni Mitchell, Ohio Players, Parliament, Prince, Minnie Riperton, Nirvana, Skunk Anansie, Fiona Apple, D’Angelo, No Doubt, Rahsaan Patterson, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Beatles, David Bowie, James Brown, Ron Carter, Eric Clapton, Ornette Coleman, Alice Coltrane, Miles Davis, Earth Wind & Fire, Robert Flack, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, The Gap Band, Larry Graham, Al Green, Herbie Hancock, Donny Hathaway, Isaac Hayes, Jimi Hendrix, Rufus & Chaka Khan, Last Poets, Led Zepplein, Bob Marley and many more.
Words by Matthew Daniel