D’Angelo’s Age of “Soulquarius” – Part Two

A deeper thread is unraveled when an Aquarius is a Black man. “The key definition, I believe, of being African American…is tied into anti-Blackness,” astrologer Samuel Reynolds explained. “So, an Aquarian Black man is going to be immensely sensitive to how he both functions on that perimeter and also be attentive to others who function in that throwaway space, in those spaces where they’re not visible or heard.”  On Voodoo, D’Angelo touched on those exact themes with cuts like “Devil’s Pie,” “Africa,” and “Greatdayindamornin’.” He embraced masculinity without being poisoned…

D’Angelo’s Age of “Soulquarius” – Part One

Some people dismiss astrology—the analysis of personality and human behavior based on the “sun sign” under which a person is born. But in the late 1990s, a group of striving, nonconforming musicians came together to share ideas and push each other to higher heights. Christened the Soulquarians, this unofficial collective bore enduring music as its fruit, including D’Angelo’s Voodoo, of which I wrote about for the “33 1/3” series. The Soulquarians were formed by D’Angelo, drummer/co-songwriter Ahmir Thompson— better known as Questlove—and other consummate Black male artists delivered under the…

Voodoo: Live from New York

Faith Pennick, author of D’Angelo’s Voodoo, on seeing D’Angelo perform for the first time. Live performances are like power outlets to me. I can plug in and share that surge of electricity the band or singer brings song after song. I had never seen D’Angelo on stage prior to the Voodoo tour.  A good friend in Brooklyn invited me to see him at Radio City Music Hall in March 2000. I was curious about what D’Angelo would be like in concert, and how songs from his just-released album would resonate in…

Catching the Spirit

Faith Pennick, author of D’Angelo’s Voodoo, on how gospel music inspired D’Angelo’s critical acclaim. Like many African American singers who hail from the South, D’Angelo’s foundation is laid in gospel music. Much has been said and written about his R&B influences: artists like Marvin Gaye, Sly and the Family Stone, and his North Star: Prince. But without gospel music, D’Angelo simply would not be D’Angelo. As a child, Michael Archer sang and played keyboards in his father’s and grandfather’s churches in and near his hometown of Richmond, Virginia. He contemplated staying…

Refazenda in a World on Fire

Can Refazenda help us rethink how we approach the world? Can the album inspire radical action in fighting climate change? In 2020, it’s hard to think about Brazil without also thinking about the Amazon, deforestation, and the sad state of our environment.  Though produced nearly a half century ago, Gilberto Gil’s Refazenda (1975) is timely in its insistence for humans to rethink our relationship with nature and the land.  That message, subtle but firm throughout the album, includes frightening visions of our world today but also suggests hopeful ways forward…

Refazenda and Drug Policy in the Americas

About twenty years ago, during a trip home to New Mexico I ran into an old friend from high school. When we got around to talking about work, she told me that she was at a non-profit in Washington D.C., advocating for the legalization of marijuana. I had never really heard anyone talk seriously about legalizing pot, and the fact that my friend was making a career doing that just about blew my mind. Fast forward to January 1, 2020: Illinois (where I now live) becomes the latest state to…

So, why Gilberto Gil’s Refazenda?

Marc Hertzman on his his new addition to 33 1/3 Brazil. During the 1970s, Gilberto Gil produced a remarkable musical trilogy: Refazenda (1975), Refavela (1977), and Realce (1979).  Of the three, Refavela is probably the most popular and widely discussed, and Realce includes, among other hits, a beautiful cover of “No Woman, No Cry,” with Portuguese lyrics.  So, why Refazenda?  Reasons person, political, aesthetic, and intellectual drew me to the album. A couple of chance encounters with Refazenda over the years illustrate the album’s—and Gil’s—larger significance.  I first stumbled upon…