After a triumphant two night run at the world famous Apollo Theater, Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding returns to New York City armed with her bass, and a message. The prodigy from Portland will headline “A Night of Freedom,” an intimate concert at City Winery on December 4, with featured vocalists Bobby McFerrin and Gretchen Parlato, to benefit the Free The Slaves organization.
Free The Slaves is a non-for-profit that’s fighting to end slavery and human trafficking all over the world. Spalding was introduced to the organization a couple of years ago and found it easy to get behind the programs efforts to end slavery by addressing the root causes. “I liked that aspect of sustainable emancipation,” Spalding told The Revivalist. “Their mission is to go in and create an environment conducive to maintaining emancipation for the people they go in and help free, so that ideally they can leave and they’re not needed anymore and that the community continues an environment of awareness and education outreach and empowerment for the next generation and families and people who may be vulnerable to falling into the traps of slavery even if it’s hereditary.” The foundation traveled with Spalding during her Radio Music Society tour this past spring and summer for fund-raising and to help raise awareness of the struggles of world-wide slavery and it will come to a head at the City Winery show.
Spalding’s set will be “a mini-retrospective,” concentrating mostly on her 2008 and 2010 albums Esperanza and Chamber Music Society, and will feature the touring band from the latter project. She will, however, be sure to throw in a couple selections from her 2012 hit Radio Music Society, since some of the material thematically lends itself well to the cause. Songs like “Black Gold,” “Vague Suspicions” and “Land of the Free” explore other socio-political subjects that also compelled Spalding to address them melodically and lyrically. The practice of raising social awareness through music is not as prominent as it once has been, but Spalding contends her decision to address these issues in her music was not a conscious plan to get on a soapbox. “I write what I feel at the moment, so I don’t know. I don’t have any master plan of what kinds of songs I will be writing. I do what comes, and take it from there.”
It’s certainly commendable that Spalding seems to be taking advantage of her rising profile by singing about Black pride and institutional injustices while other popular artists are often criticized for not taking similar stances with their art. Spalding, however, concedes that all music of all subjects by any artist is just as relevant. “I hear social issues in most music, whether it’s intended or not,” Spalding explained. “It comes from a human being that’s living in society, so whether it’s intentional like a fighting song or an activism song, you can hear it everywhere.” Regardless of whatever differing lanes she and her contemporaries may take, the bassist believes that every artist has an obligation to be the voice of the people and decipher the mysteries of life. “As artists, we hear different channels that are transmitting throughout the universe and we each sort of pick up a different frequency and that frequency is something that only we can hear and only we can interpret. So, it’s our duty as artists to spend our lives, dedicate ourselves to cultivating and trying to bring to reality, in a format that other people can hear too, those signals.”
In addition to Spalding’s set, McFerrin and Parlato will also being performing their material as well, and Spalding says both singers are also down for the cause. Since 2000, the Free The Slaves organization has spread to over 600 communities worldwide – including countries such as Haiti, Brazil and Ghana – and Spalding hopes to further their fight by educating through music and feels that if she can help fans to “wrap our heads one eighth of the way around what it would mean to be enslaved, I think as soon as that reality is slipped home, even slightly, we’ll be moved.”
Words by Matthew Allen (@headphoneaddict)
Date: Tuesday 12/4/12
Time: 6pm Doors/8pm Show
Venue: City Winery
More information about Free The Slaves
*Special thanks to Concord Music VP of Publicity Mike Wilpizeski for his assistance with the interview, via international proxy*