POP MUSIC REVIEW : A Voice (and a Name) to Remember : With a strong musical vitality and range, Me’Shell NdegeOcello is emerging as an important talent.
Get used to the name, because this woman in her late 20s is a valuable artist who radiates the independence and vision to be with us for a long time.
The name (pronounced N-day-gay-O-chello) means “free like a bird” in Swahili, which is appropriate because there’s a sense of freedom and sweep in her music that was nothing short of intoxicating in its best moments in her show on Sunday at the Coach House.
The husky-voiced singer-songwriter, whose tour continues tonight at the Roxy in West Hollywood, may record for Madonna’s label, but she brings to her work a musical vitality and range that is reminiscent of Prince.
She may be best known now for her duet with John Mellencamp on his hot recording of Van Morrison’s “Wild Night” (which she didn’t include in her set), but her own music is a mix of contemporary musical elements--from funk and soul to jazz and hip-hop--that is as boldly individual at times as her shaved head and animated manner.
But the heart of her art is her songs. She examines sexual and social politics on such a variety of levels that it’s fascinating to watch them unfold.
“I’m Diggin’ You (Just Like an Old Soul Record),” one of the standouts from her “Plantation Lullabies” album, is rich with subtext.
The song isn’t just about a romantic interlude, but serves as a salute to the Afro-American solidarity of the ‘60s and early ‘70s: “Remember back to the day / When everyone was black and conscious / And down for the struggle.”
There’s even a touch of feminism as she alludes to the Four Tops hit “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I Got)"--a break from the references to ho’s and bitches that dominate the current rap milieu.
“If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night)” is a tale about a romantic triangle in which all three parties are criticized. The first woman is chided for putting her faith in the wrong man. The man is dissed for being unfaithful, and the second woman is put down for not having enough respect for a sister to avoid the one-night fling.
Despite all these resources, NdegeOcello’s performance on Sunday was uneven. In those times when she focused on the audience, she showed a winning confidence and presence.
At one point, she got so caught up in the vitality of the music that she leaped into the air and literally bounced across the stage. Yet she could be equally striking just standing at the microphone, reflecting on her own search for self-esteem and purpose.
Rather than maximize her impact as a frontwoman, however, NdegeOcello came across as the conductor of an experimental musical workshop. She often let the momentum of the show wander as she focused on her new six-piece band and two backup singers.
The suspicion is that NdegeOcello, who alternated between keyboards and bass, will assert more authority as a performer as the tour unfolds. Even if the show is still in an embryonic stage, it rests on a foundation of potential greatness.
* NdegeOcello plays at 8 tonight at the Roxy, 9009 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. Sold out. (310) 276-2222.