Nina the leader

Vicki Wickham
Melody Maker, 22 May 1971

SUNDAY WAS Mothering Sunday here and Americans are very Mum conscious, they seem to have huge Oedipus Rex complexes and everyone goes home to their families, flower shops and Western Union run up a storm.

Among all this hive of activity at Carnegie Hall, Nina Simone gave a beautiful concert.

Nina's been off the scene for a while, getting her divorce, herself and her work together. It's all been worth it. Even though she kept us all waiting one hour for the show to start, when she did arrive she was in good humour, looking gorgeous in a long, white dress with a large slit and bra-less and very short Afro.


The last time I saw her I was critical of her "black power/bitter" attitude, but this time she was effective in what she had to say and relevant rather than defensive. She is a "leader" — she's led in music for many years, but I now feel the audiences are looking to her to extend her music into socially important areas, and she's found a way of doing this, primarily through her rap between numbers, but also with such numbers as 'West Wind'.

"This is a number Miriam Makeba asked me to give to you," she says, "it's very long and it's a prayer. We can all do with a lot of praying." The number was long, mostly chanting and a lot of African rhythms played by her back-up band — all black except for a very Southern-looking white bass player, drums, congas, guitarist, organ and a strange instrument which sounded like steel guitar, but looked like a drum with strings, which one player wore round his neck — with a repetitive line of "Unify us, don't divide us" which the audience joined in on.

She introduced her "inspiration and friend for ten years," her Indian Swami, and talked about The Beatles being disillusioned with the Maharishi after their trips with drugs. But mostly she was into blackness, of course, humanity, life and music. Her new single 'Ooh Child' was moving, 'Mr Bojangles' was so appropriate and believable, and, complete with two dancers in top hat and tails, was lifting.

Her daughter virtually introduced herself. She'd been dancing in the wings, but during 'Come On and Go With Me' it got too much for her and she was on stage dancing. She was so pretty and Nina adores her and was rightly proud of her. Then she and her brother, Sam Wayman, on organ, sang a duet on 'Let It Be Me', and then more surprises, she credited the song to Ike & Tina, but mostly to Tina for "telling someone something. One does not care about being used, it's the mis-use," and she danced a lot and sang a very hip version of 'Funkier Than A Mosquitoes Tweeter'.

It was surprising, but it was very soulful and Nina moves, dances and sings as only Nina can. There's nobody like her and, me plus the other 2,700 plus people at Carnegie were pleased she's back and working.