Mem Nahadr: Femme Fractale (Commercial Free Dread)

 |   |  2 min read

Mem Nahadr: Gone
Mem Nahadr: Femme Fractale (Commercial Free Dread)

Just as opera has changed -- or at least some of its creators like John Adams, Philip Glass and others who have kept up with contemporary politics and social change -- so has art music, as academics like to call it.

It has shifted from the sometimes rare air of the recital hall into clubs and bars.

Mem Nahadr  -- a black albino once from Washington with a vocal range which sounds to encompass at least three octaves -- is one of those diva-outsiders who is post-opera, post-art music, post-feminism and post-just about everything else.

She is most definitely post-Aretha/post-Ella because on this all-encompassing work (subtitled An Opera of Reflection) she explores soul, funk and deeply moving jazz . . .  but also takes advantage of the post-Laurie Anderson shapeshifting which new technology allows.

And as with many Anderson albums, this one is actually just part of the larger production. . . so we're allowed to be a bit in the dark about what the images and on-stage presence might be.

3But "powerful" will be the educated guess after deep immersion in these 75 minutes which could probably only have come out of a New York (she has a creative team and does the fashion thing) where all schools of styles cross over.

So here be Chaka Khan/art music, post-Aretha soul, ambient passages, feminist affirmation ("Say what you will but I'll go on, sing my song any way I choose " in the swelling but catchy soul-pop of Panacea) and also quite a bit of techno-funk soul.

(Aw, c'mon give me that one! It's a genre . . . just listen to the nine minute-plus Grey Aria here.)

To be perfectly honest I have absolutely no idea what the unifying thread in this opera is supposed to be.

She -- or her PR/bio person -- says something about "self-similarity", "super positioning" and the function of "recognition and reconciliation inherent in the simple repeating pattern"  . . . but I take that to be typical art-speak bullshit.

And as we know, bullshit baffles brains. (Or tries to, until it is called to account and then it evaporates like mist.) 

There's also something about fractals, which I think utterly appropriate because this is music refracted through various prisms: the soulful On My Merry Way, the staccato punch-funk of Crystal Trails which would be right at home in clubland and ripe for a remix, the quieter ballad Gone . . . and more.

I'd never heard of Mem Nahadr (who prefers to be known as just "M" sometimes, another pointless -- but useful in NYC, I guess -- affectation) but this extraordinary, uncategorisable, very different and always interesting album has piqued my interest in her previous work.

And I hope when the Lotto numbers tumble my way and I'm back in NYC that she will be performing/bewildering/entertaining. I'd go in a minute, in a New York minute in fact.

I suspect it would be a performance you'd remember to the end of your brief days. 

I commend this to those of you with time to listen to a serious and seriously different -- if often challenging - artist who can also nail down some not-art-music pop (the dramatic Black Whole).

Check her out here

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Music articles index

SHORT CUTS: A round-up of recent New Zealand releases

SHORT CUTS: A round-up of recent New Zealand releases

Facing down an avalanche of releases, requests for coverage, the occasional demand that we be interested in their new album (sometimes with that absurd comment "but don't write about it if you... > Read more

The xx: Coexist (Young Turks)

The xx: Coexist (Young Turks)

With this lush but spare, sometimes emotionally cool but always warmly realised second album The xx run the happy risk of being the new Portishead for downbeat lovers, pouting girls and sensitive... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

THE FAMOUS ELSEWHERE QUESTIONNAIRE: Adam McGrath of the Eastern

THE FAMOUS ELSEWHERE QUESTIONNAIRE: Adam McGrath of the Eastern

Over two previous albums – their self-titled debut in 2009 and Arrows the next year – the hard-working Eastern out of Lyttelton firmly established themselves as poets of the public... > Read more

GUEST WRITER JEFFREY PAPAROA HOLMAN introduces his acclaimed memoir The Lost Pilot

GUEST WRITER JEFFREY PAPAROA HOLMAN introduces his acclaimed memoir The Lost Pilot

On a day in September 1972 in my mother’s house at 11 Franklin Street, Greymouth, my father shuffled across the room in his dressing gown and broke down in my arms. He had just been... > Read more