tv Talk to Al Jazeera Al Jazeera February 4, 2016 5:30pm-6:01pm EST
are stacked against businesses for now. al jazeera, kabul nigeria. >> much more on our website, the address on your screen right now, aljazeera.com. >> this week on "talk to al jazeera", singer / songwriter and artist nona hendryx. >> taking risks, sometimes it's, you know, doing that, i find something that didn't exist for me. or i can create something that nobody else will. >> she's best know for being one third of the famed group labelle. lady marmalade was their biggest hit. but it was just one of many that topped the charts. she grew up in new jersey, influenced by gospel music.
she was the creative force behind much of labelles's success. >> it always comes, the melody lyric come together. i wrote the songs that are-- like-- going down to your river-- system, candlelight, can i speak to you before you go to hollywood? i believe i finally made it home. >> when labelle broke up, hendryx, always seen as the risk taker of the three, struck out on her own, developing a new identity as a soloist. >> i always wrote with pat's voice in my head for the lead of a song that i was writing. and now i had to hear my voice doing it. >> early in her career hendryx used her art to support activist causes. as a self described bisexual she focused on people with aids and the lgbt community. >> so i never felt ostracized in any way. and having to watch and having many of my friends die from-- contracting h.i.v. and died from a.i.d.s.
that-- s-- being vocal, speaking up, s-- being supportive, doing what i could to help. >> from politics to race, she takes tough topics and makes music. >> black people killing black people. and where did you learn that? which is the question i ask. >> almost 50 years later, the r&b diva is still performing, transforming herself through the decades. she just opened her first solo art exhibit, not coincidentally titled "transformation". we caught up with nona hendryx at the sol studio in harlem. >> your exhibition, transformation: the beautiful cruelty of time and distance. tell us about that name. what does it mean? >> well, transformation has been a word that's been associated with me for a long time. and from the first being transformation, the recording-- that i made, a single.
and i performed it over the years and it's also just been a part of my life because i've constantly been transforming myself. and it is a transformation where i'm do, going in, back to visual art-- from music. but also integrating music into the visual art as well as painting and assemblage. and it, so it s-- fits what i'm doing. the beautiful cruelty of time and distance is that that is what it takes for transformation to happen. >> you said you were going back to the visual arts. is that--. >> yes. >> where you began? >> that's where i-- well, from my school, in school. that's where, that's the thing that i was focused on. i had no intentions of singing. (laugh) it was--. >> you didn't? >> no. >> well, how did that come about? >> no. sarah dash is to blame. i can blame her for, for that. (laugh) she was a member of labelle. but sarah lived in the same town in trenton, new jersey, where i was born and raised.
and she, her church came to visit my church, you know, being, being black, you went to church (laugh) if you were in a--. >> yes, you know. >> i'm still go! (laughter). >> you still go. yes. and i do. not as often. and so sarah's-- church came to visit mine. and that was the one sunday i was actually singing a lead in the choir and she asked me afterwards if i would join the local group-- called the del-capris, which i did. i thought it'd be fun to do after school. and six, maybe six months later-- somewhere in there-- after meet, a couple things happening. meeting-- a manager in philadelphia-- he put us together with cindy birdsong and a young lady called patricia holte, as we know as patti labelle. and we recorded a song. >> s-- s-- so wait. so it wasn't patti who started the group? >> no. >> it was sarah. >> well, sarah--. >> and you. >> well, sarah and i were in a group called del-capris.
patti was in a group called the ordettes with cindy birdsong. and the two of each came together and made the blue belles. song called i sold the heart to the-- my heart to the junkman became a hit record. and next thing, i went from being going to school in trenton high in trenton, new jersey, to, to being on-- bandstand (laugh) in philadelphia. >> and you did not intend to be a singer? >> no. i, no, no-- not even. i was goin' to go to school, go to college, go to the, to a state college 'cause i couldn't afford to go to a real college. and hopefully become an english teacher or-- a history teacher. 'cause i still had no idea that this was gonna be something i was going to do. >> so, so you never took music lessons as a child? >> no. >> never took piano? >> no. >> well, how did you become a song writer? >> that happened after, when we were changing from-- patti labelle and the blue belles to labelle.
and that happened around 1968, '60, '69. we were, we met-- we had met vicki wickham in england when we first went over in '62, '63, somewhere in there, i think. patti stayed in touch with her. when she was a part of a record company called track records that signed jimi hendrix and-- the who was the big act they had. they were coming over and she said, "well, you have to see this group called-- patti labelle and the blue belles". we were the blue belles. and they came up to see us at the apollo theater. they came up to the (laugh)-- to harlem--. >> came uptown. (laughter). >> --to see, to see us at the apollo theater. loved us. said, "we wanna sign them". signed us, took us to-- london. and we were there for probably about eight months going through a metamorphous or a transformation into labelle. >> just the three of you instead of four. >> just the three of us. and so they asked if any of us
could-- write music. and, you know-- none of us raised our hands. (laugh) and i said, "i write poetry. maybe there's something there". so they said, "well, go home and write something". (laugh) and i did. i went home and i started thinking in terms of, and it seemed natural to me to, from melody and lyric to go together. i don't know why i never thought of it before. but it became a natural thing. and then i worked with-- a musician who was basically our kind of m.d., gene casey. and he said, "you can do this. here, let me show you". and he started teaching me piano. and i began to learn myself and become inquisitive. >> so what, for you, is it, is it easy to write lyrics? >> it is easy. i-- maybe it's my, the -- how steeped i was in poetry.
and it always comes, the melody lyric come together. i rarely write anything where they're separate. and it's usually a whole song. >> so give me what was the first hit? >> well, for, well, okay. the first song--. >> in that era. >> for-- labelle. well, what--. >> that you wrote. >> can i speak to you before you go to hollywood? >> ah. >> and then you have songs, most of the songs that i wrote for, i mean, lady marmalade was-- a totally separate and it was the biggest-- hit that we had--. >> but you didn't write that? >> no, if only. (laughter) that was written by bob crewe and kenny nolan. and-- but i wrote the songs that are-- like-- going down to your river-- system, candlelight, can i speak to you before you go to hollywood? i believe i finally made it home. the songs that are the labelle signature songs outside of--
lady marmalade. >> the-- transition, metamorphosis-- that be, that took place in london, i have heard-- patti labelle say that she fought against it. >> oh, yeah. >> especially the (laughter)-- you know, you're no longer doing ballads. you're doing up tempo, rock. >> yes. >> the-- the nice dresses that, that you--. >> are gone. >> are gone. >> yes. >> you're doing a whole new fashion kind of take. the, the hairstyles. >> yes. >> you were looking, may i say it? wild. >> y-- oh, yeah. >> otherworldly. >> yes. >> outerspace. >> it was the intention. (laugh) yes. >> so she fought it. what about you? how did you deal with that transition? >> i loved it. you know, it was really, i don't what it is about me, but i'm always curious and seeking some other-- experience and exploring. and, you know, i was, and i was so into, you know-- early sci-fi fan.
so into space and ex-- space exploration. and hoping i would be one of the first people on a space ship to go to another planet. and so naturally, i'm goin' to go, "okay, yeah." wild hair, you know, wearing wild clothing that looked like you just stepped off--. >> space ship. >> --a space ship. or what we imagined, you know, that looks like in the future. and the future is, is interesting for me. so, yeah, i didn't, patti is very-- she likes in a strange way tradition, but she does also like to be-- you know, to s-- to explore different things. but she takes her time to get there. >> and you? >> me, i'm usually the first one on the boat. >> taking risks? >> taking risks, sometimes it's, you know, doing that, i find something that didn't exist for me. or i can create something that
nona hendryx. >> certainly in terms of commercial music success. patti labelle and the blue belles, labelle, all of the iterations of your--. >> of my life? >> of your group. >> yes. >>the commercial success there was much greater than anything you have--. >> yes. >> attained since. i'm wondering, do you ever look back and wonder, "well, maybe i shoulda just stuck with this and did my other thing on the side". no? >> no. not at all. i had no, i rarely, rarely look backward. it's just kind of not in my d.n.a. and i'm, you know, what i have done, i'm really, really, really grateful to have been a part of. >> who decided to break up? >> patti. patti wanted to go on her own. and--. >> what did you think about that at the time? >> well, it was painful. i mean, you know. we did--. >> were you angry? >> n-- i could say angry or
really disappointed. and there's a difference between disappointed and angry. disappointed and, disappointed and kind of at a loss. kind of, well-- th-- this is what i've been for 17 years. what, what am i now? and so disappointed. disappointed that we couldn't-- and i don't know, when i say "we couldn't," i don't even know what, when i say we couldn't fulfill what? i don't know what. actually in--. >> you couldn't stay together. >> it-- well, yeah, in retrospect, i'm really, really grateful that we didn't. because i think we would end up being a caricature of who we were. and we were very-- dynamic and the energy that we brought to the stage, i don't know, i know we couldn't do now. >> tell me about your career as a solo musician.
your album. the first one. >> yes. (laugh) that was actually very good that it happened right away. i wanted to, because i was moving the group further and further towards rock-- music. and i-- it-- and i think those also part of why patti needed to, to go 'cause she wanted to stay closer to r&b and traditional music that we were doing. and so i, you know, i was let loose to-- become-- a rock and roller. and that's the type of album i made was to be able to-- bring more of that energy to-- to a record. to s-- to find my own voice as a lead singer, 'cause then i had to think, "okay, well"... i always wrote with pat's voice in my head for the lead of a song that i was writing. and now i had to hear my voice doing it. and the was a difficult thing
because our voices are very different. i'm a real alto and she's a soprano. >> i want to get to politics via the music. um, mutatis mutandis? >> oh, mutatis mutandis. yes. (laugh). >> making the necessary changes, what was that about? >> i cannot write over time without writing about social or political-- you know, for me, human issues. and there are things, you know, that we'd gone through-- the change of-- president obama becoming president. and what the country had become then. but there were elements that came out of that that were very negative. and people showing up to some of his speeches with weapons. and, you know, different, and it sort of-- almost, like, burst the boil of pressure that had been building in this
country but not being spoken. >> one of the songs was "tea party". >> yeah. >> so, your lyrics, "tea party, the no party, say you want to take our country back. say we want to paint the white house black". am i getting--. >> yeah, no, you're getting it right. (laugh). >> "say the bigotry that you spew and all the same you bring, all the shame you bring--". >> shame. >> "--to the red, white and blue". >> yeah. >> how long did it take you to come up with those lyrics? >> not long. (laughter) there's fertile ground-- at that time especially. i mean, it was just so-- abrasive. the approach of the tea party with, and ex-- in, in terms of basically excluding people. saying, "this is who we are and you are n-- basically, you're not, we're right, you're wrong". >> black on black. >> yes. >> what was that about? >> that was my reaction to--
black people killing black people. and where did you learn that? which is the question i ask. and did you learn that in your home? did you learn that by being enslaved? is that, is that a result of-- slavery? >> what-- was it a news-- was it stories of murders in the news or was it an event--. >> no. >> --this thought came to you? >> that's accumulation over time. it-- because, you know, i've been able to see it over time from my childhood growing up in what was considered a ghetto. and then-- just observing and the, for me, the pain it brings to see-- murder in general. or crime and violence in general. then to see, you know, that, okay, going through the-- civil rights movement. and the change that-- needed to
happen then where african americans and other people came together to stop lynching. to stop-- the crimes in the south and, and other places. to see how-- the black family, and black people respected themselves. and then to see what happened in-- i'd say the late '70s going into the '80s and the whole idea of, you know, carrying weapons. and the crack cocaine and all the things that happened in the black community that gendered-- that generated crime. and crime against each other. that, to me, is, you know, it's very difficult for me to say, "don't oppress me. don't kill me. don't jail me. don't..." if i am doing it to myself.
>> l.g.b.t. causes. which you were championing long before people knew about the l.g.b.t. movement. >> yes, there were, there weren't all those letters. (laughter) they-- it's--. >> so what prompted your interest? >> well, i'm, myself, i'm bisexual. have always been and very and open as i can be about it. >> was that a problem--. >> and--. >> --for your early-- in your career? i mean--. >> well, because--. --problem in the sense that-- that maybe you wouldn't have gotten jobs? or the--. >> no, no, no. >> no. no. >> i mean, early in my career, nobody talked about it. and also being in show business, you have a certain amount of-- i guess sort of allowance for your behavior or your, who you are or how you represent yourself. and so it was never a problem for me that i felt was a problem. maybe it was a problem for some other people. my family have loved me however i've been the whole time. so i have that unconditional love. so i never felt ostracized in
any way. and so for me, the real-- need to be-- s-- outspoken about it came during the a.i.d.s. crisis. and having to watch and having many of my friends die from-- contracting h.i.v. and died from a.i.d.s. that-- s-- being vocal, speaking up, s-- being supportive, doing what i could to help. >> nona's music keeps up with the times, she now integrates wearable technology in her performances. more in a minute. >> even though we're in here, we're still human. >> how harsh conditions affect people on both sides of the bars. >> why did scott take his own life? >> the jail. >> some people might be scared to speak out but i'm not. i'm telling the truth.
al jazeera america. i'm randall pinkston, you're watching "talk to al jazeera". my guest this week, nona hendryx - the creative force behind the r&b trio labelle. >> how did you develop your interest in technology? >> watching so many sci-fi films and things about the future, technology or electronics. and-- and then in music with the evolution of going from-- piano-- guitar-- bass to electronics and early synthesizers, of course, you know, it's got wires and buttons. i'm gonna be, like, all over it. so (laugh) i started buying-- early electronics.
you know, the keyboard that had the silver bar and you'd tap it, it would play a rhythm. and i could write songs that way. and then i got a tape-- machine. and i learned that i could do overdubs from one cassette player to the next cassette player. >> and you have now evolved into the digital age. >> well, i am an ambassador for berkeley college of music. and i work with-- the e.p.d.-- department as well as the music theater and music ensemble department. and i love the e.p.d., the electronic production and design. and-- there's a robotics-- course. and i worked with some of the robotic students. and we've created-- three different-- th-- controllers for music that i can attach to my body and use to control my voice via a computer-- with bluetooth or wirelessly.
>> so tell me about audio tutu. >> i'd been trying to find a way of performing differently than getting on stage with my band and singing and jumping up and down and running around the stage. and looking for audio clothing that i could adapt to what i wanted to do. >> so how does this audio tutu thing work? >> it is a plex--. >> to create music. >> well, it is a plexiglass-- tutu in a sense that is-- has a built-in-- sound system. and i plug in different components to it that you can, i can plug in a guitar. i could plug in a keyboard. i could plug in another, an iphone, which i use. or a, any kind of sound producing. and i can also plug my voice into it. and i could, as i did, i performed at lincoln center. you still perform? >> oh, yeah. yes, i do. >> s-- so what is it about the, the, the essence of being in a room with other people who are
seeing you share your creativity? what, what does that do for you? >> that keeps me, i think, alive and fulfilled in a way that is, is sort of like res-- call and response. you know, it, and it fulfills a part of me that is, i guess, the basic human thing of not approval. >> it, is it a desire for connectedness? >> no, because i can feel the spirit without another person. when was it? yes. no, not last night, night before last in-- where i was. and i-- i performed, i sang two songs. and one of the songs was winds of change which is a song i wrote for winnie mandela and nelson mandela. so i sang this song last night
with two musici-- three musicians who had never played it before. and in singing the song, it always, always takes me to a place in my soul and in my gut that is a place of pain. a place of passion. and a place of freedom and joy. and it seems that that goes over to the audience. and as i'm looking in your eyes now, i need to look in someone's eyes when i'm singing. so that i know, as you said, maybe this is the connectedness and a communication that, that we are having a conversation. i'm not just singing, i'm sharing something with you. and that's what happens and that's what it is for me on stage. >> what would you like to be your epitaph? >> my epitaph?
here lies the first edition. >> okay. thank you very much. (laughter). tonight - bernie sanders surging in polls. ben cardon who supported the hillary clinton campaign if her pragmatism can overcome the ideaism of bernie sanders. the group behind planned parenthood facing prison time. will their indictment discourage other activists. and thoughts on press freedom after a smear campaign against one of america's finest reporters. m