Berklee Today

Ndegeocello Residency a Rare Opportunity for Students

  Meshell Ndegeocello
  Meshell Ndegeocello coaches a student ensemble during her November residency.
  Photo by Phil Farnsworth

Acclaimed singer, multi-instrumentalist, and composer Meshell Ndegeocello spent three days in residency at Berklee during November. Ndegeocello provided insights on her music and participated in a concert at the Berklee Performance Center (BPC) that was part of the 2005-2006 Berklee Concert Series.

During her stay, Ndegeocello gave clinics in the afternoons, and rehearsed the two student ensembles that would perform her music in the evenings. Each ensemble had learned a set of her material during the semester under the direction of Associate Professor of Guitar David Fiuczynski. Ndegeocello used the afternoon clinics as an opportunity to teach about ensemble playing by rehearsing the groups in front of live audiences in the BPC and David Friend Recital Hall.

Rather than being the star of the show, Ndegeocello chose to remain in the background during her BPC performance, opting only to play and not sing. While the concert showcased her formidable talent on bass, she encouraged the student vocalists and instrumentalists to be the focal point onstage. The two ensembles, featuring many of Berklee's top musicians, each performed an impressive set of material drawn from the entire span of Ndegeocello's career, including "Love Song #3," "I'm Diggin' You (Like an Old Soul Record)," and "Fellowship." The second ensemble's rendition of her hit song "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)" was a standout that spotlighted student rapper Anjuli "Stars" Gonzalez on vocals.

Ndegeocello exploded onto the music scene with her 1993 solo debut, Plantation Lullabies, on Maverick/Sire Records. Her music, which incorporates funk, soul, hip-hop, reggae, rock, and jazz, was immediately embraced by the music community and has earned her nine Grammy Award nominations. Ndegeocello's latest album, The Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of the Infidel, features Jack De Johnette, Don Byron, Kenny Garrett, Cassandra Wilson, and Lalah Hathaway.

Fiuczynski explained why Ndegeocello is an inspiration to other artists and is a much-sought-after collaborator. "Meshell is very unique and has her own special way of weaving vocal melodies, rap, and spoken word together. Her songs are very emotional and speak to all kinds of people. She's a great writer, producer, and programmer and is often called to 'just' play bass because of her incredible groove and feel."

Ndegeocello's participation in the events leading up to the concert was very important to the overall experience for the students. "It meant a lot because she has so much to offer and can interact with so many departments at the school," said Fiuczynski. "Furthermore, she addresses so many issues- racism, sexism, homophobia, and freedom of speech-with which the students, college, and society are dealing. Her residency offered a tremendous opportunity for students to have direct contact with her and to see how she works."