Esperanza Spalding will headline downstairs at the World Cafe Live at The Queen in Wilmington on Oct. 11.
Despite fame and winning Grammy Awards, Esperanza Spalding loathes the idea that she's more special than “them,” folks with less than.
“The word 'them,' I don't like that word ever. It's we. There's only we,” she said. “I don't know who them is, because we're the same species.”
Spalding will share her spirit of togetherness downstairs at the World Cafe Live at The Queen in Wilmington on Oct. 11. The jazz prodigy will bring tunes from her new album, “Emily's D+ Evolution,” a project featuring a fusion of rock and funk.
With her latest record comes a new aesthetic on stage. Spalding's trademark afro has been replaced with braids. She also dons glasses now. Spalding's change in appearance is part of a new character/persona she's portraying named Emily, which is her middle name.
Spalding, who won four Grammys, dished on the concept behind her new album, growing up poor and more about why she shies away from the word “them.”
How would you describe “Emily's D+ Evolution,” and why did you choose that title?
I heard the name. I heard a title and I didn't know what it meant. But I knew that it was accurate because, again, this project is about a character named Emily. It's about an entity named Emily. She looks at the world with different eyes, with fresh eyes. She's here through me having these common human experiences for the first time and she's questioning them and looking at them from many different angles and she kind of breaks them down so she can make sense of them.
Because she's new here, the answer that she concluded that she comes to is very different than the projections of the people she meets. There's a little bit of a contrast, a little bit of a struggle. But by the end of the journey, she's built up as much as she's broken down and [inspires] the people she meets to break down their habits and their rules. Together they actually do build something new that makes room for everybody's identity and diversity and exploration.
Do any of your four Grammy Awards mean the most?
I guess I don't think about them very much. They look nice on my bookshelf.
Is that where you keep them?
Yeah. And there's something [cool] about... okay people are listening [to my music]. I sound cliché and can't even go there, but what does it mean to win a Grammy? It means your music was promoted in a way that was broad enough for a lot of people to hear it and think about it. It means that the people did hear it and thought it was worth them going through the effort of sifting through all the names that are in that category and decided to vote for you. And that happens many times. That is no small event. But I don't really think about that when it's Grammy time. Then I go like, “Man, really – wow! Thank you.” Then I keep doing my little thing.
You grew up in gang territory in Portland, Oregon?
We grew up in patches of town that were very low income. As we know, often people who are victims of disenfranchisement circulate in lower income neighborhoods. We know that for many, many reasons. And often a lot of crimes happen. Different kind of crimes happen in higher income neighborhoods – don't get it twisted. But I grew up with that. It wasn't until I was about 10 that I started visiting people in other neighborhoods and understood that there was another version of it. I think my only understanding that it was dangerous, problematic or less than was through the reflections of my mother. Because when you're a kid, you just go play until you're not allowed to be outside anymore.
Has that impacted you in any way? With some of your fans who are among the working poor, do you feel like you can connect to them more?
I don't know who them is, because we're the same species. We have very different cultural experiences and values, of course. I mean even you and me. I'm probably a them to you on some level. We are not in a feudal system. It's we. We are the people here. We are the people of this planet having our variegated experiences.
The word them was more of a reference to people who share commonality in having a lack of money, not the idea that one group of people is better than another.
The reason I think of we is because look at [Hilary Clinton supporters] and the people who like Donald Trump. Even if Trump isn't president, all of those people don't go away. We are still here together. You know what I mean? Even if you can find a way to protect yourself from the threats of a person you identify as them, the won't disappear. Eventually we're going to have to address our co-existence here together.
What else is on the horizon for you this year?
We're doing this final tour of “Emily D+ Evolution” and it ends early November. Then I'm delving into this big project, which is an opera Wayne Shorter is composing and he asked me to write a libretto to it. That's going to be really exciting. That is the next big undertaking. In addition to that, next year I'm going to be doing a lot of these collaboration sessions with musicians that I like. And you'll see what that looks like. That'll be a whole kind of adventure/experiment throughout 2017.