Laka: Strange Fruit

To sing and play "Strange Fruit" 70 years after a Jewish high-school teacher in the Bronx wrote it and an African-American singer in Greenwich Village sang it is no simple thing. Though "Strange Fruit" is one of Lady Day's most famous songs, it's far from being among the most sung or played because its words, about lynching in the USA in the 1930s, can hardly leave either singer or listeners indifferent. Although a song, it is more than a piece of entertainment; this is a work of art, whose interpretation cannot be reduced to its social implications.

Laika Fatien, a French singer with Jewish and African origins, understands all that and, while concerned with the thematic material, gives this song a deeply artistic rendering. Robert Glasper begins with an impressive rubato piano solo, whose staccato notes in the treble and low tones of the instrument become more and more ominous over the first minute, before the voice enters. Laka's phrasing and diction, over Glasper's sparse, romantic chords and arpeggios, are deeply dramatic, yet her emotions never become theatrical or overdone. This will carry on another four minutes, and it's hard, when their duet is over, to continue listening to the rest of the album. Remaining silent and meditative, or playing "Strange Fruit" again, seem to be the most obvious options.

Today only the children and grandchildren of the former lynchers, or former spectators, survive. The President of the United States is an African American. But this song is a vital and necessary reminder. Its emotional impact may help prevent the return of barbarism, wherever it may appear, whatever form it may take.

February 08, 2009 · 0 comments


Billie Holiday: Strange Fruit

By the late 1930s, lynching of Negroes had declined in the U.S. but not disappeared, a fact white radicals exploited to foment revolutionary resistance among blacks. One such white radical, the Bronx communist Abel Meeropol (aka Lewis Allan), wrote this proxy protest song and persuaded the incomparable Billie Holiday, an actual Negro of all things, to perform it. On this landmark recording, Billie calmly sears a grisly indictment into our collective consciousness. Her "Strange Fruit" is the American equivalent of a liberated Nazi death camp through which townspeople were marched after World War II. We owe it to those lynched to periodically revisit this grim reminder of how short we've fallen of our national ideals. It will renew our commitment to justice for all.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments


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