Nona Hendryx has never been one to play it safe.
In fact, the avant-garde icon has spent nearly the past half-century pushing boundaries and other people's buttons; whether as a founding member of funk/soul pioneers LaBelle ("Lady Marmalade"), a backing vocalist for a host of progressive artists (Talking Heads, Yoko Ono, Alice Cooper), or an innovative singer/songwriter in her own right.
On her first solo effort in 20 years and inaugural release on Righteous Babe Records, Mutatis Mutandis (Latin for "changing those things which need to be changed"), Hendryx riffs on various sociopolitical ills and issues that have weighed on her mind particularly in the post-9/11 era. Boasting old-school yet urgent rhythms and brash, edgy guitars, the album's music is as fearless as its message.
You’ve always been known for being bold in your artistry and vocal in your advocacy, but were you at all reluctant about saying what you say on this album?
No, not at all. I didn’t even think about it. I was going to say, “I didn’t think twice,” but I didn’t even think once. What came out was what I was feeling and thinking and wanting to share with other people, [from] having conversations and things I’d been reading over time, and just reflecting on [matters] from the World Trade Center, 9/11 to the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War, the whole situation in the Middle East, Hurricane Katrina and how America responded to that, Barack Obama running for president, the rise of the Tea Party, the violence in America.
For all the goodwill Obama galvanized around the world and specifically in America before he was president, his election seemed to drum up the worst in some people.
He did nothing but run and campaign to be president, and that was his crime to some people, like, “How dare he have that assumption that an African American could be a leader of this country?” The racism and bigotry in America, it’s a small minority of people but they’re very vocal and very powerful. And part of their bigotry and racism is about holding onto power more so than actually hating or disliking people of color. The people who hate and dislike people of color are not the powerful. The powerful are bigots because they want to maintain control, and they use that power to stir those who have lesser power and lesser means to help support their beliefs and their bigotry.