Album Review: Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s “F(l)ight”

by PhDJ

Poetry and music, woven beautifully on an album. No, I’m not talking about Lemonade, (though, full disclosure, I loved that album too). I’m talking about Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg artist, musician, and poet Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, who released her debut LP, f(l)light, on September 30, 2016. Simpson’s album is about stories of land, of spirit, of the body, of ancestors, of memory. The music—sometimes a solo piano at first, and then a guitar, and then a swell of voices—rises up from around your feet so quietly, so casually, you don’t feel it until its hugged up around your rib cage. And then Simpson’s voice cascades from some place high above to walk you back down to the ground again you.

“I’m worried about what you’re drinking. You’re worried about what I’m breathing. I like you, because you never talk, too loud.”

Simpson doesn’t talk too loud either. Her rich, restrained voice feels like a best friend whispering all her truths in your ear while another loved one strums a guitar, or plays a piano, or a cluster of friends lends their voices in song. The effect of this quiet, steady, insistent voice is, of course, that we lean in. We listen. We pay attention.

Simpson’s collection is a reminder to writers out there of the possibility of how music can open space for the words we write, how spoken words, performed words, even when they are not sung or rapped or even slammed, can expand their reach exponentially when you dance them with the right music. That instrumentals can carry words farther than the silence than what writers oftentimes perform their work on top of. Of course, this is not a new idea. Warsan Shire’s brilliance points to a long history of poets in coffee houses talking over the beat of hand drums. But I appreciate what Simpson is offering us here. Because in addition to the important messages she’s offering us in her poetry, she’s reminding us writers that there’s another way to perform. And she’s reminding us listeners too that there’s another way to listen. (Which has a lot to do with why I’m so stoked to be running a music + lit show on Sundays <3)

If this album is a haunting, I hope it doesn’t leave me as I share it with you here:

PhDJ’s show airs on Sundays from 3 to 6 a.m. HST. Find out more information about her show at <3



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